18 June 2007


In an recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Steven Landsburg talks about "progress".

After arguing that real incomes have been growing for the past one-hundred years and that it will continue on into the future, he writes:

Against a backdrop like that, the temporary ups and downs of the business cycle seem fantastically minor. In the 1930s, we had a Great Depression, when income levels fell back to where they had been 20 years earlier. For a few years, people had to live the way their parents had always lived, and they found it almost intolerable.

Can you spot the sleazy argument here, the cherry-picking of data? He reduces the Great Depression to income levels falling back to levels seen 20 years earlier. And people found having to live like their parents 'almost intolerable'!

Gone are the bankruptcies, the lost houses, the lost farms, the unemployment, the food lines, the riots, and the suffering of real people faced with a world that was collapsing around them. Landsburg abstracts the blood out of this sorrowful period in US history by reducing it to a few statistics. For him, it was a moment when incomes levels fell back... that is, pay cheques weren't as big... The point is, there were no pay cheques for many people. There were no jobs. Income "fell back" to zero. Sure, average all of them together and you get his antiseptic paramoralism. But statistics only live on a page of paper. They don't have houses and children to feed.

You can almost hear him, "Sure, it may have been rough for a few years, but when it got better, everyone benefited! They were better off than they had been before!"

Maybe, the ones who didn't die fighting in the Second World War.

Are there people who actually believe this trash?

We've got more comments on this article on the Signs site. Feel free to add your own.

10 June 2007

De Gaulle and the Seven Day War

Robert Fisk cites the following comment from Charles de Gaulle, then president of France, on the Israeli attack on Egypt in June 1967:

Only the president of France, General de Gaulle, moved into political isolation by telling a press conference several months later that Israel "is organising, on the territories which it has taken, an occupation which cannot work without oppression, repression and expulsions - and if there appears resistance to this, it will in turn be called 'terrorism'"

As Fisk points out in his article, de Gaulle was the only French politician at the time to see it as it was and have the courage to speak it. He may well have been the only non-Arab politician!

A year later, the events of May 1968 in France pushed de Gaulle out of power.

09 June 2007

Unconscionable Squatters

The Forward, which bills itself as "the Jewish daily", had an article this week on American Jews who choose to become illegal settlers on occupied Palestinian land. The "difficulties" they face are illustrated by the following comment:

"'Before we found Neve Daniel, my husband told me, 'I love you and I want to live in Israel, but I'm very materialistic and if I don't have a nice house, we're not moving,' said Lara Kwalbrun, a peppy mother of six, as she gave a tour of her luxurious new home while toting a baby in her arms."

As long as moving into an illegal settlement meant life in a mobile home, a large number of American Jews weren't interested. They left it up to their more pioneering and violent brethren to go out and "colonize" the area, to actually confront the owners of the land with clubs and guns and chain saws and bulldozers. Now that the out and out outlaws have "claimed" the land, so to speak, and the base can move into a gated community fed by water siphoned away from the Palestinians and policed by troops paid for by American taxpayers, these new settlers can move in and never have to come into contact with the people they have displaced. You know, the ones walled in.

Another choice quote:

"Jerusalem has evolved to be like Manhattan in terms of prices and having to live in an apartment," said Michael Chernofsky, an orthopedic surgeon from Pennsylvania who recently moved with his family to Efrat, a Gush Etzion settlement. "If you want to live in a house, you need to move out to the suburbs."

Language is a powerful means of creating an illusory world. We make up words to replace other words, antiseptic words to replace bothersome and ugly words, neutral or comfortable words that point away from injustice and suffering. The Palestinians are being ejected out of Jerusalem by force and by a series of laws that mean that if they are essentially imprisoned on the West Bank and unable to return to their homes in East Jerusalem, after a certain amount of time, the state can confiscate their property.

"Suburbs" brings to mind the manicured lawns of the New Jersey many of these settlers have left. "Suburbs" has associations of being the epitome of American life. "Suburbs" is a telling example of how language is used to create an illusory world that we take for reality.

Settlements on Palestinian land are illegal in international law. The settlers are criminals. Not only that, they are actively abetting the genocide of the original inhabitants of the land, the Palestinians who have been walled off into compounds on their own land.

If such actions don't make your blood boil, then you probably don't have a conscience. I'm not talking about a set of rules you live by that let you believe you are a 'good person', the kind of thing you can apply mechanically as a series of if-then statements that allow you to see how much you can get away with in any given situation. We all go through that stage as kids, and some people do actually outgrow it. Though from the state of the world, it is clear that it is a small percentage. But there are unfortunately large numbers of people for whom this stage represents the pinnacle of their moral development.

Illegal settlers are certainly counted among their number. They are, however, buttressed in their selfishness by the ideology that justifies killing off the Palestinians in the name of their god, so their crimes, crimes to anyone of conscience, become holy acts under the ideology of Judaism as well as to their Christian supporters.

There is no excuse for these acts. None. And anyone with a functioning conscience knows this, feels this deep in his or her gut. Any attempt to justify or explain away the theft of land and genocide of the people of Palestine is a clear marker that the individual has no conscience or that it is so far asleep that it may as well not exist.

08 June 2007

USA TODAY/Gallup Poll results - USATODAY.com

The following rather scary news came fromUSA TODAY/Gallup Poll results today. Sixty-six percent (66%) of Americans, according to the poll, think that "Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years" is either "Definitely true" (38%) or "Probably true" (27%).

The weird, though perhaps not surprising, thing is that 53% of Americans also think that evolution is either definitely or probably true. And just to make it simple for them, the poll defined evolution as "the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life". That a certain percentage of the respondents were unable to see a contradiction between the two responses is what is weird. Millions of years on the one hand, under ten thousand on the other... anyone see a problem here?

The poll also checked on whether or not the people responding considered that they were familiar with the ideas of evolution and creationism. Here, 82% thought they were either very familiar or some-what familiar with evolution, while 86% thought they were very or some-what familiar with the ideas of creationism. What can we say? No one thinks they're stupid.

06 June 2007

That Perception Thing: Romney bemoans tarnished U.S. image

Really. It is all out there for anyone with two firing neurons to see. The Associated Press offers us the following:

Republican Mitt Romney on Wednesday jabbed at President Bush, saying the image of the United States has suffered globally based on the perception that it invaded Iraq unilaterally.

[...] "There has been the perception that we have not been as open and participative with other nations as is our normal approach," he said.
Perception? Because most of the rest of the world opposed the invasion, this is only a "perception"???

He said the next president must not only re-engage Middle East and European leaders — labeling France's new conservative leader Nicolas Sarkozy as a potential "blood brother" — but also Latin American nations.

Romney said his call for expanding the U.S. prison camp for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was consistent with that world view, despite condemnation from some human rights groups and other countries. He said the prison's intense interrogating environment is necessary to prevent future attacks.

"I think some people see Guantanamo as a source of America's arrogance, and I see it as a source of America's resolve," Romney said.

He said terrorists such as Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed had broken when they were kept from the traditional U.S. justice system with legal representation and typical court proceedings.

Romney added: "The food down there is unbelievable. This is not this gulag; this is a modern prison which treats people with dignity and respect."

Romney's call for expanding Guantanamo is certainly consistent with his world view because his world view is to make an alliance with the pathological elite of other countries against people of conscience the world over. They will need camps such as Guantanamo spread out over the globe to handle those who resist the increasing authoritarianism and tyranny of the pathocrats.

What is worrisome is that Romney can say this stuff and no one bats an eye. He whitewashes the use of terror using the antiseptic wording "intense interrogating environment" while in the same breath describing it as a place that treats people with dignity and respect! Now, anyone with a conscience will know that the two concepts are contradictory and mutually exclusive. There can't be torture and respect and dignity at the same time. Torture is predicated on treating the victim as less than human, as not worthy of respect. Yet this man is a contender for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party.

So where does that leave the United States? Is it only a question of perception? Torture, invasion, occupation, the thoughtless killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, support for the genocide of the Palestinians by Israel, all only a question of perception?

If you're a psychopath, yes. In the mind of the psychopath, reality is whatever they think it is. And as long as people of conscience don't call them out on it and insist on the reality of reality, the one we share, that we are born into and die in, then nothing is going to change. As long as we define reality as that little bit of turf we touch in our own lives, that turf that is as yet untouched by false arrests, torture, job loss, illegal detention and the like, and as long as we turn our backs on what is happening to others of our kind, that is, people of conscience, just because it is out of sight, out of mind and doesn't touch us directly, we are all a bit psychopathic ourselves.

'I did what I thought was right'

The Guardian brings us the following report on Tony Blair's exit from politics:

Mr Blair announced the handover date in a conciliatory, confessional, almost humble speech in his Durham constituency, in which he apologised for when he had fallen short, but insisted "hand on heart" that he had always done what he had thought was right for the country. [...]
He added: "I was, and remain, as a person and as a prime minister, an optimist. Politics may be the art of the possible; but at least in life, give the impossible a go. Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong, that's your call. But believe one thing, if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country."

And that is really the trouble. Everybody thinks that what they are doing "is right". How many people do you know who do things because they think they are wrong?

Meanwhile, a report from the new French news site set up by former journalists from Liberation, Rue89 tells us that Hillary Clinton made the outrageous remark over the weekend that the Iraqis didn't seize the opportunity that the US gave them! And there are people who still think that there are differences of importance between the Democrats and the Republicans in the United States! No wonder the Dems are still supporting the war.

03 June 2007

Al "Joseph Goebbels" Gore

While reading Global Warming: They call this a consensus? this morning, I noted a very telling statement:
I stopped believing that a scientific consensus exists on climate change. Certainly there is no consensus at the very top echelons of scientists -- the ranks from which I have been drawing my subjects -- and certainly there is no consensus among astrophysicists and other solar scientists, several of whom I have profiled. If anything, the majority view among these subsets of the scientific community may run in the opposite direction. Not only do most of my interviewees either discount or disparage the conventional wisdom as represented by the IPCC, many say their peers generally consider it to have little or no credibility. In one case, a top scientist told me that, to his knowledge, no respected scientist in his field accepts the IPCC position.
The article also tells us:
Today, Al Gore is making the same claims of a scientific consensus, as do the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and hundreds of government agencies and environmental groups around the world. But the claims of a scientific consensus remain unsubstantiated. They have only become louder and more frequent.
This, of course, reminded me of the fact that Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, followed two primary rules when brainwashing the German public. The first was to tell a big lie loud enough and long enough so that people would eventually start to believe it. The second rule was to always accuse your enemy of your own worst crime.