Jan 25th, 2007 by ravi
Hagelian synthesis

Crooks and Liars has video of Chuck Hagel (R-NE) laying it out to the Senate on Iraq and the [non-binding] Hagel, Biden, Snowe, Levin resolution against escalation. I guess it takes a Republican to say the things he does, such as point out that the reputation of the U.S is shot in the Middle East. Here is a rough transcript (by me) of a part that I found particularly surprising:

When people have no hope, when there is despair, little else matters. And this is not about terrorists don’t like freedom. Tell that to the Palestinian people who have been chained down for many, many years.

Will someone notify Dershowitz, please?

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Jan 22nd, 2007 by ravi
Will the Real Internet Left please stand up?

A minor skirmish has broken out in Bloglandia between the left purists and the “netroots”. The opening salvo was fired by our good friend Max Sawicky, with this bit:

The “Internet Left” is a mostly brainless vacuum cleaner of donations for the Democratic Party.

Congratulations are first due to Max: in a world that lives on and for catchy one-liners, he can justifiably claim to have moved us farther, with this clever aphorism, irrespective of its validity. Second, is it just me, is Max looking pretty slick in that picture (for contrast see the wiser gent on Crooks and Liars)?

The “purists” are the old guard, the textbook leftists, the big thinkers who understand the systemic rot, the root cause dudes who will fix the problem not the symptoms. The “netroots” are a gaggle of bloggers who gained popularity and prominence after the 2004 Dean debacle. Some are just wide-ranging commentators (much as we here at PB are, albeit with a readership that is non-trivial) but for our exercise we can limit the group to a couple of biggies: DailyKos, the mothership of the movement, and MyDD one of whose writers (Matt Stoller) figures in the very first sentences of Max’s assault on the virtual roots.

What is Max’s beef against the young Turks? I am guessing he is unhappy with their apparent attitude that they have the whole leftist enterprise covered (from activism to theory). Instead old Max finds that they are ill-read if at all (and extends that point to suggest that they have little coherent theoretical understanding and analysis of their positions and the things they, or rather the Left, should work against or for), and they are not very left at that (as attested by the unbridled enthusiasm for Democrats — which seems to exceed that of a Democratic convention speaker, Al Sharpton, who memorably quipped: we want to see how far this donkey can take us — and election politics and activism). Further evidence is not hard to come by, ranging from Kos’ attitude towards marches and the activists involved (“boring”, “obsolete”) to Duncan Black on Chomsky (Google it. I refuse to link to random blather!). The “netroots” wants the old Left (the 60s left in particular?) out of their way in a hurry, but as Max outlines, what is the alternative they offer to the many facets of old style organising and activism?

The purists, usually from the Church of Marx, have nothing but disdain for party politics, electoral victories, crackpot realism. It’s all ephemeral, these meagre and meaningless victories … a mistaken identification of the roots with the trees and the trees for the forest. The Democratic Party is the buffer, a parasite that lives off the malcontent of the left, bleeding away its anger while offering no real progress. The destruction of the DP is the first step towards the inevitable and necessary confrontation with the real powers that keep us down! Even the extended discussion of elections, potential candidates and results, is not mere waste of time but a dangerous distraction (aided by the “netroots” which offer the fora and gravitas for such chatter).

Theoretical analysis and such elaborate arias can also be seen as a luxury of those who can afford them. Every bit of change can mean something significant for someone else — the return of Democrats might return funding to medical services in poor nations, alleviate conditions in Iraq (the 2006 GOP electoral humiliation, in itself, has generated a significant number of defections into the camp that questions the Iraqi strategy), a bit more safety for immigrants at risk of landing in Guantanamo, increase in minimum wage, and so on. If a coherent argument is available to demonstrate that these incremental steps have a net negative effect (and a large one at that), I am yet to hear it put forth without resort to magic language.

Another little matter nags: I do not vote on MyDD straw-polls because I believe I am furthering the grand leftist agenda, but because I have nothing better to do. The problem lies in the mistaken idea that the purists and the “netroots” are battling over scarce eyeballs and limited time. I can eyeball both of them and still have enough time to write this silly blog. My problem is not too little time but too little opportunity.

And on that question of opportunity, I return to consider Max’s original point regarding the “Internet Left”, and his own conclusion:

The real Internet left is the Internet of leftists who use the Internet.

Sometime in 1990 or 1991 I was introduced to the term “user”. It seemed an elegantly apt way to describe those who were interested in consumption and not participation (elegant because “user” is also the term to designate a non-technical human using a computer). These were the sort of people who made posts to newsgroups or mailing lists with the preface: please respond to me at my email address, since I do not read this list. I bring this up for a reason. Max is wrong. The real Internet Left is not the leftists who use the net, but the people who contribute to making it what it is. If you need a name, that name would be Richard Stallman. Behind all this noise that they enable is a dedicated community of developers, documenters, testers, bug reporters, and volunteers for all kinds of other roles, who work using the simple philosophy of from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs. The best unsolicited advice that I can offer anyone that faces the problem I bring up above, of the lack of opportunity, is to forget about theoretical frameworks or blog activism, but rather get involved in this thriving actual community (that is by the way, among other things, enabling communities in the so-called Third World), which exists despite (and perhaps because of) the disimissal of it as a serious and important force and phenomenon. Forget the Marxist thesis and the Technorati rank, or rather along with that, write some code, help out with answering questions, get your hands dirty.

A random list of efforts that you could involve yourself in today, directly related to what you are doing now:

  • WordPress — open source blogging software and service
  • Mozilla — open source web browser and email software with ad/spam blocking
  • GNU — extensive suite of tools from the Free Software Foundation
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Jan 18th, 2007 by ravi
The people say: Deliberation not liberation!

[via Polling Report]

LA Times / Bloomberg poll (Jan 13, 2007):

“Do you agree or disagree with those who say that George W. Bush deliberately misled Congress and the American people about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and its ties with Al Qaeda in order to build support for going to war with Iraq?”

1/13-16/07 50 44 6
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Jan 16th, 2007 by ravi
More wonders of tort “reform”

Adam Cohen gives examples in the New York Times on why the justice system indeed does require some reform, but not in the direction demanded by the vociferous right-wing, but in better protecting and compensating individuals and their rights. Cohen starts out with the case of Jack Cline who developed leukaemia from exposure to benzene at his job in Alabama. Here’s what the Alabama Supreme Court had to say:

They Say We Have Too Many Lawsuits? Tell It to Jack Cline – NYT

In a ruling that would have done Kafka proud, the court held that there was never a valid time for Mr. Cline to sue. If he had sued when he was exposed to the benzene, it would have been too early. Alabama law requires people exposed to dangerous chemicals to wait until a “manifest” injury develops. But when his leukemia developed years later, it was too late. Alabama’s statute of limitations requires that suits be brought within two years of exposure.

Cohen goes on to ridicule the sceptre of frivolous lawsuits to identify the real damage inflicted on the justice system:

At the top of industry’s list of tactics is immunity — the rather brazen notion that companies should be shielded from lawsuits no matter how negligently or dishonestly they act. […]

Industries are also winning immunity at the state level, and attracting far less attention. Pharmaceutical companies pushed through a law in Michigan protecting them when their drugs injure or kill people, as long as the drugs were approved by the Food and Drug Administration. There is no reason F.D.A. approval, a deeply flawed process, should be a shield.

When corporations do end up in court, they have lowered the stakes substantially by undermining punitive damages, which have long been one of the main ways that society deters people from unreasonably putting others at risk. The United States Supreme Court struck a major blow against punitive damages a decade ago, ruling that it was unconstitutional for a jury to award $2 million in punitive damages against an auto dealer that knowingly sold a damaged, repainted BMW as new.

Lower federal court judges, many of whom have been screened by the Bush administration for pro-business sympathies, and state court judges, many of whose campaigns were bankrolled by big business, are eagerly joining in. So are state legislatures. Last month Ohio’s legislature voted to cap punitive damages in many cases against paint companies — which have been accused of selling lead-based paint that causes retardation in children — at a paltry $5,000.


[ Link ]

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Jan 13th, 2007 by ravi
Ice J

Via Spiegel an interesting bit:

Ice Church Consecrated in Romania: Freezing Your Mass Off – SPIEGEL

Most churches in Europe are built for the ages. But not the new house of God erected in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. In fact, it’ll probably melt away before May.

[ Link ]

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Jan 13th, 2007 by ravi
[Not so] Black and White

If there is one valuable insight that philosophers of science and sociologists have demonstrated it is that issues in science (and metascience) are frequently decided (or at least argued) in quite non-“scientific” ways (by which I mean what is generally claimed to be the scientific way — in truth a formalisation of rationality, common sense, and long-standing methods of human reasoning). In the skirmishes within science, certain “paradigms” take hold not because of their technical superiority but often because of certain very human prejudices. The idea that selfishness precedes (and even excludes) co-operation, is an example, and one that is beginning to deservedly face resistance, not just in popular science writing through which it has gained its hold, but also in more serious analysis which it had constrained in the past:

For Human Eyes Only – NYT


Why should humans be so different? And yet we are. We can’t fool anyone. The whites of our eyes are several times larger than those of other primates, which makes it much easier to see where the eyes, as opposed to the head, are pointed. Trying to explain this trait leads us into one of the deepest and most controversial topics in the modern study of human evolution: the evolution of cooperation.


In a recent experiment, our research team has shown that even infants — at around their first birthdays, before language acquisition has begun — tend to follow the direction of another person’s eyes, not their heads. Thus, when an adult looked to the ceiling with her eyes only, head remaining straight ahead, infants looked to the ceiling in turn. However, when the adult closed her eyes and pointed her head to the ceiling, infants did not very often follow.


Why might it have been advantageous for some early humans to advertise their eye direction in a way that enabled others to determine what they were looking at more easily? One possible answer, what we have called the cooperative eye hypothesis, is that especially visible eyes made it easier to coordinate close-range collaborative activities in which discerning where the other was looking and perhaps what she was planning, benefited both participants.

If we are gathering berries to share, with one of us pulling down a branch and the other harvesting the fruit, it would be useful — especially before language evolved — for us to coordinate our activities and communicate our plans, using our eyes and perhaps other visually based gestures.

Infant research, too, suggests that coordinating visual attention may have provided the foundation for the evolution of human language. Babies begin to acquire language through joint activities with others, in which both parties are focused on the same object or task. That’s the best time for an infant to learn the word for the object or activity in question.

[ Link ]

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