Sunday, June 6, 2010

Poets and Gutters has moved.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Authoritarian Mindset

Did you know that the President has authorized the killing of an American citizen based on secret evidence without any judicial oversight? How could this possibly be legally justified?

In the fullest administration statement to date, Harold Koh, the State Department’s legal adviser, said in a March 24 speech the drone strikes against Al Qaeda and its allies were lawful as part of the military action authorized by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as well as under the general principle of self-defense. By those rules, he said, such targeted killing was not assassination, which is banned by executive order.

That is to say, wherever there sits a suspected terrorist (suspected based on secret evidence, remember), there is a war zone. In these sorts of places we send unmanned drones, drones that have killed about 14 terrorists for every 687 civilians. Given that we tend to trumpet this whole rule of law thing (ya’know, pillar of our government and all) we ought to probably ask how it is we know this terrorist is a terrorist if he hasn’t been convicted of any terrorism related charges. But that would be a silly question, al-Awlaki is a terrorist because the President says so. That’s the authoritarian mindset. At least somebody is mad about that:

But I’ll be god damned if I’m going to pretend it is ok to start ordering the assassination of American citizens, even if it is done “legally” and ordered by politicians I generally like. This really is not a tough call at all. This is not because I am some crazy civil liberties absolutist. This is just basic common sense, and this kind of thing would set an absolutely horrible precedent. It is beyond me how anyone could get upset about Gitmo and Abu Gharaib and then think assassination of citizens is ok. Personally, I’ll take terrorized by guard dogs and waterboarded over a bullet to the brain pan.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kagan: The Quiet Careerist

Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan represents one of the worst features of liberal academia, the conscious effort to approach profound injustice with dispassionate objectivity. Scholars who either refuse, or are incapable of, expressing genuine moral outrage towards the more nefarious aspects of our political establishment (like illegal NSA wiretapping and the ever-expanding, constitution-shredding executive branch) give the illusion of normalcy to what is in fact a radical departure from legal tradition. Elena Kagan, this shielded scholar, ought to have made her viewpoint clear and vociferously attacked the executive abuses of the past eight years, but she was almost entirely silent on all the important legal issues of the day.

It has become clear that Kagan is far more concerned with her career objectives than the world of ideas. Kagan—who appeared in her high school yearbook wearing judge’s robe and holding a gavel—has so carefully shielded herself that even people around her simply haven’t a clue what, if any, strong personal convictions she might have. Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog described her reserved character: “extraordinarily – almost artistically – careful. I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.” The New York Times editorial page has even asked Kagan to “open up,” for she has “spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view.”

You wouldn’t marry somebody after five cold and apprehensive dates, so why would you want to select a justice based on the five narrowly technical and non-ideological scholarly papers she has written? In fact, it’s even easier to get out of a marriage than it is to get somebody off the Supreme Court! The process of selecting Supreme Court judges is very much to blame for the shielded lives that prospective judges lead. David Brooks has argued the politics of the selection process “gives a brilliant and gifted person a strong incentive to be reticent and cagey.” What a strange system we have crafted for filling this lifetime position, a system that demands we trust the President’s choice simply by virtue of it being the President’s choice. We simply need to know more, or we could, as Glenn Greenwald argues, very well end up moving the court to the right.

Some critics have found this uncertainty simply unacceptable, and the confirmation process a vapid and hollow charade, in which repetition of platitudes has replaced discussion of viewpoints and personal anecdotes have supplanted legal analysis." Critics like Elena Kagan circa fifteen years ago. Unfortunately, Kagan has vowed to renege that critique and be more reserved when she is questioned by the Senate. This is a very disturbing trend in the selection of Supreme Court justices, a trend that weakens the ability of the Senate and the public to pressure the President on this decision of profound importance. People in positions of authority undoubtedly desire to manage and manipulate information to service their ends. If we have learned anything over the past decade it is that the only way the public can protect itself from these abuses of executive authority is to demand full disclosure on matters of such importance. Others, like Larry Lessing, friend and supporter of Elena Kagan, have lauded her secrecy, “she has spent her time, not blogging, not twittering, not trying to be out there in the forefront of every single legal issue, just doing her job, and doing it extremely well.” I think we’d all be a little bit more comfortable if she had a Twitter account.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Up in the mornin' and off to school, teacher is teachin' the Golden Rule...

photo credit: Jon Chiang

School is just wrapping up for many; Summer's fast approaching. For others, like myself, the limited Summer term (at The University of British Columbia, see photo above) is just beginning. This presents the perfect opportunity to share with you my pick of school songs. However, my main concern is to relieve myself of these nagging thoughts about the music industry. Enjoy the music, because here comes a diatribe. Perhaps you would like to listen to my picks while I rail against the music industry? In any case, my top ten songs about school (or at least songs that use school as a device to speak to more important manners, namely, love and war):

1. Homework - Otis Rush

2. What did you learn in school? - Pete Seeger

3. Wonderful World- Sam Cooke

4. School Days - Chuck Berry

5. Another brick in the wall - Pink Floyd

6. Good morning little school girl - Muddy Waters

7. Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin

8. Maxwell's Silver Hammer - The Beatles

9. Hey Little School Girl - Marquees

10. School's Out - Alice Cooper

The songs I've chosen all have something in common, a characteristic one would hope all music has, they're all about something. I'm not going to sanctimoniously argue that the only music worth listening to is moving and poetic music that transforms the way we perceive of love, school, the political arena, etc. In fact, that couldn't be further from my view, one needs only to look to the abundance of crude and superficial selections I've made. Take for instance Maxwell's Silver Hammer, what new perspective on modern life does this murderous med student give us? Absolutely none. My number one choice? No depth to Homework, the song is simply describing the struggle we've all had to do our homework when there is a pretty girl around. These songs are not tightly crafted philosophical arguments, but they have real substance that I can point to without embellishing their value. They present a particular message, situation, or feeling in a coherent manner. In essence, it's possible to answer the question what is the song about? or even the question what is this song's thesis? For example, Chuck Berry's School Days leaves one with the conclusion that Rock can save you ("delivery me from") from the oppressive and monotonous experience that is school. Pete Seeger's What did you learn in school? leaves one with the rather grim conclusion that school might just be propaganda. 

What of contemporary popular music? Well, the majority doesn't warrant discussion. One simply needs to read the lyrics and they'll see that most songs are void of substance and hold no particular view on anything. We shouldn't damn them all though, sometimes they present a sort of formulaic coherency (why can't Lady GaGa answer her telephone? She's too busy dancing!) That's about as far as popular music will take you in terms of meaning, and that's OK. 

However, the level of uniformity in popular music is disquieting. These artists would perhaps better understood as commodities. They are synthetic frauds, auto-tuned ("like plastic surgery"), their sound pre-fabricated for total uniformity, their beats tightly crafted for the purposes of selling ringtones ("There's only music so that there's new ringtones.") Even the dancing, rigid steps helped along by quick camera cuts. You can tell Michael Jackson is a good dancer because his camera panned out to let him dance, the same way Bruce Lee's camera panned out to let him fight. When you don't have a Bruce Lee or a Michael Jackson talent then you're left with nothing but strategic camera cuts and editing tricks to give the illusion of talent. Today's pop music is full of these tricks, featuring about as many quick and dizzying cuts as a Jasan Statham movie, but I digress. 

The economic structure of the modern music industry is very much to blame for the high levels of conformity in popular music. The reality of the modern recording industry is that the record itself is but a small part of a larger brand. Sponsorships, endorsements, clothing labels, perfume, ring tones, and live shows all serve to marginalize what used to be the product (that is, the record). Despite what the record industry tells you, there has been nothing better for corporate America than the dwindling record industry and the proliferation of internet music downloads. As the record loses its economic importance, the corporate world can refocus on doing what it does best, manipulating us into buying their stupid bullshit. The music is now but a delivery system. We have come so far as to embrace what used to be labeled "selling out," as artists shamelessly boast of their commercial success. Wherever our celebrities now go, they are traveling mannequins.

The heavily centralized nature of today's marketplace furthermore stifles artistic expression. These large institutions are in fact defined by their incentivization of conformity. Why would a record label or large corporate sponsor want to get behind a dangerously subversive character who has no regard for polite society or artistic convention? That would be both artistically and politically risky. From an economic perspective, such risks are stupid and irresponsible. It simply takes the most elementary of reasoning to realize that it would not be an economically sound decision to disrupt the order from which you profit.

As for indie or alternative music, we can’t as easily generalize such a fragmented market. But I’d like to again emphasis the point of coherence. Detached hipster musicians so often pretentiously hide behind their craft rather than revealing anything of themselves or their view. We often run into the problem of music being about nothing. We haven’t solved all the questions surrounding love and war, yet some artists have decided to just not sing about these things and play with their synthesizers (presumably they’re in the grip of postmodernism, or perhaps they just have nothing to say). I feel utterly hopeless when people embrace incomprehensible nonsense only to abandon it at the point it becomes too popular and therefore uncool.

So I’m not so optimistic about contemporary music, but let me temper my critique by saying that I am speaking only of general trends--there certainly remains many good contemporary finds. But take a look at the masters of old, you should never be waiting on something new to arrive when there is so much more gathering dust as it waits on you.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

At least those who destroy the environment are polite.

On Friday, Greenpeace activists held a protest at Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff's UBC talk:

What started as an opportunity for Ignatieff to reach a politically apathetic generation turned into a heated demonstration held by Greenpeace activists.

During the question period, one activist asked Ignatieff about his stance on the Alberta tar sands. He was interrupted by Greenpeace protestors before he could answer.

The crowd grew restless and confused as Greenpeace continued to make its voice heard. Some students started to boo the protesters, some clapped, and others squirmed in their seats from the awkwardness of the atmosphere.
The student response has been decidedly against Greenpeace and the way they handled themselves. Much like the Blake Frederick kerfuffle over tuition policy, UBC students were too preoccupied with the crude breach of protocol to address the very real issue being raised. Most of the discussion has centered around the way Ignatieff held himself in the face of these foolish, rude and bombastic philistines. A student comments:
What was so remarkable about the situation is that Ignatieff didn’t seem phased at all, rather he gave an answer and did a remarkable job explaining his position
And a few more representative samples:
fuck greenpeace, that was just embarrassing and rude on their part, misrepresented UBC, kind of pissed me off

these tree hugging hippies definitely embarrassed UBC!
Notice the very clear evasion of the issue in favor of this meaningless discussion of image, poise, and respect. One might not agree with Greenpeace's methods, but to rally around Michael Ignatieff for the purposes of demonstrating your pompous sense of civility is simply cowardly. This nonsense about how well Ignatieff did or did not handle the situation is borderline idol worship, a poisonous trend in our political discourse. These are not personalities to psychoanalyze and revere for their gravitas, they are embodiments of actual policies (in this case, very destructive policies). Unhealthy reverence for the political elite and their etiquette is, on the whole, trivial and ruinous because it focus' political energy on the superficial and marginalizes the dissent (which is necessarily rude) needed for political change. The passion we saw on the part of these activists suggests the matter of the tar sands warrants further investigation, the protest should be used as an opportunity to speak substantively on the issue of climate change and our role in the matter.

Among the chaos, the very polite room of University students seemed not so concerned with something that I felt was much more worrisome, Ignatieff's rationale for continuing the tar sands:
“If you’re asking me to shut down the tar sands, I’ll tell you frankly, it is not in the national interest of our country to do [so].”
In the opening of the talk, Ignatieff continuously alluded to a “race against other nations” for matters of Canada's national interest. When one astute student asked Ignatieff to clarify the interesting choice of words, Ignatieff said he was referring to acquiring market share in emerging markets. This rationale is hardly out of the ordinary, it's pervasive in our political discourse. But self-serving attitudes are incredibly detrimental when addressing climate change and other matters that require international co-operation and compromise (Canada is public enemy number one here, thanks to the tar sands). The "national interest" justification--met with such thunderous applause--is nothing more than thinly veiled tribalism, hardly a just or liberal motivation. Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed exposed this insanity at the Copenhagen summit:
Every country arrives at the negotiations seeking to keep their own emissions as high as possible and never to make commitments unless someone else does first. This is the logic of a mad house, a recipe for collective suicide.
The IPCC AR4 "Summary for Policy Makers" has recognized this problem:
Fossil fuel exporting nations (including annex one countries) may expect lower demand and lower GDP growth due to mitigation policies.
Those in weakest economic position are often the most vulnerable to climate change.
We may be satisfied that we play the role of climate criminal number one with the appropriate level of civility, but I think those most adversely affected by climate change will hardly be impressed by our good manners.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Moral Luck, solved?

I haven't been able to stop thinking about my last philosophy essay and the problem of moral luck, because--with a shameless lack of humility--I think I may of solved it. What is moral luck? In short, there are moral implications for your actions beyond your own control, actions that you justly can't be held responsible for. For example, what if you get into a fight with somebody and accidentally kill him? Or, what if your fight results in him going to the hospital whereupon he discovers a life threatening tumor just before it's to late? Are you responsible for the death? Are you responsible for the saving of a life? Moreover, moral philosophers have been struggling to levy moral responsibility on moral agents given the power of situational, deterministic forces. How do you blame somebody for something they do if they control neither their will nor the moral implications of their actions? That is to say, they control neither the cause nor the moral effect.

This question isn't just academic, it is the question of justice in a world where we try to place blame on people who seem to be nothing but pawns. Who do you blame for prisoner abuses in Abu Ghraib, the soldiers or the system? Philip Zimbardo holds that the system (the bad barrel) spoils the soldiers (turns them into bad apples). Some believe the individual is worthy of all the blame. Others, like Zimbardo and others who appreciate the deterministic forces seem to end up without any cause for personal moral responsibility because it becomes unclear what control, if any, the individual had for his or her action. My thesis seeks to preserve personal moral responsibility while accounting for these deterministic forces.

I argue that we ought to diffuse personal responsibility amongst all those that craft the environment, the collective will. Here are some highlights:
The traditional limits of moral culpability—namely, agents are culpable for their actions only to the extent that they had control of those actions—have been challenged by the immense moral implications of moral luck. The crippling of the responsible self by powerful external influences seems to of excused the agent of moral responsibility and challenged the very foundations of ethical theory by leaving immense moral implications unaccounted for. Critics have tried various ways to either soften Nagel’s account of moral luck or evade it entirely in favor of preserving the centrality of morality, but the levying of personal moral responsibility has become increasingly difficult to justify as the influence of external forces on human agency have become more apparent. The central worry here is that traditional morality seems incapable of justly attributing the important moral implications of moral luck to the agent.

To rectify this problem, I believe we need a wholesale transformation of the process of moral assessment. I will insist that the instigator of an action cannot be the sole recipient of moral blame or moral praise. I will argue in favor of a radically different target for the responsibility of moral luck, namely, the collective will. Individual agents are feeble in the face of powerful external forces when making particular moral decisions, but the collective will is such a force that it creates those same conditions conducive to positive or negative moral luck. Therefore, I will argue that the responsibility for moral luck is diffused to the collective will. . .

. . . The incredibly powerful and burdensome situational and systemic forces I have discussed impinge on individual moral agents, but they are actually an embodiment of the will of those same agents. The best way to understand this contradiction is to think of it much like representative government, a system in which the restraint placed on citizens (the rule of law) is constructed and consented to by those same citizens. We are feeble in the face of the powerful situational forces of these environments, but these environments are our creations. These environments are much like the biological restraints that Chomsky found essential to human progression, because the environments will define our moral progression, good or bad. Therefore, we can finally define the collective will as the embodiment of each person’s individual will and moral responsibility in the environments that the collective has created and now operates in. The moral responsibility for the moral luck of the instigator (good or bad) is thus diffused among every human being on Earth (including the instigator himself), proportional to the contribution his or her will had in constructing and/or preserving the environmental forces that influenced the actions of the instigator. The spectrum of responsibility ranges from somewhere above Stanley Milgram’s near total responsibility (but below agent-causation, for no such human agent exists) to the very low responsibility that some random child halfway across the world might have for the moral effect of, say, this paper (this child, even if he didn’t speak English, would still be above absolute zero responsibility, because there is always at least a potential for any human being to influence another human being). . . .

. . . .There remains an important final objection to imputing moral luck to the collective will, namely, collective moral luck. I have shown that the collective will is not subject to the same onerous pressures as the individual will, but the collective will is certainly subject to resultant luck that leads to unintended moral implications. This objection seems quite powerful, because the collective will should presumably be subject to the same test of intention as the individual when it comes to moral responsibility. For example, the collective will might have the intention of creating a prison system that genuinely reforms inmates and creates a positive moral effect, but our understanding of the motivations for crime may be so inadequate that our prison system contributes to criminality. The principle of intention would seem to suggest that the collective couldn’t be held morally responsible for collective moral luck. But where else can we place the responsibility for moral luck if not the collective will? In the case of the instigator, we found that the collective will enfeebled and coerced the instigator by using powerful external pressures that influenced not only his decision making process, but the moral implications of his decisions. Consequently, we imputed the moral luck of the instigator to the collective will (diffusing it to each human being), but the collective moral luck can’t be imputed to anyone, therefore the collective must absorb it. There is no room for further abstraction; the buck stops at the collective will. But this is the strength of the theory, not the weakness. Only the collective will is capable of rectifying negative moral luck, therefore the collective will is precisely where we want to place the challenge of our moral system. This is because members of the collective operate outside of the environmental pressures that impinge on the instigator. The collective will has the capacity, and therefore the moral obligation, to create new systems with new situational forces to rectify the negative moral luck being imputed to it by the actions of the instigators who work within the existing system. To be more precise, the collective moral luck isn’t really luck it all, it is simply the challenge that morality appropriately poses to the collective will. Therefore, morality is best understood as the obligation of the collective will to rectify the negative moral luck imputed to it by individual moral agents. In other words, only as one people can we transcend the weakness of individual human capacities.

When we realize that the atomized conception of humanity that places the entirety of blame on the instigator is the true evasion of individual moral responsibly that needs to be vehemently rejected, when we realize that the actions of our neighbors are influenced by the systems which we ourselves have created and consented to, when we embrace the view that each and every person ought to feel a sense of personal responsibility for the moral progression of humanity, when we allow people outside our immediate situational pressures to propose solutions to our moral problems, and when we realize that the universe is indifferent to our plight and we as one people are the only ones who can overcome the limits of our internal frailties and feeble individual capacities, only then will we have a hope of creating a better world for everybody.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sexist myths are not legitimized if they come from faux-naive females

Kate Harding has an interesting piece in which she discusses the views of feminists towards Taylor Swift. Harding cringes when she hears the lyrics of Taylor Swift songs, she feels Swift simply enforces the typical myth of the female waiting for her prince charming to rescue her. Despite the stereotypical dependence Swift romanticizes, Harding considers Swift as something of a push, because commercial success as a female, in her mind, has some feminist value:
But I guess I'm a bit more optimistic about what young women like Taylor Swift are accomplishing, at least in big-picture terms. It will be a great day when more female artists are calling the shots, topping the charts and writing lyrics that don't make me cringe -- but two out of three isn't a bad start.
I feel she perhaps overvalues the feminist worth, for lack of a better term, of commercial success. She has grouped in commercial success as a female artist with feminist lyrics, but I think the latter is far more important. In fact, there is a case to be made that what Swift is doing is much worse for the status of woman, because Swift is exploiting these sexist myths and stereotypes in her songs (with a sort of faux-naivete) for the purposes of her own success. If what it means to be a successful female in the record industry is that your work can devalue woman and their individual capacity and independence, then we ought not laud the success of these female recording artists because their gender is only legitimizing these prejudices.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Horrifying and Hilarious

For Halloween I was determined to go as something original and topical, so I decided on being a fatcat from Wall Street. Yes, half cat, half Wall Street banker. My original thought was that this would just be something clever and comical, but in truth the costume is quite frightening.

The costume is so frightening because one of my props is the Wall Street Journal, the shameless Murdoch rag that has for so long trumpeted corporate America's interests, even so far as being the soapbox for climate change deniers, giving a false impression that there is a contentious debate between two equal competing camps in climate science.

However, I decided out of fairness that I would give The Journal a chance and actually read the whole thing before I went out. Here are some quick thoughts and observations about Friday's hilarious Wall Street Journal:

Let’s start with the first page, Economy Snaps Long Slump:

The most prominent article on the front page meticulously sifts through the economic numbers and reveals that this quarter’s modest recovery has largely been dependent on increasesd government spending and stimulus efforts. The export numbers are encouraging, 1.5% of the 3.5% rise in GDP, but government programs such as the cash-for-clunkers played an equally prominent role, accounting for at least another 1.5% of the rise 3.5% in GDP.

Here’s where things get strange: A Recovery At Last

The largest editorial of the day, as if they don’t read their own paper, called for a reduction in government spending because the economy has recovered. The contradiction here is laughable; you have one section saying the GDP is propped up by government expenditure, the other side employing the propped up numbers to argue for a reduction in government expenditure.

Covering the internal politics of the US Chamber of Commerce, we have, No Deal: Chamber Chief battles Obama

If you still believe big business does actually care for public welfare, read this compelling piece. In this article we are presented with the opinions of opposing farcical corporate cut-throats, neither of whom present the slightest concern for what is most probably the greatest challenge to ever face our species. You have one faction of the Chamber, nuclear energy, supporting climate change legislation because it would incentivize nuclear power, while the coal segments of the Chamber oppose climate change legislation because it could be harmful to their industry. The opponents of climate change make the strangest arguments. For example, according to sources, Fred Palmer of coal producer Peabody EnergyCorp argues against climate regulation because God has intended us to use coal. For equally bizarre arguments straight from the Chamber itself, just look to President Donohue who has argued against climate change regulation because warmer temperatures could help reduce cold weather deaths.

On House health care legislation: House Unveils $894 Billion Bill

The health care industry has contributed more to the Democrats than the Republicans, and this bill would seem to suggest they made a wise investment. The bill requires most Americans to purchase health insurance, with a government subsidy if necessary. Recalcitrants will face a steep 2.5% income tax penalty. The market for the insurance industry is poised to grow as statistics assert 96% of Americans will have health coverage by 2019, up from 83%. However, without power to negotiate costs for the government plan, its clear premiums will not be falling anytime soon.

In the WORLD NEWS section, we have a rather nefarious and misleading article about the Iranian objections to the IAEA deal for Iran to ship uranium for enrichment to Russia.

The byline claims this to be a large setback in nuclear talks. After speaking to the gravity of the setback, the article immediately makes the claim that the United States and her allies have limited patience in negotiations. Then the writer proceeds to consider aggressive policy responses. Only after citing a few anonymous sources within the administration for their thoughts on the difficulties of negotiating with such a fickle and conniving regime, and after framing the Iranians as sufficiently menacing for military intervention do we finally come to what the WSJ is so sternly concerned with:
“Details of the Iranian objections to the proposed deal weren’t clear…the UN nuclear watchdog had only received an ‘initial response’ from Tehran to the proposal.”
The article informs us of the Obama administration’s response before it even addresses what they are responding to! The article is practically drafting its war plans over something that could be the most mundane, technical objection to the IAEA deal. In fact, if you read to the very last words of the article, you might actually reach that very conclusion. The very last line of the article is: “Iranian officials in recent days had suggested they would object to any provision that would see them shipping out all of the fuel at once.”

The Wall Street Journal thinks we ought to go to war just because Iran doesn’t do combined shipping?

In the CURRENTS section we have a typical argument meant to confuse and obstruct the climate change debate.

Jeffrey Ball claims there to be a “renewed discussion of inherent shortcomings in climate change models coming on the cusp of potentially big financial commitments.” Juxtaposing the certain economic cost with the supposedly uncertain science, Ball delves into the particulars of climate change models and their esoteric and beguiling idiosyncrasies. Once everyone reading is sufficiently confused and climate change dissenters have their say, we have the conclusion that the debate simply "isn’t settled".

This is a typical tactic by business elite (also employed by the Chamber of commerce) to confuse the public as to where the scientific debate is. Ball spends a great deal of time addressing the varying scientific models between which there is some tension, pointing to this tension to suggest there is no general consensus within the scientific community as to the fundamentals of climate change. In reality, the general consensus within the scientific community is that man-made climate change is real and the world is warming at dangerously high levels, even higher than previously expected. The debate Ball is speaking to is one concerned with very narrow particulars within climate science, conflating it elemental agreed-upon truths. This is a shallow rhetorical tool to obfuscate climate discussion.

For the last and most hilarious piece, in the OPINION section we have two opposing views on net neutrality: one by the chair and CEO of Mozilla in support of net neutrality, another by two trite Republican Senators opposing net neutrality.

What’s so great about juxtaposing these articles is that they are actually making very similar arguments. Mozilla is in favor of net neutrality because it spurs innovation that allows for smaller firms like themselves to create revolutionary products that can compete with bigger firms who have failed to adequately meet consumer needs. Both pieces spend a great deal of time trumpeting various innovations and romanticizing the smart but small Internet start-up that changes the world. Only the Senators from Utah and South Carolina claim that the FCC enforcing neutrality is somehow a great obstruction to innovation, putting a bureaucrat between you and your Internet. But in fact, as the Mozilla CEO and chair point out, net neutrality preserves the integrity of the Internet and allows for the small guys to compete on a level playing field. The Senators fail to realize that those beloved innovations would not be possible if larger Internet companies had advantages that made their leads insurmountable.

The opponents of net neutrality, instead of actually addressing what they see as being the spur of innovation, roll out tired Republican talking points about government obstruction. In the reality-based community these criticisms don't even apply to this particular scenario. The government has not suggested that they will play the role of deciding which traffic or which company is worthy of favor, only that they will stop unfair industry obstruction that amounts to just that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The "second coversation" is the only one worth having.

This morning on Dylan Ratingan's Morning Meeting the conversation between blogger Glenn Greenwald and former Bush official Dan Senor was an excellent display of the very restrictive boundaries for debate the mainstream media has crafted for the Afghan War:


Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Glenn Greenwald demonstrated how reasoned debate seems wild and radical when one is forced to operate between the narrow choices provided, mainly, should we escalate our presence in Afghanistan, or should we keep our numbers steady while continuing the intractable war?

The pretense for this discussion is, quite plainly, how to deal with terrorism. The Afghan presence is justified by the danger an unstable, Al-Queda infested, Afghanistan poses to the American people. Terrorism being the main concern, Glenn Greenwald confronts it directly by asking what is the basis for anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. But when you sit Glenn Greenwald next to Dan Senor, it seems as if Greenwald is from Neptune; it becomes clear that they are having an entirely different conversation.

So lets be clear here: the pretense for this conversation is how to deal with terrorism, but the actual conversation has to do with narrow technical questions of how the war ought to be conducted and how American power ought to be imposed on the Muslim world. When Greenwald addresses the issue of terrorism earnestly, ignoring the boundaries Senor is operating within, it becomes clear that the discussion they were meant to be having is actually the cause of terrorism, and we run into an absurdity. You debate the different methods America should exert her power on the Muslim world in order to stop terrorism, but the motivation for terrorism is America exerting her power on the Muslim world. This conversation is plainly not worth having. The "second conversation" that Ratigan says Greenwald wanted to have is the only one worth having with regards to addressing the threat of terrorism, because it concerns itself with the motivation for terrorism. Normally the hawks and the doves in the press are debating between different options within the bounds of the first conversation, the absurd one.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A plan-less party's pathetic panning of the President's plan.

Krugman is bewildered by the Republican critique of Obama's stimulus package and its alleged lackluster affect on the labor market:
By and large I’ve long been inured to the deliberate stupidity of much political discourse. But for some reason the vision of Republicans whining, “where are those 3.5 million jobs Obama promised” — less than four months after the stimulus bill was signed, and with hardly any funds disbursed — got to me.
Without presenting an adequate alternative, Republicans have no grounds to criticize Obama’s stimulus. Republican plans for economic resuscitation were retarded by a dogmatic commitment to an unadulterated free market -- an avenue which most certainly would have been worse on the labor market.

The perverted logic employed is akin to the entire Republican car dealer fiasco: Republican dealerships are closed down, prompting conspiracy theories that the Obama administration was insidiously attacking Republican supporters, but neglecting the fact that all the Republican car dealers would have been facing the prospect of closure if there were no auto bailouts.

You can’t stand on the sidelines watching somebody bleed to death and then criticize one who desperately attempts to stop the bleeding (be it successfully or unsuccessfully).