Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lara Logan reviews Almost Famous

Logan: How dare William Miller betray the trust of Stillwater and publish embarassing information about the band? Miller has never entertained music fans the way Stillwater has. How does he expect to get access again?

Resources necessary to understand this post:
Wikipedia entry Almost Famous
"The two poles of journalism"
"'They will let you back': The shame of Lara Logan"

Monday, June 28, 2010

The backlash's curious choice of target of ire

The artist formely known as Blackwater has been awarded contracts worth a couple hundred million despite employees being prosecuted for the killing of Iraqi civilians. Meanwhile, the GAO has found no misuse of funds by ACORN, who got defunded by Congress after the organization was accused of fictional, fabricated crimes by a movement conservative criminal.

Oh how outraged and indignant our brave members of Congress get at false reports of corruption involving an organization that helps poor people and minorities, yet they somehow don't seem to find the same cause for concern when wealthy corporations commit actual crimes and corruption.

How sickening is it that Democrats in Congress roll over on ACORN to appease the conservative voices who now come to the defense of BP's destructive actions in the Gulf Coast

So, here’s how it works. They crucify a nonprofit that helps poor people without any credible evidence, in fact as it turns out entirely manufactured evidence, and they do so without a blink of an eye or an apology. But when it comes to a corporation whose negligence has so far killed two dozen and injured hundreds, and entirely destroyed the Gulf of Mexico, they apologize to the company?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Killing is killing?

From Worse than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity by Daniel J. Goldhagen

[W]hat if the Americans had conquered a few Japanese cities, stopped their advance, and proceeded to shoot 140,000 Japanese civilians, men, women, and children (the number who died immediately or from injuries in the next few months from the atomic bombing off Hiroshima), explaining to Japan's leaders and its public that only surrender would prevent more mass slaughters? Would Truman's apologists have similarly justified this more conventional mass murdering as militarily and morally necessary? What if three days later Truman ordered American soldiers to shoot another seventy thousand Japanese men, women, and children from a second city? Would we not call such slaughters mass murder?
Indeed, wouldn't we?

But why don't we process the dropping of atomic bombs on civilian populations that same way?

Goldhagen himself suggests a combination of nationalistic tendency to see one's country in the best light possible and a failure to draw distinction between the defining of an act and giving explanation and moral judgement of it. In other words, we know that Truman's intentions were not as murderous as Hitler's, therefore categorizing Truman's actions as mass murder doesn't feel right.

Going further in this direction, I would suspect that our mind's bias in the processing of ethicial dilemmas also plays a significant part.

Consider, for example, this thought experiment concocted by the philosophers Judith Jarvis Thompson and Philippa Foot: Imagine you’re at the wheel of a trolley and the brakes have failed. You’re approaching a fork in the track at top speed. On the left side, five rail workers are fixing the track. On the right side, there is a single worker. If you do nothing, the trolley will bear left and kill the five workers. The only way to save five lives is to take the responsibility for changing the trolley’s path by hitting a switch. Then you will kill one worker. What would you do?

Now imagine that you are watching the runaway trolley from a footbridge. This time there is no fork in the track. Instead, five workers are on it, facing certain death. But you happen to be standing next to a big man. If you sneak up on him and push him off the footbridge, he will fall to his death. Because he is so big, he will stop the trolley. Do you willfully kill one man, or do you allow five people to die?

Logically, the questions have similar answers. Yet if you poll your friends, you’ll probably find that many more are willing to throw a switch than push someone off a bridge.
Marc Hauser discussed the whys and hows of such thought experiments at length in Moral Minds, but the gist of the answer of why actions that have the same consequences are viewed differently is because we are implicitly prejudiced against direct, physical intentional killing rather than indirect passive killing as a secondary consequence.

So when we think about soldiers going door to door, executing individual civilians we are naturally inclined to aversion, where as when we hear about a pilot flying over a city, pulling a lever allowing a bomb to fall out, and then flying off our minds are not quite equipped to feel the same inherent revulsion at this more indirect and passive form of killing; it is, for our "moral minds", an abstraction that doesn't register all that well.

And the abstraction becomes even easier to maintain when the consequence of the passive action is censored.

I would also suggest that this kind of dynamic is at work in the minds of those who somehow find Israel's actions regarding the civilian population of Gaza - e.g. killing Palestinian civilians at a rate several hundred times greater than Hamas killing of Israeli civilians - defensible.

Today's discount book purchase

Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (hc) by Rick Pearlstein for six dollars.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quote of the day

"Supposing is good, but finding out is better." - Mark Twain, Autobiography

h/t Skepticblog

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Beck "jokes" about Obama being Satanic agent

Once again I'm dumbstruck by the level of insanity that Fox News is willing to broadcast in the interest of torpedoing a Democratic administration.

Watching that clip, and recalling Beck having previously entertained the notion that President Obama might be the antiChrist, I was left with the impression that Beck is suggesting that Obama is attracting flies, bees, and rodents because he is an agent of Satan.

That is precisely what he means (although he delivers his dog whistle for antiChrist fearing, New World Order conspiracists in the form of levity.) This site notes that Beck read to his radio audience "most of" this post:

Obama, the Lord of the Flies.

Did you know that ”Lord of the Flies” is the literal meaning of the Greek word (βεελζεβούβ) for Beelzebub?

So who is Beelzebub? Beelzebub — derived from Ba‘al Zebûb, a Semitic deity worshipped in the Philistine city of Ekron – is the name of one of the seven princes of Hell. Beelzebub was used by the later Christians as a term for Satan.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another day, another martyr complex fantasy

Glenn Beck now believes that George Soros wants to have him killed; and the executives and staff at Fox "News" continue to look the other way while Beck spins further and further into the paranoid, delusional funhouse mirrorverse that only exists within his own mind.

Friday, June 18, 2010

If you like the Kindle, you may love the iPad (or not)

With the belief (hope, actually) that Apple's new cutting edge tablet device - the iPad - would help me return to a more regular blogging pattern, I preordered a 3G model and have had one since the product's release date. Although I love the device, it hasn't worked out so far as a blogging tool, as it doesn't seem to work so well with Blogger, which is why you see the posts with no red links ... the operating system doesn't seem compatible with the Compose post function of blogger, which means you're forced into using the more limited Edit Html option. Plus, any Flash video will not play, so that knocks out the ability to watch lots of clips that are an obligatory part of blogging (such as those at the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.)

But those issues aside, the device is awesome. The screen displays ... well, whatever ... gorgeously. Web browsing and media interfacing (with other devices and through iTunes) is a breeze. Tons of useful, fun, interesting apps. Etc. It's a great mobile media device.

I don't want to get to much into a review of the device in general, but to address it specifically as an electronic book reader. You may recall that I previously expressed my appreciation of Amazon's Kindle. Well, the iBooks program for iPad blows Kindle out of the water in terms of appearance and general coolness. iBooks doesn't just provide you with a convenient e-text - it provides you with a virtual book and virtual bookshelf that looks very, very real. When you read a book with the iPad held horizonatally the pages are displayed just like an open book. And when you flip a page you virtually turn the page just as you would with an actual book. And unlike the Kindle, the iPad is backlit ... I've held the iPad at night, reading a book in bed with the lights out really does give you the impression of reading some futuristic, Star Trek type version of a book. And, of course, the iPad displays color so that you get the full effect of any color images that a book might have.

Plus, the iPad runs the Kindle program; but better than the Kindle! You can sync up any books from your Kindle and you will see them displayed in a more eye pleasing fashion with more options for manipulating the text than on the Kindle. It also runs the Barnes and Noble e-reader program.

Now here is the "or not" part. Despite how great - superior, actually - the iPad is in terms of aesthetics, I still prefer reading with my Kindle. The Kindle is smaller and lighter, and is thus more portable and easier to hold during extended reading. Plus, since it's a device dedicated to reading, it is easier to concentrate on actually reading the text. When I'm using the iPad I'll be tempted/distracted into checking e-mail, surfing the net, or playing with all the cool apps that are only a fingertip touch away.

P.S. Forgot to mention, the Kindle can be viewed outdoors, so another plus for it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Glenn Beck fulfilling MLK's dream...

... if MLK's dream was for the nation's first black President to be constantly race baited by a racist lunatic.

I can't begin to express how sickening (literally) I find Beck's utterly shameless and repeated attempts to co-opt Dr. King's memory to serve his agenda - an agenda that appeals to the sort of racism and prejudice that MLK gave his life to put a stop to.

Is there anyone left at Fox News that has any sense of decency? At all? This is the same Glenn Beck who has been telling his audience how awesome and great Cleon Skousen is, that Skousen is the backbone of the 9/12 movement. That would be this Cleon Skousen:

The tendency was to sell families as units, if for no other reason [than] to keep the slaves contented. The gangs in transit were usually a cheerful lot, though the presence of a number of the more vicious type sometimes made it necessary for them all to go in chains. At the other extreme, when the Central of Georgia railroad company in 1858 equipped a Negro sleeping car to assist in the slave trade it set a standard not always maintained in a later generation. When on the block, the slave was as likely to hinder as to help in his sale. Some, out of a vain conceit in bringing a high price, would boast of their physical prowess, in which case an unwary purchaser would likely be cheated. Others would malinger, because of a grudge against owners or traders or in order to bring a low price and be put at less tiring labor. Dealers, also, adopted the tricks of horse traders to make their merchants more attractive -- the greasiest Negro was generally considered the healthiest.
Yep, I'm sure this is exactly the sort of fair and balanced history that MLK dreamed of one day being taught in schools.

Why I hate the Democratic party, in microcosm

After reading this, I must now go find a wall to bash my head against. See here for more, if you can stomach it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Quote of the day

"The President has no power, as Commander in Chief, over any civilian. Yet so common is the assumption that he does that when I wrote an op-ed in the New York Times saying that the President is not my Commander in Chief, I received abusive mail saying I was clearly not a citizen of the United States and I should leave the country. Loyalty to the Commander in Chief is now equated with loyalty to the country, though it is clearly a form of disloyalty to the Constitution." - Garry Wills, Bomb Power

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Another example of promised change deferred

From "The Spill, the Scandal, and the President"

Like the attacks by Al Qaeda, the disaster in the Gulf was preceded by ample warnings -- yet the administration had ignored them. Instead of cracking down on MMS, as he had vowed to do even before taking office, Obama left in place many of the top officials who oversaw the agency's culture of corruption. He permitted it to rubber-stamp dangerous drilling operations by BP -- a firm with the worst safety record of any oil company -- with virtually no environmental safeguards, using industry-friendly regulations drafted during the Bush years. He calibrated his response to the Gulf spill based on flawed and misleading estimates from BP -- and then deployed his top aides to lowball the flow rate at a laughable 5,000 barrels a day, long after the best science made clear this catastrophe would eclipse the Exxon Valdez.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dropping an atomic bomb

I've recently begun reading Garry Wills' latest provactive work of history Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, in which Wills argues that much, if not most, of the centralization of government power in the hands of the Executive branch and subsequent extra-Constitutional governance can be traced and attributed to the development and possession of the atomic bomb.

The gist of the book's thesis (at least so far as I understand from as much as I've read) is conveyed pretty well in this article in which Wills attempts to explain why President Obama has been so quick to adopt the imperial powers the Bush administration had itself excersised.

A president is greatly pressured to keep all the empire’s secrets. He feels he must avoid embarrassing the hordes of agents, military personnel, and diplomatic instruments whose loyalty he must command. Keeping up morale in this vast, shady enterprise is something impressed on him by all manner of commitments. He becomes the prisoner of his own power. As President Truman could not not use the bomb, a modern president cannot not use the huge powers at his disposal. It has all been given him as the legacy of Bomb Power, the thing that makes him not only Commander in Chief but Leader of the Free World. He is a self-entangling giant.
In the book, after noting the finding of the Summary Report of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946 that:

It seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.
Wills goes on to observe

Whether an invasion of Japan occurred or not, the mere possibility of its happening without use of the Bomb was a nightmare prospect to Groves and other officials. If it became known that the United States had a knockout weapon it did not use, the families of any Americans killed after the development of the Bomb would be furious. The public, the press, and Congress would turn on the President and his advisers. There would have been a cry to impeach President Truman and court-martial General Groves. The administration would be convicted of spending billions of dollars and draining massive amounts of brainpower and manpower from other war projects, and all for nothing. This was the truly terrifying prospect that made use of the Bomb an easy, if not inevitable, choice for those who had harbored their secret project so long and wanted to reveal it with a supreme vindication. Groves even suggested that Truman would be betraying the memory of President Roosevelt, who authorized the Bomb's development, if he rejected its use. The Bomb's tenders had put themselves in a position where they could not not use it. They were now the prisoners of their own creation.
Reading this - and from previously having heard Wills discuss the book in various venues - I can't help but think of the narrator in the George Orwell essay "Shooting an Elephant."

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.
Of course, in Orwell's essay, the self-oppression of colonialism results in the narrator killing an elephant. In the case of the atomic bomb, it resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

For more on the book, see Wills at Fora.tv

Friday, June 11, 2010

So, so very true

I agree with Neiwert 150 percent on this one:

The hardest part about trying to follow the increasingly eliminationist -- and dangerous -- wingnuttery of Glenn Beck, beyond the unpleasant work of actually having to watch the entirety of his Fox News shows (so you don't have to), is trying to figure out new ways of saying that he's nuts.
For instance, in an episode earlier this week, Beck asserted that Rosie O'Donnell and Bill Maher are part of a group of black flag anarchists who are going to try to kill Obama, Biden, and Pelosi if they do not do what the "revolutionaries" want done.

How the hell anyone can take this kind of crazy seriously is well beyond my capacity to comprehend.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Quote of the day

'Facts and opinions, once they are used “scientifically” to support the irrational, become interchangeable. Reality is no longer based on the gathering of facts and evidence. It is based on ideology. Facts are altered. Lies become true. Hannah Arendt called it “nihilistic relativism,” although a better phrase might be collective insanity.' - Chris Hedges

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Hating Jews Progressives

One of the primary objects of my blogging over the last several years has been my belief that much of what passes for acceptable, mainstream conservative discourse is common hate speech masquerading as legitimate political dispute. In essence, that extremist ideas based in prejudice and bigotry have new found life in a more pc form.

And this is why I use the strike function so often where I replace "Jew" with "liberal," "S-P," or "progressive." It's because it's one of the only ways I know to emphasize something that seems so intuitive to me: often when I hear movement conservative derogatory speech about "liberals" it sounds to me the same way racists that I grew up around in the South talked about blacks.

Now don't get me wrong, I've heard people discussing Republicans and/or conservatives with the same underlying prejudice, contempt and hatred, but there is a key and vital difference. There is no mechanism by which hating conservatives, saying incoherently stupid yet horribly defamatory and demonizing things about them catapults one into media stardom and or wealth.

Which is why I'd like to take a moment, that is to say, a post, to thank Glenn Beck for providing the clearest example to date of the very phenomenon that I've been trying to explain and understand over the course of five years of blogging. Take it away Media Matters

Earlier today, Glenn Beck was regaling his radio audience with stories of all the old books he'd received from listeners and offered some particularly effusive praise for one particular volume that he was reading called The Red Network: A 'Who's Who' and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots, first published in 1934. According to Beck, the book shows that "McCarthy was absolutely right," and he lauded it for exposing the unions as havens for communists.

Unmentioned by Beck was the name of the author of The Red Network, Elizabeth Dilling, a woman known to history primarily for two things: her trial for sedition during World War II, and her rabid anti-Semitism.

Among Dilling's more noteworthy works was a polemic entitled The Jewish Religion: Its Influence Today (originally titled "The Plot Against Christianity"). As the Anti-Defamation League notes, Dilling wrote in The Jewish Religion that Jews consider non-Jews to be sub-human, and that Jews have a hatred for Christians that is expressed in code in the Talmud. More the point, Dilling specifically blamed Jews for communism, writing: "Marxism, Socialism, or Communism in practice are nothing but state-capitalism and rule by a privileged minority, exercising despotic and total control over a majority having virtually no property or legal rights. As is discussed elsewhere herein, Talmudic Judaism is the progenitor of modem Communism and Marxist collectivism as it is now applied to a billion or more of the world's population. ... Socialism is indeed merely the clover held in front of the cow's nose to get her into the barn under the milking machine. It is a mechanism whereby a 'human' can lead a whole non-human herd into the Jewish controlled barn."

As Media Matters' Simon Maloy noted, Beck had kind words for Dilling's 1934 anti-communist book, The Red Network, saying: "This is a book -- and I'm a getting a ton of these -- from people who were doing what we're doing now. We now are documenting who all of these people are. Well, there were Americans in the first 50 years of this nation that took this seriously, and they documented it." Maloy noted that Dilling has a long history of rabid anti-Semitism, such as calling President Eisenhower "Ike the Kike" and labeling President Kennedy's New Frontier program the "Jew frontier."

Professor Glen Jeansonne and writer David Luhrssen note in the encyclopedia Women and War that Dilling wasn't only anti-Semitic, but a sympathizer and supporter of the Nazis and Hitler
This link, particularly, is significant

According to [University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee history professor]Jeansonne, Dilling was probably the "most bigoted woman anti-Semite of the period around World War II" and used "long-discredited conspiracy theories" -- including theories advanced in the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion -- in an effort to link Communism and Judaism.

Jeansonne said that "in addition to being anti-Semitic and anti-Communist, Dilling purported the most convoluted conspiracy theories that are imaginable." He added, "She viewed all sorts of groups with no connection or only the loosest connection as being bound together in an international conspiracy."
I say this is significant because if you've been following my posts on Beck you'll recall that I've said repeatedly that Beck's world view is basically a Protocols of Zion type paranoid conspiracy, but with "progressives" having replaced "Jews."

Here we see Beck mindlessly endorsing precisely that sort of conspiracy and hate, apparently believing that Dilling was exposing the same "progressive" enemies within that he's Quixotically battling. One might be inclined to excuse Beck on the grounds that he didn't realize that Dilling was part of the very cabal of pro-Nazi sympathists that Beck has characterized on his tv and radio programs as being part of the 100 year "progressive" plot to destroy America, and given his demonstrated ignorance and stupidity this is quite plausible, but yet presumably Beck has read the book he's endorsing, which doesn't explain his inability to recognize hate when he sees it.

Here’s the book Glenn Beck is pushing: The Red network: a ‘who’s who’ and handbook of radicalism for patriots. LGF reader Killgore Trout points out a lovely quote from this toxic book:

…the American Negroes have acquired professions, property, banks, homes and produced a rising class of refined, home loving people. This is far more remarkable than that many negroes are still backwards. The Red play upon the Negroes’ love of their own people and represent them as persecuted in order to inflame them against the very White people who have in reality given the colored race far greater opportunities than their fellow negroes would have given them in Africa today.
Of course, as Alexander Zaitchik notes in Common Nonsense, Beck has a history of introducing his audience to right wing extremist bigots without bothering to identify their prejudice to his audience (more on this in an upcoming post.)

As Dave Neiwert puts it, "[this is] probably the most significant major-media endorsement of American fascist ideology since the 1930s." One point I disagree with Mr. Neiwert on is his use of the qualifier "probably" in suspecting that Beck believed that American Nazis were progressives at heart. I disagree with it because I watched the episode of Mr. Beck's program where he told his audience indeed that American fascism was one of the consequences of "progressivism" derailing the American tradition followed by a psuedo-documentary arguing the same.

What would Glenn Beck have to do, short of putting on Klan robes and declaring President Obama a threat to white power, to end his career in the mainstream media?

Quote of the day

"[The] Constitution ... is a thoroughly secular document that its authors found imperfect enough to begin amending as soon as they finished writing it. Bereft of references to Mosaic law, Jesus Christ, or God, its own language constitutes an unanswerable rebuke to religious hucksters, past and present, who seek to deny our shared Enlightenment heritage in the name of the voices inside their heads." - Alexander Zaitchik, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance

Friday, June 04, 2010

On ideas

"Ideas are the cogs that drive history onward, for good and ill; understanding influential beliefs, world views, scientific ideas and philosophical theories is a part of the equipment needed by engaged citizens of the world to make better sense of it." - A.C. Grayling, Ideas that Matter: The Concepts that Shape the 21st Century

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Quote of the day

"Previously, grown men who traded in emotional caprice and apocalyptic harangues had been relegated to street corners and local public access programming. But Beck [is] plying this routine on international cable." - Alexander Zaitchik, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance