Liberal Arts, Again


I’ve been saying, for longer than it was exactly true, that everything’s bad and it’s only getting worse. The world’s come around to my point of view though, and at least in the US, almost a year out now from the inauguration, it certainly seems to be going that way. The President’s interviews, when anybody can work up the stomach to go read them, are getting less and less coherent all the time; the man’s tweets more unhinged; the Mueller investigation ever closer even as the Republican Congress shows itself totally unwilling to accept the results and Republicans in investigatory committees complicit in covering up wrongdoing. The country’s shaking itself apart up top, and while the reason those people are there might well be down to grand historical forces, the stuff they’re doing now that they’ve arrived is down to deeply broken humanities and very personal failures.

I think some of that’s down to education, and like all people who think a problem’s due to lack of schooling, I think it’s down to the right or wrong kind of education, and that’s what we’ll get to in this show.

Liberal Arts is the previous show on this subject, and Liberal Arts is the previous essay.

Musical credit to Ryan Little this time out.

SFD Short—Maintenance


Well, my face isn’t totally unstuffed-up yet, but I think the nasal quality has dropped out enough to record, and I want my shows to hit the top of the week again.

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This is the Isaiah Berlin essay

And this right here is the last chapter of the Myth of Sisyphus by Camus

SFD Short—Land and Food and Capitalism


We’re talking about capitalism, and specifically the ways in which unrestrained, industrialized, late-stage capitalism like ours works to destroy, reconstitute and commodify widely-available goods, usually in such a way as to create a population that is so repressable, the state and its corporate partners don’t even need to repress it.

Big ask for one show. But it’s a reachable one, I think, and everything’s pretty damn interesting on the way there.

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Enjoy this one, folks.

Some stuff that might be interesting to folks based on the episode:

Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food

The Mexican milpa planting system

And what’s kind of my experience thereof

A history of bread

Adult dorms

SFD Short—Trickledown


I have a whole new show all written up but between family stuff and, well, more family stuff, I haven’t been able to find a time to actually record and edit it here in Tennessee. Tomorrow, though, I’m on a plane, and I’ll be into Guadalajara and back to my desk by 5am EST on Friday.

This is my last news show (until Rob and I go up as December’s), and my last get-out-of-jail-free card, so expect real new content to be coming at you every week (and, after this Monday, when I’ve got a wedding, every Monday) for the foreseeable future.

It’s going to be so good to be back, folks. I hope you’re pumped for it too.

In the meantime, this is the best news piece I’ve put together, I’m pretty sure, and well worth hearing.

As per the show, here’s the chart from the Economic Policy Institute that really clinches the issue:

SFD Short—Corruption


It’s pretty straightforward on this one; October’s news show on Corruption just in time for December. Enjoy folks. Patreon people, appreciate the patience while I’m on my monthlong, sabbatical-type trip to see my folks in the US.

I don’t do a lot of heavy quotes in this one, but I do lean very heavily on my sources, so here’s something we’re more used to from the history shows.

Arnsdorf, Isaac and Vogel, Kenneth P., “Trump Received $1.6 Million from Secret Service.” Politico, 22 September 2016.

Beauchamp, Zack, “How Donald Trump’s Kleptocracy Is Undermining American Democracy.” Vox, 31 July 2017.

Bertrand, Natasha, “Top Democrat: Trump’s DOJ Nominee Helped Russian Bank Sue over Trump-Russia Dossier.” Business Insider, 25 July 2017.

Cassidy, John, “Republicans Just Caved to the Big Banks and Exposed Trump’s Sham Populism.” The New Yorker, 25 October 2017.

Friedman, Dan, “Trump Just Blew Off a Deadline for Implementing Russian Sanctions He Approved.” Mother Jones, 11 October 2017.

Green, Miranda and Tatum, Sophie, “Pruitt: Scientists Receiving Federal Grants Will Be Cut from EPA Advising Roles.” CNN Politics, 18 October 2017.

Korte, Gregory, “As He Chairs Trump’s Opioid Commission, Christie Champions His Home-State Drug Companies.” USA Today, 19 October, 2017.

Kravitz, Derek and Shaw, Al, “Trump Lawyer Confirms President Can Pull Money from His Businesses Whenever He Wants.”ProPublica, 4 April 2017.

Nazaryan, Alexander, “Trump Administration: The Most Corrupt and Unethical in American History?” Newsweek, 23 September 2017.

O’Connell, Jonathan, “Trump D.C. Hotel Turns $2 Million Profit in Four Months.” The Washington Post, 10 August 2017.

Petulla, Sam, “Tracking President Trump’s Visits to Trump Properties.” NBC News, 10 August, 2017.

NAFTA


Hey Everybody—

The folks on Patreon have voted the news shows into wider circulation, so they’ll be coming out either regularly or when we have a blank Monday to fill. That should make it easier for anybody who wasn’t into listening on Patreon (and who really wants, no sarcasm, to leave their podcast app to hit play on an actual website) and, obviously, for everybody else, to hear them.

Today we’ve got what was September’s show, but have no fear: even if the news isn’t super fresh, the question it addresses is still up in the air and the essay that’s the real heart of the show is evergreen.

I’m not on hiatus this month as much as just trying to be up front about a possibly mixed ability to hit my release dates. But I’m taking my mic home with me, so we might get every week done anyway.

One last thing here that I didn’t think to mention in the intro but that I’ll work in at some point is that I’ve put together an Amazon wishlist. I hopefully won’t need to purchase any of these books (because hopefully I’ll track them down in a library), but Amazon makes it easy to put together and share a list. So, this is pretty much the full, ideal wrap-up to all the reading I’ve already done on Vietnam. It’s a fascinating set of books. And I’m still working out how to get my mitts on a bunch of period RAND Corp documents. I’ll keep the few interested posted.

Alright, enjoy the show guys (and as promised, here below, an easier explainer on comparative advantage).

Saving the State Department—A Conversation with Rob Morris


Hey folks,

This show’s coming to you on a Tuesday just because of that new job I mentioned and because Thanksgiving happened on a Sunday this year in Mexico. What I’d like to talk to you about now, though, is what’s going to happen to SFD over the next month or so. No big or particularly bad news. It’s just that I’ll be travelling through most of the month of December, and I don’t want to commit to having a show for you every Monday. What will happen is Patreon subscribers will get a news show both for November and December, and I’ve got a few ideas for shorts that will probably get done next month, so it won’t be totally dry.

The good news is that once I’m home visiting my folks in the US, I’ll be able to lay hands on some texts I haven’t been able to get here in Mexico, including the 10,000 Day War, which is probably the most thorough history of the entire Vietnam conflict out there. I’ll be reading the whole month and with any luck we’ll be hearing about the French misadventures in Indochina by January.

Continue reading Saving the State Department—A Conversation with Rob Morris

Iran VIII Part Two: The End


Hey Folks—

Here it is, finally, the very last one. It’s coming out late today (or early Tuesday, I don’t actually know yet) because this past is/was a three day weekend here in Mexico. I had a wedding in another state, and it being Mexico these things always last longer than you planned. I’m doing up the notes on a borrowed laptop in Aguascalientes, but timing depends on if the upload goes through once I’m back home.

In any case, we’re covering a pretty long period in this one, from half or most of the way through the war with Iraq all the way up to the present, although it’s a pretty quick hustle from Khomeini’s death in 1989 to today.

The two major players during this period, if not in Hashemi’s case always from an official position of power, were these guys:

That’s Hashemi Rafsanjani on the left, speaker of Parliament through the war, spokesman of the Supreme Defense Council over the same period, and President from 1989 to 1997. On the right is Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Supreme Leader after Khomeini despite a marked lack of religious or clerical qualifications (and they had to change the Constitution to make way for him). Rafsanjani and Khamenei were the most loyal and in Rafsanjani’s case the most capable men that Khomeini brought with him through the Revolution, and they were the ones he wanted to leave in his stead.

After Rafsanjani left office, this man came from nowhere to take the Presidency of the Republic away from the picked dude of the Establishment.

His name is Mohammad Khatami, and he was the figurehead of the first liberal (and reformist, as against the forces of conservatism and the status quo, embodied in the clique of Khamenei appointees in the veto-power-holding councils of government) resurgence. Khatami focused on political reforms. They were what Iran needed, but even a friendly Majlis couldn’t do anything to override the Council of Guardians, and spending all his time on stillborn (if necessary) policies left economics by the wayside and the great mass of poor Iranians underserved and feeling neglected.

Eight years of political impasse and economic stagnation under Khatami gave way in 2005 to the one Iranian besides Khomeini and Khamenei that we recognize in the United States:

Mahmud Ahmadinejad spent his Presidential career posturing and preening and spitting at the West, revelling in the polemics over Iran’s nuclear program and aiming at some sort of vaguely defined greater regional role while utterly failing to address any of the actual internal problems that brought him to power. I lay this in the show, but if you want any short and simple way to understand Ahmadinejad as an American, it’s this: he and Donald Trump are one and the same, although I think Ahmadinejad is probably smarter, or is now that Trump’s clearly in some sort of cognitive decline. They ran on similar populist platforms, they similarly failed to implement that populism in office, they filled the halls of government with total incompetents and they enjoyed the infamy they could create much more than the actual job of the Presidency.

Ahmadinejad’s total unfitness for the job didn’t prevent him from winning a second term with the help of some election rigging from Khamenei, which gave rise to the Green Movement in 2009 and the second Iranian liberal resurgence that led to the election of our last Iranian character, Hassan Rouhani, elevated to the Presidency in 2013 and re-elected just this past spring.

Rouhani’s popular, moderate, and reformist, and he’s doing what he can to bring women’s and minority rights, along with press freedoms and the justice system all into positions that we’d see as acceptable in the West. To do so he’s got to fight the entrenched interests of those on the Right, ranged around Khamenei and dug into every institution and structure of power in the country. Progress has been slow and it will be slow, but it’s only working by their own lights that the Iranians are going to be able to turn the Revolution around to the point where it’s fulfilling the dreams of all its original adherents and not just the most conservative ones.

The greatest threats to that progress are these two men right here, along, maybe, with Mad Dog Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly. All of them bear the typical American grudge against Iran, the one that necessarily understands our joint history to have begun in 1979 and not in 1953 and one which ignores our prominent role in the Iran Iraq War to focus on Iran’s rather less important place in the Lebanese conflicts from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Tillerson so far has slowed Trump’s attempts to unilaterally torpedo the nuclear deal, but otherwise he’s treated Iran like most US politicians: an unintelligible bad actor, always in need of a scolding from that paragon of good international behavior, the United States.

That attitude alone, expressed across the Administration, is bad enough for reformers like Rouhani in Iran who have stressed for decades the need to reach a detente with the West, but combined with Trump’s hamfisted attempts to bully Iran on the world stage, POTUS and all his merry men are doing what Americans have always done: cut the feet out from under every politician in Tehran who shares our values and interests while giving ammunition to the clerics and parochial conservatives who’d love to shut out the West and modernity forever.

And last but never least, references.

Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations. New Press, 2013.

Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran: Between Two Revolutions.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 January 1975: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/001/1975/en/

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 June 1976: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/001/1975/en/

Axworthy, Michael. Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Baraheni, Reza. “Terror in Iran.” The New York Review of Books, 28 October 1976.

Byrne, Malcolm. “The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup.” The National Security Archive, last modified 29 November 2000, http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/.

The Cambridge History of Iran: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic. Edited by Peter Avery, Gavin Hambly and Charles Melville. Vol. VII. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Weidenfeld1963.

Fatemi, N. S. 1985. “The Anglo Persian Agreement of 1919.” Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol II: 59.

Filkins, Dexter. “Rex Tillerson at the Breaking Point.” The New Yorker, 6 October, 2017.

Katouzian, Homa. The Political Economy of Modern Iran: Despotism and Pseudo-Modernism, 1926-1979. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1981.

Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Wiley, 2003.

Roosevelt, Kermit. Countercoup: The Struggle for Control of Iran. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

Rothschild, Emily. “Carter and Arms: No Sale.” The New York Review of Books, 15 September 1977.

Steel, Ronald. “Impossible Dreams.”  The New York Review of Books, 12 September 1968.

 

Audio Acknowledgements

“1998 Khatami Interview.” CNN. YouTube.

“Ahmadinejad: Bin Laden is in DC.” ABC News. YouTube.

“Axis of Evil Speech.” George W. Bush. YouTube.

“Ayatollah Khomeini Funeral.” hijazna. YouTube.

“CNN Report: ‘Green Movement Is Alive and Well” CNN. YouTube.

Doctor Turtle, “Lullaby for Democracy.”

“Iran: The ‘Pariah State’ |Iran & the West Part 2.” BBC. YouTube.

“Iran’s Rebel Ayatollah—Ayatollah Montazeri—Documentary.” IranDocumentary1. YouTube.

Krakatoa“See My Blue.”

“Modern Warfare: Iran-Iraq War.” International Television News. YouTube.

Persian Folk Music.” Traditional Music Channel. YouTube.

Sky News: Stuxnet—Technical Details.” Sky News. YouTube.

USS Vincennes Shoots Down Iranian Airliner.” TVO News. YouTube.

Iran VIII Part One: The War


Hey folks—

It’s explained in the show, but the tortured titling here comes from that I promised the last Iran show this week, and in what’s to me the most important sense, I delivered. It’s written, recorded, edited, all that. It’s just not up on the site. WordPress and my podcasting plugin don’t play too hot with massive files, and if I hadn’t cut this up, it’d be closing on 4 hours and much too large. So today we’ve got part one and a week from now we’ll have part two, with the show I did with Rob last Thursday after that and then who knows.

Down to business. We don’t have a whole lot of new characters to break in this show, if you can believe that, and the couple I ought to bring up will have a bigger showing next week, and I’ll leave them til then. But there’s still a war on, and what we need for that are maps.

Here we’ve got the map that I used the most in the production of this episode. All the important details are there. The relative size of our two combatants, with the full expanse of Iran revealed for once. You’ve got Turkey up in the northwest, Afghanistan and Pakistan and the USSR bordering Iran, with some idea of the politics and tensions that will grow up there as the Soviets invade Afghanistan in the 1980s. You’ve got the other Arab Gulf States nestled up against Iraq, the country they’ll be so doggedly supplying and aiding through the long eight years of this war. And you’ve got the Zagros Mountains, something that helps to explain at least in part why Saddam had such a hard time advancing beyond those little pink areas.

Continue reading Iran VIII Part One: The War