Socialism for Capitalists

December 6, 2008

Lehman Brothers. AIG. Bear Sterns. Citigroup. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Big Three.

While the country sounds the panic alarm once more and rushes, urgently towards bailing out these companies and saving our economic system, how many have given pause to consider whether it is really a system worth saving? I mean, it seems like its taken for granted that something needs to be done to save the system and that — although it may be morally questionable — using taxpayers’ money to save the country’s richest from bankruptcy is the necessary and pragmatic solution. We’ve accepted the notion that the largest multi-national corporations in the world are vital to the survival of the rest of us.

We’d cut them loose if we could, but damnit, they got a hold on us, so we’ll just have to hoist them back up there on their thrones, lest we fend for ourselves!

I thought that we, as a country, rejected the idea that “the ends justify the means”; but it’s exactly what we’re doing. Although these companies and their CEOs have been given more than they probably should have, although they acted recklessly and incompetantly, although they made and then subsequently lost billions on the exploitation of the weak and poor; we will not let them fail.

Privatize the profits and socialize the losses.

I guess free-market capitalism only applies to the poor.


How to Write With Style

November 10, 2008

Interesting article by the late Kurt Vonnegut on writing — with style:

3. Keep it simple

As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. “To be or not to be?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story “Eveline” is this one: “She was tired.” At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.

Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Alaska’s Largest Paper Endorses Obama

October 26, 2008

The Nation:

The largest newspaper in Alaska, a publication that has often sided with and encouraged Palin over the years, has endorsed the Democratic ticket.

The major daily newspaper editorial page that knows Alaska’s governor best acknowledges in today’s editions of Alaska’smost widely-circulated newspaper that “Governor Palin’s nomination clearly alters the landscape for Alaskans as we survey this race for the presidency…”

“But, the paper’s editors add, in a note that speaks volumes about that quiet discussions going on among thinking Alaskans as the November 4 election approaches, “it does not overwhelm all other judgment.”

Reflecting on McCain’s selection of their state’s controversial chief executive, the Daily News editors allow that, “Governor Palin has shown the country why she has been so successful in her young political career. Passionate, charismatic and indefatigable, she draws huge crowds and sows excitement in her wake. She has made it clear she’s a force to be reckoned with, and you can be sure politicians and political professionals across the country have taken note. Her future, in Alaska and on the national stage, seems certain to be played out in the limelight.”

“Yet,” they add, “despite her formidable gifts, few who have worked closely with the governor would argue she is truly ready to assume command of the most important, powerful nation on earth. To step in and juggle the demands of an economic meltdown, two deadly wars and a deteriorating climate crisis would stretch the governor beyond her range. Like picking Senator McCain for president, putting her one 72-year-old heartbeat from the leadership of the free world is just too risky at this time.”

Ethical Politics?

October 25, 2008

The Nation:

Barack Obama is finally telling Americans why enacting his economic programs is the right thing to do. Not just prudent, not just efficient, but right. For a long time in this country, talk about what’s right has been the monopoly of the right. But Obama’s election will be little more than Bill Clinton’s third term unless it sparks an overall revival of liberalism, and no political movement revives without core beliefs about what’s right. After thirty years of conservative, “greed is good” political philosophy, Obama faces the daunting task of explaining to Americans why they should once again care for one another.

Instead of the legislative branch creating laws, the judicial branch ruling on cases and the executive branch starting wars aimed at preserving the status quo, I think it’s about time we reevaluated our current system with the goal of determining if its morally just.

If the last eight years have taught us anything, it’s that our nation’s policies carry moral implications that have to be examined. Pragmatics should not be our only goal. Often, the right thing to do is also the best thing to do.

  • Do the wealthy have an inherant right to their wealth by mere virtue of being born into it?
  • Is the successful businessman the embodiment of the American Dream? Or is it the philanthrophist?
  • Is personal success the compass by which we should all be guiding ourselves towards?

These are all important questions that need to be asked. Ayn Randian principles have failed us. Lets rebuild.

Palin’s Spending Spree

October 24, 2008

$150,000 on clothes + $22,800 on 2 weeks of makeup = conservative spending.

Mind-Body Problem

October 24, 2008

A recent New Scientist article concerning a “growing ‘non-material neroscience’ movement” is mentioned on both Boing Boing and Mind Hacks today.

Boing Boing explains:

The New Scientist has the skinny on the latest salvo in the war on Darwin: a resurrection of Cartesian dualism, with the idea that the brain is a physical object, but the mind that inhabits it is made from some kind of ghostly jesusite-235 that conclusively proves the existence of the Invisible Sky Daddy in a white robe and beard.

From the original article:

Well, the movement certainly seems to hope that the study of consciousness will turn out to be “Darwinism’s grave”, as Denyse O’Leary, co-author with Beauregard of The Spiritual Brain, put it. According to proponents of ID, the “hard problem” of consciousness – how our subjective experiences arise from the objective world of neurons – is the Achilles heel not just of Darwinism but of scientific materialism. This fits with the Discovery Institute’s mission as outlined in its “wedge document”, which seeks “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies”, to replace the scientific world view with a Christian one.

Never mind the futility of their mission and the fact that most scientists disagree with them on the question of evolution — there are less dissenting scientists than there are supporting scientists named Steve when it comes to Darwin’s theory.

It does bring up another issue, which Mind Hacks has emphasized in their post:

The creationist-affiliated researchers suggest that the ‘mind-body problem‘ – the difficulty in explaining subjective mind states in terms of objective biological processes – means that the mind must be partly non-material and, therefore, have some spiritual aspect to it (i.e. the soul).

What’s interesting in this debate as many scientists respond by simply denying there is a problem and suggesting that this is just a issue of progress and eventually we will be able to explain every mind state in terms of brain function.

This is unlikely, however, owing to the fact that the mind and brain are described with different properties and so cannot be entirely equivalent. Therefore, one will never be completely reduced to the other.

I think the last point is the most important. Often, their are disagreements over issues which simply don’t translate. Take God, for example — the properties subscribed to Him/Her/It are usually the same: omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and… perfect. Well, lets try to think of something else that might share the same properties: how about the universe itself? I would argue that this is a universe of infinite possibilities — that’s what I call omnipotence. The universe encompasses everything and therefore exists everywhere at once — that’s omnipresence. All knowledge and awareness exists within this universe — that’s omniscience. And I would say that the perfection of the universe is self-evident — can you think of anything more perfect?

You see, they are really the same, but are referred to in different terms. God is merely an abstraction of the universe — a poetic metaphor. Similarly, the mind is an abstraction of the brain. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to talk about things in terms of synapses and neurons; sometimes thoughts and feelings are more applicable.

Science will never be able to deal adequetly with the mind, just as intuition and faith will never be able to deal adequetly with the brain.

The Fall of the Free Market

October 24, 2008

NY Times:

almost three years after stepping down as chairman of the Federal Reserve, a humbled Mr. Greenspan admitted that he had put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets and had failed to anticipate the self-destructive power of wanton mortgage lending.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief,” he told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves with it.

NObama Idiocy

October 24, 2008

This religious fanaticism is getting out of control.

But Superman is a Liberal

July 30, 2008

Since we’ve already established in the last post that Batman is a neo-con, what does that make Superman?

Why a liberal, of course. At least, according to this blog post:

Conversely, Superman sees himself primarily as an inspiration to humanity, even to those on the wrong side of the law. While he has put his fair share of bad guys behind bars, he would rather forgive than incarcerate. Though it can be debated whether or not it presented an accurate vision of Superman, the movie Superman IV shows the Man of Steel unilaterally disarming the nuclear capabilities of the Cold War superpowers. Superman is an advocate of multiculturalism, preserving the remnants of his Kryptonian heritage in the Fortress of Solitude, despite the fact that he has never technically set foot on Krypton. (The modern version of Superman was “born” in the United States, once his ship opened up on Earth.)

Don’t believe me, check out this picture, from an actual Superman comic (albeit, taking place in an alternate universe):

Batman is a Neo-Conservative

July 29, 2008

The Dark Knight

I just finished watching The Dark Knight, the new Batman film, and, like director Christopher Nolan‘s previous Batman film (Batman Begins), I couldn’t help but notice that it has strong undertones of neo-conservative and capitalist ideals. I don’t think I’m deconstructing the work too much — these themes seem to reveal themselves without digging too deep. In fact, much of Batman’s character as defined by the comics contain many of the same elements.

For example: Batman’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, is, like his father before him, the multi-billionaire owner of Wayne Industries, a large, multi-national corporation. He lives a lavish, playboy lifestyle. Although his father lived humbly as sort of a compassionate conservative and philanthropist (establishing foundations that help the less fortunate), Bruce doesn’t seem to exhibit any guilt over his enormous wealth. In fact, his focus is not on solving the root causes of the crime and poverty that run rampant in the city of Gotham (jobs, health care, education), but rather to rid the streets of the criminals themselves. Bruce’s father, Thomas, is regarded, in Bruce’s mind, as somewhat naive in his approach. Before getting murdered by a street thug, Thomas peacefully and sympathetically surrenders his possessions to the thief while attempting to calm him down. This leads to Bruce’s/Batman’s soon-to-be mentor to proclaim (in Batman Begins), “Your parents’ death was not your fault. It was your father’s.”

This event causes Bruce to reject his father’s peaceful and sympathetic attitude in favor of a fearless and forceful one. He places responsibility on each individual to obey the law and takes the responsibility himself to enforce it. He sees the corrupt beauracracy of the government as being unable to deal with the problem of crime, so Batman embraces moral relativism by living outside of the law himself to combat the greater evils that plague the world around him. He elects himself as the paternal authority in charge of distinguishing right from wrong.

In both films, Batman’s enemies are referred to as terrorists and must be stopped at any cost. One of them, the Scarecrow, is a psychologist that represents a broken mental health system that gets in the way of justice through rehabilitation rather than imprisonment.

Another one of these terrorists, the Joker, is represented as irrational and barbaric in his methods (he uses knives and home made explosives) and lives without values or rules (quote: “the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules!”) or even regard for his own life. This paralells the idea of the terrorist as being a character of pure evil that cannot be reasoned with and that will stop at nothing to destroy the values and ideals that we represent.

Because of this evil and sub-human nature, they cannot be dealt with using conventional methods. In The Dark Knight, Batman resorts to torture on numerous occasions as a method of interrogation to get the information he needs to thwart further attacks.

He also taps into hundreds of cellphones for surveillance purposes. Although he seems to regard this as a compromise of his values, Batman seems to view it as a necessary sacrifice.

In the end, Good conquers Evil (the sides are still clearly defined) and Batman disappears into the night, vesting power back into the hands of a government which is now able to deal with normal enemies using normal rules and tactics. Martial law is over and the benevolent dictator has restored order.

From The Dark Knight:

Gannon: I’m talking about the kind of city that idolizes a masked vigilante.

Harvey: Gotham City is proud of an ordinary citizen standing up for what’s right.

Gannon: Gotham needs heroes like you — elected officials — not a man who thinks he’s above the law.

Bruce (insincerely): Exactly. Who appointed Batman?

Harvey: We did. All of us who let scum take over the city.

Gannon: But this is a democracy, Harvey.

Harvey: When their enemies were at the gates, the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city. It wasn’t considered an honor; it was considered a public service.

Rachel: Harvey, the last man that they appointed to protect the republic was named Caesar and he never gave up his power.

Harvey: Okay, fine. You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were primarily based on the comic mini-series called Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, created by Frank Miller. In an interview about the War on Terror, Miller had this to say:

NPR: […] Frank, what’s the state of the union?

FM: Well, I don’t really find myself worrying about the state of the union as I do the state of the home-front. It seems to me quite obvious that our country and the entire Western World is up against an existential foe that knows exactly what it wants … and we’re behaving like a collapsing empire. Mighty cultures are almost never conquered, they crumble from within. And frankly, I think that a lot of Americans are acting like spoiled brats because of everything that isn’t working out perfectly every time.

NPR: Um, and when you say we don’t know what we want, what’s the cause of that do you think?

FM: Well, I think part of that is how we’re educated. We’re constantly told all cultures are equal, and every belief system is as good as the next. And generally that America was to be known for its flaws rather than its virtues. When you think about what Americans accomplished, building these amazing cities, and all the good its done in the world, it’s kind of disheartening to hear so much hatred of America, not just from abroad, but internally.

NPR: A lot of people would say what America has done abroad has led to the doubts and even the hatred of its own citizens.

FM: Well, okay, then let’s finally talk about the enemy. For some reason, nobody seems to be talking about who we’re up against, and the sixth century barbarism that they actually represent. These people saw people’s heads off. They enslave women, they genitally mutilate their daughters, they do not behave by any cultural norms that are sensible to us. I’m speaking into a microphone that never could have been a product of their culture, and I’m living in a city where three thousand of my neighbors were killed by thieves of airplanes they never could have built.

NPR: As you look at people around you, though, why do you think they’re so, as you would put it, self-absorbed, even whiny?

FM: Well, I’d say it’s for the same reason the Athenians and Romans were. We’ve got it a little good right now. Where I would fault President Bush the most, was that in the wake of 9/11, he motivated our military, but he didn’t call the nation into a state of war. He didn’t explain that this would take a communal effort against a common foe. So we’ve been kind of fighting a war on the side, and sitting off like a bunch of Romans complaining about it. Also, I think that George Bush has an uncanny knack of being someone people hate. I thought Clinton inspired more hatred than any President I had ever seen, but I’ve never seen anything like Bush-hatred. It’s completely mad.

NPR: And as you talk to people in the streets, the people you meet at work, socially, how do you explain this to them?

FM: Mainly in historical terms, mainly saying that the country that fought Okinawa and Iwo Jima is now spilling precious blood, but so little by comparison, it’s almost ridiculous. And the stakes are as high as they were then. Mostly I hear people say, ‘Why did we attack Iraq?’ for instance. Well, we’re taking on an idea. Nobody questions why after Pearl Harbor we attacked Nazi Germany. It was because we were taking on a form of global fascism, we’re doing the same thing now.

NPR: Well, they did declare war on us, but…

FM: Well, so did Iraq.

Go figure.