Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

January 1, 2009


Filed under: history, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:52 am

I happened across the above video recently where Maher was defending the Vietnam war and Hitchens was criticizing it.  It is a bizarro moment because in more recent discussions I have seen between Hitchens and Maher about the Iraq war, they are in the opposite position.  Hitchens is for the war; Maher is against.  It floors me particularly because the arguments are essentially the same for the war, the actors are different.

Maher, when supporting the war in Vietnam, feels the need to stop the advance of communism.  Hitchens, when supporting the war in Iraq, feels the need to stop the advance of Islamic extremism.  In both pro-arguments, the particular war is seen in the context of a larger war of civilizations.  

In truth, both wars were started for essentially imperial reasons.  Vietnam was, to a first approximation, an ideological war.  Iraq was, to a first approximation, a resource war.

The fear of Vietnam was a type of domino theory, although not as it is usually described.  The fear was that a colonial or client state would obtain some degree of prosperity through nationalistic or socialistic reform and would become a model for popular uprisings in other colonial or client states.  I’m somewhat surprised when people say the United States lost the Vietnam war.  Lost?  Lost what?  It isn’t like the Vietnamese invaded Washington D.C.  Not a single U.S. city was even attacked by the National Liberation Front.  Vietnam was bombed and devastated to such an extent that it did not become a model for countries elsewhere.  The United States failed towards one goal, the country did not relent and submit to a puppet regime, thus proving armed resistance could succeed if one was willing to endure massive casualties and mass devastation for the principle of self-determination.  What a Pyrrhic victory for the Vietnamese!  Why the United States continued the war, even after its government knew that the installation of a puppet regime was not going to work, was to increase the cost of this victory.

The Iraq war was a war of opportunity.  After September 11th, 2001, the Bush administration saw a historic opportunity to establish American power in the heart of the world’s energy reserves, and they took it.    

As Bertrand Russell put it in The History of Western Philosophy: “The stages in the evolution of ideas have had almost the quality of the Hegelian dialectic: doctrines have developed, by steps that each seem natural, into their opposites (pg. 643).”

For both Maher and Hitchens, both of their respective pro-war arguments are equal in merit in principle, and equally divorced from the particular circumstances of the actual conflict.  The role-reversal is so stark, it seems unlikely they are even aware.  Although, it is said that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

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.”

January 26, 2008

Dan Savage in South Carolina

Filed under: culture, politics, religion — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 2:11 pm

On Real Time with Bill Maher, they had a segment where Dan Savage, an advice columnist, talks with some Mike Huckabee supporters in South Carolina.  Dan Savage is gay.  He seems to have pleasant, if not awkward conversations with the supporters.

What I like about what Dan Savage’s approach is that he isn’t confrontational.  He is just putting a human face to “lifestyle” people find so detrimental, sinful, and harmful.  He also manages to get them to think about their position a little bit.  It is easy to hate a person or group of people that you know next to nothing about.  It is quite another to have a pleasant conversation with a person and then realize the effects of what you are advocating will have on their life.  One can only hope the next time they lament the evils of the gay lifestyle, they will remember that conversation they had with Dan Savage.

October 30, 2007

Real Time: New Rules 10/26/07

Filed under: environment, history, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 8:14 am

Bill Maher had an excellent “New Rules” segment last Friday. It is good to watch in its entirety.

It is important to remember that the development of agriculture, civilization and the state were almost unquestionably praised. Hobbes summed up life in the state of nature thusly in “The Leviathan.”

In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

This view of the state of nature went unchallenged for centuries, despite the fact that there was little evidence to support the claims.  In Hobbes’ view, the state was justified to exist, no matter how tyrannical or unjust because any state was certainly better than the horrific state of nature.  A funny thing happened when archaeologists went looking for the evidence to support this largely unquestioned view.  They found it largely unsupported.

Agriculture did not improve the quality of life, it actually made quality of life go down.  What it did allow was greater population density and growth.  100 unhealthy farmers could defeat 1 hunter-gatherer, no matter how healthy.  This essentially allowed the farmers to push the hunter-gatherers to the land they didn’t want, and set mankind along this tumultuous path.  The question is: can we, as a species, survive on the course we have chosen?  One, whose true legacy does not rest on the foundation of rational, enlightened betterment, but rather ruthless, resource efficiency.

One aspect is clear, we cannot continue to treat this world as an infinite resource and infinite trashcan.  Additionally, in this increasingly nuclear age, aggression and conflict can literally result in an epic calamity that would throw our very survival into doubt.  Events and consequences can rapidly spiral out of control.  The question is, what will we do about it?  Will we face the challenge and rise above it, or sit back as the world burns?

October 21, 2007

9/11 Truth Movement, Bill Maher, and Freedom of Speech

Filed under: culture, media, politics, protest — Tags: — codesmithy @ 12:27 pm

As is all the rage in on the Internet, Bill Maher sent some hecklers from the 9/11 Truth Movement packing. I can’t construct a complete narrative of situation, but one key point seems to be the 9/14/07 show. His first show after the 9/11 anniversary where he highlights the failure to do anything at the site and also dismisses the 9/11 Truth Movement as conspiracy theorists and in need of medication. I don’t know how members of the 9/11 Truth Movement were attempting to raise the topic, but I imagine it was for the online overtime segment where they take questions “from the Internet for the Internet.”

I happen to wholly disagree with the 9/11 Truth Movement and basically share Maher’s view on what caused the towers to collapse. I watched “Zeitgeist” (no, I won’t link to it but it is the top hit on google when you search for zeitgeist.) I’ve also watched parts of “Loose Change.” So, I do feel like I’ve given the 9/11 Truth Movement the benefit of the doubt, however I remain unconvinced. Believing the 9/11 Truth Movement means watching the towers fall, and believing it is a controlled demolition. A controlled demolition that starts right below where the planes impacted. Believing the government is so competent that it orchestrate a complicated attack on its own citizenry, however when the attack comes, the leader of that government sits stone-faced with “My Pet Goat” in his lap.

What do I believe? I believe what I saw. Two planes struck the towers and after an intense blaze burned for approximately two hours, fell. This is supported by testimony of fire experts and consistent with the video record. One can watch interviews with the engineers of the building. They designed it to withstand the impact of an airplane. However, in their analysis, they didn’t consider the effect the fire would have. I believe the Bush administration could have done a better job of acting on the intelligence information that they had in their possession. If they had notified the TSA that terrorist might be hijacking planes, then extra significance might have been placed on four of the hijackers who were stopped by airport screeners. Would it have been enough? I don’t think anyone can truly know, but I think it demonstrates that the government could have done a better job with the same exact resources and powers at its disposal.

So, how does this lead into freedom of speech? In order for freedom of speech to mean anything, one has to defend the people they disagree with. I don’t believe members of the 9/11 Truth Movement should be thrown in jail or be threatened, or have violence advocated or performed against their person for their views. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t consider them, for lack of a better term, crackpots.

Nevertheless, I have to question the methods and the targets of the 9/11 Truth Movement. One, Bill Maher is a host for a T.V. show on HBO. I mean really, Bill Maher? HBO is arguably the best premium cable channel, but it is still a premium cable channel. Its reach is small, can’t you target CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, CBS or PBS? I’m sure Bill O’Reilly would love to hear from you, I can literally envision some of things he will say right now (holocaust deniers, loony left, etc.). Second, wouldn’t it be better to target politicians? I mean, they have the power, and unlike Maher, are directly accountable to the public.

Ultimately, I think forcibly escorting the protesters out was the right thing. Especially since protesters in that situation seem incapable of listening. Although, some of Maher’s comments during the fiasco, I feel were uncalled for. Particularly, he shouldn’t have called for security to rough the protester up, because that is a violation of someone’s freedom of speech or at least the principle that it is supposed to embody in our society. No, he is not an actor of the government, but there are limits and inciting violence is one of those limits.

October 14, 2007

Ralph Nader on Real Time With Bill Maher

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 1:13 pm

I really have to wonder how the if-we-raise-safety-standards-what-will-we-buy-at-Walmart survives as a meme.  As a consumer, I want a selection of dog food on the store shelves that won’t kill it, or a selection of children’s toys that aren’t poisonous.  It shouldn’t require any research or buyer beware.  But Nader hits the essential point on the head, the reason that hazardous products are making it into the U.S. is because the environment in which they are made is polluted.

His suggestion about how to solve the impediment to progress on bringing the Iraq War to a close by drafting the children of the President and Congressmen brings up a point that I have seen expressed elsewhere.  Disregarding the practicality of the matter,  I personally believe they can serve, the fundamental morality is why should adult off-spring pay for the political views of their parents?  (This doesn’t change the basic moral argument of: if you support the war, then you should serve.)   On the other hand, every soldier that is serving in Iraq is a son or daughter of someone, and you get the distinct feeling that if the President and Congressmen were dealing with sacrifice they are requiring of other people that 1) the post-war situation would have been done much more competently 2) the U.S. would be much closer to leaving right now.  As long as the war remains a sacrifice that other people make, there will always be a certain amount of hypocrisy associated with it.  Even then, I wouldn’t be certain that the sons and daughters of the elites wouldn’t be serving in “Champagne Units.”

So in the end, Nader’s suggestion is good for gaining popular applause, but in reality, would probably do little to actually fix the problem.  The essential problem is that we need people in power to respect the basic value of human life.  Not just the lives of themselves and their family, but everyone, equally.  In this case, the solution isn’t changing the system, it is changing the people running it.

October 10, 2007

SCHIP and Health Care

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 9:20 am

I went to an emergency SCHIP rally a few days ago.  Let me qualify this by saying, I haven’t done much protesting in my life.   In the past, I wouldn’t have gone.  However, George W. Bush vetoing this bill really hit home.  In any framework of justice, it is recognized that children are essentially innocent.   To the extent people blame those in poverty to their sloth and other vices, certainly those arguments do not apply to their children.  The poverty children find themselves in is no fault of their own, and society has generally accepted a burden to a child’s health and education to ensure the continuation of the nation and democracy.

Every child that doesn’t have health insurance represents a tear in the social contract.  I’m not especially concerned about the wild edge cases that opponents of the bill suggest.  Not being able to afford health insurance while making $80,000 a year could represent the reality of cost-of-living in a particular area.  In short, it is something to be addressed by looking at particular cases, not worst-case hypothetical scenarios.  If actual abuse arises, fine.  The funding can be revised in the future to address those concerns.  The alternative scenario is worse, if a child only receives medical attention by going to a emergency room, that represents a public policy failure.   $60 billion does not seem like too much to extend a working program by 5 years, especially considering other spending priorities.  As one protester put it, “Money for Health and Education, not Death and Occupation.”  That said, I do believe we need to establish a sustainable budget, which means reducing the debt and deficit spending.  However, I do not believe sacrificing the health of children is the option of first resort.

As George W. Bush points out, this is a slippery slop.  Although, I think that national health-care is a good idea generally also.  All the same, there are some prerequisites before establishing a national health care system as Bill Maher shows.

I do not believe that either health or education problems can be addressed without an added emphasis on personal responsibility.  It is not just personal responsibility; society needs to change some parts of the equation, but the desired societal outcomes will not be achieved without individuals stepping up and playing their part.  The underlying cultural dilemma is that we’ve become a passive consumerist society.  We go for the quick fixes and easy answers.  We turn to pills to cure depression rather than simply exercising.  Education is seen as something that teachers provide instead of the student’s effort in learning.  If the populace continues to see itself as consumers of society rather than members of it, it will stagnate and decay and nationalized health-care will be a long-term failure policy failure.

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