Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Today is the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. When it first hit, I was a junior in high school in Albuquerque. Today, two years to the day after the worst natural (and engineering, some would say) disaster, I am in the very city that was worst hit, and it's a little weird.

But, classes begin. No time at the moment for retrospectives, certainly nothing I could say would defeat the intense media spectacle I am currently avoiding. The media will come, the media will sensationalize and then leave without motivating real work, and then New Orleans will remain, as is. Only - slightly getting better. New crime, new horrors, but the city is coming back. It's an inevitability, and with luck, it'll revive in a way that removes blemishes and other signs of adolescence. Really, the city doesn't need a rebirth so much as it needs a second coming of age.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans

Going to other congregations is not something I do often, but this was pretty interesting. And, since I'll be living 15 minutes (on foot) away, I might as well stop in a see what's what.

The most immediately impressive thing (beside the beautiful stone building in various states of disrepair) was the additional song lyrics in the hymnal - namely, lyrics to "spirit of life" in Spanish and English as well. An added bonus was the song being sung in sigh language as well (I'm not sure what sign language, but I assume American). It was interestingly multilingual, and that is certainly something I am in favor of. Of course, I'll need to go back to make sure of that.

The first unpleasant part was a reading of the principles as though they were catechism. It struck me as decidedly non-noncreedal. This was only further bolstered by the mediation on how we are failing to live up to the principles. Catholic guilt is not what I want at a UU church.

The welcoming had an explanation of UUism, which makes sense in such a small setting (the church only had 80 people). This also included a section where the lay leader pointed out the resident extroverts. There were two.

They sang "Wade in the Water", which is a song I was secretly hoping for. They played it up-tempo, which was surprising.

The whole affair was rather informal, and this was only enhanced by the speaker. The service was lay-coordinated, and the speaker was a lay member, who had been asked to finish off the summer. Her speech was rather slow, pedantic, and several times she mentioned how she isn't a speaker. Her speech had the usual assumed UU liberal (and so opposed to conservative) demographic, and it had an assumed intelligence on the part of the audience as well. And then...

Halfway through her speech, she focused in on the horror of poverty; on the vast injustice that is having kids die because their parent was selling crack to afford food for them and their 7 siblings. It's the injustice that is poverty, the overwhelming demon that hurts everything. It's being terribly mad at the parent for letting something like that happen, for being part of the creeping crime, and it's having more outrage, more justified outrage at the system that allows this to happen, and the horror of poverty itself that still exists no matter how much an individual escapes it, that still exists no matter how far removed we find ourselves. It's erring on the side of the poor who suffer with addiction than erring with the wealthy who cause poverty. It was really, really impressive.

Afterwards, she drifted back into poor speaking, and the service went on.

Met one of my professors, who was sitting in the row in front of me. UU church will be part of my college life, I think.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

New Orleans: Prologue

I'm excited about New Orleans. It's a fascinating city, it's a vital city, and, well, it's a city that is bound to end up a good deal different in the coming decade than it was in the past ten years.

The Crescent City is sinking, and also stands to stop existing if another Katrina-sized hurricane hits. It's a weird place, too vital to abandon, not rich enough to adequately protect. It's big - enough so that further expansion is impossible, really, and situated such that some of the best minds out there are advocating for shrinking the city, condensing it down. It needs more wetlands and less channels, certainly, but that'll come at the price of some business lost and, more importantly, a good deal of homes lost. The city that incubated and gave birth to Jazz may well suffer an increasing number of migrations, while the wealthy take advantage of the rich history without a care about the forced, unpleasant, touristy-ness. It only makes sense that becoming more like Santa Fe is among the worst case scenarios.

I'm more optimistic. People are quite good at figuring out how to live where they shouldn't. It'll happen, the city will exist, and it will do so even if it turns into a North American Venice.

Smaller scale, I'm really interested in the fate of public schools. Besides that atrocity against the Jena Six, New Orleans has a rich history of terrible schools. Katrina allowed for a rebirth, a re-imagining, and public school is getting an overhaul that is impossible to imagine anywhere else. Elsewhere, the risk is to high, and the gains are too uncertain. In the Big Easy, it's worth it. And so, it's a fascinating experiment, and one I'll only be too happy to watch before I go down my long winding career path and eventually end up as a teacher.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Russian Strategic Bombers

I'd like to point it out that this is the moment where the United States' uncontested hegemony was (is?) lost.

This is perhaps alarmist, but I won't be alone in making this prediction. Pax Americana, as best it can be labeled, began in 1992, with the collapse of the USSR and, with it, the end of a Soviet challenge to the United States military power. Other nations still had significant military power, but none was as close, as significant as either of the cold-war adversaries. With one military left uncontested, the prospect of a global war between two coalitions ended, and the United States emerged victorious, ready to remake and reshape the world as best suited this new era of peace and prosperity.

Like previous eras of peace named after empires, Pax Americana was not without war, is in fact conveniently book-ended by a pair of wars in Iraq. The wars of a hegemonic peace are more trivial, not without their power or significance, but instead of being earth-shaking conflicts, they are smaller, more contained, whose effects are measured more in stock market fluctuations than in ideological struggles for the sake of the whole world. It's not that people don't die; it's that an awful lot less people die. Now, every great peace has it's problems, but horrific as Bosnia and Rwanda were, they were limited in scale and in theater of operation. Throughout those conflicts, the United States stood at the head of global coalitions when the acted, and was perhaps first in hesitancy when the world failed to act. The US took a leadership role, and had the power and influence to act on it.

That's lost now, more or less. Most political goodwill towards the US has been squandered, but goodwill alone does not a hegemon make. Machiavelli stipulated that it is better to be feared than loved (though being both is ideal). If one is loved and not feared, people will take without consequence, and use you but not listen to you. Political goodwill is being loved, and is more flexible, more variable, and less certain. Military power is foremost among the reasons to be feared. With military power, actions against the hegemon come with significant consequence, and it is the power of a hegemon that, although any two or three nations could muster the military might to defeat them, no more than a single nation ever dares to act.

Russia, reeling from the loss of it's military power, and suffering from a poor economy cut it's military budget significantly. They ended the flights of strategic bombers, partly for cost, and partly because there was no challenging the hegemony of the United States. The United States was free to spend it's significant military budget, and the United States did so, but there was no point, no more reason compelling enough to justify the budget expenditure.

The United States military is far from weak, but it is shown more and more every day to be limited in it's power. The Gulf Coast war was a remarkable example of how a hegemonic military could work. The invasion was swift, it was with international support after warning had been given, and it was in defense of a nation wrongfully invaded. The Iraq War (for lack of a better name) was an utter failure at executing hegemonic power. While the initial war was swift, it was without international support (and indeed, quite opposed internationally). The war was poorly justified (or unjustified, in hindsight and other perspectives), and dubious motives of wealth and power filled the public perception of the war (true or not, a lack of confidence is never a good thing, especially for an imperial democracy). The war also metamorphosed from a quick, few-months-long operation to a lengthy, many-year-long occupation, with high rates of soldier fatigue, and increasing rates of both civilian deaths and soldier casualties. The US military cannot handle occupying a hostile population, and had failed to put in place forces capable of policing such an area themselves. Previous empires have done this, but at far to high a human rights cost to count (decimation and mass crucification are not particularly appealing to the viewing public). Also, the US military is occupied indefinitely, leaving the nation more vulnerable than a hegemon would generally like to be.

This is leading back to the first point - the Unites States is ending it's period of hegemony. Not because it's military is weak, but because it's military is beatable, and because the morale of the military is inching closer and closer to breaking. The United States is losing it's status as hegemon, bot because other nations are more bold, but because other nations are now wealthy and willing enough to make it known that their militaries are still a significant force. And the United States is not losing hegemony because of a great ideologically-inspired alliance against them, but because other nations are waking up, and realizing that it is more to their benefit to work together to provide the military capabilities they need for themselves, without the aid of a supposedly benevolent, more-powerful nation.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Blog Against Racism Week

So, this is me straying a bit from my normal nuclear pondering, but social justice is something I've got a big, huge lifetime commitment for.

The arena I've dealt most with issues of social justice is in my my church, and through our youth organization. As a liberal religion, we are in theory the tolerant, optimistic type who both embrace diversity and crusade against oppression. As an actual religious denomination, we are predominantly white, upper-middle-class, and well educated. Hardly exclusively, but predominantly. It's a hindrance for anti-racist work, to say the least.

I live in New Mexico. My church, many years ago, decided that a welcoming thing to do for some of the Hispanic population would be to sing our church's doxology twice every Sunday, once in English and once in Spanish. The idea sounded good, and it's been a regular practice ever since. The relative makeup of the church hasn't changed, and so while we do this one (in theory) tolerant, benevolent (said somewhat sneeringly) thing, we don't do anything else. No other part of the service is in Spanish, the church marquee is in English exclusively, and as far as I know, bilingualism has not been a trait we've required in our ministers (not that they aren't; I just don't thinks its expressly stated that they should be). Singing the doxology in Spanish fulfills the need of the congregation, makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside, and then leaves as a hollow, empty gesture that only assuages white guilt. (In my household, the phrase "Singing the doxology in Spanish" has become one denoting this futility, this empty-gesturism).

This is not to complain that "my church isn't recruiting enough Hispanics", which is itself a fairly racist term. Sure, it'd be fantastic if the community was perceived as (and actually was) more welcoming, and that it would be a safe place for people seeking a relief from whatever they find disagreeable with catholicism (again, a strong cultural trait, predominant but certainly not absolute). Recruitment is certainly not the way to address this; it's too contrived an act to do the church much good. Changing the atmosphere of church, making services (or their transcripts at least) available in Spanish, doing more than just groaning through "De Colores" when we feel the need to honor Hispanic heritage, and overall moving from an empty gesture with good intentions to more meaningful gestures with actual costs and risks for the congregation would do a lot of good. At the least, the presence of the empty gesture seems more offensive than it's absence.

This is a small thing, a local thing. There's much more to be said, about how what currently exists about UU anti-racist efforts and training is east-coast and black-white focused, about how the need for anti-racist training has rendered the nations largest youth-run organization's leadership impotent (time constraints and skewed priorities - important as the work is, a governing body is supposed to govern). There's plenty of room for discourse on racism beyond this, and there also plenty to be said about the dangers of anti-racist education, which is at the least an incredibly draining process. There also the big gaping hole of 'what action to take', since education upon education does not nearly enough.

I'm not going to be able to answer all this, or even pretend I'm able to answer all this. It's a huge issue, and an issue that cannot possibly be resolved just by an army of bloggers. The discourse is important, and so, with that in mind, I present some links.

kittikattie, a friend through livejournal, writes better and more thoroughly than what I can adequately say. Briefly, by topic line, here are the posts : overt vs covert racism, 1968 wasn't even a generation back for me, society's creation of the "Only Black Kid", Sci-Fi and Fantasy: The Whitewashing, The FoCcing Cabal: In Ur Fandomz, Harshin' Ur Squeez, Postive Racism is Still Racism: No, I'm Not A "Strong Black Woman".

Friday, August 10, 2007

Nuke Prevention Corollary

John brought up an interesting point today. Now, the point is from a book he can't find by an author he can't remember, but the point rings true - Nuclear weapons had nothing to do with the relative peace that followed WWII; rather, it was the world leader's experience of the Second World War that encouraged them not to engage in anything similar.

This has its merits - Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and De Gaulle come to mind. Generals, especially, who succeeded in the key area of "not having major foreign wars". They came close - Eisenhower had Korea, Khrushchev fell out of favor post-Cuban Missile Crisis, and de Gaulle both came to power through a coup and then ended a colonial war in Algeria. They led nations in conflicts, but they were always about keeping it contained, keeping it manageable, and about ending it. It's a valuable experience, and their respective roles in WWII no doubt had a serious effect on the outcome.

The trick with relying on memory as the reason no major powers went to war against each other is that memory fades, and people with the memories get old and die. Currently, the united states is on it's second "Baby Boomer" president, and seems ready to elect a third. Putin was born in 1952, and to continue the parallel Sarkozy was born in 1955. These people have no living memory of the second world war, and to be fair, they have no memory of Hiroshima or Nagasaki as well.

They do, however, have a lifetime of fear instilled in them over the prospect of a nuclear war. The cold war left that as a solid legacy (what is the point of 'duck and cover' if not to instill fear?), and they had the actual devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to look back on. The atomic bomb, born of the horrors of WWII, found it's place as a lasting reminder of the exceedingly high costs of war between great powers. The living memory of those first leaders is not to be discredited, (surely, if they had wanted to use the bomb they would have), but the bomb itself, that intense amount of otherworldly power in such a small capsule, will last, and will endure, as the ever-present threat and the lesson learned. Perhaps the bomb did not establish the peace - the bomb certainly secured it.

Nagasaki Day

A few days ago, Christine at iMinister blogged about Hiroshima Day. It's a good piece, and worth reading before returning here. It's okay, I'll give you a few minutes.

Okay, that's enough time.

The legacy of the first usages of atomic weaponry is an almost incomprehensible one. I mean, we'll understand that, but I'm not sure if it will take more time, more generations of removal, or if we're already past the point of most valid critical analysis. On the off-chance that this moment is it, I'm putting forth (again) my opinion.

The atomic bomb dropped against Hiroshima was a necessary thing. Not because of the lives of American soldiers/Japanese soldiers it would have saved - I've never trusted that rationalization; after all, it is the soldiers place to fight and die in war, so that the civilian may live. The bomb was dropped instead to herald in a new era of limited war. Pre-1945, casualties in war seemed to grow exponentially. Post-WWII, casualties per year from war remained at around 1 million, which seems rather high but become more impressive when you consider that ever-growing population of the world.

The atomic bomb was such a force that nations that had previously been willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands were now faced with the possibility of a war that cost hundreds of millions, and suddenly, no major power wanted to risk that devastating. Certainly, powerful nations waged war, but one-sided wars, and not at any cost. Not a particularly good thing, but much better than the escalating cycles of devastation that had previously existed.

Of course, this limit on war, this destructive potential was shown with the first bomb. One real, (practical?) application was enough. The second bomb, the bomb on Nagasaki, was Truman being arrogant and impatient. It hardly can be justified as "We needed to make sure it worked the same every time" , and there is no further, more valid reason necessary for it's use. Hiroshima Day is a grim reminder of the cost of an era of limited war. Nagasaki Day is a testament to the risk the existence this weapon contains, and perhaps its greatest potential for abuse.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Candiate Selection!

Found over on boingboing, which is as uber a blog as I'm going to let myself read. This is a really interesting chart on views, a bit simple as a chart must be, but more depth will come with a narrowing of the field of candidates. What I found more interesting was the link to a survey asking for views on the issues, that both lets you give a position, and than an importance rating from 'meh' to 'key', which was pretty cool. Only problem?

It has me supporting Gravel. Of course, Kucinich in second with Obama in third sounds about right, and hesitant as I am about Richardson, he's a fitting fourth. And Clinton? Right at the bottom of my list for democrats. I'd vote libertarian first, and I'd be sorely tempted to vote green before that.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

No musings today

Well, no musings over the great things, the big things. Instead, I've got a small tidbit up about summer camp on the ol' livejournal. You're welcome to read it, but the personal nature is a bit less formal than I've tried for here. Hehe, me and standards of formality.