Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

September 30, 2007

Edward Bernays Father of Public Relations

Filed under: capitalism, culture, history — codesmithy @ 11:18 am

September 29, 2007

“These are places no one wants to go to, but someone has to go.”

Filed under: media, protest — codesmithy @ 10:59 am

Kenji Nagai was 50 years old. He was one of at least nine people killed during the government crackdown in Burma/Myanmar in response to peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations.

Mr. Nagai was most likely killed because he had camera. Burmese state television has accused foreign journalists of pumping out a “skyful of lies.”

September 28, 2007

“24”

Filed under: culture, politics — codesmithy @ 7:58 am

The New Yorker has an excellent article about Joel Surnow, co-creator and executive producer of “24” and apparently friends with Rush Limbaugh.

I have never really gotten into the “24” craze, although I think I understand the appeal. The ticking time bomb scenario, the do-anything-it-takes hero. The disparity lies between those that see “24” as a compelling narrative for plausible real-world scenarios or a highly-idealized fantasy world. The fact that “24” character Jack Bauer has directly entered into presidential debate answers is indicative of its effect on the culture and shows the extent to which the line has been blurred.

“Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty” is incredibly instructive to what is occurring. “24” appeals to the myth of evil. Terrorists have somehow gained the upper hand on the forces of good, and it is up to the hero to fight them. Since, evil is inherently weak and only gained its position through some sort of trickery (like the bleeding-heart liberals that enable them), it caves when confronted by the hero who is willing to really fight them and demonstrates it by torturing them. The fact that the hero will not succumb to the same treatment is further proof of his righteousness.

This is an extraordinary narrative and makes for great drama and entertainment, however it couldn’t be more divergent from reality. First of all, the “terrorists” rarely see themselves as evil. For them, they are on the side of righteousness and we are on the side of evil. Americans tell ourselves that they hate us for our prosperity. However, that is turning a blind eye to the civilians we have bombed, the legitimate leaders we have overthrown and brutal dictators we have backed. Americans tell ourselves that the Islamo-fascists kill themselves for virgins they are promised in heaven, not to affect political processes here on Earth, not for the sake of loved-ones killed or countrymen still suffering.

The hard fact of the matter is that torturing a terrorist in a time-bomb scenario is especially prone to not working. Terrorists know they merely have to hold out for the specified amount of time. The torture would vindicate the beliefs that the enemies are evil, and that they are truly on the side of righteousness.

However, it also speaks to a larger world view: the best way with people who oppose you is with a stick and not a carrot. There is no need to raise the conscience of humanity, no need for dreams and appeals. There is no need for reciprocity and unalienable rights, just anything it takes to stay on top. We are exceptional, and the rest of the world is base. This is the superiority complex that tyranny is made of. It is not enough to preach of the great liberal values of this nation, we must live by them also. “24” does not possess that morality. It is a fiction, and how they present scenarios in it is the “Bizzaro World” to this reality and surely leads to dystopian end no matter how happy-ever-after it turns out on T.V.

September 27, 2007

Burma/Myanmar Protests

Filed under: politics, protest — codesmithy @ 11:18 am

Burma has experienced a large pro-democracy protest and a subsequent crackdown by the military junta.

As the BBC article notes, US President George W. Bush has announced a tightening of existing US economic sanctions against Burma.  I really don’t understand how economic sanctions are supposed to help the situation.   Dispatching a small group of U.N. peace keepers to protect the protesters would seem like a better route.  However, such an action would likely be blocked by China.

Burma would seem to be on its own.  I have hope that peaceful, non-violent protest may affect change.  However, I do not see how it works in the face of the abject tyranny and violent crackdowns.  In order to work, the non-violent protest would have to compel the soldiers not to fire on the unarmed civilians.  Historically, this seldom seems to occur.

However, the future of humanity rests on ordinary people seeing themselves and each other outside the systems in which they are placed, and then doing the right thing.  In this sense, Burma’s situation is not unique.  There is no indication that some outside power will come and save humanity.  As sad as it is to say, I don’t have much faith that the world will do much more than what is proposed by George W. Bush.  Burma will have to find a way forward without outside intervention.  Their solution should serve as a lesson to us all.

September 26, 2007

Ahmadinejad Visits America

Filed under: politics — codesmithy @ 11:02 am

I haven’t been able to track down all the footage to Ahmadinejad’s Columbia speech yet.  However, I have caught portions.  It is tough because he is speaking a different language, so the two processes of translation tends to garble some of the meaning.  In addition, the president himself, like all politicians, can be pretty evasive.  However, the people interviewing haven’t been helping much either.

Challenging the president of Iran on the human rights record of his country is fair.  Condemning public executions, women and gay rights abuses is also fair.    Although, we must correctly understand his position and also live up to the standards we are judging him by ourselves.

Two charges level against him are:

  1. Holocaust Denial
  2. Wiping Israel off the Map

The beauty about a public forum is that you can actually get Ahmadinejad to clarify statements that he made that you find offensive.  As for Holocaust denial, this one has been tackled before.

He doesn’t seem to denying the Holocaust.  He is arguing that the Holocaust does not justify complete victimization of Palestinians in order to create Israel.  The whole debate surrounding Israel and Palestine is extraordinarily distorted in America.  I don’t think that Americans understand that their government has been party to a extraordinarily small minority on the issue.  The fact that American’s are so woefully uninformed is part of the reason why we can’t connect with good questions and more a indictment of us than him.

The other issue is whether Ahmadinejad said Iran should “wipe Israel off the map.”

Again, it seems to be a misinterpretation of what he is saying.

I don’t consider Ahmadinejad an ally.  However, we need to be especially clear of what his crimes are.

His government supporting Shi’ite militias in Iraq.  Human rights abuses.  Support for other terrorist organizations (like Hezbollah).  Development of nuclear enrichment programs.

All these issues are better addressed diplomatically for now.  War with Iran is almost certainly to cause more problems than it will solve, a lesson we constantly reminded of with our war in Iraq.  A plausible scenario on how bad an air-strike on Iran might go is given by Scott Ridder.

War with Iran might be unavoidable.  But, one thing is certain, I do not trust the current Commander-in-Chief to make that determination and execute it.  Nor should anyone else.

September 25, 2007

Money As Debt

Filed under: capitalism, economy, politics — codesmithy @ 7:57 am

I found the above video enlightening to how the nation’s monetary system works.  As it should be apparent to anyone that has actually interacted with a bank, that it works quite differently than how conventional wisdom usually describes it.  One of the things that I like about the video is that the solutions it describes are actually sensible, compared to people that want to go back to the gold standard, although it has its share of monetary conspiracy quotes.

A floating currency tied to a democratic government, not handed off to a separate corporate entity, is likely the best way to go.  A money supply completely controlled by private interests is fine in theory, suicide in reality (conglomeration, rise of monopoly or cartels).

As the video points out, there is no difference between taxation and inflation since they both work to the practical goal of decreasing buying power.  People who vote Republican should keep in mind that large public debt will fuel future inflation.  Even if your taxes are low now, there will come a time to pay the piper.  It also must be understood that much of the current prosperity of the nation is borrowed, and puts the nation in strategic peril.  As always, the poor will be the ones most hurt when the time comes.

It is frustrating to watch big, sensible ideas such as election reform, nuclear disarmament, energy independence, and fiscal reform consistently fall by the wayside.  But somehow, inheritance taxes can take center stage.  The debate is so lilliputian in the grand scheme of things.  Although, the first priority has to be to get out of a state of war.  I don’t think citizens know how much this war is actually costing us because we haven’t reached the cliff yet.  There is a reason financial sectors are booming.  However, it should be obvious to anyone, that trading doesn’t fundamentally create wealth.  So, how are financial sectors making all this money?  Now, you should know the answer, and why Enron and the sub-prime crisis are just tips of a larger unsustainable ice-berg.

September 24, 2007

The Real News

Filed under: culture, media — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:30 am

The Real News is a new attempt at a completely independent news service.  Independent in the sense that it is free  from the economics of advertising, government and corporate sponsorship.  The economic model is essential to independence.  There are many good people in the traditional media, but unfortunately the people that own the companies pick the people to run the news desks.  There has been more of a media consolidation recently.  In some respects, this has been fueled by the Internet.  On the other hand, projects like the real news have the potential to completely decimate the old power structure and lead to a more democratic society.  One based fundamentally on better information.

Below is an interview with CEO and founder Paul Jay.

People like Paul Jay are one of the reasons why I find history more interesting than fiction.  People like moan about the media, and here is someone actually trying to do something about it.  I’m not an idealist, and the real news is going to face hurdles, however the world is no better a place than what we make it.

September 23, 2007

Blackwater Back To Work In Iraq

Filed under: politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:58 am

It came as no surprise to me that the U.S. pressured the Iraqi government to allow Blackwater to continue working in Iraq. As Jeremy Scahill points out, Blackwater is an equivalent to a praetorian guard. The differences in rules of engagement is quite intentional, along with the fact that they are not covered by military or Iraqi law. Their mission is to protect their client, by any means necessary, even if that means firing on civilians unprovoked.

Jeremy Scahill gets it right with his interview with Amy Goodman.

I found Doug Brooks hiding behind the international definition of mercenaries amusing, and his accusation that if Jeremy Scahill was a “serious” researcher, he wouldn’t use the term. However, when he is finally called on his definition, Brooks has a hard time explaining how Blackwater doesn’t meet the criteria. I’m sure there is some fine disingenuous splitting of hairs involved. What Doug Brooks really means to say is that United States can’t hire mercenaries, since that is a pejorative term that we use for adversaries. The United States hires security firms. If Scahill were “serious” he would understand that, just like this war isn’t for oil, it is to spread democracy throughout the Middle East.

In this respect, the Iraqi government is a failure. We need not look any further for a reason than our own “Declaration of Independence.”

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

So according to our founding document, Iraqi people are justified to end the American occupation, abolish the current government and establish one more likely to secure their safety and happiness. If Blackwater is indiscriminately killing people to protect their high-level official then obviously people aren’t being treated equally. To the extent that the Iraqi government supports this behavior, they are destructive to their own people, and hence the Iraqi people have a right to overthrow and establish a new one.

The true policy of the United States is not to establish a democracy. It is to establish a strong government to shoulder the burden of pacifying the populace, but not sovereign enough to take control of the oil. Such a government in Iraq is inherently unstable and probably untenable long-term.

Incidents like this, and their aftermath should make it broadly apparent to Americans why Iraq is destined to end in failure. The tipping point is whether there is significant community support to shield the “terrorists.” Try to place yourself as an Iraqi citizen, imagine that a family member was killed by a Blackwater employee, imagine that your home was bombed by a U.S. plane, and that you don’t have clean drinking water (a problem you didn’t have before the Americans came to liberate you). Who would you side with, the Americans and their supported government, or the “terrorists?” Winning the hearts and minds of average Iraqis is key to this conflict, but actions speak louder than words.

September 22, 2007

Senate Condemns MoveOn Ad

Filed under: politics — codesmithy @ 9:18 am

Twenty-two Democrats came across the aisle to favor a non-binding resolution condemning an advertisement run in the New York Times by MoveOn.org. Again, most news organizations just show the “General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking the Books for the White House” portion of the ad, leaving the rest of the text completely unreadable. I think it is clear that news organizations don’t get this world wide web thing, since you can link directly to the ad, and give readers context, instead of just emphasizing the most controversial and least material aspects of it. I will demonstrate how easy it is. Here is the PDF off of the MoveOn website along with background information.

Here is the list of democrats that voted in favor of condemnation (trimmed from this list)

  1. Baucus (D-MT)
  2. Bayh (D-IN)
  3. Cardin (D-MD)
  4. Carper (D-DE)
  5. Casey (D-PA)
  6. Conrad (D-ND)
  7. Dorgan (D-ND)
  8. Feinstein (D-CA)
  9. Johnson (D-SD)
  10. Klobuchar (D-MN)
  11. Kohl (D-WI)
  12. Landrieu (D-LA)
  13. Leahy (D-VT)
  14. Lincoln (D-AR)
  15. McCaskill (D-MO)
  16. Mikulski (D-MD)
  17. Nelson (D-FL)
  18. Nelson (D-NE)
  19. Pryor (D-AR)
  20. Salazar (D-CO)
  21. Tester (D-MT)
  22. Webb (D-VA)

However, the Democrats were unable to bring enough Republicans across the aisle to obtain cloture on an amendment to a bill that would guarantee troops as much time at home as they were deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The reasoning behind the amendment was simple, as the debate for or against this war wages on, at least we should be able to put partisanship aside and place some limit on the time a soldier spends in the combat zone in relation to being at home. An equivalent amount of time seems fair and not out of proportion with previous wars, especially since this particular one has no end in sight. How many Republicans would cross the aisle?

  1. Coleman (R-MN)
  2. Collins (R-ME)
  3. Hagel (R-NE)
  4. Smith (R-OR)
  5. Snowe (R-ME)
  6. Sununu (R-NH)

Six. I could understand maybe condemning the ad to get the Webb amendment passed, but this isn’t even tit-for-tat. The Democrats sold out. The Democrats are so scared of the attack ads the Republicans would run if they didn’t vote in favor of condemnation that they completely capitulate. But, hey, where are people in the MoveOn organization going to turn? The Republicans? A Third-Party?

I can’t help but imagine a bunch of Democrats sitting around a table talking about all the political gains they are making by voting the “right” way. As if they are covering all their bases. As long as they stay in office, it doesn’t seem to make a difference whether or not they are doing what they were elected to do: bring this war to a conclusion, stop the corruption and abuse of power in the executive branch, and protect our civil liberties. Instead, they seem to be content with just being slightly less pro-war than the Republicans to stay in power.

However, I am of a different view. As John F. Kennedy put it “… there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.” This requires that those with power take a stand, although it may take those that they would condemn to show them how.

September 21, 2007

Douglas Adams: The Origin of God

Filed under: culture, religion — codesmithy @ 10:02 am

Above is Douglas Adams explaining how early man may have come to the belief that there is a God.  As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, history is filled with abandoned Gods and deities.  I don’t know what the mental block is that makes the overly religious so certain their God is the right one.  As if they literally can’t imagine being born in India and trying to imagine what it would like to be raised a Hindu, or born into a Jewish family, or born in Saudi Arabia and raised Muslim.  How would that change their outlook?  Would they still be a Christian, or would they have a different religious persuasion?

Much like Sherri Shepherd’s explanation that she didn’t know the world was round, I imagine this particular issue isn’t given much thought by the true believer.  Or maybe they believe faith is a virtue.  However, faith in this case means believing in something despite strong evidence to the contrary.  Or put from the opposite view, the supposed virtue is the ability to continue believing in a lie.

One of the things that I find interesting is how much evidence we find to support the man-made God hypothesis that Douglas Adams gives.  Our fitness to the world is amazing because we are the end product of billions of years of evolution.

No matter how much evidence we find that God is a psychological need and evolutionary artifact to give a narrative to the unknown forces and eventualities in our lives, it doesn’t seem to give the religious pause or signal the need for reflection.   The anthropogenic God view explains what we see in the world so well, and the opposite requires such a complicated set of beliefs about the truth of the world versus what the religious texts say that new evidence constantly destroys the complicated patchwork almost as quickly as it can be established.

Astronomy tells us that our place in the universe is very small.  Religion gives us the idea that everything in our lives is of cosmic importance.  However, as we gaze at galaxies millions of miles away and in the past, we find no sign of anything that will save us.  Avoiding extinction is rationally, something we must do for ourselves.

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