Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:



Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.



Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.


Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.



Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.



Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.


The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.


The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.


Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income



Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market



Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.



Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.


Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.



Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.



Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.


Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President



Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cheerleading Iraq

Bloomberg and Zogby report that Bush's speech failed to rally support for the rebuilding of Iraq.

What kind of person was going to change their mind on this issue based upon anything that Bush could have said?

Either you believe in spreading democracy as a means of reducing threats to the Free World, or you don't. Neither 2k casualties in 2 years nor the daily report of car bombs and ambushes should shake your resolve.

On the otherhand, if you do not believe that democracy works or that the US should "interfere" with the course of history abroad, than there really wasn't anything that Bush could have said on TV to change your mind, especially since you probably consider him to be an accomplished liar as well.

So this entire speech was a waste of our collective time and attention (not to mention it took up a hour of tv newstime). So why do we bother?

It appears that about the only people who were truly affected by the speech were Iraqis themselves, who clearly oppose a US retreat.

Sean: Thursday, June 30, 2005 [+] |
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Chinese Take Away

China is attempting to purchase Unocal, one of America's largest oil companies, indeed the company with the world's largest proven petroleum reserves. This move is seen by China as an issue of national security, as the NY Times points out. House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo agrees and recommends that this deal by blocked.

"I do not believe it is in the best interest of the United States to have the government-owned Chinese National Overseas Oil Company (CNOOC) obtain an American energy asset such as Unocal. Such an acquisition could come with disastrous consequences for our economic and national security"

In an unusual twist it seems that the Right Wing now "gets" the seriousness of our current energy crisis... from Newsmax

This should be a wake up call for America to get as serious about energy as China appears to be. At a time when many in Congress seem to view energy as a luxury, the Chinese have recognized that it is truly the lifeblood of a strong and growing economy. The US should be shoring up our reserves, not divesting them to global competitors seeking to fuel their own tremendous economic growth.

This bid is a farce. On the one hand the Chinese hope to play our own sense of fair play against us... "If you are serious about free trade how can you block our offer to purchase this company". But on the other, the Chinese company making this offer is itself a state controlled entity, so there is nothing free about this trade.

The main difference between this deal and past Japanese examples is that Japan wanted IN to our market and saw their purchases of American companies as footholds to economic engagement. However, Chinese deals are always "take away". China only wants to purchase Unocal for its proven reserves of oil and international connections, business assets that China would unabashedly ship home rather than utilize to do business in the US.

As the NY Times points out the main purpose of this deal is as a means for China to win WW4 with out firing a shot. This might be ok if China were a Liberal Democracy and an ally, but they are not. As the NY Times probably didn't intend to showcase, China would use energy security to strengthen its hand when it bully democratic neighbors such as Taiwan, India, and even Russia. We should block this deal just as any boy on the playground would block a kick to the nuts.

Sean: Tuesday, June 28, 2005 [+] |
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Media Un-Savvy

This shouldn't come a surprise to anyone... But our news coverage of undemocracies (as in "undead") is just terrible and might be part of our national confusion when dealing with them in a serious manner. Our media dutifully reports on the cleanup actions of "President Robert Mugabe", we read about the Chinese parliament passing laws, and today we get a breathless "election" update from Iran (exciting runnoff between two government chosen contenders after election turnout "suddenly" increases at the last minute). When we use the same language to describe the people, institutions, and actions of undemocracies, of despotic states that trample the rights of their citizens (with bulldozers and tanks), how can we have a meaningful discussion about who to choose as an ally and who we must take to war? How do we have a right to remove the "president" of Iraq or to stop such a "republic" from developing WMD?

Sean: Wednesday, June 22, 2005 [+] |
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
The Myth of China Rising

For the last ten years or so we have all lived with the "knowledge" that China is fast becoming the next great "superpower". While right wing patriots worry about our trade imbalance and the strength of our military and our currency, Europhiles and lefties seem to enjoy the idea of an American decline in response.

New articles on China's rise appear this month in the Economist and the Atlantic Monthly. And the Carnegie Endowment even ran one by Robert Kagen that suggested that "managing" this rise was an illusion.

But the real illusion may well be this expected rise to power by a nation that could as easily be seen as barely hanging on. What few people seem to consider is just how precarious the Chinese position today really is... which is exactly what the government news censors in Beijing want.

The nasty truths that you might not know about include a few basic facts. First, most Chinese are poor, illiterate, and unhealthy. Second, most of China is a vast desert. Three, China has few natural resources compared to its population. Four, much of China, including its greatest cities, are horribly polluted. And five, ethnic divisions and the rise of Islam make these preceding points increasingly tricky for Beijing to "manage".

We have grown to think about China as one giant demographic, living in the prosperous, indeed "rising" cities of the coast such as Shanghai or Guangzhou. But while these ethnic Han are a majority of the overall population, they primarily live in these few cities, while they are a racial minority in the majority of the country. The Han designation itself is a bit like "Arab", in that the government encourages people to self-identify as "Han" in order to promote the idea of national unity. This unity may be as much a sham as in "the former Yugoslavia" and "the former Soviet Union".

In reality the Han are themselves differentiated into many sub-groups such as the Cantonese and Hakka. As economic and social pressures rise these divisions of Chinese society may prove extremely dangerous. Meanwhile non-Han Chinese such as the Uyghurs in the vast interior West are increasingly feeling alienated from the large urban centers of the small coastal region. They are turning to Islam; a religion and an ideology perennially at odds with the communists in Beijjing.

The Chinese income gap has also been growing rapidly. Some Chinese demographers worry that the divergence of rural and urban workers is now reaching an "institutional tipping point". This division between the urban and rural areas is mirrored in China's education gap. A majority of China's resources go to educating the urban coastal cities even though a majority of the population is still rural. The result is that fewer and fewer farmers make it into college every year.

This becomes a serious problem when the farmland in China is being destroyed by over-farming and development. The latest reports show that China is increasingly unable to feed itself and has become a net importer of food. This is the case with many developed nations and may be survivable, but it will force China increasingly into global markets and global competition, not to mention they will be seen more and more as taking advantage of the developing world that it used to be part of.

Meanwhile we now hear that more than half of China's 500 cities are seriously polluted with failing air quality and untreated sewage. The Red Cross reports that up to 75% of China's urban dwellers suffer from serious ill health and life expectancy is actually falling.

Environmental damage from industrialization is an old story in most of the world. However, some of the worst damage during the last century occurred without international scrutiny behind the "iron curtain" of the former Soviet Union and in China. One city in Russia's interior, Chelyabinsk, is listed as "the most polluted area on Earth". Today China's environment may now be the most damaged in the world.

Despite the risks China is pressing ahead with massive development projects to satisfy the needs of its growing population. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze displaced and upset perhaps 20 million people. Representatives sent to complain to the government disappeared never to be seen again. But this did not stop millions from protesting and winning a temporary stay on the latest dam project.

Perhaps as a result of such disregard for the environment much of the Chinese interior is becoming one the largest deserts on Earth. Overgrazing by sheep farmers and logging have reduced precipitation and damaged the soil. Now every year huge dust storms from this sea of sand have reached as far as the Rocky Mountains in the US and periodicaly hides Beijing and the Forbidden City in a thick yellow cloud.

Considering all these domestic challenges, the aspirations of China to become an international power are hopeless. The much vaunted "million man army" is composed of mainly illiterate conscripts wielding WWII era rifles (or wooden training dummies). Its tanks have already been defeated on the battlefields of Iraq, twice. And its navy is composed of second-hand Russian destroyers and diesel powered subs temporarily saved from becoming floating museums. Bringing this military into the 21st century and keeping it there is consuming more and more of China's economic output and is probably impossible to keep up much longer with out the excuse of a major military conflict (with Taiwan and the US, in which it would either lose or ruin its prize).

Islam is also fast on the rise, as the faith of a peasantry with little to live for in this life, and little faith in the Communist Party, gets desperate. The environment may simply give out on the Chinese and leave them to starve in a toxic waste. Meanwhile competittion with the US for oil may draw it into a military contest that it cannot win (as happened with Japan in the 1940's). These pressures threaten to tear China appart at the seams and fear of this dangerous future is explicitly used by Beijing to defend its brutal constriction of Chinese political and intellectual freedoms. China isn't going to "rise"; it will be lucky not to sink.
MORE: China's blogging crackdown, click here.

Sean: Wednesday, June 15, 2005 [+] |
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Architectural Humanism

When I look around at the built environment of 21st century America I usually cringe. Most of our buildings are merely cheap and functional boxes, devoid of ornament or social meaning. Even award winning and avante guard buildings are themselves too ironic to satisfy my need for architecture with a serious message.

Western architecture was not always so empty. In the Middle Ages spectacular religious buildings utilized both ornament, painting and sculpture, and form (such as the transept and naive embodiment of the cross) to communicate to a largely illiterate public the role of religious values in their culture. In the Renaissance architects rediscovered the theory and grammar of classical Greece and Rome (utilizing human body based proportions, etc.) to expand this communication.

In 16th century Italy Leon Battista Alberti was one of the leaders of this architectural revival. As a youth he studied classical rhetoric, Roman law, and Latin grammar. He wrote about love; the family; painting and sculpture. He finally came to architecture by studying and cataloging the buildings of Rome and re-presenting Vitruvius's Ten Books. As a humanist philosopher and art critic Alberti urged architects to use the knowledge of many diciplines to create works of art that told a moral story about the perfection (improvement) of society.

Alberti's first major commission was to redesign the church of San Francisco in Rimini for Sigismondo Malatesta. Rimini is situated on Italy's Adriatic coast between Ravenna and Urbino. The Malatestas became the rulers of Rimini in the 14th century and buried their dead in this small church. Sigismundo also reburied the remains of the neo-platonist Gemistus Pletho in a special side chapel. Sigismondo wanted Alberti to turn the church into a family temple and a humanist monument.

Alberti's contribution to the building is seen today in the new facade and flanks of the church. These were built as a second skin, structurally distinct from the medieval roots of the earlier building, which was probably both an engineering and a philosophical decision. Alberti also planned a large barrel vault for the naive and a spherical dome where the naive and transept met (but these were never completed due to Sigismondo's fall from power).

The exterior design was modeled after the Arch of Augustus and the Tiberius Bridge in Rimini. The unrealized dome might have been modeled after the tomb of Theodoric, a pagan king who conquered Rome in the 5th century. These historical allusions proclaim the classical values of Alberti's patron and fit the theme of Sigismondo's battle with Pope Pius II.

Tombs were planned for the two side arches of the tripartite triumphal arch facade. Perhaps this was meant to symbolize a triumph over death, but given the political fallout from the Church regarding Sigismundo's marriage to his third wife (the second of the two tombs) it was as likely a caustic reply. Sarcophagi forms are inset into each arch of the flank as well, truly transforming the parish church into a family mausoleum.

The proportions of the facade are derived from a Roman 100 ft square and each detail, including small round portrait medallions, is related in size and location to this unit of measurement. There are also six arches on each flank that were probably chosen for the classical appreciation of a number that is made up of its factors (1 + 2 + 3). The inclusion of a special chapel devoted to Pletho and other philosophers completes the temple's focus on rational human thought.

Alberti had within his grasp a powerful bag of tools. He had a solid classical education, technical training in both literary and visual arts, and an expert catalog of classical plans and ornamentation. This allowed him to think about more than just creating or decorating a sheltering structure, but also how to speak through his design about wider social and personal issues that were directly relevant to his project and his patron.

The ability to speak through architecture is a skill, and a value, that is lacking in most of the buildings that I see created today. Even staunch Modernists have begun a quest for more meaning in their structures. But this usually leads to enormous single images such as the TWA terminal of Eero Saarinen that resembles a bird or a plane when seen from the air.

Today architects seem to focus on the "image" of their buildings and their emotional associations. Saarinen wanted to recall the "feeling" of travel and movement in his airport design. Other architects seem to merely enjoy playing with geometry or with the literary meaning of "construction", hence the "deconstructionism" of Frank Gehry. The ability to speak on many levels with many different elements of a structure appears to be lost.

This breakdown in communication might be the result of the late modern devolvement into cultural relativism. When one does not believe in their cultural values then why bother to talk about them in one's art and architecture, except, of course, to poke fun? However I am hopeful that with the "end of Irony" in the post 9-11 world we can return to a deeper and more eloquent architectural humanism.

Sean: Tuesday, June 14, 2005 [+] |
Thursday, June 09, 2005
China Cracks Down On Blogs

I worked for a major US hardware producer back in the 90's. We competed for the contract to provide China with special internet hardware (ISP routers) that contained backdoors to allow the government to spoof websites, block websites, and track traffic. The official corporate excuse was that if we didn't make it for them then competitor X would, so why not let us make the money?

Today China regulates all media, distorts news and information, rewrites history in its school text books, and otherwise manipulates its people as a dangerous mob. They did this with the "accidental" embassy bombing when they stole our stealth fighter during the Serbia police action and they did this when they wanted to rattle their sabers at Japan this year. And occasionally they lose control and have had to beat their own people into submission.

Today one of the few options for "real" information and opinions in China are the anonymous blogs that have been largely beyond Beijing's reach. But not anymore. The Guardian reports that the Chinese government has demanded that bloggers "register" with the central government (what, no armbands?). And from now on bloggers will have to simply parrot the official line or risk disappearing into a real Gulag.

But where is Amnesty International when you need them?

UPDATE: Roger Simon has more on US corporate "footsies" with Chinese Orwellian fascism here. Microsoft helps Beijing police blogs for "forbidden speach" such as the words "freedom" and "democracy".

UPDATE II: As Michael Totten notes... I worked for another company that used Microsoft's "Style Guide" as reference for listing Taiwan as "belonging to China". I filed a "bug" against this error and actually won a change of company policy. It was a small victory.

Sean: Thursday, June 09, 2005 [+] |
Saturday, June 04, 2005
Detainee Flushed Quran

A recent in-depth investigation into Quran abuse at Gitmo has determined that the abuse never happened. Only three cases of US soldier involvement in sullying the Muslim holy book could be confirmed... one was a water balloon fight that got out of hand, one claim was that a soldier kicked one, and another was a soldier taking a leak behind a cellblock and wind blowing some spray through a vent (the soldier was disciplined).

Otherwise the fast majority of Quran abuse was by detainees making a show of their lack of respect or interest in their religion (perhaps out of a desire to earn favor with "infidel guards" or out of mental distress). Detainees were reported to have torn up the Quran and to have tossed one in the toilet.

Ah, and in case you think that the Muslims really have a beef of lack of respect for their Holy Book... here is the Pope giving one a kiss... I mean come on, can you say "Bending over backwards"?

Oh, and can the world please decide if it is Quran or Koran?

Sean: Saturday, June 04, 2005 [+] |
Friday, June 03, 2005

Schandenfreude Episode III, the French

Mechanical problems forced nine French jets to spend the night at the Atlantic City airport. They wanted to land at a US military base, but lacked the proper authorization codes. To make matters worse their credit card was declined when they topped off their fuel tanks.

In other news, the French have an aircraft carrier!? Aparently the brand new carrier Charles DeGaulle was hanging around New Jersey cruising for chicks. Too bad it apparently leaks radiation like a diner microwave and has "propeller problems".

More on the lone carrier that attempts to qualify France as a "super power" can be found here and here. Interestingly the French are giving up on new carrier construction and will instead try to "split one" with the Brits. Add your own "France surrenders" joke here.

Sean: Friday, June 03, 2005 [+] |

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