Friday, March 6, 2009

Empower the rich to fight the rich? Sounds like a perverted attempt at a joke

When you are a liberal or progressive activist, you keep having the same few conversations with your friends-- about some aspect of the movement, politics, society, and your own lives-- over and over again. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me when I was a young activist in college. One of those conversations that seemed to come up again and again was the participation of the affluent in the movement.

One matter on which Aristotle was right I think is that human societies really are in one or two respects like a bee-hive or an ant-colony. Insect communities like those of ants or bees contain several types of individuals possessing different behaviors, which coincide with different types of work necessary to the survival of the community. Similarly, it’s just plain wrong to think that any one or two individuals alone can stand as a sufficient biological example of the human race that can be expected to survive and thrive in the species’ habitat. Humans, like bees and ants, have survived because our diverse heritable instincts and diverse heritable psychological characteristics are necessary for survival. Among humans, it is easy to see that an individual who becomes effective at the occupation of a righteous, fair judge is simply not interchangeable with one who becomes effective in the occupation of, say, a vice cop in a violent neighborhood, or an elementary school teacher-- they are not interchangeable not only in terms of their training, but also in terms of their inclinations and attitudes. To give some more basic examples, throughout pre-history and history, it’s certainly sometimes been a shy person whose personality left him prone to make the right decision in a perilous situation, and other times the availability of a bold yet stupid person was what allowed a community to test an option that ultimately proved to be the avenue they needed for survival. Without a multitude of personality characteristics that are not all possessed by one single individual, communities would have been wiped out. There is no such thing, among humans, as a super-individual who by him- or herself alone posseses all the traits that can best promote that individual’s survival in diverse situations. This differentiation of behavior exists not just across the lines of profession, but also across class lines.

With this background it is easy to see how in terms of politics, certain stratas of our society can hurt the society as a whole, or just hurt the left-wing movement. For example, over the course of the history of the left-wing, it has probably been all too natural for people from upper-class backgrounds to assume or hold leadership positions. This mirrors the fact that in the society as a whole, rich people hold powerful positions, and do not “fall far from the tree”-- if a person’s parents are rich and privileged, an individual is likely to remain rich or privileged throughout the person’s lifetime. And this persistence in leadership and privilege may come about due to certain heritable personality characteristics which will not necessarily promote the movement to be large, strong, or even ideologically healthy or pure as time goes on. For examples, perhaps the genetic reason rich people accrue more benefits than others is that they just are more pushy than other people, feel more entitled than other people, or care less about other people. While it is easy to see that these characteristics may certainly help you build a big company, they do not at all by the same token make you more likely to be vigilant against, for examples, the left-wing movement becoming corrupt, activism being conducted in a stupid or inefficient way, ideology not being developed well or fully (so that policy will properly protect people, or so that the movement will attract a lot of supporters), thw wicked and the conservative being opposed boldly, vigorously, thoughtfully, and constantly enough, and so on. So investigating the question of whether an upperclass person is the best person to hold a leadership position in the left wing is more likely to show us, I think, that in a variety of situations and contexts, this kind of individual as a left-wing leader is more likely to turn out to be a mixed bag in a lot of contexts than they are a clear benefit. Obviously, being from a certain certain class, in and of itself, does not make any individual a better person than anyone else, nor does it of course make them some kind of ideal person. The specific problems an upper-class person may have as a leader of any kind of left-wing endeavor might be classism, a lack of a background in lower-class lifestyle, attitude, or expectations, an inability to effectively communicate with or judge individuals from a lower-class background, and so on. Of course, like anyone else, upper-class people tend to see themselves favorably as individuals and thus are not as likely to see that they have these kinds of deficiencies than other people might be. So, largely, it is not for upper-class people to tell us whether they are qualified to be leaders or not-- it is up to left-wing activists from more humble backgrounds to be on the alert to make sure these people do not gain too much control, and to work actively to exclude them from gatheirng too much leadership power.

It is easy to see how all of this has played out in the history of the left wing. While it should have been obvious to left-wingers that people who come from a background that is raised or genetically desigend to despise other people and oppress them would not be the best to write the story of the movement and to give the speeches, over the course of history these people have pushed their way into leadership positions in the left-wing (basically just as another hobby of the idle rich, like fox-hunting, yachting, and golf; or perhaps as a form of adolescent rebellion against their parents). As could be expected and should have been expected, these people brought the same inherited personality characteristics to running the left-wing as they would have brought to running their parents’ corporations mercilessly and unethically, and what we have gotten as results from this are (for example) things like the USSR-- a horribly corrupt, criminal and oppressive state that actually openly ran both a gulag (Siberian political prisons), and a huge terror-organization (the KGB) that oppressed people within the USSR (and abroad) at least as horribly as, say, the Nazi Gestapo did in WWII-era Europe. As a further example, even though the record of the USSR as anything but a good example of the values and goals of the left-wing continued to mount over the course of decades to the point that it became at least as ridiculous to defend the USSR as it was to defend O.J. Simpson against the charges that he was involved in his wife’s murder, many First-World liberal activists with personality characteristics that should have completely disqualified them from holding important leadership and spokesperson positions in our movement continued to defend and champion terror-states like the USSR. Clearly this discredited our movement and contributed to stunting our proper ideological development/growth, since young people who were interested in left-wing politics often must have assumed that a large ostensibly left-wing effort like the USSR must have gotten policy and ideology figured out pretty well, and that all that was left was for the individual activist to do was to shut up, accept the authority of the super-power socialist state, or at least to mimic its ideology- and policy-preferences-- and especially when the USSR got the endorsement of older, more experienced liberals in the First World. Very ironically, this implicit opposition to critical thought on policy and ideology that the fascist, cruel upper-class created in our movement looks just like the senseless form of orthodoxy that any smart left-winger very naturally and rightly begins to feel opposed to in his or her own nation or community at (often) an early age.

Conclusion: The participation and especially leadership of upper-class individuals is a positive threat to the welfare of our movement, and activists have to be very vigilant about how these upper-class people participate in the movement. They have to do this despite any superficial admiration or feelings of friendship they may have developed for specific individuals, and they have to try to do it without absolutely excluding the rich or discouraging their labor or participation too much.

Postscript

Any liberal who thinks that Soviet totalitarianism/communism was something to aspire to or even merely ok is a problem. This should be obvious from, say, reading about the horrible political prisons and repression/repression of public opinion in the GDR/East Germany, and reading about the Soviet/KGB cooperation (or should I say control) involved in all of that.

Many liberals who support states like the USSR are simply ridiculous. Treating the notion that the USSR was ok as aphoristic or unquestionable for a liberal certainly is a ridiculous idea, at least. Liberals who hold that idea are often not much different from kids who fill the detention halls in a high school, or drop out of high school-- just too lazy to educate themselves.

I know that for a lot of liberals, the unthinking answer to what I wrote above about states like the Soviet Union and Cuba is some version of "Well, if the only danger that threatens a liberal society from being able to exist is opposition, then oppression may be necessary."

In a movement that has become too often unwilling or unable to give the simple answer dumb concerns like these call for, I give the simple answer required:
For a society to be really free or really worthwhile, it has to be capable of withstanding freedom of speech. The only contexts when true repression of speech on political issues is necessary or adviseable are very specific, transitory wartime contexts (such as perhaps anti-war speech, made during a war that is necessary for the state’s safety, in a specific province that is likely to erupt in a rebellion that could cause terrible harm to the nation if the speech is allowed). For this reason, no liberal movement should subscribe or sign its support to policy or practices that invalidate political speech based on the speech’s having some specific political content, and support of freedom of speech should always be the default liberal policy. This does not mean, of course, that individuals should be allowed to dirupt our political meetings so that they cannot function, or anything like that-- instead it’s just a stance on a public policy issue.

Another worthless dodge is the idea that if only the USSR or other states like it had been successful enough to conquer more capitalist nations, they would have somehow inevitably grown adequately benign in their policies to be free, worthwhile states, and that this justifies their oppression of private civilians during those states’ times of weakness and vulnerability. The fallacy of this idea is shown by the example of China, which is a rich nation that still has a vast, miserable, oppressed population, as well as the typical illicit grossly rich population typical of modern communist nations and other totalitarian or facist states. What really accounts for how the civilians are treated are the characteristics of the leadership, and the characteristics of the leadership of China and the USSR have basically been that they are or were a bunch of opportunists or people who don’t care about the masses, who are posing under a socialist rationale in order to support their authority. These characteristics do not simply dissappear because the predator becomes more successful at victimizing people (e.g., conquers more relatively free states that they can enslave the populations of).

Reparations

Now that America has proved itself willing to elect a (very worthy) African American to its highest public office, the fighters for social justice must look to what can be done with this political capital we possess. Although President Obama is in office, the prisons of this nation are still filled with African Americans and other racial minorities, African Americans are still very poor-off compared to white Americans, and African Americans generally live and socialize in racially segregated communities and cliques. That this is a harm, and the cause of it, are obvious, and they must end. Just as obvious is that the cause of the harm was a wrong that deserves to be righted. Some people may make racist arguments, and show statistics from testing, and claim that a lot of what African Americans are suffering is inherent to the race. But what should be obvious to everybody in this nation is that whether or not it is true that African Americans can achieve everything in equal measures as members of any other race can, African American at least certainly should not be livin gin the grossly disparate conditions I have described, and the cause of the fact that they do must not be any characteristic of their race, but instead the incredible historical hurdles that that one race-- but not the others-- have been hampered with for many generations in this country.

There should be reparations for slavery of something like $40,000 to every African American person who is over the age of 18 (as of the effective date of the enacting legislation), regardless of when and how they became a citizen, so long as they do not make over a certain amount or have a certain amount of assets that indicates affluence. The $40,000 could be paid out over the course of 8 monthly payments of $5,000 so it has a little bit of the protection of a spendthrift trust, and the payees should be able to apply to have the money directly deposited in a bank account so that stealing of these much-publicized checks out of mailboxes will be minimized.

How will we determine who is black for the purposes of making reparations? People will get in line in designated public places at a specific date and time to be judged by a few public employees on the basis of appearance. Congress, or some appropriate body charged by them to administer the project, should vote on sample photographs to be used by the panels of judges as guidelines to decide who is and is not black (this will provide a degree of uniformity to the initial decisions that will eliminate some embarrassing inconsistencies from location to location). If people want to challenge a decision that they are not black, then they will be able to make such an appeal to a committee that will judge them according to guidelines to-be developed (that will probably involve proof of what relatives looked like, documentation of ancestors having been slaves, DNA tests, etc.). Although "blackness" is not an absolutely objective concept, it will do a lot more good to get reparations out to the vast majority of black people and have some uncertainty about a few people than it will be to just forget about the whole thing just because there may not be one answer that is acceptable to every single person to the question of who is black.

There are about 40 million black people in America, so counting the costs of administration, these reparations should not cost too much over $100 billion, which is significantly less than what we are spending on the economic bailout (not to mention a lot of stuff we'll probably never need, like a lot of our high-tech weapons development has proved to be over the course of recent decades-- I'm sure I probably don't need to remind anyone here of the Pentagon's terrible rep for shelling out $$$ for development of weapons that never go into production, are developed very inefficiently (so that after many years, the latest plan or prototype version is basically totally unacceptable), or are quickly obsoleted by newer technology).

Barack is the President now, so he should get this rolling! It may be unpopular in some circles, but reparations is more the type of thing that will heal the wounds of racial prejudice in the long run than affirmative action alone. The great wrong of slavery should not go unredressed.

Speculation on the results of reparations:

One the positive side, more black people will be getting married because more black people will have sufficient money saved up to get a home and start a family. More black people will stay out of prison because they will have a lot more incentive and means to stay out of trouble. A lot more black guys will have girlfriends. All the women out there will know that any black guy they see who is over 18 has $40,000 in the bank. More black people will start small business or take gambles on other dreams (e.g., producing a demo tape). It will provide a lot of satisfaction to African Americans and psychological healing to the nation, although arguments could always be made that reparations should be a bigger sum than $40,000 a piece or in a different form (i.e., some kind of mixed bag of investments and benefits). Not to mention many black families will just be a little better provided for, have an easier time staying out of trouble economically, and be happier. For a lot of people, it will be more toys and better clothes for their kids, etc.

On the negative side, a few people will probably try to invest their money to start up illegal little drug-dealing businesses. This kind of thing probably won't be widespread, and shouldn't be used as an excuse not to adopt the legislation. Instead, we should rely on normal law enforcement to stop any new drug dealing activity and communities should make appropriate efforts to discourage recipients of reparations from taking this rash gamble with their new wad of loot.

Is $40,000 paid in monthly $5,000 payments to every black person who is over 18 as of a certain date enough? I certainly am not against reparations being bigger than this, but my suggestion shoots for a number that might be politically doable in the foreseeable future instead of towards satisfying some over-idealistic activist's pipe-dream. I also want to make clear that my plan isn’t that as of a certain date, we start giving $5,000 payments out to people just for being black as soon as they turn 18. Rather, my idea is that everybody who is not 18 as of the effective date of the legislation will be considered not to be entitled to reparations without further legislation. If congress finds at some point that the initial round of reparations wasn’t enough and the country is willing to provide more, there can be successive rounds of reparations (crafted perhaps in different amounts) awarded to newer generations.

In the absence of federal legislation, states that can afford it should craft programs to issue some sort of reparations to their residents with state money. Perhaps the legislation could stipulate that the reparations are only made in place of reparations by the federal government, which should more appropriately be taking the lead, and that in order to receive the reparations, any recipient has to agree to give back to the state an amount equal to what they received from it out of any federal money that is eventually awarded to them as reparations. I think there may be some good arguments against this policy, but it’s just an idea to help get reparations rolling in the states-- to accommodate everybody in case people start objecting that the states shouldn’t do it, because it would be unnecessarily duplicative of any eventual federal program (e.g., people might complain that if their state steps forward to pay reparations and others don’t, then that state’s taxpayers will have unfairly shouldered too much of the burden of reparations; having state reparations simply take the place of future federally-sponsored reparations helps to allay this concern).

One really racist argument you sometimes hear against reparations is that African Americans are better off because they ended up in America, despite the racism and bad situation that is the legacy of slavery. This argument is wrong for at least a couple of very good reasons. The most basic one is that the black people who were put into slavery were different people than the ones who are alive in America now. The ones who were put into slavery were not better off, because being a slave in America was by-an-large not better than being free in Africa. And the ones who are alive now are not better off than white Americans are now, simply because of the color of their skin: they unfairly suffer disadvantages that are the after-effects of a racist institution of slavery that was supposed to be abolished over 100 years ago.

If we are successful in getting reparations discussed more publicly in the months and years ahead, another way to answer this argument is to say that if there hadn't been slavery, America still would have needed labor and African aborigines certainly might have been brought over to work for pay. Without racism and slavery, African Americans who would have come to America certainly would have suffered a lot less. How Africans in Africa fared has nothing to do with that. The standard of whether blacks deserve reparations is how white people in America have been doing relative to them, not how any people living in horrible circumstances across the world today are living. We certainly don't ask if a white man or woman should just be happy to live in America when deciding whether they have a right to sue somebody who wronged them, and the reparations issue is the same. Whether some black man somewhere else is poorer than a black man in America has nothing to do with whether disadvantages that African Americans suffer here are wrong.

In other words, (1) slavery was a wrong when it existed (2) whether the descendants of Africans who remained in Africa are worse off than the descendants of Africans who were brought to America does not mean that it is not a wrong for modern African Americans to suffer from racial discrimination today, or from racial discrimination against their ancestors (3) since it was the evil institution of slavery that in great part led to the situation of African Americans of today suffering these ill-effects, and since Africans could have easily emigrated here without there having ever been any slavery, the nation owes modern African Americans compensation for the great harm done to them by having allowed slavery.

Some people may make a totally inappropriate comparison between the Holocaust and slavery to argue against reparations, because Jews are doing well nowadays. To answer this kind of objection, here is such an argument and the response I wrote to it a while ago:
---------------------------------
a court in France ruled that the Jewish victims of the Holocast in France had been compensated enough
mimi B.Eng.(Mech) P.Eng.M. Eng | 02.17.09 - 9:17 am |


Really? What was the issue? Like, what were they trying to get from the court?

Anyway, I hope this wasn't posted as a counterpoint to what I wrote about reparations. The situation of Jews in Europe who were affected by the Holocaust was a lot different than that of African Americans effected by slavery both before and after the relevant events (slavery and the Holocaust) so I don't think you can compare the two. I don't think you can say that when Jews don't need any more reparations for the Holocaust, that says a lot about when blacks should no longer need reparations on account of slavery.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Petition Demanding That Senator John McCain Sell 12 Of His 13 Homes

To John McCain, to the American people, to our federal elected government officials, and to members of the press:

Recently, it has come to the attention of the public through the press that John McCain and /or his wife privately own expensive residential properties far in excess of their own needs, and that he refused to acknowledge how many houses exactly he owns when asked. In fact, the news media claimed that it was confused as to how many houses John McCain owns (because of issues as to how one should count toward the total multiple houses standing on a single piece of land they own for their own use) but the highest number reported was often 13 (instead of just one house, like Barack and Michelle Obama own). Unfortunately, even Sen. Joe Biden, the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, reported the low-estimated-number, claiming John McCain owns 7 houses. But no matter what the title is or where the land is located, facts are facts: John McCain and his wife own 13 houses together, and he wants to add the White House to his list of homes, and that is-- in this world of unfulfilled needs-- far too much.

On top of all this, John McCain has claimed in an interview that anyone who makes less than $5 million a year isn’t rich. Someone should tell John McCain that even $1 million is enough to save thousands of doomed lives in the Third World because the people there can’t afford even basic medical treatments and cheap food.

These facts about John McCain are not being given enough attention by the media, and he has not done anything to allay people’s concerns about what they say about him and the appropriateness of his seeking to hold a public office in America. When this country started, political action didn’t come from corporate news outlets or rich newspapers-- it came from the people holding meetings, speaking in the streets, and producing pamphlets and petitions. We, the undersigned, in that spirit, write to remind people of what America is really about, contrary to John McCain’s false ideas of what America should be. We state in unity that:

-13 houses is far too much for any American couple or individual to own for his/her/their own use;
-and that it certainly is true (contrary to what John McCain erringly said) that people who make under $5 million a year certainly are often very rich;
-and we ask that to show that he is acting in solidarity with the American people and not against their best interests, that if John McCain still wants to become the President of the United States of America, he should sell 12 of his 13 houses regardless of any other considerations (like whether his name or his wife’s name appears on the title) and that he give the proceeds to actual poor people living in America who do not have health insurance, distributed fairly evenly to people from various geographic areas and various ethnic and political backgrounds.

Furthermore, since the ownership of multiple “homes away from home” by a single person or married couple is a waste of space, and drives up the price of housing when many poor people are forced to live in over-crowded or inadequate housing, and since the ownership of multiple homes necessarily restrains interstate commerce, we ask that John McCain agree to support or sponsor legislation banning the ownership or renting of more than one house, condominium, apartment or other housing by any single individual or married couple in America for their own use. The legislation should compel people to sell excess homes over time, so long as the sellers can obtain fair prices for them. This legislation will contribute to making it easier for poor families without health insurance, or for sick veterans without homes, to find a decent place to live.

If you agree with the above, please sign your handle/nickname in the comments box below (click on the blue letters that say “comments” and leave any identifying information you are comfortable with, such as website, real name, e-mail address, town/state/other real address, or phone number. If the number of signees gets large enough, I’ll send it over to the press and to the Senate, Obama and McCain.

Important: Please e-mail this post to your friends and acquaintances!!

Just Another Conservative Henchman

For anyone who spent yesterday in a cave, Palin is extremely nuts. Just letting you know.

If any feminists out there were starting to get hypnotized by the Republican propaganda, and starting to identify with Palin because she has a vagina, I hope this has snapped you out of it.

One has to ask what the possible motivations were for Palin to want to charge rape victims $300-$1,200 to get the evidence to prove they were raped. Whatever it was, it had to be something that proves that Palin is a true Republican:

(1) Wanted to save her town money so it could do other things with it, or so her or her town would look better

(2) Wanted to make her town look better by improving the crime statistics by discouraging poor women from reporting rapes (Palin may have imagined the victims' forgoing the investigations because they couldn't afford to prove the charges)

(3) Weird conservative ideological shit-- just wanting to reinforce a norm of women not being able to fight against oppression by men, and trying to make women feel like they have to submit to men (lest they be raped, and be unable to do anything about it).

UPDATE: When I wrote about this on another blog's comments, some Internet-crazy-Republican wrote:

Look, the whole rape it thing is a bit of a dodgy attack on our part. Technically, they charged the victim's insurance company, not the victim directly. So, it was a budget cutting measure.

The question is whether they would still charge the victim even if they didn't have health insurance.

Who knows?


But if there wasn't an express procedure in place for not charging those without health insurance, then the policy was to charge them. So that commenter was sticking up for Palin by giving her and her administration an unreasonable benefit of the doubt.

Also, what about those non-denial denials from the Palin camp about her knowledge and approval of the rape-kit policy?

That speaks a volume: Palin probably knew what was up, and wanted it, and it probably specifically had to do with keeping poor women who don't have health insurance (probably the demographic that most commonly reports rapes) from reporting them. Anyway, Palin probably legally couldn't keep the charges from being handled by the health insurance provider. So it's not as if the motivation to stifle poor woman victims is at all unrealistic, especially since we know it's in line with ├╝ber-conservative patriarchal dogma.

So, since there wasn't any policy in place for women without health insurance to have the rape kits paid for by the town, we can assume the policy was to charge even them for the rape kits. But, of course, Palin and her administration had to have foreseen that the situation of a health insurance provider not being billed for a rape-kit would come up when they crafted the policy, since Palin knows as well as anybody that not everybody has health insurance. Therefore, it's a pretty good chance that part of the point of the policy was to discourage reporting of rapes or to try to coeerce women into fearing men who they'd learn they couldn't really prosecute for rape effectively.

I'm Not A Bigot Against Anyone's Religion, But I'm Not An Idiot, Either

Here's Steve Benen today on the WaPo's false reports that liberals have been bashing Sarah Palin's religion.

For what it's worth, I think there is a difference between bigotry and criticizing a religion (you'll see Steve wrote something about "bigotry" that makes it sound like he thinks any criticism of Palin's religion is inappropriate-- a pretty odd claim, coming from him, a man who has repeatedly demonstrated that he is very proud of his past as an activist for separation of church and state). First of all, if they agree with Gerson's column that Steve wrote about, I think a whole host of Republicans should take a look in the mirror and ask themselves whether and to what extent their myriad criticisms of Islam are bigoted, or are merely valid and fair criticism. Second, I think whether something is religious bigotry or not can depend a lot on the context. Here, Palin isn't walking down the street, just trying to live, and facing harassment from people just for being a member of a certain religion and daring to go around doing the things one normally expects any person to be able to do to live-- to walk around town, to buy groceries, to work, to get a driver's license, to send kids to school, etc. Rather, she's vying to obtain a privilege, and probably one of the most valuable privileges in our society-- the (arguably) second-highest public office in America, something that can affect everybody. I think in those circumstances, it's everyone's right to examine her religion and to talk about it, as long the criticism is not to an extent that is unjustified or irrational considering the known facts about Sarah Palin's religion (Pentecostalism) and her practice of it.

So, I hope Steve's line about so-called "bigotry" and Gerson's column won't discourage anybody from saying what they want about Sarah Palin's religion, and I'm sure that at least 99% of the things we politically-savvy liberals would think of to say about it wouldn't amount to bigotry.

Shorter version of what I just said: If someone's trying to become the VP or President, it's just not so that their religion can't be a relevant thing to take into account when you're trying to predict how they'll perform. And Sarah Palin's religion-- a particularly fervent and strange one-- is a perfect example of that. It's probably one of the closest religions we have in America to radical Islam. And, Sarah Palin has been doing things like forcing women to pay for a $300-$1,200 forensic investigation when they would show up at her municipal police department claiming to have been raped.

There is just something odd about the idea that the concept of religious bigotry means that no religion can be criticized under any circumstances, with the exception of radical Muslims using their religion to justify killing Western, non-combatant civilians. If that's what's up, then I could invent any religion, call it something like New Satanism, and claim that the beliefs of the religion are reasons for government to allow its adherents all sorts of privileges and new rights. That doesn't seem right at all.

When liberals have fought against religious bigotry, the fight has been largely been against things like people trying to subject students in public schools to Bible- study meetings or to daily Christian prayer; when these approaches to promoting religion were explicitly outlawed, the fight became one over things like schools subjecting everyone who attends a high school football game to a spoken prayer over a loudspeaker, or to daily moments of silence in school-- both typically with obvious Christian overtones, especially since most of the establishment and students attending the school were well-known to be fervent, conservative Protestant Christians (and therefore all the non-Protestants of course couldn't help but feel like they were being forced to participate in a Protestant prayer). Another context is where a member of a religion that subjects its members to a modest requirement that they wear a certain unremarkable article of clothing daily (like a hat) finds that a school or a prison bans the religious clothing just to enforce uniformity.

In those contexts, liberals have fought against institutions using their might to subject individuals to religious conformity, either by mandating public praying or taking away a nonobtrusive religious symbol from an individual. These situations are a far cry from saying, "X wants to become President-- is X's church nuts?" and I think all the liberals involved in those previous fights knew that and were never trying to say something like that religion should just never be talked about, or that a religion couldn't motivate people to bad behavior. I mean, let's get real about Palin's religion-- in her church, people "speak in tongues." To anyone who doesn't come from that tradition, speaking in tongues is pretty obviously volitional and non-typical human behavior. It's pretty simple for a person to look at that behavior, and to conclude that the people engaging in it are frauds, are self-deluded attention-seekers, or something in between the two (especially since these people are not primitives, but come from our relatively superstition-free, science-filled society). So Sarah Palin's religion goes above and beyond being the typical religion we don't believe in-- one that believes in something we find implausible-- to being one where fraud is, at least from many people's points of view, obviously practiced and accepted.

I mean, a lot of things the conservatives' activists fight for today are rationalized around the Protestant religion, and liberals criticize those claims all the time because they deny a lot of science.

Trying to make liberals look like hypocrites by using across-the-board, platitudinous statements and characterizations (when everyone intelligent knows the real world doesn't work according to a few across-the-board, black-and-white rules and characterizations, and therefore it's really unfair to assign beliefs and arguments to people based on stuff like that, or to predict people's beliefs and arguments based on stuff like that) is the type of thing Republicans do to try to turn us against one another and gum up the works, so always watch out and be thoughtful when you encounter stuff like that.

Believing politics and governance (or other people's beliefs about them) are easily reducible to a few single-sentence slogans is something for five-year-old kids, not for thoughtful, concerned adults.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pig Remark

I heard about Obama's weird "lipstick on a pig" remark today from the front-pages of local newspapers, although it oddly didn't appear on any of the three or four major blogs I check daily (Washington Monthly, Matt Yglesias, Atrios' Eschaton, at least). Anyway, although in general I think Democrats (and even Obama) should be less civil and more confrontational, since the Republicans practice such abusive politics, and the Republicans and the media lie to the people so much, I thought this remark was weird for Obama to make, was way out of line, and was not the type of thing I expect Obama to say publicly without someone coercing him by some means to do so. The specific problem with the remark was that it sounds misogynistic, by seeming to incidentally attack Palin's appearance (using the word "pig" to say that her policy is no godd, when women in this messed-up society are raised to be inordinately focused on their weight and appearances). Another funny thing about the remark is that it seems to play perfectly into the Republicans' and media's strategy for Palin-- that is, to attract women to supporting her by protraying her as persecuted for being a woman (think-- are all these reported "attacks" on Palin for, for example, not taking more time to raise her kids really coming from any specific journalists, Democratic politicians, or well-known figures on the left? Or are they just media lies?). So I think the remark is another piece of evidence which tends to show that I am correct in my suspicion that someone is bringing some sort of illegitimate, nasty pressure tot bear against Obama.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What Is Up With The British?

Now, there is plenty wrong with how things are done in America and how the American government is behaving nowadays. And there is plenty that the British do better than us. But I still have to ask, in 2008, when so many other European nations have long since abandoned the official character of royalty (or at least have given up on furnishing their nobles with huge piles of treasure) why are the British bowing down and worshipping a royal family who hold coined British surnames and are actually something like 7/8ths German at this point? I would have to roll my eyes a little at any conservative British person who called Americans yobs (hooligans)- the British, after all, are in one respect still living in the 13th century. And what's worse, they're in denial about it, telling themselves that what's really a crass symbol of plutocracy and arbitrary authority is instead about nation and race, going so far as to change the names and the details to help them believe the story.

It would be more than merciful to let these people just keep the house and the jewels, but let them figure out how they're going to continue to pay to maintain their real estate and other valuable property, and how they're going to pay the other taxes on them. Government employees who have been paid to serve and defend the "royal" family could be turned to serving and defending people who earn it through merit or as a right of being a British citizen, instead of by some meaningless distinction. But I think the British have already made the logical conclusion of making the structures and a lot of other historic property associated with their royal family legally state treasures (i.e., the "Windsors" and "Mountbatten-Windsors" can't sell them). If the British can see the logic in taking that step, it's certainly time to follow the logic a little further and withdraw the anachronistic insult to humanity of monarchy a little further from the public's view.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What The Republicans Have Turned Politcs Into

I'm a little surprised that Steve Benen can act so surprised here at the news that John McCain hired a former enemy who his underlings once denounced by name at a press conference. The guy was, according to McCain, responsible for criticisms of him in 2000. How is any of what astonishes Steve about this situation new? When someone criticizes you, you say that he is terrible and wrong, for doing that, but when you are trying to obtain something, you say that your opponent is terrible and wrong, and you hire the people who can find the best way to say that and who won't flinch at thinking it up. It's elementary politics for the Republicans, and we've seen every week for years (it seems like) that they're smearing the smearers (and even their legitimate critics) when they think it helps them, and doing the smearing themselves when they think it helps them.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Energy And Oil

I just want to write here to re-hash something I've mentioned a few times before: our country (and the modern world) has to do something about our finite energy supply (coal, which is the biggest source of energy for our power plants, is due to run out in 95 or so years, and oil is due to run out much sooner). Remember, almost no one lives off the land, or even near a farm, anymore. The way we get our food is from refrigerated trucks and trains that depend on our energy supply. If a substitute for gasoline (that is, a way to power vehicles that is about as efficient and costly as gasoline) isn't devised, most of the world's people will starve, and if we come up with or implement a substitute for our vehicles a year or even a few months or weeks too late, it will almost certainly lead to widespread destruction and havoc and wreak a terrible disaster on the economy (because, again, a large portion of the people will end up without any food).

The keys to solving these problems are, in my opinion, (1) nuclear power plants and (2) putting about as many non-gasoline cars on our roads and highways as we have gasoline-powered cars currently.

-Why can't we replace cars with pedestrianism and mass transit? Why can't we just become more fuel-efficient? Nobody lives near a farm anymore, because family farms are almost gone, most having been taken over and consolidated into large mega-farms by huge corporations. Almost no matter who you are and almost no matter where you live, most of your food probably comes from hundreds or even thousands of miles away from where it is produced and packaged to you, and a lot of electricity and gasoline is spent getting it to you and to the many, many, many other people like you.

There are several dependencies created by this that perhaps cannot be broken. Not only might totally re-organizing every single person's life so that everyone lives with walking or mass transit of their jobs not work because it would be too massive and effort to organize-- such a thorough reorganization would be too big a drain on the economy as a very large portion of people have to figure out a new place to live-- but our societies might already have grown to such a degree that such an attempt at re-organization would destroy them. Some habitations (cities, towns, and whole counties or states) that cannot be put within cost-effective distance of farms have to be completely abandoned. We just don't know if the economy of an America where almost everyone has to be located is going to be able to be successful at all. And we might have so many people already that such a reorganization of our food production and distribution system just might not work (economies of scale would be totally lost, and we would have to go back to local production of food that has not been seen in America since our economy was much, much smaller). Naturally, the local farms that used to exist across America 90 years ago and more than 100 years ago are no longer there. Because economies of scale will be lost, it will put more pressure on where people will be able to live and still have it be cost-effective to transport food to them. And all this will have to be done presumably without petroleum-based fertilizers (i.e., most modern commercially-used fertilizers) since petroleum is becoming more and more scarce.

So, in order for post-petroleum America to be anything like America is now in terms of how safe and rich it is, what we really need is a 1-to-1 replacement for how many automobiles we have currently making the system work.

-Why can't we just replace all the gasoline with coal? Why can't we just use plug-in cars powered by electricity from coal-fired power-plants? Coal itself is due to run out in 95 years. Once gasoline becomes too expensive and we all have to start relying on electric-powered cars, this will create such a great new demand for electricity from coal that coal will run out even sooner than in 95 years. And we will be left with nothing-- and some of us will probably live to see that disaster. Certainly, our children and grandchildren will, and if we don't give them a solution, many of them will experience literally fighting for their lives and livelihoods.

Coal can, by a complicated process, be transformed into gasoline. But because this is complicated, it is necessarily more expensive. And it leads us to the same problem as before-- coal running out sooner than in 95 years. If you live in the US, your being able to watch Wheel of Fortune on TV and eat ice-cream out of your own refrigerator is probably because of electricity from a coal-powered power-plant. When coal ends, if there is no replacement, all that ends, too.

Turning coal into gasoline can probably be a part of the solution, like keeping gasoline-powered planes and boats moving longer as gasoline runs out. But it's nothing like a long-term solution.

-Why can't we use gasoline created from germs? That process has not yet been shown to produce a commercially-useable product, but even if it ends up working, it's not going to be efficient enough to produce all the gasoline the country needs-- by a longshot.

-What about the air-car? The air-powered car is actually less efficient than other "green" cars, and anyway electricity is used to run the device that compresses the air to power the car! Refilling an air car is a mechanical process that requires several hours of a machine working to compress the air. You can imagine how much electricity must be used to refill a car every day or two. If you've ever owned a portable CD player, you're probably familiar with the fact that just because the device has to use some of the power to physically spin a CD around, the batteries run out very fast, and much faster than if the power was only used for electronic, rather than mechanical, processes.

The point is, air-cars aren't likely to ever prove to be more efficient than other "green" cars could be because of the machanical process that is necessarily involved in compressing air to "re-fuel" the car, and in any event, air-cars will still require a lot of electricity to get them to go (electricity that will have to come from somewhere).

-What about other "green" energy like wind, solar, and hydroelectric? Those are great, and we might end up in a real bad position no matter what, at least in the long run, if they're not developed more and more. But for now, the only feasible alternative to gasoline and coal is nuclear power, which currently provides the vast majority (about 80%) of the electricity used in homes and businesses in the very large country of France. Nuclear energy isn't ideal, and nuclear fuel will run out eventually, but it's cheap.

-How big is this problem really? Think about this-- in addition to everything else I've mentioned, all our plastics and many of our other synthetic materials come from petroleum. When petroluem is gone, we'll be stuck re-cycling old plastic and resorting to alternative materials! We may encounter problems with scarcity if the quality of certain plastic degrade (to the point of unsuitability) after a lot of recycling. And the alternatives to using plastic-- such as wood, which is funny since our forests are running out and a new greater demand for wood could itself be a problem-- may not be entirely suitable or practicable. And many of our weapons of war are powered by petroleum.

=What Can You Do About It?=

-The first thing to do I think is to make sure people know that the coal and oil are running out. You could pick a day of the week on which you'll tell people you happen to meet or already know that coal and oil are running out. You may be surprised even at which people you already know who don't know that oil and coal are running out, and who think that electric cars are just about reducing vehicle emissions to stop global warming.

-Talk about the problem of a post-oil, post-coal world. If you can write an e-mail to a responsible person, a letter to a newspaper, or can give a speech, it won't hurt to mention this problem. You can sum up some of the points I mentioned in my post. You can even try to create T-shirts, posters, a zine or a website about coal and oil running out and about post-oil, post-coal energy alternatives.

-Another thing you can do is buy or construct an electric, hybrid, or other "green" car. When people know that you have a "green" vehicle, it will create a buzz, and when the car companies experience enough of a demand for "green" cars, they may start to get the message that this is the future, and big businesses might consequently spend more money and time trying to create a post-oil world that is worth living in for us.

Remember, it may take activism and speaking out to solve this problem. You just can't count on the most rich and the most powerful people to take this seriously. So long as they feel like they will have enough money to keep them safe and happy no matter what happens, a lot of the richest people in our society may even like it if a lot of people in America become relatively more powerless (because they'll be impoversihed) compared to them.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The McCains And Their Entourage In A Starbucks???

Did anybody else notice the story that McCain goes to Starbucks?

So are the media trying to abandon their stereotyping of liberals to some degree, or to make it OK for Republicans to go to Starbucks again, or what?

That bit about saying that liberals are into Starbucks was a pretty active little Republican policy for quite a while.

My bet is the myth about Starbucks became too cumbersome (conservatives will have a much harder time getting people to like them and cooperate with them if they won't go into a Starbucks because of some ridiculous quibbling complaint), so the conservatives decided to defuse it a bit.

On funny thing about this whole thing is back before 9/11, in the days of the anti-globalization movement's big protests, all those people hated Starbucks almost more than anything. Way before the conservatives pretended that all liberals love Starbucks, the most radical liberals in America were constantly deriding, filching from, and shunning the place. I think there were some bad business practices of Starbucks' that people didn't like (in terms of globalization/capitalism) and people just didn't like the idea of this big corporation pushing little locally-owned businesses out. Also, they actually of course hated the yuppie image of the place, but this is something the Republicans would never, ever, ever tell you.