RSSCategory: American Culture

United States attacks Canada to seize tar sands region

May 8, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

Let’s see. What oil rich region should the United States next invade? Hmmm. Politicians and oil companies are increasingly telling us that our future oil lies in the tar sands of Canada.   Only one thing lies between the United States and that oil: Canada might not simply give us their tar sands.  Problems like these, however, are ready-made for the United States military solutions. Hence, today I imagined that we might soon see the following news story.

I don’t really believe that the United States has any plans to invade Canada, but I am trying to make a few serious points with this image.

We all know how to pull this sort of land grab, because Americans are well-practiced in simply taking land from other people (ask Mexico and native Americans, and check out the size of the American Embassy in Iraq).  We are experts at inventing the need to go to war.  Here’s a simplified version of the plan:  We claim that there are weapons of mass destruction in Canada.  We claim that there are French terrorists threatening America; we are good at inventing stories that serve as excuses to go to war.  Our mass-media goes along with the ploy because they are amoral conflict-mongers.  Eventually, the United States simply takes over the tar sands region of Canada.   Or at least that’s how it goes in my imagination.

It’s increasingly clear we have entered peak world-wide oil production, but American politicians don’t not dare to urge American citizens to cut down on their use of energy. Conservation is widely seen as un-American because it is usually framed as an approach that deprives Americans of their life-style, even though conservation and renewable energy makes far too much sense on many levels. And all of this crazy framing of the debate takes place while reputable scientists are offering solid evidence that with current technology and reasonable conservation measures we could now begin replace much of American fossil fuel usage with renewables.

If I had to place a bet, though, I would put my chips on a future where Americans continue, as long as they are financially and militarily able, to engage in profligate oil usage (we use more than 9,000 gallons per second, enough to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool every minute of every day).  They will do this despite the fact that tar sands oil is an environmental disaster in the making .

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On bad guys

May 6, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
On bad guys

From Christopher Hayes discusses the use of the phrase “bad guys” at The Nation:

The phrase is self-consciously playful but also insidious. An adult who invokes it is expressing a layered set of propositions. What “bad guys” says, roughly, is this: “I’m an adult who has considered the nature of the moral universe we live in and concluded that it really is black and white. I’ve decided that my earliest, most childlike conception of heroes and villains is indeed the accurate one, which only later came to be occluded by nuance and wishy-washy, bleeding-heart self-doubt. I reject that more complicated, mature conception as false. I embrace the child’s vision of the world.”

“Bad guys” was a phrase that channeled our rawest emotions in the wake of 9/11, emotions that we collectively mythologize.

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Pro gore, anti-sex

May 5, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More
Pro gore, anti-sex

I spotted this quote on Reddit today:

“Why is a nation that was freaked about Janet jacksons nip-slip, clamoring for a picture of a blown-up Bin Laden.”

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The lesson we learn from Birtherism

April 29, 2011 | By | 12 Replies More
The lesson we learn from Birtherism

This insightful passage was published by Think Progress:

HOW DID WE GET HERE: If the endurance of the birther myth teaches us anything, it’s the power of repetition. Any claim, no matter how outrageous, can take hold over time if it gets enough media exposure. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that nearly 25 percent of Americans, and 45 percent of Republicans, believed Mr. Obama was born in another country. The shocking fact that a quarter of all Americans now believe the lie — and an additional 18 percent say they don’t know where he was born — illustrates just how successful birther conspiracists have been at sowing doubt and attracting attention from mainstream news outlets.

Epilogue: This episode on Birtherism also demonstrates the power of a vigorous and self-critical media to advance the public good. I will adhere to one of my personal articles of faith: That most people will think in admirable ways and act decently if given accurate information and if treated with at least a modicum of respect by their leaders.

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A global empathy

April 27, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More
A global empathy

If you’ve lived in or spent any significant time in another country, you might have had to answer questions about why your country was doing certain things on the world stage. And if you took time to think of who was asking and how things appeared from their perspectives, your answer might be different than if you spent your life wearing parochial blinders.

I was in Korea when we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. I couldn’t answer the questions like, “Why is the U.S. doing that?” or the more common one, “Why are Bush and Cheney doing that?” And these from a country that enjoys (not universally) a U.S. presence and strong relationship with the U.S. I couldn’t answer not just because I was in the military for part of the time I was there, but also that I tried to understand how things looked from outside the U.S. I was, after all, a guest in their country.

Sam Richards, in this TED Talk titled “A Radical Experiment in Empathy” illustrates a message that I think that every single American needs to hear, whether xenophobic or not. I’ve lived all over the U.S. and I am continually saddened, if no longer surprised at how Americans view the world. “Speak English!” “But you’re in our country.” “Speak English anyway.” I am also saddened that I know many people that will not understand this video, which is all the more disappointing because despite my other challenges regarding the nature of humans though their arts, I do.

The message is simple: Step out of your tiny world and understand the larger world differently.

It should open some eyes. I really hope it does.

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The Free Market Problem

April 27, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
The Free Market Problem

Paul Ryan and his supporters are trying to sell their spending cut and lower tax program and they’re getting booed at town hall meetings.  They’re finally cutting into people’s pockets who can’t defend themselves.  They thought they were doing what their constituency wanted and must be baffled at this negative response.

Okay, this might get a bit complicated, but not really.  It just requires a shift in perspective away from the definition of capitalism we’ve been being sold since Reagan to something that is more descriptive of what actually happens.  Theory is all well and good and can be very useful in specific instances, but a one-size-fits-all approach to something as basic as resources is destined to fail.

Oh, I’m sorry, let me back up a sec there—fail if your stated goal is to float all boats, to raise the general standard of living, to provide jobs and resources sufficient to sustain a viable community at a decent level.  If, on the other hand, your goal is to feed a machine that generates larger and larger bank accounts for fewer and fewer people at the expense of communities, then by all means keep doing what we’ve been doing.

Here’s the basic problem.  People think that the free market and capitalism are one and the same thing.  They are not.  THEY ARE CLOSELY RELATED and both thrive in the presence of the other, but they are not the same thing.

But before all that we have to understand one thing—there is no such thing as a Free Market.  None.  Someone always dominates it, controls it, and usually to the detriment of someone else.

How is it a free market when one of the most salient features of it is the ability of a small group to determine who will be allowed to participate and at what level?  I’m not talking about the government here, I’m talking about big business, which as standard practice does all it can to eliminate competitors through any means it can get away with and that includes market manipulations that can devalue smaller companies and make them ripe for take-over or force them into bankruptcy.

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What I Have To Say About Ayn Rand

April 25, 2011 | By | 30 Replies More
What I Have To Say About Ayn Rand

From time to time, here and there, someone brings Ayn Rand up as some kind of role model. Lately it’s even in the national news, thanks to the Tea Party and an apparently not very good film of Rand’s seminal masterwork, Atlas Shrugged. The uber conservatives now crowding reason out of the halls of congress with their bizarro legislation and their lectures from the floor and on committees about how their toilets don’t flush right so why should regulations on light bulbs be passed are the children of the Dragon’s Teeth cast randomly by Ms. Rand and her philosophical cult followers. It amazes how people who profess to believe in a philosophy of independent thought can sublimate themselves so thoroughly to the dogmas of that philosophy and claim with a straight face that they are free thinkers on any level. The phrase “more Catholic than the pope” comes to mind sometimes when crossing verbal swords with these folks, who seem perfectly blind to the contradictions inherent in their own efforts. Rand laid out a My Way or the Highway ethic that demanded of her followers that they be true to themselves—as long as they did as she directed.

Ayn Rand’s novels, of which there were three (plus a novella/parable I don’t intend to discuss here), moved by giant leaps from promising to fanciful to pathetic. There are some paragraphs in any one of them that are just fine. Occasionally a secondary character is nicely drawn (Eddie Willers is possibly her most sympathetic and true-to-life creation) and from time to time there is even a moment of genuine drama. But such bits are embedded in tar pits of philosophically over-determined panegyric that drowns any art there might be.

But then, her devoted fans never read them for the art.

What Rand delivers in both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged is a balm to the misunderstood and underappreciated Great Man buried in the shambling, inarticulate assemblage that is disaffected high I.Q. youth.

The give-aways in both novels involve laughter. The opening scene in The Fountainhead characterizes Howard Roark for the entire novel, prefiguring the final scene in the novel, which translated to film perfectly in the weird 1947 Gary Cooper thing.

Howard Roark laughed.

He stood naked at the edge of a cliff….He laughed at the thing which had happened to him that morning and at the things which now lay ahead.

Of course, the thing that had happened to him that morning was his expulsion from university for not completing his assignments. You can pretty it up with philosophical dross, but basically he didn’t do what he was required to do, instead opting for self-expression in the face of everything else. Hence the misunderstood genius aspect, the wholly-formed sense of mission, the conviction of personal rightness, and the adolescent disdain for authority no matter what.

But his reaction? To laugh.

[More . . . ]

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I don’t care about the royal wedding

April 24, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More
I don’t care about the royal wedding

I don’t care about the royal wedding. Until today, I didn’t even know the names of the people getting married. But I was curious as to how many of Americans cared about the wedding. Now I know, thanks to the NYT:

Results from a new New York Times/CBS News poll showed that six percent of respondents are following news of the wedding “very closely,” with an additional 22 percent admitting to following the media blitz “somewhat closely.”

I still have no idea about why these people care.

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Fallible stories

April 22, 2011 | By | Reply More
Fallible stories

At Vital Concerns for the World, Anthropology Professor Robert Canfield points to the recent disclosures about Greg Mortensen’s best seller, Three Cups of Tea, as further evidence that we need to be wary about the claims on which we base our social policy:

Once more we have learned that the stories we like to believe are not exactly true. Again it turns out that the stories we embrace have been shaped by the interests and agendas of fallible human beings like ourselves. Much of what we “know” about our world comes to us already misshapen by the interests of those who pass it on to us.

The recent revelations about Mortensen remind us that we are easily suckered by claims that support our existing beliefs and desires. Cognitive scientists have long shown that human beings are constant prey to the confirmation bias. Vigilance about claims, then, especially fantastic claims, should

[caption id="attachment_17551" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Image by Erich Vieth"][/caption]

never go on vacation. Canfield’s quote also reminds me of Carl Sagan’s caveat: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” We need to be especially wary about tall claims from the far corners of the world where evidence gathering is sparse to non-existence.

Three Cups of Tea, like all too many stories these days, is a story about how to spin and embellish a story.

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