Feb 28th, 2006 by ravi
Mexico and Leftists

A grim reminder of what it still is, in this world, to be a [real] leftist.

BBC NEWS | Mexico ‘dirty war’ crimes alleged

The Mexican government and military committed “crimes against humanity” in the so-called “dirty war” against left-wing rebels, a leaked report says.

The report was prepared for current President Vicente Fox but has not been released. A US NGO has printed material saying Mexicans had a right to know.

The army kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of rebel suspects, says the report, which covers 1964 to 1982.

Mexico’s special prosecutor says the report is biased and has been revised.

‘Death flights’

The draft report’s authors write: “The authoritarian attitude with which the Mexican state wished to control social dissent created a spiral of violence which… led it to commit crimes against humanity, including genocide.”

They say they base their findings partly on declassified military, police and interior ministry documents and list for the first time the names of officers allegedly involved in the abuses.

The report says that units detained or summarily executed men and boys in villages suspected of links to rebel leader Lucio Cabanas.

Detainees were forced to drink gasoline and tortured with beatings and electric shocks, it says.

Bodies of dozens of leftists were dumped in the Pacific Ocean during helicopter “death flights” from military bases in Acapulco and elsewhere.

[…]

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Feb 28th, 2006 by ravi
Matrix Pong

Matrix Pong

[Thanks to Adam]

I don’t usually forward this stuff, but this one is just way too funny to miss.

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Feb 24th, 2006 by ravi
Histrionics over Hysteria

An amusing bit from the Guardian about the Dubai ports controversy. Doesn’t really state anything we don’t know but check it out anyway: its funny.

Guardian Unlimited | Calm down, it’s only a commercial deal

Bush has peddled hysteria as a way of governance, so it’s hysterical to see him trying to play down the Dubai Ports controversy, says William Greider

[…]

A conservative blaming hysteria is hysterical, when you think about it, and a bit late. Hysteria launched Bush’s invasion of Iraq. It created that monstrosity called Homeland Security and pumped up defence spending by more than 40%.

Hysteria has been used to realign US foreign policy for permanent imperial war-making, whenever and wherever we find something frightening afoot in the world.

Hysteria will justify the “long war”, now fondly embraced by Field Marshal Rumsfeld. It has also slaughtered a number of Democrats who were not sufficiently hysterical. It saved George Bush’s butt in 2004.

Bush was the principal author, along with his straight-shooting vice-president, and now he is hoisted by his own fear-mongering propaganda.

The basic hysteria was invented from risks of terrorism, enlarged ridiculously by the president’s open-ended claim that we are endangered everywhere and anywhere (he decides where). Anyone who resists that proposition is a coward or, worse, a subversive.

[…]

So why is the fearmonger-in-chief being so casual about this Dubai business?

Because at some level of consciousness even George Bush knows the inflated fears are bogus. So do a lot of the politicians merrily throwing spears at him.

He taught them how to play this game, invented the tactics and reorganised political competition as a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, endless opportunities to waste public money. Very few dare to challenge the mindset. Thousands have died for it.

[…]

It would be nice to imagine this ridiculous episode will prompt reconsideration, cool down exploitative jingoism and provoke a more rational discussion of the multiplying absurdities. I doubt it. At least it will be satisfying to see Bush toasted irrationally, since he lit the match.

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Feb 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Machismo takes another reality bite

Rigour is often confused with toughness and it is only a short leap from there to machismo. We are urged to accept various theories not on the basis of rigourous proof or reasoned argument, but through what is the equivalent of “deal with it”. The left, forever afraid of being seen wussy, is often first to turn on its own with calls for accepting the “reality”, with the palliative that the “is” does not hinder the “ought”. Hence we have the scientistic attacks on postmodern philosophy, the examples from previous entries on neo-darwinism, the claims of dearly departed Larry Summers of Harvard about the innate disabilities of women, and so on down the road that leads to Joe Leiberman’s [what should not be] dismaying abandonment of his party.

In that category lies the repeated need to see human beings as a predatory and carnivorous species. Glorious male hunters showed us the way, and such anomalies as feminism or vegetarianism are sentimental niceties… never mind the inconclusive, or better, nuanced reality presented by actual data. These tough images need sustenance and that comes in the form of macho rhetoric and selective analysis and presentation of the data: when is the last time you saw a lion cub die in a nature show, except of course the rare segment where they are killed by the even more macho alpha male lion, despite the fact that a whole lot of them die within the first six months of life? On the other hand, there is no dearth of footage of fawns getting slaughtered by the predator of the moment? One must not get sentimental about baby Bambi!

Once in a while, a bit of different analysis or data makes it into the mainstream, challenging the macho stories, and I confess it amuses me greatly to be able to forward or quote them:

BBC NEWS | Predators ‘drove human evolution’:
Predators ‘drove human evolution’
By Paul Rincon

The popular view of our ancient ancestors as hunters who conquered all in their way is wrong, researchers have told a major US science conference.

Instead, they argue, early humans were on the menu for predatory beasts.

This may have driven humans to evolve increased levels of co-operation, according to their theory.

Despite humankind’s considerable capacity for war and violence, we are highly sociable animals, according to anthropologists.

James Rilling, at Emory University in Atlanta, US, has been using brain imaging techniques to investigate the biological mechanisms behind co-operation.

He has imaged the brains of people playing a game under experimental conditions that involved choosing between co-operation and non-co-operation.

From the parts of the brain that were activated during the game, he found that mutual co-operation is rewarding; people reacted negatively when partners did not co-operate.

Dr Rilling also discovered that his subjects seemed to have enhanced memory for those people that did not reciprocate in the experiment.

[…]

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Feb 21st, 2006 by ravi
David Sloan Wilson on niceness and religion

My previous entry was about the thoughts of a particular philosophical/biological group (neo-darwinism, darwinian fundamentalism, evo psychology, etc) on religion. Below is an essay on David Wilson, a biologist with a different approach and attitude. Edward Wilson too has suggested that religion (what others have called the religion meme) evolves due to its fitness advantages, but David Wilson’s take is a bit different. I am particularly interested in this article because of the mention of religion and morality, which “leads forward” to my upcoming rant on the Left (in America) and their views and attitudes (In short, they are, to an extent, the opposite of Wilson’s father — who is described by him as a man who was scornful of religion but deeply moral — since they are scornful of morality and unwittingly religious in terms of their faith).

Guardian: ‘I wanted to show how niceness evolves’
David Sloan Wilson says plankton can tell us a lot about God and human morality.
By Andrew Brown
Thursday July 24, 2003
The Guardian

[…]

One might say Wilson’s entire scientific career has been an argument with the Selfish Gene. The central story of scientific development in that book goes something like this: once upon a time, biologists believed organisms could evolve to do things for the good of their groups. Then came the revolution, the new, tough-mindedness that showed this could not be true and that everything must be analysed in terms of the ruthless selfishness of its components. As Margaret Thatcher might have said, in the new biology there was no such thing as a species only individual organisms and their families.

[…]

It may seem a simple twisting of words to say behaviour that’s good for the group will be selected by evolution if it’s also good for the individual. But the point is that this behaviour benefits individuals because they are group members. Behaviour can only be analysed and predicted by treating group selection as something that happens. “The idea that selfish gene theory by itself constitutes an argument against group selection is a common misunderstanding and the concept of selfish genes loses much of its force when revealed as merely newspeak for ‘any gene that evolves, including by group selection’. Genes that evolve by group selection are as compatible with selfish gene theory as genes that evolve at any other level of selection.”

[…]

The important thing about religion, he thinks, is that it encourages collective action. The emotions that religions build on, and the conduct they encourage, tend to bind groups and build cooperation. The worship of a common god, he believes, is really the worship of a common good, to whom everyone in the tribe or religion must defer.

[…]

In the same way, says Wilson, “spirituality, this intense searching for God, reliably leads to community. The monastic and ascetic tradition actually ends up being involved in communitarian activities. This is true across all religions. When you look at it closely, these people sitting in caves in the Tibetan mountains and the fabled ascetics of early Christianity, the people sitting on poles in the desert and so on, are plugged into a wider lay network.

[…]

His view of religion is in almost every respect the opposite of the Dawkins view that religion is a matter of false and perhaps malevolent beliefs. That they are false is almost the least important thing about them compared to the effect they have on our behaviour. If they promote advantageous behaviour, or group cohesion, religious beliefs will survive. The one thing religions take seriously is not their theories of creation. Or even of the after-life – many religions don’t involve any coherent belief in heaven. It is their rules about how believers must treat one another, and outsiders. If these are got right, the religion will flourish, even if its doctrines are absurd.

[…]

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Feb 21st, 2006 by ravi
In which Dennett receives a well deserved whupping…

Breaking the SpellThere is a certain vulnerability, of over-reaching, in acts of triumphalism that robs the agent of his well-deserved preening (we saw some of that in the fall of Bush (at least in popularity) in short order after proclamations of a ‘mandate’). There was a time when Selfish Gene theorists and other reductionists were somewhat of establishment outsiders and also not favourable with the public. EP and Sociobiology proponents fought hard to reach their current Amazon.com sales rank (Edward Wilson had to endure water being poured on him by indignant students, for instance), and with their most outspoken critic now safely in his grave, it is only natural and deserving that they enjoy the limelight to knock off a few mighty tomes of overarching wisdom.

But as the Eastwood character said in ‘Unforgiven’, it does seem to be not about deserving, at least over at the NYT Book Review, where old Dennett, all around AI and Neo-Darwinism groupie, gets a spanking in a review of his own take on Religion (following Edward Wilson’s attempt at it a few years ago). Read on (and click through) for an entertaining review that almost redeems TNR.

But before I let you proceed to the review, i have to say that I am quite tickled by the reviewer’s identification of scientism and materialism as the force behind some of these lines of thought. I am tickled because I have sitting in the drafts (for this blog) a festering rant about the American Left that ties into some of this stuff. It is particularly funny, to me, that Wieseltier (the reviewer) says:

Dennett’s book is also a document of the intellectual havoc of our infamous polarization, with its widespread and deeply damaging assumption that the most extreme statement of an idea is its most genuine statement. Dennett lives in a world in which you must believe in the grossest biologism or in the grossest theism, in a purely naturalistic understanding of religion or in intelligent design, in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in 19th-century England or in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in the sky.

Funny because I was thinking of some parts of the left and their own omniscient white man with a long beard… ;-). But that is another blog post…

The God Genome

‘Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,’ by Daniel C. Dennett
Review by LEON WIESELTIER
Published: February 19, 2006

THE question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett’s book. “Breaking the Spell” is a work of considerable historical interest, because it is a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions.

The orthodoxies of evolutionary psychology are all here, its tiresome way of roaming widely but never leaving its house, its legendary curiosity that somehow always discovers the same thing. The excited materialism of American society — I refer not to the American creed of shopping, according to which a person’s qualities may be known by a person’s brands, but more ominously to the adoption by American culture of biological, economic and technological ways of describing the purposes of human existence — abounds in Dennett’s usefully uninhibited pages. And Dennett’s book is also a document of the intellectual havoc of our infamous polarization, with its widespread and deeply damaging assumption that the most extreme statement of an idea is its most genuine statement. Dennett lives in a world in which you must believe in the grossest biologism or in the grossest theism, in a purely naturalistic understanding of religion or in intelligent design, in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in 19th-century England or in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in the sky.

In his own opinion, Dennett is a hero. He is in the business of emancipation, and he reveres himself for it. “By asking for an accounting of the pros and cons of religion, I risk getting poked in the nose or worse,” he declares, “and yet I persist.” Giordano Bruno, with tenure at Tufts! He wonders whether religious people “will have the intellectual honesty and courage to read this book through.” If you disagree with what Dennett says, it is because you fear what he says. Any opposition to his scientistic deflation of religion he triumphantly dismisses as “protectionism.” But people who share Dennett’s view of the world he calls “brights.” Brights are not only intellectually better, they are also ethically better. Did you know that “brights have the lowest divorce rate in the United States, and born-again Christians the highest”? Dennett’s own “sacred values” are “democracy, justice, life, love and truth.” This rigs things nicely. If you refuse his “impeccably hardheaded and rational ontology,” then your sacred values must be tyranny, injustice, death, hatred and falsehood. Dennett is the sort of rationalist who gives reason a bad name; and in a new era of American obscurantism, this is not helpful.

[…]

What’s up with the dudes with big white beards, anyway?

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Feb 13th, 2006 by ravi
Bush Tracker Update

More tidings from the frontiers of the Bush revolution:

  • Corruption
Ohio GOP coin scandal charges
  • Guantanamo
Film: Road to Guantanamo
U.N. Report Criticizes U.S. for Gitmo
  • Afghan War
Pakistanis killed in US strike

Afghan blast kills four US troops
  • Economy
U.S. Trade Deficit Hits All-Time High
  • Abramoff
Three More Lawmakers Linked to Abramoff
WH says: Oh, you meant that photo?
  • Katrina
US government ‘failed’ on Katrina
  • Iraq
C&L video of UK soldiers’ abuse

And so on it goes…

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Feb 13th, 2006 by ravi
Speaking of Kos (again)…

Recently, I posted about Max being dropped by dKos and a bit earlier about Kos opinion on peace marches. At that time, I had no problem with Kos in general but found some aspects of his approach (and his rhetoric) disturbing. More on his attitude has emerged (follow the Bitch|Lab blog link quoted below to read direct Kos comments on the dearth of minorities/women in the blogosphere, and from there on about affirmative action, etc) that casts further doubt on Kos’ credibility as a true progressive.

The quoted text below is of particular interest to me because it is rare to hear this (what I consider) older form of leftist/progressive ideal, here in the West. In fact new leftists (like Kos himself, though he probably does not consider himself a leftist) probably dismiss this as some sort of romanticizing, on various pragmatic grounds.

I have always thought that the job of the left is much harder: (I am not good at metaphors, so bear with me) We have the task of dragging the conservatives away from the last good idea we brought about to the next good one. Our techniques are part of who we are, just as theirs betray their outlook (Don’t worry, no Nietzsche quote shall follow).

Without more verbiage then, a comment from Bitch|Lab that says it most beautifully:

Bitch | Lab » Blog Archive » Flicked off

For him (dKos), it’s about winning elections. And the content of his blog is zeroed in on yakking about the races, promoting candidates, promoting campaign issues, battling the enemy.

And he wants to imagine that the only legitimate way to build this “Progressive” community is via this narrowly defined political practice. Thus those blogs that focus primarily on doing the same are considered legimitately part of the ‘political community’.

But, can a social movement for real progressive change rest only on this narrow conception of politics? How does such a narrow concpetion of politics foster community and solidarity? I don’t think it does — not for the long haul at any rate.

A progressive politics needs story tellers. It needs shared symbols which express, in crystallized for, those stories. Those story tellers speak from the voices of those who feel the burning edge of the need for social change.

Those story tellers seem to me to almost always emanate from the impassioned heart of those who feel most oppressed or who can, somehow, identify with them and give voice to that pain — and that desire.

Those stories are what the whole “values” debate is really all about. Those stories are what Mr. Framing (I’ve forgotten his name) is really talking about. But things he talks about don’t inspire the people who struggle. He only wants to get people to pull levers in voting booths. He only wants to bring USers to a point where more people thinkt he Democrats are more appealing than the Republicans.

Real social change — which is what I thought a progressive supports — is something that needs to be sustained by larger mythic stories of what’s wrong with contemporary life and what we can do to change. Those mythic stories we tell ourselves tell us why we struggle. They tell us why we’re doing this. They tell us why we keep fighting, even when we lose, even when we think nothing’s ever going to change. Those stories nourish us and reinvigorate us. They keep us fighting when the going gets tough. They connect us to a past through a present and onward toward an imagined future.

Ahem.

Sorry. There’s this weird thing that takes over me sometimes and I sound like a durn fool.

No you don’t. You sound just about right, and just about exactly what I learnt was worthwhile about being a progressive (and acting as one) from my father (the most gentle human being I ever knew).

By the way, B|L, the Mr.Framing guy you are looking for is, I think, George Lakoff (PDF).

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Feb 11th, 2006 by ravi
Stanley Fish on the Cartoon Bruhaha

As always, Fish (now at Florida International University) doesn’t fail to give an interestingly different analysis. But perhaps I find it interesting only because of my liberalism (my feeble attempt at a joke — read Fish to see why its possibly funny). This is Fish on the cartoon controversy, in an Op-Ed piece in the NYT. I urge you to follow the link and read the entire piece.

NYT: Our Faith in Letting It All Hang Out
By STANLEY FISH
Published: February 12, 2006

IF you want to understand what is and isn’t at stake in the Danish cartoon furor, just listen to the man who started it all, Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Mr. Rose told Time magazine that he asked 40 Danish cartoonists to “depict Muhammad as they see him,” after he noticed that journalists, historians and even museum directors were wary of presenting the Muslim religion in an unfavorable light, or in any light at all.

“To me,” he said, this “spoke to the problem of self-censorship and freedom of speech.” The publication of the cartoons, he insisted, “was not directed at Muslims” at all. Rather, the intention was “to put the issue of self-censorship on the agenda and have a debate about it.”

I believe him. And not only do I believe that he has nothing against Muhammad or the doctrines of Islam, I believe that he has no interest (positive or negative) in them at all, except as the possible occasions of controversy.

This is what it means today to put self-censorship “on the agenda”: the particular object of that censorship — be it opinions about a religion, a movie, the furniture in a friend’s house, your wife’s new dress, whatever — is a matter of indifference. What is important is not the content of what is expressed but that it be expressed. What is important is that you let it all hang out.

Mr. Rose may think of himself, as most journalists do, as being neutral with respect to religion — he is not speaking as a Jew or a Christian or an atheist — but in fact he is an adherent of the religion of letting it all hang out, the religion we call liberalism.

The first tenet of the liberal religion is that everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously.

[…]

This is, increasingly, what happens to strongly held faiths in the liberal state. Such beliefs are equally and indifferently authorized as ideas people are perfectly free to believe, but they are equally and indifferently disallowed as ideas that might serve as a basis for action or public policy.

Strongly held faiths are exhibits in liberalism’s museum; we appreciate them, and we congratulate ourselves for affording them a space, but should one of them ask of us more than we are prepared to give — ask for deference rather than mere respect — it will be met with the barrage of platitudinous arguments that for the last week have filled the pages of every newspaper in the country.

One of those arguments goes this way: It is hypocritical for Muslims to protest cartoons caricaturing Muhammad when cartoons vilifying the symbols of Christianity and Judaism are found everywhere in the media of many Arab countries. After all, what’s the difference? The difference is that those who draw and publish such cartoons in Arab countries believe in their content; they believe that Jews and Christians follow false religions and are proper objects of hatred and obloquy.

But I would bet that the editors who have run the cartoons do not believe that Muslims are evil infidels who must either be converted or vanquished. They do not publish the offending cartoons in an effort to further some religious or political vision; they do it gratuitously, almost accidentally. Concerned only to stand up for an abstract principle — free speech — they seize on whatever content happens to come their way and use it as an example of what the principle should be protecting. The fact that for others the content may be life itself is beside their point.

This is itself a morality — the morality of a withdrawal from morality in any strong, insistent form. It is certainly different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil. And the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors.

[…]

Perhaps Fish is already aware of the possibility that he, more than anyone else, might personify the flippant nonchalance/posturing of the liberal he describes so well! ;-)

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Feb 10th, 2006 by ravi
Bush Tracker Update

I have decided to create an entire new category: Bush Tracker, sort of a “Where are they today?” section on the ever-growing set of BushCo acts of obscenity and where they stand currently. In fact there are so many (stealing elections to Katrina to illegal wiretapping) that at some point I may have to create subcategories.

Here’s the update for today:

  • Katrina
WH knew of levee’s failure on night of storm
  • Plame
Scooter: Cheney made me do it!
  • Patriot Act
GOP wants Patriot Act after all
  • Elections
Still a squeaker in Ohio
  • Wiretap
People like the spying!
  • Cronyism
  • Environment
Young Deutsch leaves NASA with small bang
  • Abramoff
Abramoff differs about buddy Bush

Let us see if I am able to keep up with the rate at which these guys can act!

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