Sufjan Stevens on Austin City Limits

Sean Meade very kindly emailed me full-length videos of Sufjan Stevens playing some of his works on the PBS program Austin City Limits.

I also found a lower quality recording, apparently from the same event, of The Transfiguration.

Update: The audio of the entire concert is also available.

Say Yes! to Michigan!

Michigan Votes to Ban Affirmative Action,” Feminist Daily News Wire, 9 November 2006, http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/uswirestory.asp?id=9999.

In one of the few pieces of unambiguously good news, the people of Michigan voted to end Affirmative Action in state government.

Michigan voters approved a state-wide ban on affirmative action in public education, public employment, and state contracts on Tuesday

The vote was a symptom fo wider problems, as the Republican candidate opposed the measure and was on the side of racism

The referendum was opposed by many prominent leaders in the political, business, and academic worlds, including both major gubernatorial candidates, Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) – who was reelected on Tuesday – and Dick DeVos (R).

This is why the Republicans had to lose and the Democrats had to win. The GOP had abandoned the Right, and abandoned the People:

Roughly 58 percent of voters across the state, however, came out in favor of the ban

Predictably, the Left seeks to overturn democracy through the courts:

Hours after Michigan voters eliminated affirmative action in college admissions and government hiring, the lawsuits hit the courts. While most educators remain unsure what the ban will do, some students are worried.

The measure does little to stop informal affirmative racism and its quiet racism by hiring boards, tenure boards, etc., but is a good step forward.

Thank you Michigan!

Of the Tribes in Iraq

It’s the Tribes, Stupid,” by Steven Pressfield, DNI, Octoboer 2006, http://www.d-n-i.net/fcs/pressfield_tribes.htm.

In a comment here at tdaxp), Michael linked to Steven Pressfield’s editorial on tribalism.

Pressfield’s editorial is a combination between the well-known and fear of the unknown. Too bad.


First, Pressfield provides a definition.

The tribe is the most ancient form of social organization. It arose from the hunter-gatherer clans of pre-history. A tribe is small. It consists of personal, face-to-face relationships, often of blood. A tribe is cohesive. Its structure is hierarchical. It has a leader and a rigid set of norms and customs that defines each individual’s role. Like a hunting band, the tribe knows who’s the top dog and knows how to follow orders. What makes Islam so powerful in the world today is that its all-embracing discipline and order overlay the tribal mind-set so perfectly. Islam delivers the certainty and security that the tribe used to. It permits the tribal way to survive and thrive in a post-tribal and super-tribal world.

Well, maybe. Pressfield is arguing that tribes (as he assumes exists in Iraq) are identical to the social unit of the Era of Evolutionary Adaptation. That would argue that tribes are generally no smaller than fifteen people and no larger than one-hundred fifty people. Many tribes in Iraq are considerably more “advanced” than that, some with thousands of members.

Next he attacks Iraqis on the fear they may note “wrong”

when we see news footage of blue-ink thumbs and beaming faces emerging from polls. What’s really happening has nothing to do with democracy. What’s happening is the tribal chief has passed the word and everybody is voting exactly as he told them to.

This seems like an absurd argument. Should we declare religion the enemy because some people may vote the way their Bishop tell them to, or unionism the enemy because people may follow their union chief?

The tribe must have a chief. It demands a leader. With a top dog, every underdog knows his place. He feels secure. He can provide security for this family. The tribe needs a Tony Soprano. It needs a Godfather.

Here Pressfield is identifying a tribe as a basically masculine (cooperative) organization. I agree, more or less. He reiterates this point several times, and I agree with those, more or less, as well.

But then Pressfield abandons sensibility with Orientalism of the worst sort:

Tribes deal in absolutes. Their standards of honor cannot be compromised. Crush the tribe in one century, it will rise again a thousand years from now.

There is a tendency, today most common among the Left, to assume that Other People are so different from one we have to abandon our regular tools of analysis. People like them are just different from people like us — there is no common human nature but just socially constructed natures. They are nothing like us.

With any other group of people, we assume they want to maximize their power, prestige, and wealth. States (such as Russia or China), Groups (such as the Cali Cartel or Microsoft) and individuals (such as George Bush or Tony Bennet) go through their lives attempting to getting as much of these goods as they can. We also assume that individuals are naturally concerned about procedural justice, and recognize that they may behave irrationally if they detect either dishonesty or injury in another party.

Our tools of analysis imply that Iraqi tribes act the same way. Under Saddam, some tribes were rewarded and were content. Otherse were oppressed and were malcontent. The tribes cared for their injured — even those who could no longer provide an economy benefit to the community. The tribes angrily responded to perceived injustice, even where an “Economic Man” would have sat back and taken it.

Pressfield’s simplistic article rejects this obvious finding. Pressfield instead claims that tribalists are Moral Absolutist Supermen, who care nothing about their material wellbeing.

We’re seeing this now in a Middle East where the Crusades happened yesterday.

Pressfield here is implying some sort of perpetual race memory among tribalists. A more likely cause of emotional nearness of the Crusades (if the Crusades actually are emotionally near, which is questionable) is the introduction of the concept by western schools in the late 19th century. An ineffective series of barbarian invasions by Franks were remembered as exactly that — a footnote to history — until Eurocentric professors emphasized the Crusades are a major historical episode.

Interesting, Pressfield then immediately contradicts his earlier Absolutist absurdity:

When the tribe negotiates, it is always a sham – a stalling tactic meant to mitigate temporary weakness. Do we believe Iran is really “coming to the table?” As soon as the tribe regains power, it will abrogate every treaty and every pact.

D’uh. The only person this could be surprising to is Pressfield, with his talk of moral absolutists. The reason that anyone in a competitive, zero-sum environment would ever cease hostilities is a belief that no further gain is possible through hostilities. That’s the same reason why the young American government signed the Treaty of Paris (instead of immediately marching on Canada) or that the USSR signed at Yalta (instead of immediately marching on France).

This reminds me of John Robb’s imaginary global guerrillas, and his belief in twenty-foot-tall enemies. But Robb’s passages are justly free of racism and bigotry. That’s to Robb’s credit.

Borat: Vexillogical Learnings of Asia to Make Benefit Glorious Domain of Geography

Last night, watched Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The movie begins with a beautiful rendition of the flag of Kazakhstan:

The Republic of Kazakhstan is one of several Asian nations to prominently feature a Sun Disk on its flag. Other common elements are the Star, the Crescent, and writing:

The Star may be the most common of these symbols, and it’s often included within the other symbols.

So I mapped the countries of Asia by which symbol they used. Because stars are so common, I colored those states by other symbols (so, for instance, Iraq is classified as “writing” even though it has both writing and stars). Thus:

The Sun Disk radiates out from China. The origin is even older than the KMT’s adoption fo the symbol in the flag of the Republic of China. The Qin Dynasty also used the Sun Disk. However, just as the People’s Republic only uses the Star, so do its dependencies:

The destruction of the Sun Disk, as well as mutilation and attempted obliteration of Chinese characters, are the works of Mao Zedong, a noted psychopath. This is unlike, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, however, which is the work of Sacha Baron-Cohen, cousin of an expert on autism.

Academic Bloggers

My friend Catholicgauze is lighting a fire under me by his uber-productivity in Conference geography:

Paper: United Caliphates of Europe: A Geographical Look at Sharia Microstates
Paper: Portrayals of Plains Indians and US Army along the Oregon Trail
Panel: Spread the word: Podcasting, blogging and the New Media in Geography
Lecture: How do you cite a KML file? A look at Neogeography

For my point, I am preparing conference papers on Genetics and Warfare in the Age of Non-State Actors, Redefining the Gap, and The Suicide Bomber Type.