Saturday, May 17, 2008


There I was thinking I made up the term. Other MS patients refer to their cognitive problems as “fog” as well! Who knew?

Remembering the Path That Lies Behind Me

My emotions are not as resilient as they were before the illness. I’ve had a great deal of trouble learning how to organize my research and I sometimes forget because of it just how far I’ve come as a teacher. My difficulty is that the incentive structure for teaching is better because it centers around regular appearances for which I absolutely must prepare and a paycheck that rewards that behavior. The reason I’ve not advanced in research is simple. I am a low-energy, low-focus person who is paid to do another task. I’m getting better at find incentives to structure time away from my paid time. But central to those efforts is not losing heart. This, “If at first you don’t succeed stuff” is hard on me. Going from trying a few times and then being successful to making double-digit efforts is hard. It gets me down and I get depressed sometimes.

Corny as it sounds, I need to remember Morpheus’ speech from The Matrix: Reloaded. I’m going to finish this degree not because of some magical belief in destiny, but because of the path that lies behind me. After fifteen years of post-secondary education, I need to remember that which matters most: I am still here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pleasant Memories:
The Statue of Liberty Goal

May 29, 2002. My memory has embellished this goal. I seem to recall the triumph on Roy’s face completely dashed. We won 2-0 that night. The next night we crushed them 7-0. I recall that Western Conference Championship as the Candy from Babies Cup.

Why Now? A Conjecture about Lebanon

Well, the Army just nullified two cabinet decisions, Hizballah is withdrawing its gunmen and everyone is breathing a sigh of relief. So the question I’ve been wracking my brains trying to figure out “Why is this little war happening now?” Then I read an article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times by Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei. While it’s not a core of the article, this passage set the ole Spidey Sense a-tinglin’:

For now, Hezbollah's offensive achieved one significant military goal: crushing the budding forces of Hariri's Sunni Future movement, a constellation of poorly trained and lightly equipped government supporters organized around neighborhood offices and private security companies run by retired army officers.

Suddenly, the whole thing makes sense. Hizballah has recently acquired a capacity for monitoring Rafiq Hariri International Airport. They don’t want to monitor March 14 government ministers as they jet around the world—they want to monitor any possible flow of arms into the country! They’re preventing the March 14 Forces from forming militias.

I’m a little shocked that the Future Movement hasn’t gotten further with building a militia, but the past two days makes it very clear that any militia they had constructed was in no shape to counter Hizballah.

Hizballah is protecting its monopoly of private violence. It’s a strange strategy, but it’s fairly clear that Hizballah doesn’t want to become the state in Lebanon. They clearly can do it. The March 14 Forces are obviously not up to the task of fighting it out and the Army is definitely not interested in a task that all factions don’t support. If Hizballah can do it and doesn't do it, clearly they just don't want to. Instead, it looks to me that Hizballah simply intends to maintain its pre-eminent position. I’m floored. It doesn’t look like Hizballah is even interested in pursuing some sort of Islamic republic. I find it ironic that Hizballah, of all people, are committed to a sort of consensus rule in Lebanon. I guess I would label it a program of “consensus within certain constraints.”

My new theory is that they are committed to consensus rule in which they are the primus inter pares. They may want simply to take over the role of France or Syria in Lebanon’s history—playing the sovereign that reigns over the system of sectarian compromises. Indeed, it doesn’t seem like a bad strategy. Abolishing the 1926 constitution and inventing a new system would create enemies. Maintaining hegemony within that system as the “power behind the throne” may be more appealing to them. After all, it worked well for Hafiz al-Asad. It was literally invented by the French. Moreover, it would make them popular. Clearly, they are willing to let other politicians and interests co-exist under their reign. If everyone knows that Hizballah could abolish the 1926 constitution, but sees that it isn’t willing to, it affords them a legitimacy of sorts. Moreover, it complements Nasrallah’s enormous popularity throughout the Arab world.

The only other theory that seems slightly rational to me is that Hizballah might really see itself as what it paints itself to be—a resistance movement targeting Israel. They’re not interested in ruling in Lebanon, they just want their launching pad. That notion seems crazy to me. It seems patently obvious to me that no matter how good they get, they’re not going to be able to end the Israeli state. I really have trouble believing that this is all about the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, let alone about those stupid Shaba’a farms! Indeed, after last summer’s “war,” Nasrallah was at pains to show that he didn’t intend to escalate against Israel again. It seems to me that Nasrallah has too keen a sense of realpolitik to be motivated by a crusade (er, jihad) against Israel.

Let’s see what Hizballah asks for when they sit back down with the March 14 Forces. If they still ask for the veto, instead of something like a Shi`i PM, I think I’ll have to take it as a clear and definitive sign that they intend to be seen as a proponent of the 1926 constitution. It will certainly illustrate that Nasrallah is capable of considerable restraint in favor of pursuing his long-term goals and is not drunk on his own power.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Divine Economy

The art in being truly human is living with a consciousness that we are neither animal nor god, but live constantly on the frontier between the two. It is difficult to live without savagery or hubris, but learning to do so is the soul of what makes being human a beautiful thing. Keeping this awareness has been difficult for me. I have always cast my eyes toward the heavens. I need reminders that I am creature.

A human emulates God’s power most clearly in our feats of discipline. It is discipline that creates power and discipline that confers identity. Discipline is the wellspring of our God-given gift of naming. It is in my capacity to be disciplined that my subjectivity has been damaged. I used to believe that choosing not to be disciplined was willing to not be like God, nothing more than the contemptible will to be animal, a prisoner of the senses. I would never have chosen this.

Such is God’s economy that, in my curious illness, I have all that I need to remember. I will never be disciplined again, at least nothing on the same order. This for me is essentially the same thing. Unlike the animal that was never meant to be self-disciplined and could never understand this, I understand fully what is entailed in this loss. I also understand what I have gained because of this loss.

It is hard to understand how something can be both so bitter and so sweet. Such is the economy of God.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Lebanon is Heating Up Again

While I’ve been idly chatting about Locke and Rousseau with my theory students, Lebanon has decided to come surging back to life again. Hizballah seems to be ready to finally assert itself against the March 14 Forces and put an end to so-called “Cedar Revolution.” The events leading up to the explosion apparently began on Monday, May 5, when the March 14 Forces government decided to fire General Wafik Shoucair, the pro-Hizballah head of airport security and a close associate of Nabih Birri’s. Apparently the March 14 Forces believe that Shoucair has facilitated the installation of runway cameras the government believes may help Hizballah monitor that comings and goings of government ministers in and out of Beirut on their private jets. Concerns have been raised that this monitoring system could perhaps help facilitate Hizballah attacks or kidnappings.

On Tuesday, the state took further action against Hizballah. Nicholas Blanford of the The Christian Science Monitor gives us the following background:

It has been known for some time that Hezbollah has installed a private non-commercial fiber-optic land-line telephone network to provide secure communications between its leaders and the cadres. The network is extensive, stretching from Hezbollah's headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut to south Lebanon. Since the summer 2006 war with Israel, the system has spread further into the Bekaa Valley in the east and even into mainly Christian and Druze areas of the Mount Lebanon district, according to Marwan Hamade, the minister of telecommunications and a close ally of Mr. Jumblatt.

“It has been installed with the support of the Iranians,” he says. “It is Iran telecom, a totally parallel network to the state network.”

On Tuesday, May 6, the March 14 Forces government decided that this network was “illegal and non-constitutional” and referred its file to both the Lebanese judiciary and to the United Nations. The UN Security Council is apparently meeting today (May 8) to discuss UNSCR 1559, one of the operating clauses of which is the disarming of all militias. Clearly, the government was feeling snippy. That evening, the government also attempted to forestall a nationwide labor strike by raising the minimum wage in Lebanon from $200 to $330. This move fell short of union demands to triple the minimum wage in the face of steep price increases of up to 50 percent.

The General Labor Confederation strike proceeded on Wednesday, May 7, and Hizballah and Amal both joined the strike. The strike gave way to rock throwing and, from there, descended into armed violence. Lucy Fielder of the Irish Times gives this description of the scene:

A pall of black, acrid smoke from the tyres hovered above a city of barricades, soldiers, shuttered shops and deserted roads. Burning cars blocked a roundabout in the mainly Shia southern suburbs.

In the flashpoint areas of Ras el-Nabeh, Noueiry and Corniche el-Mazraa, which are a mix of Sunni and Shia Muslims and therefore of supporters of parliamentary majority leader Saad al-Hariri and the opposition's Hizbullah and Amal respectively, gangs of youths exchanged fire and occasional grenades, and threw stones at each other. Sporadic shooting continued as night fell. The security source said between 12 and 15 people were injured, but none were thought to be grave.

Mark MacKinnon and Spencer Osberg of the Canada Globe and Mail [I pulled this from Lexis Nexus, but I couldn’t find an on-line link, sorry] further describe the conflict:

Explosions blasted across Beirut and pro- and anti-government forces exchanged gunfire as Lebanon's deep political crisis turned violent yesterday, sparking renewed fears of a return to civil war.

At least eight people were reported injured during the day-long fighting, which followed several days of smaller clashes, and by nightfall Beirut was tense and deeply divided along political and sectarian lines. The road connecting the capital to the country's only international airport was blocked by supporters of the opposition Hezbollah movement, which built dirt barriers and set tires on fire before erecting tents on the road in apparent anticipation of a prolonged stay.

Hezbollah officials said they would continue their campaign of civil disobedience today, until the government rescinded several recent "anti-Hezbollah decisions."

Among those trapped at the airport, according to MacKinnon and Osberg, is Fairuz, Lebanon’s musical superstar. Her views on the emerging conflict have not been circulated, so far.

The Daily Star summarizes the Army’s position fairly succinctly.

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Command warned on Thursday that the ongoing violence threatened the unity of the military.

An Army Command statement called on all parties to practice self-restraint, adding that the lack of national responsibility is limiting the army's role and ability to restore peace. The army statement said that moving away from dialogue and resorting to violence was a clear departure from the principle of national coexistence.

"Everybody will lose if the current status quo persists since security in Lebanon is only achieved through consensus and not through arms," the statement said.

The Army Command urged all parties to seek solutions for the ongoing crisis, adding that the army was ready to help find solutions while trying its best to protect people and their property despite major obstacles.

Neither the Siniora government nor Hizballah appear to be interested in backing down. If we are to believe Los Angeles Times interview with Israeli intelligence, Hizballah has beefed up its weapons stores considerably since last year. Now we will see whether the government parties have created their own militias, as rumors suggest, and is they are well-equipped and well-trained enough to handle Hizballah. If not, I can’t see what else they could do besides fold. If I were Hizballah, after forcing the government to back down on this, I would push for that veto. It’s the perfect tool for flushing the Cedar Revolution down the toilet of history.