Wednesday, November 11, 2009



Thomas Riggins

Maybe a better question is , is peace even possible in the Middle East? We should always ask 'cui bono?' when it comes to these kinds of questions. What I want to try and figure out is what is going on in the region and what are the prospects of a FAIR and JUST peace. It seems to me people and nations can argue over all sorts of land issues, religious issues, who has started what and done what to whom and this can go on forever unless one side annihilates the other or everyone decides that they really WANT to live together and CAN live together and then honestly work towards a just solution-- not one that unfairly benefits one side and crams injustice down the other's throat.

Well, this blog is not going to solve the problems of the Middle East, but I'm going to try and figure out what is going on and I intend to do so by commenting on a half page article in the New York Times of 11/11/2009 called "Memo From Riyadh" by Michael Slackman and entitled "America's Closest Arab Allies Fret as Their Influence Slips Away." Some of my comments are speculative and I don't claim that my interpretation of this article is one hundred percent correct but I hope it's the bases for figuring out not only what is going on but also what is to be done. Please use the comments at the end to correct anything I may have gotten wrong as this is only the first draft.

Here is what the Times' writer says but filtered through my commentary-- only actual quotes should be attributed to him or the Times. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both repressive dictatorships that go against every democratic value the US preaches to the people of the region, are the US's closest allies and get tremendous political and financial support from the US to basically hold down their own people in the interests of US monopoly capitalism in the area. Both allies are upset by bungling in the region by the Obama administration-- "they have come to despair."

Both allies are losing their influence with the other countries in the area because of their association with the US and as a result of Israel's basically telling Obama to go jump in the lake (or the Mediterranean) with respect to halting the confiscation of more Palestinian land and the building of more Israeli settlements on the West Bank. This is an indication that Israel has, at present, no desire for peace and wants to continue in a permanent state of war. Israel can't exist without US money so this position is seen as being also that of the US no matter what diplomatic BS comes out of Washington via Ms. Clinton. None of the countries in the region think this is FAIR or JUST behavior by Israel or the US, so by being allies of the US Saudi Arabia and Egypt are losing their influence. People all over the region want to fight back against INJUSTICE-- this means IRAN and SYRIA are becoming more influential. This displeases the two allies-- but the US appears to be too stupid to figure out its own UNJUST policies vis a vis Israel and the Palestinians are one of the root causes of all its problems in the region.

Now I don't think the US is stupid. So it must want these problems. Why? To justify its military adventures and to shore up its takeover of Iraq's oil fields. To keep these fields a military presence will be necessary for decades, therefore there must be tension, terrorism and instability to justify this presence. It appears that neither Israel nor the US want to have peace in the region-- so there will be no peace.

Anonymous Egyptian official: "If there is no peace, then all those who bet against peace are winning. And all those who act and bet there will be peace are losing, like us. We are losing because we are putting this bet." Well, this is a cause for despair. But, wait. The official thinks that SYRIA and IRAN (and Hamas and Hezbollah) are betting AGAINST PEACE and that the US, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (and the Palestinian Authority) are betting FOR PEACE. And here's the rub! The real ally of the US is Israel. It is ISRAEL and the US who are AGAINST THE PEACE. Yes the two Arab allies should despair as they are just pawns in the game being played out in the region.

President Obama made a great speech in Cairo last June that gave hope to people throughout the Middle East that at long last peace between the Israelis and Palestinians was possible. Then Netanyahu announced that Israel would continue to expand the settlements in contravention to international law and the hopes of a peace. The US said that it was against this policy. It appears to be a deal breaker as Netanyahu well knows. Clinton was sent to talk some sense into him. But Netanyahu knows the strength of the Israel lobby in the US and especially in the US Congress so he blew her off. To toss Obama a bone he said he would "slow the building of settlements." Clinton acted as if the US had won something instead of having been told to buzz off.

She praised Netanyahu for having made an "unprecedented" concession. Meanwhile the rest of the world saw her as having made "missteps" having, by her remarks, "severely damaged " the hope raised by Obama's Cairo speech. As a result of this new collusion of Zionism and US Imperialism Mahmoud Abbas will step down as head of the Palestinian Authority [PA] when his term is up, some of his ministers have said the peace process is dead and the two state solution died along with it, and the PA has been left in "chaos." Well, the PA would like peace because then the Palestinians would get a state, the killing of their people, the genocide and apartheid, would end so who are the ones betting against peace? The ones holding all the cards are-- Israel and the US. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been left high and dry by their "ally."

Emad Gad of Egypt's Ahram Center (government supported) said: "Egypt's role is receding regionally and its cards are limited. Their main card, which is reconciliation and peace, is receding." The Saudis split with them on this, thinking that gains can still be made without "progress in the peace process." What gains do they have in mind. Well, progress to weaken the influence of Iran by breaking up Syria's closeness with it. Everyone has their own agenda. Saudi Arabia wants Iranian influence out of the Gulf (not likely), Egypt wants peace on its borders with Israel and Gaza, Israel wants the West Bank, the Palestinians want to be treated as humans, and the US doesn't know what it wants -- aside from control of Iraq's oil-- and lets Israel call the shots, just as the fascist elements in the Miami Cuban mafia dictate its Cuba policy, to curry favor and votes back in der Heimatland.

The Saudis want to reassert themselves. Abdulkarim H. al-Dekhayel of King Saud University in Riyadh said, "Saudi's role in the last ten years has declined. The leadership now feels it has to try to reset the agenda." To do this the Saudi's want to CONSOLIDATE Arab unity-- i.e., wean SYRIA away from IRAN. Since SYRIA and IRAN are seen as NOT being for peace getting Syria back in the fold would be a step forward since it would isolate Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah. But why is Syria not for peace. Because Israel is illegally occupying the GOLAN HEIGHTS , which is Syrian territory, and wants the keep it. So again it is ISRAEL'S taking of other people's land and not giving it back that is the SOURCE of the problems. It got peace with Egypt when it gave back the SINAI and it could have peace tomorrow with both Syria and the Palestinians it just gave them back what is theirs in the first place.

The Times asks how does Saudi Arabia intend "to persuade Syria to switch from the antipeace camp to the pro-peace camp." The Times has it backwards. Its not Syria but Israel that is in the antipeace camp. What the Saudis and Egyptians have to do is persuade Obama to switch from the antipeace camp to the pro-peace camp. This may be difficult since he waging war in three countries-- but he does have the Nobel in peace so maybe....

The Saudis have a two pronged solution to win over Syria. First, give them a lot of money. Second, let them basically run Lebanon. Both of these are crazy. First, it's the Golan Heights that Syria wants, and second, you just can't cynically turn Lebanon over to de facto Syrian control. Saudi Arabia is only really interested in the Gulf and weakening Iran. The interests of a small Arabic country such as Lebanon don't figure in their conception of "Arab Unity."

Meanwhile, Egypt blames Syria for the fact that Hamas and Fatah have not accepted Egyptian plans for them to unify and thus advance the peace process with Israel. This is also crazy as Israel doesn't want a peace process and Fatah and the PA are swollen with money and aid from the US and that US influence is completely anti-Hamas. The biggest problem the PA, and especially Abbas, has is the fact that it is being more and more seen as a US client and the US backs Israel. This is a fatal contradiction for the peace process unless Obama put his foot down and forces Netanyahu to stop expanding the settlements-- the strong action that Abbas has said might lead him to start up renewed peace negotiations with Israel-- which have been in the toilet after Clinton's cave in to Netanyahu.

Egypt would love for Saudi Arabia to convince Syria "to sever ties with Iran, stop supporting Hamas and actually support the Arab initiative, which offers Israel peace in return for withdrawal to 1967 border lines, establishment of an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and a 'just solution' to the refugee problem." That is a good initiative, but does anyone think there is a chance in Hell that Netanyahu or ANY Israeli government would ever accept it?

The Saudi's don't believe it possible themselves. A government official had this to say to the Times: "Does the West [i.e., the US] give any support to those moderates on the Palestinian front, on the Arab side, that advocate peace, that say, 'It is not about resistance any more, but what we want can be achieved through negotiations?' The answer is, 'No.' Do we have an empty hand [due to US perfidy]? The answer is , 'Yes.'" Does anybody believe that resistance is no longer needed?

Well, Obama has the ball in his hands. I hope he doesn't fumble.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009



Thomas Riggins

"At Work With The Flu" is the New York Times headline in Tuesday's Business Section [11-3-2009]. "Many, Lacking Paid Sick Days, Aid a Pandemic." It shouldn't shock anyone that our capitalist system is structured to help, not hinder, the spread of disease and death among the general population since business profits come first and human needs and basic decency come second-- if they come at all.

President Obama has declared Swine Flu to be a national emergency but that doesn't mean those companies that refuse paid sick time to their employees are going to stop enforcing policies that help spread the flu virus around. And please note that what's gong on now in this regard applies to any type of infectious disease that could blow up into a pandemic or even a local outbreak of such a disease. It is the nature of capitalism that leads to this.

"Tens of millions of people, or about 40% of all private-sector workers," the Times reports, "do not receive paid sick days, and as a result many of them cannot afford to stay home when they are ill." [Speed the day when then is no more private sector!]

It is not only that they are so low paid that they can't afford to stay home, they also face being fired if they do. Many restaurant workers, for example, are in this situation-- so remember every time you go out to eat you are risking exposure to the flu, TB, etc. from the food handlers, cooks, and food servers who are being forced to come in and cough and spread infections around for you to get and take home to your family and to work for your work mates. This is one of the ways a pandemic spreads!

Of course the US Chamber of Commerce doesn't see a problem. Their spokesman had this to say about workers not having paid sick leave and the threat of spreading death and disease as a result. "The problem is not nearly as great as some people say. Lots of employers work these things out on an ad hoc basis with their employees." And what worker wouldn't prefer his or her boss to threat them in an ad hoc fashion rather than have a well thought out and agreed upon policy!

Here is an ad hoc policy at work. This is a quote from Paul Hotchkiss who works for Wal-Mart. He had swine flu but was made to show up for work any way. "There are a lot of people," he said, "who have swine flu right now who are going in because they worry about getting fired for having too many points." POINTS? What's that about. Well it seems you can use your sick leave, if you must, but you get a POINT in your record if you do. You can get points for other things Wal-Mart doesn't like as well. Too many points and you're fired. So if you get sick-- better to show up. You don't get paid for the first day of sick leave in any case so if you can't afford to lose a day's pay (and get a point) just be smart-- don't get sick. Even if the store is full of sickos it's going to be your demerit if you get ill. Mr. Hotchkiss did get sent home for looking "pale" but didn't see a doctor because "he could not afford the company's health insurance." [What's the reason we don't nationalize Wal-Mart?]

What about keeping the kiddies home when they have the flu? Schools are reporting that THEY send them home when flu is detected but many are back the next day!!! Why? It's "because Mommy had to work." Naturally, companies that will fire you for being sick won't let you stay home with a sick child. Capitalism isn't for namby-pambies.

The TriBeCa restaurant Thalassa in NYC made one of their food handlers with flu and a bad cough come in anyway "short of people"-- make note for future dining out destinations.

White Castle has great ad hoc policies. They take swine flu "seriously" and make "team members" [they don't have "workers"] stay home until they feel better. But won't they come in because they need the money? White Castle doesn't have PAID sick leave-- you should sacrifice for the team no doubt, be a good team player. Not to worry. Team members can make up the lost pay working "extra hours after recovering." How considerate.

All this annoying moral turpitude goes on under the nose of Congress. Why? Because most of the Congress people serve the private sector not the people who elected them. But a ray of light is beginning to shine on this morass of private sector evil doing. ROSA DeLAURO, a DEMOCRAT in the House from the nutmeg state is the lead sponsor (with 100 cosponsors) of a bill to REQUIRE firms, of 15+ employees, to give seven days of PAID sick leave a year [Cubans get NINE days of paid sick leave a year, but then the Cuban government isn't run by the PRIVATE SECTOR]. Needless to say the Times reports that "Business groups oppose such legislation, calling it expensive [''profits before people'' remember] and unnecessary [don't we have a surplus population for God's sake].

Anyway, let's wish Ms. DeLauro and her fellow utopians the best of luck with her Bill [of the 177 Bills she has come up with since 1991 (her first term) 4 have been passed]. Maybe we should call our representatives and tell them to get on board-- at least we should e-mail them!

Monday, November 02, 2009


Thomas Riggins

Jerry Fodor, the American philosopher, has a review in the October 16, 2009 TLS entitled "The truth is not out there." This review is of Michael Tye's "CONSCIOUSNESS REVISITED: Materialism without phenomenal concepts" and Tye is a follower of Hilary Putnam a Harvard philosopher who defends a position called "externalism". A position Fodor suggests that "might have outlived its usefulness."

Well, what I want to know is, if the truth isn't out there, where is it? Marxists think the truth, such as it is, depends on both the "out there" and the "in there" (i.e., the head). Let us see what Fodor has to say.

To explain "externalism" Fodor uses the example of H20 vs. XYZ. XYZ is supposed to have all the properties of H20 but isn't really water! We have H20 on earth but suppose a counter earth exactly the same as earth except instead of our water they have something chemically different called XYZ. You can't tell the difference by looking but if you had a glass of XYZ and you thought you had H20 you would be wrong. So for your concept of what you were looking at to be correct it is dependent on external factors as well as your internal state of mind. The truth, it seems to me, is both out there and in there (there being the brain).

Fodor then gives two traditional philosophical ideas that externalism calls into question. The first is that if you learn the meaning of a word ("water") part of what you learn is the meaning of the word and second is that it is the meaning which determines the extension or reference of the word. It's H2O in the glass [oops-- it's really XYZ]. A word should extend to what it means-- that is water I see in the glass if and only if it is H20.

Externalism calls both these semantic rules into question, says Fodor. One or the other or both could be false. Why? Because, Fodor says, it seems that BEING H20 decides if something is WATER but H20 is NOT PART OF THE MEANING OF WATER. You know how to use the word "water" even if you have never taken a chemistry course and don't know anything about molecules of hydrogen and oxygen and how they get together.

Now words express CONCEPTS so if the meaning of a word is responsible for its extension so it is of the concept as well-- i.e., what we think with-- we think with concepts. Fodor gives an example of DOG. The meaning points outward from the mind to the dog and and inward to the concept as well. Fodor says "Fido is a dog" is only true if "Fido falls under the concept DOG" and vice versa. "A word," he says, "expresses a corresponding concept; a concept represents what the corresponding word refers to."

Fodor likes this way of thinking, which he calls the "representationalist view of concepts" [ it needs more work done on it ] but he says "I love it very much" [and why not?]. But, Fodor fears Putnam's ''externalism" could put the kibosh on this love affair. According to Putnam the meaning of the words you use and the concepts you use depend not only on what goes on in your head but also on the external world as well.

I don't see what is so upsetting about that. It is not the meaning as meaning that is at issue but the correct use of the concept. The glass appears to me to have water in it, or H20, two different concepts for the same thing but I am only correct in applying these concepts if the glass is not a glass of XYZ but one of water. How does this threaten representationalism? More specifically, how is Putnam justified in saying "externalism" means that the "mental representations of concepts" are not in your head because the meaning of the extension is not. What is not in your head is what is really out there in the external world-- a glass of XYZ. The fact that "externalism" has to be taken into account with respect to the truth conditions of your use of the concept WATER or H20 does not justify Putnam in saying the "meaning" of your concept "ain't in your head." It does justify your saying the truth of the correspondence of your judgment that your concept applies to the external world "ain't only in your head." I don't think either Putnam or Fodor is on base here.

Now we get to Tye's book. Fodor tells us that in both empiricism and rationalism "perception" goes like this: i get a percept [bow-wow] and I infer a nearby animal [dog]. Tye, however doesn't like the "infer" part in the above. Fodor quotes him: "it seems natural to suppose that vision involves direct contact with external things in standard veridical cases." Well, maybe-- but after introduction to philosophy we are supposed to understand that the image or sound of a dog is mediated by our senses and the brain infers what is out there. There is mediated contact not direct immediate contact.

Tye goes on: "When I perceive a tomato, for example, there is no tomato-like sense impression [this is just an assertion by Tye] that stands as an intermediary between the tomato and me. [I hope he doesn't think a tomato is in his brain!] Nor am I related to the tomato as I am to a deer when I see its footprint in the snow. [ You are related to the footprint and the tomato in the same way, however.] I do not experience the tomato by experiencing something else over and above the tomato and its facing surface. [Fodor asks is it the tomato or its facing surface we experience. I wonder if Tye infers the tomato from the facing surface?] I see the facing surface of the tomato DIRECTLY" [and infer the tomato indirectly.]

Fodor has a lot to say about this. "Experiences," he says, "are themselves modes of awareness; one doesn't INFER them, one just has them." Yes, but I do, consciously or unconsciously (it's up to the brain) infer from them to the external world. Fodor suggests the OBJECT of the experience is the tomato but I think that is an automatic brain inference we become conscious of the tomato we look at it--oops, better lighting, it's a really red apple.

I think I am not on board with Fodor when he writes: "THE MIND IS ACTIVE IN PERCEPTION; but it is PASSIVE IN EXPERIENCE; which is to say that PERCEPTION IS INFERENTIAL BUT EXPERIENCE ISN'T." I'm not sure you can separate EXPERIENCE and PERCEPTION this way. Fodor asks how do we become aware of the phone ringing and says we don't "hear it (as one might say) 'directly'." But is it not more natural to say( after Philosophy 101) I become aware of the ringing because my brain picks up an auditory sensation, translates it, and makes my consciousness aware that the phone is ringing?

A few lines above I jestingly hoped that Tye didn't think the tomato he was looking at was in his brain. Fodor thought that Tye did believe something like that but then said to himself it wasn't possible for a philosopher to hold such a position-- that a tomato could be part of Tye's phenomenology (not a CAUSE of it but a CONSTITUENT). But he finds the following quote in Tye's book: "An object's looking F ... [isn't] a matter of an object's causing an experience which represents simply that something is F. The experience one has of the seen object is one into whose content the seen object itself enters." Hmmmm.

Following Fodor's lead let us assume that F is the Chrysler Building (CB). Fodor says Tye is trying to expound a theory of the PHENOMENAL CONTENT of our experiences. Fodor says only God knows where the phenomenal content of the CB is [well when I look at the CB it is in my mind i.e., the result of a brain event in my head] but there is no question where the CB is [42nd Street and Lexington in New York City]. So Tye can't really mean what he says-- i.e., that the CB is itself a constituent of my phenomenal content of it. I know that philosophers can be big headed, but they don't have heads big enough to contain the CB!

Tye's view is very counterintuitive and Fodor takes the time to tell us how Tye tries to make it more easily understandable. He draws an analogy from the philosophy of BERTRAND RUSSELL. Russell held that the things propositions were about were parts of the propositions about them. Fodor says that John is part of the proposition that John sneezed. It's true Russell talked that way but Fodor says, rightly I think, that Tye can't really make this appeal to Russell because the analogy between parts of propositions (Russell) and parts of experiences (Tye) "doesn't really bear much weight." Saying John is a part of a proposition simply means the truth value of the proposition depends on something about John. This "doesn't license claiming that John is part of an experience of his sneezing...."

What is the point of all this? Fodor says Tye wants to reconcile a physical metaphysics with a Realist [materialist] account of consciousness, of our conscious experience. The way to do this, Tye thinks, is by an EXTERNALISM which holds that the OBJECT of a veridical experience is part of the phenomenal content of the experience. [I'm not even going to discuss the problems of "illusory" experiences although Fodor does in his review].

Fodor says that a big problem for materialists is that since a conscious experience is, for them, the result of a brain state "assumed to be material through and through" the question is HOW CAN A BRAIN STATE BE CONSCIOUS''? Tye wants to solve this problem by making the content of direct perception is both part of the experience and "BY ASSUMING THAT THE CONTENT OF AN EXPERIENCE IS IPSO FACTO CONSCIOUS CONTENT." But Fodor thinks the available evidence is against this idea. He says that Tye is aware of this evidence and tries to explain it away but he has to add ever more "wheels and gears" to get his theory to run.

An aside here. Materialists need not ask the question as to how a materialist brain state can be conscious. Consciousness is a PROPERTY of matter-- for humans a property of the brain. It is not a KIND OF MATTER. According to Lenin, "To say that thought is material is to make a false step, a step towards confusing materialism and idealism." [CW vol. 14 M&E-C quoted in FML p. 116, see below].

I don't think we need to go over all the cases discussed the case of the CB was enough to make Tye's theory seem impossible. Fodor concludes that the evidence we have from psychology and other sciences indicates the what "perceptual experience delivers to the perceptual belief is not the X but the X experienced-as-such-and-such; and it's what the X is experienced as that determines what belief is formed in consequence of the seeing." This is a perfectly good position that a materialist can take and there is no need to try and construct a counter factual "Materialism without phenomenal concepts."

Fodor concludes that "externalism has just about outlived its usefulness. It looks as if its recent incarnations are just complicated ways of restating its premisses. In fact, he decides that Putnam's form of externalism is not needed to explain the meaning of having conscious content in the mind [brain] because REFERENTIAL CONTENT is all that is necessary for any philosophy of mind or language. And this is how Marxists, at any rate, in holding to DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM would put it: "It is not the things themselves, or their properties and relations that exist in man's consciousness, but mental IMAGES or reflections of them, which convey more or less accurately the characteristics of the objects cognised and are, in this sense, similar to them [Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninsm, Moscow, 1961)