Thursday, September 29, 2011

A prototypical example of why I dislike President Reagan

From On the Media

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And, as a matter of fact, you note in the film a kind of proto-McDonald's story in a story about a telephone booth that President Ronald Reagan recounts.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: In California a man was using a public telephone booth to place a call. An alleged drunk driver careened down the street, lost control of her car and crashed into the phone booth. It’s no surprise that the injured man sued, but you might be startled to hear whom he sued, the telephone company and associated firms. That's right.

SUSAN SALADOFF: The telephone booth was in a very dangerous place and it had been hit several times. And the telephone company had never properly fixed the door, so even though he was trying to get out he couldn't get out until he was hit in the booth. He lost his leg. And so, it wasn’t a real - a real joke the way President Reagan had portrayed it.
Of course, I also detest the corporate propaganda campaigns that Saladoff has documented (see the link.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why he wasn't a communist

I'm not sure why, but it wasn't until about a year ago that the work of the great Czech writer Karel Capek escaped the periphery of my knowledge (as the popularizer of the term "robot") and found itself on my kindle in the form of R.U.R. and The War with Newts. (Unfortunately, neither of those works are available for the dollar price that I found them at a year ago.)

And it wasn't until today that Capek's deeply warm and humane 1924 essay "Why I am not a Communist" came to my attention. I found it interesting - having known that Capek had satirized the Nazis but not having been aware he'd seen through the pretenses of the Communist leaders of his day so early - and present the link to whomever might also not have heard of it.

I have already said that real poverty is no institution but a disaster. You can reverse all orders but you will not prevent human beings from strokes of bad luck, from sickness, from the suffering of hunger and cold, from the need of a helpful hand. Do whatever you like, disaster presents human beings with a moral, not a social task. The language of communism is hard; it does not talk of the values of sympathy, willingness, help and human solidarity; it says with self-confidence that it is not sentimental. But this lack of sentimentality is the worst thing for me, since I am just as sentimental as any maid, as any fool, as any decent person is; only rogues and demagogues are not sentimental. Apart from sentimental reasons you will not hand a glass of water to your neighbor; rational motives will not even bring you to help and raise a person who has slipped.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quote of the day

"That is how crazy we remain today. Attacking a civilian population from the air, with or without warning, with or without a declaration of war, has become for most of us simply one more symbol, like the Liberty Bell, of national pride." - Kurt Vonnegut, Fates Worse than Death

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rosen on NPR and the act of "he said, she said" reporting

Jay Rosen defines "he said, she said" reporting thus:

“He said, she said” journalism means…

  • There’s a public dispute.
  • The dispute makes news.
  • No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
  • The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
  • The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.
A few weeks ago, Rosen listened to a NPR report on new licensing restrictions for abortion clinics in Kansas, in which critics asserted the regulations were an attempt to drive the clinics out of business and proponents claimed they were common sense public health practices, while NPR didn't make an effort to evaluate either set of claims.

And then he wrote a thoughtful post about it, well worth reading and considering.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Quote of the day

"There are no nations! There is only humanity. And if we don't come to understand that right soon, there will be no nations, because there will be no humanity." - Isaac Asimov, I.Asimov: A Memoir

Friday, September 09, 2011

Kindle book deals or: speaking of Vonnegut ...

Serendipity! I get annoyed by a Fox News guest ignorantly citing Kurt Vonnegut to buttress his politics back in June, but wait until September to get around to writing a post about it, in which I note my appreciation of Vonnegut's books, then a day later I see that Amazon Kindle is offering 18 of his books through September 28 for four dollars.

I have read fifteen of his works and have enjoyed every one of those reads, but if you have not read any of his works before, I would have to say that Slaughterhouse Five* (his most important/famous novel), Breakfast of Champions, and maybe Cat's Cradle are the ones I would start with.

There's also the recently launched Kindle Daily Deal which is fairly self-explanatory: it features a different book from a different genre everday at a discounted price ranging from a dollar to three or four dollars.

And, finally, thanks to the tip from Sheldon, there is Dean Baker's The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive for a dollar which can also be found for free in pdf format. Baker describes the book, here.

*I must note that Vonnegut unfortunately relied on the figures of Holocaust denier David Irving to inflate the number of dead in Dresden from Allied firebombing - a central event in the novel - from around 25,000 to 140,000. Although it is unlikely that Vonnegut would have realized what Irving's true intentions were, even after it came to light (thanks largely to the work of Deborah Lipstadt) that Irving was an anti-Semitic liar, Vonneut for whatever reason stuck to the original false figures in his book.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

In Bizarro World (aka Fox News), Orwell and Vonnegut warned us about big government liberals

Ok, we have an AM radio host on Fox News saying that liberals who support government regulations and such are "the people that George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut warned us about."

Now look here: George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut were both socialists, so it's certainly absurd to be trying to turn them into props for movement conservatism.

The people in George Orwell's dystopian literature that he warned us about were not those who seek to implement environmental regulations on the amount of pollution that can be dumped into our water or air, nor were they those who think that restaurants should disclose the calorie contents of their food and such; they were, broadly speaking, totalitarians who ruled by oppression in the name of fighting an ever-present intangible enemy.

I can kind of see what the guest, Chris Plante, was getting at, however. Being an AM radio movement conservative, his picture of "a boot stamping on a human face — forever" is something like the government not allowing Fast Food to seduce children with toys into eating unhealthy food. Me, personally, am more concerned with, say, the government starting a forever-war against an intangible enemy ("terror") and then abrogating civil liberties (torture, mass surveillance, habeus corpus roll-back...) in the name of that war, but that's just me.

The Vonnegut thing, though, that really bothers me. Checking Amazon's author page (my books are still in storage) I can count 15 books by Kurt Vonnegut that I have read. I'm guessing Chris Plante has read close to zero.

Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. You will find no greater, richer source of humanist fiction than Vonnegut, in my opinion. If you've ever noticed my sometimes habit of starting a paragraph with "Look:" or "Listen:" or ending a post with "And so it goes" and such, those are small little tributes to Vonnegut. So this is a roundabout way of my saying that I'm somewhat famliar with Kurt Vonnegut's work.

Chris Plante has no business trying to make the man who could write something like this into a mouthpiece for his AM radio worldview:

One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?
Characters in Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus and Deadeye Dick are named after Debs. Jailbird, the most recent book of his I've read and actually have a copy on hand, has this epigraph:

Help the weak ones that cry for help, help the prosecuted and the victim, because they are your better friends; they are the comrades that fight and fall as your father and Bartolo fought and fell yesterday for the conquest of the joy of freedom for all the poor workers. In this struggle of life you will find more love and you will be loved.

-Nicoloa Sacco (1891-1927) in his last letter to his thirteen-year old son, Dante, August 18, 1927, three days before his execution in Charleston Prison, Boston, Massachusetts. "Bartolo" was Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888-1927), who died the same night in the same electric chair, the invention of a dentist. So di and even more forgotten man, Celestino Madeiros (1894-1927), who confessed to the crime of which Sacco and Vanzetti had been convicted, even while his own conviction for another murder was being appealed. Madeiros was a notorious criminal, who behaved unselfishly at the end.
Later, the protagonist laments

I thought now about Sacco and Vanzetti. When I was young, I believed that the story of their martyrdom would cause an irresistible mania for justice to the common people to spread throughout the world. Does anybody know or care who they are anymore?

I have no opinion of Sacco and Vanzetti, but mention this to give you an idea of where Vonnegut's political sympathies lie.* It's beside the point, however. What Vonnegut wrote about was not totalitaranism, as was the case with Orwell, but about the follies of human nature and striving to find meaning and getting by in a capricious world.**

Et cetera.

*Previously, Fox demonstrated it was aware of Vonnegut's politics, which is likely why it trashed him the day after he died.
**Vonnegut's fiction did contain some dystopian elements, such as in Player Piano, but that novel certainly doesn't make Plante's point, given that Vonnegut was making a point about what he perceived as the dehumanizing aspects of industrial capitalism.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

More change you can't believe in

Recycled in full from Al Gore's blog

On Friday afternoon, as brave and committed activists continued their non-violent civil disobedience outside the White House in protest of the tar sands pipeline that would lead to a massive increase in global warming pollution, President Obama ordered the EPA to abandon its pursuit of new curbs on emissions that worsens disease-causing smog in US cities. Earlier this year, the EPA’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, wrote that the levels of pollution now permitted -- put in place by the Bush-Cheney administration-- are “not legally defensible.” Those very same rules have now been embraced by the Obama White House.

Instead of relying on science, President Obama appears to have bowed to pressure from polluters who did not want to bear the cost of implementing new restrictions on their harmful pollution—even though economists have shown that the US economy would benefit from the job creating investments associated with implementing the new technology. The result of the White House’s action will be increased medical bills for seniors with lung disease, more children developing asthma, and the continued degradation of our air quality.
President Obama's directive is apparently illegal - and Gore isn't correct - this decision by the Obama administration will result in more pollution being allowed than the policy that the Bush administration had proposed.

The current 8-hour ozone standard of 84 ppb dates back to 1997. During the GW Bush Administration, EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) recommended in 2006 and 2007 the standard be reduced to 60-70 ppb based on evidence of serious health harm to children and those with respiratory disease at higher levels. But in 2008, the GW Bush Administration ignored CASAC's recommendation and proposed a 75 ppb for ozone.

When President Obama took office, however, this change was put on hold presumably for one more in line with the CASAC's recommendation and protective of public health. Now three years later, the 1997 standard of 84 ppb remains in place and the Obama Administration is telling us it will be several more years before a more health protective standard will be proposed. I choked when I read this in professor McGarity's piece:

"Americans living in cities - where ozone pollution is at its worst - will be left in worse shape than they would have been had the inadequate Bush Administration standard gone into effect."
With that legacy ahead of her, I agree with professor McGarity, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson should either defy the President's order, or resign.
I find myself more and more in agreement with Chris Hedges that "We have to turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for president. "

My fantasy is for people who plan to vote for President Obama to instead write in "Eugene V. Debs" instead. At least then that might get the point across.

The Washington Post doesn't understand journalism

Either that or it just doesn't care if its employees practice it.

Why else is George Will allowed to continue to write columns about global warming that make claims that are false? As I've said before, an op-ed is not a fact free zone. Just because an article appears in the Editorial section does not mean that the author can make assertions that are factually false, nor can those falsehoods be excused as "opinion."

When George Will says:

For Jon Huntsman: You, who preen about having cornered the market on good manners, recently tweeted, "I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." Call you sarcastic. In the 1970s, would you have trusted scientists predicting calamity from global cooling? Are scientists a cohort without a sociology -- uniquely homogenous and unanimous, without factions or interests and impervious to peer pressures or the agendas of funding agencies? Are the hundreds of scientists who are skeptical that human activities are increasing global temperatures not really scientists?
He is spreading misinformation that has already been demonstrated false. There never was a global cooling scare in the scientific literature, and there is widespread consensus, now, in the scientific literature that man-made activities are increasing global temperatures. And "the agendas of funding agencies": please.

I was of the idea that a newspaper is in the business of informing its audience. Yet that is not what the Washington Post does everytime it lets George Will write a column on a subject that he is grossly uninformed about and uses reasoning parallel to that of the Creationist to invent his own version of reality.

The Post should be embarrased. But I suppose if you can champion torture, what's a little climate denial?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Quote of the day

"Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself." - Isaac Asimov, I.Asimov: A Memoir

Monday, September 05, 2011

Excerpt of the day

From Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

"I was not doing nothing, Trevise. I was studying the Guardian Robots' minds, and trying to learn how to handle them."

"I know that's what you were doing. At least you said you were at the time. I just don't see the sense of it. Why handle the minds when you were perfectly capable of destroying them - as you finally did?"

"Do you think it is so easy to destroy an intelligent being?"

Trevise's lips twisted into an expression of distaste. "Come, Bliss. An intelligent being? It was just a robot."

"Just a robot?" A little passion entered her voice. "That's the argument always. Just. Just! Why should the Solarian, Bander, have hesitated to kill us? We were just human beings without transducers. Why should there be an hesitation about leaving Fallom to its fate? It was just a Solarian, and an immature specimen at that. If you start dismissing anyone or anything you want to do away with as just a this or just a that, you can destroy anything you wish. There are always categories you can find for them."

Saturday, September 03, 2011

"A serious matter"

The other day one of the daytime hosts of CNN HLN said that when they came back from break they'd be discussing a serious matter. What might that be? People making fun of Disney tv star Demi Lovato's weight on Twitter after she made an appearance at an MTV awards show.

Look: An eating disorder (which Lovata had) and people harassing someone with one over their weight is a serious matter. For the person involved and their friends and family. It's not "a serious matter" for a national "news" network. It's gossip.

A serious matter for a news network might be something like this

A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks provides evidence that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.
Of course, that CNN HLN is not actually a news network but rather a tabloid that specializes in celebrity gossip and sensationalized crimes featuring attractive young white females is not exactly a secret.

But it's not as if the other networks are much better. (I would highly recommend following up the preceeding link with this post by Jay Rosen on the whys of broken political coverage.)