Archive | July, 2012

Assange’s fate will be decided after the Olympics

29 Jul

They Olympics are on but the most important event will come after they’re finished. It looks as though Ecuador will make a decision on his asylum request after the Olympics conclude. 

Assange is wanted for questioning in regards to an alleged sex crime in Sweden. He has not been charge with any crime, they just want him for “questioning.” Meanwhile one of the accusers has decided to stop cooperating with the Swedish police and instead left for Palestine. Everyone gets the sense that these accusations were drummed up conveniently right after Assange pissed off the most powerful government in the world by showing everyone the various war crime the US has been committing.

The Ecuadorian government has offered for Swedish officials to come and question Assange at their embassy in London, but Sweden hasn’t accepted this. Sweden to Stockholm is a 2 hour flight. The officials could literally have breakfast, fly down to question Assange, and be back home in time for dinner. The fact that they refuse to do this just lends credence to the fears that Sweden will hand Assange over to the US the moment they get him.

This is a life and death matter for Assange and journalism as a whole. If Ecuador doesn’t grant Assange asylum, he’ll be turned over to the US for the crime of infuriating the American government. He’ll be tried under US law, despite not being a US citizen and not being in the US while breaking US laws. Assange will be in the hands of a government that is known to consistently violate human rights by use of torture, execution, and the denial of a fair trial.

If you can be arrested, thrown in prison, and even executed for breaking American law despite not being an American, nor being IN America at the time, then it is clear that the US believes its law applies to the entire planet. It’s a tacit admission that the US believes it rules the world. Indeed its military budget, ubiquitous presence, and disregard for the sovereignty of other nations points to this conclusion.

Where are the Hank Reardens?

25 Jul

I’ve read Atlas Shrugged. In the book the business owners are portrayed as hard working honest people who want to add value to the world through their labor. They create wealth through their labors. They raise up themselves and those around them through hard work.

Where are those honest good business leaders? I look around and all I see is unrestricted corporate greed at the expense of others for short term gain. The entire financial sector is built of white collar crime as a business model. Many fortune 500 companies get away with negative tax rates while taking advantage of publicly educated workers, publicly funded roads, firefighters, and police. Executive pay is through the roof and workers are getting shafted.

One of the latest and clearest examples is Catepillar corporation. Catepillar makes hydraulic construction equipment. Times are tough and Catepillar has decided to freeze all of their worker’s pay for six years, including their pensions. So for the next six years, worker’s wages will remain flat, regardless of the increase in gas/food/housing/education/you name it costs. Consequently, the amount workers will take home for their savings after living expenses are taken care off will plummet.

But times are tough, what are you going to do right? Except they’re not. Times are great! You know how much Catepillar made last year in profits? Not revenue, profits.

4.9 Billion dollars.

You know how much they’re on track to make this year in profits?

6 Billion dollars.

Catepillar is rolling in money. They have money up to their eyeballs, but no, the workers need to take a pay freeze for six years to help keep costs down. That includes the CEO too right? Hahahahahaha, you’re joking right? Pay freezes are only for little people like the workers that make the company run.

Douglas Oberhelman, the CEO of Catepillar was given a 60% pay increase over the course the year. He now makes $17 Million Dollars a year.

But I’m sorry, the little people need to tighten their belts during these great times.

Where are the Hank Reardens? Where are these virtuous business owners? Where are the CEOs that want to make the world a better place by enriching themselves AND those who help them create wealth?

Instead it seems that the current business model is to leech as much out of society as possible, to squeeze your workers for every possible ounce of productivity you can get out of them while paying them the absolute minimum you can get away with. When workers fight for an decent pay it’s class warfare, when corporations screw them out of every penny possible, it’s business.

 

Ban all the guns!

24 Jul

Last week another crazy struck again and massacred 12 people in a movie theater with an assault rifle. Predictably my favorite progressive podcasts start screaming about gun violence and how we need tighter gun control. Every time something like this happens we go through this same tired old back and forth with both sides talking past each other. Why I find conservatives to be grossly wrong on so many issues, gun control is the one issue I agree with them.

I find it strange that those on the left, who are correct in their logic about drug control and birth control suddenly abandon their logic when it comes to gun control and instead start parroting arguments that conservatives use against legalizing drugs and providing more access to birth control, but with the words drugs and birth replaced with “guns.” Crazy people are going to kill people. They always have and always will. When I went to see The Dark Night Rises I took my gun with me in case there was a copy cat killer. Banning guns or making them much harder to get isn’t going to solve this issue. Better mental health facilities will. But I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole here. There is something else I wanted to point out. My fellow liberal friends often completely misunderstand the point of guns in the 2nd amendment. Sometimes they understand the notion of self-defense, or hunting, but not the real purpose.

 

The purpose of gun ownership as outlined in the 2nd amendment is to enable a citizenry to violently overthrow their government.

That’s not what I’m advocating, but that was the purpose of the 2nd amendment. We had just violently overthrown our government at the time and the founders wanted to make sure the people would be safeguarded from yet another oppressive government. It’s not about hunting, it’s not about self defense from criminals, it’s about overthrowing the government.  It is for this reason that assault rifles and high capacity magazines are important. The purpose is to enable you to have some degree of level footing in a war scenario. Whether or not that’s possible in an age where the government spies on all of its citizens and has drones in the sky is another matter, but it’s the thought that counts. Yes this tragedy is horrible, yes people will be murdered every now and then by some psycho, but taken together it is not enough to warrant removing an entire populace’s final recourse to dealing with an oppressive government.

 

Refining my world view

24 Jul

All throughout growing up I’ve been refining my world view. Over the years it has undergone numerous changes and modifications. I’m always trying to adjust things to see how I can better make my explanations fit why the world is the way it is. Until now, the biggest shift in my worldview came when I realized that, to many, objective, independent reality doesn’t exist or matter. With this new lens I could better understand why some people, especially conservative politicians, act the way they act.

The epiphany I had recently revolves around super-organisms. The Amazing Atheist explains it pretty well right here in this clip talking about CISPA. Skip to 4:34 to get to the relevant part.

 

TAA uses the example of cointelpro and Watergate as examples of how people don’t care when individuals get fucked over, but they do care when super-organisms clash. Right now the news is full of stories about the Penn State child rape scandal. Penn State university covered up decades of child rape because it was attempting to protect its brand name. Now that the whole thing has blown up on them, all everyone seems to be talking about is the football program. What about the children who were raped? Nobody gives a shit. Why? Because Penn State is a super-organism and they only care about how that super-organism interacts with other super-organisms.

This biggest way this impacts my world view is in how I see political change, or rather the difficulty of political change. Everyone is just a cog in a semi-self aware machine. We are the system that oppresses us. We can elect politicians who can attempt to change the machine, but most often even they are unable to do so.  The system will continue to act on its own will. This really speaks to the powerlessness of the individual in our society.  If even the president is powerless to a degree to affect change on the system, what chance do you have of changing anything?

Class warfare in The Dark Night Rises.

21 Jul

*spoilers*

I went to go see the new Batman film last night and while it’s an entertaining movie, there was a strong undercurrent of class warfare all throughout that drove me nuts.

I read a really great description of Batman from a reddit user dopplerdog:

Batman is a romantic figure. He is the embodiment of the Nietzchean will to power, anUbermensch. He fights for law and order, a bourgeois order which respects hierarchy and property. In his world there are people who work within the prevailing order, and criminals who are outside it. His role is to enforce his idea of justice on those outside his notion of bourgeois order. He doesn’t wish to subvert the order, but rather to save it from itself, because it has become corrupt.

It is fascist because it is a reactionary fantasy to “correct” unilaterally and by force the problems afflicting liberal democracy, by going beyond the limits set by the system. The aim in this fantasy is to restore a mythical order in which hierarchy and property are respected.

One of the first big action sequences we see is Bane and his thugs shooting up a stock exchange. The rich traders are there being polished and snobby, then shoe shiner, janitor, and Bane dressed like a delivery driver pull out guns and start shooting up the place. The thugs weren’t disguised as other traders, no, they were disguised as working class average Joes. The police show up and there is a dialogue exchange between an trader and two cops. I can’t remember word for word, so I will paraphrase:

Trader: “You have to get in there! This is a robbery! He has full access to whatever whatever!”

Cop: “I’m not running in there, it’s not my money. My money’s in my mattress.”

Trader: “Well if you don’t stop him that money might be worth a lot less than the stuffing in your mattress!”

I find it wonderfully ironic that Bane is holding the traders hostage because this is exactly the reverse of what is going on in our society. Back in 2008, when the economy collapsed, our large financial and commercial institutions held everyone hostage. The message was simple: Either you bail us out for our irresponsible behavior or we take the entire world economy down with us.

“Too big to fail” was the euphemism used for blackmail on a global scale. Four years later and nothing has changed. No one has been arrested, the corrupt and broken system remains in tact, and anyone who speaks out against it is denounced as promoting “class warfare.”

The character of Bane uses populist, anti-capitalist rhetoric throughout the film. He claims that he is starting a revolution for the people, giving the city back to the people. He laments the corruption in society and the injustice of a system used by those in power to keep themselves in power. Bane brings up several real issues affecting society today, but by having Bane be the one to voice them, Nolan is single-handily dismissing the issues and painting those who raise them as terrorists. Way to try and frame the discussion so there is no discussion at all.

Cat Woman, who is much more morally ambiguous, also uses populist rhetoric from time to time. She tells Bruce Wayne that there is a storm coming, that soon all the rich people will be thrown out into the cold harsh world and will know what it’s like to be one of everyone else. This actually takes place in a montage that shows rich people being rounded up, their homes looted, and criminals being released from prison.

The whole thing just reminded me of the period immediately after the French Revolution known as “The Terror.” I was further reminded of this when Nolan shows the rich being sentenced to death in sham trials before a “people’s court.” I couldn’t help but laugh when one of the rich decries the lack of due process. In Nolan’s mind the rich and powerful stand as beacons of justice and human rights. In real life things are exactly the opposite.   The “right” to due process has become yet another casualty of war. Eric Holder, the attorney general made it clear that “due process doesn’t necessarily mean judicial due process.”

Throughout the chaos Bane establishes a military dictatorship of sorts, declaring martial law and rounding up those still on the streets for execution. His rule is anything but a populist revolution. He is simply using the rhetoric of such to try and win people to his side, not that he cares either way because he’s planning on blowing up the city regardless.

Queue patriotic shots of police officers being heroic and marching down the villains, people coming out of their townhouses while those in power talk about prosperity and order, and the entire thing is a reactionary circle jerk with Batman as Jesus Christ.

 

Money destroys democracy

17 Jul

Equality is at the core of a 1 person, 1 vote democracy. Your vote is a unit of direct political power. It doesn’t matter who or what you are, your vote matters just as much as the next person’s. It doesn’t matter what title comes before your name, or what your bank account statement says, at the end of the day my vote is just as powerful as yours. Without this equality democracy couldn’t function.

Unfortunately, things are not as simple in reality as 1 person, 1 vote. Is money speech? Is it a form of your free speech to choose to give your money to a political cause? If money is speech, does that mean those with more money have more speech then those with less money? What if a small group of people pool their resources so that they have an inordinate amount of speech compared to everyone else? What if they use this inordinate amount of speech to affect politics? Now you no longer have 1 person, 1 vote system. Money = speech = power; money = power.

 

At this point democracy starts to crumble. A person’s vote becomes irrelevant when there are much larger units of power in play. It’s similar to the difference between an arithmetical increase and an exponential increase. A large group of individuals can coalesce around a cause, but if another group has more money, they will have more influence and power. Congratulations, you’re now on your way from democracy to oligarchy.

The degree to which you’re an oligarchy depends on how much big money is involved in politics. This issue has always been around since the start of democracy, however, only relatively recently have we’ve seen the advent of super PACs and corporations pouring millions into politics in order to twist the law in their favor. The more money in politics, the less democratic those politics become.

“Well what’s the problem with that?” some might ask. If you’re fine with some people having more power than others, then you need stop your flag waving and acknowledge that you don’t support democracy. While you’re at it, stop using democracy as a buzzword completely. Democracy as a term has become as debased and valueless as liberty, freedom, and terrorism have in the past decade. They are cheap, gilded terms devoid of any real meaning.

“Why shouldn’t the rich have more power? They have more stuff and thus more of a stake in society.”

No. The amount of material objects you possess doesn’t matter. We all have the ultimate stake in society, our lives. When someone dies for their country, we say they paid the ultimate price. It is the most valuable thing we have as individuals. Your fancy cars, houses, and trust funds are drops in the bucket by comparison.

Prometheus sucked

12 Jul

*Spoilers*

I know I’m a bit late on posting this review, but I need to get this off my chest. Prometheus made no sense. The more I think about the movie, the more things I realize made no sense.

I went into it thinking it would be a prequel to the iconic feminist film of the 80’s. Instead I got a disjointed, poorly thought-out anti-science movie.

Throughout the film there is this strong faith vs science undercurrent, with the filmmakers falling firmly on the side of faith.

So a group of archaeologists find a similar painting that has been found on several locations all over the planet depicting a constellation. Somehow, from this, they come to the conclusion that this points the way to a planet where aliens exist, and that these aliens created us. Quite a jump from a couple of stick figures in a cave. Not to mention the fact that we already have an explanation for how life developed on the planet. Furthermore, it takes more than one star to be in a constellation. Stars can be in a constellation together, but in reality exist millions of light years apart. How did they know which star? How did they know which planet around that star? But whatever, moving on.

A dying multi-trillionare builds a spaceship solely for the purpose of going to this planet. He then staffs the spaceship with various costume scientists. I say costume scientists because none of them actually do any science, nor know any science as made evidenced by the token “biologist.”

Before they land on the planet there is an exchange between the “biologist” and Elizabeth Shaw, the archaeologist. Elizabeth Shaw explains her stick figure idea and the “biologist” laughs and asks her why she thinks that. “It is what I choose to believe.” is her reply. This line comes up more than once. The way it is used, and the way so much else in the film rests upon the concept it conveys, it’s as if the screenwriters thought this was some brilliant rebuttle to skeptics.

News flash: Choosing to believe something has no impact on whether or not it is true. None what so ever. It does not strengthen your claim. It only shows that you have nothing other than your own delusion with which to support your views. I can stand in front of a train and “choose to believe” that it won’t hit me. I could believe as hard as I possibly could, but it would be nowhere near as hard as when the train does actually hit me. Reality doesn’t give a shit what you “choose to believe.” Here in the real world, facts matter.

But back to Never-never land. After Elizabeth gives her lack luster response the “biologist” responds with “Yeah, like you’re going to disprove 300 years of Darwinism…”

This one line shows just how little of an actual biologist this “biologist” is. Darwinism? Who the hell calls evolution “Darwinism?” You know who? People who don’t understand evolution and attack it. Creationists in the US use the term “Darwinism.” The fact that this character used that term instead of evolution instantly showed the screenwriter’s hand. Secondly, the ignorance of the screenwriter is further revealed by having the character rhetorically ask if she was going to disprove “Darwinism” by showing that life was created by aliens.

Newsflash #2: Evolution has nothing to do with how life began. That’s the field of abiogenesis. Evolution deals with how life (surprise!) evolved. The fact that “biologist” doesn’t understand this shows that he really isn’t actually a biologist. Lastly, even if somehow you could prove that life was started on the planet by aliens, that wouldn’t disprove evolution. See Newsflash #2.

If I remember correctly, someone asks Elizabeth something to the effect of “Well if the aliens made us, then what does that do to god?” To which she replied “Well who made them [the aliens]?” Again the screenwriter shows that he’s an idiot. This is just an infinite regress. I could just as validly say “well who made god?” To which most theists just arbitrarily decide to break the cycle by choosing to suspend the rules of “everything must have a cause” and declaring their god above the rules that govern everyone else.

Throughout the film people keep trying to take Elizabeth’s cross necklace of her neck, but she keeps putting it back. One character even says to her “Even after all this, you still believe?” Elizabeth just brushes off their criticism and continues to believe in the iron age god of the desert. I say that for a reason.

The symbol of the cross is not just  some amorphous symbol for a higher power. It is the symbol for a very specific deity with specific attributes. It is the symbol for the Christian god. Here is Elizabeth: on a planet in another solar system, after having discovered that aliens created life on earth, that those aliens then were going to destroy that life, and was recently attacked by said aliens. Despite all this she still feels that the story of a deity impregnating a virgin girl 2000+ years ago in the desert and then sacrificing himself to himself in order to forgive mankind for being the way he created them, she feels that all this is still reasonable and valid.

Sorry, forgot. Movie on, brain off.

A subplot of the story revolves around a robot man. This robot is having problems with the question “Do I have a soul?” For some unknown reason he decides that he wants to kill all humans and proceeds to subtly fuck everything up once they’ve landed on the planet. This is ridiculous because for the entire two years that everyone else was helpless in stasis, he was alone on the ship. He could have killed them at any moment, but instead waits till they land.

Furthermore, it’s hilarious that the multi-trillionare man doesn’t realize the robot is asking the same questions he is. It is clear to everyone in the audience that the robot is self aware and capable of feelings. He displaces amusement, concern, curiosity, and malicious intent. Yet at the end of the movie Elizabeth’s character reminds him that it is impossible for him to understand some things or have a soul because he did not come out of a vagina.

Speaking of vaginas, this movie has a very strange relationship with gender. I’m not sure if it’s an anti-feminist movie as well as being anti-science, but at the very least it’s just weird when it comes to gender issues.

The multi-trillionare guy gives a speech about how the killer robot is the closest thing he’ll ever have to a son.  Yet later we find out that the person in charge of the expedition, Meredith, is his daughter. Why snub your daughter like that? Some people believe she is a robot too, but this is not the case. She had to be woken up from stasis. If she was a robot, there would have been no need. She could have stayed up for 2 years with David watching Lawrence of Arabia.

Furthermore, she goes off and has sex with the captain of the ship. Why would her father’s company make a daughter robot with functioning sexual organs? Also, nobody questions her emotions when she shows them yet they all doubt David can feel anything.

So we’ve established that there are at least two human females on the ship. Oddly enough, the movie DOES pass the Bechdel test, but barely. These women speak to each other only for a brief moment. Either way, this brings us to one of the strangest parts of the film. Elizabeth gets impregnated with an alien baby via her infected lover. She runs to the super expensive auto-surgery machine on the ship to have it cut out of her. She tells the machine what proceedure she needs and it spits back the error:

“Sorry, this machine is calibrated for male patients only.”

What the hell? Why? Why even write that bit of dialogue into the film? She gets around it and the machine cuts the alien baby out, but still, wtf? We’ve already established that there are at least two women on board the ship. Why would a surgery machine in the future be biased against them? What if something happened, like it did in the case of the movie?

Throughout the movie nobody seems to be overly excited about making first contact with another life form, nor do they seem overly concerned when people start dying. There is one point where two crew members are trapped in the alien building and the captain sees that something is moving on the scanners. He doesn’t act the least bit concerned and instead just brushes it off. The two crew members die and nobody gives a shit.

Somehow the captain figures out that this planet is a weapons facility where the aliens that made us were creating the predator aliens for use to kill us all off. He must of had some of what the archaeologists had for breakfast because he figures this all out while sitting in his chair.

This fact is completely ignored at the end of the movie when Elizabeth wants to travel to the alien’s home planet. “I want to know why the decided not to kill us” she states to David the robot. Well clearly they didn’t decided not to kill you. What was the first thing the alien did when you woke him up? He tried to kill you then tried to fly his spaceship with the weapons towards earth to kill everyone else. That was the whole reason the Prometheus ship had to suicide ram the alien spaceship.

Yet the screenwriters ignore this and Elizabeth gets on another ship to sail off into the stars armed with nothing but a bag of cheetos she looted from the escape pod…

 

Happy 4th of July. Celebrate [the illusion of] freedom

4 Jul

“The illusion of freedom [in America] will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.” –Frank Zappa

Happy 4th of July. Everywhere you look in America today there is something or someone espousing the attitude of “AMERICA!!!FUCK YEAH!!!!” It’s freedom this or liberty that. Yet despite all this spirited celebration, not a single brain cell is occupied with contemplating what freedoms and liberties we have. If you ask someone, they’ll probably give some answer that sounds like it could be spoken from a character out of the Idiocracy movie. “What freedoms are you celebrating today?” “Well, ah….our freedom to be free!”

You have no freedom. You have only the illusion of freedom.

You might point to the bill of rights as a clear example of the freedoms you have, but then you would be incredibly naive. Rights by their nature are absolutes. If they are not absolutes then they are not rights, their enforcement is subject to the whims of the ruling power; an illusion. The ruling power will maintain that illusion as long as it is convenient for them to do so. In cases where it is no longer convenient, they will dispense with the theater and the true nature of your “rights” are relieved.

Over the past century the US government has shown that no right is absolute. Freedom of speech, press, and assembly? That will be tolerated as long as it is the correct speech, press, and assembly. Look at the brutal crackdowns on protesters, “free speech zones” miles away from the subject of the protest, the police violence .Freedom from unwarranted search and seizures? Nonexistent. Everything you do on facebook, every phone call and text message you send is recorded by the government. You are suspect by default. Every citizen is a potential enemy of the state.

The right to due process, a speedy trial and protection from cruel and unusual punishment? Ask Bradley Manning about that. Or ask Anwar al-Awlaki, an American tried, sentenced, and executed with no due process, no trial, and no appeal. Or ask his dead 16yr old son who was executed two weeks later in the same manner. Ask anyone on the US government’s “kill list.” Ask the owners of Megaupload or any one of the other websites arbitrarily, illegally, and capriciously shut down by the government.

“But at least we’re not some third world country suffering starvation, civil war, and lawlessness!”

No. Making that argument is surrender. You are setting the bar so low that it might as well be on the ground, and yet you seem elated that you’re able to step over it. No amount of sarcasm can express my disdain for this argument. The funny thing is that you can’t even step over it, it’s more like you trip over it. Corruption, lawlessness, and starvation exist here in the US. The difference is that our aliments are better hidden. People are expecting to see starving Africans, or warlords, or guards taking bribes. Yet in America our starving people look like everyone else, or a homeless veteran under a bridge. Our warlords wear suits and drive nice cars. Our corrupt officials take bribes from corporations and sit in congress. There remains only one absolute right in the US.

Your right to remain silent.

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