Monday, October 31, 2005

"Some" chemical weapons dumped in the ocean

Well, you can chalk this one up for next year's edition of Project Censored.

Lurking off Virginia are tens of thousands of mustard gas shells and hundreds of tons of radioactive waste in at least five ocean dump zones created by the Army decades ago.

Newly released Army records show that four dumpsites containing a hodgepodge of deadly ordnance are in deep water off Chincoteague, near the Maryland state line on the Eastern Shore.

A fifth is in very deep water off Virginia Beach.

A sixth might - or might not - exist. A former ammunition inspector at Nansemond Ordnance Depot in Suffolk told Army investigators in 1970 that "some" chemical weapons had been dumped in the Atlantic off Norfolk after an "incident at port" during World War II.

The Army says no records exist to verify whether that was, indeed, done; where they were dumped; or whether the weapons are in dangerously shallow water.

Years of records about dumping after World War II are missing. The Army has never reviewed records of World War I-era dumping, when chemical weapons were routinely tossed into relatively shallow water.

As a result, more dumpsites likely exist off the country's shoreline, the Army says.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Gone for the weekend

I'm going out of town this afternoon and won't be blogging again until Sunday or Monday, so in the meantime, here are two blogs that I keep in my bookmarks that I believe deserve wider recognition.

Orwell's Grave

The Green Knight

Trivia of the Day

Two lasts of wheat 448 florins
Four lasts of rye 558
Four fat oxen 480
Eight fat swine 240
Twelve fat sheep 120
Two Hogsheads of wine 70
Four tuns of beer 3
Two tuns of butter 192
One thousand lbs. of cheese 120
A complete bed 100
A suit of clothes 80
A silver drinking-cup 60

Question: What did the above list purchase in 1636 Amsterdam?

Answer: One single root of the Viceroy tulip

Source - "The Tulipmania" from Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay

Follow-up: Coca-Cola in India

Ever since seeing this story about a Coke bottling plant in India distributing toxic cadmium and lead laden sludge to local villagers as "free fertilizer" I've wondered what other questionable Coke actions in India might be uncovered if we had a press in this country that actually cared to investigate such matters.

So I looked into one of the few sights that might care - CorpWatch - and find that they have a Take Action Against Coke page which reveals, among other things, that Coke products in India contained (in 2003 when tested) unusually high levels of pesticide (Pepsi tested high, too.)

And over at Coke Columbia, union leaders at local bottling plants were killed and tortured by "paramilitary squads working in collusion with factory managers and the government." When a suit was brought charges against Coke were dismissed, but charges for the bottling plant, gov't and paramilitary groups were not.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

An update for the New American newspeak dictionary

To be added to the New American Newspeak Dictionary:

Maximum flexibility: Exemption from the rule of law (see here for usage)

Fake news might not be going away after all

As reported here, the Senate Commerce Committee passed a watered-down act restricting the use of vnr's which the PR industry is now lauding.

And then there are issues like this - one of the contributing writers for AlterNet has noticed a suspicious unsigned editorial that has appeared in several newspapers which looks like covert propaganda for the Bush administration. The editorials all start off with this paragraph:
One of the smartest things President Bush did to reduce recovery costs in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita was to suspend Davis-Bacon Act rules in the hardest hit states. But Congress is frantically trying to overrule the president, which would add billions of dollars to the already staggering recovery costs.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

On nationalism

"Nationalism is an evil. It causes wars, its roots lie in xenophobia and racism, it is a recent phenomenon – an invention of the last few centuries – which has been of immense service to demagogues and tyrants but to no-one else. Disguised as patriotism and love of one's country, it trades on the unreason of mass psychology to make a variety of horrors seem acceptable, even honourable. For example: if someone said to you, 'I am going to send your son to kill the boy next door' you would hotly protest. But only let him seduce you with 'Queen and Country!' 'The Fatherland!' 'My country right or wrong!' and you would find yourself permitting him to send all our sons to kill not just the sons of other people, but other people indiscriminately – which is what bombs and bullets do." - AC Grayling, "The Last Word on Nationalism"

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Help for Pakistan

The death toll in Pakistan resulting from last week's earthquake in Kashmir is now at nearly 80,000. And that number will continue to grow unless relief efforts are stepped up significantly. The UN has so far has only met 12% of its 312 million dollar relief effort appeal. In contrast, the tsunami relief fund was at 80% within ten days of the disaster.

Here is a list of relief organizations for those wishing to contribute.

Hate-monger of the week

The Hate-monger of the Week award goes to ... Ann Coulter.

Here's why.

American press less free than last year, says WPFI

The 2005 World Press Freedom Index is now out and the US has dropped from 24th to 44th, mainly because of the jailing of Judy Miller.

Iraq came in at 157th, with 24 journalists killed this year.

The "honor" of dead last goes to North Korea (167th).

Friday, October 21, 2005

Hypocrite of the week

The Hypocrite of the Week award goes to ... Bill O'Reilly.

Bill earned the award for spending most of this week denouncing attack and smear journalism, yet he himself often is guilty of attack and smear journalism.

O'Reilly on Media Matters: "the most vile, despicable human beings in the country."

O'Reilly on the ACLU: "fascist organization" and "the most dangerous organization in the United States of America right now."

O'Reilly on Paul Krugman: "Krugman and his vicious ... far-left pack ... - wants to control the USA by diminishing their opposition and allowing judges to make rather interpret the law."

O'Reilly on Ivins, Maher, Moyers, and David: "Molly Ivins; Bill Maher, Bill Moyers; and Larry David. Why don't you get Che Guevara on that, oh, he's dead. How about Fidel Castro? Come on, they are the far left fringe."

O'Reilly on David Corn: "David Corn is so beneath what we do here, it's a waste of my time. Number two, no one knows who he is. Number three, he's an irrational leftwing bomber that why would I bother with him?"

O'Reilly on Eric Alterman: "another Fidel Castro confidant"

O'Reilly on Bill Moyers: "Bill Moyers on PBS, he's -- hides behind the label of objectivity. He's about as objective as Mao Zedong, all right. I mean he's a Far-Left bomb-thrower who actually runs a foundation that funds left-wing organizations. I mean the guy's a joke. Get out of the news business, Bill."

O'Reilly on The Guardian: "it might be edited by Osama bin Laden"

Et cetera.

More manufactured doubt

From Mother Jones

When American corporations come up against inconvenient science, say, a study showing that mercury in fish can damage a developing fetus, or that a blockbuster drug has nasty side effects, they call in the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Industry-funded ACSH is the most aggressive debunker of pesky research reports emanating from government and academia. Its medical/executive director's calm, soothing voice can be heard on television and radio, quelling public fears about the latest bad news about health and the environment.

That man is Dr. Gilbert Ross. It was Ross who defended the Wood Preservative Science Council, saying that, contrary to reams of scientific evidence, the arsenic in pressure-treated wood poses "no risk to human health"; Ross who wrote on behalf of the farmed-salmon industry that the PCBs in fish "are not a cause of any health risk, including cancer"; and Ross whose organization once asserted that the jury's still out on whether environmental cigarette smoke really is hazardous to your health. Much of his time is spent tarnishing noncorporate-sponsored work as junk science of questionable motive.

Read on to see that Ross is no longer a doctor since he had his New York license to practice revoked by unanimous vote and that he spent all of 1996 in federal prison for a Medicaide fraud.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mother Jones interview with Andrew Gumbel

Florida's election meltdown in 2000 was a one-off, a bizarre deviation from the exemplary norm of American democracy. If the fiasco contained a lesson, it was that the old punch card voting machines (of chad fame) were past due for replacement by newer, more efficient electronic models. Or so the conventional wisdom had it at the time.

In reality, the corruption, incompetence, and bare-knuckle partisanship on such vivid display in Florida stood in a long, inglorious American tradition. If there were problems with the voting machines used in 2000—as there undoubtedly were—that was less a cause than a symptom of a much graver malady—the rot at the very core of the United States' electoral system. Swapping out the machines did nothing to remedy this deeper problem, and indeed introduced a whole host of new troubles.

"People have been manipulating and stealing votes more or less since the dawn of the republic," writes Andrew Gumbel, author of the excellent Steal This Vote,a book that, among other things, recounts the eventful history of electoral shenanigans in the United States from the Constitution to the 2004 presidential election. In Gumbel's account, both parties are to blame for creating and sustaining a political environment rife with perverse incentives for fraud, manipulation, and the maintenance of a dysfunctional status quo. And until this culture is fundamentally reformed, he argues, insecure machines, purged voter rolls, missing ballots, unequal access to the polls, and widespread disenfranchisement will remain standard features of U.S. elections.

Gumbel, an award-winning U.S. correspondent for the London Independent, was one of the first journalists to sound the alarm about electronic voting machines. He recently spoke with Mother Jones by phone from his home in southern California.

Continue reading ...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Does no one care?

Allright, I understand that it's only been half a day (and it just became available online) but I'm a bit frustrated/dissapointed with the lack of talk around the internet on the FRONTLINE episode that aired last night. To my knowledge, it is the most comprehensive and contextual investigation into the Abu Ghraib incident that has been on television, and yet I can find barely anything on it. I am aware that the Plame investigation and the Miers confirmation are currently occupying most of the nation's attention, but the issue raised by the FRONTLINE investigation is one of the most important issues that we face as a nation - I would have expected this show to spark lively discussion and to provoke introspection, instead I'm hearing silence. I sincerely hope that I'm wrong, and this matter has not dropped from the nation's conscience.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

FRONTLINE: The Torture Question

Very late notice here, but tonight at 10 PM ET PBS is airing "The Torture Question", in which:

FRONTLINE traces the history of how decisions made in Washington in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 -- including an internal administration battle over the Geneva Conventions -- led to a robust interrogation policy that laid the groundwork for prisoner abuse in Afghanistan; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Iraq.
For those that miss the show, it will be available for online viewing starting at 12 pm Wed at the PBS website - itself an excellent resource - that is linked to above.

UPDATE - I watched the show. It casts serious doubt on the claim that the detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib was an aberration that was committed by "only the nightshift." In it, you are able to see how interrogation methods that were approved for use at GITMO where George Bush and his administration had determined the Geneva conventions did not apply to detainees made there way to Abu Ghraib when Major General Geoffrey Miller, who had been in charge at Guantanamo, was sent there to take charge of the prison. Miller expressed his intent to "GITMOize" Abu Ghraib. This is a show that needs to be watched, because it reminds us that this issue is not resolved, that what happened at Abu Ghraib is not just the result of "a few bad apples."

For example, recall that Tim Golden's New York Times article about the death of two Afghan inmates at Bagram (another place where Geneva conventions were determined to not apply), revealed that interrogators who were already under investigation for harsh treatment of detainees were transfered to Abu Ghraib where similar abuses later took place

Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar's death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army's criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and in July 2003 took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to a high-level Army inquiry last year, Captain Wood applied techniques there that were "remarkably similar" to those used at Bagram.
Then, more recently, there was Captain Ian Fishback's letter to John McCain asking for help in delineating clear standards of conduct after Fishback is unable to get a satsifactory answer from his chain of command, and the Human Rights Watch report on the persistance of torture even after the Abu Ghraib scandal (with firsthand accounts from Captain Ian Fishback and his 82nd Airborne Division.) Here is some of their testimony:

-- The “Murderous Maniacs” was what they called us at our camp because they knew if they got caught by us and got detained by us before they went to Abu Ghraib then it would be hell to pay. They would be just, you know, you couldn’t even imagine. It was sort of like I told you when they came in it was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy goes before he passes out or just collapses on you. From stress positions to keeping them up fucking two days straight, whatever.

Deprive them of food water, whatever. To “Fuck a PUC” means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day

To “smoke” someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.
-- If a PUC cooperated Intel would tell us that he was allowed to sleep or got extra food. If he felt the PUC was lying he told us he doesn’t get any fucking sleep and gets no food except maybe crackers. And he tells us to smoke him. [Intel] would tell the Lieutenant that he had to smoke the prisoners and that is what we were told to do. No sleep, water, and just crackers. That’s it. The point of doing all this was to get them ready for interrogation. [The intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate. But half of these guys got released because they didn’t do nothing. We sent them back to Fallujah. But if he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.
-- It’s army doctrine that when you take a prisoner, one of the things you do is secure that prisoner and then you speed him to the rear. You get him out of the hands of the unit that took him. Well, we didn’t do that. We’d keep them at out holding facility for I think it was up to seventy-two hours. Then we would place him under the guard of soldiers he had just been trying to kill. The incident with the detainee hit with baseball bat; he was suspected of having killed one of our officers.
--I listened to the congressional hearings and when the Secretary of Defense testified that we followed the spirit of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan and the letter of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq… that went against everything that I [understood about US policy]. That’s when I had a problem.

The first concern when this originally happened was loyalty to the Constitution and separation of powers, and combined with that is the honor code: “I will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.” The fact that it was systematic, and that the chain of command knew about it was so obvious to me that [until that point] I didn’t even consider the fact that other factors might be at play, so that’s why I approached my chain of command about it right off the bat and said, “Hey, we’re lying right now. We need to be completely honest.”

On top of this, the ICRC reported, back in May 2004, that U.S. coalition intelligence "estimated that 70 percent to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees were arrested by mistake." This is not surprising, considering that "collectively detaining all males in a given area or village for up to several weeks or months" was a common military practice in Iraq.

Our leader's actions and words regarding Abu Ghraib appear to be full of hypocrisy. Take, for instance, President Bush, who has publically stated that, "the United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example," who might use his first and only veto so far to kill legislation that would prohibit the use of torture, as noted in the Nat Hentoff Village Voice article about the conflict between Sen. McCain who has pushed for the humane treatment of detainees and the Bush administration which maintains that it needs "flexibility" in prosecuting the "war on terror." And so long as the henious nature of the abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib (and potentially elsewhere) remains out of sight, full accountability for these actions will not be had.

And let's not forget the psychological toll that this takes on the troops themselves, The New York Times review of the The Torture Question writes

The images on "Frontline" that speak most eloquently to the sadism that took hold inside the prison at Abu Ghraib are not the snapshots of naked Iraqi prisoners stacked in human pyramids or cowering before German shepherds - photographs that shocked and baffled the world. What "Frontline" also shows are videos shot by American soldiers inside their barracks at Abu Ghraib in November 2003 - homemade movies of young soldiers dancing to hip-hop music that escalates into group attacks on a dummy of a prisoner, a primitive "Lord of the Flies" ritual of punching and stabbing that, if it took place in a bar, might prompt witnesses to call the police. In Afghanistan and, later, Iraq, these soldiers were the police.
It has been noted that our treatment of detainees is sure to radicalize much of the Muslim community, but what has been overlooked, tragically I think, is that it also radicalizes our own troops, who have unfairly received the blunt of criticism for the abuses that have taken place. (More on this later in the week when I post a book review of Inside the Wire.)

My previous entries on torture can be viewed here.

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster. And if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you. -

I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them - Spinoza

Test your scientific literacy

Click here to take Richard Carrier's 24 question (T/F) scientific literacy test. The quiz is followed by a section which explains why the answers are what they are. If you don't do well, don't feel too bad about it, as Carrier notes in his introduction

Scientific literacy is hard to acquire and is not widespread. Science is, after all, a very complex and nuanced affair that can only be truly understood with wide experience and deep thought. It took the whole of human civilization thousands of years to hit upon it, and thousands more to master it. Recent books have explored the unnatural, counter-intuitive, and difficult nature of science, refuting the naive Enlightenment view that science is nothing more than disciplined common sense.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Judy Miller betrayed her readers

A journalist's goal should be the pursuit of truth, and a journalist's loyalty should be to the public. An editorial at Raw Story explains how by not revealing the source whom leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to her, New York Times columnist Judy Miller failed in both regards.

Miller is currently being heralded as a martyr for the freedom of the press for the 85 days she spent in jail for refusing to reveal her source, now known to be Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby*, but I have difficulty seeing it that way. Consider that Miller spent months (18 to be exact) prior to the invasion of Iraq uncritically reporting the WMD claims of the administration which were generated by the White House Iraq Group that was formed with the specific purpose of marketing a war with Iraq. Miller also enthusiastically endorsed the "intelligence" coming from "Curveball" and Ahmed Chalabi, an individual whom Miller is known to have had a "long standing relationship with." This and her odd status as an embedded journalist, with - as she claims - a Department of Defense security clearance (a scandal in itself, say some), searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, makes Miller appear more like a public relations officer of the administration rather than anything else.

Walter Karp once wrote, cynically, that the code of "objective journalism" is: "Thou shall not think for thyself, seek instead a high-ranking source." Judy Miller appears to be the living embodiment of this principle. The most disgraceful example being when Miller reported in the Times, as evidence that Iraq had started up a nuclear program, the now (and even then quickly) discredited aluminum tubes claim. Miller had received the information from sources in Dick Cheney's office. Later that day, Dick Cheney, being interviewed by Tim Russert on Meet the Press, cited the Times story on aluminum tubes in making his case for war with Iraq.

In her own take on the Plame situation, Miller reveals that in her talks with Libby she agreed to refer to him as a "former Hill staffer" in any stories that she might write. This is simply amazing. Surely knowing that Valerie Plame's identity had been leaked to discredit a critic of the administration (at least in retrospect once the Novak column came out a week or so later), Miller had agreed to not only conceal Libby's identity as her source, but to actively lead potential investigators astray by misleading them.**

One would think that the THIS was the story, that this is what Miller's public needed to know. Miller had insider access to the pre-war machinations of this administration, and yet she chose to instead withhold that information from the public. So I must ask, who did Judy go to jail for? I'll suggestively close with a point from the Raw Story editorial

There is always a quid pro quo; the real problem with the current system is that the quid of easy access to power is bought with the quo of easy dissemination of whatever message the powerful wish to transmit.
*Miller maintains that Libby did not disclose the name of Valerie Plame to her, despite the name "Valerie Flame" being in the notes of her talks with Libby. Curiously, she testified that she is unable to recall where or who she got the name from.

**Although misleading, its not technically untrue. Libby IS a former Hill staffer, but he is now a current White House staffer. Why this is deceptive, I'll asume, is obvious.

UPDATE - Reason magazine's Matt Welch seems to be thinking along the same lines.

To put it as plainly as possible, Miller didn't want to testify about the Vice President's right hand man not because he forbade her to—on the contrary, he gave her his authorization from the get-go—but rather because she had good reason to believe Libby wanted her to lie. And in Judith Miller's bizarre, journalistically compromised world, it is less important to catch a powerful official in a blatant lie than it is to protect your friendly relationship with a productive, high-ranking source.

Humanist quote of the day

"Man's mind is so formed that it is far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth." - Erasmus, In Praise of Folly

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sunday morning art

Water Lily Pond, Harmony in Green (1899) - Claude Monet

This was Monet's own personal Japanese styled water pond. One can understand why Monet used it as the primary subject of his art for the last 26 years of his life.1

Potts, Vanessa (2000). Monet. New York: Metro Books

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Help reclaim the media

I received this e-mail earlier today:

I tune in to Daily Doubter every now and then and I thought that you might be interested in "The Tower," an animated music video that Consumers Union just released yesterday. Take a look at -

Also, after it is over a petition pops up on the screen - we are trying to get the FCC to hold public hearing before they rewire the media ownership rules (which they are planning to do in the near future - last time they tried this they skipped the part about talking to the people - so we are making sure that the people are heard this time around).

I hope that you will consider sharing this with your readers.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


Morgan Jindrich

Director, Strategic Resource Center

Consumers Union

Publisher of Consumer Reports
This might be an opportune time to re-recommend News Incorporated: Corporate Media Ownership And Its Threat to Democracy edited by Eliot D. Cohen.

Today's worst person in the world

Borrowing a feature from Keith Olbermann's Countdown, the honor of today's worst person goes to talk radio host Neil Boortz for his comments Friday in response to a story about how rich New Yorkers were tipped off about the subway terrror alert before even the Mayor had been given the information stating that in the face of a disaster, rich people should be saved before poor people.

I'm serious about that, folks. You see, that's the kind of thing that's going to end up in news stories: "Neal Boortz said that in times of disaster we should save the rich people first." Well, hell, yes, we should save the rich people first. You know, they're the ones that are responsible for this prosperity. I mean, you go out there and you look at this vast sea of evacuees, OK? You want to get an economy going in some city? Well, who you gonna take back? The people who own businesses? Or the people that sit around waiting to get their minimum wage job, work 'til Friday, get a paycheck and then not show up again until the following Wednesday? Come on. Just put a little logical thought into this, folks.
Logic, right. Logic like portraying this as a black and white dichotomy, with rich people being good and hard working, and poor people bad and lazy, and nothing in between. Logic like ignoring the fact that the people who were tipped off in New York were tipped off because they were connected, not because they had made superior civic contributions to society. Logic like creating a hypothetical doomsday scenario to justify the protection of privelege in scenarios which aren't doomsday scenarios. Logic like ignoring the fact that privelege of wealth and power would save a Paris Hilton before it would save a local librarian.

Congratulations, Neil, you're today's worst person in the world.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Another rollback?

From the Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency issued draft regulations yesterday that would ease long-standing pollution controls on older, dirtier power plants by judging these plants by the hourly rate of emissions rather than the total annual output.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said the administration is confident its recent efforts to curb harmful nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution by establishing a separate cap-and-trade system will do more to clean the air than the New Source Review rule the agency seeks to modify.

Smoke and mirrors. Yeah, yeah, this new "reform" will reduce emission by 70% in 10 years blah blah, which is why industry has been lobbying for this years before Bush took office but was rejected by the EPA until now. I'm guessing that if I bothered to look into the details that this is just another case of where numbers have been fudged to give the appearance of improved standards of regulation when in fact the opposite has occurred.

*Cynical, well, yes. But you read Bush versus the Environment by Robert Devine and then see how you react to these sorts of announcements.

And it doesn't help that I came across this before seeing the Washington Post article.

Washington, DC — The National Park Service has started using a political loyalty test for picking all its top civil service positions, according to an agency directive released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under the new order, all mid-level managers and above must also be approved by a Bush administration political appointee.
*I'd like to stress that this is of course, my opinion. I'm not in a position to comment authoritatively on the draft rules, its just that everything I know about the way this administration has operated regarding the environment leads me to be predisposed to suspect the worst out of any given policy. The reader is invited to investigate this matter for his/her self, and by all means, if anyone has any information showing that this planwill actually help the environment, let me know.

Report finds 90% of women in several African countries think abuse is their fault

Via Reuters

Domestic violence is so rampant in Ethiopia that nine out of ten women think their husbands are justified in beating them, a UN report released on Wednesday said ...The report focuses on the plight of women across the globe. It found that in Egypt, 94 percent of women thought it was acceptable to be beaten, as did 91 percent in Zambia.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Strict constructionism?

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." - United States Constitution, Article VI

"Yesterday a court in America made a ruling that I want to comment on. America is a nation that is -- a nation that values our relationship with an Almighty. Declaration of God in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn't violate rights. As a matter of fact, it's a confirmation of the fact that we received our rights from God, as proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence.

I -- I believe that it points up the fact that we need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench." - George W. Bush, June 27 2002

From the Seattle Times

President Bush and his aides yesterday defended their efforts to inject religion into the confirmation fight over Harriet Miers, suggesting faith is a legitimate factor in evaluating her Supreme Court nomination.

Bush aides have cited Miers' membership in an evangelical Christian church in urging conservatives to support her.

"People want to know why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers' background," Bush said. "Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion."

Quote of the day

"Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all." - Social scientist Herbert Spencer

Wagging the dog

Ever since back in May when Tom Ridge revealed that the color coded terror alerts were raised on several instances when he did not believe the intelligence justified it I've been waiting for someone in the media to attempt to answer the question of why the alerts might have been raised. Finally, somone has.

On MSNBC's The Countdown, Keith Olbermann, in a segment entitled "The Nexus of Politics and Terror" (click here for the video or here for the transcript,) examined ten instances where the alerts were raised within a day or so of something negative for the Bush administration being in the press. Take Olbermann's number two case for example

June 6th, 2002. Colleen Rowley, the FBI agent who tried to alert her superiors to the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, whose information suggests the government missed a chance to break up the 9/11 plot, testifies before Congress. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Graham says Rowley’s testimony has inspired similar pre-9/11 whistle-blowers.

June 10th, 2002. Four days later, speaking from Russia, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that an American named Jose Padilla is under arrest, accused of plotting a radiation bomb attack in this country. Padilla had, by this time, already been detained for more than a month.

With this context provided, the raising of the alerts takes on a quite insidious appearance. And that is the appearance that the alerts were used as a device to scare and distract the public, to marshal support for the administration by the creation of fear. Anyone who has read Orwell and recalls how both the pigs in Animal Farm and the government officials in 1984 used pronouncements of pending danger to subjugate the citizenry will find this to be a cause of concern, to say the least.

I begin to sound like a broken record, but this is a matter that should be of foremost importance to the American public, and it is the duty of the press to ask the tough questions of this administration that need to be answered. From Olbermann's conclusion

To summarize, coincidences are coincidences.

We could probably construct a similar time line of terror events and warnings, and their relationship to - the opening of new Walmarts around the country.

Are these coincidences signs that the government’s approach has worked because none of the announced threats ever materialized? Are they signs that the government has not yet mastered how and when to inform the public?

Is there, in addition to the "fog of war" a simple, benign, "fog of intelligence”?

But, if merely a reasonable case can be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country - questions about what is prudence, and what is fear-mongering; questions about which is the threat of death by terror, and which is the terror of threat.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Disaster strikes the Smurfs

In what has to be one of the oddest add campaigns I can think of, UNICEF is using the Smurfs in a Belgium commerical to raise awareness for some of its African projects. Apparently, Gargamel somehow got his hands on a fighter jet.

Manufacturing uncertainty

Junk science is a political term meant to disparage, typically, sound science that conflicts with the ideology of the person who is making the claim. It is also often the case that industries have paid "experts" and funded researchers to cast doubt on science that might ultimately cut into the profits of their business. This article, DOUBT Is Their Product, from Scientific American explains:

Uncertainty is an inherent problem of science, but manufactured uncertainty is another matter entirely. Over the past three decades, industry groups have frequently become involved in the investigative process when their interests are threatened. If, for example, studies show that a company is exposing its workers to dangerous levels of a certain chemical, the business typically responds by hiring its' own researchers to cast doubt on the studies. Or if a pharmaceutical firm faces questions about the safety of one of its drugs, its executives trumpet company sponsored trials that show no significant health risks while ignoring or hiding other studies that are much less reassuring. The vilification of threatening research as "junk science" and the corresponding sanctification of industry-commissioned research as "sound science" has become nothing less than standard operating procedure in some parts of corporate America.
The article also notes that "this administration has tried to facilitate and institutionalize the corporate strategy of manufacturing uncertainty." (Which might explain why an oil industry lobbyst was editing climate reports.)

And over at the Internet Bunk section of the Skeptic's Dictionary website, Robert Carrol debunks one of the most prominent industry "experts," Steven Milloy of JunkScience.Com, who "
uses 'junk science' mainly as a political and polemical term." Carrol states what should be the bottom line point about "junk" science

There's nothing wrong with having a political agenda, and there is certainly nothing wrong with being concerned that the government is spending its resources on the wrong projects, and there is nothing wrong with being critical of the work of scientists, but there is something wrong with pretending to care about science and truth, while labeling scientists who produce work contrary to your agenda as doing junk science.
For more information on how industry manipulates science, check out Trust Us We're Experts (excerpts of which can be read here.)

Quote of the day

"The most important thing in acting is honesty. Once you´ve learned to fake that, you´re in" - Samuel Goldwyn, attributed

Monday, October 10, 2005

Insurgents in Iraq guilty of war crimes

That would appear obvious to most, but I have heard grumblings around the web from opposition to the war in Iraq who have defended the actions of the insurgents as a justified response to the American occupation. Although I myself did oppose the invasion of Iraq, I fail to see how anyone can rationalize the targeting of civilians, for the acts of the insurgents would seem clearly to me to be indefensible acts of barbarism.

In a 140 page report released last week Human Rights Watch concluded that the insurgent actions in Iraq constitute a violation of humanitarian international law and are indeed war crimes. The detailed report systematically debunks each justification commonly given by the insurgents and also describes who the victims are in this conflict and which groups are responsible for their victimization.

Blogger's Note - Rereading this I can see how someone might come away with the mistaken impression that I'm giving tacit approval of the insurgents actions against US and Iraqi military forces. I am not. The report examined the insurgents actions only from the framework of international law, and as such international law does not prohibit attacks against military targets. However, that does not mean that attacks against the military are not wrong, nor does it mean that it is not a violation of non-international state law.

Online reading spotlight

The Edgar Rice Burroughs section at the Online Literature Library. I generally do not like to read texts online because I find the format tedious, but Burroughs style of pulp fiction lends itself well to online translation. Called the grandfather of American science fiction, Burroughs is best known for his Tarzan and John Carter of Mars novels. In these works the chapters are relatively short and usually end with a cliffhanger which makes them convenient reads for the web and an easy way to kill a few minutes.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The face of war

From Reason

If you can stand to search for it in the melted flesh of the boy’s back, you may find the reason why all governments try to conceal the human costs of war. Even on those rare occasions when the cause is unambiguously just, such images represent a blurred, nightmare landscape in which easy patriotism disappears.
Click the link to see the graphic image referenced in the above quote.

Friday, October 07, 2005

On the importance of journalism

From Bill Moyers' keynote address to the Society of Environmental Journalists

The Gilded Age has returned with a vengeance. Washington again is a spectacle of corruption. The promise of America has been subverted to crony capitalism, sleazy lobbyists, and an arrogance of power matched only by an arrogance of the present that acts as if there is no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow. I see the future every time I work at my desk. There, beside my computer, are photographs of Henry, Thomas, Nancy, Jassie, and SaraJane - my grandchildren, ages 13 down. They have no vote and they have no voice. They have no party. They have no lobbyists in Washington. They have only you and me - our pens and our keyboards and our microphones - to seek and to speak and to publish what we can of how power works, how the world wags and who wags it. The powers-that-be would have us merely cover the news; our challenge is to uncover the news that they would keep hidden.

Baleful quote of the day

From UPI ( via The Green Knight)

"Everything that happens in Iraq is viewed in Washington through a prism of whether it is good for George W. Bush or bad," said a civilian U.S. official, who spoke to UPI on the condition he not be named.

Mo' money, mo' problems...

From the Christian Science Monitor

Overall, it would be next to impossible to offset $200 billion in Katrina costs in one year's budget, says Mr. Collender. Federal spending is $2.6 trillion a year - but take away Social Security and other entitlements, debt interest, defense spending, and supplemental war appropriations, and only about $500 billion remains. Finding $200 billion in savings would require almost a 50 percent cut in this remaining portion - which includes food safety programs, National Park Service salaries, and salaries for White House staff.
From Yahoo

The Senate voted Friday to give President Bush $50 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. military efforts against terrorism, money that would push total spending for the operations beyond $350 billion.

In a 97-0 vote, the GOP-controlled Senate signed off on the money as part of a $445 billion military spending bill for the budget year that began Oct. 1.
In related news, the White House revealed plans to create trees which grow money.

Book review of the day

Salon reviews The Assassins' Gate : America in Iraq by George Packer. An excerpt of the review:

Perhaps the most morally shocking revelation in "The Assassins' Gate" is that the real reason the Bush administration did not plan for the aftermath of the war was that such planning might have prevented the war from taking place. One example of this was the administration's rejection of an offer of help from a coalition of heavyweight bipartisan policy groups. Leslie Gelb, president of the bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations, had offered to assist the administration in its postwar planning: He proposed that his group and two other respected think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, prepare a study. "'This is just what we need," Rice said. 'We'll be too busy to do it ourselves.' But she didn't want the involvement of Heritage, which had been critical of the idea of an Iraq war. 'Do AEI instead.'"

Representatives of the think tanks duly met with National Security Council head Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley. "John Hamre of CSIS went in expecting to pitch the idea to Rice, but the meeting was odd from the start: Rice seemed attentive only to [AEI president Chris] DeMuth, and it was as if the White House was trying to sell something to the American Enterprise Institute rather than the other way around. When Gelb, on speakerphone from New York, began to describe his concept, DeMuth cut him off. 'Wait a minute. What's all this planning and thinking about postwar Iraq?' He turned to Rice. 'This is nation building, and you said you were against that. In the campaign you said it, the president has said it. Does he know you're doing this? Does Karl Rove know?' "

Without AEI, Rice couldn't sign on. Two weeks later, Hadley called Gelb to tell him what Gelb already knew: 'We're not going to go ahead with it.' Gelb later explained, 'They thought all those things would get in the way of going to war.'"

In effect, the far-right AEI was running the White House's Iraq policy -- and the AEI's war-at-all-costs imperatives drove the Pentagon, too. "'The senior leadership of the Pentagon was very worried about the realities of the postconflict phase being known,' a Defense official said, 'because if you are Feith or you are Wolfowitz, your primary concern is to achieve the war.'"

Those involved in this massive deception have not been punished in any way. The officials who lied to get their war will never pay any price for their deeds. But one could make a legitimate argument that their actions constitute one of the greatest betrayals of the nation in its history.

Quote of the day

"It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools" - Ecclesiastes 7:5, The Bible (King James edition)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Environmental news

Via Yahoo

The government and General Electric Co. struck a deal Thursday on dredging PCB-contaminated sediment from New York's Hudson River, hastening a Superfund cleanup that could cost $500 million or more.

The deal announced by the Environmental Protection Agency means that dredging should begin in the spring of 2007 on a 40-mile stretch of river north of Albany, N.Y.
For those not aware, GE is, if I recall correctly, responsible for the worst of the superfund sites, and has challenged (and continues to challege) the superfund law in court. Although the deal is good news, I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude towards it, as GE's poor environmental record and the EPA's lax enforcement of environmental laws over the last four years has left me with a great deal of skepticism over whether or not the clean-up will proceed without some catch. Results, then congratulations.

Alexander Hamilton on cronyism

Via Liberal Avenger

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. . . . He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure. - Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers, "The Appointing Power of the President," No. 76

Advice for New Orleans residents - don't move back

I wouldn't. At least not for now. The reason is that I worry that environmental concerns are not being properly addressed. Despite the EPA's reassurance that it is safe to return I harbor misgivings. For one, I have not forgotten the EPA also telling the residents of New York it was safe to return after 9/11 and the people who claim to have gotten sick despite the EPA's go-ahead. Secondly, there are those that warn that the EPA is not taking the steps necessary to protect returning citizens. And lastly, even if the EPA and clean-up crews were doing a fantastic and remarkable job of cleaning New Orleans I just can't see how the area could be made livable in such a short time. Consider the oil leaks - "Katrina caused at least 40 oil spills from Gulf Coast refineries and storage tanks, dumping more than 8 million gallons of crude into southern Louisiana towns, wetlands and shorelines." - and then recall that people are still scrubbing oil in the Prince William Sound as a result of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Additionally, New Orleans was home to three superfund sites which are another source of potential toxic contamination. These sorts of spills and leakages generally have long lasting environmental consequences; given this administration's record of downplaying environmental degredation and the lack of seriuos media attention to this issue I do not think I would be able to return confident of my health safety.

The end of genocide in Darfur

From here

At last, some good news from Darfur: the holocaust in western Sudan is nearly over. There’s only one problem – it’s drawing to an end only because there are no black people left to cleanse or kill.

The National Islamic Front government has culled over 400,000 “Zurga” – a word which translates best as “niggers” – and driven two million more from their homes in its quest to make western Sudan “Zurga-free”. Their racist Janjaweed militias would love to carry on rampaging and raping, but the black villages have all been burned down and the women have all been raped with “Arab seed” to “destroy their race from within” – what’s a poor militiaman to do? The first genocide of the twenty-first century has proceeded without a hitch, and the genocidaires have won.
What lesson can be learned from this?

The Darfur holocaust is a bleak demonstration of how little the most powerful institutions in the world are motivated by basic human morality. Confronted with a clear example of the most terrible crime of all, they have all conspired to carry on working with the killers as if the holocaust in Darfur is at best a minor inconvenience.

McCain's anti-torture amendment approved in the Senate

Via the AP

The Republican-controlled Senate voted Wednesday to impose restrictions on the treatment of terrorism suspects, delivering a rare wartime rebuke to President Bush.

Defying the White House, senators voted 90-9 to approve an amendment that would prohibit the use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held.

But President Bush has already vowed to veto this amendment, which would be Bush's first presidential veto, as far as I know.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Political Ideals: the commentary

Consider this a companion piece to my previous blog entry on Russell's essay. Here I will summarize the points made by Russell.

- There are two kinds of possessions (material and mental) and two corresponding sorts of impulses (possesive and creative). The best sort of life is one in which creative impulses dominate. and the best sort of individual is one who is creative, self-actualized, self-motivated, and compassionate towards others. The purpose of political institutions should be to facilitate the development of these sorts of individuals.

- In order to reach a person creative potential, a person must be free from being dominated by possesive impulses which arise from a lack of basic material sustenance. An environment where competition for material goods predominates lead to the aggregation of men into groups who compete for power to maintain material possesions.

- Out of such a society based on competition a form of rationalization takes place in order to justify the prosperity of some by the misery of others. Greed becomes an enshrined virtue. In Russell's view, both wealth and poverty have the power to oppress: wealth, by causing individuals to contemplate on how they might maintain their wealth and thus blind themself to social injustice; poverty, by causing person to contemplate only how material gains may be achieved.

- To reduce the possesive impulse, people need both security and liberty. To achieve this, force must be used. Yet, the only legitimate use of force is to reduce the use of force, and force should be applied only by a neutral public authority which is subject to the rule of law and some form of oversight.

- In economic systems power is unevenly distributed. And that this unequal distribution makes the interest of the individual conflict with the interest of the community in "a thousand ways in which no such conflict ought to exist."

- Despite the possesive impulses and uneven distribution of ecomonomic power, Russell believes that power is the motivating principle of political action. For this reason, any system that does not in some way address the concentration of power will tend towards opression regardless of whether economic want is reduced or not.

- In democratic institutions there is a systemic problem in that those in power, by the nature of their position, are inclined to be opposed to progression, and are likely to sell their influence to those who can help them maintain their power. In this way, wealth and power become intertwined and indistinguishable, and the good of the public becomes a secondary concern.

- In addition to the problem above, there is the issue that social cohesion requires the implementation of law and order. The maintenance of law and order require individual liberty to be curtailed to an extent. Those concerned with law and order will also be predisposed towards resistance to progression, while those who seek to be innovative will seek to break with norms of society. Both mindsets are necessary, and thus a balance must be struck between the two.

- But already there is an imbalance on the side of custom, says Russell. Inherited tradition needs no new defense, but radical new ideas are met with persecution. Through out history, however, many ideas that have been met with resistance turned out to be correct, and thus anyone seeking to enforce an orthodoxy of thought or action should consider the consequences of their action should they turn out to be wrong. By way of this standard, free thought should never be supressed and "no obstacle ... should be placed in the way of statements of fact." (Here Russell shows the influence of his godfather, John Stuart Mill)

- Russell believes that individuals are born with an innate sense of artistic creativity and achievement for the sake of action itself that becomes perverted by political and social institutions in which material goods and possesive impulses are the dominant forces. Individuality becomes subjugated by market forces that seek to produce persons who can function within the system. (For a literary exploration of this motif check out Jules Verne's dystopian Paris in the Twentieth Century or Aldous Huxley's more famous Brave New World)

- As the world has modernized and globalized large buearacratic political and economic structures have developed as a consequence of administrative and organizational needs required to achieve such a level of modernization. These institutions, like groups in power, generally seek to curtail individuality, through tyranny if neccessary or allowed. (One is reminded of McDonald's guru Ray Kroc's words, "we will make conformists out of them in a hurry. . . . The organization cannot trust the individual; the individual must trust the organization.") To combat this, the individuals who comprise the organization should have a say in its functioning.

- Russell then moves on to the realm of international affairs. He does not believe that a state has any more right to claim absolute sovereignity than does the individual, and as such international affairs should be subject to the rule of law and force should be held only by a neutral international body to be used only to reduce the use of force (note the distinction between reducing the use of force and preventing the use of force.)

- Writing during the Great War, Russell is keen to point out that international affairs are in actuality operating under the principle that states have absolute sovereignity, which in practice makes "might makes right" the guiding principle of state action. (A point astutely observed by ancient Greek historian Thucydides in the Melian Dialogue: "... right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.")

- Concluding, Russell envisions a world of global democracy and unity, where the creative arts are praised, valued, and shared, and where possesive impulses no longer dominate the affairs of men.

One should remember that I heavily edited Russell's essay in my previous post. In the essay, there are larger passages that delineate these ideas in greater detail; additionally, there are subjects within the essay that I did not address.

When words and truth no longer matter

In this clip from the Daily Show Jon Stewart shows the discrepancy between what President Bush told listeners in a radio address and what two army commanders had reported in Congressional testimony just two days previous. Donald Rumsfield is also in the clip giving an "answer" that is a classic example of Orwell's "pure wind" political language. Why is it that a comedy news spoof is doing the work that actual news shows should be doing?

What are our political ideals?

I believe Bertrand Russell's Political Ideals, written in 1917, can help us work through this question. In an attempt to facilitate discussion of this matter, I'm going to try something different and simply highlight pertinent passages, which I believe are strong and interesting enough on their own that they need no immediate commentary. Elipses in the passages are indicated by color shifts. So here it is, Political Ideals, abridged.

Political ideals must be based upon ideals for the individual life. The aim of politics should be to make the lives of individuals as good as possible. There is nothing for the politician to consider outside or above the various men, women, and children who compose the world. The problem of politics is to adjust the relations of human beings in such a way that each severally may have as much of good in his existence as possible. And this problem requires that we should first consider what it is that we think good in the individual life.

We may distinguish two sorts of goods, and two corresponding sorts of impulses. There are goods in regard to which individual possession is possible, and there are goods in which all can share alike. The food and clothing of one man is not the food and clothing of another; if the supply is insufficient, what one man has is obtained at the expense of some other man. This applies to material goods generally, and therefore to the greater part of the present economic life of the world. On the other hand, mental and spiritual goods do not belong to one man to the exclusion of another. If one man knows a science, that does not prevent others from knowing it; on the contrary, it helps them to acquire the knowledge. If one man is a great artist or poet, that does not prevent others from painting pictures or writing poems, but helps to create the atmosphere in which such things are possible. If one man is full of good-will toward others, that does not mean that there is less good-will to be shared among the rest; the more good-will one man has, the more he is likely to create among others. In such matters there is no possession, because there is not a definite amount to be shared; any increase anywhere tends to produce an increase everywhere.

There are two kinds of impulses, corresponding to the two kinds of goods. There are possessive impulses, which aim at acquiring or retaining private goods that cannot be shared; these center in the impulse of property. And there are creative or constructive impulses, which aim at bringing into the world or making available for use the kind of goods in which there is no privacy and no possession.

Those who realize the harm that can be done to others by any use of force against them, and the worthlessness of the goods that can be acquired by force, will be very full of respect for the liberty of others; they will not try to bind them or fetter them; they will be slow to judge and swift to sympathize; they will treat every human being with a kind of tenderness, because the principle of good in him is at once fragile and infinitely precious. They will not condemn those who are unlike themselves; they will know and feel that individuality brings differences and uniformity means death. They will wish each human being to be as much a living thing and as little a mechanical product as it is possible to be; they will cherish in each one just those things which the harsh usage of a ruthless world would destroy. In one word, all their dealings with others will be inspired by a deep impulse of reverence.

What we shall desire for individuals is now clear: strong creative impulses, overpowering and absorbing the instinct of possession; reverence for others; respect for the fundamental creative impulse in ourselves. A certain kind of self-respect or native pride is necessary to a good life; a man must not have a sense of utter inward defeat if he is to remain whole, but must feel the courage and the hope and the will to live by the best that is in him, whatever outward or inward obstacles it may encounter. So far as it lies in a man’s own power, his life will realize its best possibilities if it has three things: creative rather than possessive impulses, reverence for others, and respect for the fundamental impulse in himself.

Political and social institutions are to be judged by the good or harm that they do to individuals. Do they encourage creativeness rather than possessiveness? Do they embody or promote a spirit of reverence between human beings? Do they preserve self-respect?

Few men can succeed in being creative rather than possessive in a world which is wholly built on competition, where the great majority would fall into utter destitution if they became careless as to the acquisition of material goods, where honor and power and respect are given to wealth rather than to wisdom, where the law embodies and consecrates the injustice of those who have toward those who have not. In such an environment even those whom nature has endowed with great creative gifts become infected with the poison of competition. Men combine in groups to attain more strength in the scramble for material goods, and loyalty to the group spreads a halo of quasi-idealism round the central impulse of greed.

Fear of destitution is not a motive out of which a free creative life can grow, yet it is the chief motive which inspires the daily work of most wage-earners. The hope of possessing more wealth and power than any man ought to have, which is the corresponding motive of the rich, is quite as bad in its effects; it compels men to close their minds against justice, and to prevent themselves from thinking honestly on social questions while in the depths of their hearts they uneasily feel that their pleasures are bought by the miseries of others. The injustices of destitution and wealth alike ought to be rendered impossible. Then a great fear would be removed from the lives of the many, and hope would have to take on a better form in the lives of the few.

But security and liberty are only the negative conditions for good political institutions. When they have been won, we need also the positive condition: encouragement of creative energy. Security alone might produce a smug and stationary society; it demands creativeness as its counterpart, in order to keep alive the adventure and interest of life, and the movement toward perpetually new and better things. There can be no final goal for human institutions; the best are those that most encourage progress toward others still better. Without effort and change, human life cannot remain good. It is not a finished Utopia that we ought to desire, but a world where imagination and hope are alive and active.

The essence of government is the use of force in accordance with law to secure certain ends which the holders of power consider desirable. The coercion of an individual or a group by force is always in itself more or less harmful. But if there were no government, the result would not be an absence of force in men’s relations to each other; it would merely be the exercise of force by those who had strong predatory instincts, necessitating either slavery or a perpetual readiness to repel force with force on the part of those whose instincts were less violent. This is the state of affairs at present in international relations, owing to the fact that no international government exists. The results of anarchy between states should suffice to persuade us that anarchism has no solution to offer for the evils of the world.

To give freedom to the strong to oppress the weak is not the way to secure the greatest possible amount of freedom in the world. This is the basis of the socialist revolt against the kind of freedom which used to be advocated by laissez-faire economists.

But war is only the final flower of an evil tree. Even in times of peace, most men live lives of monotonous labor, most women are condemned to a drudgery which almost kills the possibility of happiness before youth is past, most children are allowed to grow up in ignorance of all that would enlarge their thoughts or stimulate their imagination. The few who are more fortunate are rendered illiberal by their unjust privileges, and oppressive through fear of the awakening indignation of the masses. From the highest to the lowest, almost all men are absorbed in the economic struggle: the struggle to acquire what is their due or to retain what is not their due. Material possessions, in fact or in desire, dominate our outlook, usually to the exclusion of all generous and creative impulses. Possessiveness—the passion to have and to hold—is the ultimate source of war, and the foundation of all the ills from which the political world is suffering. Only by diminishing the strength of this passion and its hold upon our daily lives can new institutions bring permanent benefit to mankind.

Justice can never be secured by any system of unrestrained force exercised by interested parties in their own interests

Economic systems are concerned essentially with the production and distribution of material goods. Our present system is wasteful on the production side, and unjust on the side of distribution. It involves a life of slavery to economic forces for the great majority of the community, and for the minority a degree of power over the lives of others which no man ought to have

Any fresh survey of men’s political actions shows that, in those who have enough energy to be politically effective, love of power is a stronger motive than economic self-interest. Love of power actuates the great millionaires, who have far more money than they can spend, but continue to amass wealth merely in order to control more and more of the world’s finance. Love of power is obviously the ruling motive of many politicians. It is also the chief cause of wars, which are admittedly almost always a bad speculation from the mere point of view of wealth. For this reason, a new economic system which merely attacks economic motives and does not interfere with the concentration of power is not likely to effect any very great improvement in the world. This is one of the chief reasons for regarding state socialism with suspicion.

Government officials, in virtue of their income, security, and social position, are likely to be on the side of the rich, who have been their daily associates ever since the time of school and college. And whether or not they are on the side of the rich, they are not likely, for the reasons we have been considering, to be genuinely in favor of progress.

The man who does not care about any definite political measures can generally be won by corruption or flattery, open or concealed; the man who is set on securing reforms will generally prefer an ambitious windbag to a man who desires the public good without possessing a ready tongue. And the ambitious windbag, as soon as he has become a power by the enthusiasm he has aroused, will sell his influence to the governing clique, sometimes openly, sometimes by the more subtle method of intentionally failing at a crisis. This is part of the normal working of democracy as embodied in representative institutions. Yet a cure must be found if democracy is not to remain a farce.

SOCIETY cannot exist without law and order, and cannot advance except through the initiative of vigorous innovators. Yet law and order are always hostile to innovations, and innovators are almost always, to some extent, anarchists. Those whose minds are dominated by fear of a relapse towards barbarism will emphasize the importance of law and order, while those who are inspired by the hope of an advance towards civilization will usually be more conscious of the need of individual initiative. Both temperaments are necessary, and wisdom lies in allowing each to operate freely where it is beneficent. But those who are on the side of law and order, since they are reinforced by custom and the instinct for upholding the status quo, have no need of a reasoned defense. It is the innovators who have difficulty in being allowed to exist and work. Each generation believes that this difficulty is a thing of the past, but each generation is only tolerant of past innovations. Those of its own day are met with the same persecution as though the principle of toleration had never been heard of.

The study of past times and uncivilized races makes it clear beyond question that the customary beliefs of tribes or nations are almost invariably false. It is difficult to divest ourselves completely of the customary beliefs of our own age and nation, but it is not very difficult to achieve a certain degree of doubt in regard to them. The Inquisitor who burnt men at the stake was acting with true humanity if all his beliefs were correct; but if they were in error at any point, he was inflicting a wholly unnecessary cruelty. A good working maxim in such matters is this: Do not trust customary beliefs so far as to perform actions which must be disastrous unless the beliefs in question are wholly true. The world would be utterly bad, in the opinion of the average Englishman, unless he could say “Britannia rules the waves”; in the opinion of the average German, unless he could say “Deutschland ├╝ber alles.” For the sake of these beliefs, they are willing to destroy European civilization. If the beliefs should happen to be false, their action is regrettable.

One fact which emerges from these considerations is that no obstacle should be placed in the way of thought and its expression, nor yet in the way of statements of fact.

What is markedly true of some notable personalities is true, in a lesser degree, of almost every individual who has much vigor or force of life; there is an impulse towards activity of some kind, as a rule not very definite in youth, but growing gradually more sharply outlined under the influence of education and opportunity. The direct impulse toward a kind of activity for its own sake must be distinguished from the desire for the expected effects of the activity. A young man may desire the rewards of great achievement without having any spontaneous impulse toward the activities which lead to achievement. But those who actually achieve much, although they may desire the rewards, have also something in their nature which inclines them to choose a certain kind of work as the road which they must travel if their ambition is to be satisfied. This artist’s impulse, as it may be called, is a thing of infinite value to the individual, and often to the world; to respect it in oneself and in others makes up nine tenths of the good life. In most human beings it is rather frail, rather easily destroyed or disturbed; parents and teachers are too often hostile to it, and our economic system crushes out its last remnants in young men and young women. The result is that human beings cease to be individual, or to retain the native pride that is their birthright; they become machine-made, tame, convenient for the bureaucrat and the drill-sergeant, capable of being tabulated in statistics without anything being omitted. This is the fundamental evil resulting from lack of liberty; and it is an evil which is being continually intensified as population grows more dense and the machinery of organization grows more efficient

In all that concerns possession and the use of force, unrestrained liberty involves anarchy and injustice. Freedom to kill, freedom to rob, freedom to defraud, no longer belong to individuals, though they still belong to great states, and are exercised by them in the name of patriotism. Neither individuals nor states ought to be free to exert force on their own initiative, except in such sudden emergencies as will subsequently be admitted in justification by a court of law. The reason for this is that the exertion of force by one individual against another is always an evil on both sides, and can only be tolerated when it is compensated by some overwhelming resultant good. In order to minimize the amount of force actually exerted in the world, it is necessary that there should be a public authority, a repository of practically irresistible force, whose function should be primarily to repress the private use of force. A use of force is private when it is exerted by one of the interested parties, or by his friends or accomplices, not by a public neutral authority according to some rule which is intended to be in the public interest.

Huge organizations, both political and economic, are one of the distinguishing characteristics of the modern world. These organizations have immense power, and often use their power to discourage originality in thought and action. They ought, on the contrary, to give the freest scope that is possible without producing anarchy or violent conflict. They ought not to take cognizance of any part of a man’s life except what is concerned with the legitimate objects of public control, namely, possessions and the use of force. And they ought, by devolution, to leave as large a share of control as possible in the hands of individuals and small groups. If this is not done, the men at the head of these vast organizations will infallibly become tyrannous through the habit of excessive power, and will in time interfere in ways that crush out individual initiative.

There is no more justification for the claim to absolute sovereignty on the part of a state than there would be for a similar claim on the part of an individual. The claim to absolute sovereignty is, in effect, a claim that all external affairs are to be regulated purely by force, and that when two nations or groups of nations are interested in a question, the decision shall depend solely upon which of them is, or is believed to be, the stronger.

The wage system has made people believe that what a man needs is work. This, of course, is absurd. What he needs is the goods produced by work, and the less work involved in making a given amount of goods, the better. But owing to our economic system, every economy in methods of production enables employers to dismiss some of their employees, and to cause destitution, where a better system would produce only an increase of wages or a diminution in the hours of work without any corresponding diminution of wages.

Our economic system is topsyturvy. It makes the interest of the individual conflict with the interest of the community in a thousand ways in which no such conflict ought to exist. Under a better system the benefits of free trade and the evils of tariffs would be obvious to all.

The international spirit which we should wish to see produced will be something added to love of country, not something taken away. Just as patriotism does not prevent a man from feeling family affection, so the international spirit ought not to prevent a man from feeling affection for his own country. But it will somewhat alter the character of that affection. The things which he will desire for his own country will no longer be things which can only be acquired at the expense of others, but rather those things in which the excellence of any one country is to the advantage of all the world. He will wish his own country to be great in the arts of peace, to be eminent in thought and science, to be magnanimous and just and generous. He will wish it to help mankind on the way toward that better world of liberty and international concord which must be realized if any happiness is to be left to man. He will not desire for his country the passing triumphs of a narrow possessiveness, but rather the enduring triumph of having helped to embody in human affairs something of that spirit of brotherhood which Christ taught and which the Christian churches have forgotten. He will see that this spirit embodies not only the highest morality, but also the truest wisdom, and the only road by which the nations, torn and bleeding with the wounds which scientific madness has inflicted, can emerge into a life where growth is possible and joy is not banished at the frenzied call of unreal and fictitious duties. Deeds inspired by hate are not duties, whatever pain and self-sacrifice they may involve. Life and hope for the world are to be found only in the deeds of love.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Art of the day

The Human Condition (1935) - Rene Magritte

Monday, October 03, 2005

Site recommendation of the day

You probably haven't heard of him, but Massimo Pigliucci is a biology professor who writes for Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer and whose Rationally Speaking column is linked to on the Council for Secular Humanism's web site. More than that, he is one of the people that inspired me to start this blog and to apply the principles of secular humanism and skepticism to politcs (he wrote one of the chapters in the excellent Toward a New Political Humanism,) and he generally writes pretty interesting stuff about the philosophy of science and what not (he had one of the best discussions of the purpose of debate that I've ever encountered up in the Lecture section of his website - Massimo's Skeptic Web - at one point.) Well, now he's started a blog (this Aug.) and I'm amused to see that he happened to pick the same board design that I'm using. I started adding to the comments as soon as I found it.

In his essay, "Secular Humanism and politics: an unapologetically liberal perspective," Pigliucci makes an important point about the aim of political humanism

Secular humanists realize that humans are a kind of animal, partly conditioned by its biological evolution. We also recognize the power of cultural change and of rational thinking. We should therefore use these crucial starting points to engage in public discourse for the betterment of humankind, whenever possible, and regardless of whoever is sitting on the other side of the aisle. It is the humanistic thing to do.

Economic quote of the day

"If working people depend on the stock market for their pensions, health care, and other means of survival, they have a stake in undermining their own interests: opposing wage increases, health and safety regulations, and other measures that might cut into profits that flow to the benefactors on whom they must rely, in a manner reminiscent of feudalism." - Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival

Killer's heart softened by God ... and crystal meth

From Salon

This week, with the release of her memoir, "Unlikely Angel," [Ashley] Smith admits that she earned [Brian] Nichols' confidence by offering him a dip into her stash of crystal methamphetamine. Nichols, Smith says in the book, didn't know what "ice" was, or how to take it. "You don't have to smoke it," she recalls telling him. "You can hot rail it or snort it." She cut it up for him herself, using a plastic supermarket card and a $20 bill. Smith didn't tell police investigators, or the media, about the meth until months later.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Fake news found to be illegal

From the New York Times:

Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.

In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.

Science stuff

Click here to see Scientific American's brief on the first ever photo of a giant squid. Also over at Scientific American is an editorial worth reading on pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions and Michael Shermer's latest Skeptic column about how science enriches our experience of the world.

And over at Discover they've got some interesting articles up (for free) as part of their 25th anniversary series. I found this one on energy to be particularly neat.