Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

August 22, 2008

Nixon-Frost Interview

Filed under: film, history — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:27 am

In 1977, David Frost interviewed former President Richard Nixon.  The interview is the basis of an upcoming Ron Howard film titled “Frost/Nixon.”  Looking back on the actual interview (thank goodness for youtube), the one thing that becomes clear is what really screwed Nixon were the tapes.  People could independently verify exactly what was said and when.  The crimes of Nixon are hardly of any significance by today’s standards.  This speaks more of the establishment attitudes of today more than those of the Nixon era.

May 12, 2008

Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance

Filed under: environment, film — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:35 am

Koyaanisqatsi was a film released in the early 80’s.  The film implies that we are living out of balance.  The film tries to demonstrate this fact rather than merely stating it.

I recently started reading “The Marx-Engels Reader” edited by Robert C. Tucker.  One of the central themes of Marx is alienation and self-estrangement.   Marx predicted the end of this estrangement which resulted in communism.  Marx’s formulation is, of course, flawed.  There is no natural progression of history.  Furthermore, there can be periods of great regression.  Anthropology shows that many early societies tended to truly “communistic.”  It was the introduction of Western values into these cultures that introduced the alienation that Marx sees as the natural course of history to eliminate.

Nevertheless, another kind of alienation exists in civil society, not only from man and his labor, but also from man and nature.  As long as man sees itself separate from nature and its dictates, man will not only be estranged from nature, but also man.

The difference between a fatal disease and benign organism is its ability to live in harmony with the systems on which the organism depends.  Fatal diseases are those that reproduce too rapidly and do too much damage that the host ecosystem that it collapses.  Benign organisms live sustainably with the surrounding systems frequently providing some benefit to the overall system.  In relation to the Earth, what is man?  Koyaanisqatsi provides the answer as it stands today.

April 21, 2008

Selling the War: The Unending Endeavor

Filed under: film, media, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 8:11 am

The New York Times ran an article exposing the complicity and collusion of “objective” military experts in the pre- and post-invasion coverage of the Iraq War. Glenn Greenwald has some additional commentary that is worth reading.

To bring this into perspective, there was a belief among certain segments of the military and hawkish politicians that it was the news coverage that eroded the popular support and eventually forced the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. There was a concerted effort by the Pentagon to ensure this did not happen to this conflict. This is but one facet of the larger effort.

Was the coverage slanted in the run-up to the war? Yes. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that nothing has changed. The media still trots out pro-war advocates like Kenneth M. Pollack as one-time critics, sober, serious, independent evaluators of Bush’s foreign policy. As Pollack tellingly reveals:

Some other analysts do not object to Mr. McCain’s portraying the insurgency (or multiple insurgencies) in Iraq as that of Al Qaeda. They say he is using a “perfectly reasonable catchall phrase” that, although it may be out of place in an academic setting, is acceptable on the campaign trail, a place that “does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Pollack, a man who sees no problem conflating threats. He who has no problem with politicians over simplifying the situation in Iraq and just group everyone who is attacking our troops in a country that we invaded with the people who attacked us on 9/11. In other words, Pollack has no problem with politicians manipulating and lying to the American public which he deems too stupid or ignorant to understand the complexity of the situation to support the position that he has always supported: we go and we stay.  These are the experts the “liberal” news media consults as the independent observers.  These voices are never culled and there is never any indication to suggest how consistently wrong they have been.  It is just denial after denial from the news organizations until confronted with incontrovertible evidence which is then met with uniform and deafening silence.

As for the overall political climate such coverage helps create, it is important to realize there are four classes of people in this conflict: hawkish soldiers, dutiful soldiers, doves and chicken hawks. When compared to past wars, the group which has seen the largest growth are the chicken hawks. To the degree that this war continues, the 9/11 generation is increasingly the chicken hawk generation.  Maybe this should be no surprise considering that it was led by a president who used family connections to serve in the National Guard and a vice-president who received multiple deferments and is similarly cheered on by a cast of similarly chicken hawk personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson (which is documented along with others in Greenwald’s book “Great American Hypocrites.”)

It would be bad enough if this were just some academic debate.  Something where we could disagree and get a beer afterwards.  But people are dying and people are being horrendously injured.  This occupation needs to end.  If you don’t listen to me, a dove.   How about a dutiful soldier.

April 18, 2008

Ben Stein is (S)expelled?

Filed under: film, humor, religion, science — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 7:13 am

Apparently there is another alternative theory that “big science” doesn’t want us to know about.

If sexual reproduction is so unassailable, what is big science so afraid of?  Why not just let “Avian Transportation Theory” speak, then say you ignorant fool, you didn’t know this, this and this.  Teach the controversy!

(h/t to the “Sex Maniac” himself)Richard Dawkins Suave

The less funny version is in limited release this Friday.  I would recommend going out of your way not to see it.  You’ll never get that hour of your life back.  The National Center for Science Education has a counter-site to Expelled.   I’m all for listening to what the other side has to say, if they are intellectual honest.  Ben Stein and his film Expelled are neither.  There is a difference between exploring another person’s point of view and subjecting yourself to one-sided, intellectually dishonest propaganda.  The second is rarely worthwhile.

April 17, 2008

Ben Stein Gets What He Asks For

Filed under: film, politics, religion, science — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 8:31 am

With the upcoming release of Expelled, someone found some time to take Ben Stein up on his challenge and blow him out of the water with his claims about evolution.

Stein wraps his criticism as an exercise in honest skepticism against a big science establishment. Evolution is not a scientific theory about how life arose, it explains the complexity and diversity of life. We could fill volumes about what Charles Darwin didn’t know about biology, along with Ben Stein and myself. Why Darwin is revered is that the theory he first proposed, which has been subjected to intense scrutiny and further testing, has remained essentially intact. At this point, the theory really isn’t Darwin’s; he’s dead afterall. It now belongs to mankind and it is a key to understanding modern biology. Evolution is the theory that allows us to make sense biology much like how atomic theory allows us to make sense of chemistry.

Intelligent Design doesn’t make it in biology because the establishment fears it. It is because it isn’t science. Science is not the conglomeration of all human thought and belief. It is a body of knowledge built up by physical evidence, testing, open inquiry and logical integration with the existing body of knowledge based on this method. There is a barrier to entry in science: one needs evidence. Scientists have listened to what Intelligent Design has had to say, have investigated it, and have found it lacking. The most essential complaint with Intelligent Design seems to make no other prediction other than we will find more things that we will not initially understand, however it provides no insight into understanding them. What Stein is asking for is not to allow Intelligent Design to be considered on its merits. He is engaging in special pleading.

The question is not what “big science” fears. It is what Ben Stein fears. Maybe not Ben Stein specifically, but a segment of the world that is receptive to Ben Stein’s message. The important thing is not that what Stein says in Expelled is true, but rather that what Ben Stein says is plausible.

It is hard to believe in the Bible. It has a talking snake, a man made out of mud, a talking burning bush, global floods, virgin births, resurrections, transmutations, along with countless other stories that are way outside ordinary human experience. A natural thing to do is start to doubt them. The church recognizes this and has all sorts safeguards to guard against doubt. In Christianity, chastising Thomas the Doubter is common. However, the fact remains that believers need constant reassurance. This reassurance tends to be social. They need other people to believe. They need to know that there is some problem with the thinking of people who see a godless world. However, the key underpinning of religion is probably not its message about life, but rather people’s fear of death.

The role of the fear of death in religion can be understood indirectly by Pascal’s wager. What if god doesn’t exist, what happens after you die? No one can say for certain, but most likely it be like the time immemorial before one was born. My personal experience of that time was oblivion. What if god does exist and you don’t believe? Again this depends on which ancient myth one believes, but for the sake of argument let’s say it just so happened to be Jehova? Well, eternal damnation. If it happens to be Cthulhu, I think one is screwed either way. Pascal argued that one should believe any afterlife myth, because in the slim hope the belief turned out to be right, the benefits would vastly outweigh the consequences of being wrong.

The flaw in Pascal’s expected values are that the value of something infinitely large multiplied by a value infinitely small is undefined. And yes, Jehovah’s probability of being real is infinitely small in an honest evaluation. However, what one gives up by believing in a god like Jehovah is tangible. It is not seeing the world for what it really is: an utterly amazing place. Not because god made it that way, but because we made it that way. Not just human beings, but all our extraordinarily distant relatives who have existed on this planet for 3.5 billion years. Now we, human beings, are the only beings currently known that are smart enough to start to comprehend and become aware of the vast complexity of the universe. It is a unique gift, a fortunate circumstance of timing to be brought into the world in this era. Yet, here we are, poisoning and trashing the only home we’ve ever known and endangering our own survival.

Science is a threat to religion because it is the antithesis to religion. At the outset, it doesn’t incorporate religious belief into its body of knowledge. To the believer, this is disconcerting. More alarming, it proceeds to function perfectly fine without incorporating religious notions, and finally starts contradicting some tenets of faith, exposing them for what they are: ridiculous.

When Nietzsche declared god is dead, this is what he meant. Educated men could no longer logically accept religious tenets and known facts of the natural world. Expelled is an expression of denialism to this truth. At the end of the day, the only humane treatment for religion will be ridicule. In the meantime, the death of Hypatia warns us to be wary. However, if we truly believe science is a worthwhile pursuit, then we must demonstrate that commitment by defending it. It may be our best hope for the survival of the species.

April 15, 2008

Advocacy: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Filed under: film, religion, science — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 7:40 am

Doing my part as part as part of the vast evolution conspiracy, the following is a link to NCSE’s counter-site to Ben Stein’s upcoming movie Expelled. As I have posted before, PZ Myers was kicked out of a screening of the movie Expelled despite being thanked in the credits. Expelled is in limited release on April 18th.

This message brought to by PZ Myers and the Central Committee of the Evolutionary Apparatus Directive.

April 14, 2008

Dawkins on Real Time With Bill Maher

Filed under: film, media, politics, science — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 6:19 am

Richard Dawkins was on Real Time With Bill Maher.  One thing that sort of amazes me is Dawkins’ surprise at people who believe the myths of the Bible.  He seems to be of the opinion that scientists tend to be of more of the Einsteinian persuasion.  God is a euphemism for the awe and wonder of the universe, instead of a figure in ancient fiction.

My only guess at why the revelations of Bible thumping scientists surprise Dawkins is because he is unfamiliar with the amount of compartmentalization, lack of reflection, and inconsistency the majority of people are willing to endure, especially intelligent people.  While “The God Delusion” remains on the New York Times best-sellers list at the 16th spot, “90 Minutes in Heaven” is holding strong at 8th spot.  So while 1.5 million copies seems like an achievement, “90 Minutes in Heaven” has sold about as many (1.4 million in print according to their website Book Info).

“90 Minutes in Heaven” remains unreviewed by the New York Times despite being on the list 76 weeks now.  In another example of how the mainstream media coddles religious believers, Time reviewed Ben Stein’s film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.  Titled “Ben Stein Dukes it Out with Darwin” which is unsound on its face because evolution is more than just Darwin, discoveries from DNA to Tiktaalik have reinforced evolutionary theory beyond any evidence Darwin presented.  In fact, it is more like fundamentalist religion versus modern biology.

Given that the article was published April 10th, I’m disappointed the article states:

It’s impossible to know from the handful of examples he cites how widespread the problem is, but if there’s anything to it at all, it’s a matter well worth exposing.

Michael Shermer in Scientific American does a much better job deconstructing the claims of expulsion.  No need to conjecture about how widespread the problem is: it doesn’t exist.  It serves as an example of how lies get spread through the media.  Jeffrey Kluger isn’t a reporter, he is a stenographer.  Time and its reporter are too intellectually lazy to look into Stein’s claims to discover they are baseless.  It doesn’t seem to occur to the organization that the intellectual dishonesty displayed in other aspects of the movie also permeate this aspect to it and thus consider the claims skeptically.  Instead, it is given the benefit of the doubt.

The reason for this is apparent in the final paragraph.

In fairness to Stein, his opponents have hardly covered themselves in glory. Evolutionary biologists and social commentators have lately taken to answering the claims of intelligent-design boosters not with clear-eyed scientific empiricism but with sneering, finger-in-the-eye atheism. Biologist P.Z. Myers, for example, tells Stein that religion ought to be seen as little more than a soothing pastime, a bit like knitting. Books such as Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion often read like pure taunting, as when Hitchens pettily and pointedly types God as lowercase god. Tautology as typography is not the stuff of deep thought. Neither, alas, is Expelled.

It’s those damn holier-than-thou taunting atheists.  How dare Hitchens not capitalize god?! (Not an evolutionary biologist you say, not in the movie, no matter). And well, obviously, that excuses Stein then.  He is allowed to lie, misrepresent and slander because he made the film in a fit of rage!

Seriously, out of a review that consists of five paragraphs, one is dedicated to apologizing for Stein because three semi-prominent atheists (one of which is not even a scientists) have repeated stated Intelligent Design is not science (which it obviously is not).  They do so unequivocally and unapologetically.  Why do they do so?  Because unlike Kluger and Time, they have a basic respect for the truth, they go looking for answers, they just won’t repeat what someone told them without doing some basic research first, and when someone says something they know to be untrue, they will call them on it.  Properties sorely missing from Kluger’s “reporting.”

April 2, 2008


Filed under: culture, film, politics, religion — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 11:03 am

I finished watching Fitna, the controversial movie by Geert Wilders that attacks Islam. It portrays Islam as a violent religion, quoting passages out of the Koran followed by video of atrocities committed by Muslims or clerics declaring some sort of hateful screed against Jews, homosexuals, adulterers, or other infidels. At its heart, the film is propaganda. Are there fundamentalist strains of Islam that I find concerning? Yes. However, I find those same hateful ideas embodied in Christian fundamentalism.

The struggle to preserve the West cannot be about the domination of one fundamentalist dogma over another. It has to be about preserving egalitarian values embodied in democratic rule, scientific thought, and prefaced by basic moral truisms of equality and liberty. The cancer of this liberalism has always been the those who defend those that undermine the basis of it. The destruction of liberalism will not be the enemy on the outside. It is rather the enemy within. It is the authoritarians and elitists who insist that we must abandon our notions of justice, liberty, and human dignity in order to save them. It is important to remember that these freedoms were never given; they were taken and paid for with the lives and suffering of countless men and women.

It is also true that a nation-state cannot survive without a shared sense of identity. The wholesale introduction of isolated immigrant communities does represent a threat to the nation. While many undercurrents of this sentiment tend to be outright racist, the fear itself is not unfounded. A nation that fails to preserve a sense of national identity usually falls into civil war.

Islamic revolutionaries do represent a threat and they need to be confronted. However, over-simplifying and presenting an unbalanced view of the conflict, the way Fitna does, has its own issues. It exaggerates and misrepresents the foreign threat while distracting and blinding us from the threat within. While fundamentalist Muslims are upset about the foreign cultural intrusion into their homelands, we must also recognize the ill-will caused by stationing young, culturally disinterested service-men and women in foreign countries combined with our military doctrines designed to completely destroy infrastructure and basic services. The complaint about Western military action is hardly ever about its justification, it is about the massive collateral damage that comes from the retaliation. This reality is much more complex than the one Fitna presents. The Netherlands might perceive itself to be uninvolved in this regard, however with the current conflagrations in the Middle East caused by U.S. invasions there, the old adage of “you can’t be neutral on a moving train” rings true.

There are aspects of fundamentalist Islam that deserve condemnation, just like there are aspects of fundamentalist Christianity that deserve the same. And, yes the film is flawed. But, the more important point is that this film should not be silenced out of fear of retaliation or thuggery. If the West bows to such pressure, then the ideals the West stands for are already gone, and worse yet, we lost without even putting up a fight.

March 24, 2008

War Made Easy

Filed under: film, history, media, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 6:34 am

Norman Solomon goes through the presidential war rhetoric and the way the American media acts as a propaganda wing of the government. The key point is that when media just reiterates what the government is saying and acts in concert; the media isn’t acting as a check on the government, it is an enabler.

It should be said that there are independent news outlets, such as Democracy Now! or The Real News that do a much better job. However, these sources remain outside the mainstream. The most glaring difficulty I see is the news media has a tremendously tough time sorting through an official news source that lie to them. This difficultly has arisen mostly due to time constraints. There is literally less effort going into each news story today compared to the past. This is part of the Rupert Murdoch revolution in mass media.

The most serious aspect of propaganda is not what is included, but rather what is left out. If we are unable to cull those who are consistently and unapologetically wrong, we will forever be hamstrung dealing with unending mountains of false or misleading information.

March 21, 2008

Expelled from Expelled

Filed under: culture, film, science — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 7:42 am

This is why reality will always be stranger than fiction.  PZ Myers, biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, was not allowed to see an advance screening of the movie “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” A movie he was interviewed for under false pretenses.  Well, apparently the producers of the movie anticipated that PZ Myers might make such an attempt at their screening.  However, what they didn’t seem realize was that Richard Dawkins was going to be in Minnesota for the 34th Annual Nation Conference of American Atheists.  So while they kept Myers out, they let the Dawkins in.  Apparently there was a Q and A session after the movie where Dawkins asked why PZ Myers had been, well, expelled from seeing the film.  Here is an account from a Christian perspective.  (h/t Chris)

I must say, Dawkins is a brave man.  If it were me, I would watch the film, keep my mouth shut, and leave.  However, it is exactly that type of tenacity which makes Dawkins such a strong advocate for reason, and entertaining to watch.

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