Friday, February 4, 2011

Cancel the Super Bowl Ad Wars. A winner we have.

The Farce is strong in this one:

Egypt: What in the Wide Wide World of Sports?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Is Hosni Mubarak the consummate puppet master, a Hedley Lamar, manipulating the outside world with a clever and massive orchestration of violence and mayhem, as a pretext for mobilizing the Egyptian military and U.S. opinion, so as to give the appearance of staving off Armageddon, while ultimately preserving his power? That's the thesis in this powerful, informed and deeply pessimistic piece by the Egyptian blogger Sand Monkey. Some key bits:

The Protesters aren't the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did. The Protesters weren't the ones who initiated the military curfew that limited your movement and allowed goods to disappear off market shelves and gas to disappear: The government did. The Protesters weren't the ones who ordered the police to withdraw and claimed the prisons were breached and unleashed thugs that terrorized your neighborhoods: The government did. The same government that you wish to give a second chance to, as if 30 years of dictatorship and utter failure in every sector of government wasn't enough for you. The Slaves were ready to forgive their master, and blame his cruelty on those who dared to defy him in order to ensure a better Egypt for all of its citizens and their children. After all, he gave us his word, and it's not like he ever broke his promises for reform before or anything.

Then Mubarak made his move and showed them what useful idiots they all were.

You watched on TV as "Pro-Mubarak Protesters" – thugs who were paid money by NDP members by admission of High NDP officials- started attacking the peaceful unarmed protesters in Tahrir square. They attacked them with sticks, threw stones at them, brought in men riding horses and camels- in what must be the most surreal scene ever shown on TV- and carrying whips to beat up the protesters. And then the Bullets started getting fired and Molotov cocktails started getting thrown at the Anti-Mubarak Protesters as the Army standing idly by, allowing it all to happen and not doing anything about it. Dozens were killed, hundreds injured, and there was no help sent by ambulances. The Police never showed up to stop those attacking because the ones who were captured by the Anti-mubarak people had police ID's on them. They were the police and they were there to shoot and kill people and even tried to set the Egyptian Museum on Fire. The Aim was clear: Use the clashes as pretext to ban such demonstrations under pretexts of concern for public safety and order, and to prevent disunity amongst the people of Egypt. But their plans ultimately failed, by those resilient brave souls who wouldn't give up the ground they freed of Egypt, no matter how many live bullets or firebombs were hurled at them. They know, like we all do, that this regime no longer cares to put on a moderate mask. That they have shown their true nature. That Mubarak will never step down, and that he would rather burn Egypt to the ground than even contemplate that possibility.

Or, on the other hand, is Sandmonkey giving Hedley too much credit? Is Mubarak caught up in the events, struggling to stay on top of things, as the Muslim brotherhood plays the part of Hedley Lamar, maneuvering the pliable Egyptian populace into founding an Islamist state, The Nightmare Scenario for the U.S. and Israel?

Today's events seem to suggest that the MB is playing a peripheral part in the protests. Yes they are there, but their presence is swamped by people that have nothing to do with them, and whose concerns are more practical, and decidedly not Islamist. Despite the violence of past days, there are determined peaceful thousands today. Once again, according to Sandmonkey:

..This protest is not one made or sustained by the Muslim Brotherhood, it's one that had people from all social classes and religious background in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood only showed up on Tuesday, and even then they were not the majority of people there by a long shot. We tolerated them there since we won't say no to fellow Egyptians who wanted to stand with us, but neither the Muslims Brotherhood not any of the Opposition leaders have the ability to turn out one tenth of the numbers of Protesters that were in Tahrir on Tuesday. This is a revolution without leaders. Three Million individuals choosing hope instead of fear and braving death on hourly basis to keep their dream of freedom alive. Imagine that.

This suggest that the reality is much more like this: Neither Mubarak nor the Brotherhood is a position of control, but both are desperately trying to take advantage of a spontaneous uprising for their own advantage, Mubarak playing one half of his long-running double game, that half of his tactics he has always aimed at the U.S., with the hopes that we will back him, considering the bleak alternative possibility that Egypt will devolve into a Sunni version of Iran. Mubarak cannot play the other half of this long successful double game (that aimed at the Egyptian and Arab street, the strategy of which is to placate Islamists, using the U.S. and Israel as foils), without thereby strengthening the hand of his old internal nemesis the Muslim Brothers.

This is all going on with Hedley as he nervously plays the U.S. Administration hoping for the best, while in the other camp, the Brotherhood continues to play to the quite anti-American anti-Semitic Egyptian street (if this report on recent Pew Polling is a reliable indicator), casting the U.S. and Israel as big and little Enos, nefarious plotters against the Muslim world.

Why not paint Big and Little Enos as behind it all, the true Hedley Lamars, the Brothers reason. After all, Egyptians don't trust them two rascals anyway. And any time the electronic media places a microphone in front of one of the average middle class protesters that are out there with SandMonkey, chances are they'll spew some anti-American, or anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, the coin of the realm out there on the streets.

So, Brothers, why not do what we can to enlist their aid in placing one of our guys at the head of a temporary state. Why not play the international community into setting up an election that will place us in power as was successfully done in the case of Hamas, who now has effective control of our cozy neighbor Gaza? One man, one vote, ONCE. And we come out the big winners.

The question now is predicated upon this reading of things as they stand now:

It appears to be likely that the Egyptian military is going to take effective transitional control of the country, and the international community, led by the U.S. is going to oversee an election sometime in the near future, to set up a more permanent government. The election will be more open and fair than any in recent Egyptian history. Mubarak will not be running, and any of his loyalists will probably not fare well in that election. The Muslim Brotherhood will be allowed to come out of the shadows and run as a legitimate political party. They have genetic ties and ideological affinity with Hamas, just next door, and with various Sunni Islamist organizations, including Al Qaeda, via Dr. Z. So, they will very likely become a significant part of the Egyptian government, which will, in turn be some version of a parliamentary democracy. So, they will have influence, in a country beset with anti-Western conspiracy theory wackiness, something akin to our earstwhile friends the Pakistanis.

The question: Will these millions of dissatisfied Egyptians, significant numbers of which have very negative views of the West and Israel, majorities of which, when asked Sharia oriented questions in the Pew poll, expressed views that are too say the least, troubling in that regard, will these people choose to vote for candidates that will craft a government that is at one time both a one and done democracy and a threat to the U.S. and Israel? There is obviously a prima facie case to be made that they will.

However, there is also a case to be made that they do not wish to trade one autocratic or dictatorial regime, one that for 30 years essentially guaranteed by its ineptitude and actions economic stagnation, high unemployment, etc.. for another regime that though different in flavor, would be essentially the same in result. It is also not altogether clear that the Egyptian military would like to see a government that cuts ties with Big Enos. We have operational ties with them, and we provide them with their aircraft, tanks and etc.. The Egyptian on the street doesn't want to be vulnerable, and has to ask where his military would find itself casting about for a repair and/or replacement of aging American supplied hardware. Furthermore, they don't want to lose revenue from Suez. Pissing off Big Enos by shutting it down, or attacking Little Enos would not be prudent.

So, I imagine the Egyptian street may end up taking what is after all a rather "Realist" view, and will relegate the MB to a minority position in the new government, not because they have any great love for Big and Little Enos, but because, after all, they will be voting with their pocketbooks as they say over here in the Great Satan.

Well, at any rate, if this is not just a piece of wishful thinking....let's hope to high heaven that something like this will come to be so..

We'll see. Time will tell.

*Cliches off*

"Memento" Is Lenny a Heraclitean or Parmenedean Self?

This semester I am teaching a course "Philosophy through Film" using a text by that same name. Inadvertently, the first few weeks of the course have turned into a Christopher Nolan Film fest. We first watched and discussed his recent "Inception" and are now mulling over his 200 film "Memento", a film noir masterpiece. A sort of black companion to Peter Segal's 50 First Dates.

The premise of the film is relatively simple to state. The main character, Lenny, suffers from "anti-retrograde amnesia". Brain damage makes him incapable of moving short term memories and experiences from that short term bucket, over into the long term bucket. He suffers periodic "resets" that place him back at a point after an attack on himself and his wife. She was raped and murdered by the attacker, Lenny was knocked out, and suffered the brain trauma. He is searching for the killers, seeking revenge, and dealing with his "condition" as he calls it. The film does a masterful job of recreating the severe disorientation that one would regularly experience in Lenny's place. It's also a film that positively impels you to watch it again. As soon as the last scene fades, you will find yourself, against your will, returning to the beginning, asking: "Wait a minute. What the hell just happened here? Is anything really resolved here?" "Who is Sammy Jankis?" "Who is Lenny?" "Are they one and the same person?"

I don't want to ruin the experience by going into too much more detail, for those that haven't seen the film. But, here's a taste:

Now, what's all this business in the post title about ancient Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides? Read on (and click the links):

Lenny cannot store short term memory. We see him 'blank and reset' not only after sleep, but occasionally during his waking life. He then has to scramble to reorient himself, once we see him having to do this literally on the fly.

Now, there are two ways to take this, two ways to read things philosophically, with regard to personal identity, both of which, Lenny voices.

1. At each reset, even though he has intact memory of pre-incident history, he is reborn, a sort of new person. That new person inherits the mementos of some other person. He can choose to familiarize himself with them, or he can choose to dispense with them before the next reset. He usually chooses to keep at least some of them, and has taken steps to permanently keep a set by tattooing them. But, the key here, is that there is the potential to give all of them up as resets occur. In a real sense, upon reset, a new person is born, who finds himself surrounded with things intentionally left for him by the previous person. We see that this is used to various characters' advantage in the film, Lenny's condition is clearly being manipulated for personal ends. We are also left with the question whether or not Lenny has manipulated himself, or rather, an upcoming self, by altering mementos with a view in mind how the future self, that "new person" just around the bend, would naturally take the clues.

Call this the Heraclitean reading of Lenny's condition.

2. Lenny is another way frozen in time at a moment where he is always and repetitively coming too after the incident. Because he cannot accumulate memories, he is not changing in the normal and significant ways we all do, thanks to our having the normal ability to store short term memories in our long term buckets, moving on, as it were, with a real sense of our first person history, a real sense of the passage of our time on Earth. Lenny's position is very different than this. Time cannot heal the wound. Because he resets, he cannot go through a normal grieving process. In fact he says he has no first person feel for the passage of time since the incident, since he lost his wife to the killer. He feels he is doomed to being frozen in that initial aftershock phase. He cannot change. He cannot heal. He is simply vengence.

Call this the Parmenidean reading of Lenny's predicament.

Which reading, if any, do you think is paramount, and what do you think the cases of Lenny and Sammy Jankis say about the relationship that exists between personhood and ability to cognize one's long term personal history? How many Lenny's were there, and, is Lenny in fact Sammy?

What can we learn from such fictional explorations in regard to dealing with people that have had traumatic brain injuries that place them in such trying circumstances as a condition of living?