With every passing month, it gets harder to see the United States's refusal to address the problem of global warming as anything other than craven prostitution to the fossil fuel industry, a betrayal of future generations, and a suicidal commitment to the status quo. The most recent affront came at last month's international talks on climate change in Montreal. Shortly after midnight on December 9, as delegates were hashing out ideas on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. -- joined by China, the world's other largest polluter -- threatened to pick up its toys and go home.
Back when American conservatives took fiscal responsibility seriously (i.e., the early 1990s), they floated the idea of a constitutional amendment banning unfunded federal mandates. How the tables have turned! Today, the No Child Left Behind Act, which embodies the conservative approach to educational reform, is under legal attack for failing to provide any money for the requirements it imposes on states and school districts, at a time when local budgets are stretched to the breaking point.
In an easily-overlooked, bureaucratic-sounding January 6, 2006, article, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported the following:
With the election this month of the first-ever democratically elected Iraqi government, under the new constitution ratified in October, Iraqi society has turned a corner, and the world looks on with mingled hope and trepidation. The optimists cheer; the sober demur. For it is not clear yet what, exactly, lies around this corner.
Historical parallels are never perfect, no more than metaphors are literally true, and we should also keep a clear view of the distinctions between different historical moments, actors, and forces. But historical parallels can vividly illuminate the present, and serve as vital indicators of where the present could be heading, just as metaphors can make known to us the qualities or properties of a literal thing.
With the ongoing transition in the Supreme Court, we've been hearing a lot about "originalism" when it comes to Constitutional interpretation. This doctrine, espoused by conservative judges Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, along with much of the American Right, including President Bush, holds that the proper approach to interpreting the Constitution is to be guided by the "original" intent of the framers.
Americans have a love-hate relationship with history. On the one hand, history is often seen as something dry and dusty, composed of dates and events and people that hover on the borders of consciousness and relevance and make the eyes glaze over, like the Wilmot Proviso. Compared to other Western democracies, we are shamefully uneducated in history, even our own, and yet little sense of embarrassment seems to attend this deficiency. That's because Americans pride themselves on not being constrained or determined by the past, but on always surging forward confidently into the future, reinventing ourselves, our nation, and perhaps the world along the way. History? Leave it to the antiquarians and the Europeans.
On September 2, as he spoke to reporters about the devastation along the Gulf Coast wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, President Bush deflected criticism of the administration's response to the crisis, and then said: "Now we're going [to the region] to offer comfort to the people." This may or may not have been an offhand comment, or a sincere one, but it hinted at a characteristic impulse of American conservatism: the impulse to sentimentalize in response to pressing civic problems, to practice a politics of the heart rather than of the head. That's not only or always true of conservatives, of course, but there's an interesting history to right-wing sentimentalism that deserves special consideration.
In the last issue of the Uncommon Denominator, a number of questions were posed about the advent of consumer-friendly surveillance technology, particularly such software as Google Earth and Microsoft's Virtual Earth: How will widely available satellite and photographic imagery change our understanding of public space? Can our new image technologies reinvigorate the ancient ideal of the agora, or will they pervert it? Who wins and who loses? To what degree will these technologies help to distribute power more broadly, and to what degree will they concentrate power in fewer hands?
SINCE the 2000 election, those who have been close to voting issues have been intensely concerned about the integrity of the vote. However, there has been scant coverage of this issue in the major media and, perhaps reflecting this, little interest by the broad public. Moreover, few elected officials of either major party are willing to address what is, without a doubt, the major political issue of the day.
During the Florida recounts in 2000, voter disenfranchisement and voting improprieties occurred on a large scale. C-SPAN broadcast the investigation by the NAACP that presented testimony on voting irregularities. These "irregularities" included such things as throwing away ballot boxes, voter intimidation of many sorts and illegal identification requirements.
The world - and it is a small world indeed - is at your fingertips. Let them do the satellite tracking.
The Age of Surveillance is in full swing, and it is we who are swinging. In contrast to the dystopic visions of yesterday's sci-fi writers, in which the people endure constant surveillance by governments or corporations, today's technologies of surveillance are increasingly decentralized and increasingly publicly available. Mark Crispin Miller's elegant revision of George Orwell -- "Big Brother is you, watching" -- seems strangely apt in a world where it's becoming easier and easier for us to see what our fellow human beings are doing.
The occasion for such ruminating is the advent of Google Earth, a software program that allows the user to view any spot on the globe, from various "altitudes," through the eyes of orbiting satellites. The "streaming" images that Google Earth provides are not quite real-time, but they are three-dimensional, and they include both terrain features and man-made environments. Want to see the Eiffel Tower? Zoom in. Tierra del Fuego or the Sahara? Zoom in.