Category Archives: SOCIAL and NEWS

Brust on Capital.

First, a little story:

I’ve been a huge fan of SF author Steven Brust since circa 1988 when Taltos came out. (I didn’t know at the time that was not the first in the “Vlad Taltos” series, but it worked out OK.) After becoming a fan, I discovered Brust was a self-described Trotskyist. Being in my teens, early to mid-20s, I really didn’t have any idea what that was but I knew it was somehow connected to GASP! evil Communism! One part of my brain processed this information something like, “Huh, his writing is kick-ass, he seems really cool…perhaps whatever Trotskyism is it’s either a) inconsequential to who he is, or b) it’s not some all-encompassing evilness as my culture leads me to believe.” The other half of my mind processed more like, “LA LA LA LA I’M NOT LISTENING! I SEE NOTHINK! I HEAR NOTHINK! MOVE ALONG, CITIZEN!”

So the cognitive dissonance was dealt with by ardently ignoring it.

Until around 2007 when I started grad school and my first instructor was Dr. William Burling: the most influential professor, and one of the most influential persons, I’d ever met. I had the privilege of being a student of his for three (almost four) fantastic classes. What his greatest influence on me was to introduce me to the idea of questioning culture, society, government, art, everything. Everything is, to a greater or lesser degree, either a product of or a reflector of the socio-economic base of a culture and nearly everything in the culture is in service to those who control the wealth in society. In short, Dr. Burling was a Marxist, and by the fortune of serendipity, happened to come into my life just as I was questioning political structures.

At that time I was moving from Democrat to vague libertarian. It took nearly a year of questioning and study and investigation and debate, but eventually I too became a self-described Marxist. Although I’ve barely scratched the surface still of Marxist theory.

So, at one point as Dr. Burling and I were discussing Marxist theory and SF and fantasy literature, I realized something from the long forgotten recesses of my mind… (See, I kinda stopped reading Mr. Brust’s books by this point–not because I stopped liking them, but I’d pretty much stopped reading for pleasure altogether! I am glad to say I’ve since picked pleasure reading back up and have caught back up with all of Mr. Brust’s “Taltos” books at least.) I recalled that tidbit of info about my favorite fantasy author being a Trotskyist. I asked Dr. Burling, who had introduced me to Stanley Kim Robinson, and China Miéville, and Philip K. Dick, and a Marxist outlook of William Gibson (who, now, I have no idea how you couldn’t read Gibson with a Marxist outlook! My god, the man is postmodern materialist cultural criticism up and down!) if he had read any Steven Brust. He replied, somewhat dismissively that he didn’t have time for any pleasure reading. Then I mentioned Mr. Brust was a Trotskyist and, if I recalled, wrote in a couple of his novels about a peasant uprising in his fantasy world.

Dr. Burling grabbed a pen and asked me what that name was again.

Sadly, Dr. Burling passed away a couple of years later. I never did find out if he started looking into Brust’s writing. Probably not; he was pretty busy, in addition to teaching, editing a book of essays on Kim Stanley Robinson and working with  Miéville on a book of criticism about Marxist SF. *sigh* I still feel acute sense of honor of having been able to know the man and learn from him. He changed my entire way of looking at life and I could have missed it if I’d been a couple of years too late.

Anyway, so now that I’m deep in trying to learn and understand Marxist theory, both as it applies to literature and culture, guess what my favorite Trotskyist fantasy author has started doing? He’s reading and commenting on Karl Marx’s seminal work on socio-economics, Das Kapital.* (Volume 1, I believe, which is the one Marx had worked mostly on before he died, while Engels wrote the other volumes.)

What’s really cool is that just before this he had read through and commented on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (arguably the father of and the manual of modern capitalism). This kicked-ass because not only did I learn something from it (unfortunately I came in rather late), it just goes to show that Brust is interested in exploring all the angles of modern socio-economics and doesn’t just surround himself with material that fits his perceptions or ideologies. That’s certainly a quality to admire and emulate.

marx-victoryI’m looking forward to reading what he has to say about the tome. And I’m very glad that one side of my brain stopped being a pest and started paying attention. Marxism is not evil, Trotskyism is not evil, communism is not evil. These are just ideas, concepts, ways of investigating and ideas are never evil. They may not be good or practical ideas, but one should never dismiss a way of thinking, a way of investigating, because authority has proclaimed it verboten, taboo, out of bounds. Question everything, especially authority. There’s a reason why they are in power, and a means by which they stay in power.

* I think he’s moving his blog over to a new location. I’ll try to update this link if I can when it happens.

The Corporate States of America.

corporate states of americaI have in the past, for several years now, used the terms “corporatocracy” and “oligarchy” in describing the form of government we have here in the United States of America. I’ve used these terms because ever since the Founding Fathers made it so that the New World aristocracy–the white, land owning men–controlled government, we’ve had an oligarchy in effect. And since robber barons in the late 19th, early 20th centuries bought legislation to favor their companies and limit competition, we’ve had a growing corporatocracy.

Well, sadly, I no longer have the joy of saying that with a hint of hyperbole. With the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, wherein the majority judges eliminated regulations that have been put in place preventing corporations (and unions, sure) from buying off elections, we now truly have a corporatocracy. From this moment on, multinational corporations which may have their money in the Camen Islands or Dubai, and major labor forces in China and Mexico, can spend as much money as they want to support the legislators they want and the laws they want.

Supporters of this move say it’s a free speech issue (which, after all, that’s how SCOTUS couched it). So, what this means then, is that money, wealth, now equals free speech. So, let me ask you now that wealth is the same as free speech: do you feel that your amount of speech (real or potential) is as free and equal as that of Haliburton’s? Or KBR’s? Or Phizer?

The best way to put the implications of all this is to let Keith Olbermann spell it out. And don’t worry, this isn’t just a bleeding-heart liberal warning, he points out exactly how this cuts the throats of conservatives and right-wingers alike:

(If you can’t see the embedded video, go here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/34985508#34985508 )

This truly is the beginning of the nightmare scifi scenarios of corporate-owned-reality of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. There’s a reason Thomas Jefferson said the following:

“I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

He saw even then that the interests of the nascent capitalist, for-profit corporation, lay not in democracy and liberty, but in market dominance and crushing the interests of free markets and free speech and individual choice. Corporations don’t want competition and free markets, they want the advantage against anyone and anything that will stop their drive for profit.

Sure, some corporations are non-profits, or little guys, or special interest groups. But let me ask you this as well: do you think any non-profit or special interest or local home-grown corp will have a sliver’s of a chance buying laws and legislators against multinational, billions of dollars a year in profit, mega corps? Our government in just a few election cycles, will effectively be run by the richest, dynastic multinational corporations which will seek to destroy anything resembling dissent.

After all, they’re already trying tooth and nail to control government in their favor–think now that they can bring the full power of capital gains to bear they’ll stop? Take for example AT&T’s democracy-riddled and free market tactics (sarcasm) of buying charities to support elimination of ‘net neutrality, and a glance at this list of legal cases the Electronic Frontier Foundation is involved in shows a long list of corporations fighting not for truth, justice, and the American way, but to crush competition, stifle free speech of we the people, and twist government regulations to serve their private interests.

This new development simply paves the way for them to just buy all the legislators they want.

Larry Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has this brief message regarding the implications of this court decision and what can, maybe, be done to fight it:

Lessig on Citizens United: Sign Up to Learn More

Another site attempting to fix this very broken situation, is:

Move to Amend: A Project of the Campaign to Legalize Democracy

We think it can’t end, this great American experiment. I’m sure that’s what the citizens of all the great, fallen empires have thought. We, you and I, have grown up in this “land of the free and home of the brave,” and we can’t possibly imagine it coming to an end. But it can. One day, most certainly, it will. What we’re witnessing this last week is possibly the beginning of the end: the end of (pseudo) democracy and the rise of corporate ownership of life.

When you think about it, it’s been heading that way since J. P. Morgan first bought legislation to favor the United States Steel Corporation. Corporations have been controlling which presidents get to the primaries and the debates. They’ve been buying legislators with lobbying money (a fraction of the money they can now spend on campaigns). Really, when you get right to it, being a true corporatocracy overtly and in the open is really a more honest, forthright way of being what we already are at the very base. All we need now is a new branding to Corporate States of America and a new, fresh logo!

Addendum: A BoingBoing commenter has a great reply to people who still hold that this decision is somehow a win for free speech:

Shareholders are the owners of corporations, and shareholders each have a single vote as citizens (those that are citizens.)

The sum representation of a corporation in America is equal to the portion of its capital that is owned by americans. That is honestly a very fair system already.

What corporations wanted in this ruling is not fair representation, but rather an advantage, which is what businesses crave. Advantage over competition.

In this case, the competition is popular opinion. Corporations want to compete against governance in a 1-person, 1-vote system and are essentially attempting to make their shareholders have more clout than people who do not hold shares.

To not recognize that this philosophy is at odds with egalitarian democracy is a serious crime against your own best interests. You may attempt to see how you yourself could benefit from this if you are a businessperson, but remember that there will always be another, larger company who does not have your best interests in mind and who will gain even more from this than you do. They will not take mercy upon you the way a functional democratic government can be made to.

Beyond Democracy. Thoughts on anarchy.

never

The Tyranny of the Majority:
If you ever found yourself in a vastly outnumbered minority, and the majority voted that you had to give up something as necessary to your life as water and air, would you comply? When it comes down to it, does anyone really believe it makes sense to accept the authority of a group simply on the grounds that they outnumber everyone else? We accept majority rule because we do not believe it will threaten us – and those it does threaten are already silenced before anyone can hear their misgivings.

[…]

Three wolves and six goats are discussing what to have for dinner. One courageous goat makes an impassioned case: “We should put it to a vote!” The other goats fear for his life, but surprisingly, the wolves acquiesce. But when everyone is preparing to vote, the wolves take three of the goats aside.
“Vote with us to make the other three goats dinner,” they threaten. “Otherwise, vote or no vote, we’ll eat you.”
The other three goats are shocked by the outcome of the election: a majority, including their comrades, has voted for them to be killed and eaten. They protest in outrage and terror, but the goat who first suggested the vote rebukes them: “Be thankful you live in a democracy! At least we got to have a say in this!”

–From THE PARTY’S OVER: BEYOND POLITICS, BEYOND DEMOCRACY
http://thecloud.crimethinc.com/pdfs/democracy_reading.pdf

So, I’ve discovered this Web site: CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective (http://www.crimethinc.com). They have some blog posts on the G-20 protests…and most interestingly, a non-protest that was treated as a violent protest by the police and resulted in more than a hundred arrests (including a great many who weren’t doing any protesting) and many injured. (State Repression at the G20 Protests) From this I started looking over the site. It’s an anarchists’ site, filled with info and publications geared toward helping people find the anarchist within and fight the system.

This is what’s struck me as interesting: Their reason for existing, their criticism of the system, their complaints of capitalism and democracy, I completely agree with–and I’ll explain why in a moment. But their explanation of their remedy, their idea of anarchy, I’m having trouble with. (Note, that anarchy does not mean violence or chaos in the sense of abuse of others, harming people. It simply means no government, no rule of imposed law, no masters.)

Ironically, these anarchists have, from what I can see, I great disdain for socialism, communism, any -ism apparently derived from Marxism. I say “ironic” because their entire criticism of the current state of capitalism and authoritarian democracy comes straight from Marxist criticism, 101. Take for example this page from the book Days of War, Night of Love:

daysgallery3(page image link: “How Does Capitalism Work“)

This is capitalist criticism straight from Marx’s Kapital (not verbatim, of course). Everything this anarchist site decries about the current state of capitalist economy, culture, and the police state used to protect the hegemony and the owners of capital, is Marxism stripped of the Marxist lingo (like “hegemony”). There’s nothing about their critique of capitalism I don’t agree with (my being a Marxist). However, and this is where things get uncomfortable, their ideas of overcoming the system I don’t know if I can support. Well, let me clarify…

At the core, I consider myself an anarcho-socialist. I too believe that the best path for humanity, for human advancement, equality, justice, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the complete lack of government and forced adherence to someone else’s majority rule. However, I also believe that married to that must be a social contract of mutual cooperation, shared resources, publicly owned and operated resources, manufacture, distribution…capital. This is different from anarcho-libertarianism, or Objectivism (vis-à-vis Ayn Rand) which believes that in addition to lack of any forced rules or regulations, private ownership is valued above all. That humans are selfish and greedy by nature, and that we should live to acquire as much for ourselves as we can and help others only so much as we can gain from it ourselves. Pretty much ethically and morally bankrupt, in my opinion.

As I read through the CrimethInc site, most of what they believe (and what they purport anarchists believe) matches up with my anarcho-socialism. They support cooperation, mutually beneficial action, gift economy. Hey, great! But they also support a sort of worship of anti-social behavior, crime, vandalism, activities that make me cringe (e.g.: shoplifting). Although, all the anti-social behavior they support, is all geared toward the state, corporate America, the power structure, and not against other individuals and their personal rights. OK…that sounds good… I guess.

So, I’m left to question: Is my cringing because I’ve lived my entire life controlled by the hegemony, brainwashed into subservience to conformity with passivity, being a good little worker bee who keeps his head down and continues to make profit for his capitalist lords without making any trouble for them? Well, yes I have. We all have. That’s the entire goal of hegemony, be it capitalist or feudal or slave economy. Those in control use whatever sociological means available to control the other 99% of the people for their own benefit. This requires blind obedience to their laws. It requires complete acquiescence to state-supporting meek mildness.

When I remember these things, which I’ve been studying and contemplating for some years now, it reinforces my belief in the anarcho-half of my anarcho-socialism. So, why does the action of subversiveness bug me?

Since President Dubbya started taking away civil liberties after 9/11, I started studying libertarianism and even anarchy–but always from a level of personal rights and liberties. It wasn’t until I started grad school and my first professor, Dr. Burling, introduced me to Marxism that I learned that Bush, civil liberty removal, the corporate ownership of the government, wars, all of it, are a result of the economic foundation: capitalism. It is essentially the base on which everything is a superstructure built extending from it. Everything is about the material question: Who uses it and what is it for? With that in mind it’s easy (easier) to understand power, wealth, who benefits from it most, and how they exploit those without it. Dr. Burling helped change my entire outlook on culture, laws, economy, politics, etc.

But when asked why doesn’t he live outside the corruption and control of capitalism, his response was, in essence: you can’t escape it, it affects everyone, might as well not make your own life unnecessarily difficult fighting it. And this is a guy who, in addition to being an unashamed Marxist, was also a musician with a focus on rock (meaning nothing exactly, except an implication that he has a rebellious spirit).

And it also makes me think of vaunted Marxist cultural critic and major figure of the Frankfurt School, Theodor Adorno, who it is said that during the Paris riots of 1968 when asked by his students why he didn’t participate or support the student protests, he replied “How can you actively fight for something before you fully understand it?”

There is “theory,” and there is “praxis.” Praxis is putting theory into action. Is it that these Marxist critics and theorists I look up to, who happen to be intellectuals and educators, don’t know how to put their words into action? Do they not have the courage of their convictions? Or are all they are about is understanding and criticizing the current system, but not about doing anything about it? When asked what good is knowing how culture develops, knowing how the hegemony controls and influences our decisions and our wants? They have replied that it helps you understand why you make the decisions that you do, why you choose what products or how you sell your labor. But is that enough?

Frederic Jameson (Marxist cultural critic) has developed a concept of applying “cognitive mapping” to cultural criticism, which is a theory of mapping the contradictions in capitalism, where it affects our lives, and finding and exploiting the holes in it. And it’s a step toward praxis, which gives people like me hope of doing something to make a difference. To help turn the tables on capitalist exploitation and help the “seeds of rebellion” grow. But…what is that rebellion? What are we Marxist intellectuals waiting for? We who study culture, and politics, and socio-economics? Dr. Burling had cryptically referred to the biopic about Che Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries, in which a young, pre-revolutionary Guevara is asked about how to spark the South American peoples into revolution against their oppressors, he responds that you can’t have a revolution without guns.

But then, Dr. Burling often referred to other ways to create such drastic upheaval as to eliminate capitalism, without revolution and war, and used as examples Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and 40, 50, 60 trilogy. Stories in which the only way to evolve from capitalism to egalitarian socialism is either to colonize another planet, or deal with Earth-shaking environmental disaster. So, do we just wait for change?

Back to my point: Are these anarchists doing what we intellectuals fear to do, but are a natural and proper result of the same Marxist-rooted criticism of capitalism we both share? Am I a hypocrite for complaining about and railing about capitalism and its ills and evils, but I continue to lust after home ownership and getting a better job and obeying all the laws of the land so I don’t draw the attention of the state’s police apparatus?

Is it because I have a family to care for? I don’t risk rocking the boat, and so I participate, if grudgingly, in my own commodification and the orgy of consumerism? Of course, this is exactly what the hegemony counts on, this conservativism that we’re all supposed to grow into. We’re allowed to rebel a little as a youth, test the bounds of social acceptance, and then “settle down.” Grow a family, buy a home, get a job you can’t leave because you can’t live without the insurance benefits. You become a productive worker bee who has too much to lose by questioning authority, bucking the system, making waves. Be a quiet little worker bee, and you get to go (somewhat) unnoticed by the system that exploits you and uses you and extorts you, giving little in return except an addiction to mass consumption.

Are anarchists heroes I fear to admire? Or are they the hemp clothing wearing, organic food growing, dumpster diving neo-hippies that I can easily dismiss and marginalize, exactly as I’ve just done, because they threaten the social stability and conditioning I’ve internalized because I grew up brainwashed to become a quiet and non-trouble-making worker bee? Is that why when asked, I say I’m an anarcho-socialist “in theory” but “in practice” I’m a democratic-socialist? Isn’t that just a way for me to marginalize myself?

I don’t know. But this Fighting For Our Lives: An Anarchist Primer is at the very least thought-provoking reading.

Thanks, corporate news!

Thanks Corporate News

Ah, that ol’ “liberal media,” avoiding the truth and spreading lies. Well, part of that statement is correct.

(Feel free to skip the following introductory diatribe and go right to the featured link at the end of this essay. What it has to say is certainly more interesting and coherent than my ramblings.)

Until I gave up XM Radio, I used to listed to Air America all the time. It’s a very, unabashed, left-leaning radio media. And for the few years, during the Bush administration, that I listened to it, I would often hear of some new event, or disclosure, or revelation, or news of some sort that implicated Bush, Cheney, or any number of their cohorts, in war crimes at worst and outright deception at best. Now, knowing that I’m listening to a truly left-wing media outlet, (unlike most people who watch FOX news and listen to Limbaugh who think what they’re getting is “fair and balanced”), I would try to validate what I heard with other sources and gauge its certainty before I went around talking about it. If nothing else, I hate the idea of propagating a story to then turn around and find out it’s unfounded–but mostly, I worship at the altar of truth and try to live my life in discovery of what is and isn’t true.

Anyway, so when I would check out a story and find that it has enough credible, independent support to be true, I’d wait for this important, vital discovery or revelation to appear on mainstream news. And what would happen is maybe, maybe it might make a tiny appearance on Keith Olbermann’s show. Sometimes, rarely, it might get mentioned on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show (which is null of any affect since the context is it’s a comedy show). And if it did on either, it’d be the once and then never hear about it again. Would it get mentioned on other MSNBC shows? Nope. CNN? Never. ABC News and the like? Not hardly. The idea of the mainstream media being “liberal” was laughable!

For a long time, well…most of my life, I believed in the press as being on the whole fair and interested in the truth. It was our “fourth estate,” charged with uncovering the sometimes painful truth where those in power would want it buried. And then a few years ago, as I started to learn about who actually wielded socio-political power and discovered it was not the politicians by and large, but the top 1-5% richest people in the country (and the world), and that all aspects of our society are controlled and regulated (both intentionally and subconsciously) by capitalist hegemony, some truths started to come to light for me.

The mainstream news, the media, are all corporate owned. Major transnational, global market capitalist corporations which have as their bottom line…the bottom line, and not truth, news, fairness, balance. The money defines what becomes newsworthy and what gets ignored. The corporate media’s very close ties to the Bush dynasty helped keep his administration’s war crimes out of the news or its import minimized to insubstantial.

Now, at one time I would have argued that this control surely wouldn’t filter down to the reporters and the editors who research. Well, yes, it does. A climate, a culture, an agenda filters down from the top to the bottom and when people need work and can’t afford to be too choosy about who exploits their labor, er, pays them and provides their medical benefits, they’re willing to push what the overarching corporate agenda wants pushed and ignore what it wants ignored. And if that’s too much for a reporter to deal with, the editor above them, who has an even greater vested interest in his job, will help make sure the message conforms to the corporate agenda. And as the agenda becomes obvious and doesn’t remain latent, and the employee can’t handle being silenced, they’re free to work on the edges of society and blog, where they’re ignored by all but the fringes and are dismissed by society as irrelevant.

All this to introduce a recent SALON article which discusses this very corporate controlled media dynamic, even in what is thought of by most people as the most “liberal” of all media, Keith Olbermann. Enjoy:

… Having Richard Wolffe host an MSNBC program — or serving as an almost daily “political analyst” —  is exactly tantamount to MSNBC’s just turning over an hour every night to a corporate lobbyist.  Wolffe’s role in life is to advance the P.R. interests of the corporations that pay him, including corporations with substantial interests in virtually every political issue that MSNBC and Countdown cover.  Yet MSNBC is putting him on as a guest-host and “political analyst” on one of its prime-time political shows.  What makes that even more appalling is that, as Ana Marie Cox first noted, neither MSNBC nor Wolffe even disclose any of this….

(Facebook viewers: Any images or video from this post have been stripped by FB. To view the original blog post, go to: http://www.celticbear.com/weblog/)

Would we resort to that?

Here’s a question I’d love to get some feedback here, or where it gets cross-posted to Facebook and Twitter:

Let’s say it’s a post-apocalypse situation where whatever happened caused crops to stop growing and all herbivores (i.e.: the animals we farm and eat) to die off, like in the years leading up to Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. Good ole red blooded middle-class Americans are dying from starvation by the millions. Given the mercenary survival instinct of corporations, and the natural survival instinct of humans in general, and our likely desire to not lose as much of our Way Of Life as possible…

Would we knowingly and willingly allow corporate run cannibalism to keep ourselves and our society as we know it running, if it allowed The West from turning into a THE ROAD or MAD MAX style desolation?

What do you think?

(It’s been 20 years since I’ve seen SOYLET GREEN and I’ve not read the book, but the main difference here is in that book/movie the populace didn’t know what the govt/corporations were doing. I’m interested in opinions regarding a willing populace.)

“Canadian Perspectives 2009: The Failure of Capitalism and the Need for a Socialist Alternative”

Facebook readers: this post came from my official blog; the auto-transfer to FB tends to strip any embedded images.)

michael-hacker-capitalism1This will be a quick post by me; I can discuss my thoughts on this at great length, but I think it’s more important that one just simply read this fantastic article:

“Capitalism has failed. This fact conditions all future developments.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, all the mouthpieces of capitalism repeated the mantra, ‘socialism has failed, capitalism has won, there is no alternative.’ Francis Fukuyama declared it was ‘the end of history.’ Free-markets, privatization, corporate tax-cuts, deregulation, and outsourcing were seen as the only way forward. In short, there was a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. The workers had lost and there was very little pity from the victors.”

It is kind of a long article, but please don’t let that dissuade you from reading–it has excellent material from beginning to end, especially as the thesis starts to really pick up steam about halfway through. This article is vital for anyone of any political bent: If you’re a die-hard capitalist, this article may give you a better understanding of real socialist perspectives so you can fight against actual socialism (if you continue to wish to do so) and not some false cartoon propaganda mockery of socialism that hasn’t existed since Stalin; people curious about what socialism is all about, this will give you a great, practical, real-world idea; socialists, well, I don’t need to say anything to you. 🙂

Bottom line: anyone interested in what’s going on in politics and economics lately, and what the future may hold, should read this article. As Kim Stanley Robinson mentioned a couple of weeks ago, humanity’s survival may depend on becoming post-capitalism!

SF writer Kim Stanley Robinson on social responsibility.

Last week, on Earth Day, during my university’s day-long thingie on “social development” and environmental concerns, SF author Kim Stanley Robinson spoke for a bit on social responsibility for humanity’s future. He said some great things, I took notes, he signed a book of mine and we had a very brief conversation. Here’s a summary of what he said, mostly paraphrased quotes, and a lot I’ve forgotten. I’ll try not to digress too much.

KSR is an award winning Utopian author (with a PhD) who’s written, among many other critically acclaimed works, the Mars trilogy and the “Science in the Capital” trilogy. The former is about terraforming Mars and “Utopian” society that develops there, and the latter is about the effects of global warming. In his regular life, KSR is an “American-leftist” and works for social change and climate change awareness. (He made interesting comment that when he started writing, “utopian fiction” meant writing about perfect society, nowadays it means simply society surviving. Kind of indicative of some significant social change.) His talk was in dedication to Dr. Bill Burling who he collaborated with and edited a book of critical essays about KSR. (Dr. Burling was my professor and mentor who I recently mentioned passed away.)

Alright, so, what he said:
Continue reading SF writer Kim Stanley Robinson on social responsibility.

Cheated and betrayed.

I’m listening to multi-award winning SF author Robert J. Sawyer on the SciFiDimensions podcast (I’m on my iPhone so you’ll have to google for a link), and he’s asked why so many award winning and critically aclaimed SF writers come out of Canada and the U.K. His answer: socialized health care.

There’s an addage that anyone who can spend 10,000 hours at something will become accomplished at it and can start producing quality after that. When you have socialized healthcare you can start your writing career at young age because you don’t have to worry about the cost of illness and injury. (Author and technology guru Cory Doctorow (Canadian) after living in the U.S. for many years, moved to the U.K. with his wife to start their family and has said he’ll never live anywhere again where there’s not socialized healthcare.)

Listening to Sawyer explain how socialized healthcare is the greatest gift a society could give to it’s people and the arts in particular brought up angry tears. My life since undergrad has been all about working for that “gift” of American for-profit health insurance. Every job I worked, every job I overworked, jobs I desperately wanted to leave, decisions not to work jobs I wanted more, have all been predicated on making sure my family had health insurance. My desire and drive since childhood to write has taken a back- to non-existant seat to slaving away for g–d– health insurance.

And the freakin irony is even with the generous and patriotic boon of for-profit health insurance, we’ve still had to pay thousands in medical bills and premiums and deductables. And even with god’s gift of health insurance upon the only modern nation to not have socialized healthcare, should my family become visited by a little more significant of a health issue, we could become broke, bankrupt, broken.

I’m middle-aged now, barely able to eke through the beginnings of my 10,000 writing hours, and I’ve done shitall except work 40+ hours a week as a drone at mind draining jobs for the gift of health insurance that’s STILL a financial drain on us. I fucking hate capitalism.

Spending our future.

(OK, last post for tonight…)

I have a love/hate relationship with the blog “Classically Liberal“. I couldn’t agree more with his analysis on the failed War on Drugs, the criticisms of institutional education, his disgust for the encroaching police state, police abuse of power, face-palming frustration at the destructive and absolutely absurd criminalization of sexuality, and pretty much anything having to do with civil rights. But his hatred of socialism based on as terrible misunderstanding and misrepresentation of it as the creationist “understanding” of evolution, really crinkles my spleen. His economic libertarianism is based on a very elitist, self-righteous, belief in immutable “human nature” and the inherent existence of an objective sense of “the good the true and the beautiful” in class-defined artistic production.

But, I have to say I’m really starting to agree with his criticism of this horrific spending-spree the government is on in bailing companies out. I wish I could remember who I heard recently say: “If a company is so big that it can’t be allowed to fail, then it’s too big for the ‘free market’ and must be broken apart.” Yep.

Anyway, check out this alarming video he has linked on his site under Spending our Future: The Bailout Crisis:

(For the Facebook users: This is a post from my blog getting auto-noted to Facebook, which cuts off any images or videos in the transfer.)

Marx was right.

(OK, only a couple more of blog posts in this surge.)

BoingBoing has an article: “Marx was right!” in which the author discusses his move from being a dot-com capitalist to a return to a respect for Marx’s criticism of capitalism. (His wife, who said of his return to Marxist studies that it’s “worse than your reggae phase!”, could commiserate with mine!)

[quote] The work of Karl Marx is ultra relevant to understanding the world’s current financial mess, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Marx has become intellectually indispensable to me again, as if there ever should have been any doubt. It’s fascinating to consider that during the time period when Marx was writing “Capital,” there were few factories in England –it was largely an agrarian society still– yet somehow Marx was able to see clearly the mess that we would be in today. He’s the most accurate prophet in all of history, there should be no doubt about this. Marx viewed history with a very, very long telescope. How he was able to see so far into the future is a mystery of his particular genius, but Marx accurately extrapolated how capitalism’s endgame would play itself out at the very birth of the system. Marx saw how utterly destructive this system would ultimately become. Look around you: Marx was right.[/quote]

(On a related note, Richard Metzger posted a followup: “Marx was… second???” about Thomas Jefferson’s essay on “fictitious capital” decades before Marx wrote about it.)

Well, I could write for a long time regarding my thoughts and history in Marxist studies, but you don’t care, do you? 🙂 Instead, let me link to this great page that helps explain both Marxist and anarchist theories in ordinary terms that speaks to the common person:

Questions about Capitalism and Class

Yes, it’s Chumbawamba’s Web site. They live the spirit of anarcho-socialism, and their answers to common questions about materialist criticism of capitalism is really fantastic! I really encourage you to read at least this one page I just linked top to bottom. That’s it, all I ask.

(For the Facebook users: This is a post from my blog getting auto-noted to Facebook, which cuts off any images or videos in the transfer.)
(Drawing of Marx and Engles stolen borrowed from http://www.hermes-press.com/distinctions.htm)

Gangland thuggary.

Am I talking about the Crips and the Bloods? Nope. A better armed, better funded gang but with all the bravado, arrogance, power-lust, of any street gang.

Posted on BoingBoing: 15-year-old girl beaten by sheriff’s deputy

You tell me, “lippy” shoe-kicking disrespect or no, does a teenage girl need to be body-slammed, punched in the head, and dragged off by her hair? Imagine what kind of behavior doesn’t get caught on camera.

Attorney for the sheriff’s department:

“As we argued to the judge, it will inflame public opinion and will severely impact the deputy’s right to a fair trial.”

Pfft! I wish! The public never gets inflamed! The closest they did was for a week after a BART cop murdered a guy in public view

Classically Liberal does a good job blogging about the culture of violence and brutality and above-the-law mentality of the state-sponsored Blue Shirts.

Update: After I posted this, Classically Liberal made his own post with some interesting background info:

The police report filed by Schene and his fellow officer claimed that the shoe caused “bruising, bleeding and pain” which I suspect is just more police bullshit. What is worse is that Schene was a “field-training officer” teaching the other deputy how to act like a cop. At the moment Schene has been put on paid vacation—they call it “suspended with full pay”. The world is filled with billions of people who would like to be “suspended with full pay.”

The reality is that cops often think they have the right to act this way and that they are above the law. One of the great problems with policing is that individuals attracted to the job are often prone to visions of grandeur, authoritarian in nature, and love violence. It is the authority and right to act violently that they find attractive. In other words many of them are psychologically unfit for the job.

That fellow officer, by the way, is the guy who can be seen in the video as possibly gesturing to Schene to stop pummeling the girl. WHich might give someone the impression that he might do the right thing and report on the unfit and violent cop–giving hope that maybe a “good” cop will help get rid of the oh-so-rare minority of “bad” cops. But no. Cops protect their own no matter what the crime. Just like street gangs. There are no “good” cops when they protect the bad ones.

Of pro(gress) and con(servativism): an analysis

There are many significant difference between the conservative and the liberal mindset, outlook, approach on life, society, and government. That’s an obvious statement. But I think a way in which the main difference is realized is in exactly how the think of the role of government. The conservative (general Republican) will shout the battle-cry “smaller government!” They believe government is intrusive, nosy, busy-body, controlling. I think any conservative reading this would agree with the description of their outlook. So then, when a conservative is in power, running government, do you think they give up that mindset? Nope, not at all. Now the conservative citizen would expect that the conservative politician, sharing the same outlook on what government is like, what it does, would strive to minimize government and make it smaller—enforce the principles they seem to share which got the politician elected.

But here’s the rub: While the conservative (especially the neo-conservative) politician believes government is controlling and invasive, they’re now in a position to run this controlling and invasive entity they see as being separate and distinct from the citizens. They believe government governs, in that it rules. Just look at the last few conservative administrations we’ve had. Nixon, Reagan, the Bush dynasty…they claimed government was controlling and invasive, and instead of eliminating it, they used it for their own personal and corporate ends. To the (neo-)con, government is the royalty of the feudal society. They don’t like it when it’s not them in power, but when they are, it’s great!

The liberal (by which I mean those that tend to vote Democrat, not the “classically liberal” which is more libertarian), sees government entirely different. They see it as the Constitution declares: “By the people, for the people.” To the liberal, the government is the people, not the rulers of it. When the government runs a program, it’s not (or rather it shouldn’t be) something run by a ruling class foisted upon the serfs. The government serves the people, it is the people. The conservative sees the government as the power, and uses the police as their thugs. It sees taking tax as theft, and so when the neo-cons use tax money, they use it like thieves for their own gain. When the liberal taxes, they see it money to pay for goods and services for the people.

Now, don’t get me wrong, liberal/Democrat politicians are also power-mad and corporatists to a large degree. But the predominate mindset of government as the rulers vs. government as the people still create a striking difference in general legislation and manner of governance. It’s why every Republican including and since Nixon has run up massive budget deficit and have used the government to redirect tax money to corporations, and run their administrations in secrecy and darkness. While Democrat Presidents have balanced budgets and strove for ethical reforms and open government.

The conservative is inherently suspicious and believes people are inherently sinful and bad, and they operate government that way. The liberal believes in the inherent goodness of humanity and believes in positive change.

(Before I continue, let me take a moment to state for the record that I truly believe the best government is not smaller government, but no government at all. No military, no organized police gangs, no tax, no political borders and boundaries. But that form of anarchy will only work when there is no such thing as the abstraction of monetary wealth, and it’s shared by all of the world. In the meantime, I believe in democratic-socialism. Government must be toothless and without its own mechanisms for thug power, and run by the people for the interests of the people. Government must fear the people, not the other way around, someone once said.)

Back to positive outlooks; Rush Limbaugh recently stated at a conservative conference:

Limbaugh used his self-described “first national address,” which ran more than an hour longer than his allotted 20 minutes, to accuse President Obama of inspiring fear in Americans in order to push a liberal agenda of “big government.”

“He wants people in fear, angst and crisis, fearing the worst each and every day, because that clears the decks for President Obama and his pals to come in with the answers, which are abject failures, historically shown and demonstrated.

First and primarily, that’s just a bald-faced lie. Obama did speak truth of the state of the nation: “I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so.” But his entire message was optimism and encouragement:

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us. (Applause.)

[…]

And if we do — if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.”

My goodness that’s a horrific message of fear! Obama was honest, we’re in a pickle. But conservatives, for all their talk about ethics and values, hate honesty–both (especially) the politicians but also the people! Conservatives tend to only want to hear how wonderful things are, how strong of a nation we are, how loved and respected (or at least feared) we are, how everything is roses. Well, sorry to say, but the quagmire of two wars we’re in, the massive recession, the credit/mortgage crisis, are results of “less government” and blowing fine-and-dandy smoke up our collected arses for eight years. Sometimes truth hurts. Sometimes the truth is not pretty. But if something wrong, it’s not going to get fixed by sticking heads under covers. Crises get fixed by honest examination and decisive but thoughtful action, serving the truth. Not delusion and fantasy.

2013: The year I prophesy to be…

…the year after nothing happens.

Hooray for CNN.com! Usually I tear my metaphorical hair (it’s the only hair I have left) at CNN.com for their almost consistently credulous “reporting” of “unexplained” events. UFO sightings, ghosts caught on film, angels, psychics to the CEOs….all met with not just an open mind but heads with brains that have fallen out. If in an entire article about crying statues or blurry ghosts walking around a gas station, there is any skepticism, it’s usually some token (partial) sentence like: “some say the oddly moving indistinct shape is a bug on the security camera’s lens, but most people around here, like Susie L., believe it’s an angel…Joe S. tells us ‘this used to be an Indian burial ground after all’….”

And then, some days ago, CNN.com posted an article on the whole 2012 brouhaha:

The article discusses the whole origin of why some people are freaking out over 2012, and then takes a skeptical look at why, and more importantly, why it’s ridiculous (my editorialization) and baseless. The article is cogent, succinct, interesting, grounded, and completely reasonable. I’m shocked and aghast! Pleasantly so.

For an even more in-depth examination of the 2012 scare-mongering, the various reasons why some Chicken Littles are claiming doomsday (by, among other things, retrofitting both complete pseudoscience and contorted real science to coincide around the end of the Mayan calendar), and a rational debunking of it with a lot more respect than I’m willing to give it–check out:

Most important 25 minutes of your day.

I just listened to the latest episode of Point of Inquiry:

At risk of being hyperbolic, it was by far one of the most interesting, important, vital interviews I have listened to.

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Christopher Burns talks about the biology of the brain, the behavior of groups, and the structure of organizations and how each can lead to people making bad decisions. He discusses the paradox that in the age of information, it may be more difficult to make good decisions. He describes “false knowledge” and how to choose the right information to pay attention to.

The show is only about 25 minutes long (see the link “Download MP3” near the bottom of the site) and I would challenge everyone who reads this post to take the time to go listen to it. At least once, but I would suggest twice. Contrary to my usual behavior, I’m not going summarize or discuss what I think the implications are of what Burns has to say for risk of coloring how you may listen to the show. Seriously, go listen.

Seems kinda Tom Clancy-ish to me….

If you know me you know that I have a love/hate relationship with conspiracy theories. On the one hand, they’re really entertaining! They make for great “X-Files” plotlines, and extra bonus points if they can work in The Illuminati! (And keep a straight face.) fnord

But on the other hand, they’re almost always complete bunk. Not to say there haven’t been grand conspiracies in the past: Military radiation testing on civilians, CIA selling crack, Watergate. But here’s the thing about conspiracies: they never stay secret. I think it’s supposed to be an old Sicilian saying, something like: “Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead.”

Someone talks. Someone always talks. Documents are kept. Conspiracies become known, the bigger they are the more certain they’ll be exposed. And, unlike most fringe and popular but unfounded conspiracies, it won’t be some outside group of amateur conspiracy hunters who have all the answers but are frustratingly ignored by so-called scientists and experts, who expose the cover-ups. And the more impossible and absurd the scope of the conspiracy, the more likely the conspiracy is BS. Like 9/11, “Loose Change” khrap. For 9/11 to have been a government planned event, it would have required the cooperation of literally thousands of people.

Occam’s Razor here: What’s more probable? That thousands of military, police, firefighters, and civilians were involved in setting up and carrying out an event so huge and devastating that it would have required unimaginable about of planning, organization, timing, cooperation, and yet no one involved has come forward to say they were a part of it and become the most famous person in the world for exposing the greatest and worst conspiracy ever in the history of human civilization…. or, that several fundamental religious zealots took advantage of holes in air transportation security to fly some planes into buildings?

Like I said, conspiracies are entertaining; reality is often banal in its horrific simplicity.

Anyway,to the point: Here’s a recent news item that goshdarnit, sounds a lot to me like it could be a valid conspiracy-murder:

A tipster close to the McCain campaign disclosed to VR in July that Mr. Connell’s life was in jeopardy and that Karl Rove had threatened him and his wife, Heather. VR’s attorney, Cliff Arnebeck, notified the United States Attorney General , Ohio law enforcement and the federal court about these threats and insisted that Mr. Connell be placed in protective custody. VR also told a close associate of Mr. Connell’s not to fly his plane because of another tip that the plane could be sabotaged. Mr. Connell, a very experienced pilot, has had to abandon at least two flights in the past two months because of suspicious problems with his plane. On December 18, 2008, Mr. Connell flew to a small airport outside of Washington DC to meet some people. It was on his return flight the next day that he crashed.

Now, here’s where critical thinking has to come in. For example, these tips…can they be independantly verified? More importantly, can they be proven to have come before the event? It’s simply amazing how much people just knew something, or state they predicted something, or had a clue to something…in hindsight after an event has happened. Cognitive bias is rife with this kind of post hoc misthinking.

And of course, there’s the reader’s own subjective bias. I, for example, would believe Rove, Cheney, many others in the Bush administration, would kill and eat babies if it meant massive quasi-fascist control of the free world. I don’t think much better of most politicians in general–the neo-cons just happen to be Hitlers in an ocean of SS. Am I more prone to confirmation bias and self-selecting evidence to fit my personal bias? Yep. Guilty as charged. We all are. It takes a lot of work to be fair and unbiased, and argueably, we never can be.

(Which, by the way, to go off on a tangent, the scientific method is vital to get at objective truths. Proper scientific methodology demands blind and double-blind testing to correct for bias, as well as repeated retesting and verification of results by other people. Science: it works, bitches.)

So, I’m going to watch this case of the killed Bush admin. I.T. guy and see what, if anything comes from it. But then, the co-called liberal media, the “4th Estate,” has been horrifically bad the last eight years at following up on and putting to task recent conspiracies, such as Valarie Plame and Scooter Libby/Cheney. And Congress has no interest in investigating Bush or Cheney for impeachable offenses nor is the media interested in investigating the possibility. Nor for the possible war crimes charges againast Rumsfield and Bush that were recently released. Nor for the countless open-for-all-to-see conspiracies of war profiteering (highly illegal by the way) committed by Cheney and Rumsfield and Bush with the help of Haliburton, KBR, BlackWater, and several other contractors in Iraq.

So, while it’s still true that conspiracies are exposed and are rarely huge and complicated, it doesn’t mean there’s always anyone paying attention.

I never get tired of being inspired. The debate is old, though.

I came upon the subject through a blog entry on Skepchick:

I started watching the video apology the creationist is “forced” to give for unethically and possibly illegally invoking DMCA to try to extort a critic of his to remove his critical videos. I got bored and stopped watching it. While I’m glad justice prevails and no slimy lawyers had to get involved (no offense to my friend* who’s a lawyer; he’s a public defender and not a civil suit lawyer anyway *grin*) I get no pleasure fr0m the schadenfreude inherent in celebrating his (just) public apology.

I watched a couple of the Thunderf00t YouTube videos in which he categorically refutes the creationist VFX’s video claims, and they’re extremely well-informed, researched, reasoned, evidenced-based, etc etc yadda yadda. I don’t mean to imply the videos refuting the creationist are boring or uninspired in any way–they’re quite good (if a bit rough in the audio quality) and I would absolutely recommend them to anyone interested in the debate between empirical reality and Biblical literalism…

Thing is, it’s getting tiring to me. I’ve spent nearly eight years now actively following and reading and watching all I could get my “hands” on regarding the fight between evolution and creationism, and I feel like, not that I’ve seen it all (although I am seeing the same old creationist misunderstandings/fallacies/mistakes/lies and the same old empirical evidence/logical reasoning/evidentiary refutation fr0m the evolutionist side over and over), it’s more like I’m tired of the existence of the debate itself. It’s become obvious this will never end. It’s like digging a hole in water.

No matter how much factual evidence is out there, completely open and available to anyone and everyone who wants to bother looking for it, there’s still armies of people who are quite happy living in worlds of cognitive dissonance (I used to freak out but now I just sigh when people, like this VFX does, decry science as all ideological and full of fantasy and imagination and lies, and then use (a misapplication of) whatever scientific laws and processes is convenient for them to try to prove their creationist argument) and mythological fantasy as far as the eye can see. Change needs to be made and humanity needs to finally enter the 21st century, but the fight is wearying.

In any case, I skipped to the most recent video by Thunderf00t, and the first two-thirds and a refutation of one of VFX’s latest videos using terrible reasoning to accept micro-evolution but claim macro-evolution is “evil.” And the last third of Thunderf00t’s video, though, becomes a philosophical criticism of the concept of “eternal life” as a creation of greedy humans, as the idea of eternal life is not only horrific to sentient beings, but removes all value fr0m life! The fact that we are finite sparks of life in a vast universe gives the ultimate meaning and the greatest importance possible to life. It was a very inspiring closing and for that reason alone I highly recommend viewing it!

*Update, 11 Nov, 08: I had written there all this time, until today, “non-friend”. I have no idea how that typo happened, and I do hope if the friend in question saw that, he realizes that was a mistake. I dunno, maybe I intended to type “non-slimy friend”. 🙂

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The Amerikan Stasi!

I can’t believe I missed this. In researching information on my last post regarding the addition of peaceful opponents to capital punishment being added by police to terrorist watch lists, I found this news item from last year about the FBI and CIA’s programs to recruit and pay for citizen informants (thus spreading fear and mistrust as well as creating gi-hugic ineffectual mountains of hay to look for needles in–resulting in more false accusations and arrests and less actual safety and security)

Excellent, emotional and enlightening movie, by the way, of a story set within the end of the East German informant society: The Lives of Others.