Wednesday, February 29, 2012

iranian surgery

i have heard several acquaintances recently express concern that the u. s. will soon find itself engaged in yet another conflict, this time in iran.  certainly the tension between iran and the west has greatly increased recently: israel seems poised to attack iran's nuclear facilities in a "surgical strike," and the united states and european union tighten financial sanctions against the country.  in the summer, the e. u. will no longer import iranian oil into the economic zone.  the persian country now finds itself isolated, in an increasingly dire financial situation.  yet it continues to devote resources to producing nuclear energy, and though it officially denies it, a nuclear weapon.  an irrational regime, whose power rests between the dictatorial religious figure the grand ayatollah khamenei and president ahmadinejad trying to wrest power from the religious authority, the government would rather see its people suffer than abstain from gaining nuclear power.

the israelis believe the time has come to act, to bomb whatever nuclear facilities currently operational in iran, and risk retaliation.  israel considers whatever retaliation the country can muster a less fearsome opposition than a nuclear iran.  as a nuclear power, iran would not just possess the bomb but would garner more influence in the middle east.  honestly, what security does nuclear weaponry give a country?  does the iranian government believe it will be invincible then to attack?  is it so willing to press the trigger to destroy an enemy knowing that this act will assure its mutual destruction?  rather, nuclear capabilities will concretize internal power and generate international influence in a rapidly changing middle east.

the new york times today reported that u. s. government analysis indicated that iran would respond to any israeli surgical operation by striking anonymously in foreign capitals, possibly restricting shipping access to the strait of hormuz, and assisting the taliban and other terrorist organizations in afghanistan plant roadside bombs. iran would definitely commit larger resources to hamas, hezbollah, and islamic jihad to further de-stabilize the region. "[But] Iran's primary goal would be quickly rebuilding and probably accelerating its nuclear program, and thus, according to these assessments, it would be likely to try to avoid inviting a punishing second wave of attacks by the United States."

yet we don't need to worry about a second attack. we could just help israel with the first, especially considering that israel's resources might be stretched trying to reach iran.

matthew kroenig argues in foreign affairs that it is "Time to Attack Iran." kroenig writes a convincing article noting that iran it is unlikely that the united states would miss any weapons programs should we commit an attack on the country, allowing thus the iranians to rebuild another nuclear program quickly. we would not need to commit troops to the ground in iran to complete this operation. we would not even be protecting iranian civilians, such as in libya. however, kroenig argues that we must assure the iranian government that we are not targeting the government but just its nuclear capabilities, and that our country would then only respond to certain "redline" retaliation from the iranians such as attacks on other gulf states or southern europe. the u. s. government would (and already needs) to make clear exactly what bounds the iranian government cannot step without serious retaliation.

with great consideration, a surgical strike on iranian nuclear capabilities could be successful and the consequences could be contained. but we can no longer posture or dither on the issue. if america found itself wrongly embroiled in conflict in past decades due to ideology, we cannot deny the dangers of the atom bomb. we can justify a violent move against a regime resistant to international pressure on this issue, especially when we seek not to foment regime change but only to remove danger to the international community.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

fuzzy: flannel and fur

let's talk about a critique that went too far.

i was reading this critique on art practical by mary anne kluth on recent paintings by danny keith at ratio3 in san francisco and i started to think: this is outrageous.  the paintings are kind of interesting.  well-painted.  strange subject matter.  kind of gay.  but kluth's extrapolation is a little over the top.

she starts out with some general observations: "The works are academic in the traditional sense, with particular attention paid to naturalistic lighting and figure proportions. The works’ scale and intense study of a single posed subject, combined with the artist’s layered modulation of color and tonality... suggest that they were made from observation."  good.  then she continues with the beginnings of an interesting suggestion, proposing that the artist offers a personal, alternative vision of beauty and sexual attraction, a unique interpolation between a body both "masculine and pretty."  okay, great.  i buy it.  kluth then makes some general observations about keith's technique and subject matter.
Keith’s use of the same subject, repeated visual patterns, and consistently detailed brushwork throughout this body of work recalls Félix González-Torres’s tender, minimalist installations."  wait, what?  you just lost me.  i had to read this sentence three times to make sure i was missing something.  how exactly are these detailed, natualistic, "academic" paintings like the abstract installations of félix gonzález-torres?  in fact, the critic kluth has to back track at this point, admitting that gonzález-torres was not a painter at all but rather made "metaphorical portraits."  kluth then tries to make a connection between keith's work and the gonzález-torres piece titled perfect lovers, citing formal elements, namely repetition, as connecting and relating the two pieces.  but kluth has failed to realize that most visual art throughout human history employs formal elements of art such as repetition.  just because two pieces of art contain repetitive components does not mean the two pieces are similar or relative.  citing félix gonzález-torres in this review seems more like a gonzález-torres love-fest and less like an honest interest in the paintings by danny keith.

kluth gets lost a little more after this, talking of longing and intimacy, attempting to relate this to color and detail, an interesting idea but irrelevant at this point and i'm not sure kluth can strongly exemplify this in the work.  and finally she writes out this gem, "Keith’s images of male beauty and the palpable vulnerability of his desire complicate the idea that the power involved in every erotic depiction only functions in one direction. His tender attention to every freckle and hair displays a sense of responsibility as opposed to a license to idealize or objectify. "  where did that come from?  why haven't i been reading about power relationships the entire time?  and have we really arrived at the point in history when an artist can pay a lot of attention to naturalistic detail to sidestep the objectification of a person?  like if i make sure not to edit out that blemish i can still objectify women?

if i think back to kluth's original proposition finding a dialectic between masculinity and femininity, "strength" and "prettiness," in daniel keith's paintings, i wonder where that discussion went.  instead of félix gonzález-torres, kluth should have referenced another painter like john currin, or the purportedly homosexual italian painter carvaggio, or the longing and strange attraction in the photographs of robert mapplethorpe.  i think there's a lot that could have been developed, just as from the examples on the art practical site, i believe this exhibit by daniel keith might have a ton of potential.

Monday, February 6, 2012

in health

“The retirement of seventy-eight million baby boomers - Americans born between 1946 and 1964 - will cause the costs of Social Security and Medicare to skyrocket.  Between 2010 and 2020 those costs are expected to rise by 70 and 79 percent, respectively.  By 2050, according to Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, these two programs plus Medicaid will take 18.4 percent of everything the United States produces.”

this warning comes from the most recent book co-authored by thomas friedman and michael mandelbaum titled that used to be us: how america fell behind in the world it invented and how we can come back.  and while i take issue with the authors using any pronouncement issued by the cato institute as unbiased and factual, truth be told, america is not healthy.

friedman and mandelbaum point of in this book of theirs the slew of problems america now faces: congressional polarization, under education, the economic stress caused by the technology revolution of the late century, and the lack of concern so far shown toward the potential environmental disaster of global warming.  basically americans are lazy and aren’t doing anything.  friedman and mandelbaum write calmly, declaring that if we set certain goals, enact positive and exact legislature now we can catch up, we can set the environment right, we can stay on top, and my generation won’t end up slinging burgers in beijing when we should be retiring.  they’re saying act now before this offer ends!

but reading their forecast, all i can conceive of is how monumental this task is.  not just innovating new technology to create cleaner energy and save the environment.  not just figuring out how to lure the brightest minds into teaching in america’s public schools.  not just completely restructuring medicaid, medicare, and social security.  in my mind, one of the biggest problems is the american public in general.  mandelbaum and friedman believe that the american public is not as divided politically as their representatives in congress, and they write from a pretty moderate (moderately-liberal) viewpoint.  but i do not think they realize that they’re writers for the new york times, a paper that is viewed as both over liberal and over intellectual and overly wordy and pompous and stuffy and yes i pay to read the paper daily and i love reading friedman’s articles but the majority of americans wouldn’t recognize his name let alone read his book and they surely would never believe that he’s anything but rabidly liberal!  and reading this book is almost on par with reading revelations.

bill clinton wrote out more dooming statistics in his recent book back to work:

According to the Simpson-Bowles Commission, total costs for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program equaled 6 percent of GDP, or about 35 percent of total health-care spending, which is 17.6 percent of GDP.   That's a lot, but it's still cheaper than the same coverage would be under private plans.  For one thing, administrative costs are far lower - less than half of what private plans cost.  Overall health-care spending is $35 to $40 billion lower than it would be if the government's administrative costs were equal to those of private insurance companies.  Even more important, the inflation rate in the government programs, though high, has been lower than the rate of increase in private coverage.  As the New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman has pointed out, Medicare spending per person has increased 400 percent since 1970, while private insurance has skyrocketed 700 percent.”

what are we to though?  what exactly can my generation and the american public do about these skyrocketing costs and our tumescent deficit.  i guess i’m absolutely a liberal in that i believe that more than simply raising taxes and maintaining healthcare benefits, we must come together as a community and a nation to discuss what exactly we need as such.  a liberal outlook favors greater equality over individual liberty.  thus to understand and work toward a greater community of fulfillment and happiness, we must come together and discuss the needs of this community.  we must make sacrifices.  we must think more about our community.  i pay taxes and can comprehend the need at times of higher taxes because i support our common good and not just my own self interest.

how then does a dialogue about healthcare needs begin?  certainly we need a better understanding of health.  we cannot allow pressure from the food industry to allow the tomato paste on pizza to count as a vegetable serving at school lunches.  we must come to grips with the effect of sugar in the diet.  and we must be frank about what exactly it is fair that we pay for as a community.

According to CBS's 60 Minutes (August 8, 2010), in 2009 'Medicare paid $55 billion just for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients' lives.  That's more than the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, or the Department of Education.  And it has been estimated that 20 to 30 percent of these medical expenses may have no meaningful impact.  Most of the bills are paid for by the federal government with few or no questions asked.' Indeed, Medicare is barred by law from rejecting any treatment based on cost.”

this was reported by friedman and mandelbaum and it brings up a tough question.  certainly we respect and love our elders.  these are our family members.  and they must be care for, just as our nation must have healthcare at any age.  yet we cannot allow our love for our families cloud our judgement.  doctors should not be allow to prescribe any treatment at any cost without proven efficacy.  and the cost to keep a person alive slightly longer unconscious and on a respirator may not be a cost the public should bear.  perhaps some costs should be private burdens.

where is the line between public and private?  recently, cities such as san francisco and certain companies have started paying and supporting the medical transition between sexes.  transgendered people should have our support, but should their transitions be the burden of the public when we cannot even pave our roads and feed our children and bring basic healthcare to the public at large.  when i think of this though, i believe that the need to transition could bring a psychic pain that i cannot begin to understand, and thus perhaps we should be able to make a sacrifice for our fellow citizens.  and in cities such as san francisco, the consent and encouragement for this support does come from the public, blessing the use of public funds.

but these are the hard questions i find myself thinking of, and of which we must all think.  what sacrifices will each of us be willing to make and what do we expect from our society?