Sunday, July 25, 2004

How I learned to stop fearing the Taliban and to love Heroin

Since Bush's little adventure in Afghanistan has turned into a total disaster and opium production is skyrocketing there, perhaps it is time to consider responses to heroin addiction.

Swiss Info has an article by Faryal Mirza about the Swiss response to heroin addiction.  They give addicts heroin and try to get them onto methadone eventually.  They make the program very structured, give them clean needles, and don't let them take the heroin home with them.

I doubt a program like this would ever work in the United States since it is far too rational.  The federal ban on funding needle exchange programs is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this country's entirely irrational approach to the "war on drugs". 

Jon Stewart once observed that need to stop declaring war on abstractions like drugs, poverty, and terrorism.  We're getting our asses kicked in these wars.

Don't even get me started on Plan Colombia...

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Working like a dog

I have been working 10-12 hour days on my internship, and I haven't had Internet access at home, so I haven't been doing much blogging or web surfing lately. Tonight I'm working the late shift here at the law library's reference desk, so I've a chance to do some blogging. My internship here in Tulsa will be over in two more weeks, so tune back in for more of Neal's demented rantings at that time.

This internship exposed me to several archive-related projects and really broadened my horizons in that way.

On a side note, the head of special collections here in Tulsa is from Southern California and went to UCLA for her MLIS. My advisor, Professor Richardson, wrote her a letter of recommendation over 15 years ago for an entry-level assistant curator job here in Tulsa. Now she is the head of the department.

I'm enjoying Tulsa, although the heat index has been over 100 degrees Fahrenheit almost every single day that I've been here. Southern California living had been making me soft, but now I'm getting back into my old Midwestern form.

I just read an interesting article in the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology called American Patent Policy, Biotechnology, and African Agriculture: the Case for Policy Change by Michael R. Taylor and Jerry Crayford (Spring 2004, Volume 17, No. 2, pages 321-407).

They argue that the US is hypocritical when on the one hand we claim that food security is important and we claim to help the developing world, but on the other hand we push measures like the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) through the WTO and demand strong enforcement of biotechnology patents that could help feed millions of people around the world.

U.S. policies on matters such as patents, agricultural subsidies, trade, and food aid -- all of which are grounded in their own set of policy goals and political interests -- have spillover effects beyond their original intent. These policies have a deep impact on important, unanticipated U.S. interests, such as reducing poverty, increasing subsistence farmers' yields, and achieving food security in developing regions like Africa. In today's interconnected world, the United States cannot afford to develop and maintain these policies without considering their widespread impacts and attempting to reconcile them with the nation's broader interests.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Hello from Tulsa, Oklahoma

I am now set up at Tulsa and am in the third day of my internship at the University of Tulsa's law library (the Mabee Legal Information Center). I am having a great time in Tulsa. By LA standards, Tulsa is a small town and I think it's very nice.

The Tulsa metro area actually has almost a million residents, which is a nice size of city in my opinion.

For the past few days I've been helping to organize the incoming class' legal research and writing assignments which has been a good introduction to the library and its layout.

This afternoon I will be going over to special collections to work on a digitization project involving the Indian Claims Commission (that was established in 1946).

Everyone here has been very friendly and I'm enjoying myself. I do miss my wife and my little dog, but Sarah is going to come visit in late July, so that will be very nice.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Tour of the Plains

I leave tomorrow for my internship in Tulsa. I'll be visiting friends in Lawrence tomorrow night and then returning to my hometown for a couple of days. I moved around a lot as a kid, but I consider Manhattan, Kansas as my hometown.

After that I'm off to Tulsa in a borrowed police cruiser, courtesy of my brother Dale. If you haven't met him, Dale is a mechanical genius and the local tool guy.

Blogging will be light for a while. I'll be in Tulsa for four weeks, and then back to Los Diablos.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Books for Soldiers

Sarah recently sent me the link for Books for Soldiers. It is a nice way to support the troops.

While I may not agree with this administration and how it has deployed the military, I think the US military is an important institution and we should honor and respect the sacrifices soldiers makes for our country.

I've a lot of old science fiction books to give away. I'll bet they'll like my old gun magazines too.

Jiggle Juice

I had breakfast with some friends in Santa Monica this morning. I drank too much coffee. It makes me hyper when I drink too much coffee and Sarah started calling it jiggle juice.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Reflections on the 4th of July

Do you ever wonder why America's foreign policy so often seems to bite us in the ass? Why people that we give money, guns and bombs to so often end up our enemies? I'm thinking of Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Manuel Noriega, and the Taliban. After all, we gave Saddam the chemical weapons he used on the Kurds.

The Atlantic Online has an interview with Niall Ferguson which supplies some of the metanarrative I've been wanting to explain America's poor performance as an imperial power.

Ferguson is a history professor and is actually a proponent of empire. He thinks the British empire was good for the UK and the rest of the world.

While Ferguson has written several books on this topic, in the interview he gives a thumbnail sketch of why America tends to prop up lousy dictators instead of building democratic institutions around the world.

Selected quotes:

Lobbing witty salvos at emasculated anti-imperialists (Americans, he says, would rather build shopping malls than nations) Ferguson openly fears that America will retreat from the world the way Europe has. He laments the "ideological embarrassment about being seen to wield power," and the "pusillanimous fear of military casualties." It's not that empires are all good, he says. It's just that the alternatives are worse. Ferguson fears that if the United States can't, or won't, set up proper, functioning governments in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, then no one will. The result could be a return to some form of ninth-century chaos, only this time with nuclear weapons.

* * * *

I was especially interested in the second phase, the "flawed assessment of indigenous sentiment." In your book, you point out that a third of Americans thought the Contras were fighting in Norway, and you discuss the lack of Arabic speakers in the CIA. And, of course, the invasion of Iraq was pushed by a President who had only been out of the country three times before taking office.

It's obviously a phenomenon that isn't peculiar to George W. Bush. A very large proportion of Americans don't have passports. But even more striking to me is the fact that the kind of people you might expect to be well-equipped to engage in what we rather euphemistically call nation-building—that's to say, the graduates of the elite universities—disproportionately avoid overseas engagements. The ambitions of the educational elite in this country are quite domestically focused. They really would rather be running a Wall Street law firm than governing Baghdad. And I think that's a fundamental social-cultural reason why the United States is bad at empire.

Right now in Iraq, the reliance on the military is almost complete. The British operation a hundred years ago was much more evenly divided between military and civilian administration. And indeed the civilians predominated. There aren't that many Jerry Bremers. This country doesn't produce people like him in large numbers. And you need to have hundreds of them to make a success of something like this. What's interesting is that in 1945 through to the early 1950s, when Germany and Japan were the targets of American quasi-imperial nation-building, the talent was there. And the reason the talent was there was the draft. By 1945, the American armed services were full of all kinds of diverse talents because of the sheer scale of World War Two. That meant you could turn to the army in Germany in 1945 and find economists and lawyers and people who had an understanding of business. In today's volunteer professional army you don't have those skills at all. You have people who are tremendously good at being soldiers and Marines. But they're not really trained to do the sorts of thing that you have to do once you've won a war. And they're the first to admit it. They're quite candid that they are practitioners of offensive military operations—killing bad guys is what they're trained to do. The business of constructing the rule of law and a functioning market economy is about as far removed from their expertise as you could get.

So do you think this cultural ignorance, or this insularity, is the Achilles heel of the American empire?

It's one of a couple weaknesses that are manifesting themselves more clearly with every passing day. I'm always careful how I phrase this, because it's all too easy to sound like a condescending European, or, worse, a condescending Brit. I don't mean to, because in fact I'm an Americanophile, and I want the American empire to succeed. I almost would avoid a term like ignorance, because it implies a certain smugness on the part of the person using it. But there clearly is an ignorance of history. There clearly isn't enough expertise with respect to the Arab world. That's undeniable. And there are other problems too—structural economic problems. The funds available for this operation are not limitless, because this is an empire based on borrowing. And the economic vulnerability is almost as serious a threat to the operation as the cultural limits of American empire. Part of the point of Colossus is to join up the story of American fiscal policy with the story of American foreign policy—two stories that are usually dealt with pretty separately.

Read the whole thing if you're interested.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Reading the Enemy

World Net Daily is a pretty strange site. Their news is obviously slanted and their worldview is definitely militant. But they do carry interesting stories...

My favorite article of theirs is:

Moore's film gets rave – from Communists
Stalinist Reds love 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' Maoists love it, too

Whether any of WND's stories are true or not, I leave to your good judgment. Another article by Aaron Klein claims that an Israeli company has developed a "radar" that sees through walls. It also discusses several other alleged developments by Israeli companies, including an electrical disruptor field.