Texas Governor Rick Perry

I find it impossible to avoid commenting on Texas Governor Rick Perry.   Recently engaged in a question and answer session with a fourth-grader, he was asked how old the earth was.  He replies that:

In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools, because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.

It’s like he’s in a contest with Bachmann to see who can out-idiot Bush.  Interestingly, the subtext, which is consistent with Perry’s gubernatorial record, is that schools are completely unnecessary because fourth-graders are clever enough to figure that stuff out.

Yesterday’s newspeak.

President Obama rejected senior White House counsel when he decided to continue engagement in Libya without seeking approval from Congress. On PBS News Hour, Senator Harry Reid defended this action saying:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: The War Powers Act has no application to whats going on in Libya.

Jim Lehrer: None?

Senator Reid: I dont believe so. You know, we did an authorization for Afghanistan. We did one for Iraq. But we have no troops on the ground there, and this thing is going to be over before you know it anyway. So I think its not necessary.

While presidents have been pissing on the War Powers act since its inception, it’s hard not to get upset over this. First, whether we went through congress to authorize interventions in Iraq or Afghanistan has no relevance to the discussion at hand. It’s just noise. I’m reminded of the observation (I believe it’s from Orwell) that our “defense” organization is like a cuttlefish: it defends itself by spewing forth a cloud of ink. Of course in the modern world this is done over the television rather than in print, but it’s a good simile.

He goes on to say that the war powers act isn’t relevant here because

  1. We have no ground troops in Libya
  2. “This thing is going to be over before you know it anyway”

But the war powers act doesn’t restrict itself to ground troops, so the first point is irrelevant. The entire purpose of the war powers act is to specify a time limit to military engagement, above which the president must request congressional approval.  We have exceeded this time limit, so the war powers act is relevant.

I have to say, it’s distressing that a politician can come out on PBS and spew such utter and complete bullshit without being called on it.  Harry Reid should be drummed out office.  We should go ahead and impeach Obama.  Whether these guys are Democrats or Republicans is absolutely irrelevant to the issue, which is their abuse of power.  Frankly, as much as the Republicans hate Obama, we might finally have a chance of getting a president impeached for a real abuse of power, setting an important precident.

Robert Gates, Secretary of Defence, joined in the bullshitathon, sayin about Afghanistan:

<blockquote>

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: My own view is that real reconciliation talks are not likely to be able to make any substantive headway until at least this winter. I think that the Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure and begin to believe that they cant win, before theyre willing to have a serious conversation.

</blockquote>

Okay, we’ve been at war in Afghanistan for 10 years.   Mr. Gates feels like we need an additional 6 months before they will feel themselves under military pressure?  If they still feel like they can win after 10 years of U.S. assault,  if they are not “willing to have a serious conversation” after ten years of brutal bombing and attack from the worlds largest military force, what’ going to happen in the next six months to change that?

These statements should be compared to the bullshit spewed towards the end of our vicious, cruel and unjustified assault of Vietnam.  One might note that the bullshit is of very similar texture, color and smell.  The only difference is this stuff is fresh.

 

Nuclear Power and Democracy

I was having a discussion about programming languages with a work colleague the other day. Like many people, he felt like restrictions of freedom were useful, making the points that apple’s iphone is better than android because of their walled garden approach, that Java is better than C++ because it prevents you from writing certain specific cases of retarded code (no matter what the language, you can write retarded code, don’t let anyone tell you differently), and that Japanese society works well because it has so few foreigners. While I list these points in unconnected fashion here, the connections were reasonable in the conversation, and I’m the one who pushed the metaphors. What I find enlightening in the conversation is how conditioned people are to accept authority and hierarchical power structures, and how this spreads across broad swaths of subject matter.

What blew me away was his observation that Japan has a well functioning society. While I’m sure Japanese society functions well by certain metrics I don’t think it’s fair to say it functions well, nor to arrive at the conclusion that the merits of Japanese society draw from the homogeneity of their culture.

In particular, since Fukushima Germany and Switzerland have made the decision to wean themselves off of nuclear power. Japan, suffering terribly from their disaster, prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, has not. This is a clear indication of a malfunctioning society, and indicates a lack of democracy in their institutions and power structure.

While the media and the pro-nuclear camp like to focus on the risks of disaster, nuclear power is gigantic crime against our children and the poorer elements of our society, even if the reactors run flawlessly. The pundits like to praise nuclear power as being clean and cheap, but this is for very specific definitions of clean, and an equally special accounting to arrive at cheap.

Just look at the waste, which is some of the most toxic stuff on earth. We have no idea how to deal with the waste we have already generated. How do they define that as clean? Well it produces no CO2, never mind the toxicity of the stuff. If clean is defined in terms of CO2 production, yeah, ok, it’s clean… but only a fool would accept such a definition. But hey it’s ok, we have the mafia to help us deal with the waste.

Want one metric of how democratic and well functioning your society is? Take a look at it’s attitude toward nuclear power.

A little bit of newspeak

I’m frequently appalled at how effectively the powers that be use language to manipulate people who should really know better. One day I should make a compendium of modern technical language, and how it is used. I remember when I read 1984, some 20 years ago, I didn’t immediately see how pervasive that manipulation of language is in our society. It’s important to remember that when Orwell wrote 1984 he was writing a parable not only about the Soviet Union, but about Britain as well. He was a leading critic of British empire and social policy, as well of the debasement of the English language by both the government and media that support them.

With that in mind, I’d like to list a few such “technical terms” that I noticed reading the NYT today:

  • Stability This is a key word.  Whenever we justify our support for some brutal dictator or another, we inevitably justify this as being warranted because that tyrant is bringing “stability” to the region.  The word is quite telling, as we will use it even when the tyrannical rule is manifestly causing giant uprising, upheaval, even civil war in the region.  Stability in this sense means a stable distribution of power, with U.S. corporations getting the lions share.    Thus Mubarak was a stabilizing influence in the region and the citizens of Egypt demanding democracy were destabilizing, until of course it became clear that Mubarak’s tenure was untenable and we attempted to generate the impression we were on the side of the demonstrators all along.  This kind of dissembling is also telling — we aren’t fooling the people of Egypt, who see our duplicity for what it is.   This is unimportant as the intended audience — the American public — is far more gullible.  Stability is used to say “We follow this policy because it encourages stability”… the implication is that stability is good, therefore we should support the policy.  We are expected not to pay attention to what system is being made stable.
  • Dynamism When we want to support a policy that leads to terrible instability, such as the shock-doctrine, we don’t call the chaos and instability that ensues instability.  When conditions are sufficiently bad that they can’t simply be painted over, we say the country or economy is in a period of adjustment.  The fundamental goal of course is a “dynamic”, responsive economy.  Dynamic is of course an antonym of stable.  Here we see that stability and security for working people is irrelevant.  In fact,  instability and insecurity for working people is desirable, because it brings more profit to the wealthy elites.  It is telling that the word is used identically to the use of stability.
  • Intellectual Property This is another manipulative, loaded term.  For a good discussion consult articles on the subject by Richard M Stallman, or the Free Software Foundation.  Briefly though, the umbrella term “intellectual property” conflates a number of completely distinct concepts including copyright, trademark, and patent law.  These things have far less in common than they have in contrast, but they are routinely lumped together.  The reason such disparate subjects are grouped together in such a meaningless and confusing way is quite clear:  copyright, patent, and to a lesser extent trademark law have morphed into gargantuan legal constructs which overreach their original intent, and far from serving their original function actually work counter to their original purpose.    They have become a tool for large monopolists to control, restrict and parasitically profit from human creativity.  This distorts our culture and slows our progress as a society.  In particular the scope and implementation of copyright and patent law have reached such an egregious state they directly oppose our own common sense and innate sense of justice.  As a result, the oligarchies whose profligate lifestyles depends on the exploitation of people using these laws require a powerful system of propaganda to maintain their positions of power and wealth.  Since they control the media they have been largely successful in this.  One example is the campaigns that confuse copyright-violation and theft (two completely distinct things).   Another is the nearly ubiquitous use of the term “intellectual property” which serves two powerful roles:  First, by conflating unrelated issues it makes it far more difficult to have a meaningful discussion on the subject, and second it creates an association between copyright, trademark, and patents with actual property rights.

Wikileaks is a journalist, Manning is a source.

In the ass-kissing portion of his speech at the White House Correspondents dinner, the president said:

In the last months we’ve seen journalists threatened, arrested, beaten, attacked and in some cases even killed, simply for attempting to bring us the story. Give people a voice. Hold leaders accountable. And through it all we’ve seen daring men and women risk their lives for the simple idea that no-one should be silenced, and everyone deserved to know the truth.

Bravo Mr. President. I find it excellent that you recognize these vital principles. Now if you would only stop defending our arrest and ongoing torture of Bradley Manning, the informant that provided Wikileaks with documents detailing years of murder, lies, and betrayal by American leadership. You could also come out in defense of the wonderfully brave work being done by Wikileaks, the only journalistic entity brave enough to challenge our lie machine.

I personally think Manning should be released and decorated as a hero fighting for truth and freedom. He certainly deserves a medal more than George Bush does. Barring that, you could at least accord the guy the right to fair treatment, and a fair trial, before condemning him as a criminal.

Not all beliefs are equal

I have a work colleague who essentially believes all of the basic assumptions that underlie the capitalist, social darwinist world that we live in. His reasoning is essentially panglossian. I find it fascinating that he constantly engages in me conversations where it must be clear to him that I have fundamental disagreements. I don’t know if he expects me validate his statements, but of course I don’t. Normally I try to keep my answers brief, and rely on provoking thought and asking questions rather than lengthy lectures. But doing so is much more challenging, and I often feel like I’m constantly being picked at. So on occasion I carefully go through the various faulty assumptions, faulty logic, and mistruths which are inherent in the beliefs he states as truisms.

In his defense, these truisms are ones you are likely to hear in any modern media outlet. In a corporate environment they are certainly uncontroversial.

Without going into detail, today I went into a lengthy discussion citing historical evidence that contradicts the assumption that people are inherently racist. Rather than argue on the basis of facts or logic, he made the statement that it’s a question of belief. I have my set of beliefs, he has his. But beliefs are not equal. You might believe the world is flat, that light does not have a constant velocity regardless of your frame or reference, that America has a vibrant democracy, that the moon is made of green cheese. This is fine. You are entitled to believe whatever you like. But you will still be wrong. The reason these beliefs are not co-equal is that all of these things are testable.

So you can formulate your belief in a god to the point where that belief is completely untestable. Then I can’t say anything, it’s a question of opinion. To maintain a set of beliefs in contradiction of evidence, to refuse to consider the implications of your beliefs, it’s intellectual cowardice. When that set of beliefs is used to maintain a set of personal ethics based on apathy and complicity with exploitation and inhumanity against your fellow man, well, that’s just plain unethical.

Clinton’s speach to Arab Americans.

As can be seen on Democracy now, Hilary Clinton gave a speech at the U.S. Islamic World Forum last week, about the struggles for democracy and justice in the Middle East. 

Today, the long Arab winter has begun to thaw. For the first time in decades, there is a real opportunity for change. A real opportunity for people to have their voices heard and their priorities addressed.

Followed by similar banalities and empty words. What’s missing from the speech are apologies and accepting responsibility. Her opening remarks should have said “Today, despite our best efforts, the long arab winter has begun to thaw. For the first time, after decades of U.S. backed dictatorship and repression, there is a real opportunity for change. As we crush the ability of people in the U.S. to have their voiced heard and priorities addressed, people in the middle east are successfully taking back their basic human dignity. What are we going to do about it?”

I was impressed that one of the major student dissident groups refused to meet with Secretary Clinton, because of her support, during the repression of the demonstrations, of Mubarak and his administration.

As Americans I think we need to demand that our government take responsibility for its wrong-headed and evil policies in the middle east (and elsewhere), to apologize for them, and stop pretending we are leading or encouraging these changes.

Let’s talk about abortion

The tendency in America is to decompose all discussions into two contradictory positions. The dynamics of our media are such that they seek out and highlight people and movements that take the most extreme positions, as it makes it easier for them to construct their oppositional narrative. Whatever the intent, the result of this is to cartoonify everything and to reduce the discussion to some kind of football game — pick a side and root for one, or deride them both as lunatics — whichever you do, the only problems that get solved are how to fill the news hour and how to sell advertising space.

It’s hard to come up with a better example of this than the subject of abortion. Already the language is completely absurd — people who want to criminalize abortion aren’t anti-abortion, they’re “pro life”. People who think abortions should be legal aren’t pro abortion, they’re “pro choice”. Both of these are completely meaningless. I’m pro choice and pro life. That’s not an accident — everyone is pro choice. Who the hell would describe themselves as anti choice? There’s probably a deranged minority of people who might describe themselves as anti-life, but in general these won’t be people who are really anti life.

That’s one of the funny ironies in America’s retarded abortion politics. For the last 20 years there has been a strong alliance between the social/religious conservatives and the hawkish imperialists. The result of this has been that the “pro life” camp supports decidedly anti-life policies, in the hope that they succeed in criminalizing abortion. Thus they accept and support politicians who support military policies that result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people abroad — young, old, children and unborn children. They support policies that result in America having the highest infant mortality and infant poverty rates in the developed world. They support these politicians because they support criminalizing abortion.

I’m old enough to remember when the term “pro life” was coined. The justification for this bit of nuspeak is the claim that pro-lifer’s are not against abortion, they are pro-life. If this is the case, pro-lifers should question their strategy — is supporting these bloodthirsty pro-war anti-social-justice politicians really consistent with a pro-life philosophy?

More importantly, is it good strategy? Consider myself — I consider abortions to be unethical, and I consider them to be harmful to the individuals getting the abortion. I am however against criminalizing abortions. I believe alternative policies will produce the best outcome.

Consider alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. In the case of alcohol, we have learned the hard way that prohibition simply does not work. Years of experience have taught us that education, support and control of access to minors is far more successful than prohibition. Prohibiting alcohol did not decrease alcohol consumption, it made alcohol consumption much more dangerous, and removed any mechanisms for regulating access to children. It further introduced a wide host of undesirable side-effects, including violence, criminality, and widespread disregard for the law. Modern policies of education and control have been much more successful in addressing the negative outcomes of alcohol consumption (alcoholism, drunken misbehavior, and health consequences). Our society is currently learning the same lessons regarding the use of illegal drugs. With tobacco we were able to bypass the entire foolishness of prohibition and go directly to reasonable regulations and information campaigns which have been highly successfull in reducing tobacco consumption.

We know historically that criminalizing abortion does not eliminate abortion. Thus, pro-lifers should understand that elimination of abortion is simply not a realistic goal. Instead, let us get together and consider the question: “how can we minimize the number of abortions performed?”. As soon as we switch the conversation from the artificially restrictive one of “should abortions be illegal?”, to one of “How can we minimize the number of abortions that happen?”, we might be able to make progress on an important issue, and we might be able to remove the harmful polarization effect of this issue on our country.

Once we get to this point, there does remain a hurdle. The pro-lifebbbv movement has a disturbing history of focusing on denial-of-access and punitive techniques in their attempts to reduce abortion occurence. I belive that this too is counter productive. How can we reduce the number of abortions taking place?
The first step is to stop pretending that abstinence education is an effective birth control policy. No doubt that abstinence is an effective method of birth control, but hoping your kids are abstinent is a terrible way to prevent you daughter from getting pregnant. It is possible to teach your children how to have safe sex without encouraging them to do so, so let’s provide free birth control everywhere. Lets subsidize condoms and give every kid access to them.

Lets provide young mothers free medical care and a loving, supporting environment for their children to grow up in — regardless of whther or not the mother is the one who will raise the child.

But that’s the big problem with the so-called pro-life movement. It’s been hijacked by people with an extremist agenda that seems to have more to do with forcing a fundamentalist religious agenda on an unwilling America. One in which punishing young, sexually active women is more important than preventing unwanted pregnancies. Where children are to remain ignorant about the realities of sex until they married.

So I would suggest that single-issue voters ask themselves: what is really their single issue? Is it forcing religious fundamentalism on America, or is it reducing abortion? If the sanctitity of life is really your concern, ditch these war mongering religious fundamentalists who are willing to exploit your well meaning goals to pursue a decidedly anti-life agenda.

What we should be learning from the current Wikileaks news cycle.

The current news cycle regarding Wikileaks parades a great many of the social mechanisms which are exploited to protect the current power structures.

In the mainstream news media, one sees far more reporting on Julian Assange.  The so-called “leftist” media focuses on the fact that he has been charged with sex crimes.  The “right” paints him as a terrorist and asserts that he should be assassinated.  By doing so they are distracting our focus from that of the issues involved — the discoveries we are making about the inner workings of our government, as well as the more fundamental issue of how much secrecy can you have in a government, and still call it democratic — and instead focusing our attention on personalities, in this case villifying  Assange rather than debating the merits of Wikileaks and the work the site has done.

That is exemplary of another tool used in the disinformation age of government control — conflating disparate issues into a single issue, making meaningful discourse next to impossible.  Being for more openness in government is conflated with being for Julian Assange, which then makes you soft on rape.  This should be resisisted.  J.A. deserves to be tried for any crimes he may or may not have commited in the same way that any of the rest of us should be tried.  This is the ideal to strive for, and his political activities should be kept separate from those trials, as much as is possible.  The same is true for his political activities.  They should be judged on their merits, and not colored by what he does in his personal life.

Another interesting tactic taken by mainstream pundits and media is the critique over the wide-bandwidth, mass dump of information.  One often sees claims that J.A., or more properly Bradley Manning, is no Daniel Ellsberg (leaker of the Pentagon Papers).  Anyone reading or writing such claims would do well to read or listen to what mr. Daniel Ellsberg has to say on the subject, which can be summarised by one pithy quote “I haven’t met either of them, but based on what I’ve read they are new heroes of mine”.    In particular I have to condemn those who (like Rachel Maddow) have criticised Bradley Manning for dumping documents indiscriminately,  including unimportant information like Quadaffi having a busty nurse.  They are missing the point, which is why, in a supposedly open and democratic society, is such trivial information classified in the first place?  It reveals a default policy of secrecy which weakens public oversight of our government, and shows us how much classified information should be unclassified.

A great deal of attention was paid, on a recent episode of Rachel Maddow’s show and elsewhere,  to a released cable which claimed, either erroneously or deceptively, that Micheal Moore’s film Sicko was banned in Cuba.  Ms. Maddow chose to focus on how this cable shows that leaked documents give a false sense of import and reliability, thereby providing a useful tool for misinformation.  Ms. Maddow declined to mention how planned leaks of misinformation are a de-facto norm of government policy, which leaves the viewer to interpret this as a criticism of Wikileaks and leaked documents in general.  There are two, far more important lessons to be learned from this cable.  The first is the level of incompetence and self deception within our government, revealed by a cable who’s author was unable to distinguish between a film being banned and a film being broadcast on official government channels.  The second follows from the first:  We need less classification of such documents so that citizens can review them, and better understand, judge, and control their government.

This leads me to the critique made against Bradley Manning for the dump of such a wide and indiscriminate swath of documents.  Bradley Manning (assuming that it is indeed mister Manning who released the documents, which has not yet been proven), sitting at a computer on a military base did not have the time to sift through hundreds of thousands of classified documents., to determine which ones were vital to our national interest, and which were trivia.  He saw enough (such as the murder of Reuters reporters by U.S. soldiers) to know that he had to do something, and at tremendous cost to himself he smuggled those documents out and sent them to the one journalistic organisation he felt he could rely on to release the meaningful information:  Wikileaks.   Wikileaks in turn has made an effort to redact those documents which might pose a risk to the life and liberty of people, even to the point of contacting the Pentagon and mainstream media channels to ask for assistance with the redaction.

Copyright is not theft.

Every once in a while I read some rants in the newsgroups, and find myself compelled to reply.  Below is a recent post I made in sci.skeptic.

On Thu, 09 Dec 2010 01:17:27 -0800, Michael Gordge wrote:

>> >> >> >> >A parasite is a person who claims he is not stealing anything
>> >> >> >> >by copying

I really get annoyed how often I see this opinion expressed.  It’s a sad testament to the power of the propaganda model of the American media.

Do you know how you can tell that copyright violation is not theft?  There are several ways.  One very simple one is that they had to create specific laws prohibiting copyright violation, despite the fact that property laws (and thereby the legal concept of theft) already existed.  They are disjoint and separate things, and someone copying a book simply could not be prosecuted under theft laws.  It was perfectly legal to do so until copyright law was created.  I.e. theft!=copyright.

Another way you can tell that copyright violation is not theft is the simple principle that theft, by definition, denies the original owner of the use of whatever was stolen.  If I steal your bicycle you have to walk or take the bus.  If I make a copy of your bicycle, we can both ride.

The reason you are so brainwashed to believe that copyright == theft is due to a very deliberate and expensive advertising campaign (which would have been called a propaganda campaign 70 years ago before the word became pejorative) trying to make an emotional (not factual or logical) connection between copyright and property laws.  It’s a very successful exercise in framing, which causes its victims, like you, to regard “intellectual property” as real property, preventing you from engaging in real and meaningful debate (internally or with others) on the subject.

If you did think about the subject rationally and free from the framing prejudice built into you by the mass media (who, not coincidentally are the biggest profiteers from copyright law), you might bother to learn about the history, the social context, and the social impact of copyright law.  You might learn that the founders of the constitution were strongly ambivalent about the copyright and patent laws.  They viewed them as restrictions of freedom of speech (which they are).  In the end they decided to implement short copyright laws as well as patents, as an attempt to stimulate creative works.

That’s a very important thing to realize:  Copyright laws are a form of government intervention in the free markets, to attempt to stimulate said economy.  This is not simply an interpretation of events, it’s an historical fact backed up by the writings of the implementers of copyright and patent laws themselves.   They should be a far more contentious and hotly debated subject than, for example, minimum wage laws, as *they are an attempt to regulate free markets through a direct abridgment of constitutional rights*.  They are virtually never discussed within the mainstream media however, as such a discussion would threaten the bottom line of said media outlets.  Thus it is up to us to inform ourselves, and parroting their ridiculous propaganda is not helpful, regardless of your political or economic ideology.

If you were to further investigate the history of copyright law, you would learn that copyright used to ~20 years, with the option for the author to renew another 20.  With increased corporatization of the media industry (almost entirely in the last century) the ownership of copyright began to rest largely in the hand of large corporations rather than the creators themselves.  Corporations are by definition amoral, immortal, and through their wealth and longevity are able to gain political clout through economic means.  They, particularly Disney, lobbied extensively to ensure that the works of long dead artists remain their exclusive property, rather than entering the public domain as they should.  In the most recent copyright extension, copyright protection was granted retroactively to cover works already in the public domain and put them in private ownership.

If you were not so effectively brainwashed you might begin to realize that the biggest parasites in this system are these gigantic and wealthy entities which profit from the creative works of others while serving no functional role in society.  If Elvis’s works were in the public domain, as they should be, rather than in private copyright, more people would have access to his music.  That we are not able to freely copy and share his music is not the worst effect of these policies.  Keeping Elvis’s works in copyright is certainly not encouraging Elvis to keep producing new work, now is it?

The real harm comes from the inability to use his work in new creative works.  The large corporations who did nothing to promote the creative work, are using their copyrights to reap massive profits while robbing our creative commons.  They are the real parasites, and I would encourage you to please educate yourself on the subject.

I’m not a copyright abolitionist, but based on scholarly work on the subject, and an analysis of how the economic situation has changed, I’m convinced that copyright terms should be growing shorter, not longer.  Previously copyrights were more useful as it might take some time for a work to spread effectively, due to less efficient manufacturing and distribution.  Nowadays a book or piece of music can be copied infinitely many times and distributed all over the world, virtually for free.  This means that media distributors need less government protection than they did previously, and indeed are becoming more and more obsolete.

Shorter copyrights mean less government intervention in free markets.  Shorter copyrights mean more material for more creativity.    Shorter copyrights mean more freedom of speech.  I would propose a return to 20 year copyrights (from the current 90+ years enjoyed by the oligarchists in the US), and after reviewing the economic and social ramifications of that roll back, consider a further reduction to ten years.