RSSCategory: Orwellian

Mind your expressions of dissent

October 8, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Mind your expressions of dissent

Popular social news site Reddit provides a dramatic example of how innocent and ordinary conversations are enough to trigger terrorism investigations in our modern America.

Reddit allows anyone with a free account to post items of interest, and the discussion generated by postings provides much of the site’s appeal. About three months ago, a user named JayClay posted the following query in regards to the TSA’s security screening procedures at airports:

“So if my deodorant could be a bomb, why are you just chucking it in the bin?

And if it’s just harmless deodorant, why are you taking it from me?!

But no. I did not say this aloud. Like everyone else, I didnt want to say or do anything that would jeopardize making my flight. So I just turned around and walked towards the room after security.

Where they just happened to sell deodorant.

The thread on Reddit has generated 1,563 comments as of now, mostly critical of the security theater that is the TSA.

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Anti-communist propaganda alive and well

September 14, 2010 | By | 6 Replies More
Anti-communist propaganda alive and well

For some reason, our government and its propaganda arm, the mainstream media, refuses to give up beating the dead horse that is Cuba. We’ve had it in for them ever since they went Commie, and we’re not about to quit now! I just noticed this article from Newsweek entitled “Castro tells the truth about Cuba” which gives us the current bad news:

He has outlasted eight U.S. presidents, survived countless CIA efforts to do him in, and his communist regime has remained in power for a generation after the collapse of his Soviet sponsors. So what does the leader of the 1959 Cuban revolution think now of the system he created? Last week The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reported Fidel Castro’s startlingly honest assessment: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

Some observers suggest that the 84-year-old Castro’s unexpected honesty may be a belated attempt to throw himself on history’s mercy. After all, they say, Cuba is in tatters. According to Andy Gomez, assistant provost at the University of Miami, tourism on the island has declined 35 percent this year, and remittances are expected to drop to $250 million—far below the peak of $800 million earlier this decade. Cuba’s own National Statistics Office has reported that economic indicators, such as construction and agriculture, were down significantly in the first half of the year. And last month, President Raúl Castro began a process of dismissing or transferring some 20 percent of state employees—a major move, given that the government employs more than 90 percent of the country’s labor force. Says Gomez, “The Cuban economy is the worst it’s ever been.”

How dare Castro “survive countless CIA efforts to do him in”, who does he think he is?? Anyway, some of these numbers are meaningless without comparison, so let’s look at the good-old U.S. of A.

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A question for President Obama

September 9, 2010 | By | 28 Replies More
A question for President Obama

I wonder, which is a better recruitment tool for potential terrorists: the burning of a Koran or the following news items from the past month or so:

“Spin” defined

August 2, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
“Spin” defined

World English Dictionary defines “spin” thusly:

13.informal to present news or information in a way that creates a favourable impression

President Obama is kind enough to provide us with an example:

President Obama on Monday announced plans to withdraw combat forces in Iraq, providing assurances that an Aug. 31 deadline will be met as the U.S. moves toward a supporting role in the still-fractured and dangerous nation.

U.S. forces in Iraq will number 50,000 by the end of the month — a reduction of 94,000 troops since he took office 18 months ago, the president said in remarks to the Disabled American Veterans. The remaining troops will form a transitional force until a final withdrawal from the country is completed by the end of 2011, he said.

… “Make no mistake, our commitment in Iraq is changing — from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats.”

Only in the world of “spin” (or Orwell) would 50,000 troops be considered a “civilian effort led by our diplomats”.

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Founder of Wikileaks explains why he published secret U.S. documents regarding Afghanisgtan

July 26, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More
Founder of Wikileaks explains why he published secret U.S. documents regarding Afghanisgtan

At Common Dreams, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange explains why he published the confidential U.S. military documents regarding Afghanistan:

These files are the most comprehensive description of a war to be published during the course of a war — in other words, at a time when they still have a chance of doing some good. They cover more than 90,000 different incidents, together with precise geographical locations. They cover the small and the large. A single body of information, they eclipse all that has been previously said about Afghanistan. They will change our perspective on not only the war in Afghanistan, but on all modern wars . . . This material shines light on the everyday brutality and squalor of war. The archive will change public opinion and it will change the opinion of people in positions of political and diplomatic influence. . .

We all only live once. So we are obligated to make good use of the time that we have, and to do something that is meaningful and satisfying. This is something that I find meaningful and satisfying. That is my temperament. I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards. So it is enjoyable work.

Here is the location of the Wikileaks Afghanistan documents. Glenn Greenwald applauds the leak, and condemns the U.S. governments failure to be forthright about the waste of lives and money regarding the U.S. adventure in Afghanistan:

WikiLeaks has yet again proven itself to be one of the most valuable and important organizations in the world. Just as was true for the video of the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, there is no valid justification for having kept most of these documents a secret. But that’s what our National Security State does reflexively: it hides itself behind an essentially absolute wall of secrecy to ensure that the citizenry remains largely ignorant of what it is really doing. WikiLeaks is one of the few entities successfully blowing holes in at least parts of that wall . . .

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Book Review: Nothing to Envy

July 13, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
Book Review: Nothing to Envy

Summary: A chilling portrait of everyday life in the world’s most fanatically totalitarian state.

When the Cold War ended, communism came tumbling down worldwide. The Soviet Union disintegrated, the Warsaw Pact nations joined the West, and though China’s authoritarian government still stands, its economy has become capitalist in all but name. But one true communist state still exists, defiant in its isolation, sealed off from the outside world by almost impenetrable barriers. That state is North Korea, the topic of Barbara Demick’s superb book Nothing to Envy. By interviewing some of the few who’ve successfully escaped, Demick weaves a frighteningly compelling narrative of what everyday life is like in the world’s most brutal and reclusive dictatorship.

Isolated from the outside world, North Korea has developed into a cult of personality rivaling anything found in the most fanatical religion. Its first president, Kim Il-sung, and his son and successor Kim Jong-il aren’t just the absolute rulers of the country, they’re hailed as divine saviors, literally able to perform miracles:

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When does Afghanistan officially qualify as a “quagmire”?

July 2, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
When does Afghanistan officially qualify as a “quagmire”?

We’ve now been in Afghanistan longer than we were in Vietnam, with a similar amount of progress. American casualties are again on the rise, along with the power of the Taliban. The new general in charge, General Petraeus, assures us that he will continue to try to minimize civilian casualties, so long as that doesn’t interfere too much with his plans to bomb the hell out of the country. Our rules to protect civilians were a bit too “bureaucratic” for his liking–not that they actually worked, in any case. The now-infamous Rolling Stone profile of General McChrystal has this to say:

In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent[!] from the same period in 2009 – a record that has created tremendous resentment among the very population that COIN theory is intent on winning over. In February, a Special Forces night raid ended in the deaths of two pregnant Afghan women and allegations of a cover-up, and in April, protests erupted in Kandahar after U.S. forces accidentally shot up a bus, killing five Afghans. “We’ve shot an amazing number of people,” McChrystal recently conceded.

The Rolling Stone piece mysteriously left out the next part of McChrystal’s statement. Here’s the full quotation (emphasis mine):

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.

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Got 3 Parking Tickets, None Valid

June 8, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Got 3 Parking Tickets, None Valid

On the heels of Tim’s Messing with the stoplight thieves, we just received 3 completely contestable parking tickets in one swell foop. Parking officers are local Treasury Agents, not police. Our story is as follows:

Wife finally picks up the car that I just received from my parent’s estate. I got the title last week, and insured it yesterday so we could drive it home, get it inspected and licensed. The executor had let the plates expire, and neither he nor we thought to remove them. So she drove it homewards, stopping at a friend’s house for a visit. She’d parallel parked in the rain between two other cars on the quiet residential block. When she came out, there were 3 tickets. One for expired plates. One for expired inspection. And a third for parking in a handicapped zone.

Handicapped zone? Then she saw the tiny little blue signs on posts around the car behind her. The trunk of our car apparently occupied the front 2 of the 22 feet they reserve for those private parking zones. The car behind ours, the one actually in the handicapped spot, had plenty of room both in front and in back. She hadn’t seen the sign in her blind spot as she parked, but I guess ignorance is no excuse.

I do wonder whether the person who got the city to carve out a private parking spot on the public street still needed it. When my brother broke his leg, he applied for a handicapped hanger. By the time it arrived, his cast was off. But at least the hangers have expiration dates requiring renewal and proof of need. The private parking spot has no expiration. Gaah!The need might well have expired ten years ago. We don’t know. But such is the law .

The other two tickets, basically both for not having current inspection or plates, can be fought on the grounds that we hadn’t had time to get them. There is a grace period when one buys a car.

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Is Science Different?

June 7, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Is Science Different?

I read another article about why not to have public debates on socially contended scientific issues. This time, it was about Global Warming: Climate Science on Trial.

It brings up an issue that gets little press. There is a qualitative difference between science (as a type of investigation) and other philosophical filters such as law, religion, and so forth. Science was developed because we cannot trust our senses, our feelings, or our memories outside of now-known ranges of perception. That is, too big, too small, too fast, too slow, or too complex.Even within normal ranges, much of what we think we perceive is colored by habit and expectations.

The democratic ideal is that everyone is equal. But methods of understanding are not equal. Without the methods of science, we still would be living on a flat, stationary, unchanging world under a moving canopy of the heavens just beyond our reach, where the smallest thing is a mustard seed, and the widest realm is a few weeks walk. Where the universe was created during the era of early Sumerian urbanization, and will end some lesser time in the future. The Bible says so. The best minds in the world agreed, until Galileo and his ilk

The problem of public debate is that it takes some training to understand why science is the best filter for making judgments on big issues. It doesn’t care about the personalities, preferences, and prejudices of scientists. The method weeds out false answers, however many people believe them or how authoritatively they are stated. If a scientist turns out to be wrong, because he (as a human) has the limitations listed above, those who disagree with his position herald his failure as proof that the method is flawed. Those who agreed with him claim conspiracy among those who proved him wrong. Pick a position; everyone is equal.

It is easy to make a convincing argument that persuades the majority who don’t actually have the grounding to really understand the issue. It is harder to make people understand that what so obviously feels right is actually wrong, and to understand the proof and its validity. It feels right to say that Man is unique and superior and is the purpose of the universe. But examination by the scientific method that shows that there really are few things that distinguish our kind in any way, and that we are a tiny part of the ecosystem, much less the universe. We have risen (thanks to technology and industrialism) to a level of might wherein we have the ability to make the planet uninhabitable for ourselves. But we don’t have the ability to deflect or escape the next extinction event, whether a nearby quasar, nova, asteroid collision, or massive ice age of yet-undetermined cause.

The current hot issue is whether we need to act fast to reverse the current unprecedented rise in global temperatures. It is easier to ignore the issue. Much like the proverbial frog in a pot who entered comfortable water, and doesn’t notice it slowly warming till he dies of the heat. We’re in the pot, and the temperature is rising. But denialists (supported by the fossil fuel trade) use tried and true methods of persuasion to keep the public from acting on it.

All the climate scientists agree: It is happening, it is partially (if not entirely) our doing, and we can do something about it. By now, the warming cannot be completely stopped or reversed. But slowing it down may be the difference between the collapse of our civilization, and a unifying cause to move world civilization forward.

But most people still don’t see that science, as a practice, is actually a distinct and more reliable way of figuring out what is going on. Public debate primarily publicizes the anti-science position. How can this be fixed?

I suggest that, in this age of ubiquitous information, that primary and secondary education lean less on packing facts into kids, and spend more time teaching how to deal with information: How we know what we know, how to judge fact from fallacy, information from disinformation, and knowledge from counterknowledge.

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