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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

OTA*: A Brilliant 96 Pages

About 55% of this site's readers come from countries other than the U.S., and some of you ask me from time to time about U.S. politics, especially concerning Iraq. I do read a lot about the subject—far more, I'm sure, than the average citizen, although far less than the average policy expert. I find it a difficult topic. Mostly, one ends up reading polemics, or immersions into the minutiae of policy, or defenses and condemnations of the red-herring rationales put forward to bamboozle the hoi polloi. If you really want to know what's up with Iraq, in easy-to-digest, compact form, I recommend Part I of Kevin Phillips' book American Theocracy, "Oil and American Supremacy."

Phillips is an outstandingly talented and highly prolific author who writes long books and lots of 'em. But for words aplenty, this sprawling work goes well over the top—one could argue it's some 300 pages too long. His overall thesis is that a sort of "perfect storm" is brewing for America. The three conditions feeding this storm are oil economics, the rise of radical religion, and debt. American Theocracy is thus divided into three parts. Each part could really almost be a separate book, even though Part I—the shortest of the three—is only 96 pages long. Plus, only Part II ("Too Many Preachers") is really served by the book's overall title (most of the criticisms of the book have come from religious quarters). Part I and Part III ("Borrowed Prosperity") don't have much to do with theocracy, although I don't imagine the author minds the implication that we're overly worshipful of oil and money.

I found Parts II and III interesting, if a bit turgid, but not so compelling as Part I. "Oil and American Supremacy" is the first thing I've ever read that has actually made me feel sympathy for Bush and Cheney's misguided goals—and I'd rather kiss a lizard on the lips. I've written a letter to Mr. Phillips and his publisher suggesting that they put "Oil and American Supremacy" out as a separate little book. True, it's only 96 pages, but it's the most trenchant, direct, and clear-eyed explanation I know of that truly explains U.S. involvement in Iraq, in its global, historical, geopolitical, and economic dimensions. If it were shorter and titled more appropriately, more people would read it. That would be a good thing.

As it is, I really believe you can read Part I of this book as a stand-alone essay, ignoring the rest of the book if you're so inclined, and get an awful lot out of it. It might seem bad value to buy a nearly 400-page book just to read a quarter of it, but not in this case. It may be only 96 pages, but it's a brilliant 96 pages.

The book's cheap, too. Here's a link in case you want to buy this book from Amazon.

Back at the ranch, I've also recently found two new technical photography titles that I think are head and shoulders above the crowd—the first ones I've found that deserve to stand next to Bruce Fraser's Camera Raw. I'll be writing about both when I finish reading them.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

*Off-Topic Alert

Featured Comment by Matthew: "You've got a good photography blog, please don't ruin it with political comments. This guy is a far to the left nut—which is just as scary as far to the right nut.

"If your aim is to have a photography blog with only people that think like you politically then forget what I've said above and good luck. One more post like that and I'll simply end my RSS feed and stick with more mainstream photography blogs.

There's enough extremism in the world—no need to add more...

Mike Replies: Extremism? I recommend a book by an historian and that's extremism? Funny, and here I thought extremism was strapping nails and plastic explosive to your torso and detonating yourself in a crowded market, or exploding a truck bomb in front of a Federal building, obliterating a bunch of toddlers in the daycare center there. Silly me.

Kevin Phillips is not a "far to the left nut." He's a white guy who lives in Connecticut—politically more like an Eisenhower Republican than anything else. He has no Communist or Socialist sympathies that I can detect (that is, after all, what "far to the left" means). He's a distinguished historian and one of the nation's leading writers on current affairs. The section of the book I recommended is about geopolitics—oil politics—and it provides useful background about the history of energy (wind in Holland in the 1600s, coal in England in the 1700s, etc.), energy sources, energy policy, and the relationship between U.S. policy and oil and how it's evolving. It's a good read.

I've gotten a number of comments on this posting that are examples of what I call "The Get Out of My Living Room Gambit." As far as I know this originated with, or at least was popularized by, the radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, a yellow journalist and agitator whose brief—whose mission—is to foment anger, resentment, and social strife...but who is certainly clever. The GOOMLR Gambit goes like this: whenever anyone says anything that is not what you want to hear, you can always complain about being within earshot.

Thus, if a writer in a magazine makes a political aside, you write a letter to the editor complaining that you did not "invite the writer into your living room" to have his political opinions thrust upon you. The standard threat is that you will no longer subscribe to the magazine, watch the television station, read that newspaper, or whatever, unless they repress any and all political comments of the sort you happen to dislike.

This would be a laughable ploy, except that it's also kind of, er, sinister. It amounts to saying that you have a right to your ignorance, and you will not take the responsibility upon yourself to simply ignore the writers or articles or shows or posts that you dislike, even if you're afraid to read them. Rather, you insist that everything even mildly unpleasant to you be suppressed, so that nobody can read them.

First of all, you really shouldn't be so afraid to listen to opinions different from your own. Believe it or not, it doesn't hurt to learn things. It doesn't sully your brain to know where other people are coming from. It can actually be broadening and informative to expose yourself to a wide range of viewpoints.

And, in any event, it was only a recommendation—as far as I know, there's no way I can actually compel you to go buy or read the actual book.

Unless, that is, you are some sort of Zombie. Do you have any decaying flesh on you anywhere? Have you been walking around stiffly with your arms held straight out in front of you, intoning, in a broken monotone, "MUST...READ...KEVIN...PHILLIPS..."? Do you find yourself doing whatever I say, with no free will or your own? Did you toss your digital point-and-shoot in the trash can the other day and go buy yourself an old mechanical 35mm camera on eBay?

No? If you answered "no" to all these questions (well, or all but the last), then you can rest easy: you are probably not a zombie. You can leave all those nasty book-thingies alone, and never learn a blessed thing about geopolitics or anything else if you don't want to. Ah, freedom.

On the blogosphere, the whole premise of The GOOMLR Gambit falls apart. There are hundreds of millions of web pages and sites. Millions of blogs. Hundreds and hundreds of photography blogs. Wherever you go, you choose to go. You pay nothing. In this post, I didn't ambush you. I announced in the first sentence that it was about politics, just out of politeness to people such as yourself, so you could skip it if you wished. It was not even the only post for the day, much less the only one you might be able to find to read. And yet, still, your threat is "one more post like that" and you're going to take me off your RSS feed?!?

I'm shakin' like a leaf. Not that! Anything but that! I feel my legs getting stiff, my eyes widening, my arms going straight out in front of me...MUST...STAY...ON...MATTHEW'S...FEED....

Or not. Matthew? 'Bye.
Mike

57 Comments:

Blogger woodjudge said...

Mike,
Sounds like a good book. We need one to cut through the lies we have been told.
On another front, how about titling your book, "Why I am a snob photographer"? Not everyone can afford a DSLR, and I guarantee you that most of the time you can't tell the difference between a photo taken with a P &S, which you call "shit" and a DSLR. Get off your high horse. Photography should be about fun, not acquiring the best equipment.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Imants said...

"is the first thing I've ever read that has actually made me feel sympathy for Bush and Cheney's misguided goals"
It's just that most of the world will never have any sympathy for them, an nor should they,
I can see where it is a possibility from a US perspective and a lot us us outside of the US see that as a worry

7:00 PM  
Blogger Ed Taylor said...

I like your off topic forays. It is one of the things that makes your site so interesting.

I am not sure that trying to understand the real reasons Bush did what he did is all that helpful, because it implies that there was some sanity in the decision making even if his intentions were evil.

What I think is un-American and what I do not think can be justified is the idea that Americans required tens of thousands of innocent people to die to (supposedly) ensure the safety of the much smaller number of Americans at risk.

If we saw a cop grab a child and hold her in front of him as a shield from a sniper, I don't think we would be impressed. That is what we are doing - sacrificing innocents in Iraq for our safety.

And to top it off, we are actually making ourselves much less safe.

Bush has weakened us and put us at risk.

9:32 PM  
Blogger r said...

On a related note, the New York Times had a good (if that is an appropriate word) photo essay today about soldiers caught by a bomb explosion while searching for their comrades:
http://www.nytimes.com/packages/khtml/2007/05/22/world/20070523_SEARCH_FEATURE.html

10:43 PM  
Blogger Edward said...

American Theocracy (AT) is a great book. Mike's comment about "sympathy" for Bush and Cheney is a bit misleading. Kevin Phillips, author of AT, was one of the key architects of the Republican revolution in the US. He has now become the party's most trenchant critic. In a previous book about the Bush family, he says:

"[T]his is not a family that has a particularly strong commitment to American democracy. Its sense of how to win elections comes out of a CIA manual, not out of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution."

The thesis in AT I found most interesting, one that emerges gradually and is somewhat implicit, is that the current political situation in the US can be traced directly to the Civil War. After their humiliating defeat, many Southerners turned to apocalyptic religious movements, esp. the Southern Baptists, who explained the defeat as God's punishment, not for the sins of slavery, but for other personal moral failings like drinking and gambling. These movements sought to provide Southerners with a distinct cultural identity opposed to the "immoral" Northern victors.

For a variety of demographic and other reasons, political power in the US has shifted to this region, which is still dominated by such religious movements. Many recent political leaders have deep connections with these movements. Clinton and Gore, for example, are Southern Baptists.

What we've witnessed over the last few decades is the rise of the South, with its particular take on politics, religion, and culture heavily influenced by its defeat in the Civil War and its subsequent attempt to carve out an identity separate from Northern "heretics."

12:24 AM  
Blogger D. said...

It does sound intriguing. A book written by Kevin Phillips that is not polemic would be interesting simply for that fact.

1:35 AM  
Blogger stanco said...

I knew this war was a grand hoax because I listened to a gun ho, Republican Marine and weapons inspector, Scott Ritter.

As to war in general, read the readily available pamphlet- War Is A Racket, written in 1935 by the much decorated, Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.

2:11 AM  
Blogger John Roberts said...

I disagree with Ed Taylor. This type of post is not what makes your site interesting, and I really don't think it's what got you the large number of visitors you enjoy. People visit TOP to read about photography related topics. If we want to read about political issues, there are much better venues available on the web.

4:14 AM  
Blogger mike said...

Fisk's "The Great War for Civilisation : The Conquest of the Middle East" is a 1000 page tome which goes into the situation thoroughly and debunks much of what the various involved parties would like us to believe.

Vidal's "Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace" is also informative and worth a read.

5:14 AM  
Blogger Phil Brown said...

A persuasive review. In the interests of balance here's a more persuasive, but this time unfavourable, review: http://www.slate.com/id/2138947/

7:31 AM  
Blogger Hank Graber said...

Phillips is not a left wing nut. Phillips was a senior strategist for Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign and was involved in the formation of the Republican Southern strategy which brought the party back to power.

While that strategy was a winner for a while it looks like the Republican party is headed for the fate of the Democratic party in the 20's. A party isolated to its Southern reactionary base.

Mike this blog is about your personal take on life which in your case mainly but not always involves subjects photographic. I always find it an interesting read even when I don't agree with you. Keep up the good work.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Hoainam said...

A fascinating read indeed. I couldn't help but be reminded of this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon

7:54 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I think saying someone's intentions are "evil" is very childish, and pretty close to the same theocratic concept that is being attacked.
The biggest atrocities in the world were not committed with evil intentions, but by people who didn't care about others. Lack of empathy is the big issue, thinking others might feel better living as I do, thinking others are crazy living as they do, not knowing how they live at all. The big sin is one of omission, you know if you get to know human beings you'll start feeling the real consequences of your actions, so you avoid it altogether, that way getting more freedom to do what you feel more convenient. A small minded person with an immense amount of power in his hands, that's the big issue, not evil.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Hank Graber said...

One more point. After 50 years in power the Democrats had become corrupt and arrogant. However the Republicans in only 5 years managed to far surpass the Democrats on both corruption and arrogance. The government grew bigger, spending exploded, the debt has skyrocketed and pork barrel legislation multiplied at rate that was unprecedented in American history. You can add to this increasing rates of infant moratality, poverty and a negative national savings rate for the first time since the great deppresion (which means the middle class is maintaining its living standard through credit), losing a war they started in an area critcal to the national interests and losing an entire American city.

So who benefited from the last five years? Well the Communist Chinese have displaced the US as manufacturers to the world, Osama and his extremist cohorts have been given thier dream recruiting and operations base in Iraq, and the top 3% and the big corporations have doubled there share of the pie at the expense of the middle class, while we have replaced the greatest income producing economy in the world with a ponzi scheme based on asset inflation and easy credit.

Any wonder why now that the public has gotten to actually expoerience Republican governance that support for the party has collapsed?

8:13 AM  
Blogger Bruce Robbins said...

Sounds like you're in danger of getting too big for your blog, Mike!

Bruce
http://pentaxk10dblog.blogspot.com/

8:23 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Matthew, you have the idea of extremism exactly backwards. When you can't tolerate the airing of someone else's opinion, you're the one tending towards extremism. You even threatened with corrective measures already (quite a laughable threat though). If you can't tell the difference between stating your beliefs and imposing them onto others, you can't even start talking about extremism.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

I just read the featured comment and your apt reply. Here here.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Paul M said...

Mike,

Write whatever you want. I mean, obviously. You are doing a nice service here, for free. I can't see how anyone can argue with that.

Paul

8:59 AM  
Blogger shaggy dog pix said...

Keep the OTs coming, Mike. Last I checked, being able to voice an opinion was a dearly-held American value. It's been a tad battered of late, so anything you can do to buff it up again should be appreciated.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

phil brown,

I don't think you'd find Jacob Weisberg's review "more persuasive" if you actually read the book. It certainly doesn't jibe very well with my reading of it (although anybody who mistrusts Mormonism can't be all bad).

Oh, and anybody who believes America DIDN'T invade Iraq to seize its oil is absolutely living in a fantasy world.

--Mike

9:19 AM  
Blogger Eudoro Lemos, Jr. said...

Dear Mike:

My standing applause, whistles and "bravo" shouts. Your text is one of the unfortunately rare victories of an open mind over obscurantism. Keep the good work and go ahead, on and off-topic!

Eudoro Lemos, Jr.
Rio de Janeiro-Brazil

10:03 AM  
Blogger bmillios said...

Mike, keep up the good work.

If people don't want to read what you write, then they can go elsewhere. When the hits go down on your website, that's a clue you're not talking about something people want to hear (read).

I'll go look for the book.

10:28 AM  
Blogger dasmb said...

Mr. Johnston, I think what you're doing is positively insidious. By maintaining a photography weblog that's actually interesting and deeper into the lifestyle of this artform than simply arm wrestling over image quality, you're creating a weblog that anybody who wants to be "cool" in the photographic world will want to read.

You're hooking them. And then, to state reasoned opinions and recommend informed reviews of current events? By god, you might actually change minds!

I'm picturing an army of newly dyed progressive photojournalists, jumping fences to expose the hypocrisy of the American political system with outstanding image quality.

Hey, it's no less crazy than getting bent out of shape because people whose opinions you enjoy have other opinions you don't.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Handsome said...

It's your blog, Mike. You can do with it what you want. But too many more politically motivated posts (no matter the perspective) and I'm out of here.

Yeah, I know. You're not shaking in your boots. But if you want your blog to grow, you should at least do the things that will help that to happen. E.g., sticking to PHOTOGRAPHY. On the other hand, if you have a death wish for your blog, carry on like you are.

Your decision, bro.

I come here because I'm interested in PHOTOGRAPHY, not politics. The web is inundated with political blogs. If I wanted political discussion, I'd frequent one of them, not a PHOTOGRAPHY blog.

I come here to get away from the daily humdrum of political harangue, not to have it forced on me clandestinely.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

Jack

11:40 AM  
Blogger DICK said...

One of the magnificent features of a blog is that it has the potential to be independent. The once pillar of our society which is the press has long ago abandoned that concept. The point here is that while all political opinions are valid to the holder, it's been my observation that the arbiter of the "National Discussion" determines what those opinions are likely to be. As an example I offer that in my lifetime all Republican Presidents, from Eisenhower to present, were/are considered to be various degrees of morons. This is what the "Mainstream" press has determined we will believe. If one is able to research areas which don't immediately reinforce personal beliefs this notion of stupidity evaporates.

It is here that the blog enters...you have a large audience, and the capibility of disseminating whatever opinion you choose to have. Please choose wisely. Ignore if you can the seduction of the "Cool opinions" which make up the vast majority of entertainment / information we're fed. I can tell you that as one ages and looks back on paths taken, the popular path...also known as the easy path...was almost always a mistake and a point of embarassment. Most of all though keep publishing.

Kindest Regards

12:52 PM  
Blogger Michel said...

Mike,

I agree with your response to Matthew, but you forgot the financial threat, i.e. "if you keep doing ______ (fill in the blank), I will stop buying products from your advertiser or worse start a boycott by like minded people." Back in the 90s, some Christian group took offense to some material on Saturday Night Live and said they would boycott the products of those who advertised on the show. If I recall correctly, Mazda bent under pressure and pulled their ads. The following week, SNL put on the most vile skit you can imagine and kept referencing Mazda. The censors must have gotten bleeding ulcers from it. It was a great come back.

Keep up the good blogging. Now if you ever say another bad word about Leicas...

12:56 PM  
Blogger rob povey said...

Keep going Mike. A bit of political comment helps add variety as the spice of life.

Another cracking book I recommend on Theology (or more accurately the lack of)is "the God Delusion" by Richard Dawking. Top notch book which shines a very scary light on American right wing Christian fundamentalism. Just as scary as anything a muslim extermist may do. Both will and have killed for their "faith".

Regards,

Rob.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Hugh Look said...

Whether one agress with Mike's review or the book or not (haven't read it so can't comment): Mike thinks about, and may be moved by, many things outside photography. It's to be hoped that so are we all, otherwise what will make our photographs anything other than technical exercises or a rather nice form of decoration or just a way of trying to impress other people? Photography doesn't exist independently of a cultural or political context. I like the way Mike brings that in from time to time. If I don't want to read it I can always skim over, but it's a good reminder that photographs are made by human beings with a wide range of ideas and emotions, for humans with a wide range etc etc. Equally, HuffPost might at some time carry an article on photography - maybe their readers will get upset about all this photo-stuff spoiling their political reading, but I kinda doubt it. (But I still thinks he's on the wrong track about P&S)

2:45 PM  
Blogger angryfredplanet said...

Uh...Kevin Phillips, author of "The Emerging Republican Majority" (ca. 1972) is "far to the left"?

Mike, I say if it pisses off Billo, Coultergeist and the like, please let it fly!

angryfredplanet

btw--Erwin Puts gives chops for your lens reviews.
Nope, not making it up: www.imx.nl

But sympathy for Forrest Gump and Beelzebub--not from me, pal.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Mike - A little thin skinned today? I would have never imagined that my 30 seconds of keyboard tapping this morning would cause such an imbalanced rebuttal.

Oh well, by featuring my comment along with your lengthy and unprofessional response, you will not have to worry about anyone challenging your opinion for a long, long time... Mission Accomplished.

No hard feelings and good luck with your blog...

7:46 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Matthew,
No, not thin skinned...maybe "you know what you meant," but what your tapping produced was in the form of a threat. I dislike threats.

But absolutely, no hard feelings. You have every tight to your opinion and you are always welcome to read anything on my blog you want to. You are also of course always welcome NOT to read anything you DON'T want to.

(s)

--Mike

7:51 PM  
Blogger Damon said...

Nice recommendation. I've put a copy on reserve at my local public library. So thanks for that. I also loved the featured response to Matthew. Fine work all around. Hope the book (first part) lives up to your word.

10:58 PM  
Blogger DICK said...

"Oh, and anybody who believes America DIDN'T invade Iraq to seize its oil is absolutely living in a fantasy world.

--Mike"

Today I siezed 3 rolls of Velvia from my film dealer...I gave them $10.45 x 3 + 9% tax. Is that the kind of sieze to which you refer above?

Sorry sir i couldn't resist.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Dick,
Ah, I see--perhaps "seize" IS the wrong word. "Control," perhaps.

"Liberate," we might even say. :-)

All best,

Mike

P.S. Tomorrow I plan to seize some Tri-X.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Alfonso said...

Mike,
I personally like your Off Topic points, so no problem from that side.

I just wanted to point out that mostly of what the US have done on foreign politics are not for the benefit of the American people but for the benefit of some American companies and lobbies.

And, although most of Americans don't care about it, I think this is the most common opinion on the other side of the pool.

Cheers

3:14 AM  
Blogger Svein-Frode said...

You know how to open a can of worms from time to time Mike... :D

While we all know politicians are liars (or at least avoid speaking the truth) by nature (that's how they can stay in power) I would like to remind everyone on each side of the debate of the following:

It isn't really interesting what you think of the issue, but why?

Who shaped your opinions, do you have a clear understanding of what's facts and what's not, why do we tend to believe in things just because they are written in books or presented as science, are we capable of understanding complex issues in the first place without expert knowledge, are you trained in the use of logical reasoning...? I think for most of us the answer is frightening. The psychological mechanism of reinforcing your own, often irrational and unreasonable, knowledge is strong. To a large extent we are all "brainwashed" by our culture and environment, and as everyone know, when a lie has become part of you, your life and your personality, it is very hard to face it and admit you are wrong. The mechanism is as strong as alcohol, drug or gambling addictions.

Tell someone what they allready know and they'll thank you for it. Tell them something they don't know and they'll hate you for it!

3:32 AM  
Blogger JanneM said...

There's lots and lots of matter-of-fact photography info out there.

There's lots of blogs out there talking competently about photography only, without ever taking a stand or voicing personal, idiosyncratic opinion. Wonder why they haven't leaped to prominence while Mike's blog has? Beige and bland is safe and offends nobody. But it doesn't excite or invite new thoughts either.

The very reason Mike's blog stands out is because of the personal voice he infuses with it. And that voice, in the case of Mike, includes political concerns along with photography. We may not agree with him, but the blog would be a lot less interesting were it filtered out.

4:58 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

An interesting comment, Svein-Frode...I've read several interesting books recently that make similar or related points: "Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking," by Thomas E. Kida; "A Mind of its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives," by Cordelia Fine; "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert B. Cialdini; and "Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life," by Stephen Johnson.

So what books have YOU been reading? ;-)

--Mike

6:58 AM  
Blogger erlik said...

Yay, politics! Yay, Calvin & Hobbes!

All this pohotography can become boring, so keep such posts coming.

Now if you only had a taste in music closer to mine... :-)

9:19 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Keep up the good work.

You always have something insightful to say, no matter the subject.

Years ago in Pop Photo's the Hattersly Class, he had a lesson called "Hate It? Shoot it?"

Same vein as yours.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Erlik,
So what is your taste in music?

Mike

9:59 AM  
Blogger Svein-Frode said...

I've been reading too much, but haven't really gotten much wiser, just realized that the world is too complex for anyone to understand. This complexity is part of the problem, because so very few have an overview and understanding of what is happening and thus can't act rational and/or reasonable. This makes the world a dangerous place since informed citizens are a fundamental part of a functioning democracy. Today very few know WHAT they are actually voting for, and also very little of WHO executes power and does the reasoning before and after power has been executed. Today democracy is just a word filled with nostalgic and romantic meaning, just as the American use of the words free and free world. Free just means freedom for anyone with money to do as they please with little or no regard for life on this planet.

I read few books, mostly essays from interesting people. In regards to reason, rationality and understanding how we understand the world I am sympathetic (not fundamentalisticly) to works by:

Georg Henrik von Wright (Practical Reason, Science and Reason, The Myth of Progress, To Understand one's own Time), Ludvig Wittgenstein (On Certainty) and Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent), Noreena Hertz (The Silent Takeover) Also, Harold Pinters 2005 Noble lecture (available online in text and as video) and some of the books by Richard Dawkins are interesting and bravely written.

These are all writers/intellectuals who have tried to get an overview of what is happening. They have in common a very broad support among other intellectuals and solid reputation as scientists (Except for Pinter and Dawkins).

10:19 AM  
Blogger DarkoV said...

Mike,
Great suggestion of a book. I've read his American Dynasty and enjoyed that one tremendously. Appreciate your finely worded defense of Mr. Philips.

A side comment. There was a music/cd review blog that you had referred to in some previous posts. Any chance of putting a link to it on your "Online Photographer" blog? If not, could you post the link in this blog entry's comments?
Thanks.

11:28 AM  
Blogger erlik said...

Mostly modern rock, Mike. The Killers, Franz Ferdinand. Arctic Monkeys, Jet, some bands local to Croatia you've never heard about...

All leavened with older stuff like Guns 'n' Roses or softer stuff or even the Sixties and Seventies. And "pop classics" like Mozart's Ouverture to Le Nozze di Figaro and Tchaikovsky's Ouverture 1812.

Basically just like my interests in photography - mostly this with a dose of that and the other.

You did make me look for Sam Cooke, but it is a bit too soft for me.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

svein-frode wrote "Today very few know WHAT they are actually voting for, and also very little of WHO executes power and does the reasoning before and after power has been executed. Today democracy is just a word filled with nostalgic and romantic meaning, just as the American use of the words free and free world. Free just means freedom for anyone with money to do as they please with little or no regard for life on this planet."

That may be unduly nostalgic. I doubt it's ever been anything but the way you describe. As assets become more concentrated in the hands of fewer entities, the consequences of their foolish acts become greater. Didn't the "free market" used to imply competition? When did that idea die? Why are large monopolies now considered efficient (a comical notion at best)?

I am a pessimist when it comes to humans. Trampling on others, when you can, is normal human behaviour. You need structures in place to PREVENT it. People are not nice by default, especially when acting in concert. Part of the problem is that those who acquire great power try to dismantle the structures that govern their actions. This is in part because it's convenient, but also because they simply like to trample others. I've worked for enough a**holes in my limited time that I have come to believe that.

How else can you explain that after destroying the feudal "noble" class, we now are rebuilding it using slightly different criteria. Systems tend to evolve in ways that benefit someone; it's not random; it's not conspiratorial, but it's not random.

12:40 PM  
Blogger eolake said...

Mike,
Could you add a paragraph about what could possibly make you think anything sympathetic about the administration's oil policies?

12:47 PM  
Blogger slow ninja said...

There's many people here missing the point: this is Mike's blog, he can post whatever he wants, and no one has any right to tell him what he can or can't talk about, whether you like it or not.

I personally find his blog funny and interesting, just because he does not restricts himself to MP and DOF technical issues, but because he gives his honest and informed opinion. If I start reading a post, say in old camera auctions, taxidermy, whatever, and it does not interest me, I just move forward and start reading the next post.

What's the big deal here? he read a book, he liked it and wanted to share it. I'm not sure I would enjoy reading something that justifies the bushies, and I rather see some Lewis H. Lapham recommended, but hey, it's again just a personal thing.

Keep going Mike, this is a great blog. If you want to talk politics, put a good photo in the post ;-)

congratulations again

3:34 AM  
Blogger Bruce Robbins said...

Mike,

I've enjoyed reading your blog for a while now-in fact it inspired me to start my own which leans heavily towards Pentax cameras and lenses.

However, I think you're heading in the wrong direction by posting stuff that doesn't relate to photography, particularly when it has political content.

From what I can gather, the political make-up of the US is roughly 50:50 Democrat/Republican so whenever you post something anti one half, you will seriously piss off the other. Bear in mind that these people are visiting the blog to hear your views on photography-not politics.

If you don't mind potentially alienating one half of your readers, then carry on.

I sincerely hope that you stick to photography in future-not because I dislike hearing other people's opinions but because I read your blog for its photography. I'm a journalist in Scotland and have just been covering local and national elections so I'm not averse to political banter. It is, though, nice to have an escape from it.

If, on the other hand, you intend posting more politics then perhaps a change of name to The Online Politician might be in order?

Bruce
http://pentaxk10dblog.blogspot.com/

10:25 AM  
Blogger Marshall said...

Ahh, Mike, Well done post on Phillips’ book. And what a great way to deal with Matthew's post! Just let it speak for itself as one written by someone who (1) apparently had no clue who Kevin Phillips is, and couldn’t even admit it in his follow up post, (2) did not even re-read his post to see how embarrassed he should have been to expose his ignorance and closed mind, and (3) to not understand how, just like the rest of us, we can skip over the parts of blogs we don’t want to read (although I find most of your OT’s quite fascinating). Matthew hasn’t followed the old adage: Minds are like parachutes. They only work when open.

It appears that most of your readers, or at least those that make the effort to respond to things that tweek them, interest them, bother them, etc., agree that you had something worthwhile to say, and said it well.

But what did you mean when you said it actually made you feel some sympathy for the Bush/Cheney misguided goals? I completely miss how that could be. Did you mean it provided some basis for understanding? Other?

Thanks for the thoughts.

Marshall

11:30 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Bruce,
It was a book recommendation. The guy who wrote the book is a former NIXON AIDE, for Pete's sake. It's not an incitement to replace the Constitution and require that Karl Marx's critique of capitalism be taught in the public schools.

You will encounter book and music recommendations here from time to time. If you don't care for them, please just skip to the next post. It's not the end of the world.

Thanks.

--Mike

1:23 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Marshall (and Eolake),
On the other hand, I used Matthew as my "straw dog" in this post, which isn't entirely fair. I'm sure he's open-minded about many things, and probably a thoughtful and intelligent guy. I think he's off base about Kevin Phillips, but then, he thinks I am.

Regarding my comment about "feeling sympathy" for Cheney et al.: I could pinpoint it to the exact page, if I had time to look for it. It came when Phillips talks about the projections made early in the war plans by war planners predicting how much, and how fast, oil prices would fall as a result of the U.S. invasion. Clearly, some people in and close to the Administration believed that it should have been possible to brush aside the dictator, bring peaceful order to Iraq quickly, and quickly create a prosperous client state in which everyone was happy and wealthy--the main difference being that the U.S., not Saddam, would be controlling the flow and the price of that nation's oil (and the currency it was valued in).

Given how dependent we as a nation really are on foreign oil, and depending on how serious you believe in "peak oil" scenarios, I think it's clear that many people in power honestly believed that they'd be doing the country and the world a big favor. That's what makes me feel sympathy for them.

In that sense, though, they blew it in two ways: they were never honest about their aims, so they could never appeal for honest support from our population; and they completely blew their own mission in their own terms. They never heeded the chorus of warnings about how to manage and control the aftermath of the invasion. We're paying the price for that now, literally. I hate to see it every night on the news, no matter who's to blame.

But the book made me see their concerns, even if I don't agree with their responses. Our entire society runs on cheap oil, and when the oil really starts running out things could get very, very ugly. Countries like Brazil (with Flex-fuel vehicles and sugarcane ethanol production) and Germany (laying the groundwork now for significant solar electrity production in coming decades) are going to be much better off as the 21st century progresses than we will be, if we don't get our act together in a hurry. The irony is that even the Iraqi fields, which are near-virgin, could probably only save us for 15 to 30 years even IF we could control production there completely, with no military or environmental costs. And even that is just not a very long time. If Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld had been 100% successful in Iraq, if everything had gone just exactly as they envisioned, it would still only postpone the inevitable.

Our Iraqi misadventure is essentially nostalgia. It's an attempt to preserve the old status quo for a few decades longer. We want to pretend that it still is, and will always be, 1955, when oil was endless and came from Texas and cheap gas drove our prosperity and dominion. Those days are just ending, that's all. And we need to be making much better and much smarter preparations for our future if we want to still be a world power in, say, 2050. Every year, every week, every day we delay this--for whatever reason--is going to hurt our country in the end.

--Mike

2:14 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Alfonso said:

"And, although most of Americans don't care about it, I think this is the most common opinion on the other side of the pool."

Alfonso - Please don't mistake the powerlessness that frustrates the majority of Americans with a lack of respect or empathy for European positions.

Most Americans hold our administration and its actions in contempt.

As little as two years ago, Europeans understood that Bush was a maverick ( many would say "madman" ), and that we Americans were not to be held to blame for his recklessness.

I fear that your response is indicative of an understandable "forgiveness fatigue".

Please understand - we do not have an uncensored press here anymore. The press, the courts, the Legislative branch, and the Executive branch are more or less under control by the Republican party.

Thankfully, despite this, the majority of Americans support Democratic positions, but, we are left by the wayside with little alternative but revolution it seems.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Dale_D said...

Mike,
There might be some diverse opinions out there about who's fantasizing. If we were so intent on seizing Iraq's oil, why wouldn't we have done so in the early '90's? The opportunity was certainly there. We could have also siezed (or "liberated") Kuwait's oil at that time, had that been our intent. Perhaps our government said, "No, the timing's not right... let's wait another 10 or 12 years." We're now pressuring the Iraqi government to put an oil revenue sharing plan in place, but strangely, we haven't put ourselves on the list of recipeints. Hmm... maybe we're just engaging in subtlety? In any case, perhaps you can let us all know when the actual seizure takes place? Then we can all stay tuned to your formerly photographic blog to learn when the US has appropriated Iraq's oil. Talk about fantasy!

11:17 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Dale D.,
You really should just read the book.

--Mike

12:59 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Dale D.,
P.S., the obvious answer to your question is that Bush II and Cheney were not setting policy in the early '90s. Peak oil scenarios were not as well developed, and hawks like Richard Perle (a.k.a. The Prince of Darkness) and Paul Wolfowitz et al. didn't have nearly as much influence on the centers of government.

The overarching problem faced by the U.S. is that we--the U.S.--are one of the top five oil-producing nations. Of the top five, we are the only net importer. Of the other four, only one is sympathetic to U.S. interests—and that one nation is a highly unstable Islamic state run by an exceptionally bloated, corrupt, and unpopular nepotistic oligarchy. It doesn't take a very vivid imaginiation to imagine what happened to the Shah of Iran happening to the ruling family of Saudi Arabia. Numerous analysts believe that BOTH wars of BOTH Bushes were undertaken at the behest of the Saudis, essentially as part of the price of their continued goodwill.

The case of Venezuela is interesting. Its rhetoric is violently anti-U.S., but its behavior is just like that of a friendly client state. In any event, Venezuela does not APPEAR to be a reliably stable ally. It's a good bet that plans exist for invading Venezuela and co-opting its oil production, although how we'd justify it to the world community is anything but clear.

There are more than 1 million oil wells in Texas. Despite that, Texas now provides a meagre 6% or so of the United States' daily oil needs. Even full exploitation of the Arctic Refuge reserves would supply the U.S. with oil for less than a single year.

But even Venezuala could not supply all of the U.S.'s oil needs. The situation is not critical now. But the U.S. predicament if Saudi Arabia should suddenly turn unfriendly would be really dire--as long as Iraq and Iran are also unfriendly.

Saddam's final mistake may have simply been his threat to begin valuing and selling Iraq's oil in the now more stable Euro rather than in the traditional dollar currency. Such a move would have disadvantaged U.S. trade arrangements, more so if it had encouraged other oil exporters to follow suit.

There is no reason why the U.S. has to steal Iraq's oil or profit from its sale to reap great advantages from control of the region. Stable Iraqi oil production with the oil valued in dollars protects the U.S. in many ways--from OPEC-style price fixing, from market price fluctuations, from currency peccadillos, and from an unexpected Islamic fundamentalist takeover of Saudi Arabia.

This is largely why the whole current issue of "getting out of Iraq" is pretty much beside the point. The U.S. has built or is building 14 huge military bases in Iraq, all or virtually all of them located strategically to oil assets, and we expend most of the huge amount of money we spend there rebuilding and protecting the mechanisms of oil production, not on the usual peacekeeping missions in Baghdad and Karbala that you see every night on the news. To paraphrase the old Eagles song, we might check out, but we can never leave.

What boggles my mind--always has, and continues to--is why we in the U.S. also continue to encourage the waste of oil resources, even as our dependence on foreign oil RISES. We downplay research into alternative energy sources, and half of us drive to the grocery and to work every morning in what amount to trucks (SUVs, vans, etc.). It's almost like it's unpatriotic to conserve gasoline. This is really blind. We're sitting on our butts griping about $3 per gallon gas--hell, we should be preparing for $9 a gallon gas, and then $15 a gallon, and then chronic shortages of gasoline. When the realities of oil production begin to come home to roost, the less we're prepared the worse off we'll be. Yet we would rather pretend that those realities don't exist than accept them and attempt to adjust. It just doesn't make sense, and it doesn't bode well for this country, at all.

--Mike

1:50 PM  
Blogger dyathink said...

Mike, if you keep writing i will be forced to keep reading...don't say i didn't warn you..

3:15 AM  
Blogger alonzo said...

DO NOT POST (unless you want to ;-)

Just started reading "American Theocracy" and, so far, it's great (and scarry)! It meshes nicely with Sam Harris ("Letter to a Christan Nation")

Thanks for the tip.
-- alonzo

6:30 PM  

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