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Wednesday, July 07, 2004


Today is my last day guest-blogging for Rodger, at least for the time being, and I'm already worried that my four previous posts -- too long-winded for the web -- have set Rodger's readership back 6 months. So I thought I'd conclude my stint with a few short vignettes.

1. Greater threats than terrorism (I): HIV/AIDS

The UN has declared that the world is losing the battle against HIV/AIDS. The statistics are staggering, and the role of the US government is worse than shameful. Indeed, to join in the use of "battle" terminology, let's put the question this way: which side is the US government on? An impartial assessment provides some good evidence -- Reagan's prudish neglect, Bush I's gag rule, Clinton's attempt to enforce drug-patent laws, Bush II's opposition to birth control and sex ed, the unchecked trade in arms that fuels war and instability worldwide, and the bipartisan support of agricultural subsidies that force people off their land and into anomic, jobless shanties around major cities of the Global South -- that in this war, the US government is on the side of HIV/AIDS. Of course, as with most such things, the US plays both sides. But in comparison, our band-aid contributions to the fight against HIV hardly show up on the graph.

Can this be changed? Only, perhaps, by linking AIDS to terrorism. A backwards strategy, if you ask me, but when the only tool you have is a hammer....

2. Greater threats than terrorism (II): Global Climate Change

Earlier this year a secret Pentagon report claimed that global climate change is a greater threat than terrorism. Now this is pretty obvious, but what's amazing is that Pentagon staff could say so. When will their boss, the lovely and talented Donald Rumsfeld, or any high-up government official admit this? Surely not during the Bush administration. Will Kerry or Edwards have the guts to speak the truth on this before the election (or even after it)? What better way to underscore Bush's screwed up priorities? Of course, I'm not holding my breath -- though perhaps I should, given all the particles we're inhaling.

3. George II as Frederik II

Kenneth Olwig relates the following story in chapter one of Landscape, Nature, and the Body Politic. Soon after being crowned in 1559, King Frederik II of Denmark went off "to play heroic knight in shining armor" by invading a small peasant republic called Dithmarschen. He needed to avenge a previous king, whose own attempt to conquer the region had ended in embarrassment and failure. Frederik used overwhelming force -- 20 000 infantrymen and 3000 cavalrymen to attack some 7000 irregulars -- pillaged and burned, and then incorporated Dithmarschen into his kingdom (and its coat of arms into his) even though Dithmarschen retained autonomous rule. In other words, Frederik the shining knight was able to overwhelm Dithmarschen but not to govern it, so he declared "mission accomplished" and went home. Incidentally, Frederik's Denmark was the mecca of European theatre. Olwig punningly refers to this conquest as one of "the first acts" of Frederik's rule.

4. "A spirited campaign"

George Bush yesterday "welcomed" John Edwards to the Democratic ticket and said he looked forward to a "spirited campaign." I heard this just after reading an Atlantic article, "Playing Dirty," by Joshua Green, explaining why the 2004 campaign is already the dirtiest and only getting worse. The article was largely based on a BBC documentary, Digging the Dirt, about opposition research, or "oppo," and its use by both sides in the 2000 campaign. The documentary never aired here. The BBC followed the Bush campaign against Gore, but Green's article also discusses Wesley Clark's use of "oppo" in derailing the Dean campaign before the Iowa caucuses. It worked, but took Clark down along with Dean. Bush's idea of a spirited campaign is one that relies on the ignorance of the public and the manipulation of appearances. Our best hope is that it will backfire, as did "mission accomplished," "bring 'em on," and the entire invasion of Iraq.

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