Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

July 31, 2007

Bill Maher: The Decider

Filed under: media, politics — codesmithy @ 7:30 am

Bill Maher’s special, “The Decider” is on YouTube of all places.  Again, questionable legality so see it while you can.  Parts (1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and 8).  Warning, there is some crude language.

I wish I could confirm all the aspects of the Dr. W. David Hager that Maher gives.  His wife did make an allegation of anal rape.  Although, Dr. W David Hager “denial” is very worthy of a Bush advisor: “the allegations as stated do not reveal all of the information and therefore they’re incomplete and not true.”

So, let me get this straight, the allegation is not true because not all the facts have been disclosed.  Facts that Dr. Hager knows, but refuses to disclose.  What exactly could his wife have been mistaken about?  Her consent?  What Dr. Hager tried to do to her body?  What possible piece of evidence could there be to exculpate his role?  Incomplete? Possibly.  Not true?  In the sense of the whole truth, no, but pretty damning as a “Christian” that supports a part of the religious right that abhors same-sex marriages and “deviant” sexual acts.  A person whose opinion was used to keep plan B (a morning-after pill) a prescription drug.

As the Nation put it: “Hager’s worldview is not informed by a sense of inherent equality between men and women. Instead, men are expected to act as benevolent authority figures for the women in their lives.”  Is it any surprise, really, that a man who doesn’t respect a woman as an equal, would try to invade her?  Is it any surprise that such a man would try to limit a woman’s reproductive choices?  I can only imagine what fear tactics he uses to let women know the “real truth about sexually transmitted disease.”  Apparently he has primacy on the “real” truth as opposed to the other types of truth out there, as demonstrated before.  I wonder if this is what Bush meant when he made his Freudian slip that  “OB/GYN weren’t able to practice their love with women all around this country.”

July 30, 2007

Islamo-fascism: 21st Century American Boogeyman

Filed under: culture, history, politics — codesmithy @ 4:00 am

One took issue with the Ron Paul post, saying “Those who oppose the War on Islamo-Fascism are not just unpatriotic, but rather treasonous.” I can only imagine, since Ron Paul was addressing the pending war in Iraq, that the war in Iraq is part of this war on Islamo-Fascism.

Overthrowing the government of Iraq under Saddam Hussein (without question, a brutal dictator, much like the Shah, Pinochet or Ngo Dinh Diem) and a secular baathist regime that tried to do everything in its power to keep fundamentalist fringe elements out the country, including (with the support of the U.S. I might add) starting a war with Iran. Overthrowing that country’s government, where none of the 9/11 hijackers were from (arguably the opening shot and call to action) is part of a War on Islamo-fascism?

If we were truly fighting a war on Islamo-fascism, wouldn’t we attack Saudi Arabia? Not that I am advocating that position either, I’m just saying: if you are looking for hot-spots of Islamo-fascism, noting that 15 of the 19 known hijackers came from that country, it would seem to be the place to start. Of the 19 confirmed, how many came from Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, or Afghanistan? I’ll save you the trouble looking: Zero.

The accusation of treason is a serious charge. And, I think before one starts brandishing such terms sure to evoke visceral reactions careful reflection should be made, since it can quickly disintegrate civil discourse which is the foundation of democracy. In the face of McCarthyism, Edward R. Murrow gave his advice quite eloquently and briefly: “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.”

As for what Islamo-fascist want, the scary thing is some of those positions are advocated in the United States as well. For outlawing booze, American’s had the temperance movement, and we did institute prohibition. It was later repealed, but marijuana is still a serious offense in the States. The right routinely calls for stiffer penalties. Neo-nazism still exists, and homosexuals are often victims of horrendous crimes in this country.

In short, I am more concerned about the rise of an American theocracy here in the states than one-man mustachioed armies of supposed Islamo-fascism.

There is a deeper meaning to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s statement that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear is the mind-killer. The day that we abandon reason is the day the great experiment of American democracy, for all of its flaws, dies. There will be no wisdom of the group through debate, there will be leaders who trot out vague boogeymen and tell you what to be afraid of and what you have to do. Discordant events will be woven into a vast tapestry of conspiracy that the public doesn’t understand beyond universally acknowledged malevolent intent that political leaders, as oracles ordained by God, have the ability to decipher the signs and will tell the public what to do in response.

I’ve rejected divine right. So, please do not appeal to transcendental or privileged knowledge about the world and the way it works. Although, for my part, I will approach an argument with a reasonably open-mind, that tries not to be swayed by mere repetition or fear. If the case is so obvious, then it shouldn’t be that hard. I’ll consider books or articles that you wish me to read. And I’ll tell you straight-out what you have to do to convince me that the Iraq War is part of a War on Islamo-fascism.

  1. Explain why none of the 9/11 Hijackers were from Iraq or Iran.
  2. Explain why Saddam attacked Iran shortly after the Iranian revolution.
  3. Explain the connection between Iraq under Saddam and Islamo-fascist organizations, including support infrastructure, training camps, etc. that must be evident before we invaded.
  4. Give a plausible scenario on how Islamo-fascists would overthrow the American government (or Western World), in the face of vast military superiority of the United States, including our ability to make any region of the Earth practically uninhabitable.
  5. Explain the findings of “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism” in terms of Islamo-fascist threat, and why your opinion is more authoritative than a Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago

In fairness, I think opponents should provide a similar list. What issues would need to be addressed before I could change your mind?  Again, if the Islamo-fascist threat is so baldly apparent, then addressing my issues should be a cake walk. Until then, I call the specter of Islamo-fascism a fabrication of domestic politics, much like the red-scares were for communism and socialism and the drug lords were for the war on drugs, before it. If people want a better understanding of the actual issues in the world, and why people are so angry at us, it is important to look at what they say and run the thought experiment of putting yourself in their shoes, much like how Ron Paul explains his positions on various issues. Some we will reject, like “death to Israel” or the adoption of Sharia.  However, the issue of a sovereign Palestinian state is not as unreasonable and the pre-June 1967 borders seem to be a good place to start. Building military bases in Saudi Arabia and supporting brutal regimes, I could see how reasonable people would get angry at the policies of the United States.

The truth of the matter, there are terrorists in the world. Their methods are dastardly, but are the deaths caused by our “collateral damage” bombing campaigns less so? The fundamental question isn’t fear or victory, it is have we advanced justice and liberty in the world? That is the war that I think we are losing, strategically, with our blatant unilateralism, and tactically in Iraq.  The world is a frightening and indifferent place as it is without inventing boogeymen based on xenophobic fears.

July 29, 2007

Ron Paul on Now With Bill Moyers – October 4, 2002

Filed under: politics — codesmithy @ 9:14 am

This is before the Iraq War. When do start handing out the medals to the people who were right about this thing from the get go and kept their heads on straight? Conversely, when do we stop listening to those who are blatantly and consistently wrong and fanned the flames of fear in Americans? Those who had the nerve to call those that disagreed unpatriotic.

Regardless, here are the two parts (1,2).  Enjoy (responsibly).

Rachel Maddow

Filed under: culture, media, politics — codesmithy @ 8:49 am

I just came across Rachel Maddow today. An Air America host who has some relatively amusing, left-leaning videos on youtube pertaining to the election campaign, called “Campaign Asylum.”

Ms. Maddow is smart and articulate. Although, her most endearing quality is that she comes off as incredibly upbeat, some might call it “gay” in the best sense of the word. This CNN segment where she is brought in to voice her reactions to the president’s state of the union address along with Steve Malzberg is rather indicative of her ability to find humor in the face of depressing inanity.

When she is on Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown,” he and she articulate a few ideas that I’ve been kicking around for a while.

  1. Holding everyone to the same standard versus criticizing both sides of an argument equally
  2. The Bush administration has a strategic element to it: to bankrupt, profit from, and gain long-term support for smaller government through horrendous mismanagement of the current one

The other point that I would like to make is corruption of the system is not just about giving people suitcases full of money. There is a nuance to it. It isn’t like pharmaceutical companies just pay CNN to smear Michael Moore. It is the underlying reality that you tend to like the people who give you money or pay for your vacations, especially if you are mostly happy with your current living conditions. Networks know which side their bread is buttered on, equivocating advertising for a movie to long continued drug campaigns is intellectually dishonest. I know the people that are in the news organizations will claim, up and down, that they are not tainted, or no favoritism occurs. That is because they expect clandestine conspiracies and overtness, and I’m talking about nuance. The type of bias people show for their sports team or their friends. As Upton Sinclair noted, “it’s difficult to make a man understand something when his paycheck depends on his not understanding it.”

It is an observation, like Howard Stern’s, where he noted if a woman becomes a Playboy playmate, she will break up with her current boyfriend. The actual course of events plays out like a ball through a pachinko machine. However, at the end, there is only one incontrovertible conclusion. People rationalize their behavior in the end, to paint themselves in a more favorable light, but the truth of the matter is that they come under the influence of many subtle forms of social power. They’ve proven the true substance of their character in knowingly placing themselves in their current situation, not their course of actions resulting from it. Those that are supposed to be protectors and gate-keepers, the bias is doubly concerning.

At this juncture in history, along with a corporate media, we have two corporate parties, in a system that favors the type of soft corruption that I’ve been talking about. The soft corruption gauntlet that is the election campaign.

The solution is to provide a good publicly funded alternative. Until we reform elections (Condorcet method) and campaigns (public financing), our nation and democracy will be facing continued uphill battles to financed minority interest over public good. Even if calamity is avoided in regards to the environment and nuclear weapons presently (which is by no means assured), future problems will face similar hurdles; we will continue to have a government that does not follow the will of the people, and notably lags behind the best thinking in the populace. In that regard, solving these issues without addressing the underlying problems that have stifled their debate and action should be treated as pyrrhic victory and a Treaty of Versailles for future Americans.

July 28, 2007

Economic Contraction Looming?

Filed under: economy — codesmithy @ 9:11 am

The Washington Post ran an article titled: “Easy Money, Lifeblood Of Economy, Is Drying Up.” The central thesis is that the subprime lending which later got packaged up as AAA rated securities were in fact, a fraud. Basically, the securities that involved subprime were not truly AAA securities because the the assumptions about how often people would default on the loans turned out to be much higher than projected. This is causing lenders to be more cautious in the future, but the fact of the matter is that people are defaulting on their loans. The homes that the loans were made for are now, in some cases worth less than the cost of the loan, meaning losses are being taken.  Added to the fact that the true money making proposition of the loan is people continuing to pay interest, we are seeing a drastic turn-around in the value of these securities.

How much capital was being moved in the name of these securities? According to Inside Mortgage Finance, $1.8 trillion.

This isn’t meant to be chicken little, but it is safe to say that energy prices will continue to rise and the dollar will continue to fall. How much of the U.S. economy’s value is based on projections of the status quo remains to be seen. But, much of what is happening now, are trends that have been in the works for a while. How much of the value of the U.S. economy been inflated and conflated by purchased dollars and bad credit? Only time will ultimately tell.

July 27, 2007

The Assault on Reason: Background and A Short Review

Filed under: books, impeachment, politics — codesmithy @ 9:23 am

I just finished Al Gore’s book “The Assault on Reason.” In 2000, I was particularly disheartened by the choice of candidates running for president. The choices were Al Gore, vice-president to a generally good but flawed President Clinton, and Bush, son of Clinton’s predecessor. It was a new millennium, but the choices were relatively dull.   It was generally unexciting campaign.

Gore came off as wooden, which would have been OK except for his campaign’s insistence for him to loosen up, which was typified by his face munching kiss to his wife during the Democratic National Convention. And with the help of some fabricated stories that painted him as an exaggerator, it was tough to shake the image of a say anything, do anything politician wanting to get into the White House to implement his real agenda.

One of the strategic brilliances of the Bush image is despite his inability to properly pronounce words like nuclear, people assume that sunny disposition, plus demonstrably average intellect equals honest person. Certainly, Bush couldn’t have any grand machinations. You can’t have evil master plans without evil geniuses.

The election was close, and came down to Florida. I am positive if you actually asked people who they wanted to vote for that day, and wrote it down and tallied it up, Gore would have won. But, with the flawed systems that were in place in 2000, Bush ended up the winner. Although, the documented behind the scenes chicanery of Katherine Harris should not be forgotten.

In addition, by Harris’ decree, ChoicePoint — a private firm — was hired prior to the election to identify and remove thousands of names from the state voters list on the condition that these people were convicted felons. Many of these would-be voters were turned away at the polls or even prior to reaching the polling places. It would later be discovered that approximately 97% of the people removed from the list — and thus denied the right to vote in the election — were not felons at all. The majority of these voters were African-American, and as African-Americans predominantly vote Democratic, the situation suggested foul play. In any case, the thousands of votes affected by Choicepoint’s error were far in excess of the number of votes (537) by which George W. Bush won the state. Whether or not there was deliberate action to prevent likely Gore supporters from voting is subject to intense debate, as is Harris’ role in the process. – Wikipedia

Invariably, many of the predictions Al Gore made about some of George Bush’s policies turned out to be true (especially when it came to the tax-cut and budget deficit) and Bush in large part failed to follow his espoused policies, even in spirit, from the 2000 election (like not using U.S. troops to nation build).

“The Assault on Reason” is Al Gore’s scathing indictment of the way public policy has been twisted during this dark phase of American democracy.  Al Gore connects the systemic flawed thinking that has been persistent through the disasters of the the last 6 years,  such as 9/11, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the Iraq War.  Gore then shows how our government is setting up for future disasters both economically (by not reducing our dependence on foreign oil, lack of innovation) and environmentally.

He presents historical and social factors in the founding the nation and shows their appreciable loss in the modern era.  He also points to the hope that the Internet can once again establish an “informed citizenry.”

I can’t begin to imagine how much the world might be different today if Al Gore had been elected president in 2000.  But, such fantasies are not productive uses of time.  We have to deal with the present to change the future.  A start is to rebuke this president and this administration via impeachment.  As Feingold pointed out, you can’t say this is the worst president in history, then do nothing.  Although, his point is seemingly, that senators should watch what they say, not that they should start impeachment proceedings.  I say they are right, Bush is the worst president in American history, and the congress should have the moral courage to do, what they swore an oath to do: defend the constitution.  Their only recourse is to impeach.

July 26, 2007

Why Soldiers Don’t Make the Best Good-Will Ambassadors

Filed under: politics — codesmithy @ 7:41 am

There is reason to believe that American soldiers don’t necessarily breath good-will into foreign populations where they are stationed.  Whether, they are accused of raping a 12 year-old girl in Okinawa.  Or whether they are simply just beating people up (please ignore the distasteful voice-over).  Or, if they are giving sanctimonious lectures and destroying people’s livelihood.

Although, the grunts on the ground just represent a friction between policy and implementation.  It is important to remember that UNICEF estimates that 500,000 children have died from the economic sanctions imposed after the first Gulf War, and the Iraqi death total because of the current war is estimated above 60,000.  Although there is reason to believe the actual body count is much, much higher.  As the Onion has pointed out, there is reason to believe Iraqi’s might just be able to feel grief.

So, maybe these types of issues are the reason behind kids throwing rocks at our soldiers in convoys (warning: explicit language), which is part of a pattern of escalation. Or, maybe they are just angry that they didn’t get that bottle of water after running so hard.

Lest, I am accused of just focusing on the negative.  Here is a report of the a “successful” U.S. policy.  However, I am confident that the gangs that we arm in Iraq today will be a source of problems for the region in the future.

More American troops are unlikely to add stability to the region, especially since we are and increasingly will be viewed as occupiers.  Ralph Nader has outlined the proper approach that needs to be taken.

  1. Get enough troops on the ground to stop the death squads and militias, this is only tenable through an International force (this will decrease the view of U.S. as occupiers)
  2. Come out with an aggressive but realistic timetable for withdraw linked with benchmarks (this is dissolve community support for terrorists if ordinary citizens see the International force acting on good faith)
  3. Turn the control over Iraq’s valuable natural resources (oil), back over to Iraq (the government will need the funds for reconstruction)

The U.S. needs to get out.  The fact that this war has lasted longer than WWII is not a result of tougher opponents, but rather poor post-war planning.  The arguments of the terrorists waiting till a day after the U.S. withdraw to strike is ludicrous. The government has to be built up to such a point beforehand that we have confidence it will stand.  The only way for the Iraqi government to actually gain that confidence is to start standing on its own, and a good way to push them to take initiative is to let them know: the U.S. is leaving.  The indefinite withdraw plan, leads to a lack of initiative on the part of the Iraqi government.  Which means, we end up staying in Iraq indefinitely.  This eventually turns to leaving in infamy.  I don’t want want the infamy scenario, but the prerequisite conditions become harder to obtain the longer they are put off.  We might be past the political point of no return already.  Not even considering plans for withdraw makes that assessment more likely.  It is not a coincidence the U.S. had a gentleman’s F on the Iraqi benchmarks, and sadly we are unlikely to better in September.

July 24, 2007

Misrepresentation of Factions via the Long-Tail

Filed under: culture, media, politics — codesmithy @ 8:55 am

I found this video on YouTube interesting, because it shows Bill O’Reilly doing a typical talk-show trick. He cherry-picks beliefs held by a minority to misrepresent the views of a much broader group of people, and gets called on it.  Groups don’t tend to be exact homogeneous sets, there is a great continuum of belief that can be expected to follow a bell curve if the population is large enough.  There is no global bell curve of belief, but we can split up “believers,” and we expect that the distribution pattern will follow the bell curve distribution, such as those who favor impeachment and how strongly, and from those that feel strongly that 9/11 was a conspiracy, plotted by those in the U.S. government, to those in the future who will deny that it ever happened.

Note, that Bill never actually debates any of the points, he merely dismisses them as absurd and with incredulity.  The video starts off with a clip of Lynn Samuels attacking some policy. Although, there is insufficient context to really determine exactly what, specifically, she is complaining about. I imagine it is a claim that the Bush Administration decided to raise the terror alert level, and did so for political motivations in response to some supposed hair brained terrorist scheme. Which begs the question, how many coincidences are needed before a connection is considered?

Ellis Henican points out that there are cranks on both sides on the political spectrum. Bill challenges Ellis to provide one example. Ellis suggests Michael Savage and Bill has no choice but to agree. Although, Bill’s argument gets confusing after that point. He claims Lynn is harmful, because some of her ideas make it onto blogs? Although, his reassurance that Michael Savage didn’t say anything irresponsible over the incident didn’t fill me with confidence (“we did transcript checks over everybody”).

Ellis’s point is the weight of an idea should be considered in proportion to the number of people that believe it, or the number of people that it would reach. According to Bill, no one listens to Lynn Samuels anyways, so why bother to bring it up?

Bill fumbles because he can’t admit as a fair and balanced commentator, that he is trying to  misrepresent views of the side he doesn’t agree with. Cherry-picking the extreme views of the cranks and try to attribute them to the whole. Outrage over statements would be more justifiable if it were the New York Times that made the claim, not Lynn Samuels. And as such, Bill O’Reilly needs to be held to a higher standard than Lynn Samuels as well. Invariably, if Bill O’Reilly gets it wrong, it is more difficult to undo the damage.  I don’t know how many people now believe U.S. soldiers killed S.S. soldiers at Malmedy, but it is too many, because it is a mistake that should have been corrected the first time he made it, and only adds salt to the wound with his half-hearted correction, admitting no fault.

July 21, 2007

The Daily Kos and O’Reilly

Filed under: media, politics — codesmithy @ 10:09 am

In a talking points memo, Bill O’Reilly compared the Daily Kos to KKK and Neo-Nazi websites. The three examples he sited were: Tony Snow should die from cancer, the Pope is a primate, and Israel deserves to be attacked. Although, I will note that the Crooks and Liars link is wrong, JetBlue did pull their sponsorship of the conference.

From a cursory perusal of the Daily Kos, it is clear that it isn’t a hate site. It is a liberal site to be sure, and it has a lot of user-generated content (comments, diaries, etc.) To be fair, I was somewhat impressed with the overall civility of most of the threads. Even neutral sites, like fark (especially fark), digg, slashdot can have crude comments. Even one the most understood and accepted explanations for typical Internet discourse contains offensive language. Certainly, Bill should have been able to find instances of Godwin’s Law all over the place.

You can see the rationalization process at work as one of the posters takes blame for the Tony Snow remark. Although, it is insightful that he initially downplayed expressed vehemency of his remark. Although, it was obvious the poster was trying to address the problem honestly, and it is possible to see where the poster was coming from. People blame Snow for being two-faced, and a tool for White House propaganda. For example, here is a clip from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart that catches Tony Snow directly contradicting himself. The view is that Tony Snow sold his soul and integrity to be a mouth-piece to this administration, and dislike him for that. Not having sympathy when something admittedly tragic happens to him is understandable and probably being generous. I’m sure if Castro or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got sick, Bill O’Reilly wouldn’t be the first to send them a get-well card or lament their plight.

On the flip side, would Bill agree not to have Ann Coulter on his program any longer because she has 1) called John Edwards a “f*gg*t” (explicative edited) 2) and wishes he “had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot?” Will Ann show the same regard considering that Elizabeth Edwards also has cancer and she and Elizabeth recently had a spat? I would like to see where Ann falls in the Bill O’Reilly hate-o-meter. Although, I must say I am amused by his fiat declarations that he is not a “hater,” for the same reasons I find Chacaron amusing.

I don’t really want to get into an insult by insult comparison.  But, I don’t think an unbiased person would have reached the same conclusion Bill has about the Daily Kos.

Although, while we are on the subject hating, let’s send some Harry Potter’s way, old testament style. Hmm… I don’t think those kids will be fans of the series.  Well, I am, and I would like to take this moment to express my gratitude to J.K. Rowling for the wonderful books she has written. Said now, just in case I find myself unable to express it later.  I also apologize for thinking you were a guy for so long, but in my defense, I hadn’t read any of the books yet.  J.K. just seemed like a guy’s initials at the time, sorry.

July 20, 2007

Pollution in China and Elsewhere

Filed under: environment — codesmithy @ 9:17 am

The guardian has some amazing photos of pollution in China. The gray haze from as seen from space from the burning of coal just amazed me. The human perspective of the situation is present in other pictures.

As for the environments closer to home, the Oversight Committee is holding a hearing to investigate the response to trailers that FEMA provided to hurricane Katrina victims in which there were dangerous levels of formaldehyde. After they tested one trailer on the insistence of a 4 month pregnant woman and found formaldehyde levels 75 times that of the maximum work place exposure recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FEMA took a deliberate see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil approach to the situation. The guidelines they did develop for further testing were deliberately trying to mask the problem, in which they tried to do everything they could think of to artificially lower the measured formaldehyde level, including leaving windows open, ventilation fans running, and AC units operating 24 hours a day. FEMA received numerous complaints about formaldehyde levels, including at least two that involved the death of occupants.

As a final note, BP is planning to dump more toxins into Lake Michigan. Although, one of the more outrageous things that I remember in high-school was that Grand Rapids sewage system used to overflow into the Grand River when there was a heavy rain. Initially, it didn’t happen too often, but over time, it seemed to be happening more often. This made people down the river rather upset, since the Grand River not only flows into Lake Michigan, but also into a series of bayous whose flow isn’t necessarily as rapid. Grand Rapids got sick of the bad publicity, so instead of fixing the problem, they just stopped issuing public statements letting people know that the sewage system had overflowed; their stance became: just assume the river has sewage in it.

The movement for environmental sustainability is about more than just climate change.

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