[ a fully caused & embodied blog ] [ Good Sense Without God ]
It is in the prosecution of some single object, and in striving to reach its accomplishment by the combined application of his moral and physical energies, that the true happiness of man, in his full vigour and development, consists. Possession, it is true, crowns exertion with repose; but it is only in the illusions of fancy that it has power to charm our eyes. If we consider the position of man in the universe,—if we remember the constant tendency of his energies towards some definite activity, and recognize the influence of surrounding nature, which is ever provoking him to exertion, we shall be ready to acknowledge that repose and possession do not indeed exist but in imagination. - Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Sphere and Duties of Government (The Limits of State Action) (1854 ed.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Required Reading: Israel & Terrorism, Impeaching Bush, Torture

  • Arthur Silber: The Necessary Violence of the Murderous National Bully
    To think that Israel "lost" reveals a significant failure to understand the operations of the State, and of a particular kind of State. Just as the U.S. drive to American global hegemony means that the U.S. government intends to have its way no matter what, Israel intends to have its way within the smaller territory which it claims for its own dominance. From this perspective, it can be seen that the exercise of power in the manner just demonstrated by Israel is not a strategy toward a further end: the exercise of power is the end. Terrorizing an entire captive population, making large numbers of people (including many entirely innocent people) believe they have no choice but to obey, and visiting destruction and death upon them if they do not do exactly as they are told -- all of that is the purpose. To summarize this point, which applies to the governments of both the United States and Israel:
    The fundamental lesson is unmistakable, and unmistakably evil in intent and execution (a word made horribly appropriate in more than one sense by our government's actions): you will do exactly as we say -- or else.
    Israel did all this -- and no one stopped it. When Israel does it again, it is almost certain that no one, certainly not the U.S. government, will stop it then, either. That, I submit, is precisely what victory looks like.
  • As the Arabs see the Jews, His Majesty King Abdullah, The American Magazine, November, 1947
    Our case is quite simple: For nearly 2,000 years Palestine has been almost 100 per cent Arab. It is still preponderantly Arab today, in spite of enormous Jewish immigration. But if this immigration continues we shall soon be outnumbered—a minority in our home.

    . . .

    Our position is so simple and natural that we are amazed it should even be questioned. It is exactly the same position you in America take in regard to the unhappy European Jews. You are sorry for them, but you do not want them in your country.

    We do not want them in ours, either. Not because they are Jews, but because they are foreigners. We would not want hundreds of thousands of foreigners in our country, be they Englishmen or Norwegians or Brazilians or whatever.

    . . .

    Such fragmentary records as we have indicate that the Jews were wandering nomads from Iraq who moved to southern Turkey, came south to Palestine, stayed there a short time, and then passed to Egypt, where they remained about 400 years. About 1300 BC (according to your calendar) they left Egypt and gradually conquered most—but not all—of the inhabitants of Palestine.

    . . .

    Only once, during the empire of David and Solomon, did the Jews ever control nearly—but not all—the land which is today Palestine. This empire lasted only 70 years, ending in 926 BC. Only 250 years later the Kingdom of Judah had shrunk to a small province around Jerusalem, barely a quarter of modern Palestine.

    In 63 BC the Jews were conquered by Roman Pompey, and never again had even the vestige of independence. The Roman Emperor Hadrian finally wiped them out about 135 AD. He utterly destroyed Jerusalem, rebuilt under another name, and for hundreds of years no Jew was permitted to enter it. A handful of Jews remained in Palestine but the vast majority were killed or scattered to other countries, in the Diaspora, or the Great Dispersion. From that time Palestine ceased to be a Jewish country, in any conceivable sense.

    This was 1,815 years ago, and yet the Jews solemnly pretend they still own Palestine! If such fantasy were allowed, how the map of the world would dance about!
  • LA Times: Israel declares unilateral cease-fire in Gaza Strip
    Israel faced growing international pressure to halt the incessant airstrikes and thundering ground offensive, which by today had killed more than 1,200 Palestinians, a third of them children, according to Gaza Health Ministry figures that the United Nations deemed credible. At least 13 Israelis -- 10 soldiers and three civilians -- have died.

    Officials in Israel also said they wanted to stop the fighting before Barack Obama is sworn in as president Tuesday to avoid clouding a historic day for the Jewish state's main ally and creating friction with the new U.S. administration.

    . . .

    The Jewish state has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 but continued to preach Israel's destruction. Hamas took exclusive control of the territory in June 2007, ending a power-sharing government with the rival Fatah faction, which now controls only the West Bank.
  • Chris Floyd: Sham, Shock and Awe: False Peace Process Bears Bitter Fruit in Gaza
    Although Siegman does not cast it in these terms, what we have been witnessing in Palestine over the past several decades is a remarkable echo of the dispossession and destruction of the Native American nations by the United States. There are myriad differences, of course, but the broad outline is basically the same: a people denigrated as primitive and inferior are being stripped of their land, driven into poverty and desperation, and killed in large numbers by another people who believe that their "manifest destiny" and moral superiority justify violent conquest and repression. Any violent resistance to the conquest is treated as barbaric terrorism -- and another justification for yet more repression, for even harsher tactics to grind down the conquered, secure "the frontier" and make it safe for "settlers" and the "civilization" they bring.
  • Chris Floyd: The End of Hypocrisy: Crime's Gleeful Abandon in Gaza
    But now the masks are falling away -- or rather, they are being flung aside with gleeful abandon. America's top officials -- including the president and vice president -- openly admit to ordering torture...and they are praised for it, even held up as shining examples for future leaders to follow. Vast swathes of the corporate media labor mightily to justify the ancient evil of the water torture, and other "high-end interrogation techniques," to use the diabolical terminology of CIA Director Michael Hayden. The escalation of the on-going American war crime in Iraq -- the so-called "surge" -- is lauded as a "success beyond our wildest dreams" by the new, "progressive" manager of the empire, Barack Obama. (Imagine calling an action that allowed a known serial killer to extend his spree for years into the future a wild, dreamy "success.") Citizens of the "liberal democracy" in Israel -- the "light unto the nations" -- gather in safety and comfort on open hillsides to watch, cheering, as bombs fall on the trapped and helpless civilians penned in the Gaza ghetto. These macabre celebrations are echoed across America, where bitter partisan foes put aside their differences to come together in their unstinting, uncritical support of child murder across the sea.
  • Glenn Greenwald: Tom Friedman offers a perfect definition of "terrorism"
    In any event, Friedman's column today is uncharacteristically and refreshingly honest. He explains that the 2006 Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon was, contrary to conventional wisdom, a great success. To make this case, Friedman acknowledges that the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians was not an unfortunate and undesirable by-product of that war, but rather, was a vital aspect of the Israeli strategy -- the centerpiece, actually, of teaching Lebanese civilians a lesson they would not soon forget:
    Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.

    Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon — when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”
    Friedman says that he is "unsure" whether the current Israeli attack on Gaza is similiarly designed to teach Palestinians the same lesson by inflicting "heavy pain" on civilians, but he hopes it is:
    In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.
    The war strategy which Friedman is heralding -- what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as "exacting enough pain on civilians" in order to teach them a lesson -- is about as definitive of a war crime as it gets. It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of "terrorism."
  • Via Glenn Greenwald:

Conyers and Impeachment
  • Conyers Explains Why He Didn't Push Impeachment
    I recall suggesting that Conyers might have "sold-out", after which most of his staff refused to speak to me. I'm sure someone did call him a traitor, and I can't imagine what's worse than that. Perhaps someone said that he was complicit in the death of 1.3 million Iraqis. That's pretty bad. But that charge would not be baseless. We had a situation in which a majority of Americans wanted impeachment, a majority of Conyers' constituents (including his wife) wanted impeachment, 100 cities passed resolutions demanding impeachment, impeachment resolutions were introduced and referred to the House Judiciary Committee, the chairman of that committee believed the offenses were "among the most impeachable in our nation's history," the charges included the launching of the war on Iraq, and the chairman refused to act. It's possible that his actions would have failed in the House or the Senate. It's possible that his actions, whether failing or succeeding, would have had some other negative consequence. But the fact was that he refused to try, and as many of us read the Constitution that was a failure of duty.
  • Chris Floyd: Head Cases: History's Clear Answer to the Torture Debate
    When the question of what to do about the torturers was put to Barack Obama on TV this week -- after it was voted the single most important question that viewers wanted the president-elect to answer -- he responded with his usual mealy-mouthed blather about a preference for "moving on" and "looking to the future not the past," etc., etc., while throwing in a couple of non-commital pieties about the rule of law and so on. He even refused to say whether he would direct his attorney general to make a specific inquiry into allegations of torture -- by anyone in government, much less top officials. Again, it seems clear that if it is at all possible, Obama will bury the issue several fathoms deep -- just as Bill Clinton thwarted and killed off several investigations into high crimes by the first George Bush and his crew.

    In any case, the "debate" on this question in the rarefied climes of Establishment goes on, even as the principals -- George W. Bush and Dick Cheney -- openly confess their crimes in a series of self-justifying "interviews" with pathetic, bootlicking toadies; i.e., the nation's "media elite." Yet on the same day that Obama was waffling about "moving forward" from that little spot of bother about interrogations, Bush was also on national television, openly confessing to at least one clear-cut, indisputable war crime -- again, a capital crime under U.S. law: the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged "mastermind" of the 9/11 attacks. Bush said he authorized the use of a "list of tools" for interrogating KSM -- tools which included waterboarding, as Dick Cheney confirmed in yet another television confession.

    Perhaps the strangest thing about the torture "debate" is that there is any debate at all over "what to do" about those who ordered the crimes to be committed. Scott Horton at Harper's explains what hundreds of years of Anglo-American jurisprudence clearly says about heads of state who order and countenance torture: they should be tried, and if convicted, executed. In fact, the verdict passed on the last head of state in this legal tradition who was found guilty of torture was that "he be taken to a place of execution, where his head was to be severed from his body by an axe."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Talking with A Believer: How did it Start?

As I briefly mentioned before, it came about that I started talking to George for two reasons:
  • I got/am kinda tired of talking to "liberals"; AND
  • I have read the books by prominent atheists: Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens.
The first has been a long time brewing. Discussing pretty much anything with American 'liberals' -- not to speak of those sad pathetic characters who 'see both sides', are 'practical', and/or are socially 'liberal' but economically 'conservative', uggh -- is frustrating and depressing. The reality of any situation is actually pretty easy to determine (for example, see this on the current Israel/Gaza horror) and the appropriate moral judgment (the universality of morals) is all too obvious. The state of 'liberalism' in American is crap: Just take the Democrat's complicity in Bush's "War on Terror" and the delusions in effecting change by voting for a war criminal. It is also the case that most 'liberals' are not serious in their politics. By this I mean their beliefs come from internalizing popular/public 'liberalism'. There is very little thought or effort put into their beliefs.

As for the second, after reading these atheistic attacks on religion/dogma I am very interested in understanding the 'religious'. I truly do not understand why one would believe something for which one has no proof (ie. on faith).
Quick digression: I believe the "way to Truth" is via the Scientific Method. Conjecture, evidence, experiment, and theory is essientially a methodology to incrementally correct one's guesses. This method can not prove something true, but it can prove something false or more correct.
I have also been reading for some time philosophy books and following blogs on morality, ethics, Consequentialism, Freethinkers, and radical movements in history. All of this is because I am trying to come to a good and true epistemology. At this point I have pretty much settled on Naturalism, Stoicism, Humanism, Utilitarianism, and Scientism and pull from them what I want when I want. So I am curious: Why do people believe in Gods and have religious epistemologies? And why are these epistemologies believable?

So, one day I was in the cafeteria at my work place early in the morning for breakfast. I noticed a person reading/studying something pretty seriously. I had noticed this person on several occasions doing this. While there are many many things to study intently, the Bible is an obvious and popular one. Given that I work in high-tech it was not unreasonable to also guess something nerdy. I gave the odds about 50/50. So I introduced myself and asked saying something like (from memory): "Excuse me. I have noticed you here studying something. Would it be the Bible?" He said "Yes." I was half way there! I then asked the 'big' question: "I am an atheist. I am looking for someone religious to discuss philosophy and religion with. I am only going to bother you once: Here is my [work] email address. If you want to talk, send me an email and we can set it up."

It may seem strange or very forward of me to ask in this way, but it really was not. First, I really did nothing more than leave the decision in his hands; he had all the power and so would probably not feel pressured. But more importantly I made one large assumption: Anyone studying the Bible, at work, in the cafeteria, on more than 3 occasions, is in all likelihood someone who takes it seriously. From this, it is not unreasonable to conclude that an invitation to talk about his religion would welcomed because nearly all religions are looking to convert people. This is not meant to be insulting. I believe there are very few discussions on matters of import where the participants are not looking, in some degree, to convert (ie. convince) each other. I also do not mean to say that converting me immediately came to his mind (nor did he ever try as we shall see). But, I believe that because of certain aspects of human psychology, discussing particular topics such as religion, politics, economics, morality, and ethics, the participants are to some not insignificant degree looking to convert (ie. convince) others that their belief(s) is the correct one. At this point all that might seem like reasonable assumptions, but you are still wondering: Why did he announce himself as an atheist? Well, I pretty much assume that the religious look at atheists the way I just described looking at the religious: Incredulous. Even people who I consider only just barely religious have a hard time when I answer the question: 'What happens after you die?' with: "Nothing. That is it, final, finished." I figured this would more likely be a hook rather than a turn off.

That was it! I had introduced myself to someone who was religious and seriously so: He met the criteria of seriousness that 'liberals' do not possess and an epistemology I can not understand anyone having. I was very excited!

So far (reverse chronological):
  1. George introduces himself...
  2. Before I introduce George...
  3. Religious Moral/Ethical Decision Making
  4. Moral/Ethical Decision Making

George introduces himself...

As I have briefly mentioned before, I have been talking with George: A self-avowed Fundamental Baptist Christian; a "Believer". He and I have been discussing weekly (for the most part) for the last 5 months our respective philosophies. Unfortunately, he has become unavailable for further discussions. I would now like to reflect on the discussions, but first I asked George for a short self-introduction:
I believe that Jesus Christ was God come in the flesh; the Christ (Messiah); that Jesus laid down his life to be crucified to pay the penalty for my sins, that he was buried, and that he arose from the dead three days later; that in his resurrection he proved he had power over death and sin; that because I have accepted God’s gift of Jesus’ payment for my sins that when I die he will give me eternal life.
Obviously no person or their epistemology can be summed up in a few sentences so first I thank George for attempting. It should be noted therefore that he is much more than this and that any assumption you make from this are your own. In following posts I will be reflecting on the discussion and presenting George's position or words to the best of my recollection. You should of course assume that I did not fully understand or recall correctly.

Judging George from these posts would be wrong: Judging me would be right.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Before I introduce George...

I should perhaps introduce myself. Right now I am best able to define myself as:
  • Naturalist
  • Humanist
  • Anarchist
  • Libertarian Socialist
  • Eudaimonia (ie. human flourishing) is the goal or purpose of life and occurs when preferences/interests/desires are met
  • No expectations (ie. nirodha)
  • 3 Step Ethics
    1. Assert the definitions of "good" and "bad".
    2. Have a methodology for deciding on how to act.
    3. The result(s) by definition are what is "right" and/or "wrong".
  • People are basically good
  • Do to others as they would want done to themselves
Here are some real world/practical things that help to define me:
  • I will vote for pretty much any/all tax increases
  • I will vote for pretty much NO increase in prison or law enforcement
  • I will vote for pretty much anything having to do with libraries or schools
  • I do give money to things like the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way, etc.
  • pro-abortion & euthanasia
Among my favorite authors are:Among my favorite historical philosophies and figures are:That is probably enough for now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thank Goodness for Python!

Pie Iesu domine, dona eis requiem:

Five is right out!

Goodness, I wanna stop posting about Israel!

Chris Floyd quotes Uri Avnery:
Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army “revealed” that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.

Later the official liar claimed that “our soldiers were shot at from inside the school”. Barely a day passed before the army had to admit to UN personnel that that was a lie, too. Nobody had shot from inside the school, no Hamas fighters were inside the school, which was full of terrified refugees.

What about Obama? Screwing us already?

Hey! What is Obama up to? Oh, goodie!!

Chris Floyd: Enduring Priorities in an Age of Change: War and Profits Over People
If you want a glimpse of the fundamental moral obscenity that underlies our bold new era of hope and change, look no further than Barack Obama's promise this week to "overhaul" Social Security and Medicare. This effort to cut back on support for the sick, the old, the weak, the unfortunate and the abandoned will be a "central part" of the new administration's economic program, a linchpin of its struggle to curb federal spending, Obama declared.
President-elect Barack Obama said Wednesday that overhauling Social Security and Medicare would be "a central part" of his administration’s efforts to contain federal spending, signaling for the first time that he would wade into the thorny politics of entitlement programs.
"We expect that discussion around entitlements will be a part, a central part" of efforts to curb federal spending, Mr. Obama said at a news conference. By February, he said, "we will have more to say about how we’re going to approach entitlement spending."

Naomi Klien: Torture & Israel

'Never Before!' Our Amnesiac Torture Debate
Suffice it to say that choosing Panama to declare “We do not torture” is a little like dropping by a slaughterhouse to pronounce the United States a nation of vegetarians.
. . .
It’s a history that has been exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his upcoming book, A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy synthesizes this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls “no-touch torture,” based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.
Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Required Reading: Israeli Immorality

Chris Floyd:
Moloch's Altar: Child Sacrifice and the War on Terror

A Tiny Revolution: How Did Reality Get On My TV? ( w/ video )

From Glenn Greenwald:
It is not a justification to say that Hamas, if possible, would kill all Israelis. It is not a justification that Jews have been persecuted throughout recorded history. It is not a justification to say that Hamas uses civilians as shields (especially in an urban setting).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Offended? There is no equivalence...

Is someone afraid in Sderot? Probably. Is the terror there equivalent to the terror in Gaza. Hardly. Pay attention:
A tower of white smoke rose from the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun after another Israeli bombardment Monday morning, and a half-dozen Israelis, perched on a dusty hilltop, gazed at the scene like armchair military strategists.

Avi Pilchick took a long swig of Pepsi and propped a foot on the plastic patio chair he'd carried up the hillside to watch the fighting. "They are doing good," Pilchick, 20, said of Israeli forces battling Palestinian militants in Gaza, "but they can do more."

Somewhere in Beit Hanoun, Ashraf El-Masri's family cowered in their concrete tenement home, their neighborhood surrounded by Israeli soldiers. El-Masri said that five residents had been killed by Israeli shelling that morning, and the blasts had traumatized the youngest of his nine children into a terrified silence...

On the hilltop overlooking Beit Hanoun, Pilchick squinted into the sharp sunlight. He'd taken time off from his job at a foreign exchange bureau in Jerusalem and driven down to Sderot with a friend on Saturday, the day the ground operation opened...Sderot residents — some of them carrying binoculars — have gathered on the hilltop since the offensive began for a glimpse of the fighting...

In their darkened home in Beit Hanoun, Ashraf El-Masri's children were in utter distress. No one has stepped outside since Israeli ground forces entered the town Saturday night, and more Israeli shelling awakened them Monday morning, including a strike on a nearby mosque.

Israelis, sipping Pepsi, watch bombardment of Gaza town

Oh, and I forgot to add... (still NSFW)

It is not like we fuck around in the politics over there do we?

Fuck you.

UPDATED: What You Don’t Know About Gaza

This post is NSFW

To those who think Israel's current actions in Gaza are justified:

Fuck you.

Israel criticised after 'shocking' discovery of exhausted children
Four exhausted children have been discovered cowering in a house next to the bodies of their mothers by staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which today accused the Israeli military of "unacceptable" delays in allowing medics safe access to injured Gazans.

The Red Cross workers found the small children, who were so weak they could not stand, sheltering next to the bodies of their mothers in a house in Zeitoun, southeast of Gaza City. Another man was found alive, but again too weak to stand. At least 12 bodies were lying on mattresses.
First off the whole discussion is moot: Israel is not at all in danger of being wiped out.

So here is Wikipedia's page on the the current conflict in Gaza. Hmmm, I wonder why there was an increase in rocket attacks in November when before there were nearly none?

Could Israel have started the current conflict? Nah:

So read something.

And just in case you forgot: Fuck you.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Religious Moral/Ethical Decision Making

Remember discussing moral/ethical decision making? I tried to fit George's moral/ethical decision making process into my 3 step process:
  1. Assert the definitions of "good" and "bad".
  2. Have a methodology for deciding on how to act.
  3. The result(s) by definition are what is "right" and/or "wrong".
So, I asked if this was a fair fit of his beliefs:
  1. What is “good” and/or “bad” is declared to be what God say via the Bible; AND
  2. Given God is the ultimate authority doing what he says one ought to do, acting to bring about “good” as defined by him, and/or acting to reduce the “bad” as defined by him; AND
  3. Determines a “right” or “wrong” act.
( I have left in my poor grammar! Wink! )
He said yes.

Here are some important points in this for me:
  • The Bible is completely true.
  • The Bible is prescriptive, ie. it has rules one ought to follow.
  • God is the ultimate authority and therefore ought to be followed.
George pointed out (my interpretation and inference in a follow up discussion) that because God is good, perfect, and infinite in ability, that makes him the ultimate authority and makes sense to follow his rules. He also pointed out that God's rules are given in the Bible. Therefore, the Bible must be the word of God and also perfect.

Of course there is also one (other) vital point:
  • One ought to follow any/all of God's rules.
This implies that George -- if sufficiently convinced -- would follow any commandment given to him by God, even ones that would seem to me to be immoral/unethical. Of course, given he believes God is good, I think he believes that such a thing -- such as killing a baby -- would not really happen. But theoretically he would do so if commanded. This is unconfirmed and I have requested if this is so. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Required Read: Further

  • Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about
    Long-term preparation, careful gathering of information, secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public - all these stood behind the Israel Defense Forces "Cast Lead" operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday morning.

    The disinformation effort, according to defense officials, took Hamas by surprise and served to significantly increase the number of its casualties in the strike.

    . . .

    The plan of action that was implemented in Operation Cast Lead remained only a blueprint until a month ago, when tensions soared after the IDF carried out an incursion into Gaza during the ceasefire to take out a tunnel which the army said was intended to facilitate an attack by Palestinian militants on IDF troops.

    On November 19, following dozens of Qassam rockets and mortar rounds which exploded on Israeli soil, the plan was brought for Barak's final approval. Last Thursday, on December 18, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the defense minister met at IDF headquarters in central Tel Aviv to approve the operation.

  • Gaza: the logic of colonial power
    I have often been asked by policy analysts, policy-makers and those stuck with implementing those policies for my advice on what I think America should do to promote peace or win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. It too often feels futile, because such a revolution in American policy would be required that only a true revolution in the American government could bring about the needed changes. An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for the weak, for the Native Americans in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to ask themselves.

    Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful – whether Israel, America, Russia or China – will always describe their victims' struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed … these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose.

    Counterinsurgency, now popular again among in the Pentagon, is another way of saying the suppression of national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds.

    Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Required Reading

  • Glenn Greenwald
    • Obama's impressive new OLC chief
      I first read these posts of Johnsen's a few weeks ago when a reporter asked me about my reaction to the possibility that she might be appointed to head the OLC. Beyond these articles, I don't know all that much about her, but anyone who can write this, in this unapologetic, euphemism-free and even impolitic tone, warning that the problem isn't merely John Yoo but Bush himself, repeatedly demanding "outrage," criticizing the Democratic Congress for legalizing Bush's surveillance program, arguing that we cannot merely "move on" if we are to restore our national honor, stating the OLC's "core job description" is to "say 'no' to the President," all while emphasizing that the danger is unchecked power not just for the Bush administration but "for years and administrations to come" -- and to do so in the middle of an election year when she knows she has a good chance to be appointed to a high-level position if the Democratic candidate won and yet nonetheless eschewed standard, obfuscating Beltway politesse about these matters -- is someone whose appointment to such an important post is almost certainly a positive sign. No praise is due Obama until he actually does things that merit praise, but it's hard not to consider this encouraging.
    • Orwell, blinding tribalism, selective Terrorism, and Israel/Gaza
      So many of these conflicts -- one might say almost all of them -- end up shaped by the same virtually universal deficiency: excessive tribalistic identification (i.e.: the group with which I was trained to identify is right and good and just and my group's enemy is bad and wrong and violent), which causes people to view the world only from the perspective of their side, to believe that X is good when they do it and evil when it's done to them. X can be torture, or the killing of civilians in order to "send a message" (i.e., Terrorism), or invading and occupying other people's land, or using massive lethal force against defenseless populations, or seeing one's own side as composed of real humans and the other side as sub-human, evil barbarians.
  • Via A Tiny Revolution -- Tom Engelhardt: The Ponzi Scheme Presidency
    With Bush's "commander-in-chief" presidency only days from its end, the price tag on his "war" continues to soar as dollars grow scarce, new investors refuse to pay in, and the scheme crumbles. Unfortunately, the American people, typical suckers in such a con game, will be left with a mile-high stack of IOU's. In any Ponzi scheme comparison with Madoff, however, one difference (other than size) stands out. Sooner or later, Madoff, like Charles Ponzi himself, will end up behind bars, while George, Dick, & Co. will be writing their memoirs and living off the fat of the land.
  • Arthur Silber: Witness the Lightbringer, the Harbinger of Hope and Change, the Man of Peace, and His Wondrous and Mighty Works
    As my title notes, in many contexts -- and indisputably in this one -- silence means consent. But Obama has repeatedly told us that he not only consents: he actively supports this policy -- not only with regard to Israel, but in Iraq, and in connection with the American ruling class's determination to maintain, consolidate and expand its global hegemonic role. Also see here and here, and many other articles linked therein. If anyone is surprised by any of this, he has only himself to blame. On many occasions, Obama told you precisely what he believed and what he would and would not do -- and many people, out of a stupidly misguided "hope" or, much more contemptibly, out of a desire to acquire power for "their" gang of criminals, chose not to believe Obama's own words (or to disregard them). They appear not to realize the nature of the insult they thus leveled at the impliedly loathsome vessel which they selected as the repository of their feeble, unfounded hopes: if you didn't believe what he said and preferred to believe he actually meant something else -- that something else being what you contend you believe -- that can only mean you thought he was a liar, which indeed he is. And yet many people still voted for him, even after concluding Obama was a calculating manipulator of the first order, one who was primarily interested in acquiring power and nothing else at all. (I discussed one example of this self-delusion in the concluding section of this article.)
    This is the article that Arthur riffs from.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Required Reading: Continued

  • On Obama: My Brilliant Career by Mike Whitney
    Obama has remained serenely detached while American-made F-16's have dumped more than one hundred tons of lethal ordnance on the captive population of Gaza. In fact, the president-elect has spent more time working on his abs at the Semper Fit gym in Honolulu than trying to stop the bloody onslaught which has already resulted in the deaths of over 300 Palestinians, half of who are civilians.

    When asked why he hasn't given his opinion on the conflict, Obama spokesman have blandly stated, "There's only one president at a time".

    Uh-huh. So why was Obama so quick to condemn Russia's invasion of South Ossetia? Is the yardstick for measuring aggression different in the Caucasus than it is in the Middle East? Or is it because politicians are just too afraid to cross Israel?

    "If somebody shot rockets at my house where my two daughters were sleeping at night, I'd do everything in my power to stop them," Obama proclaimed on a recent visit to Israel.

    Right. It's too bad Palestinian parents can't claim that same right without being branded as terrorists.
  • Shock, Awe and Lies: The Truth Behind the Israeli Attack on Gaza

  • Dean Baker: Free Market Myth
    The extraordinary financial collapse of recent months has been commonly described as a testament to the failure of deregulation. The events are indeed testament to a failure—a failure of public policy. Blaming deregulation is misleading.

    In general, political debates over regulation have been wrongly cast as disputes over the extent of regulation, with conservatives assumed to prefer less regulation, while liberals prefer more. In fact conservatives do not necessarily desire less regulation, nor do liberals necessarily desire more. Conservatives support regulatory structures that cause income to flow upward, while liberals support regulatory structures that promote equality. “Less” regulation does not imply greater inequality, nor is the reverse true.

    Framing regulation debates in terms of more and less is not only inaccurate; it hugely biases the argument toward conservative positions by characterizing an extremely intrusive structure of, for example, patent and copyright rules, as the free market. In the realm of insurance and finance over the last two decades, calls for deregulation have been cover for rules tilted starkly toward corporate interests. And the recent change in bankruptcy law, hailed by conservatives, requires much greater government involvement in the economy.

    False ideological claims have circumscribed the public debate over regulation and blinded us to the wide range of choices we can make. Without these claims, what would guide regulatory policy? What kinds of choices would we have?
  • On Obama: Arthur Silber
    In the months leading up to the November election, I repeatedly argued that both major presidential candidates were war criminals. The truth is considerably worse than this statement would indicate: given the United States' corporatist-authoritarian-militarist identity and nature, a major national political candidate must be a war criminal. If he (or she) is not, he will never rise to the national level in the first place. (The rare exceptions only prove the point: they are of vanishing importance, and they exercise no power whatsoever.)
    ( Chomsky has said this for years. )
  • NYRB on Torture Books
    Because so many of the facts surrounding the torture policy are now well known, Sands's book is illuminating not so much for breaking new factual ground as for the human insight he brings to the events. Through his interviews, he tells a story about how ordinary human beings, all working within an institution designed to fight by the rules, felt tremendous pressure to bend the rules—and in most cases did so without apparent concern or self-doubt. A narrowly pragmatic ethos guided virtually all actors. The real arguments were for the most part not about whether coercive tactics were legally or morally acceptable, but about whether they worked. Some, especially those in the FBI, felt strongly that they were counterproductive, and that building rapport through noncoercive questioning was the only way to gain credible intelligence from captives.[4] Others thought the idea of building rapport with al-Qaeda suspects was foolish; it could not be done. But with the courageous exception of Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora, few argued that coercive tactics were wrong because they were immoral and illegal, whether or not they worked. In America after September 11, idealists were few and far between, and an amoral, blinkered pragmatism ruled the day.
  • Glenn Greenwald: Committing war crimes for the "right reasons"
    But we don't accept that justifying reasoning when offered by others. In fact, those who seek merely to explain -- let alone justify -- the tyranny, extremism and/or violence of Castro, or Chavez, or Hamas, or Slobodan Milosevic or Islamic extremists are immediately condemned for seeking to defend the indefensible, or invoking "root causes" to justify the unjustifiable, or offering mitigating rationale for pure evil.

    Yet here we have American leaders who now, more openly than ever, are literally admitting to what has long been known -- that they violated the laws of war and international treaties which, in the past, we've led the way in advocating and enforcing. And what do we hear even from the most well-intentioned commentators such as Douthat? Yes, it was wrong. True, they shouldn't have done it. But they did it for good reasons: they believed they had to do it to protect us, to guard against truly bad people, to discharge their heavy responsibility to protect the country, because we were at war.
    More crucially, Israeli and international sources from the first week of November 2008 – sources that are scholarly and (otherwise) more reliable than the NYT – shed further light on the misleading claim by the NYT editors. They include, but are by no means limited to:
    The Israeli Haaretz, November 5, 2008: "Israel Defense Forces troops yesterday killed a Hamas gunman and wounded two others in the first armed clash in the Gaza Strip since a cease-fire was declared there in June. […] An Israeli army spokeswoman said troops had entered the territory."

    The Israeli Yediot Ahronot, November 5, 2008: "For the first time since the ceasefire took effect in June, IDF forces operated deep in the Gaza Strip Tuesday night."

    (Note: had the NYT editors bothered to consult Hebrew sources they would have easily found that the Hebrew version of the news item cited above is even clearer.)

    The Times (UK), November 5, 2008: "A five-month truce between Israel and the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip was foundering yesterday after Israeli special forces entered the besieged territory and fought."

    Amnesty International, November 10, 2008: "A spate of Israeli and Palestinian attacks and counter-attacks in the past 24 hours could spell the end of a five-and-a-half-month ceasefire. […] The killing of six Palestinian militants in Gaza by Israeli forces in a ground incursion and air strikes on 4 November was followed by a barrage of dozens of Palestinian rockets."

    The Guardian, November 5, 2008: "Hamas militants fired more than 35 rockets into Israel today, hours after the Israeli army killed six people inside the Gaza Strip in the first major exchange of fire since a truce took effect in June."

    The Independent, November 5, 2008: "Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired more than 35 rockets towards Israel today, the army and the Islamist group said, hours after the Israeli army killed six militants in the coastal territory."
    ( Ed: See links on original. )

Friday, January 2, 2009

Required Reading: More

  • More Glenn Greenwald
    • Salon Radio: Pam Spaulding on Rick Warren
    • Torture ambivalence masquerading as moral and intellectual superiority
      There's an irony to the fact that this infinite capacity to self-justify is purely adolescent in nature. As the above-excerpted clip demonstrates, those who view American Torture as a fascinating moral dilemma over which Serious People publicly agonize -- as Drezner put it: "if you're a national security person, you don't care about the legal niceties . . . it is a complicated question; it's not cut and dried" -- have actually convinced themselves that their refusal to make clear, definitive judgments is a hallmark not only of their moral superiority, but of their intellectual superiority as well. Only shrill ideologues and simpletons on either side believe that the torture question is "cut and dried." They actually believe that their indecisive open-mindedness on such clear moral questions is a sign of their rich and deep complexity, even though it's nothing more than an adolescent inability to assess the world through any prism other than their own immediate reflexive desires and self-interest.
    • Marty Peretz and the American political consensus on Israel
      Not a word of condemnation of the Israeli blockade -- which has caused extreme suffering and deprivation in Gaza -- or of the massively disproportionate response or the ongoing and ever-expanding Israeli occupation. It is all one-sided support for whatever Israel does from our political class, and one-sided condemnation of Israel's enemies (who are, ipso facto, American enemies) -- all of it, as usual, sharply divergent from the consensus in much of the rest of the world.
    • Torture prosecutions finally begin in the U.S.
  • Bernard Chazelle on the liberal respect for authority
    The question is useful because it disposes of the rejoinder: "You're not being serious by defending shoe throwers." For Perlstein, the parallel stops there. He is clear about it. It's not about the person but the authority behind it: a "leader of a sovereign state, no matter how much he's deservedly hated" deserves respect. Two interesting points: first, Perlstein presumably confines his sphere of respect to "our kind of leaders" (not Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, Saddam, etc.) Second, Kant's theory of respect-for-persons as an end in itself is neatly swept aside. It's OK to spit at a terrorist but not at a president. Why? Because, as liberal bloggers write, out of spectacular ignorance, one should "despise the man but respect the office." Do they realize the essence of the Enlightenment was to reach precisely the opposite conclusion? That shoes should be aimed at kings and presidents, not at the persons behind them.

Capitalist Alienation of Labor: Chomsky on Anarchism

Chomsky on Anarchism, Noam Chomsky, p123-124:
Guérin quotes Adolph Fischer, who said that "every anarchist is a socialist but not every socialist is necessarily an anarchist." Similarly Bakunin, in his "anarchist manifesto" of 1865, the program of his projected international revolutionary fraternity, laid down the principle that each member must be, to begin with, a socialist.

A consistent anarchist must oppose private ownership of the means of production(1) and the wage slavery(2) which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer. As Marx put it, socialists look forward to a society in which labor will "become not only a means of life, but also the highest want in life," an impossibility when the worker is driven by external authority or need rather than inner impulse: "no form of wage-labor, even though one may be less obnoxious than another, can do away with the misery of wage-labor itself." A consistent anarchist must oppose not only alienated labor(3) but also the stupefying specialization of labor(4) that takes place when the means for developing production
mutilate the worker into a fragment of a human being, degrade him to become a mere appurtenance of the machine, make his work such a torment that its essential meaning is destroyed; estrange from him the intellectual potentialities of the labor process in very proportion to the extent to which science is incorporated into it as an independent power....
Marx saw this not as an inevitable concomitant of industrialization, but rather as a feature of capitalist relations of production. The society of the future must be concerned to "replace the detail-worker of today...reduced to a mere fragment of a man, by the fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labours...to whom the different social function...are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural powers." The prerequisite is the abolition of capital and wage labor as social categories (not to speak of the industrial armies of the "labor state" or the various modern forms of totalitarianism or state capitalism). The reduction of man to an appurtenance of the machine, a specialized tool of production, might in principle be overcome, rather than enhanced, with the proper development and use of technology, but not under the conditions of autocratic control of production by those who make man an instrument to sever their ends, overlooking his individual purposes, in Humboldt's phrase.
Wikified for your enjoyment!

UPDATED: Added some notes to my commentary as to what it means to me.

(1) Notice that this is a prohibition of private ownership of the means of production, eg. the factory, and NOT an abolition of private ownership per se, eg. cars, homes, chairs, food, etc. I am not clear why socialism and/or anarchism are rightly criticized as doing away with private property?
(2) My understanding of what wage slavery is: When the means of production are privately owned then the means of distribution are privately owned allowing for inequitable allocation. This inequity forces people to work for even the most basic fundamental needs of life: Food and shelter. Hence they are slaves to the owners of production; assuming they wish to live.
(3) My understanding of alienated labor is: When the means of production are privately owned then the worker is not free in, ie. in control of, either the methodology in their labor(s) or the results of their labor(s): They do not get to decide how to do their job or what to do with the final product(s).
(4) Specialization impedes the prospect for human eudaimonia (ie. human flourishing). Radical theories such as Parecon and Libertarian Municipalism have addressed this. But in brief, we each would be swimming in our own garbage without garbage people. Both at home and at work we throw away thoughtlessly: We know that someone will come and get it and take it away. And sure if you scratch the surface in discussion with someone about this they will agree that this role is vital, but of course we do not remunerate accordingly. And this role is certainly uncreative and mind-numbing, massively so in comparison to those reading this in all likelihood. This is specialization at the national economic level, and within corporations is assumed. It is also clear that one's position in the corporate capitalist system directly affects their health and well-being. Most do not flourish in a capitalist conceived economy.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Moral/Ethical Decision Making

I have been talking on a weekly basis at lunch with a "Believer", George. This came about for two reasons:
  • I got/am kinda tired of talking to "liberals"; AND
  • I have read the books by prominent atheists: Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens.
So I both wanted to talk to someone who's beliefs are not derived via osmosis of mainstream culture and to talk to someone these atheists writers are writing about.

The discussions with George have been very enlightening. To the first order, his beliefs are not dangerous. I can not imagine him personally participating in any sort of violence. In fact, I can even imagine him standing up to any authority he does not feel is given from God, much to his credit. Also, his interpretation of the Bible and Jesus is as far as I can tell non-violent. He has contrasted (his) Christianity and Islam in their propensity towards violence: He asserts that it is not written that Christians ought to spread their beliefs via "the sword" vs. Islam which does have such violent proscriptions. To the second order though, I do believe his actions could and do cause real suffering: His beliefs inform him on the classic political topics of our time such as the death penalty, abortion, homosexuality, etc.

But that is not the objective of this post. Instead I wanted to relate a part of one of our discussions where he asked me how I decide between good and bad and right and wrong. I came up with this three step process:
  1. Assert the definitions of "good" and "bad".
  2. Have a methodology for deciding on how to act.
  3. The result(s) by definition are what is "right" and/or "wrong".
Here is mine:
  1. The satisfaction of desires/preferences/interests is "good" and obstacles to them are "bad".
  2. The expected consequences -- as determined from historical analysis and/or imagination -- inform completely our decision and discrimination of our act(s).
  3. The result(s) by definition are what is "right" and/or "wrong".
( Of course this is not new: This comes from my reading, most specifically Peter Singer and of Consequentialism, specifically Utilitarianism. It is probably obvious. )

The discussion between George and I has only recently been on political/real life topics. In our last meeting, I specifically requested citations on homosexuality. I made a guess at his decision making process fit into these 3 steps and asked him if it was fair. I hope to go over this at the next meeting and will report back then.