Sunday, September 28, 2008

On the necessity of evil

I'll take a shot at defending the (heretical) proposition I mentioned below: that the existence of perfect good requires at least the potentiality of perfect evil. This proof occured to me around last Christmas vacation.

The argument below suggests to me, in the forward direction, that there will never be a time when an evil power does not exist. The evil power must be co-eternal with God in that sense. In the backward direction, too, it seems that the power must always have existed; otherwise there would be no being that could have always had the potentiality to be evil. Whether or not the evil power was always evil, is a different question.

1) Let's start by defining God as a being more perfect than whom nothing can be conceived, as Anselm did.
2) Now, perfection in all senses implies perfection in the moral sense as well.
3) To be morally perfect means giving all things their ordinate affections: loving each thing worthy of love, and hating each thing worthy of hatred, in their own measure.
4) Assume there was a time when the evil power did not exist. Then there would have been a time, before the universe began, that no evil thing existed.
5) At this time, there would have been nothing deserving of hatred, and hatred of evil would have been missing from the attributes of God, since one cannot hate something that does not exist.
6) God would then have the attribute of perfect love for that which is deserving of perfect love (in this case, the love would be the love of the persons of the Trinity for each other.)
7) But it is possible to imagine another, hypothetical, God who not only loved the perfect good with perfect love, but also hated and opposed the perfect evil with perfect hatred.
8) This God would have at least one more positive attribute (ordinate love + ordinate hatred, in comparison with simply ordinate love) than the God who had no perfectly evil being to hate.
9) This God would be more perfect than the real God. But this is a contradiction, since the real God is by definition the most perfect being we can imagine.
10) Therefore, assumption 4) was false, and there was never a time when the evil power did not exist, and there shall never be a time when the evil power does not exist. QED.

Put more simply, we consider it a good attribute to hate that which is worthy of hatred, and to oppose that which is worthy of being opposed. My Oxford Edition says this (that hatred of evil is the counterpart to love of the good) in the gloss on Revelation 2:6; But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. God is a being who not only possesses all good attributes, but must have possessed them in all possible worlds. God cannot do that which diminishes His nature. Since God must always possess all good attributed, he must always possess the attribute of hating and opposing evil, which means evil must always exist.

Anyone want to take a shot at refuting this?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The seventh proof......

Written in secret during the darkest days of Stalinism, Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita is one hell of a read. I read it in Madagascar- Peace Corps service is a great time to do some pleasure reading, when you're stuck in a small village with nothing much to do at night except read by candlelight (and, I suppose, check out the occasional video night at my neighbor's). The novel bases itself on a very simple premise. What happens when the Devil appears in the midst of a society which has convinced itself God does not exist? Sometime during the brilliant first chapter, Woland (i.e. the Devil) asks the young Soviet intellectual Bezdomny, who thinks he has airily dismissed all of the six classic proofs of the existence of God, "What about the seventh proof?"

It isn't immediately clear what the seventh proof is, but it becomes clearer later on. It could either mean the proof of God through direct experience- through mysticism or through witnessing miracles. Or it could mean the inference that in a world full of evil, the devil must necessarily exist, and the existence of the devil necessitates the existence of God.

I think this last argument is quite interesting- both subtle and, to me, compelling. Moreover, it may speak better to an age which has witnessed such a wide variety of natural and moral evil- from the Holocaust to September 11, and from the Indonesian tsunami to the emergence of deadly plagues that threaten human existence. Does the existence of evil in the world, in a subtle way, suggest the existence of God?

I think that this argument is, in some measure, valid. I don't necessarily believe in the orthodox picture of the devil, Satan/Lucifer and all that- much of that picture is not even specified in Christian scripture. But I do believe, as firmly as I believe there is a God, that there is some extreme and terrible force in the universe opposed to God- as chaos opposes order, darkness opposes light, and negative opposes positive. What the nature of that power of evil is, whether it was coeternal with God (I can see I'm flirting with heresy here), and whether it was evil in the beginning, I have no way of knowing. I do hold the (unorthodox) view that God cannot, even if he wanted to, completely extinguish the evil power, and that therefore evil is as much an eternal component of reality as good.

In essence, I am convinced that at the back of everything, behind every drama that we see played out in history, in nature, in the world at large and in our own souls, this is a universe at war, between a good Power and an evil one: between the perfection of good, and the perfection of evil. Not a show battle either, not a trial of strength: a deadly serious war in which every victory, over every soul, means something. This makes the most sense to me of any cosmological concept I've seen. This universe has two basic number senses, two electrical polarities, two plane dimensions, and ultimately, two spiritual forces.

While it may sometimes be difficult to perceive the hand of God in the world, it isn't as difficult (at least for me) to perceive the influence of that nameless evil power. We can see its influence every time we consult the newspaper or the pages of history- or reflect on our own souls. How do you explain Hitler, for example, on a purely naturalistic, materialistic level? Why did he do what he did?

It wasn't the desire for power. The desire for power might have driven Hitler to kill off a few of his political rivals- maybe a few tens of thousands of Communists and Social Democrats, and some of the top Jewish intellectuals, to make a point. Nor was it simple dislike of people who are different. Dislike of others can go a little farther, but there were plenty of anti-Semites throughout European history who didn't translate their views into genocide, and certainly not into such ghoulishly demonic forms of genocide as the Nazis did. Hitler didn't murder six million Jewish men, women and children as a means to some understandable end (power, money, sex, self-regard.....) He did it as an end in itself, as did the Nazi party members who obeyed his orders with pleasure. No doubt they realized that the genocide, and the invasion of Russia, were sealing their own grave: but it didn't matter. For the Nazis, barbaric murder and the dehumanization of other people had become an end, and a source of pleasure in itself. They are our classic and most memorable examples of people who pursue evil for its own sake. Not because they don't know it's evil, but precisely because they do. Another example, of course, would be that Liberian general a few years back who, before leading his troops into battle, would kill and eat the heart of an infant.

That sort of insensate pursuit of evil for its own sake, has very little explanation- either in terms of evolution or in terms of economics or psychology. Lack of empathy with others, and a certain cruel streak, can be useful as means to amass money or power- but in this case, the murderous intent was completely out of proportion to any reasonable end. Why would that Liberian general deliberately try to do the most wicked thing he could think of? It's impossible for us to conceive of that action in a rationalistic framework of ends and means. Just as evolutionary psychology has trouble explaining someone like St. Francis of Assisi, it has an even harder time explaining those people who value the pursuit of an evil end more than anything else- more than food, money, sex, power, self-regard, or even life itself. The only explanation I can give- for the Liberian cannibal general, and for the Nazis- is to postulate some malign and evil power, that enters into human hearts and transforms us for the worse in the same way that God transforms us for the better.

Once you grant that, of course, you have granted the existence of a supernatural power of evil: something beyond what we can call 'natural' or 'usual' or 'comprehensible' evil. We have granted the existence of a power that seeks and loves evil for its own sake- a power that is, in a word, the perfection of evil. And once you grant the existence of an evil power, you must also postulate the existence of a rival Power, the perfection of good- for evil is meaningless without good to prey on, to corrupt, and to define itself against. Put simply, world in which all beings were evil would be a world in which there would be no good souls to be corrupted or unjustly tormented; and inasmuch as injustice and corruption are a basic component of evil, the existence of evil requires the existence of good, and the existence of perfect evil requires the existence of perfect good. That is as orthodox a proposition as any; the converse, that the existence of good requires the existence of evil, is of course heretical. That doesn't make it true or false, of course; personally I suspect that it may be true. At least, it seems to me that to be perfectly good, there must be at least the potentiality of evil for good to define itself against. I'm glad I belong to a church that doesn't kick people out for heresy anymore. :)

And thus we arrive at the conclusion of the seventh proof, the proof with which the devil taunted Bezdomny: that the existence of extreme and radical evil proves that there is a power that is the perfection of all things good, the best and most benevolent being that can be conceived; "and this all men call God."

Friday, September 26, 2008

The tree of life....

So I was recently asked by an NGO that works on agricultural extension in developing countries, to write some articles for their website, about uses of the moringa tree. Actually, pretty much all this organization does is plant moringa trees and encourage people in third world countries- university students, farmers, agricultural extension workers, school kids, women with home gardens, people with a small plot of land, urban gardeners- to plant them and to make use of them. Moringa is a small tree or shrub, a cousin of the papaya family and a more distant cousin of the cabbage family, grown across the tropics for its edible leaves and fruits and a variety of auxiliary uses.

In Madagascar, planting Moringa trees (locally called añanambo in the West, feliky morongo in the south and añamorongo in the north) was something that I did a lot of. I gave a lot of presentations on the benefits of moringa, to a variety of different audiences (school kids, village associations, farmers, teenagers, and interested villagers), and I would try and work the benefits of moringa trees into many presentations that I would give, whether they were on agroforestry or nutrition. It got so that it was a bit of a running joke in my village, that I was crazy about the moringa tree. They didn't call me 'Mr. Moringa' but they might as well.

This is not a tree that is well known in the States, for the simple reason that it doesn't grow outside the tropics, and doesn't even grow well in the high altitude tropics. (In Madagascar, for example, it grows everywhere but the 'High Plateau.') I do have an uncle who tried to plant one in Texas, but it died; I'm thinking about trying to grow a few seedlings in a greenhouse.

The reason I was so enthusiastic about Moringa is because it has a wide variety of benefits and advantages- nutritional, economic, ecological and agricultural. It hasn't been the subject of a lot of scientific research, but what is known about it suggests that it could be planted and used much more widely across the tropics.

Moringa is actually the genus that includes about 12 different species, but the one of most interest as an agroforestry tree is Moringa oleifera. "Moringa" and equivalent terms ("morongy" in French, "marengo" in Spanish, 'malunggay' in Tagalog, "morongo" in the north of Mada) are derived from the Tamil "murunkakkai" as the tree is native to India. They can grow up to 8 m tall but are usually grown as tall shrubs or small trees, not more than about 3 m tall. They don't tolerate cold at all, but can flourish in a variety of rainfall regimes from rain forest to desert. (Moringa evolved as an oasis plant and is even now highly prized in dry regions of the tropics- southwest Madagascar, southeast India, the Sahel) where little else grows.

Moringa is most important as a source of green vegetables; you can eat the leaflets off the tree, as a leaf vegetable. It's a bit laborious to prepare since you need to strip the leaflets off their stalk, otherwise you end up with tough and inedible bits of stalk in your food. The taste is a bit like collard greens except stronger, and the texture is a little tougher; the leaves have a mustard-like scent which is pleasant when they're fresh but can get unpleasant if the leaves are left for days and begin to spoil. All in all, it's a pretty tasty vegetable, and can be cooked with rice, fish, shrimp, meat, millet porridge, and other things; often it works better if you mix it with other milder-tasting green vegetables, or add some onions to soften the flavor. The white flowers can be eaten as well, as can the fruits (which look something like long bean pods).

Green moringa leaves are probably the single most nutritious vegetable around. They have a good deal of protein, and much more calcium per unit weight than milk- about 200 grams of moringa leaves have all the calcium you need in a day. They are also good sources of vitamins and minerals.

Aside from that, moringa trees have some important auxiliary uses. The leaves contain a growth hormone (of the cytokinin group) which is soluble in alcohol but not in water. You can steep the pounded leaves in 80% ethanol to extract the cytokinin hormone- you could also use mroe dilute ethanol but then you need more solvent of course. The extract can be diluted with water as needed and used as a spray on leaves. Studies in Nicaragua suggest that it can improve the growth and yield of numerous vegetables and grains (corn, peanuts, onions, tomatoes, peppers) by 25-30%. It is, of course a _growth hormone_ that accelerates growth, and doesn't fuel growth; you need to support that growth with inputs of chemical or organic fertilizer.

I don't know of any scientific studies that have been done on whether moringa protects crops against insect damage. But I personally would guess that at the least, moringa leaves have strong anti-herbivore defenses of their own. In my experience I've never seen a moringa tree with significant leaf damage although that may be partially because the leaflets are tiny and the tree drops them when they are attacked. Moringa is closely related to the papaya family, and papaya leaves are widely used as a 'natural' insecticide in developing countries. The mustard oils which give moringa leaves their characteristic smell are known to be anti-herbivore compounds, and moringa leaves are known to contain alkaloids and flavonoids, a class of organic molecules often involved in plant defence. Moringa leaves are known to have nematicidal properties when used as a green manure, which suggests that they have some toxic secondary compounds.

Moringa also, interestingly, has 'extrafloral nectaries'- small nectar glands at the base of stalks. In some other trees (Acacias, most notably) these play a role in attracting predatory insects and ants that help defend the tree. I'm not sure if the ones in Moringa are involved in plant defense, attracting pollinators, or what. Plants in the cabbage family are known to actively 'solicit' predatory insects when they are under attack by herbivores- sort of like calling on the cavalry, I suppose. It's possible that Moringa can do the same thing. At some point it would be nice if someone did a study on it. Maybe after I finish with grad school I will try to do a small study along those lines myself, at least if fate brings me back to the tropics. But this is certainly too important a topic to go un-studied.

Moringa, finally, can be used as a water purification agent. I've tried it for this purpose before. I didn't drink much of the water, because I didn't really want to risk imbibing some nasty amoebas or Giardia (those are not pleasant ailments), but I did taste the water (which had come from a river) and it didn't make me sick. You can visibly see the junk in the water ( dissolved and suspended material) coagulate and sink to the bottom when you add powdered Moringa seed to the solution (just a couple seeds per liter). The explanation is apparently that the moringa seeds contain a protein attaches to negatively charged dirt particles and bacteria, and aggregates them into micelles, analogously to how soap helps clean off a surface. The technical term is a 'flocculant' protein....I just love that word.

There are other uses of Moringa too (green manure, nematicide, oilseed....there are apparently even farmers in Haiti who feed their pigs on sugar and moringa leaves. No kidding.) I will try and write about them some other time. But the take home message is that Moringa oleifera is a seriously under-utilized and under-studied plant that could play a big role in improved and sustainable rural development in the third world.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The suffering of children.....

So I was listening to NPR the other day and I heard the story about the Sanlu Milk Company. No doubt you've all heard it now. A recent government inspection, following a rash of illnesses among small infants, found that 22 companies in China- most notably the Sanlu Milk Company, which is 43% owned by the New Zealand dairy cooperative Fonterra- were selling milk adulterated with melamine. Melamine is one of the most nitrogen-rich organic compounds in existence- with two nitrogens for every carbon, and 66% nitrogen by weight. It is derived from the naturally occuring chemical cyanamide, which plants use to kill weed competitors and insects, if I recall correctly. It's sometimes used as a nitrogen source for cows (they can assimilate some inroganic nitrogen because of the bacteria in their stomachs) but is a poor one, hard to break down.

It's also, of course, toxic to humans. It causes kidney stones, bladder stones, urinary problems, and acute kidney problems. So far, 6200 infants are sick, many in serious condition, and four have died. They didn't die peacefully in their sleep either. They sickened and died in pain over months, as their young bodies couldn't deal with the toxin and their kidneys gradually shut down. Imagine dying over the course of months, being slowly poisoned by your own urine as your kidneys shut down. And imagine being only a year old, and not having any idea what is happening to you.

Melamine is illegaly used as a food and feed adulterant in China, in order to evade quality tests. Tests of protein content typically directly test nitrogen concentration, since proteins are typically the largest source of nitrogen in most organic material. Melamine is nutritionally less than worthless (or actually, toxic) but because it is 66% nitrogen by weight (protein is only 16% on average) it "fools" the test into concluding that the protein content is higher than it is- one gram of melamine is interpreted as four grams of protein. So in order to be able to claim that their product was high in protein, and thus to be able to dilute it with water and produce it more cheaply, the food product company adulterated it and produced milk that was not only watered-down, but laden with poison as well.

I have no words, really, to describe this, except one: evil. If you ever doubted that real evil existed in the world, think about deliberately adding poison to the milk that mothers are going to feed to small infants. Think about watching a baby suck on its bottle and knowing that they are sucking down something that will crystallize in their kidneys and shut them down. What makes this worse is that the company, and the Chinese government, knew about this at least by June, and probably by March of this year. But rather than risk a scandal that would detract from the glory of the Olympics, they hushed it up for four months until four babies were dead, and six thousand very sick.

And this in a supposedly socialist country, too. Karl Marx, a century and a half ago, wrote indignantly about the iniquity of the British capitalists who were adulterating the bread that British workmen ate, with chalk, alum and other nutritionally worthless substances. Of course, Karl Marx was writing in a more innocent time, when people assumed that we were progressing day by day towards a better future- a world of more humanity, more charity, and more goodwill. Karl Marx thought the British capitalists of his day were evil enough (and they were); he would have been stunned that the Chinese capitalists of the future would adulterate milk for children, not just with chalk but with actual poison. He couldn't foresee this any more than he could foresee the cruel and brutal ends to which his own ideology would be put by Mao.

We've certainly proved, in the last hundred years or so, how evil we can be as a race, and it's just been proven again this month. The women who have lost or are losing their children are poor, helpless peasant women who did as they were told and now have no recourse. No recourse except for the one who said, And whoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. Let's pray for the families who have lost children, and for the children themselves. In Brazilian folk tradition it used to be held- perhaps still is- that infants who die before the age of reason go straight to heaven and attend on the throne of the Lord. Maybe that's true, maybe not, but I like to hope that it is. And above all, let's not forget, twenty years from now when China is the biggest economy in the world, the extent to which their wealth was built on the suffering of children.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This means YOU

Hey there,

I know that some of my personal friends read this blog on occasion. Brownsox, The Mandarin, Quantum, PuertoRicoLibre, SuQiLian and all you should post some comments on here! I would love to hear what you guys think of my blog. Even if it's just "Hector you are fuckin retarded", or "NO the Indian Mutiny was perfectly justified" or whatever. Come and start a conversation!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Morales, the Lincoln of the Andes

Did I not predict this?

In my very first substantial post on this blog, I predicted that liberal democracy in Bolivia would prove an unstable thing. And the events of the last few days are proving me right. Bolivia is not in civil war- yet. But it is inching closer every day. Over 30 people were killed over the weekend, mostly pro-Morales peasant activists in the opposition-ruled eastern province of Pando. Airports, highways, and public facilities have been occupied and burned by opposition protesters. The governor of Pando has been arrested on charges of genocide, as it is alleged that he engineered the violent protests which left 30 dead. The right wing opposition, for its part, has declared that it won't compromise until Evo Morales scuttles his plans to call a referendum on the new constitution. (This constitution would be an explicitly socialist one, which would aim to place more of the economy in the hands of workers' and peasants' cooperatives, nationalize land and some industries, and generally move society in the direction of socialist values and common ownership.)

Perhaps these yahoos forgot that Evo Morales, just last month, won 67% of the popular vote in a national referendum. Or more likely, it doesn't matter to them- and maybe it shouldn't. This is just more proof that the liberal order which took root in one South American country after another in the 1980s, is a thing built on sand. Political liberalism works only in a society where people don't care very much about the outcome of political struggle- or to put it more precisely, where people prefer to keep the peace, and to maintain general political freedom for all, even at the cost of seeing their political opponents in power. It works well in the US, but not so well in some other places. In a country like Bolivia, what stands out most saliently to me is that the two sides- call them rich and poor, lowlander and highlander, Indian and white, socialist and capitalist, nationalist and globalizer, or what you will- have absolutely nothing to say to each other. They share very little in common, and their visions of a good society are diametrically opposed. One looks at modern United States and sees a paradise, the other sees a nightmare: and vice versa for the 'theocratic socialism' of the old Inca Empire. Morales and his enemies differ not over means, but over ends, and it is looking increasingly likely that they will only be able to communicate at the barrel of a gun.

This isn't an ideal situation of course. Civil war- all war, for that matter, is a painful and excruciating thing for individuals and societies; it results in mothers losing their children, children losing their parents, women losing their husbands, men losing their brothers, and in the modern age above all most of its casualties are always civilians. But as bad as war is, there are worse things for a society than a just war or a just revolution, just as there are worse things for an individual person than physical pain or even death.

The Bolivian peasantry and workers are among the poorest and most exploited in Latin America, which in itself is the most unequal region of the world, although the U.S. is giving it a run for its money these days. Some 65% of Bolivians live below the poverty line: 25% of children are seriously malnourished, and 28% lack access to clean drinking water. Less than 700 farms own half the land in Bolivia, and 0.63 percent of farmers own 66% of arable land: land ownership in Bolivia may be the most unequal in the world outside Chile. The Inter-American Human Rights commission, a generally fairly conservative body, has said that on many ranches, Guarani Indians are working in conditions of near-slavery.

The referendum scheduled for December would ask the people to set a cap on the amount of land that any landowner could own. It would set the maximum at between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares. That's a hell of a lot of land! Only 5000 Bolivians own more than 15,000 acres which suggests to you how few people would be the targets of land redistribution efforts. That measure would be both beneficial and highly necessary- nay, long overdue.

But that's precisely why the right wing oligarchs in Santa Cruz and Pando oppose them. They don't want a fairer, juster society, they want to hang on to their privileges, and continue to pursue their own greed and self-interest, even while Bolivian children are dying of hunger, poverty and despair. Let me rephrase that. Not only do they want to hang on to their bloated wealth, they want to expand it, by further dismantling what remains of the Commons. Some 400,000 hectares in communally-owned Guarani areas, in the last decade, have been transferred to foreign owners, and even more to Bolivian capitalists- resulting in deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and the demise of local fisheries. All the while, the Indians of Bolivia who have never had an easy life, have sunk even further into destitution.

This is why Bolivia had its revolution in 1952, and again in 1969, and it was why they had a peaceful revolution again in 2005. Even Torres, the general who hounded Che Guevara to death, knew in his heart that Bolivia was a savagely unequal place where the rich lived in luxury and the poor in destitution- a mere two years after killing Guevara, he fulfilled Guevara's dream by overthrowing the government in the name of a (short-lives) socialism. The ones in 1952 and '69 failed because the oligarchy proved too strong for them. But you can only oppress a people long enough until they realize they have nothing to lose. How much longer will the Bolivian revolution remain peaceful? I hope and pray that it will- but equally, I hope and pray that the Morales government does not underestimate the evil that still rules over the hearts of many of its opponents in the oligarchy, and that it never values peace above justice.

Hear the words of the enemies of the Morales Revolution. Mauricio Roca, vice president of the Eastern Agricultural Chamber, swears that he will defend his vast estates against any attempt to redistribute land- even at the cost of his life and the lives of his children. This man is willing to value his right to exploit other people's labor and to monopolize land while others starve- even over his own life. How do you respond to someone like that? This is the voice of someone who has truly lost all sense of proportion. It's not even selfish (how can it be selfish to risk one's own life)- it's in a word, diabolic. It is the worship of greed, and money, for their own sakes, not even for the sake of what you can get out of them- it is the love of money more than life itself. It reminds me of Tolstoy's short story about the man who sold his soul to the devil for a piece of land, and who exerted himself so hard to snag the biggest plot of land he could, that he died in the attempt. And as Tolstoy points out, at the end of it all a plot six feet wide by six feet deep was all he needed, and all he got.

And let's not go into the opposition governors who are trying to bully Morales, elected with 67% of the vote, into jettisoning a referendum that the country needs and wants. Let's not go into how they have destroyed public infrastructure, killed 30 civilians, assassinated peasant activists, and shamelessly used lies and propaganda to get their way. They remind me, to be frank, of the Confederates in the American Civil War. Just like the Confederates, they use the rhetoric of autonomy and secession to try and preserve an unjust social order- oligarchic capitalism where land and wealth are concentrated in a few men's hands. I do not want a war, and I hope that Bolivia can avoid it. But if the fox must face the hounds at last, if there is no more room for compromise, if the right wing oligarchs make the decision that they would rather accept war than accept the loss of their ill-gotten wealth, then I hope and pray that Morales does not shy away from the hard path, any more than Lincoln did. If Bolivia's revolution does turn violent, and if war, violent revolution and repression are inevitable, then we should never forget on whose head the responsibility lies. Posterity will remember that it was the oligarchs themselves who brought Bolivia into crisis, who courted secession and subversion, and who ended up bringing the storm of civil war down on their own heads.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I kid you not......

So this morning, while I was searching the Internet for news about the looming civil war in Bolivia, I came across a story in the "you gotta hear it to believe it" category.

A 22-year old college student in California, "Natalie Dylan", is planning to auction off her virginity to the highest bidder to pay for her college tuition. On the Howard Stern show. The act will take place at the "Moonlite Bunny Ranch", a legal brothel in Nevada. She's willing to undergo a polygraph to prove that she is in fact a virgin.

But don't think Ms. Dylan is looking for just anyone. No, she has hopes that this could lead to the love of her lifetime. "Through this process I'm not just looking for the highest bidder," she says. "I'm looking for someone who is a genuine, overall nice person." Her mother, a fourth grade teacher, disapproves of the idea but says she will "support her daughter". Ms. Dylan is reasonably attractive so I'm sure she will make fairly well out of the deal, at least in a financial sense.

I forgot to add....Ms. Dylan wants to go into "marriage and family therapy" as a career. I s---t you not. I wonder how she would counsel the Spitzer family?

This is.....well, wow is all I can really say. I suppose given my somewhat "Christianist" social views and my penchant for lamenting the decadence of modern society, I should be decrying this as a horrible sin. And well, yes, doubtlessly it is a sin, falling under the species of prostitution (although generally prostitution is a greater sin for the client than the prostitute), and if she asked me whether I approve or not, I would have to say that I don't. But moral disapproval aside, I have to say that there's something that makes you grudgingly admire this girl's creativity- and oddly, her touching innocence even in the process of doing such a salacious thing. This is really far the shake-your-head, aren't-people-amazing-creatures kind of way. Here you have a girl who's innocent enough to keep their virginity until they're 22 (it may be social timidity rather than moral conviction, although that's more the case with guys than girls)....and then jaded enough to throw it to some guy with a few dozen grand to spare. Someone who's innocent enough to consult her mother (!) on the virginity auction, and to actually hope to meet a "all around nice person"..... and someone who wants to find him through an auction on the Howard Stern Show. Someone who wants to devote her career to counseling husbands and wives, and parents and children, how to get along with each other better.....and wants to jump-start her career at the Bunny Ranch. Jesus Holy Christ.....never was the complex mixture of good and bad in the human heart more evident. To tell the truth, the mixture of sweet innocence and amoral calculation reminds me of those aristocratic families in medieval Europe- the same culture that gave us the concept of courtly love, and the invention of the modern romantic ideal, also saw noble families effectively auctioning off their daughters' hands in marriage in a way that was not so different than this.

I think poor Ms. Dylan is making a bad choice, but she's doing it with a weird mixture of panache and sweet innocence that is, frankly, more than a bit endearing. I don't think anything good is going to come to her out of this....but I really hope it does. If any blame is to be attached in this weird situation, and their must be, then it should probably be cast on a society that has been so schizophrenic in its moral ideals, and that has failed to give Ms. Dylan better guidance. I hope that someday all of the lost, in our society, who are looking for guidance and inspiration will find it....and I hope and pray that against all odds, Ms. Dylan manages to preserve her innocence, and finds, at the end of the road, her "genuine, overall nice person", with whom she can experience l'amore che muove il sole e l'altre stelle.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Congratulations to the Palin women

Needless to say, I have no particular fondness for Sarah Palin's political views, and I don't expect to be voting Republican this fall. At this stage it would be monstrously irresponsible of the United States President not to recognize the reality of global climate change, and it would be dangerous of us to have a President who has as much faith as McCain or Palin in American military adventurism abroad.

Nevertheless, I do have a lot of respect for Ms. Palin as a person and as a woman, and I would expect us all to feel the same way, regardless of our politics. We should be reasonable enough to recognize the good in our political opponents, and there is a lot of good in Sarah Palin. Ms. Palin's life story in some important ways embodies the good and true aspects of feminism. Women should not be forced to choose between having a career and having a family- and in fact, Ms. Palin hasn't had to choose. One could almost say that Ms. Palin is a truer model of feminism than Hillary Clinton. She didn't ride her husband's coat-tails to public office, she was able to have five children to Hillary's one (most American women do not want to have five kids, but they also want to have more than one), and she even takes part in traditionally 'masculine' sports like moose hunting. Ms. Clinton, for all her achievements, did apparently have to sacrifice the good of a second child- Ms. Palin hasn't, and so she provides living proof that a woman can achieve high public office, not playing second fiddle to anyone, and not giving up her hope to have a family.

Ms. Palin's personal choices with respect to children also deserve our respect and admiration. She could easily have chosen to 'get rid of' her last child, Trig, who has Down's syndrome. Over 90% of Americans make that choice. It's the wrong choice of course, as abortion is almost always the wrong choice: life should tell us that the easy choice is seldom the right one. Ms. Palin made the right choice, and the hard one: the same choice the parents of a good friend of mine made when they had their last child.

Let me make this clear, I'm not just affirming her freedom to make that decision. That's a meaningless and silly form of affirmation. I am saying that she made the right choice, and that any other choice would have been the wrong one, even if it's the one that most Americans would have made. Ms. Palin was tested in the fires where temptation burns away at our souls, and she emerged with her sense of right and wrong unscathed. We are all tested at various critical points in our lives, and we should hope that we can respond with the courage and charity of Ms. Palin.

Likewise, we ought to lend our support and admiration for her daughter Bristol, who has made the right decision- and again, the hard one- to keep her baby. A great many young Americans in her position would have 'gotten rid of it'. For the sake of their freedom, or their careers, or their education, or simply because they didn't want a baby. Bristol Palin again realized that the easy choice is seldom the right one, and she chose to keep her child. No doubt she will endure some hardship and pain for it, although being the Governor's daughter she will have money and a support system, resources that too many young women in America lack. But again, she deserves our applause for choosing life, in the face of a culture that tells her to choose her own happiness.

We should, finally, extend our admiration and respect to young Mr. Johnston, who has made the right decision by offering to marry Ms. Palin. It seems to me that that's simply the decent thing to do, if you get a woman pregnant, to offer to marry her. It's really too sad that too many men in America have forgotten this elementary moral precept.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"He was served by the martyrs, and by the men that made the martyrs."

I have an insane amount of work to do this coming week, mostly because I missed a day and a half (and was in an unproductive, frazzled state last weekend) on account of the fiasco with my car in Baltimore. I should really be working, and given that I am blogging, I should really be writing about one of the areas I know more about, like perennial grain ecology or Latin American politics.

But I wanted to say a few words about John McCain's speech a couple days ago. Hopefully this will attract the interest of more readers than another paean to the glories of the Morales regime in Bolivia.

I have immense respect for John McCain and I think he is fundamentally a good and great man, and this comes very largely from my admiration from his experience in Vietnam. Let me make one thing clear. In no sense do I support the Vietnam war, and in no sense do I think that he was fighting for 'our freedom' or 'our safety', and even less for the freedom and safety of the Vietnamese. Let's be honest. The American cause in Vietnam was an evil one. The government we were fighting to preserve was a corrupt and greedy oligarchy intent on preserving its own privileges, led by a general who said, famously, "We need four or five Hitlers in Vietnam". This was the regime that herded peasants into barbed-wire camps, that allowed American planes to spread poison over the countryside, that tortured prisoners in the tiger cages, and that turned Saigon into a byword for greed, prostitution and decadence. Vietnam needed socialism. It needed a government that would ensure that farmers and workers could own their land and factories and no longer be at the mercy of the landlord, and it needed a government which could inspire people to work for something greater than themselves, and a set of values which looked to a future where men related to one another in a spirit of love and cooperation instead of self-interest and exploitation. This was worth fighting for, and it was worth a certain degree of war and repression. Ho Chi Minh and his men, for all their faults, were fighting for a good cause in Viet Nam, and the Americans and South Vietnamese were fighting for a bad one.

That doesn't make John McCain's sacrifice and suffering any less admirable. Do we honestly think that you can only do great things while fighting for a good cause? What matters isn't whether McCain's cause was the right one. What matters is that he believed it was the right one, that he held a (to me, misplaced) faith in liberal democracy and capitalism that led him to (again, wrongly) believe that he was doing the right thing for the people of Vietnam. And that he held on to his faith, and his convictions, even when he was subjected to intense torture. What matters, even more, is not his loyalty to his country or his political beliefs but his loyalty to his friends. He loved the men he served with and those he suffered with, so much so that he turned down the offer of early release so that those who had suffered longer than he had would be released earlier. He was sorely tempted to take the easy road; he took the hard one, at the cost of tremendous pain and despair. Maritain said, "God was served by the martyrs, and He was served by the executioners that made the martyrs." He is served whenever a person willingly endures suffering for the sake of others, and whenever a person acts out of love, even if the object of their love may be somewhat misplaced; just the same as when someone acts out of hatred and self-love, even if they do it in the name of something good, it is someone quite other than God who is pleased.

I don't have any particular liking for a number of historical causes. I think that the Ayyubid drive to reconquer the Holy Land was a bad cause; I think that Stalinism was a bad cause, and so was the Indian Mutiny, and so was Falangism. That doesn't mean that I think that Saladin, or Tukhachevsky, or General Moscardo, or Lakshmibai, Queen of Jhansi, who went to her death at Gwalior crying "Mera Jhansi denge nay" were bad people. They were great people, who acted according to their own lights, and sometimes suffered for it.

We often don't know what is right, and all we can do is follow our own conscience. Whether we are ultimately right or wrong, we can remember that suffering for the sake of those we love is always a good act, much as killing or torturing the innocent is always a bad one, regardless of how base or noble the cause in whose name we do it. And we can hope that if we are ever tested, and called upon to take the hard road rather than the easy one, we can do so with as much courage as John McCain.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thoughts on abortion, inspired by Ms. Palin

I didn't mean to imply, in my last post, that I'm in any way pro-choice, or even giving up on the pro-life cause. I certainly believe that we need to provide a constant witness about abortion, and keep alive the idea that it is a moral wrong, and a grave one. In time, hopefully, we can build up enough of a majority in favor of overturning the current legal regime. Russia under Putin began to roll back their abortion licence, other states have too. The experience of ancient Rome is informative; truly there's nothing new under the sun.

In light of that, I'm going to start by throwing out there some pro-life arguments. Actually, that's a misnomer. There are plenty of actual arguments in favor of the pro-life cause, some of which don't require a Christian framework, but many of them depend on premises (such as the distinction between essence and accidents, or the teleological argument about 'Final Ends' of human life, or the sacrality of nature) which many pro-choice liberals no doubt do not share. I will acknowledge that while abortion is a grave wrong, the exact reason why it's a grave wrong has historically been a subtle one, and not readily apparent to most people. That is why most ancient cultures- with the notable exception of the Jews and the Zoroastrians, and those who grew out of them like the Christians and Muslims- did not feel that abortion was a form of homicide. Many people today don't think so either, and that is why abortion- since it so often lacks the element of malice- is better classified as a type of manslaughter rather than murder.

Instead I'll try and use the via negativa. This is what convinced me, after all. Before I came to believe in the Platonic doctrine of essences, or even to accept the divinity of Christ, I was having serious doubts about the morality of abortion. Not because I (yet) could provide positive grounds for believing that life and personhood began at implantation, which I now believe. Rather because I perceived that the doctrine that abortion was the woman's choice and fully morally licit, had led society into a number of blind alleys that I thought were both logically paradoxical and morally indefensible. The reduction to absurdity is a powerful tool in mathematics, and sometimes we can understand why a wrong idea is wrong by following it to its logical conclusion.

Consider what I perceived as the logical consequences of legal abortion-on-demand, in the United States and Western Europe of the turn of the millenium.
- It was fully legal to remove an infant from its mother's womb a day before birth, and subject it to a gruesome death, yet if the mother gave birth naturally to her infant and then killed it, this suddenly became a horrible crime.
- A mother was committing no indictable crime if she chose to use tobacco, cocaine, alcohol, and other harmful drugs while pregnant, and subject her baby to a lifetime of physical and mental handicaps.
- Over 90% of babies with Down's syndrome were denied the opportunity ever to be born. I have a good friend whose sister has Down's, and it's no accident that they are opposed to abortion.
- The birth rate in much of Western and Eastern Europe, and in the east coast of the United States, particularly among the better educated social groups, was well below replacement level. In Germany, the birth rate is only about 1.3; each woman typically only has one child and many have none. I'm all for a stable or slowly declining human population, but there is something deeply sad and troubling about a society in which so many families are childless by choice.
-Patriarchal families in India and China choose- on a grand and terrible scale- to practice selective abortion of female children, and the gender ballance has tipped to a disturbing extreme. Pro-choice feminists, to their credit, typically can sense this is terribly wrong; but they can't explain why it's wrong, or propose what could be done about it, without betraying their own faith that abortion must remain legal, ever and always.
- We are already hearing talk about abortion being used as a means of genetically shaping the population: eugenics, in a word. Today's cheerfully ghoulish intellectuals are busy explaining why there is fundamentally nothing wrong with eugenics. After all, we can have an abortion for whatever reason we want, right? If you can have one because you'd prefer not to jeopardize your promotion to partner of the firm, then why not have one because you'd prefer a baby with blue eyes?
- Abortion, far from being a 'hard case' or something rarely practiced, has become the norm in some subcultures, so much so that when a teenager in an liberal, middle- or upper-middle class suburb chooses to resign herself to bearing a child, we treat this as something abnormal or unhealthy. Three quarters of all pregnancies in New York City end in an abortion. While of course those young girls in Gloucester earlier this year made some poor choices, their choice to bear and raise their children instead of getting rid of them, was a great one. I pray that Providence is with them, for the good wishes of the chattering classes in our media certainly weren't.
-So much of the moral drama and tragedy of life in the age before Roe v. Wade is not only gone, but almost incomprehensible to today's young people. We can listen to 'Love Child', that masterpiece by Diana Ross, but how much can we really relate to it? Character, and love, are born out of suffering and tragedy, and a world without suffering and bitter, painful trade-offs would also be a world without virtue. Hidden somewhere in the dark netherworld of falsehoods spun by a thinker like Judith Jarvis Thompson is the hoarse and ancient whisper that we can have a world without suffering, a world without pain, a world without tragedy and a world without sacrifice: a world, in other words, without the Cross.
- Unmarried pregnancy is higher than it ever has been in the USA, reaching 70% among African Americans. At the same time, romantic relationships break up with shocking speed and fragility, whether they be marriages or simple college relationships. Just look at our divorce rate. This isn't surprising. In a world before abortion, a young man and woman looked for certain traits in a partner, among them the ability to be a good father or mother. This was because most long-term relationships did eventually result in children, and you had best be prepared for that. Birth control was widely available, by the 1960s and 1970s, and thank God for that. But no birth control is foolproof, and it was always open to God to bestow a child on a couple if He chose, whether or not they used birth control. And couples prepared for that eventuality, and asked themselves at some subconscious level, 'Is this person the type who I could raise a child with'? Now women no longer have to ask that question and men no longer have to answer it, and in that changed bargain both parties have lost something of themselves. Men can now have an easy out from a pregnancy, they can say that it's her responsibility, since she could have had an abortion if she chose. And many men have taken that easy out, leaving a chain of broken hearts and ruined lives in their wake.
- So many of us are so deeply troubled by the way modern Western society has raped and deformed the natural world. We are troubled by how we have interrupted natural cycles, deformed natural ecosystems, simplified natural communities, halted natural processes. Yet we think nothing, when it comes to ourselves and our own societies, of halting childbirth, such a basic natural process and one frought with spiritual meaning.

I could go on, but you get the picture. None of these things, in and of themselves, is dispositive. None of them touches the heart of the issue, whether the fetus is a human person and how we define a human person. That's the key issue, of course, but it's a difficult issue, and one that it's difficult to be persuaded on, one way or the other. I offer these as little points to start a discussion, and to hopefully get some pro-choice people to wonder, and to ruminate. It's a decent principle to live by, that if you don't know whether a principle is right or wrong, follow it to its logical conclusion. If it leads you into scary places, into logical error or moral unhealthiness, then the principle might well be wrong. For any of you who may read this post and thoroughly disagree with me, I welcome that. I might be wrong, though I don't believe I am. I do welcome comments, and I hope that in time I will have gotten someone to start asking themselves some searching questions.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Culture of life

As should be pretty clear, I'm generally more interested in international politics than domestic ones. I suppose I should say something about the Sarah Palin controversy, however.

I don't have any liking for Sarah Palin's politics, other than on the abortion issue (that's an understatement, I really dislike them.) While abortion is a very important issue for me, it's doubtful that the absurd Roe v. Wade decision is going anywhere in the foreseeable future, and so I don't see that electing McCain and Palin is really going to accomplish anything. To paraphrase Bill James, abolishing abortion is where you finish the work of building a culture of life; it isn't where you begin it.

Until we have a solid majority in this country who understands and is willing to submit to the historic teaching of the Didache as pertains to abortion, electing Republicans will not change a damn thing, and so I am not at all tempted to vote Republican.

Freedom and cooperative socialism

In my last post about "Socialist Factories' in Venezuela, I mentioned the experience of INVEPAL, a partly worker-owned paper factory in Venezuela that has become a showcase of the Venezuelan revolution's ideals of cooperative production. It is worth looking more in detail at the experience of both Invepal and a similar enterprise, Inveval (which makes valves). Both were nationalized in 2004 and 2005 respectively. They had been privately owned up until the unrest of 2003, when most of the country's capitalists attempted to shut down the national economy, and overthrow Chavez, by closing their factories. Fortunately, the owners wound up hurting primarily themselves: they kept their factories closed so long that they effectively went bankrupt, while Chavez managed to ride out the storm and emerge more powerful than before. The workers at the paper and valve factories had little desire to participate in the 'strike' however, and they seized the factories and started to operate them themselves. In the year and a half or so that the workers at Invepal (at that time called Venepal) ran the factory, they set records for the highest productivity and lowest wastage the factory had every seen.

Today, both Invepal and Inveval are run according to the principle of 'co-management', in which they are jointly managed by the state and by the workers. In 2006-2007, each were owned 51% by the national government, and 49% by the workers' association. This probably isn't a stable equilibrium, as the government has made it clear they would prefer to nationalize the companies and have them owned by the state but run by their workers; the workers' associations on the other hand have the right to in extending their share of the ownership up to 95-99%. Apparently in the last year the Venezueland government has made the decision to fully nationalize Invepal, though I haven't been able to verify this. It will, however, remain worker-managed.

There are some interesting differences between the companies though. The valve company, Inveval, is run along egalitarian, democratic lines. Each worker, from the worker-manager down to the person who sweeps out the restrooms, receives the same wage. The workers at Inveval have said that they 'don't want to create new capitalists' and for this reason they would prefer that the state own the company and control the profits, although they would like to control the working process and working conditions. It hasn't been able to produce many valves yet due to a lack of raw materials- the associated foundry was shut down by its owner during the general strike of 2003, and was never nationalized, so they lack a supplier. Regardless, when they get up and running presumably Inveval will be an example of a highly ideological extreme of a cooperative- on the extreme left of the cooperative spectrum. Last year, a 'Revolutionary Union' of cooperative workers was founded at Inveval, and has begun to spread to other industries. This union, Fretecos, has been very vocally anti-capitalist and has warned that the Venezuelan revolution needs to ensure that worker-owners do not become little capitalists, and that they never forget that their primary goal should be producing for the common good, rather than pursuing their own self-interest. Fretecos has insisted that cooperatively owned companies should produce goods at a fair price that can be afforded by poor Venezuelans, even when that cuts into their profits.

Invepal, on the other hand, has gotten into a bit of hot water for hiring contract laborers who are not part of the worker-owner cooperative, and for firing redundant workers. Clearly they prioritize production and profit over selfless pursuit of the common good.

And that's perfectly healthy. There needs to be a diversity of economic models in Venezuela, just as there is a diversity of human personalities. Some of us are idealistic enough and morally pure enough that we really can motivate ourselves by thinking of the common good, and desiring to serve others. For those people, moral incentives are enough, and in a healthy socialist Venezuela they can join a more 'left-wing' cooperative like Inveval. Others need economic incentives- within certain limits- to motivate them to produce, and they could work at a more profit-oriented company like Invepal. This is the living disproof of the idea that socialism needs to mean uniformity, or that by making virtue compulsory and eliminating free choice, socialism abolishes virtue itself- for virtue cannot really exist if it is compelled. Socialist Venezuela, even after almost all of the economy is under either state, cooperative, communal, or smallholder ownership, will not be a place that 'compels' people to ignore self interest and to sacrifice their own profits and desires for the common good. It will be a place that encourages people to make that choice, and to sublimate their own goals and desires for the sake of the good of others, and for the building of a just and charitable society. It will also be a society that prohibits capitalist ownership- that prohibits, in other words, actual economic exploitation, and that prevents people from participating in a particularly serious type of economic immorality. But prohibiting extreme immorality is not the same as compelling morality. Even if we eliminate the extreme greed and exaggerated acquisitiveness, each man will still have the choice between being reasonably and moderately acquisitive (in a non-exploitative, cooperative context), and being ascetically self-sacrificing. They will have the choice, in other words, of being 'minimally decent', fulfiling the basic demands of morality, and being actively good, beyond what is required of us by the state.

This is the type of diversity in personalities that will always exist, and that is necessary if free will and free choice are to exist. How much better a choice, how much richer a freedom this is than the freedom of capitalist society in which we are all compelled by necessity to participate in an immoral system! Evil is monotonous, and stultifying; good is diverse and ever-ramifying. No two snowflakes are the same, no two tree leaves in spring are the same; no two beautiful things are the same, nor any two human souls; sameness is alien to the Good. The fight to encourage good, and to suppress evil, is in its truest form a celebration of freedom, not a violation of it. It eliminates certain choices, and pays us back by giving us a much deeper and richer array of choices in which we can truly throw our body, our mind, and our soul.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Socialist Factories

Last week, Venezuela's president Chavez announced the inception of several new factories that would expand Venezuela's industrial capacity and diversify its economy. These are intended to be 'Socialist Factories'. It's not entirely clear what this indicates but it certainly implies that the factories will embody the socialist values that Chavez has been talking about for the last several years. Namely, they will be publicly owned, either by the federal government or by the communal councils of local communities; they will produce with an eye to meeting the national needs rather than solely trying to maximize profit; they will try to exemplify the values of hard work and contributing to the good of the nation; and they will most likely be run along fairly egalitarian lines with a large role for their workers in management. 

An important criticism of the Chavez regime has been that it has focused too much on consumption and producing consumer goods at the expense of producer goods. (This is the opposite criticism of that which was made against Soviet Russia.) Too many houses and cars, not enough steel and cement; too many subsidized supermarkets, not enough investment in farms. This represents a major correction to that trend. While some of these Socialist Factories are going to produce consumer gods, many are going to be dedicated to producer goods that will fuel the development of Venezuela's industrial and agricultural capacity. For example, the state-owned petrochemical company, PEQUIVEN, will be using byproducts from Venezuela's booming oil industry to produce urea polymer-based building materials like PVC and synthetic wood, and using the cheap energy to produce fertilizers (urea and phoshorus fertilizers).  In keeping with the Bolivarian Socialist goal of Latin American solidarity, such products will be sold to other Latin American countries at a 15% discount relative to prices offered by private companies.

The state-owned industrial supplies company, SUVINCA, also signed contracts to set up factories building industrial painting equipment and medium sized water pumps, as well as $50 million worth of investment in refrigeration facilities and grain and meat processing plants.  The water pumps, in particular, are an important producer good that will contribute to further industrial development, and all of these industries will complement the investment earlier this year in agricultural production (and help to satisfy the increased food demand that resulted from the increased wages and subsidized food markets of the last few years.) These are also, of course, labor intensive industries that demand a lot of workers and that will provide many jobs. Venezuela's employment situation is prety good- unemployment is down from 8.8% last year to 7.2% this year- the same as the state of Michigan, and very low for a Latin American country. Still, it can and must improve further; far too many Venezuelans are still in the informal sector. 

The investment in socialist factories is an important reminder that socialism is ultimately about government control of the means of production, not the means of consumption. For Venezuela to advance towards a more equal, fair and just society, and towards a society where economic morality is governed by an ethic of sufficiency, hard work and self-sacrifice rather than greed and self-interest, it is necessary that the major industries, especially those which produce critical goods like food, housing, cement, steel, water pumps, fertilizer, etc., be under popular control. This doesn't necessarily mean centralized state control, and it shouldn't. Yugoslavia had tremendous success with an economy mostly based on worker ownership (it boasted the fastest economic growth in the world for 15 years) and China in its market-socialist phase had impressive success with 'Township and Village Enterprises', i.e. enterprises owned by local governments. Indeed, one of the things we should learn from the sad experiences of many of the socialist countries is that ownership by a centralized State can be just as inefficient, unjust and alienating as ownership by a monopolistic capitalist.

While it is as yet unclear what kind of socialist ownership Chavez has in mind for these factories, we should remember, and rejoice, that he isn't one of those on the left who believes only in ownership by a centralized State. Venezuela's efforts to socialize the economy have as yet involved all three types of ownership. There are of course many enterprises owned by the national government, but there are also examples of worker ownership (the aluminum company Alcasa, the paper company Venepal which was renamed Invepal after it was placed under worker ownership) and of local government ownership (e.g. the PDVSA gas statons which are in the process of being turned over to communal councils.) "He who is not against us is for us", and socialist Venezuela can afford to tolerate many different types of ownership, enterprise and working philosophy as long as they are not explicitly based on oligarchic capitalism. Obviously each of these types of enterprise has its advantage and disadvantages. A healthy socialist Venezuela will be one that has an economy combining state owned enterprises with those owned by local governments, workers' cooperatives, collectives, smallholder peasants and artisans, and perhaps other forms of ownership yet to be devised. 

One thing that is important is that Venezuela doesn't go overboard by being too nice. Subsidizing fertilizer sales to other countries in the region is all very well but it shuld not interfere with Venezuelan industries staying profitable and solvent. Ultimately socialism needs to be built at a national level, not an international one. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

Broke down in Baltimore

So I'm stuck in the DC area right now, till Tuesday, about 620 miles from where I live in the Midwest. I made the error of takin a road trip out here with one of my best friends and his wife, to hang out with some people who were in Africa with all of us. Everything was going wll, and my car was driving fairly well (it had just spent all summer in the repair shop, first after hitting a deer and then after a major engine problem.) Until we stopped somewhere in inner city Baltimore to try to use a succession of pay phones to find out where our friend lived. Since my cll phone has inexplicably stopped making outgoing calls. (yes, I suppose we should have used Yahoo maps before we left.) Suddenly the hood of the car starts smoking, and we all freak out. Turns out the radiator is broken, and we have to get towed into a wealthy suburb of DC at three in the morning. Bloody hell. 

This is the last road trip I make over a three day weekend. I'm going to have to miss a day of class and probably a day of work.