Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.

5/21/2005

Do you hate Laura Bush?

Jill at Feministe doesn't:
I’ll admit it: I do not hate Laura Bush.

I know this fact probably merits my expulsion from several liberal-minded social groups, but hear me out. I don’t think she’s stupid, and I don’t think it’s fair to call her a Stepford wife. I am deeply disappointed in her refusal to publically dissent from her husband on issues where they certainly disagree (abortion rights, education funding, many issues concerning women and children), but I don’t think that makes her an completely impotent force in the White House. The fact is that she probably is a mostly impotent force, but she has pushed for various educational and literacy initiatives, which, though they are considered “soft” issues in political circles, are nonetheless important. Does she have the kind of life that I’d want? No. Do I think it’s pathetic that she abandoned her own political beliefs when she married her George? Sure. But I think she’s a strong person, and I think she’s smarter than many liberals (and conservatives, for that matter) give her credit for.

I don't know if I 'hate' Laura Bush, but I don't see any particular reason to suppose that she's smarter than people give her credit for. You see, she is married to George Bush, which immediately calls one's intelligence, judgment, and character into question.

As for being a 'Stepford Wife' ... have you seen the woman? Have you seen her vacant grin? I think it's that, more than any perceived submissiveness to her husband, that earns her that label.

Now, I'll admit she's not actively evil the way, say, Lynn Cheney is. (She is fucking evil!) But I don't see any evidence that she's 'strong' or intelligent or in any way admirable.

Dems that don't get it

The arrogance of some in the Democratic Party is really something to behold. They expect pro-choice groups--organizations formed for the single purpose of keeping abortion legal and accessible--to support their candidates, even when the candidates they run are anti-choice!

See this idiot, for example:

As a Democrat, I am angered and as someone who is pro-life I am appalled. Jim Langevin would be a phenomenal Senator, as his record in the House attests to, and would join Bob Casey (assuming he beats Santorum) as a new and exciting pro-life leader in our caucus. While they are unlikely to turn our party pro-life, they would send a clear message to anti-abortion voters who agree with us on other issues that it is okay to vote for us-- we aren't beholden to any special interest. Now NARAL has not only demonstrated to anyone paying attention that our party is hostile to pro-life candidates, but has abandoned us in favor of a Fristian Republican. It's a lose-lose situation for Democrats.

You know what? The Democrats should be hostile to anti-choice candidates (I refuse to use the term 'pro-life'). There's nothing 'exciting' about Democrats who will join with Republicans to destroy female reproductive rights. Jim Langevin would not have been a 'phenomenal' Senator, you asshole, unless you consider forcing women into pregnancies they don't want 'phenomenal'. I don't, and most other Democrats don't.

If you want allies in your quest to control women's bodies, go join the GOP. The last thing the Democrats need are more people like you.

A rare instance of Republican candor

Mark Noonan:

Hey, Democrats, do you want to know why we keep winning? Because in the great political game of the United States, we're always coming down loudly on the side of this little girl:

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) A public school prohibited a second grader from singing a religious song at a talent show, prompting a lawsuit Friday alleging violation of the girl's constitutional rights.

There is no establishment of religion if an 8 year old girl voluntarily sings a song at school with religious content in it. Now, mind you, I'm not saying that it was the Democratic Party which stopped this girl from singing...but in the fight to allow her to sing, it will be the Democratic Party which will either be absent, or actually coming down on the side of the idiot school administrators who decided that if this girl sings, theocracy is imminent.

Now, I doubt that you'll hear any Democrats saying that 'theocracy is imminent' if the girl is allowed to sing. But Mark is right that you probably won't hear the kind of hysterical screeching from Dems that you will from the GOP about this completely trivial issue.

Much of politics is difficult and complicated; shit like this easy is simple, easy to understand. We on the Left tend to ignore it, because it's unimportant; the Right makes a huge deal of it precisely because it's unimportant. Thus people without the time or inclination to follow real political events end up hearing about stuff like this, and they associate the GOP with the 'right' side of it.

The key word is Mark's comment is that the GOP comes down loudly in favor of this little girl. If there's one thing they are good at, it's making a lot of fucking noise.

5/20/2005

The Supernatural

This is basically what I was talking about in my earlier post on materialism. Robert from Libertopia points us to a post from Julian Sanchez on the distinction between the 'natural' and the 'supernatural'. He's talking about so-called 'intelligent design' theory (anti-Darwinism), but the point is a larger one:
I very much doubt there's any sort of meaningful distinction to be made between "natural" and "supernatural" accounts in this context, so long as we're agreed that the proper methodology is the familiar scientific procedure of building theories and hypotheses, then testing them empirically.

If ghosts or gods did exist, after all, wouldn't they ultimately be as much a part of the natural world as human beings or dolphins or leptons? Could we know, a-priori, that some budding Egon Spengler wouldn't come up with a scientific test that would detect spectres as easily as we now examine radio spectra?

Turning it around the other way, didn't some of the conclusions of quantum mechanics strike many classical physicists as "spooky"? Doesn't science, too, hit rock-bottom at some point, with no further account to be given of certain laws or forces, either for theoretical reasons or because of the practical limits on our ability to investigate?

... it seems awfully ambitious to suggest that science is only concerned with inquiries where we can be sure of getting explanations all-the-way-down. How can we know in advance that we won't ultimately bump up against an impassable question mark, either because of the boundaries of our technology and ability to investigate ... or because, so to speak, the question mark is etched into the universe itself. Isn't it, well, unscientific to suppose in advance that we know how far our capacity for discovery and further explanation extends—and to suppose that it has no limits?

Not only is it 'ambitious' and 'unscientific', it's completely delusional. As Chomsky is fond of pointing out, human beings are biological organisms, not angels. There is absolutely no warrant to suppose that nature happens to have endowed them with a brain capable of understanding nature 'all the way down'.

It is highly unlikely that the human animal is even in principle capable of understanding the entirety of reality, just as a mouse will never be able to do algebra.

The only meaningful distinction between 'natural' and 'supernatural', or 'material' and 'immaterial', seems to make reference to what humans do or can know. But if this is how the distinction is made, then the naturalists/materialists have already given up the game, for if the supernatural/immaterial is defined as 'that which unknowable by science', then it almost certainly exists.

Real Christians

Via The Next Left:

POMP AND POLITICS IN GRAND RAPIDS: Bush visit brings controversy

Calvin College may be predominantly Republican, but a visit from President George W. Bush on Saturday is stirring up some discontent among students, faculty and alumni.

One-third of the faculty members have signed a letter of protest that will appear in a half-page ad in the Grand Rapids Press on Saturday, the day Bush is to deliver the commencement address to 900 graduating seniors at Calvin. The ad cost $2,600.

"As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers and to initiate war only as a last resort," the letter says. "We believe your administration has launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq."

More than 800 students, faculty and alumni also have signed a letter protesting Bush's visit that will appear Friday as a full-page ad in the Grand Rapids paper. The ad cost more than $9,500.

"We are alumni, students, faculty and friends of Calvin College who are deeply troubled that you will be the commencement speaker at Calvin," the letter states. "In our view, the policies and actions of your administration, both domestically and internationally over the past four years, violate many deeply held principles of Calvin College."

And about 100 students are expected to adorn their graduation gowns with armbands and buttons bearing the slogan: "God is not a Republican or Democrat."

Linky.

NARAL endorses a Republican

NARAL, the abortion-rights group, has endorsed Lincoln Chafee, a Republican senator from Rhode Island who is pro-choice, over his Democratic challenger, who is not. Some liberals are not happy. Oliver Willis says that NARAL 'doesn't get it'. David from The Supreme Irony of Life says:
As Ezra says, Chafee may be a pro-choice Republican, but the Republican party is not. By endorsing a Republican candidate, to preserve and/or extend the Republican Majority in Congress, NARAL is contributing to the Republicans ability to overturn abortion rights.
And Ezra Klein:
Stupid stupid stupid ... Assumedly, this is to prove their independence from the party. But you know what? NARAL isn't actually independent from the party because choice, in reality, isn't actually independent from the Democrats.

... A Democratic majority is going to protect the right to choose even if one or two of its members are uncomfortable with the concept. A Republican majority is going to work feverishly to abrogate it even if one or two of its members, like Lincoln, support choice. I see where NARAL's coming from on this, but by cutting pro-life Democrats off at the knees they're keeping some Republicans in power, by doing that, they're helping to sustain the Republican majority, and by doing that, they're striking a grievous blow against their cause.

I'm not sure I agree. (I'm not sure I don't, either.) There's no guarantee that anti-choice Democrats won't, in fact, help the GOP chip away at abortion rights, and in doing so give them the cover of 'bipartisanship' on top of it.

Why didn't the Dems just run a pro-choicer in the first place? It's hard not to see this as just deserts. The Democratic Party simply should not be running anti-choice candidates. Maybe now they'll realize that.

La fée verte



Switzerland has legalized absinthe, after the drink had been illegal there for nearly a century.

I believe that it is illegal to sell absinthe in the US and Canada, though it is not illegal to possess for personal use, so if you're interested in buying absinthe yourself, you'll have to do so online. Try here or here.

Warning: this stuff is not for the faint of heart; absinthe is usually around 68% alcohol. Not 68 proof; 68 percent. Careful around open flames.

Time for the Newsweek treatment

How dare the New York Times report on the human rights abuses of the US military?
In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

This is from a confidential report that the NYT somehow got its hands on. The full article is here.

But let's just keep this between us, okay? We wouldn't want to make the US military look bad...

Got any naked pictures of Saddam?

No? Wanna buy some?

Actually, you can have them for free, and actually, he's not naked, he's just in his skivvies.

(Via Daou.)

The unconstitutional option

The GOP is, we all know, expert at 'framing' issues in such a way as to make their hideously destructive policies sound more palatable to the public. Thus the plan to change Senate rules regarding filibustering, once known as the 'nuclear option', becomes the 'constitutional option' invoked by Republican senators as a last-ditch attempt to overcome obstructionist Democrats who are trying to prevent them from doing the people's business.

As usual, it's total bullshit. Josh Marshall (via Kicking Ass):

... every Republican senator certainly knows that the proposition they're about to attest to is quite simply a lie. Perhaps they have so twisted their reasoning as to imagine it is a noble lie. But it's a lie nonetheless ...

Whether you call it the 'nuclear option', the 'constitutional option' or whatever other phrase the GOP word-wizards come up with, what "it" actually is is this: the Republican caucus, along with the President of the Senate, Dick Cheney, will find that filibustering judicial nominations is in fact in violation of the constitution.

(Just to be crystal clear, what the senate is about to do is not changing their rules. They are about to find that their existing rules are unconstitutional, thus getting around the established procedures by which senate rules can be changed.)

Their reasoning will be that the federal constitution requires that the president makes such nominations "by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate" and that that means an up or down vote by the full senate.

Nobody believes that.

Not Dick Cheney, not any member of the Republican Senate caucus.

For that to be true stands not only the simple logic of the constitution, but two hundred years of our constitutional history, on its head ... Quite simply, the senate is empowered by the constitution to enact its own rules ... to assert that it is unconstitutional because each judge does not get an up or down vote by the entire senate you have to hold that the United States senate has been in more or less constant violation of the constitution for more than two centuries.

'Strict constructionism' indeed.

Defending socialism

Now that the dust has settled a bit from the Newsweek episode, and I've got my weekly 'I am Dada, hear me roar!' post out of the way, I can return to what I was doing before: finding common ground with my political opponents.

Now, of course I'm not talking about the type of folks who hang out the Rottweiler site or the goons from Stormfront I mean, Little Green Footballs. I'm talking about my sane political opponents: the extreme libertarian/anarcho-capitalist types like Eric, Brad(?), Robert, and the Cattalarchy contributors.

Now, I'll be honest, when I first started reading these blogs, I was kind of surprised to find out that there was such a thing as capitalist anarchists. The two had always seemed quite incompatible to me, and every anarchist that I knew of was an opponent of capitalism: people like Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Noam Chomsky, etc.

Having become a bit more acquainted with this ideology, I think they are mistaken, of course, but I think that they--unlike, say, the GOP--are acting in good faith: i.e., we're both genuinely trying to affect change for the good of all, but just have very different ways of doing that.

I think that their opposition to socialism is based on a misconstrual of what socialism is. It's going to take me a bit to explain myself, so I'm going to put the rest below the fold. Those who are interested in this can click the link below and read the rest, and everyone else can keep scrolling down and see what it would look like if Natalie Portman and I had a child.

Click here to continue reading 'Defending socialism.'


'Defending socialism' continued:

Robert at Libertopia, who describes himself as a 'minarchist', which I take to be very close to the anarchist position, recently wrote a post stating his objection to the use of the state to enforce moral principles:

To demonstrate my point, take Dada, the wooden Head, who’s world-view is quite dissimilar to mine, in that he advocates a level of coercion to achieve his moral ends that I simply find unconscionable. As a “leftist”, he thinks that government ought to compel individuals to monetarily assist their fellow man…through force if necessary. Make no mistake, it’s always by force. Just try to inform the IRS that you plan to pay only what you think is justified to support the basic functions of government.

Another strong argument against compulsory moral behavior has been made by Eric the Grumbler, who articulates the folly of coercive “virtue”.
I'm sure that most folks on the left, Dada included, don't think of what they are doing as "coercion", any more than the right authoritarians pushing their social agenda think of it as "coercion". But if you want to use the power of government to require me to do what you deem to be right then you are "forcing me", "coercing me", "making me" do it. There's no getting around that.

This, it seems to me, is the essence of the libertarian argument against socialism: that it involves an unacceptable level of coercion for the sake of 'equality' or of seeing to it that everyone has what he or she needs.

I do not rule out the use of state force in certain situations, that's true. As things stand now, any kind of anarchist or even libertarian society is purely hypothetical. So just as anarchists no doubt call the police if someone has stolen their car, I don't have a problem with the government, say, 'forcing' a corporation to pay fines for polluting the air.

But I think that the conception of socialism here--i.e., state-enforced equality--is fundamentally mistaken. It seems to be using the wrong 'picture' so to speak: in the libertarian's view, everyone rightly owns their property, and an external entity--the state--comes a-knockin' and demands that some of that property (money) be forked over, because the Smiths down the street are in a bad way, while you are doing pretty well for yourself. In other words: the government is forcing you to help out the Smiths.

This isn't necessarily the way to construe the socialist idea. Let's say that you and I, and a hundred or so other people find ourselves for whatever reason on an uninhabited island. We have no hope at all of being rescued, so we begin to make plans to simply live out the rest of our lives on the island.

The island is small, but it looks like it will provide more than enough resources to support all of us. The next question, then, is how to divide up the resources.

There are numerous options. A seemingly fair way to do this would be to simply figure out how big the island is, and divide the area by 100 (or however many people are there), so that each person gets an equal share and can use it to support herself (let's assume for the sake of simplicity that resources are distributed equally across the island, so that any plot is as good as any other).

Another prima facie fair way to do it would be not to divide it up at all, but to own it collectively and all work the land together, equally sharing whatever we reap.

However, not everybody gets along so well, and some of them are frankly loathe to work with one another. The ship we were on was carrying a group of people from New York, and some of them were Yankees fans, while the others were Mets fans. The Mets fans want to move to the other side of the island from the Yankees fans so that their interaction is as minimal as possible.

The rest of us, neutral on the Yankees-Mets question, agree that it is reasonable for them to have this wish respected. So we agree that the island will be divided up equally, so that no one will have to interact with anyone they don't want to.

But we can't simply divide things up and be done with it. Since we are starting from scratch, we have to stipulate what exactly it means to say that Mary 'owns' plot 79. Surely this doesn't mean that she can do anything she wants to with the plot--for instance, we can't permit her to start a fire on it that will spread and destroy the plots of others. So we have to have ground rules.

One of the questions we will have to answer is: should we allow the plots to be transferred, so that one person ends up owning more than one plot? Say that Jake owns plot 78, right next to Mary. Jake does OK at working his land, but Mary does much better. On top of it, Mary is quite the cook, and every evening he smells her delicious meals and wishes he could have some. So he goes to Mary and offers her a deal: Jake will cede his plot to Mary, in exchange for her making him dinner every night (and of course allowing him to continue living there). Mary, who has lusted after Jake's plot for a while, since it would allow her to grow a greater variety of crops, takes the deal.

Should we allow the deal to take place? Jake, a libertarian, says of course: after all, it is his plot; why shouldn't he be able to make a deal with Mary and give it to her? Now, of course, we've got a dilemma; we have to decide whether or not ownership of the plot includes the right to cede that ownership.

So let's rewind: given the possibility of such a scenario, it would behoove us to deal with it preemptively, at the outset. That is: when we divide up the land, we must decide what ownership of a plot entails, and one of the things we must decide upon is whether ownership entails the right to transfer.

Jake, the libertarian, speaks up and says yes: once ownership has been established, everyone should be able to transfer their property in whatever way they see fit.

But Leo, a socialist, disagrees: 'If we permit free transfer of the plots, we run the risk of one person coming to own a great number of plots--perhaps even a majority of them. This one person, then, will have inordinate power, for while we make all our decisions democratically, the one who ones many plots will be able to control the votes of those living on them (for he can threaten them with eviction), and it will be as if this one person had 50 votes, while the rest of us have only 1. I see no reason to build into our concept of ownership the ability to transfer plots to another; it has the potential to do us much harm, and to destroy the democratic decision-making process that we have been relying on.'

Jake responds: 'But not all of us want to own a plot; perhaps some of us would be happier ceding our plot to someone else, in exchange for something (Jake had tasted Mary's cooking a few times on the ship, and was already anticipating striking the deal with her). If it would make me a happier man, why shouldn't I be allowed to exploit my plot not by farming it but by trading it for something?'

Leo: 'A good point; many might indeed not want the responsibility that comes with ownership of a plot. But still: the danger is too great that one person may accumlate a grossly disproportionate share of land.'

'But,' Leo continues, 'perhaps I can think of a compromise that will satisfy both of us. We will allow transfer of plots--but only conditionally. That is: you are free to transfer your plot as you see fit, and others are allowed to own more than one plot. But--if we see that this is creating an unacceptable imbalance of power in the way I just described, we reserve the right to reapportion the plots to correct this. We will allow the free transfer of plots up until the point where the benefit from doing so is outweighed by the danger.'

*****

Now what I want to ask is this: supposing that Leo's suggestion is taken up and implemented, whose rights are being violated if down the road, it is determined that Mary, who is a really good cook, has acquired too many plots of land, and is beginning to exert an inordinate amount of control over our decision-making, and we thus decide to negate her ownership of some of those plots and distribute them to others? This was part of the agreement from the beginning.

Now, it might not have been: even if the majority of us agreed with Leo, Mary, anticipating a windfall, could still have said: 'No, I find this unacceptable. I will not agree to it.' At which point we could say: 'Very well, but don't expect us to recognize your ownership of any but the plot assigned to you. You have no necessary claim to any of this land; out of fairness, we are willing to acknowledge an equal portion of it as yours, but no more. If you insist on trying to assert control over more of it, you will do so with no sanction from us. This means that we will consider it as public property--having built into our concept of ownership the stipulation that any plot abandoned goes back into the kitty, so to speak--and do what we see fit with it. We don't recognize your claim to it, and so we will not hesitate to assign it out if, say, a new person lands on the island and needs a plot for herself.'

*****

This, essentially, is socialism. Property rights are an artificial construct, so we are free to sculpt them as we wish. What could be wrong with sculpting them in as democratic a way possible? Libertarians can even have their markets; we simply reserve the right to step in when the effects of those markets become unacceptable. Since this is built into the very concept of ownership, how can they complain? It is only because the rest of us recognize their property rights that they have them at all.

Is force an essential part of any of this? The only place for it is if someone tries to acquire land we do not recognize as rightfully theirs; in such a case, we might very well resort to force in order to put a stop to it. But is this any different from what the libertarian would do? Presumably, libertarians are quite willing to resort to force if, say, someone were squatting on their land; otherwise, their 'ownership' of that property would be so toothless as to be nonexistent. So when Mary tries to encroach upon land we do not recognize as hers, and we use force to prevent her, how are we doing anything different--or more objectionable--than is Mary if she uses force to repel someone who comes along and tries to use one of her plots?

It's possible I could have said all this in a simpler way, but this is the best way I could think of to express it. It seems to me that if you slightly shift your perspective--stop seeing ownership as something primitive, but rather as something that is constructed, and in fact is an ongoing construction, socialism stops looking like forced equality and starts looking like common sense. Why on earth should we agree to a concept of ownership that may doom us? Since ownership is conditional anyway, why not include among its conditions that society not be disadvantaged by it?

Here you go, Matt



Matt from Cerulean Blue suggested that with her new haircut, and a few accessories, Natalie Portman would look a bit like yours truly. So I took the liberty of creating a simulation.

Now I just need to think of a name ...

The power of the dark side

Josh at The Lion and the Donkey says that wingnuts are planning to boycott the new Star Wars movie. Apparently, they see a liberal bias in it.
Star Wars a cautionary tale about politics

Star Wars is a wakeup call to Americans about the erosion of democratic freedoms under George W. Bush, George Lucas said yesterday.

Lucas, at a Cannes film festival press conference yesterday, said he first wrote the framework of Star Wars in 1971 when reacting to then-U.S. president Richard Nixon and the events of the Vietnam War. But the story still has relevance today, he said, and is part of a pattern he has noticed in history.

"I didn't think it was going to get quite this close," he said of the parallels between the Nixon era and the Bush presidency, which has been sacrificing freedoms in the interests of national security.

"It is just one of those re-occuring things. I hope this doesn't come true in our country.Maybe the film will awaken people to the situation of how dangerous it is . . .The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we are doing now in Iraq are unbelievable."

In the latest film, the Palpatine character takes over as ruler of the universe with the co-operation of the other politicians.

"Because this is the back story (of the Star Wars saga), one of the main features of the back story was to tell how the Republic became the Empire," Lucas said.

"At the time I did that, it was during the Vietnam War and the Nixon era. The issue was: How does a democracy turn itself over to a dictator? Not how does a dictator take over, but how does a democracy and Senate give it away?"

Lucas cited the Roman empire in the wake of Caesar's death, France after the revolution and Hitler's rise in Germany as historical examples of countries giving themselves over to dictators.

"They all seem to happen in the same way with the same issues: Threats from the outside; they need more control; and a democratic body not being able to function properly because everybody's squabbling."

PABAAH (Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood; I am assured this is not a joke) does not approve:
When will Hollywood learn? George Lucas and his intergalactic empire have now been added to our official boycott list. Sad...but necessary. A bigger Star Wars fan you'll never find...until now. Our country is at war and Lucas spouts off this crap?
On advantage of this is pointed out by Here's What's Left:
I wonder if this will catch on? I kind of hope it does. That way when I see it I won't have to worry about being in the same theater with some stupid republican and getting wingnut cooties.
All I have to say is that if you seeing parallels between your party and the fucking Empire from the Star Wars movies, you might want to stop and wonder why.

Of course, some wingnuts see this parallel, but don't think there's anything wrong with it. See, for example, The Case for the Empire.

Maybe the GOP is finally ready to proudly embrace fascism, as opposed to just flirting with it.

5/19/2005

Blogosphere triumphalism

You've probably heard that the New York Times has decided to stop offering its Op-Ed section for free on the web. Starting soon, if you want to read Krugman, Dowd, et. al., you'll have to either buy the print version of the paper or pony up $50 a year for web access.

The blogger consensus seems to be that the NYT has just made themselves obsolete:

"'More papers are looking at the approach The New York Times is taking -- keeping most of their content free but cherry-picking some content for a subscriptions service,' acknowledged Steve Outing, an E&P columnist and expert on online news, in the Globe. But, he added, '[t]hese days there are thousands of bloggers and news aggregators talking about the issues these columnists write about. If you put them behind a firewall, they might disappear from those discussions.'

"Certainly two prominent bloggers feel that way. Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who runs the liberal blog Daily Kos, told Salon that he'll stop linking to Times Op-Eds once the new policy goes into effect. 'I think this is the best way they can become irrelevant,' he said.

"If my readers can't read it, why would I link to it? The key to blogging is that readers can look at the source material and make up their own minds.' And conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan used the headline, 'The NYT Withdraws From the Blogosphere,' Salon reported. 'The great gift that the New York Times gives the world is free access to its articles, opinion-journalists, and stories,' Sullivan wrote on his blog. '[B]y sectioning off their op-ed columnists and best writers, they are cutting them off from the life-blood of today's political debate: the free blogosphere. Inevitably, fewer people will link to them; fewer will read them; their influence will wane faster than it has already.'"

A link-free existence?? Maybe MoDo & Co. can ask for donations, like Sullivan, and start their own blog.

It's hard not to see this as just more blogger chest-thumping. Undoubtedly, this will dent the influence of the NYT among bloggers and people who read blogs; I'm not convinced that it dooms them to total irrelevance, though.

Why is she bald?



I'm not saying it isn't a good look for her. I'm just wondering.

Free falling

From News Hounds:

Fox News in Ratings Free Fall

Here's something you won't hear on Fox News -- ratings for the cable news channel have been plummeting since before the November election.

According to TV Newser, the number of people watching Fox during prime time in the 25 to 54 age bracket dropped in April for the sixth straight month.

TV Newser cited a CNN press release which gave these totals for Fox's primetime audience in the 25 to 54 age bracket: Oct. 04: 1,074,000; Nov. 04: 891,000; Dec. 04: 568,000; Jan. 05: 564,000; Feb. 05: 520,000; March 05: 498,000; April 05: 445,000. That amounts to a decline of 58 percent, with no sign of leveling off.

Other cable stations' ratings were also down since the election, but CNN's, for example, appeared to have stabilized last month while Fox's continued to drop.

...

Fox's plunging ratings should be a warning to those cable stations trying to copy the news channel's conservative Republican slant. People are tired of it. Try something different, like a progressive television show, for a change.

I'm not sure I'd draw this conclusion; I suppose it's possible that Fox's ratings are down because folks don't like their wingnutian bias, but they sure didn't seem to mind just a few months ago. Maybe Bill O. just got too goddamned creepy for all but the most ardent Falafelheads.

The unbearable shittiness of Jonathan Safran Foer

Experience it for yourself.

The end is extremely fucking nigh

This time for real, possibly. I had heard about the 'peak oil' thing before, but hadn't paid much attention to it. But now that I've read a little more about it, I need someone to tell me that this is all nonsense and is not going to happen. Please.
Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, and investment bankers in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global Peak Oil.

Click here for the rest of the bad news.



From Peak Oil: Life After the Oil Crash:

"Are We 'Running Out'? I Thought There Was 40 Years of the Stuff Left"

Oil will not just "run out" because all oil production follows a bell curve. This is true whether we're talking about an individual field, a country, or on the planet as a whole.

Oil is increasingly plentiful on the upslope of the bell curve, increasingly scarce and expensive on the down slope. The peak of the curve coincides with the point at which the endowment of oil has been 50 percent depleted. Once the peak is passed, oil production begins to go down while cost begins to go up.

In practical and considerably oversimplified terms, this means that if 2000 was the year of global Peak Oil, worldwide oil production in the year 2020 will be the same as it was in 1980. However, the world’s population in 2020 will be both much larger (approximately twice) and much more industrialized (oil-dependent) than it was in 1980. Consequently, worldwide demand for oil will outpace worldwide production of oil by a significant margin. As a result, the price will skyrocket, oil-dependant economies will crumble, and resource wars will explode.

The issue is not one of "running out" so much as it is not having enough to keep our economy running. In this regard, the ramifications of Peak Oil for our civilization are similar to the ramifications of dehydration for the human body. The human body is 70 percent water. The body of a 200 pound man thus holds 140 pounds of water. Because water is so crucial to everything the human body does, the man doesn't need to lose all 140 pounds of water weight before collapsing due to dehydration. A loss of as little as 10-15 pounds of water may be enough to kill him.

In a similar sense, an oil-based economy such as ours doesn't have to deplete its entire reserve of oil before it begins to collapse. A shortfall between demand and supply as little as 10-15 percent is enough to wholly shatter an oil-dependent economy and reduce its citizenry to poverty.

The effects of even a small drop in production can be devastating. For instance, during the 1970s oil shocks, shortfalls in production as small as 5% caused the price of oil to nearly quadruple. The same thing happened in California a few years ago with natural gas: a production drop of less than 5% caused prices to skyrocket by 400%.

Fortunately, those price shocks were only temporary.

The coming oil shocks won't be so short-lived. They represent the onset of a new, permanent condition. Once the decline gets under way, production will drop (conservatively) by 3-6% per year, every year.

Almost all independent estimates from now disinterested scientists indicate global oil production will peak and go into terminal decline within the next five years.

Many geologists expect that 2005 will be the last year of the cheap-oil bonanza, while estimates coming out of the oil industry indicate "a seemingly unbridgeable supply-demand gap opening up after 2007," which will lead to major fuel shortages and increasingly severe blackouts beginning around 2008-2012.

The long-term ramifications of Peak Oil on your way of life are nothing short of mind blowing. As we slide down the downslope slope of the global oil production curve, we may find ourselves slipping into what some scientists are calling a "post-industrial stone age."


"Big deal. If gas prices get high, I’ll just get one of those hybrid cars. Why should I give a damn?"

Because petrochemicals are key components to much more than just the gas in your car. As geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer points out in his article entitled, “Eating Fossil Fuels,” approximately 10 calories of fossil fuels are required to produce every 1 calorie of food eaten in the US.

The size of this ratio stems from the fact that every step of modern food production is fossil fuel and petrochemical powered ... In short, people gobble oil like two-legged SUVs.

It's not just transportation and agriculture that are entirely dependent on abundant, cheap oil. Modern medicine, water distribution, and national defense are each entirely powered by oil and petroleum derived chemicals.

Most of the consumer goods you buy are made with plastic, which is derived from oil.

All manufacturing processes consume voracious amounts of oil ... Most importantly, the modern banking and international monetary system is entirely dependent on a constantly increasing supply of oil. Since as explained above, all modern economic activity from transportation to food production to manufacturing is dependent on oil supplies, money is really just a symbol for oil.

Consequently, a declining supply of oil must be accompanied by either a declining supply of money or by hyperinflation. In either case, the result for the global banking system is the same: total collapse. This may be what led Stephen Roach, the chief economist for investment bank Morgan Stanley, to recently state, "I fear modern day central banking is on the brink of systemic failure."

Most people new to the idea of Peak Oil tend focus on finding alternatives to oil, while wholly ignoring the more fundamental issue: the ramifications of Peak Oil on our monetary system.

Due to the intricate relationship between oil supplies and the global financial system, the aftermath of Peak Oil will extend far beyond how much you will pay for gas. If you are focusing solely on the price at the pump, more fuel- efficient forms of transportation, or alternative sources of energy, you aren’t seeing the bigger picture.


"How is the Oil Industry Reacting to Peak Oil?"

If you want to know the harsh truth about the future of oil, simply look at the actions of the oil industry. As a recent article in M.I.T.'s Technology Review points out:

If the actions - rather than the words - of the oil business's major players provide the best gauge of how they see the future, then ponder the following. Crude oil prices have doubled since 2001, but oil companies have increased their budgets for exploring new oil fields by only a small fraction. Likewise, U.S. refineries are working close to capacity, yet no new refinery has been constructed since 1976. And oil tankers are fully booked, but outdated ships are being decommissioned faster than new ones are being built.

Some people believe that no new refineries have been built due to the efforts of environmentalists. This belief is a bit silly when one considers how much money and political influence the oil industry has compared to the environmental movement. If the oil companies wanted to build new refineries, they certainly have the money and political clout to get them built.

The real reason no new refineries have been built for almost 30 years has more do with simple good business practices than the efforts of environmentalists. No oil company worth its salt is going to seek to build new refineries when they know there is going to be less and less oil to refine.

In addition to lowering their investments in oil exploration and production, oil companies have been merging as though the industry is living on borrowed time:

December 1998: BP and Amoco merge;
April 1999: BP-Amoco and Arco agree to merge;
December 1999: Exxon and Mobil merge;
October 2000: Chevron and Texaco agree to merge;
November 2001: Phillips and Conoco agree to merge;
September 2002: Shell acquires Penzoil-Quaker State;
February 2003: Frontier Oil and Holly agree to merge;
March 2004: Marathon acquires 40% of Ashland;
April 2004: Westport Resources acquires Kerr-McGee;
July 2004: Analysts suggest BP-Amoco and Shell merge;
April 2005: Chevron-Texaco and Unocal merge;

What do you think could possibly be motivating these companies to take such drastic actions?

You don't have to contemplate too much, as recent disclosures from oil industry insiders indicate we are indeed "damn close to peaking" while industry analysts are now concluding that large oil companies believe Peak Oil is at our doorstep.

...

"Won't the Market and the Laws of Supply and Demand Address This?"

Not enough to prevent an economic meltdown ... oil is nowhere near as "elastic" as most commodities ... While many analysts claim the market will take care of this for us, they forget that neoclassic economic theory is besieged by several fundamental flaws that will prevent the market from appropriately reacting to Peak Oil until it is too late.

...

The effects of this will be frightening. As former oil industry insider Jan Lundberg recently pointed out:

The scenario I foresee is that market-based panic will, within a few days, drive prices up skyward. And as supplies can no longer slake daily world demand of over 80 million barrels a day, the market will become paralyzed at prices too high for the wheels of commerce and even daily living in "advanced" societies. There may be an event that appears to trigger this final energy crash, but the overall cause will be the huge consumption on a finite planet.

The trucks will no longer pull into Wal-Mart. Or Safeway or other food stores. The freighters bringing packaged techno-toys and whatnot from China will have no fuel. There will be fuel in many places, but hoarding and uncertainty will trigger outages, violence and chaos. For only a short time will the police and military be able to maintain order, if at all.

...

The fact that so many people in the green/environmental movement refuse to acknowledge the fundamental inability of fuels like biodiesel to replace more than a tiny portion of our petroleum consumption underscores why a complete collapse of the petroleum powered world may now be unavoidable. As Dr. Ted Trainer explains in a recent article on the thermodynamic limitations of biomass fuels:

This is why I do not believe consumer-capitalist society can save itself. Not even its "intellectual" classes or green leadership give any sign that this society has the wit or the will to even think about the basic situation we are in. As the above figures make clear, the situation cannot be solved without huge reduction in the volume of production and consumption going on.
...

"So What's Going to Happen to the Economy?"

The US economy is particularly vulnerable to the coming oil shortages. As the most indebted nation in the world, the US is completely dependent on strong economic growth just to pay the interest on its debts. This is as true for individual citizens as it is for corporations and governments. A declining oil/energy supply means the economy can't grow which means individuals, corporations, and governments can't pay off their debts, which means economic anarchy is on the way.

Furthermore, unlike nations in Europe, the US has built it's entire infrastructure and way of life under the assumption oil would always be cheap and plentiful. Since that is no longer the case, the US economy is in even more trouble than the economies of nations like the UK, Germany, Spain, and France.

So even in the best-case scenario, we're looking at an international financial meltdown and a collapse of the value of US dollar so severe that the Great Depression will look like the "good ole days."

That's if we manage to avoid the "economic Armageddon" recently predicted by the chief economist at investment banking giant Morgan Stanley.

The end of cheap oil also means the elimination of Great Depression era social programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Pensions too will soon to be a thing of the past.

On the international front, the financial dislocations wrought by the coming oil shocks will plunge the world into a series of resource wars and "currency insurgencies" unlike anything we can imagine. The international destabilization and devaluing of the US dollar will further exacerbate the economic collapse at home while impeding our physical & financial ability to pump whatever oil is left in the ground and then bring it to the market.

...Put simply, the end of oil may result in the end of America as we know it.

...

"Do World Governments Have Plans to Deal With This?"

Absolutely.

The US government has been aware of Peak Oil since at least 1977 and has been actively planning for this crisis for over 30 years.

Three decades of careful, plotting analysis has yielded a comprehensive, sophisticated, and multi-faceted plan in which military force will be used to secure and control the globe's energy resources. This plan is simplistically, but not altogether inaccurately - known as "Go to War to Get Oil."

This strategy was publicly announced in April 2001, when a report commissioned by Dick Cheney was released. According to the report, entitled Strategic Energy Policy Challenges For The 21st Century, the US is facing the biggest energy crisis in history and that the crisis requires "a reassessment of the role of energy in American foreign policy."

That's a diplomatic way of saying we are going to be fighting oil wars for a very long time.

James Woolsey, the former Director of the CIA, practically admitted as much at a recent conference on renewable energy:

I fear we're going to be at war for decades, not years . . . Ultimately we will win it, but one major component of that war is oil.

The war in Iraq, which has been 23 years in the making, is just the beginning of a worldwide war that "will not end in our lifetime." The reason our leaders are telling us the "war on terror will last 50 years" and that the US engagement in the Middle East is now a "generational commitment" is two-fold:

1. All the countries accused of harboring terrorists - Iraq, Iran, Syria, West Africa, Saudi Arabia - also happen to harbor large oil reserves.

2. Within 40-50 years, even these countries will see their oil reserves almost entirely depleted. At that point, the "war on terror" will come to an end.

While the Middle East countries find themselves targets in the "war on terror", China, Russia, and Latin America find themselves targets in the recently declared and much more expansive "war on tyranny."

Whereas the "war on terror" is really a war for control of the world's oil reserves, this newly declared "war on tyranny" is really a war for control of the world's oil distribution and transportation chokepoints.

China and Russia have taken notice of these declarations and seem to be making preparations to defend themselves.

China has also strengthened it's ties to oil-rich Venezuela while engaging in an undeclared oil-war with long time rival and US ally Japan.

This type of large-scale, long-term warfare will likely require a massive expansion of the military draft. It's probably not a coincidence that the director of the Selective Service recently gave a presentation to Congress in which he recommended the military draft be extended to both genders, ages 18-35.

The strategy - as distasteful as it may be - is characterized by a Machiavellian logic. Given the thermodynamic deficiencies of the alternatives to oil, the complexity of a large scale switch to these new sources of energy, and the wrenching economic and social effects of a declining energy supply, you can see why our leaders view force as the only viable way to deal with the coming crisis.

Of course, the US is not the only nation that needs affordable oil. Not by a long shot. France, Germany, Russia, and China all need it also. While these countries may not be able or willing to directly confront the US on the battlefield, they are more than willing to attack the US financially. The US may have the world's most deadly cluster bombs, but the EU has the world's most valuable currency, and intends to wield it as a strategic economic weapon to offset US firepower.

...


"Is There Any Reason to Remain Optimistic/Hopeful?"

If what you really mean is, "Is there any way technology or the market or brilliant scientists or comprehensive government programs are going to hold things together or solve this for me or allow for business to continue as usual?", the answer is no.

On the other hand, if what you really mean, "Is there any way I can still have a happy, fulfilling life in spite of some clearly grim facts?", the answer is yes, but it's going to require a lot of work, a lot of adjustments, and probably a bit of good fortune on your part.


"What Can I do to Prepare?"

Two things:

1. Inform others;

2. Get as self-sufficient as possible as soon as possible. See the prepare section for more information.

Good luck,

Matt Savinar
Last Revised: 4/19/2005

"The masses are not happy"

Sez NBC:
Voters dissatisfied with Bush, Congress
NBC/WSJ poll reveals 'angry electorate'

WASHINGTON - As the Senate marches closer toward a nuclear showdown over President Bush’s judicial nominees, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that the American public is dissatisfied — with Congress and its priorities, with Bush’s plan to overhaul Social Security and with the nation’s economy and general direction. Moreover, a majority believes that the Senate should make its own decision about the president’s judicial nominees, rather than just generally confirming them ...

Perhaps the most revealing finding in the poll is the attitude toward Congress. Just 33 percent of the respondents approve of Congress’ job. That’s down 6 points since a poll in April and 8 points since January.

“The public is exceptionally displeased with the Congress,” Hart said. “It is [its] lowest set of numbers since May of 1994,” the year when congressional Republicans defeated their Democratic counterparts in the midterm elections to take control of both the House and Senate.

... Just 20 percent of those polled say the economy has gotten better over the past 12 months, an 11- point decline since January; 51 percent believe that removing Saddam Hussein from power was not worth the cost and casualties of that war; and only 36 percent support Bush’s plan to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market.

Overall, according to the NBC/Journal poll, 52 percent believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, while 35 percent think it’s on the right track.

All of these findings, Hart says, are signs of an angry electorate. “If you are a member of Congress and you got the poll back, you better be looking over your shoulder,” he said. "The masses are not happy."

5/18/2005

Gimme some truth

George Galloway gives it to the U.S. Senate, that's for sure.

You've really got to see this. In the middle of a swarm of lies, it's nice to hear someone speaking the truth.

Irrefutable proof that Marshall Wittmann is a fucking tool

Not as if we needed it. The 'Bull Moose' says:

If the Moose were a Democrat, he'd be a Toby Keith Democrat ... the Moose is big fan of Toby Keith, who may be a good role model for Democrats who are struggling to reach Red State America.

Democrats - say no to Michael Moore and yes to Toby Keith!

Q.E.D.

Somebody call David Horowitz

I'm sure Mr. 'Academic Freedom' will be all over this ... right?

Yale University is getting rid of a popular anthropology professor, setting off protests from supporters who believe he is losing his job for being an anarchist and for visibly backing graduate student unionization. As the professor considers filing a formal grievance with the university, anthropologists and labor officials nationwide have already organized an online petition signed by 3,000 people.

The decision not to renew David Graeber’s contract after the end of the 2005-6 academic year was made in a private meeting of 12 senior faculty members who are required to keep the proceedings confidential. In the absence of an explanation from the panel, Graeber and his supporters insist that the decision could not have been made based on his work.

“His scholarship was at the level he would have had tenure at any normal university,” said Marshall Sahlins, an anthropology professor at the University of Chicago. “As he has become a more visible anarchist,” added Andrej Grubacic, a researcher at the State University of New York at Binghamton, who has worked with Graeber, “he has encountered more opposition, fallen out of favor."

(Link via Brian Leiter.)

Why are people still materialists?

A popular blog-meme-quiz-thingy going around is the one that asks, 'What is your world view?' I took it a while ago and came out as a 'cultural creative', whatever the hell that is. Majikthise was unsurprised to see her score come out 94% materialist, and Socialist Swine, though he scored as a 'postmodernist' (Ha-ha!), describes himself as more of a materialist/physicalist.

This got me thinking. Most educated, liberal type people seem to describe themselves as materialist. I don't understand why this is so. If you haven't spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this--and really, who in their right mind would?--you would have no reason to know this, so I'm not faulting anyone here. But physicalism has been pretty thoroughly eviscerated and is basically just a pathetic hulk of a theory at this point. As Noam Chomsky points out, there hasn't been a coherent, credible materialism since Newton.

The reasons for this are fairly involved, but I'll try to gloss them. The basic physicalist (or materialist; these are generally considered the same thing) thesis is this: the only things that exist are physical things. So, for example, your mind is not an immaterial entity; you don't have a 'soul'. All you have is yer brain, a physical thing.

But if you're going to claim that everything is physical, you're going to have to tell us what you mean by 'physical'. And this is where the physicalists get into trouble. See, they don't really know ...

Click here to continue reading this post and see why materialism is wrong.



Almost invariably, some appeal is made to the science of physics. They point to physicists and say: the physical is what those guys study. 'Quarks and the like--everything is made up of those.' The problem: physics is probably wrong. Not totally wrong, not mostly wrong, probably not fundamentally wrong. But it is, in important ways, wrong--or at least incomplete. Physicists are, of course, the first to acknowledge this (they'd be out of jobs, otherwise). To name just one area, most physicists believe there is an incompatibility between relativity and quantum mechanics. This doesn't usually come into play, but it does with, e.g., black holes. So the assumption is that there is something we're missing; there must be some deeper, more fundamental theory that undergirds both of these. Physicists hope to find this 'theory of everything' (T.O.E.) one day. So they must think it strange that philosophers are pointing to them saying, 'They've got all the answers!'.

The materialist retorts: well, that--the T.O.E.! Whatever the physicists find when they're done--That's what we mean by 'physical'!

Now your theory is completely trivial and totally empty. You're basically just saying, 'Whatever exists, exists.'

The physicalist might respond to this: be that as it may, our theory is that all that exists is that which is discoverable through the study of physics. Whatever physics studies, the world is made up of that kind of stuff.

But, for one thing, physics doesn't really have a 'kind of stuff' that it studies; that is, there's nothing inherent about physics that dictates the nature of its subject material. (Note: there's a way in which this actually isn't true, but it's a way that not only doesn't help the materialist, it dooms him. If I ever want this post to end, I can't get into it here, but let me know if you want to hear about it.) In other words, physicists are discovering the nature of reality, not dictating it.

But even more importantly: what in the world could make someone so hubristic as to assert, with absolutely no evidence, that humans, a single species on a single planet that happened to arise as an accident of evolution, have nonetheless capable of knowing the whole of reality?!? What could possibly justify the claim that the human animal is somehow capable of painting a comprehensive picture of the universe? Why should we suppose--again, with no argument or evidence--that reality in its entirety must conform to the concepts and theories of human scientists?

Please note: this is not to cast doubt on the truth of what science tells us. Saying that physics doesn't have all the answers isn't the same as saying it doesn't have any; a rejection of materialism does not entail some kind of relativism/postmodernism/pragmatism about truth.

It also doesn't entail anything religious, just to be perfectly clear. Some people seem to equate the materialist view with a 'scientific' or 'secular' outlook. It is not. In fact, it seems to me that the only possible justification for the centrality of the human being that materialism is committed to is the existence of some God who created man in his own image!

In case you aren't convinced of this, please note that the most famous anti-materialist since Descartes was none other than the anti-Christ himself, Friedrich Nietzsche. In Gay Science, Nietzsche says:

How far ... existence extends ... cannot be decided even by the most industrious and most scrupulously conscientious analysis and self-examination of the intellect; for in the course of this analysis the human intellect cannot avoid seeing itself in its own perspectives, and only in these. We cannot look around our own corner ...

But I should think that today we are at least far from the ridiculous immodesty that would be involved in decreeing from our corner that perspectives are permitted only from this corner. Rather has the world become "infinite" for us all over again, inasmuch as we cannot reject the possibility that it may include infinite interpretations.

In other words: what makes you so special? Nietzsche asks the same thing of materialists:

It is no different with the faith with which so many materialist natural scientists rest content nowadays, the faith in a world that is supposed to have its equivalent and its measure in human thought and human valuations—--a "world of truth" that can be mastered completely and forever with the aid of our square little reason. What? ... That the only justifiable interpretation of the world should be one in which you are justified because one can continue to work and do research scientifically in your sense (you really mean, mechanistically?)—--an interpretation that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing, and touching, and nothing more--—that is a crudity and naiveté, assuming that it is not a mental illness, an idiocy.

Would it not be rather probably that, conversely, precisely the most superficial and external aspect of existence—what is most apparent, its skin and sensualization—would be grasped first—and might even be the only thing that allowed itself to be grasped? A "scientific" interpretation of the world, as you understand it, might therefore still be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. This thought is intended for the ears and consciences of our mechanists who nowadays like to pass as philosophers and insist that mechanics is the doctrine of the first and last laws on which all existence must be based as on a ground floor.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Materialism is long past its sell-by date. Nietzsche was writing in 1887. To continue to insist that all reality is such that it can be mastered by our 'square little reason' is to risk the folly of Galileo's contemporary, Francesco Sizi, who said that there couldn't be more than seven planets, because:

There are seven windows in the head, two nostrils, two ears, two eyes, and a mouth: so in the heavens there are two favorable stars, two unpropitious, two luminaries, and Mercury alone, undecided and indifferent. From which and many other phenomena of nature such as the seven metals, etc... we gather that the number of planets is necessarily seven. Besides, ...[we] have adopted the division of week into seven days, and have named them for the seven planets; now if we increase the number of planets, this whole system falls to the ground. Moreover, the satellites are invisible to the naked eye and therefore can have no influence on the earth and therefore would be useless and therefore they do not exist.

Don't just stand there, survive

From deconsumption via Code Three (originally appearing in Time magazine):

How to Get Out Alive

When the plane hit Elia Zedeno's building on 9/11, the effect was not subtle. From the 73rd floor of Tower 1, she heard a booming explosion and felt the building actually lurch to the south, as if it might toppl ... she shouted, "What's happening?" You might expect that her next instinct was to flee. But she had the opposite reaction. "What I really wanted was for someone to scream back, 'Everything is O.K.! Don't worry. It's in your head.'"

She didn't know it at the time, but all around her, others were filled with the same reflexive incredulity. And the reaction was not unique to 9/11. Whether they're in shipwrecks, hurricanes, plane crashes or burning buildings, people in peril experience remarkably similar stages. And the first one--even in the face of clear and urgent danger--is almost always a period of intense disbelief.

Luckily, at least one of Zedeno's colleagues responded differently. "The answer I got was another co-worker screaming, 'Get out of the building!'" she remembers now. Almost four years later, she still thinks about that command. "My question is, What would I have done if the person had said nothing?"

Click here to continue reading this post.


...The people who made it out of the World Trade Center, for example, waited an average of 6 min. before heading downstairs ... But the range was enormous. Why did certain people leave immediately while others lingered for as long as half an hour? ... About 1,000 took the time to shut down their computers, according to NIST.

... Large groups of people facing death act in surprising ways. Most of us become incredibly docile. We are kinder to one another than normal. We panic only under certain rare conditions. Usually, we form groups and move slowly, as if sleepwalking in a nightmare.

Zedeno still did not immediately flee on 9/11, even after her colleague screamed at her ... "I never found myself in a hurry," she says. "It's weird because the sound, the way the building shook, should have kept me going fast. But it was almost as if I put the sound away in my mind."

...

In a crisis, our instincts can be our undoing. William Morgan, who directs the exercise-psychology lab at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has studied mysterious scuba accidents in which divers drowned with plenty of air in their tanks. It turns out that certain people experience an intense feeling of suffocation when their mouths are covered. They respond to that overwhelming sensation by relying on their instinct, which is to rip out whatever is in their mouths. For scuba divers, unfortunately, it is their oxygen source. On land, that would be a perfect solution.

... Even when we're calm, our brains require 8 to 10 sec. to handle each novel piece of complex information. The more stress, the slower the process. Bombarded with new information, our brains shift into low gear just when we need to move fast ... That neurological process might explain, in part, the urge to stay put in crises. "Most people go their entire lives without a disaster," says Michael Lindell, a professor at the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center at Texas A&M University. "So, the most reasonable reaction when something bad happens is to say, This can't possibly be happening to me."

...

On March 27, 1977, a Pan Am 747 awaiting takeoff at the Tenerife airport in the Canary Islands off Spain was sliced open without warning by a Dutch KLM jet that had come hurtling out of the fog at 160 m.p.h. The collision left twisted metal, along with comic books and toothbrushes, strewn along a half-mile stretch of tarmac. Everyone on the KLM jet was killed instantly. But it looked as if many of the Pan Am passengers had survived and would have lived if they had got up and walked off the fiery plane.

Floy Heck, then 70, was sitting on the Pan Am jet between her husband and her friends, en route from their California retirement residence to a Mediterranean cruise. After the KLM jet sheared off the top of their plane, Heck could not speak or move. "My mind was almost blank. I didn't even hear what was going on," she told an Orange County Register reporter years later. But her husband Paul Heck, 65, reacted immediately. He ordered his wife to get off the plane. She followed him through the smoke "like a zombie," she said. Just before they jumped out of a hole in the left side of the craft, she looked back at her friend Lorraine Larson, who was just sitting there, looking straight ahead, her mouth slightly open, hands folded in her lap. Like dozens of others, she would die not from the collision but from the fire that came afterward.

We tend to assume that plane crashes--and most other catastrophes--are binary: you live or you die, and you have very little choice in the matter. But in all serious U.S. plane accidents from 1983 to 2000, just over half the passengers lived, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. And some survived because of their individual traits or behavior--human factors, as crash investigators put it. After the Tenerife catastrophe, aviation experts focused on those factors--and people like the Hecks--and decided that they were just as important as the design of the plane itself.

...

What happened? Aren't disasters supposed to turn us into animals, driven by instinct and surging with adrenaline?

In the 1970s, psychologist Daniel Johnson was working on safety research for McDonnell Douglas. The more disasters he studied, the more he realized that the classic fight-or-flight behavior paradigm was incomplete. Again and again, in shipwrecks as well as plane accidents, he saw examples of people doing nothing at all. He was even able to re-create the effect in his lab. He found that about 45% of people in his experiment shut down (that is, stopped moving or speaking for 30 sec. or often longer) when asked under pressure to perform unfamiliar but basic tasks. "They quit functioning. They just sat there," Johnson remembers. It seemed horribly maladaptive. How could so many people be hard-wired to do nothing in a crisis?

But it turns out that that freezing behavior may be quite adaptive in certain scenarios. An animal that goes into involuntary paralysis may have a better chance of surviving a predatory attack. Many predators will not eat prey that is not struggling; that way, they are less likely to eat something sick or rotten that would end up killing them. Psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. has found similar behavior among human rape victims. "They report being vividly aware of what was happening but unable to respond," he says.

In a fire or on a sinking ship, however, such a strategy can be fatal. So is it possible to override this instinct--or prevent it from kicking in altogether?

In the hours just before the Tenerife crash, Paul Heck did something highly unusual. While waiting for takeoff, he studied the 747's safety diagram. He looked for the closest exit, and he pointed it out to his wife. He had been in a theater fire as a boy, and ever since, he always checked for the exits in an unfamiliar environment. When the planes collided, Heck's brain had the data it needed. He could work on automatic, whereas other people's brains plodded through the storm of new information. "Humans behave much more appropriately when they know what to expect--as do rats," says Cynthia Corbett, a human-factors specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

...

Manuel Chea, then a systems administrator on the 49th floor of Tower 1, did everything right on 9/11. As soon as the building stopped swaying, he jumped up from his cubicle and ran to the closest stairwell. It was an automatic reaction. As he left, he noticed that some of his colleagues were collecting things to take with them. "I was probably the fastest one to leave," he says. An hour later, he was outside.
When I asked him why he had moved so swiftly, he had several theories. The previous year, his house in Queens, N.Y., had burned to the ground. He had escaped, blinded by smoke. Oh, yes, he had also been in a serious earthquake as a child in Peru and in several smaller ones in Los Angeles years later. He was, you could say, a disaster expert. And there's nothing like a string of bad luck to prepare you for the unthinkable.


The full text of the article is here.

Cold comfort

The Avenger puts this Newsweek shit in some context:

With an Administration at the helm that is incapable of taking responsibility for anything, American has no credibility. We could discharge every prisoner at Guantanamo tomorrow and send them home with Korans made of gold and it wouldn't change anything. The Muslims of the world can see that we don't do what we say nor do we do things for the reasons stated. As far as many of them are concerned, if we haven't flushed the Koran down the toilet we have certainly metaphorically pissed on the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

A paragraph in a Newsweek article is responsible for rioting and destruction in Afghanistan? Please. Those riots were inevitable from the moment that George Bush declared a "Crusade" on the freedom-hating evil-doers.

The Bush administration and its boosters have created a situation where the U.S. is seen as being at war with Islam itself. And this is not in the least surprising; their rhetoric almost invariably lumps all Middle Eastern Muslims together, and the justification of the Iraq War as revenge for 9/11 would suggests that they can't tell the difference between one group of Muslims and another.

Tens of thousands--perhaps more than a hundred thousand--are dead as a result of this. Without this, the Newsweek thing never happens.

And the most fucked-up part? The Bush administration doesn't really give a shit either way about Islam or the Koran. They're on a crusade, all right, but it's not against Muslims per se. Their true motivation isn't particularly unobvious or complex: money and power, basically. What else is there, really, for these people? Muslims just happen to be standing in the way.

Somehow, though, I doubt this provides them much solace.

5/17/2005

The real agenda

The more the Right-wing bloggers go on about the Newsweek 'scandal', the more the true source of their ire begins to display itself. They're still paying lip-service to the rioting deaths, but they're being a less covert about the fact that their real problem with Newsweek is its negative coverage of the Bush administration. Immediately after admonishing Newsweek for contributing to 17 deaths, Roger Kimball turns around and says:
Not that I have much time for those rioters--they are murderous thugs.
Mark Noonan's also moved on to blaming Muslims:
... for too many Moslems it seems that their religion can (A) do no wrong and (B) must never be challenged in public. I know we've got to be extra sensitive to Moslem concerns as a practical matter in the pursuit of victory in the War on Terrorism, but I'm point-blank challenging all Moslems to grow up a bit and stop thinking of their religion as holding some extra-special place in the world ...

We've spent our blood and treasure, again and again, bringing succor to Moslem peoples and it is high time we got a bit of turn-about as fair play.

As for the 'MSM', Noonan says:
I've had it up to here a bit with them as well ... [Terrorists] hate us all, and all of us must oppose them...and for the MSM, opposing them means stop trying to be "fair" to the terrorists.

Stop calling the terrorists "insurgents", "militants", "radicals" or what have you. Call them what they are: murdering, terrorist fiends ... It is past time for the MSM to get on the right side of the river; the United States military is the best friend the MSM ever had, because without the US military the MSM would cease to exist. Report the truth; but the truth is that our troops are magnificent, while our enemies are base and without the slightest merit on their side.

Assmissile is outraged that in the wake of Newsweek's treason, reporters are still daring to challenge the administration! At the White House press briefing, some reporters pressed Scott McClellan on the issue of judicial filibusters. Assmissile says:
It didn't seem to occur to any of the reporters that they were exhibiting the same kind of anti-administration partisanship that got Newsweek into trouble.
As for their questions about the Newsweek story itself:
One might have thought that journalists would be a bit chastened in asking questions about this debacle. But no ... At some point, if I were running the administration, I would re-think whether it makes any sense to continue being polite and cooperative toward reporters.
Yes, the White House has been so accommodating toward the press up to now. The wingnut bloggers know that the only way to control the press is to bully it into submission.

Original GOP playbook found

Apparently, they've been reading Schopenhauer, who (according to this site, anyway) laid out 38 ways to win an argument. Among them:

  • Ignore your opponent's proposition, which was intended to refer to some particular thing. Rather, understand it in some quite different sense, and then refute it. Attack something different than what was asserted.
  • If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favorable to your proposition. Example: What an impartial person would call "public worship" or a "system of religion" is described by an adherent as "piety" or "godliness" and by an opponent as "bigotry" or "superstition." In other words, inset what you intend to prove into the definition of the idea.
  • To make your opponent accept a proposition , you must give him an opposite, counter-proposition as well. If the contrast is glaring, the opponent will accept your proposition to avoid being paradoxical. Example: If you want him to admit that a boy must to everything that his father tells him to do, ask him, "whether in all things we must obey or disobey our parents." Or , if a thing is said to occur "often" you are to understand few or many times, the opponent will say "many." It is as though you were to put gray next to black and call it white; or gray next to white and call it black.
  • If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end in your defeat, you must not allow him to carry it to its conclusion. Interrupt the dispute, break it off altogether, or lead the opponent to a different subject.
  • When the audience consists of individuals (or a person) who are not experts on a subject, you make an invalid objection to your opponent who seems to be defeated in the eyes of the audience. This strategy is particularly effective if your objection makes your opponent look ridiculous or if the audience laughs. If your opponent must make a long, winded and complicated explanation to correct you, the audience will not be disposed to listen to him.
  • You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion. Example: “That’s all very well in theory, but it won’t work in practice.”
  • You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast. If your opponent is weak or does not wish to appear as if he has no idea what you are talking about, you can easily impose upon him some argument that sounds very deep or learned, or that sounds indisputable.

Sound familiar? Rest are here.

Extremely pompous and incredibly untalented

Opening salvo: the war on Jonathan Safran Foer has begun.

House of cards

The Liberal Avenger, also commenting on Olbermann piece, makes some damn good points:

This Newsweek/piss-on-the-Koran affair has been shameful.

Shameful not because Newsweek printed the story - I think we all know deep in our hearts that it is true.

Scott McClellan hung Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers out to dry yesterday. This was shameful in how it epitomizes the Administration's desperate failure to take responsibility for anything. The McClellan and wingnut response to this issue is effectively an explicit admission that everything we've accomplished to date in Afghanistan is so transient - so much of an illusion - that our entire effort there can be destroyed before our eyes as the direct result of a single paragraph of text appearing in a shitty American weekly magazine.

The joke that "If you let this happen then the terrorists have won!" isn't ironic or funny this time. If a paragraph about what's going on in Guantanamo - even if it was a complete, spiteful fabrication (which we know it is not) - can knock down the entire house of cards in Afghanistan, then the terrorists have indeed won.

Kool Keith

Keith Olbermann calls on Scotty Boy McClellan to resign:
I smell something — and it ain’t a copy of the Qu’ran sopping wet from being stuck in a toilet in Guantanamo Bay. It’s the ink drying on Scott McClellan’s resignation, and in an only partly imperfect world, it would be drifting out over Washington, and imminently.

Last Thursday, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Donald Rumsfeld’s go-to guy whenever the situation calls for the kind of gravitas the Secretary himself can’t supply, told reporters at the Pentagon that rioting in Afghanistan was related more to the on-going political reconciliation process there, than it was to a controversial note buried in the pages of Newsweek claiming that the government was investigating whether or not some nitwit interrogator at Gitmo really had desecrated a Muslim holy book.

But ... Press Secretary McClellan said, in effect, that General Myers, and the head of the after-action report following the disturbances in Jalalabad, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, were dead wrong. The Newsweek story, McClellan said, “has done damage to our image abroad and it has done damage to the credibility of the media and Newsweek in particular. People have lost lives. This report has had serious consequences.”

Whenever I hear Scott McClellan talking about ‘media credibility,’ I strain to remember who it was who admitted Jeff Gannon to the White House press room and called on him all those times.

Whenever I hear this White House talking about ‘doing to damage to our image abroad’ and how ‘people have lost lives,’ I strain to remember who it was who went traipsing into Iraq looking for WMD that will apparently turn up just after the Holy Grail will — and at what human cost.

...

Ultimately, though, the administration may have effected its biggest mistake over this saga, in making the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs look like a liar or naïf, just to draw a little blood out of Newsweek’s hide. Either way — and also for that tasteless, soul-less conclusion that deaths in Afghanistan should be lain at the magazine’s doorstep — Scott McClellan should resign. The expiration on his carton full of blank-eyed bully-collaborator act passed this afternoon as he sat reeling off those holier-than-thou remarks. Ah, that’s what I smelled.

Bumper-sticker irony

I've always thought that bumper-sticker discourse doesn't get nearly enough credit. The usual criticism is that your beliefs shouldn't be able to fit on a 2" x 5" sticker. But I say: why not? Usually the types I hear this complaint from are continental philosophy-types; they think for something to be intelligent, it must be complicated.

Matt from Cerulean Blue provides us with proof that a bumper-sticker can be clever, subtle, and ironic. Unintentionally so, of course, but still.

5/16/2005

As a favor to my Republican friends ...

I thought, given your newfound concern for dead foreigners and for holding accountable those whose lies got them killed, that I would make sure you haven't missed this:
The Downing Street Memo, recently leaked, reveals that President George W. Bush decided to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in summer 2002 and—determined to ensure that U.S. intelligence data supported his policies—"fixed" the intelligence and facts relevent to WMD.

What has come to be known as the Downing Street "Memo" is actually a document containing meeting minutes transcribed during the British Prime Minister's meeting on July 23, 2002. This meeting was held a full 8 months PRIOR to the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. The Times of London printed the text of this document on Sunday, May 1, 2005. When asked about the document's validity, "British officials did not dispute the document's authenticity."

The contents of the memo are shocking. The minutes detail how our government did not believe Iraq was a greater threat than other nations; how intelligence was manipulated to sell the case for war to the American public; and how all the talk of "war as a last resort" was mere hollow pretense.
So ... when do we start the swarm?

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