Archive for the ‘ Miscellany ’ Category

Podcast Recommendations

Great Scott! The month, she is over, and I can’t bring myself to type-process any of the events of the last month. I’ve been meaning to explicitly point out some good podcasts that I’ve been listening to. That will have to suffice. Check them out:

  • The School Sucks Podcast I can’t over-hype this podcast/project. It’s fundamentally philosophically sound, thought provoking, and very entertaining. Also, the commitment to accuracy and the sheer amount of research is more than impressive. Start on episode 1. You’ll thank me.
  • The Corbett Report I can’t over-hype this podcast/project. It’s fundamentally philosophically sound, thought provoking, and very entertaining. Also, the commitment to accuracy and the sheer amount of research is more than impressive. Start on episode 1. You’ll thank me.

Stop Calling These Consequences “Unforeseeable”

I tend to err on the side of believing those who claim ignorance. We live in a world chock-full of narratives. It’s possible, in some cases, to go through a large part of one’s life without hearing a particular counter-narrative to a given belief–even if the counter-narrative cleaves more closely to reality. As humanity advances, and reality wins through, claims of ignorance become less believable. At some point, we have to accept it as evident that someone is either willfully ignoring a fact, or that they do not feel compelled to act on it.

As an easy opening example, take the practice of hitting (a.k.a. spanking) children as a “teaching” tool. This was a universal practice for . . . well, ever–”spare the rod, spoil the child” is 2500+ years old. Fast forward to the enlightenment and you get the first people hypothesizing that it might not be a great idea, based on the premise that children are humans and stuff. Fast forward to the mid-late 20th century, and observational evidence begins to accumulate that the best outcomes are associated with peaceful parenting. In the current day, the evidence appears overwhelming. The only remaining advocates of hitting children “for their own good” cite the Bible as their principal authority.

Whereas the parents of the 60s and 70s could perhaps claim never to have heard the position against hitting their children, today’s parents can’t say the same. A parent who hits a child today can’t reasonably claim to be doing so in the child’s interests. He or she wants to inflict abuse[1]

There’s a similar lesson that should have been learned, amply, in 10+ years of public access to full-spectrum information: when you send agencies whose existence depends on violence to carry out your social agenda, awful things will happen. In political and economic science, these were once called “unforeseen consequences,” but given the premise of this article, we should change that to “entirely foreseeable consequences.”

In 2008, the EU decided “to obtain 10% of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020.” I assume in pursuit of the laudable goal of taking some heat off the environment (pun intended)–something we can all get behind. According to the Guardian, “the total land area required to grow industrial biofuels . . . has been estimated as 17.5m hectares . . . more than ½ the size of Italy.”

In a world of equals, should the EU be serious about meeting this goal, there would need to be a lot of exploration in pursuit of uninhabited regions suitable for growing biofuel crops. In light of the scarcity of such land, there would probably also be alot of “wheeling and dealing,” trying to make it worth the while for the world’s farmers to grow biofuels and/or offering them buy-out levels of wealth in exchange for their land.

Luckily for the EU and their corporate creatures, no such equality exists. The lands were simply seized from their rightful, mostly indigenous, owners by the various puppet states around the world, and handed to the corporations seeking legistlated profits susidized and protected by the western armed militaries of the 3rd world.

A parallel land grab is on to depopulate indigenous farmland to grow forests for carbon credits, which, apparently will be worth alot in the future.
master
The Guardian continues, “The latest data suggests that up to 203 million hectares of land has been acquired by companies in land deals and two-thirds of that is for biofuels.” By my math, that’s just short of 4 Italies’ worth of arable land moving out of the hands of its actual owners, those who live on and work it and into the hands of multi-national corporations.

This is the result of demanding that government, “do something,” about a problem. It is an inevitable result and it has countless parallels in the modern world as well as throughout history. This does not mean, by any stretch, that there aren’t myriad social problems that must be addressed; anybody who votes to hand them over to the corporate-state, or worse yet, collections of multi-national-corporate-states, is either wilfully blind, or evil.

  1. [1] with the possible exception of a few religious folk who really can hit their children thinking that they’re carrying out God’s plan.

Dusting off the Blog

Well, hell, if IOZ is back, then the medium must have some life left in it. In any case, I updated WordPress; so there’s that. Coincidentally, The Vast Left-wing Conspiracy has picked up pace too.

Last Minute May Posting

Didn’t want to let May slip by with a goose egg in the post archive. Not that it really matters, just a personal somethingorother. I’ve been happily occupied away from the blog even more thoroughly than usual. Sorry for the commenters that were stuck in limbo–you’re now free.

I’ve got a podcast or two in the chute and some other vague ideas floating around, but I haven’t really felt inspired to take any of them from start to finish.

Things around here should slow down in a week or two and the Texas sun will soon prevent prolonged outside activity. I’m sure the posting will pick up then. Thanks for reading this placeholder ;)

Two Paradigms of Human Interaction, or “Free Pete Eyre!”

Yesterday, a friend relayed a story about his three year-old daughter. They had company over for the evening, and as the guests were leaving for the night, my friend asked his daughter to say goodbye.

“No,” she said and shook her head. He asked her again to please say goodbye to the departing guests.

“No,” she repeated and crossed her arms.

“Alright,” he said to her, and he turned and said goodbye to his friends.

Two generally recognized dynamics typically play out in such situations based on two opposing principles. The first, demonstrated by the above interaction, is that the right to refuse a request is absolute. Nobody should be compelled to engage in a behavior that they, for whatever reason, don’t support.

The underlying principle is the equality of all human beings. If my friend can say, “no” to a request, for example, to play hide-and-seek and expect to have his response ultimately respected (the pleading of a three year-old aside), then his daughter should have the same “power.”[1]

Oddly, this is something we all (well, mostly) recognize among adults. Those that don’t, people who take or touch against the will of another we call criminals–thieves and rapists. When kids are involved, it’s unfortunately all too common for the second dynamic play out. This dynamic is based on the principle that authority is to be obeyed. If obedience is not forthcoming, the authority can use their superior power to inflict increasing levels of coercion until his will is followed.

Thankfully it’s less common these days, but in the very recent past it was acceptable, expected, in fact, that a disobedient child be immediately physically punished so that they would learn to obey reflexively and without hesitation.

An interesting personal reflex worth some self-examination is one’s discomfort with a child being allowed to exercise it’s will. In all[2] of us who grew up under some version of the authoritarian model, there’s a twinge of anxiety when a parent “backs down” from a “command,” or compromises with a child. A commonly heard concern is that the child will become spoiled or demanding[3] and that a parent will “lose their authority” if they give in to a child’s refusal.

The “Grown Up” Parallel

On Jan. 24th, Pete Eyre was asked to remove his hat while observing proceedings in a New Hamphsire court. He refused, and was commanded to remove his hat. He refused again and was immediately dragged from his chair onto the floor and placed under arrest.

Yesterday, at the bail hearing, Pete Eyre refused to identify himself. Now he will be held indefinitely in a cage.

If you are interested in the story, you can find all kinds of perspectives arguing that Pete was wearing his hat because it was cold, that he doesn’t give his name because he doesn’t want to be “processed,” (photographed, finger printed, etc), but all of that is irrelevant from my perspective.

Pete Eyre is locked in a cage for the foreseeable future because a man referring to himself as “the court”, like the brutalizing parent, cannot compromise, cannot back down, and must be obeyed. Once a line is drawn, “take off your hat,” or “state your name,” the only acceptable resolution is one in which the order is obeyed. State officials are the other exception (the first being the aforementioned violent criminals) to the rule barring physical coercion between adult human beings.

The mind, at least my mind, when processing a story like this, immediately leaps to the instruction of our youth: do what you’re told, take off your hat, give your name. If you cooperate, you can be home instead of a prison. Refusing to obey is unreasonable.

The more developed, intellectual aspect of our response might be that the rules of the court must be followed. Police officers must be obeyed. Aren’t these principles the foundation of a civil society?

Of course they are not. The foundation of a civil society is that all its members are equals. Nobody has control of another person and all laws, for lack of a better term, are symmetrical. That is to say that if person A can demand that person B take off an article of his/her clothing and, if refused, can throw person B into a cage, then person B must be able to do the same to person A. If A can ask B’s name, and lock B up indefinitely if he/she refuses, then B can do the same to A.

Equality makes such behavior untenable at best and dangerous at worst. This instability (and, I would argue, human nature) leads to adherence to the opposite set of policies. Removal of clothes and exchange of names are undertaken with consent, negotiation and a lack of physical coercion[4].

The bottom line to the story, when all the trappings of high-school civics class are stripped away, is that a peaceful man, who hasn’t harmed anyone and against whom no one has a complaint, is locked in a cage because he wore a hat and wouldn’t give his name. As much as the mind attempts to bend this story into something reasonable or acceptable, the bare facts remain unchanged. If they are absorbed and truly comprehended, the ghastly and unjust nature of the situation is inescapable.

For more
Tipping My Hat to Disobedience
The Name of the Game is Woof

For much more and breaking news: Free Keene and Cop Block (which I think is co-run by Pete Eyre)
Free Ademo and Pete

  1. [1] I’m leaving aside situations where a child’s will must be overridden to avoid grievous physical harm–I understand, for example, that a three year-old should not be allowed to walk into traffic just because they don’t want to be restrained.
  2. [2] or at least many–I think it’s more common in people who still believe in authoritarian parenting
  3. [3] Although by modelling compromise on non-essential issues, one is far more likely to receive the benefit of compromise from a child.
  4. [4] and in advanced civilizations, a lack of verbal coercion.

All are Sustained by the Sword

What is called human government is usurpation, imposture, demagoguism, peculation, swindling, and tyranny . . . Unquestionably, every existing government on earth is to be overthrown by the growth of mind and moral regeneration of the masses. Absolutism, limited monarchy, democracy — all are sustained by the sword; all are based upon the doctrine, that ‘Might makes right’; all are intrinsically inhuman, selfish, clannish, and opposed to a recognition of the brotherhood of man.
– William Lloyd Garrison

(source: Patriotic gore @ google books.) H/t Jesse Walker @ Reason

Multiple $document.ready Calls

Thank you, Karl, for clearing this up for me.

When I started using Jquery, I packed all my initial processing into a single $document.ready call. I quickly noticed that this wasn’t standard. Many code snippets used a $document.ready for each logical modification to the dom. Finally, I wondered at all the instances of:

$(function() {
// manipulate dom
});

which I first misread for:

function() {
// manipulate dom
};

Well, as Karl informs me, $(function) is simply shorthand for $document.ready(function).

So create $document.ready(function)’s till your heart’s content or save your fingers the trouble and replace them with $(function)’s. Thanks to Karl, google, the internet and anyone/thing else in the time-saving chain.

Also Not Shocking

The mighty Glenn Greenwald is taken aback by Wolf Blitzer’s ludicrous and antagonistic piece on the “loyalty” of Justice [sic] Dept officials. You see, these officials had represented kidnapped foreigners who have been in cages for . . . just about a decade now. Of course, questioning the state’s blatantly illegal, not to mention obviously evil, actions is grounds for charges of treason. At least, that’s Wolf’s take. Or, to be more accurate, that’s the perspective, delivered by some arch-conservative, that Wolf let go unchallenged by objections or questions.

This is unsurprising to me. My very first memories of Wolf, were of him uncritically covering the first Iraqi slaughter in 1992. Glancing at his CV, he also worked for AIPAC in the 70s. Soooo, yeah, probably not that objective when anti-muslim fervor can be stoked a bit.

Goodbye, Howard Zinn

Looking back on it now, Howard Zinn had a major impact on my radicalization.  I remember reading The 20th Century, essentially a subsection of The People’s History, on a park bench in Rutland, VT.  I recall my surprise that the progressive political agenda whose return I had hoped for during the Clinton presidency was, in fact, a reactionary force.

The political giants of the era who, I had been told for years, fought against greedy and monopolistic corporate barons had, in reality, actively crushed social movements challenging the economic dominance of said barons.  The 20th Century also introduced me to dozens of individuals and communities that I had never read about, but with which I felt an immediatel and powerful solidarity*.

I spent most of that day and the following months and years unlearning the “leftist” history I had accumulated in my first quarter century on earth.  I marveled at the monstrosity of the crimes committed by the paragons of the progressive political narrative*.   The ruthlessness with which they smashed nascent unions, sowed discontent between the races, and used police, prisons, and the courts to break up organic social structures that were rapidly forming across the working class brought into question, for the first time in my life, the notion of political solutions**.
In Zinn’s telling, every chapter ends in a victory for the conservative establishment.  Every populist movement is destroyed or absorbed, its energy dispersed or twisted to serve the increasingly powerful ruling class.  Throughout the entire book, chapter by chapter, you get a sinking feeling that, if the pattern doesn’t change, the people he’s writing about are going to end up . . . well, exactly where we are.
Dennis Perrin wrote a post about Howard Zinn’s passing titled, The Human Train which does a better job of expressing my sentiments than my own post.  The title triggered a feeling within me, which I’m having a hard time pinning down.  I feel loss, which I am not accustomed to when strangers pass.  Maybe it’s a feeling of connection and motion, even between people far removed.  Anyway, I’m saddened by his passing, and very grateful for his work and the influence it’s had on my life.
* Yeah, and the ones on the right too, but I already knew they sucked.

** RIP that notion ~2002

Empathy

I bumped into this disturbing gem of mental sickness via a pandagon post.  To summarize briefly: torturing people by simulating drowning can’t be bad because swimmers immerse themselves in water and have people yelling at them, and they’re fine.  My initial thought was to provide the teeny, tiny, bit of critical thought required to dismantle this argument.   Somebody beat me to it (also linked to in the pandagon post), and had come up with a half-dozen more and better examples than what I was thinking of.

Oddly, not a single person I know is compelled by the water-boarding = swimming-team = not-that-bad argument*.  We understand a very simple and, I think, ironclad truth: when it comes to physically interacting with, controlling, manipulating, modifying or destroying another a human’s body, if consent is not given, a crime is being committed.

I started thinking along these lines with the intention of hitting-the-broad-side-of-the-barn with a commentary on the moral bankruptcy of the right-wing position–hey, sometimes I don’t want to think too hard before posting.  Talking it over with my better half lead me to an insight that I had previously lacked.  The red state author wasn’t glossing over the consent vs. non-consent distinction as a rhetorical ploy–he couldn’t face the reality that being in a consensual vs. non-consensual context changes the subjective human experience.

With morality put aside, why is it that so many people equate, say, standing at a music festival for six hours with standing blindfolded in a prison for six hours?  This seemingly absurd position can only be maintained in the mind through a stunning lack of empathy.  Immediately condemning this blindness as backwards and evil, as I did and tend regularly to do, also demonstrates a lack of empathy**.

Only two*** possibilities exist that could lead someone to be so callous to the reality of the human experience.  First, he might have lived a life devoid of non-consensual relationships.  Having no experiences in which his will is overridden by an asymmetrical power relationship, he has no understanding of being in such a position.  Because he was always treated with respect and dignity, he cannot conceive of the alternate subjective experience that results from surrender and obedience .

I believe that, while possible, a human experience devoid of dominance is extremely rare.  The most severe and, often, the longest lasting power disparity is between a child and its parents.  I imagine that a childhood free of dominance, while not providing much experience with non-consensual actions, would probably result in a tremendous ability to empathize with suffering.  I believe that this is the case because asymmetrical power relationships tend first and foremost to remove from the victim empathy for their own situation.

Let’s examine the other possibility that explains our red state author’s amazing inability to empathize.  The second possibility is that he was immersed for his entire life in non-consensual action, in an environment of violent dominance.  To avoid physical and emotional attack, he had to constantly surrender and obey.  As an adult, he lives in a world in which he perceives asymmetrical power relationships as moral necessities that provide order and structure in an otherwise chaotic world.

If this is the case, any glimmer of empathy for a beaten, sleep deprived prisoner is coupled to empathy for his own historical relationship with those who held absolute power over him.  This glimmer, should it ever occur, must be ruthlessly crushed within himself because he probably is still in close contact with his former captors and is, very likely, exercising similar dominance now over his own spouse and children.

I’m not attempting to justify the author’s advocacy of brutality.  It is impossible to compare subjective experiences.  We may dismiss empathetic feelings for any hypothetical suffering experienced by a white male political pundit.  Clearly, there are others who spend their entire lives subject to the violent dominance of others: women foremost among them.  It can be challenging to empathize with those who spend 18 years in prison when others linger there for their entire lives.

Rather, I am interested in the social mechanisms that disallow us from coming, collectively, to understand something as simple as “torture is always wrong.”  Is it possible to make rational arguments that undo the damage done by a lifetime of dominance?  Can we heap the evidence high enough that someone will concede that violent domination of another human being’s will is everywhere and always evil?

Empirically, the answer is “no”.  Rational arguments have been made, the pile of evidence eclipses the sun, and yet the brutality proceeds apace.  I’m not proposing a solution–I don’t have any.  If there is a direction that will lead to a saner world, it involves a radical increase in empathy.  Eventually, this implies empathy one human for another–currently difficult for the best of us, and impossible for most.  It must begin initially where all change begins–we need greater empathy, first and foremost, for ourselves.

* I use the not-a-single-person-I-know argument alot.  I am aware that plenty of people are not people-I-know.  I would like to recommend a policy of not knowing people for whom this argument makes sense after any amount of consideration.

** Meta-empathy?

*** That I can think of.