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Banned in Malaysia!


(Politics, Science, Religion)

...people are wondering why there is no rebellion. I think there is no rebellion, not because kids are stupid or slothful, or whatever, but because the dark side of America is now in charge.

-Hunter S. Thompson

MALAYSIA, which strictly censors foreign movies and books, has decided to ban tomes with "ghostly" tales and those touching on the supernatural, reports said today.

Deputy Home Minister Chor Chee Heung was quoted by The Star as saying that the Government would no longer approve permits to import and publish reading material containing elements "calculated to entertain by frightening."

These include books within the categories of mystery, mysticism, fantasy, occultism and superstition, he said.

"These materials will create an unhealthy picture in the minds of the readers and influence them by such far-fetched ghostly stories," he said.

-The Star

Arthur C Clark once rated ghosts as being the most likely of all the paranormal topics possibly because it's absurd to believe that aliens would travel the vast distances of space to probe the most podunk portions of the population. What if aliens actually were trying to study stupidity in order to spread it? It may undermine our faith in democracy!

It would seem that forces are at work to demonize those with doctorates. Karl Rove intends to continue the Republican slide started by Nixon away from science to religion.

The split between the GOP and the scientific community began during the administration of Richard Nixon. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, protests against the Vietnam War captured the sympathy of the liberal academic community, including many scientists, whose opposition to the war turned them against Nixon. The president characteristically lashed back and, in 1973, abolished the entire White House science advisory team by executive order, fuming that they were all Democrats. Later, he was caught ranting on one of his tapes about a push, led by his science adviser, to spend more money on scientific research in the crucial electoral state of California. Nixon complained, "Their only argument is that we're going to lose the support of the scientific community. We will never have their support." The GOP further alienated scientists with its "Southern strategy," an effort to broaden the party's appeal to white conservative Southerners. Many scientists were turned off by the increasing evangelical slant of Republicans and what many saw as coded appeals to white racists.

-Nicholas Thompson, Science Friction

Rove wants a GOP party like it was 1899 and the country to go with it. With the tide of anti-intellectualism rising he just might get it. Boosted by the growing corporate monopoly in radio that broadcasts right-wing views, Fox News, and various neocon publishers they are getting the biased coverage they have longer for. But the unexpected feather in their cap has come from an ironic source.

The Internet's most powerful effect has been to expand vastly the range of opinion—especially conservative opinion—at everyone's fingertips. "The Internet helps break up the traditional cultural gatekeepers' power to determine a) what's important and b) the range of acceptable opinion," says former Reason editor and libertarian blogger Virginia Postrel. InstaPundit's Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, agrees: "The main role of the Internet and blogosphere is to call the judgment of elites about what is news into question."

-Brian C. Anderson, We're Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore

Just as feminism struggles to avoid adopting the techniques that have oppressed them, conservatives are faced with news that lies to them in their favor or at least claims to be in their favor. Full disclosure is not always apparent as in the case when they point out that "Bill O'Reilly, was recently dubbed "the new king of cable news" by TV Guide" and fail to inform us that Mr. Murdoch owns them both. It should be interesting to those regular TV Guide readers to compare what they wrote about CBS canceling The Reagans and what they wrote in June of 1982 about Ed Asner after Lou Grant was canceled.

"Ed Asner, the outspoken actor who stars as tough -talking editor Lou Grant, recently denounced, with soapbox bombast, CBS's cancellation of his series. '...I find it shallow that the network wouldn't have exerted itself on behalf of the show, especially so that the yahoos of the world couldn't claim another victory in their attempt to abridge free speech.' Whoa, let's back up their a minute, Ed...Lou Grant, good as it once was...in 45th place is where you where likely to find Asner's series...As for the 'yahoos,' Asner obviously meant those poor, misguided souls who had the temerity to object to, among other things, his pledge to raise $1 million to buy medical supplies for leftist guerillas in El Salvador.
"More recently, Asner has even accused the White House of putting political pressure on CBS to cancel his series. Asner must be suffering delusions of grandeur if he thinks this Nation's leaders have no more important matters to worry about than a foundering series or its egotistical star...This, Ed, makes you the biggest yahoo of them all."
Before I take you to the very next page of that issue of Tv Guide to tie the paralogical knot, let us examine the suppositions presented as fact in that little snippet of editorial. First, the yahoos of whom Asner spoke are clearly and obviously the minions of Falwell, Wildmon and the other cadres of the Repressive Fundamentalist Right. The Moral Majority yahoos who've been so busy attenuating freedom of speech all across the board, from pushing creationism to pulling books from public libraries to having schoolteachers fired for dissenting views. Second, the souls who objected to Asner's humanitarian efforts are neither poor nor misguided. They are powerful corporations like Kimberly-Clark, the Kleenex sponsor that withdrew its spots from Lou Grant, one can properly conjecture, because it operates a large factory in El Salvador. And third, how outrageously paranoid is it for stupid, uninformed, egotistical Ed Asner to suspect that "this Nation's leaders" spend their spare time harassing those who speak out. How foolish of him to think that the chivvying of Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman or Marlon Brando might preshadow what's happened to him. How egomanical of him to think that the government's smear campaign of Jean Seberg, that drove her to suicide, might indicate a capacity for malice on the part of this Nation's leaders. How self-centered of him to remember all the people blacklisted during the HUAC and Joe McCarthy eras. How shallow of him to think that this Nation's leaders, knowing of J Edgar Hoover's endless harassment of Martin Luther King, Jr., no doubt creating a climate in which the likes of a James Earl Ray would pull the trigger, and doing nothing to stop it, might suggest a Nation's leaders who are capable of sicking the dogs on an actor who has the temerity to exercise his First Amendment right to speak out. Yeah, what a paranoid, ego-crazed yahoo Ed Asner is.

-Harlan Ellison, An Edge in My Voice (June 7, 1982. Collected in Edgeworks volume 1. p210-211)

At the time, TV Guide was owned by (as well as quoted by Ellison above) Walter H.Annenburg. But according to Ellison, "if we thought TV Guide was a model of disposable journalism under old Walter Annenburg, little did we suspect that is was The Canterbury Tales compared to what Murdoch hath wrought." And wouldn't you know it, yellow journalism has flourished under his reign. Going back to Lakoff's theory that the Republicans have seriously invested in figuring out how to frame their ideas and considering that those ideas are sliding towards fundamentalist religious views which are divorced scientific reason and logic and recognizing how popular they have become leads some to suggest Man is not the rational animal we would hope it to be.

Imagine that you are confronted with four cards. Each has a letter of the alphabet on one side and a number on the other. You are also told this rule: If there is a vowel on one side, there must be an even number on the other. Your job is to determine which (if any) of the cards must be turned over in order to determine whether the rule is being followed. However, you must only turn over those cards that require turning over. Let's say that the four cards are as follows:

T    6    E    9

Which ones should you turn over?

Most people realize that they don't have to inspect the other side of card T. However, a large proportion respond that the 6 should be inspected. They are wrong: The rule says that if one side is a vowel, the other must be an even number, but nothing about whether an even number must be accompanied by a vowel. (The side opposite a 6 could be a vowel or a consonant; either way, the rule is not violated.) Most people also agree that the E must be turned over, since if the other side is not an even number, the rule would be violated. But many people do not realize that the 9 must also be inspected: If its flip side is a vowel, then the rule is violated. So, the correct answer to the above Wason Test is that T and 6 should not be turned over, but E and 9 should be. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents get it right.

Next, consider this puzzle. You are a bartender at a nightclub where the legal drinking age is 21. Your job is to make sure that this rule is followed: People younger than 21 must not be drinking alcohol. Toward that end, you can ask individuals their age, or check what they are drinking, but you are required not to be any more intrusive than is absolutely necessary. You are confronted with four different situations, as shown below. In which case (if any) should you ask a patron his or her age, or find out what beverage is being consumed?

#1 #2 #3 #4
Drinking Water Over 21 Drinking Beer Under 21

Nearly everyone finds this problem easy. You needn't check the age of person 1, the water drinker. Similarly, there is no reason to examine the beverage of person 2, who is over 21. But obviously, you had better check the age of person 3, who is drinking beer, just as you need to check the beverage of person 4, who is underage. The point is that this problem set, which is nearly always answered correctly, is logically identical to the earlier set, the one that causes considerable head scratching, not to mention incorrect answers.

Why is the second problem set so easy, and the first so difficult? This question has been intensively studied by the evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides. Her answer is that the key isn't logic itself -- after all, the two problems are logically equivalent -- but how they are positioned in a world of social and biological reality. Thus, whereas the first is a matter of pure reason, disconnected from reality, the second plays into issues of truth telling and the detection of social cheaters. The human mind, Cosmides points out, is not adapted to solve rarified problems of logic, but is quite refined and powerful when it comes to dealing with matters of cheating and deception. In short, our rationality is bounded by what our brains were constructed -- that is, evolved -- to do.

-David P. Baresh, Unreason's Seductive Charms

So if we have a trend towards irrational thinking as a byproduct of cheat detection, could those that frame a debate use it against us? Thus, the often confusing and complex position of someone on an issue can be exploited by their opposition.

The Bush administration has already put in power many religious fundamentalists and a win in 2004 will surely be a signal to continue this process. Their influence will make more people afraid of science, which already has problems being accepted by many people.

The complexity and jargon are daunting, and the knowledge has been horribly misapplied. We have weapons of mass destruction because of our fledging knowledge of science. Furthermore, the Western religious tradition is based on a fear of knowledge. It goes right back to Prometheus and the Garden of Eden, to God's threat that if we partake in the tree of knowledge, we will know only misery and death. Se we keep one thing in our heads that says, yes, our cell phones work, our TVs work because of science, but we keep an infantile, geocentric view of the universe locked within our hearts.

How do you combat that? Number One: Do not lie to your children. Do not tell them things that a probably untrue, because in a way you doom them to a perpetual infancy. Number two: Invest in education so that science becomes a way of seeing and thinking that is natural to all of us and not something reserved for the lucky few. At Cosmos Studios we are working on a radical new approach to teaching science from kindergarten through high school. We see it as an act of citizenship. If only an elite minority understands science and technology, there is no hope of democracy, because then we, the people, cannot make informed decisions. We will always be manipulated.

-Ann Druyan, Discover (Nov 2003)

What a strange shape the claims that scientists are elitist take. Some are, but it's ironic that those calling them that tend to be of a religious leaning and they have historically been the ones most resembling the remark.

The people will always mock at things easy to be understood; it must needs have impostures..A spirit that loves Wisdom and contemplates Truth close at hand, is forced to disguise it, in order to induce the multitude to accept it...Fictions are necessary to the people, and Truth becomes deadly to those who are not strong enough to contemplate it in all its brilliance. If the sacerdotal laws allowed the reservation of judgements and the allegory of words, I would accept the proposed dignity on condition that I might be a philosopher at home, and abroad a narrator of apologues and parables...In fact, what can there be in common with the vile multitude and sublime wisdom? Truth must be kept secret, and the masses need a teaching proportioned to their imperfect reason.

-Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais

They think you can't handle the truth. It might mean you'd develop second thoughts and maybe those thoughts won't fit their plans. The best thing is to keep us scared and divided along party lines. They equate difference of opinion with treason and prefer sentiment to reason. Like the unnamed literary cancer that's happening this month that sacrifices quality for quantity as if we're not already drowning in the WWW. I can handle the truth because I feel it.

...The Mask of Sanity, first published in 1941 and written by the late Dr. Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia.

Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort who are making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These are people born without consciences. They know full well the pain their actions may cause others to feel but do not care. They cannot care. They came into this world with a screw loose, and now they're taking charge of everything. They appear to be great leaders because they are so decisive. Do this! Do that! What makes them so decisive is that they do not care and cannot care what happens next.

-Kurt Vonnegut, Knowing What's Nice

Not only do they not care they refuse to take responsibility. They pass the buck. They hope to have us too busy with our McJobs to notice the warnings from the scientists & academics that are all lumped as liberal and liberal, of course, as being bad.

The culture wars have more than one front and the horror is that simple reason may not be in our favor. Common sense is far from common and logic is relatively rare. A good number of them believe the end is near, but the end of what is not so clear.

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Feminism's Follies Doesn't Mean Father Knows Best


(Feminism, Politics, Science, Language)

All politics are based on the indifference of the majority.

- James Reston

Why does Salon revisit the opinions of Camille Paglia? She may have had something to say back in the early days of the online zine, but I can see and so do others that she should stick to her day job. Her scattershot interview of political and cultural commentary is shallow and sounds more written to shock some with sound bytes than offer actual analysis. It's a long string of opinions founded on feeling over facts.

The emptiness at the heart of the Democratic Party is absolutely clear in the current campaign for the 2004 presidential nomination. The Democratic senators never take a stand without consulting a pollster. They're all trimmers -- they put their finger in the wind and frantically trim their sails. They were so twisted up about political fallout before last fall's election that they gave Bush a rubber stamp for war. Sen. Robert Byrd was the only strong, eloquent voice denouncing this dangerous expansion of presidential power and misuse of our military.

-Camille Paglia

She offers no evidence that all Democratic senators are timid followers of polls anymore than the Republicans and proceeds to offer one of the shoddiest overviews of three of the nine democratic candidates. She gives no attention to Dennis Kucinich, which gives Stud's comment about him being overlooked constantly more power. Of all things she focuses on how Kerry looks and the overall charismatic of the candidates rather than address anything they might stand for to differentiate them. Her comments come out like someone that has made her own rules and sticks to them no matter how pointless and arbitrary they are.

Look, I am a longtime listener of Rush Limbaugh because I'm a fan of AM radio. I've listened to radio since childhood. I was in anguish for a week over what was happening to Rush. It began with the flap over his remarks about our Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb being "overrated" because he's black -- an ill-advised intrusion of racial controversy into a tightly scripted jock show that wasn't the right forum for political debate. Then within days, news broke of the National Enquirer's cover story on Rush's abuse of prescription pain medication. The news stunned his fans. For me, it was almost like when Diana had her accident or when Natalie Wood was found drowned off Santa Catalina. That's the level of deep emotional upset that admirers of Rush had -- not because his private life contradicted his public code but because of the revelation of the desperate, agonizing subterfuges to which he had been driven by his addiction.

-Camille Paglia

She wastes a lot of words defending this hypocrite, racist, sexist windbag because "He is a master broadcaster, a master of the microphone." What? Maybe it was Camille that went deaf not Rush. Rush didn't back up the McNabb comment with evidence because he had none and as anguished (WTF? She's comparing it to Princess Diana's death?) as she claims she didn't bother to cite anything either.

O'Reilly is a crass sliver of Limbaugh. He doesn't have Limbaugh's homespun Midwestern common sense or his broad sense of the nation. But O'Reilly and Hannity are thorns in liberals' side, so there's all this talk right now about getting liberal voices on the radio to counteract them. Well, Al Franken isn't it, let me tell you right now -- or Michael Moore either. Look at them! They're like big, drooling babies -- is this the face of the Democratic Party? Big, squalling babies -- "wah wah wah!"

-Camille Paglia

I have yet to delve to deep into Michael Moore's work to form much of an opinion. But Al Franken gets nowhere near a whine. I have yet to read his latest book, but the last one had no sign of Camille's charge and he claims to be more of a satirist than political analyst.

There's only one successful liberal voice on AM radio that I've ever heard, and that's Ron Kuby on New York's WABC. ...And the whiny Al Franken may draw comedy fans, but as a political analyst, he's the joke.

-Camille Paglia

I don't understand this fascination with AM. I wonder if it's some kind of frequency phobia. She confines herself to a portion of the radio environment and complains because it doesn't have enough of what she likes when what I assume she would like exists elsewhere. Perhaps what we have here is a case of paralogia, a "disturbance of the reasoning faculty; marked by delusional or illogical speech." As a long time listener to Rush she must have become numb to his attacks on blacks. When she attended a party in 1992 where she dined with him she is quick to remember that "he was a jovial, witty, commanding figure who offered [her] a cigar."

Even if I ignore all that, there is something that points to a deficiency in her taste and that is her opinion about the Vogue video.

I personally feel that the video for "Vogue" is superior to anything produced in the fine arts worldwide in the last decades of the 20th century.

-Camille Paglia

So she appears to judge people on superficial levels of taste and here it is shown her taste is suspect. If that does not convince you of a certain level of paralogia, then check out her thoughts on the topic of weblogs.

Now and then one sees the claim that Kausfiles was the first blog. I beg to differ: I happen to feel that my Salon column was the first true blog. My columns had punch and on-rushing velocity. They weren't this dreary meta-commentary, where there's a blizzard of fussy, detached sections nattering on obscurely about other bloggers or media moguls and Washington bureaucrats. I took hits at media excesses, but I directly commented on major issues and personalities in politics and pop culture.

If bloggers want to break out of their ghetto, they've got to acquire a sense of drama and theater as well as a flair for language. Why else should anyone read them? And the Web in my view is a visual medium -- I don't log on to be trapped on a muddy page crammed with indigestible prose.

-Camille Paglia

So she invented blogging? I thought it was Al Gore or maybe it was David Winer or Benjamin Franklin. She hates the "dreary meta-commentary" about media moguls and Washington bureaucrats. Somehow we are supposed to see a difference from the unnamed bloggers and her columns on media excesses and personalities in politics. Are we supposed to be too dumb to see that her columns bore no striking difference from the majority of meandering columnists? Why should we care about anything she says?

After a bit of google-powered research, I found that she's not only a pseudo-democrat, but a pseudo-feminist or to be more exact, a misogynist. It fits in with Salon's mixed nuts approach to publishing radical writers of all political stripes. Perhaps, resurrecting Camille's anti-female conservatism is a way of mirroring the current climate towards women.

Her views were very much on the peripheral back when I started to investigate Dave Sim's misogyny. I was a much lazier reader back then. This collection of excerpts from her books shows many similarities between her and Dave.

She gives scant attention to Schwarzenegger except in a passing comparison to Hillary Clinton. Is it because his actions towards women are not worthy of comment?

Woman's flirtatious arts of self-concealment mean man's approach must take the form of rape.

-Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

What she had condemned in Clinton (just to chatise the Democrats) she ignores in Arnold. To her it would be a good thing if America would continue it's anti-women trend. It would put it back on the road to greatness.

The male orientation of classical Athens was inseparable from its genius. Athens became great not despite but because of its misogyny.

-Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

Of course, I have to admit that feminism has been hijacked again and again by radicals, but this doesn't make it much different from conservatism or liberalism. The majority of conflict between these groups resides in the vehement minority. Even those that seem sane still have problems getting things sorted out.

Whatever human nature is actually like, whether there are innate differences between the sexes or not, this must be completely irrelevant to political life. It is not up to politics to determine some biological matter of fact. Instead it is the nature of liberal democracy to ignore whatever differences there may be between persons, from whatever source, whether there are differences or not. That, indeed, is the Marxist accusation against capitalism, that some people do better than others, regardless of their needs. And people are different. Some people are smarter than others, some are taller, some have certain desires. What they do and how they fare is determined by the free trade of the marketplace. Whether differences like that align with sexual differences is an interesting question for certain sciences, but irrelevant to politics. To enforce some preconception about how people, or the sexes, must be the same will abridge the freedom not only of what they do but of what they are. Feminism was hell bent to abridge people's freedom in that respect. The choice is simple, freedom or slavery -- freedom to the uncertainty, unconformity, and the openness of the market, or slavery to the coercive power of the state to enforce a preconceived ideological conformity, right down to what people feel and believe.

- Friesian Society

I agree with the general premise that men and women are different, but find the reliance on the "free marketplace" to determine how they fare not only unfair, but a surprisingly faith-based determination that this economic system that has not included them for so long is not biased or that it is not open to abuse. Competition is not evil, but it is not immune from corruption.

The establishment of standards allowing entry into the "free marketplace" throughout history has been riddled with bigotry and sexism, but sometimes the fix is worse. In the case of a firefighter, I do not agree with the adoption of different standards of acceptance. Just because it is harder for women to meet those physical standards, does not mean we need to make different ones for women, especially when it may jepordize those that rely on the strength of a firefighter to carry a ladder or injured person. If necessary, change the standards to one safe level of competence. This falls short of the dystopian fantasy of enforced equality in Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron that illustrates the fear of "feminist socialism."

Affirmative action in college admissions is different in the sense that there exists an affirmative action of the rich (i.e. George W. Bush) and since there doesn't seem to be any effort to enforce a standard for college admissions affirmative action addresses this. Once enrolled the student should be graded equally, thereby reinstating a necessary limit. The institutional limits must give way to the necessary limits and those must somehow be created as objectively as possible.

The concept of equality is not aided by ignoring the differences in people, but in understanding that our similarities far outnumber them. At times the methods of fixing unequal treatment have done as much harm or more. Often it is because they are motiviated by a sense of payback rather then merely gaining equal treatment. Our history of division casts a long shadow of over our relatively short period of respect for equality. It is easy for those pioneers to fall prey to the same tactics as those that had oppressed them. Some have exhibited totalitarianism and chauvinism and have tainted their cause.

The answer to the differences between men and women is not to deny human nature as irrelevant to politics, but that politics, as well as the rest of the social sciences, is crippled without it. When I mention human nature I do not mean the subjective understanding of it that rises differently with each political viewpoint. I mean the understanding that comes from the consilience of the natural sciences and what will eventually connect with the social sciences. Yes, there's that word again.

Lots of folks have been linking to Lakoff's recent interview and some have taken issue with the loaded father/mother framing. It's interesting in light of this essay that he points out that leadership is not usually identified with femininity and therefore gives an advantage to Republicans while discussing themselves. Lakoff's claims seem to apply to Fox News too.

It may be ridiculous, but if you watch Fox now, you'll frequently hear suicide bombings described as "homicide bombings," right?

I'll tell you, it's interesting. On that same day [that Fox management distributed a memo suggesting suicide bombings be called "homicide bombings"], the White House had made the same suggestion -- well, the Bush administration, whether it was the White House or the Pentagon or whatever. That's the background to it.

By the next day, enough people [at Fox] were saying, "What about this?" So the next day's memo kind of reluctantly said, "Well, you could use either one." But by then, everyone -- and again, we're talking about young people who don't have any perspective on this; all they know is that you do what they're told -- they know what management's feeling about this is. So ... it's "homicide bombings." And that's the beginnings of a new P.C.

-Charlie Reina, Ex Fox News employee in an interview

I put "free marketplace" in scare quotes because I agree with Lakoff.

What about the phrase "free market"? Is that an example of framing?

Yes, but one that's so deeply embedded that it's difficult at first to see how. You have to start with the metaphor that the market is a force of nature, which comes from [the economist] Adam Smith, who says that if everybody pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by the "invisible hand" — by which he means nature. There is also a metaphor that well-being is wealth. If I do you a favor, therefore making things better for you, then you say, "How can I ever repay you? I'm in your debt." It's as if I'd given you money. We understand our well-being as wealth.

Combine them, and you get the conservatives' version that says if everybody pursues their own well-being, the well-being of all will be maximized by nature. They have the metaphorical notion of a free market even in their child-rearing system. It's not just an economic theory; it's a moral theory. When you discipline your children, they get internal discipline to become self-reliant, which means they can pursue their self-interest and get along in a difficult world. Conservatives even have a word for people who are not pursuing their self interest. They're called "do-gooders," and they get in the way of people who are pursuing their self-interest.

OK, but how is that a frame, rather than a guiding ideology?

Because the "free market" doesn't exist. There is no such thing. All markets are constructed. Think of the stock exchange. It has rules. The WTO [World Trade Organization] has 900 pages of regulations. The bond market has all kinds of regulations and commissions to make sure those regulations carried out. Every market has rules. For example, corporations have a legal obligation to maximize shareholder profit. That's a construction of the market. Now, it doesn't have to be that way. You could make that rule, "Corporations must maximize stakeholder value." Stakeholders — as opposed to shareholders, the institutions who own the largest portions of stock — would include employees, local communities, and the environment. That changes the whole notion of what a "market" is.

Suppose we were to change the accounting rules, so that we not only had open accounting, which we really need, but we also had full accounting. Full accounting would include things like ecological accounting. You could no longer dump your stuff in the river or the air and not pay a fee. No more free dumping. If you had full accounting, that constructs the market in a different way. It's still a market, and it's still "free" within the rules. But the rules are always there. It's important for progressives to get that idea out there, that all markets are constructed. We should be debating how they're constructed, how they should be constructed, and how are they stacked to serve particular interests.

-George Lakoff, interveiw

Does a better society lay somewhere in the center of the triangle outlined here?

I have yet to read it, but I do have a copy of Nickel and Dimed and it may help to point out the flaws that are always overlooked by the rah-rah Libertarian. Lakoff brings up Edward Wilson's point about how there is no ecological accounting. It's something the Libertarians and Republicans are usually silent about and only a few Democrats seem to be aware of.


Who got this far? No, really. 2% of the regulars? 0.004% of the majority that find there way here looking for...what was it last week? "ewe porn" OK, ewww. Maybe the whole public intellectual thing is just a fantasy.

Blogging does not (and should not) try and emulate the sophistication of, say, an academic presentation or paper. It shouldn't even try and emulate the precision of a news report, though paradoxically, as I've said, one its best functions is to fact-check such news reports. The attraction and strength of blogging is that it is informal, first draftish, and more than a little breathless.

-Tim Dunlop

Breaking through the apathy of folks going online only to get a break from the drugery of the work routine means that any website taking the more in-depth route is not going to find themselves frequently read. Oh well. Maybe as long as we are all drowning in data it might as well be entertaining. I just hope we don't become Amused To Death.

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(Activism, Politics, Science, Religion)

Now, in this last book, I wanted to talk about certain people, who are called "activists." It's a common word now, in the vocabulary. It doesn't mean they're full-time to it, but they're always the prophetic minority. For example, during the American Revolution, most people didn't give a damn whether they were... They could have been Tories. But certain people were activists, like Tom Paine, Samuel Adams. During the Civil War, slavery days, there were people called abolitionists. They were beaten up, smacked about. And then, during the '60s, there were students and others who were objecting to a war, and also African-Americans and others who revived a tradition of civil rights that was betrayed during Reconstruction. They were always more or less smacked about a bit, but bit by bit, their causes become some of the law of the land.

-Chicago's very own Studs Terkel on his new book, Hope Dies Last

I feel there's gonna be a change, but we're the ones gonna do it, not the government. With us there's a saying, "La esperenza muera ultima. Hope dies last." You can't lose hope. If you lose hope, you lose everything.

-Jessie de la Cruz

Eternal vigilance is required for continued freedom. It seems that offenses to fair play and liberty occur so often that we almost come to expect them and give people a free pass. In the interview Terkel asks if Oprah Winfrey, the Teflon girl, had any other California candidates for governor on her show other than Schwarzenegger. She didn't. He also asks if anyone even knows anything about the most qualified presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich.

See, as people take part... A certain psychiatrist made a study, that when people participate in something in the community—it could be a demonstration for peace, or with people like them on the street corner, objecting to waste—something happens to them. They feel they count. They're part of something that is happening. The psychiatrist is saying, "It's good for their health!" That it really does something to them. And I believe that, of course. It imbues them with a touch of hope.

-Studs Terkel

That touch of hope is something that deserves nurturing and it's what so enraged me about the hope-defeating message of Blackfive. Of course, I don't support Mahathir's speech or those morons Blackfive dealt with, I merely don't see the point in suggesting that every single Muslim feels that way unless you like the idea of tit-for-tat escalation that ends in genocide or as the war profiteers hope, a forever war. Having hope allows us to start on the road towards peace.

It is hope that keeps people fighting to get the ERA ratified since first penned by Alice Paul in the 1920's. The history of the ERA is something of an embarrassment for me as a Illinois-born boy. The time ran out for ratification of the ERA in 1982 and Illinois failed to ratify it party due to the efforts of Phyllis Schlafly. She was aided by then House Speaker George Ryan who blocked it from discussion by closing the session each time it found it's way into the agenda. When thousands of ERA supporters came to Springfield all Ryan had to say was, "Why should I want to watch those idiots?" [Ryan wants to rewrite history and leave a more positive mark than the blight that has been his legacy in Illinois Politics. I don't know whether or not this is a plant by his supporters since even their source doesn't mention Ryan. About the only sensible thing to be said about the man is his commuting of 167 death row sentences on his way out of the Governor's offices.] And yet, as the deadline drew near, seven women began a 37-day hunger strike at the capital...

In just the 21st day of the fast, the seven women had collectively lost 200 pounds. One of them was a nun. One was a grandmother. One was gay. One was blind in one eye. One of them, Sonia Johnson, the 46-year-old woman who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church and whose husband divorced her because of her pro-ERA stand, dwindled from 123 pounds to 99 pounds, collapsed repeatedly, and had to be taken to the hospital a number of times. Yet until June 23rd, the day after Florida voted down the ERA for the final time, when Speaker Ryan and Schlafly and the Mormon Church triumphed and Illinois said no to over half the population of the United States, denying us what we needed and wanted, Sonia Johnson sat hollowed-eyed and whisper-voiced in her wheelchair in the Illinois Capitol rotunda, telling us by her sacrifice that the spark of nobility does continue to glow in the human spirit. Telling us that we must not let what happened in this country after the Vietnam war happen again. Telling us that years of militant activity can sap our strength and weary us, but that just because a Watergate removes one thug from our view, that we must not be lulled into inactivity by the lure of too long a rest. When Nixon went, a soft GeraldFordlike hum, of the machine put into idle, settled over the land. And we rested too long, and kids today have no idea what all the angst of the Sixties and Seventies was about. And Nixon and Agnew finally had their way with us, even though they are off somewhere still getting fat and making a buck: they had their way with us because their clone-child Ronald Reagan rules the roost. Because we said, "I'm tired. I've been fighting for ten years. I need a break." And we went to our beds. And in the night they took the country from us.

-Harlan Ellison, from his column in the LA Weekly on June 24 1982 and reprinted in Edgeworks #1

The ERA is getting another chance in Illinois. So even as a hero dies for some, new ones emerge. I know I talked against the cult of personality last time, but the point is whether or not we are shutting down people for speaking out because they are famous or because we don't agree with them. If celebrities do speak out, I would like it to be from an informed standpoint. After all, what is the point of being famous if you cannot use your power for good causes? According to Mohammed Darawse, "They asked intelligent questions when we met them and they clearly know the big picture" and he's the Palestinian regional co-ordinator for One Voice for Peace. That seems to be more than can be said of Bush, whom doesn't even read the daily newspapers. But then, that might mean opening up one of Paul Krugman's articles, which may lead to another late night "pretzel incident."

The question of why the media slept is open to several speculations. One is that they simply missed a very big story. Bush had hardly settled in at Washington when he began to carry out the right wing's long-stalled agenda. This should have been startling to political reporters. The election numbers, after all, showed a country so evenly divided that neither party could win. Yet here was Bush bolting toward the right after the country had just voted to stay at dead center.

Though he had actually lost the election in the popular vote (he finished 540,520 votes behind Gore), he was governing as if he had been elected by a landslide. It was an outrageously bold political gamble or an act of preposterous gall, depending on your politics. But the media either failed to find it very significant news or, lacking Democratic cries of alarm to justify headlines, found the ideological nature of the story too difficult to cover in its conventional he-said-she-said storytelling style.

-Russell Baker, reviewing Krugman's The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century

I've seen several sites repeats the lies about repeats recounts that show Bush won, but fail to address certain thorny issues about voting in this country. Either way, Bush did not have the mandate of the people and he pissed away much of the unity the country had in 2001. Then Krugman and a few others began showing how Bush's tax cuts and his position on the Estate Tax (note Bush's Owellian spin on this issue by trying to twist the nature of the debate by calling it the Death Tax.) were made because he thought "poor people don't pay enough taxes." When the Bush budget came out Krugman said, "he and his people were simply lying about all the important numbers."

Ah, those numbers...mathematics is the way to a nation's instant narcolepsy. It might have something to do with a large percentage of people receiving a substandard education, but especially minorities. The education gap is the main reason why Bush can get away with passing off his budget as anything other than larceny on a grand scale. It has also emboldened the morons among us to speak up against whatever goes beyond their feeble imaginations. That's right, Dennis Miller thinks we should discontinue NASA for a while as if you could just hit the pause button on the space program until the Forever War on Terrorism™ blows over.

Sure, it really mattered at one time when we had to put the Soviet Union in its place. But the USSR has since disintegrated like Yeltsin's liver and the hard truth is that the Space Program is now just a bunch of guys from the A.V. team wearing a Kon-Tiki raft of Bic pens in their shirt pockets and renaming Martian rocks Snagglepuss.

-Dennis "The Shiller" Miller

As usual Dennis would like us to think his autistic talent in trivia translates to real knowledge and comprehension. But he's as knowledgeable and comprehending as a turkey on the block come this Thanksgiving Day. I fear that an education on the benefits of NASA to this country and the world far exceed the cognitive capabilities of The Shiller.

So Dennis, you ask, "who needs NASA?" Just to get started, it was NASA's fly-by-wire program that made something like the terrorism fighting F16 Falcon possible. And who do you think it was that launched almost every communication satellite that allows you to send vindictive perorations to your agent via your cellphone? Not to mention the satellites that have contributed new discoveries to oceanography, climatology, geophysics, and aeronautics. Aeronautics alone has gained much from NASA from design tweaks to reduce drag to safety features such as an efficient wing de-icing system to the development of a new fuel-efficient turboprop propulsion system. NASA has made commercial and military aircraft faster, safer, and more efficient since it's inception. Even in the field of agriculture NASA has contributed through the Helios Prototype, which is flown remotely and tells coffee farmers which fields to harvest and in what order to get the best coffee. There's NASA's Microgravity Science program that "help us to understand the role of gravity on fundamental physical and chemical processes." I think you realize that space is the best place to work with microgravity. Going through the NASA Invention of the Year competition winners shows that NASA contributes to medicine and even cosmetics! They even have a whole award body for software. Surely, NASA benefits almost every aspect of our society and fuels our imagination for exploration.

But Dennis says, "why don't we take NASA's budget and rededicate it to a public works project and build a comprehensive system of bullet trains right here on terra firma?" Certainly, Dennis is free to push his transportation ideas, but I don't see why we must sacrifice NASA for his bullet trains. His Doritos downing dickens of doom idea is complete farce along with his idea on killer-asteroid defense.

Besides, space travel is one of those fields where the greatest progress won't necessarily be incremental. Let's dry dock the shuttle and just wait a few decades and I'm sure somewhere down the line a new braniac kid, the next Einstein, will just scribble something on a legal pad one day and say, "Here Granddad, here's how to get to Mars using only a shop-vac, a Slinky and a Mennen Speed Stick.

Got that?

-Dennis "The Shiller" Miller

I got that not only do you lack the slightest clue as to the contributions to society from NASA, but you are devoid of even the faintest faculty to fathom what it takes to conceive of a Mars mission. I happen to think that the space shuttle program needs to be replaced with something more robust, but I wonder how they can mange this feat with a reduced budget. NASA needs more money, not less. In any case, I'm afraid that Dennis has had his sense of imagination follow his sense of humor and a now both are lost in space.

Imagine Bonnie Tyler singing "Holding Out for a Hero" as I carve out a few more lines in this entry. Sometimes it seems like being a hero is merely sticking to your beliefs once tested. Some in the media like to point to the ordinary heroes that rise from common folks in uncommon situations, but it's an oxymoron. Those extraordinary situations only reveal who the uncommon people are.

What gives rise to heroes? Is it altruism? Altruism may be biological or a philosophical fallacy, but I suspect its existence is good (though sometimes hard to maintain) as long as it does not become a twisted form of paternalism, which probably gets people to start singing Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero."

When it comes to public policy things get tricky. Even the most promising theories are still pretty rough around the edges. As I pointed out in my last entry, when things get complex it's easier for the opposition to insert doubt. As you know I have strong feelings about these things and I'm not about to shut up about them. I realize this may not make this place a "popular" site for the casual surfer, but it's what I do best. American politics may forever teeter-totter on the conservative/liberal power struggle. But I refuse to stay quiet when folks like Bill O'Reilly want an American Theocracy.

O'REILLY: Would you take the words "under God" out of the pledge of allegiance?


O'REILLY: Would you take "In God We Trust" off the coinage?


O'REILLY: Then why would you remove the Ten Commandments (search)? What's the difference? It's just a reflection of God. The objection to the commandments is the word God in the first two. If you don't take "In God We Trust" off, if you don't take the pledge of allegiance, why do you object to that?

GEPHARDT: I think it goes further than that. I think saying God is -- I realize there are people that don't believe in God and this is somehow stating something to them that they may not accept. But I think when you go to the point of putting down ten rules of life as part of religious belief, you're promoting only one religion's views of how life should be lived, and I think you're transcending over that line between church and state that we shouldn't do.

O'REILLY: Look, the Democratic Party is going to suffer in the war on secularism because it's identified with the ACLU (search) and the far progressive left. There's no question that's why you lost the south. That's why the Midwest is tougher. There's red states all over the Midwest. Why doesn't any democratic candidate come out and say, you know, I object to taking the word Christmas vacation off the calendar in Georgia because the ACLU sues. We hear nothing but silence from the democrats. Why?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think what we ought to do, rather than getting in our position on every one of these issues, is to talk about what we believe in, what we think is moral. The religion I learned was to care about the poor first. The religion I learned was to love your enemy as much as you love yourself. And that's the religion I try to live every day and that I think democrats ought to talk about.

-The O'Reilly Factor

Yup, secularism chaws his hide. He gets cozy with Pat Robertson and whines about "the debasement of the culture by, you know, the movies and the computers and the rap music and all of that." He's a champion of tradition, but I don't want to hear him sing it.

The question of this administration's relationship to the Christian right has been frequently muddled, most deliberately, or opportunistically, by the administration itself. We have come to recognize the rhetorical signals the President sends to evangelicals, a constituency which, since its turn toward political action in the 1970s and with the encouragement of those Republicans who would use it, has itself become the party's plague of brimstone-breathing horses. By the 1994 congressional elections, Christian conservatives cast two of every five Republican votes. By the time of the 2000 Republican convention, Christian conservatives achieved a platform unswervingly tailored to their agenda, including the removal of language that could be interpreted as pro-choice, the removal of language that could suggest approval of civil rights for homosexuals, and the removal of language that could be seen to favor any form of sex education other than the teaching of abstinence. "It was a one hundred percent victory," Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum said of the completed platform.

-Joan Didion

The Republicans owe their victories to the religious right and will push its agenda as shown by the Texas Republican party platform that got Bush where he is now.

Some days I feel like an agnostic and sometimes I lean towards deism, where I have the company of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin. It seems to me that secularism is the American tradition.

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Contemplating the Chimera


(Superstition, Economics, Environment)

Part 1: Rocket Man vs. Miss Cleo
Astrology. Stars explaining man.
Astronomy. Man explaining the stars.

-Leonard Louis Levinson, The Left Handed Dictionary

Where is that intersection that I cross as a writer into territory inflicting full-bodied boredom to the reader? I'm here in Sandwich, IL, the outermost outskirts of what could be described as The Greater Chicagoland Area, where the sprawlway continues its course in creating an ever-expanding continuous concrete cityscape. It's a town quick to dispel popular belief that it was named after some nineteenth-century English Duke whose habit of midday meals took his name. No, it would rather award Congressman John Wentworth the honor. He was given the chance to name the place after helping establish a rail depot and post office. So he named it after his hometown of Sandwich, New Hampshire and that is where the Sandwich historians leave it like a half-eaten species of their town's namesake. To venture further might turn their story back on itself like a small circle of fallen dominos. Perhaps its history is too boring to put forth that last step of fact checking on the origins of that New Hampshire town. Maybe they cite an Illinois town as its inspiration. Thereby opening up a tiny paradox in the most unsuspecting of places.

Should we fear such long runs of reasonable query? Do uncomfortable results curtail our quest for knowledge? Is the burden of acquiring real knowledge so terrible, so tedious that we run toward obscurantism?

I must offer my own admission on the topic of astrology. I harbored romantic thoughts towards it for many years and still entertain a vague fondness for its sense of interconnectedness. The phrase "as above, so below" from my reading of Druidic history comes to mind. So maybe I should not be particularly surprised that this kind of research is still being done despite the fact that in 1977 Lawrence E. Jerome wrote Astrology Disproved. No amount of scientific debunking can deter the hopeless romantics among us. They cling to the same postmodern plea, "You might be wrong." The empirically based scientist should and usually does admit as such, but such admission comes from a small percentage of experimental error or from areas where no such experiment is possible—yet.

I have been both fond of the fantastic and of the scientific. Sometimes this veers more to one than the other. But the thing that constantly brings me towards the empiricist and away from the transcendentalist is the way they approach new evidence that contradicts some part of their understanding of the world. The empiricist is usually quite ecstatic and eager to ponder all the new permutations of possibilities the new information has brought. The transcendentalist is quite the reverse and I simply cannot relate to that reaction.

How different would the whole of humanity be if we all had a look at our blue/white orb from the lunar surface? Not in the form of video feeds or photographs, but with booted feet on the alien turf of another heavenly sphere and eyes uninterrupted except by the transparent portion of the helmet keeping us safe from the extreme conditions on the Moon. I think it would eliminate the notion that one portion of the planet's surface is more sacred than any other and that the holy land should be synonymous with the whole land and sea for that matter. Would Osama and his ilk stick to their guns after seeing the surface of Earth from space?

Is the irrational adherence to superstition a defense against embracing the complex? Is it really this huge conflict of civilization that some claim? What if we are seeing the end of institutions like the Islamic and Catholic Churches? Terrorism threatens the former and pedophilia, homophobia, and a return to superstition threatens the later. As I've quoted Wilson before, "Religions are analogous to superorganisms." The failure to adapt to the environment will prove their downfall.

One thing that may accelerate this decline will be the consilience of evolutionary biologists and the geneticists with the social scientists. Ideology will give way to factual knowledge about human nature. The false guesses of economic theorists will crumble and we'll see if any remain. Political science will finally have some science to fall back on and hopefully we'll finally see an end to the liberal vs. conservative bickering. Yet it seems that people have an amazing ability to deny reality in favor of their own brand.

Let me now suggest a still deeper significance of the empiricist theory of the origin of ethics and religion. If empiricism is disproved, and transcendentalism is compellingly upheld, the discovery would be quite simply the most consequential in human history. That is the burden laid upon biology as it draws close to the humanities. If the objective evidence accumulated by biology upholds empiricism, consilience succeeds in the most problematic domains of human behavior and is likely to apply everywhere. But if the evidence contradicts empiricism in any part, universal consilience fails and the division between science and the humanities will remain permanent all the way to their foundations.

The matter is still far from resolved. But empiricism, as I have argued, is well supported thus far in the case of ethics. The objective evidence for or against it in religion is weaker, but at least still consistent with biology. For example, the emotions that accompany religious ecstasy clearly have a neurobiological source. At least one form of brain disorder is associated with hyperreligiosity, in which cosmic significance is given to almost everything, including trivial everyday events. Overall it is possible to imagine the biological construction of a mind with religious beliefs, although that alone does not dismiss transcendentalism or prove the beliefs themselves to be untrue.

-Edward O. Wilson, Consilience (page 282)

What in hell do the experts know?

-Richard J. Daley, oft attributed comment made to confidantes.

The two most abundant things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

-Harlan Ellison

I want to address a disturbing story shown to me by a friend. I think that the lie repeated often enough eventually gets believed. The Us and Them doctrine of inevitable all out war and the lumping of 1.6 1.3 billion Muslims as zealots only serves the warmongers. Groups of people that exhibit polemic positions based on racial or nationalistic sympathies and prejudices are a worldwide phenomenon and in no way limited to Muslims. The difficulty of the situation ahead of us is no excuse for the wholesale slaughter of every Muslim and that's precisely where the "Simple answer: I don't think we can penetrate that kind of cultural and religious brainwashing" leads to. It ignores the fact that once Hilter was toppled, Nazism fled to the shadows and that after the Ayn Rand/Branden split the movement was shattered. A living breathing Osama is a constant mockery of western power and our bumbling in Iraq is not doing much to dissuade that.

As much as I hope for the eventual abandonment of superstition in human society, I don't believe that it needs to be or can be accomplished at gunpoint. We have either ignored or misused our power time and time again and I don't think I have to argue that point. The bloody track record of CIA intervention in South America, Indonesia, and the Middle East speaks for itself. Our methods were always to support violent change as if there was no alternative. This is the case with terrorism.

I don't know if we have crossed the diplomatic Rubicon to a series of wars with all Islamic states. But even supposing we could toggle each regime, what evidence is there to support the idea that we can install a friendly democracy in places that have never known such a thing? The most successful revolution comes from within and it doesn't take much research to discover that although Muslim in name Muslims are not homogenous in their faith. Blackfive cites the speech of Dr Mahathir, but I think he/she never actually read it or at least decided to focus on one aspect. Yes, it contains the same anti-Jew babble, but that kind of thing is easy to believe in the Muslim world considering how we ignore every bad act of Israel including the current wall-building that ignores the history of divided Germany. The one thing to bear in mind is that Islam has been at war with itself longer than with foreign powers. We have done little to support those Muslim sects sympathetic to the west and instead threaten them all, which builds their sense of unity as Muslims against a common foe. This temporary unity was shown during the times of the Crusades.

I despise the ignorance of people like Blackfive that choose to frame one incident as an example that all Muslims are fucking nuts. This ignorance is feeding Muslim militant unity and racial hatred. Some of us have taken the time to learn about Islam rather than blast it from a point of total ignorance. Turn off Fox "Sue your ass!" News and find out what is really going on outside of the Rupert Murdoch misinformation machine. The full text of Dr Mahathir's speech shows that despite the "Jews are ruling the world by proxy" portion it is more a call for Islam to reclaim it's heritage of science and reject superstition. He says that Muslims "must accept [peace] even if the terms are bad, you have to negotiate. This is the teaching of Islam."

We also know that not all non-Muslims are against us. Some are well disposed towards us. Some even see our enemies as their enemies. Even among the Jews there are many who do not approve of what the Israelis are doing.

We must not antagonise everyone. We must win their hearts and minds. We must win them to our side not by begging for help from them but by the honourable way that we struggle to help ourselves. We must not strengthen the enemy by pushing everyone into their camps through irresponsible and unIslamic acts. Remember Salah El Din and the way he fought against the so-called Crusaders, King Richard of England in particular. Remember the considerateness of the Prophet to the enemies of Islam. We must do the same. It is winning the struggle that is important, not angry retaliation, not revenge.

-Dr Mahathir

As long as the US turns a blind eye to Israeli atrocities this myth about the Jews will continue. The Palestinians have committed brutal acts of violence and there has been violent retaliation. To argue over degree misses the point that it must stop. We give aid to Israel that goes to building walls and buying arms and not building peace. It is that simple. Israel would do more good by building a school or a hospital in Palestinian territory than by building the strongest walls and most secure checkpoints, but they have made a choice to continue the fight and the US has gone right along with it.

[Oct 28, 2003 Edited to add: I really don't like getting into the whole Israel/Palestine thing. There are factions on both sides that see this as a holy war and will continue fighting to the last man, woman, and child. Just as the US doesn't pressure Israel to use its vast resources to build peace, the Arab nations cheer the Palestinian people to their deaths, but never offer them a place to live. I decided to engage this topic here because I believe it would never be a problem without superstition on both sides.]

There is bias. There is misinformation. There are agendas at every turn. The conspiracy theorists thrive and multiply. Hatred and mistrust are rampant. The truth is ugly. The hands are bloody on both sides and the urge to close ranks is strong.

The flaws in our government and economic system are not opaque to those we wish to impose them on. They see how badly corporate corruption has deteriorated our democracy. If we can't clean up our own act, how are we going to convince them? If we are able to spread democracy and reduce superstition, then the people of the Middle East will start to consume resources like the rest of us. Sooner or later the flaws of capitalism will have to be addressed and that means abandoning much of its cult-like aspects.

Part 2: The Cult and Cabal
The all-encompassing nature of the Randian line may be illustrated by an incident that occurred to a friend of mine who once asked a leading Randian if he disagreed with the movement's position on any conceivable subject. After several minutes of hard thought, the Randian replied: "Well, I can't quite understand their position on smoking." Astonished that the Rand cult had any position on smoking, my friend pressed on: "They have a position on smoking? What is it?" The Randian replied that smoking, according to the cult, was a moral obligation. In my own experience, a top Randian once asked me rather sharply, "How is it that you don't smoke?" When I replied that I had discovered early that I was allergic to smoke, the Randian was mollified: "Oh, that's OK, then." The official justification for making smoking a moral obligation was a sentence in Atlas where the heroine refers to a lit cigarette as symbolizing a fire in the mind, the fire of creative ideas.

- Murray N. Rothbard The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult

The cult of personality is alive and well. And so is the cabal and its apologists.

You may already be bored with the Easterbrook affair, but I want to point out something that I found rather interesting. It's how many of those that have popped up to defend Easterbrook from the libertarian/conservative corner. Sure he apologized, but some seem desperate to salvage the man's credibility and I just wonder if it's for his "persuasive case for environmental optimism" in his book A Moment on the Earth.

To turn the deconstructionist slogan on its head I shall consider everything but the text of A Moment on the Earth and judge it based on his scientific credentials, which I have yet to find, and on those that have read his book and followed his other environmental writings. Easterbrook's misogyny, racism, and appeal to "free-wheeling yee-hah no-brakes economic rape" leaves a distinct scent of Ayn Rand influence.

Speaking of Rand, the cult practices of denial and revisionism seem to be par for the course in mainstream conservative circles these days.

The other day on talk radio, I heard a guy tell an incredulous Lars Larson that he wouldn't believe Rush Limbaugh was a drug addict involved in a drug ring even if Limbaugh himself admitted it. If you're that guy, don't bother reading Franken's book. You will really just drive yourself even more crazy.

The leaders we conservatives have trusted have taken advantage of our trust to line the pockets of the wealthy and powerful, and it's time we rose up and drove out these greedy liars. They've hijacked and distorted our belief system for their own gain, and in doing so are destroying our credibility.

-Becky Miller

The firm wall of denial shields the cultist from ugly reality. This prompts a call to their armies of robotic attack dolls and to prop up popular puppets to put in office. All lies and methods are justified lest the foundation of their belief network be undermined.

It's almost an amusing irony to see the same people that complained about the lack of credentials of celebrities like Tim Robbins to speak about politics make nary a peep about those politicians that come to their side. I'll take your Dennis Miller and raise you a John & Elaine Mellencamp, but in the end do we get better politicians or simply more popular/comely ones?

The distraction of the cult of personality enables the cult of the cabal to exercise "might makes right" foreign policy.

INTERVIEWER: Developing countries, at the last WTO meeting, went to the big powers and asked for certain rights, and they were stonewalled. How does that make you feel?

DR. MAHATHIR BIN MOHAMAD: It makes me feel very bad. When developing countries go to the WTO and register their protest over things, they should be heard. Their views should be considered by the rich countries. It would not do for the rich merely to dismiss the poor countries because they are weak, [because] they are in no position to do anything anyway. That, I think, is very unfair and very undemocratic. We thought about democracy; we have to be democratic in each country, but there is no democracy at all in the management of affairs between nations. It is always the right of the mighty which prevails over the weak, and that is very primitive.


When it comes to globalization and the economic growth of countries we are almost always shown the numbers. The cost of industrialization is never calculated in environmental or human terms. If we defeat the growth of superstition, reign in the corruption of capitalism, and spread democracy, will our planet be able to handle a fully industrialized world?

Part 3: Betting the planet
The global population is precariously large, and will become much more so before peaking some time after 2050. Humanity overall is improving per capita production, health, and longevity. But it is doing so by eating up the planet's capital, including natural resources and biological diversity millions of years old. Homo sapiens is approaching the limit of its food and water supply. Unlike any species that lived before, it is also changing the world's atmosphere and climate, lowering and polluting water tables, shrinking forests, and spreading deserts. Most of the stress originates directly or indirectly from a handful of industrialized countries. Their proven formulas for prosperity are being eagerly adopted by the rest of the world. The emulation cannot be sustained, not with the same levels of consumption and waste. Even if the industrialization of developing countries is only partly successful, the environmental aftershock will dwarf the population explosion that preceded it.

-Edward O. Wilson, Consilience (page 306-7)

Factors that may adjust population growth projections may be how the aging population of China may give way to a further relaxing of birth restrictions and result in a baby boom. The uncertainty of China's population growth is nothing compared to trying to determine the impact of the spread of industrialization on a global scale.

One of the formulas used is "I=PAT." I stands for impact, P for population, A for affluence, and T for technology. Human population growth inevitably means less biodiversity. So what is the value of biodiversity?

The alternative to human life is death and the alternative to species existence is extinction. Because both are obviously irreversible, the reader may conclude that the analogy holds in other key respects. Actuaries can and do figure out the expected earnings of a person based on a wealth of statistical information and insurers routinely put a price on the loss of that life. So, why can't the biologists do the same thing? The answer encompasses a variety of reasons, both practical and theoretical. Foremost is biological ignorance. In the case of the Amazon, the classification of species is far from complete and discovering the relationships among species has barely begun. Just as we do not know what species are there and how they interact, neither do know the sequence of billions of nucleotide sequences within the genome of any given species. The loss of a few unidentified keystone species may cascade into the loss of whole habitats; and the loss of any chemically unique species may foreclose the possibility of a valuable biotechnology for agriculture, industry, or medicine. Complementary to this biological ignorance is economic ignorance. We cannot honestly apply cost-benefit analysis when we do not fully understand the pervasive negative externalities of habitat destruction (e.g., climate change, soil erosion, epidemics, etc.) as well as the pervasive positive externalities of habitat conservation (e.g., scientific knowledge, watershed services, tourism, etc). Because both the negative and positive externalities are so enormous and so complex, it would be difficult for any economist or team of economists to impute a monetary value within the time framework during which the habitat is being destroyed and the species exterminated (Vogel, 1997). If the advocate for cost-benefit analysis is still undaunted by these challenges, then he should consider a fundamental indeterminacy that undermines the whole theoretical exercise: the instability of human preferences over generations. There is no reason to assume that the existence value this generation places on biodiversity represents the existence value that future generations will place on biodiversity. Wilson (1984) speculates that an aesthetic for biodiversity is genetic and Krutilla (1967) observes a preference for conservation over the stages of development. What all this means is that existence values can be constructed and that the discounted future benefits of biodiversity in any cost-benefit analysis will be whatever we choose them to be.

-Joseph Henry Vogel, PhD, "No New Roads: A Practical Policy to Alleviate Biodiversity Loss in the Amazon" (word doc)

We don't know how much we are losing to "progress" anymore than we know how to maintain a small biosphere. We barely even grasp the degree of poverty in the countries closest to us.

Once again the complexity of the situation acts as a shield for those wishing to gamble on environmental optimism in order to serve Ayn Rand inspired selfishness. Those ignorant of the laws of thermodynamics mock the news that in the past 130 years the average global temperature has risen 1 degree Celsius. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that it will go up another 2.5 degrees by 2100.

Local climates will turn more variable, as heat waves increase in frequency. Even a small rise in average temperature results in many more instances of extremely high temperatures. The reason is purely statistical effect. A small shift in a normal statistical distribution in one direction lifts the former extreme in that direction from near zero to a proportionately far higher number. (Thus, to take another example, if the average mathematical ability of the human species were raised ten percent, the difference in the mass of people might not be noticeable, but Einsteins would be commonplace.)

-Edward O. Wilson, Consilience (page 312-3)


The combination of superstition, selfish greed, and environmental optimism create the hidden chimera that threatens us all. Scientific knowledge is under siege by the call for considering competing epistemologies, which pave the way for Creationism. This seeps into our education system and cripples the next generation of scientists. Economists that ignore the environment in their theories feed the greed of CEOs that doubt the already crippled ecologists because their theories are "controversial." The government is not motivated to do anything since the environmental lobby is nothing compared to that of corporations and the people are too worried about terrorism to care about global warming and the loss of species that they'll never get to see anyway with the little vacation time they have.

But why worry? Most of us won't be around by the time everything gets really bad and our kids will be too busy trying to survive than take it out on us. Even better, once society starts cutting back there will be no extra cash for all those movies and music and those industries will crumble. Once that happens our kids will no longer be taught violence and we'll all live in a peaceful kind of poverty. You know, like the Amish.

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No Prize, No Cry


(Fame, Blogging)

I know that had I never been born, there would be no MRI today.

-Raymond Damadian

For a scientist he displays the usual level of egotism, but it's accompanied by an astounding lack of historical knowledge. History is filled with the same inventions that have occurred to numerous people. History is also notorious for being finicky with whom she rewards.

[Nov 09, 2003:Edited to Add: It seems that the Nobel folks as well has the majority of those in the scientific community as fully aware of Damadian and what he has contributed. They found it lacking.]

In an astonishing set of events, Raymond pays for a full-page ad of purely pathetic prose entitled "The Shameful Wrong That Must Be Righted" in The Washington Post and The WP then runs an article. Is it journalism or a bonus The WP offers after you spend $80,000?

It is nice to see that the field of medicine has its own Dave Winer who endlessly cries that he doesn't get the respect he deserves for technology only he could have made. Some bloggers use it, few understand it, and fewer care. It's like that yawn-inducing semantic web stuff that only appeals to über-information geeks.

It's this ability to instantly publish that tends to get people in trouble. Winer is regularly a victim of his own emotional immaturity as well as being a misogynistic putz. Easterbrook claims he's not a racist and that "Twenty minutes after I pressed 'send,' the entire world had read it," and "When I reread my own words and beheld how I'd written things that could be misunderstood, I felt awful." This is usually the time where people comb over all his writing to find a pattern of behavior in order to establish whether or not it actually was just an astounding, yet temporary lack of judgement. All I can say is that women better be prepared to say "This is Rape!" around him.

Even if you take care to edit and ensure your posts are free of such controversial content there is a chance you might break some unwritten blogging law of etiquette. I would like to officially release all need to credit me for finding links. Unless I wrote the article, I don't care for the "via" link that so many seem fixated on. This is part of a larger program of traffic defeating initiatives that I am in favor.

How to Fail at Becoming a Blogging Celwebrity

  • Not using any CMS: I get to ignore all the talk about what blogging software is best and avoid having to pay attention to security alerts such as the recent comment spammer. Most of all, by not looking or acting like a typical blog my content is hidden from those unfamiliar with my setup.
  • No Comments: Yes, I have the forum, but it's a mouse click too many for most. The only time I had real activity was when I had beef and yet all that is gone when I screwed up an install of refer. Why is it still up? Laziness combined with the desire to at least allow folks an option of public response and so I can make fun of those that don't.
  • WTF is he rambling on about?: Reaching beyond the sound byte barrier totally destroys the casual surfer's likelihood to stick around. The long format works for certain breeds of neocons whose long-winded works about the righteousness of bombing brown people serve as odes to policy onanism. On the other side you have sick fecal fantasies concerning foreign families. Then again, perhaps it's merely my affection for alliteration followed by my lack of concern for either party.
  • Where is the picture of your butt?: A non-standard navigation interface coupled with a distant lack of glamour shots robs my site of sex appeal. Hell, many times I have pictures up that make no sense. This is not going to change. If you are curious, you can ask her to describe it. I wouldn't go so far as Dana Carvey did playing George Michael when he said, "My butt is so round scientists use it to calibrate their instruments."
  • What X are you?: No Friday Fives, Tuesday two-fors, Wednesday witnessings, Thursday Tub-thumpings, Saturday soliloquies, or Sunday smorgasbords to roll into the Monday monotony. I resist these things for no other reason other than my attempt to offer something more than the mundane memes that spread faster than mono.
  • No comment whoring: Many a reputation has been built not by the posts made on one's blog, but by the obsessive commenting on popular blogs. NO ONE will ever delete a comment where you suck up to him or her. If you are too shy to try, there's pinging and trackback. It is possible to attack someone in comments and get more attention than the sycophantic style, but it takes more skill.
  • At whim posting policy: Blogging is an addiction. I tried to stop and managed to avoid it for only a few weeks. So it's only natural that reading blogs is just as addicting. Unless you pump out the posts regularly, a large following will never build up. You don't have to have anything to say each day. Go to Blogdex and grab some guilt-free links. But to truly fail, you must post only when you feel like it.

I have ignored several nuances involved with utter celwebrity avoidance, but I consider them carefully guarded secrets for near anonymous status. They might have to do with not mentioning any web popularity contests and linking to people 'just because.' Volumes have been written about linking and delinking as well as long rants about the need for certain awards events that somehow coincide with their annual announcement. Timing of content is very important and if you come late to the party you will almost always get left out. The attention span for most 'internet issues' is less than the stars Ebert gives some movies.

Hopefully, you have learned something about becoming a blogging celwebrity failure and can join the millions like me that have learned the art of not giving a shit.

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