Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Homeland Security memo warned of violent threat posed by Occupy Wall Street

Key phrase to take from the first line of the memo: "A loose coalition of peaceful protests taking place across the United States" etc. etc.. It's incredible to see what the Dept. of Homeland Security says themselves about the movement yet still law enforcement acts totally inappropriately and violent against PEACEFUL PROTEST. Hence the action I attended for some time earlier today at Union Square. "Stop the Suppression of the Occupy Movement!"

from BoingBoing

An October, 2011 Department of Homeland Security memo on Occupy Wall Street warned of the potential for violence posed by the "leaderless resistance movement."

Update: Looks like there's a larger Rolling Stone feature on this document:
As Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation last fall, sparking protests in more than 70 cities, the Department of Homeland Security began keeping tabs on the movement. An internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street [PDF]," dated October of last year, opens with the observation that "mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas." While acknowledging the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of OWS, the report notes darkly that "large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement."
Thanks Xeni!

Noam Chomsky on Suppression of the Occupy Movement

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My walking around town interview w/ Paradigm Magazine

We shot this last month on a fucking freezing day here in the city.
Had lunch at Atlas Cafe and then walked down to Lula's Sweet Apothecary for some dope sweets.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Great reason to see THE LORAX next weekend

Probably one of the earliest, best environmentally and corporate greed conscious children's stories ever told, one that I have read to my son too many times to remember, is now a Hollywood movie. I hear the story has been changed in some major ways, but let's hope it stays true to Theodor Geisel's (Dr. Seuss) original intent. I'll be there next saturday with my boy cheering on the Lorax (I hope Danny DeVito as the voice does not play down his important perspective).

from the Huffington Post
Fox Business Network is targeting another children's movie for allegedly brainwashing children with liberal ideas: "Dr Seuss' The Lorax."

The network first slammed "The Muppets" in December. Host Eric Bolling had insisted that the movie, which features an evil oil baron, was part of Hollywood's vendetta against oil companies.

On Tuesday, host Lou Dobbs railed against "The Lorax," along with the Japanese children's film, "The Secret World of Arrietty." "Hollywood is once again trying to indoctrinate our children," he warned. He claimed that the movies were "demonizing the 1% and espousing green energy policies."

Dobbs said "The Lorax" was about "a woodland creature that speaks for the trees and fights rampant industrialism." He replayed a clip of the Lorax demanding to know who chopped down a Truffula Tree.

He compared the movie to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he said "forever tried to pit the makers against the takers," and President Obama's calls that "everyone should pay their fair share."

"The President's liberal friends in Hollywood targeting a younger demographic using animated movies to sell their agenda to children," he alleged.

His guests, radio hosts Dom Giordano, Matt Patrick and Steve Cochran, agreed.

"What we're doing is creating Occu-toddlers," Patrick said. He directed parents to "buy huge tubs of popcorn, ram it in your face," leave the litter behind and walk out of the movie.

Watch the full segment below.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Angela Davis on eating chickens, Occupy, and including animals in social justice initiative of the 99%

from Sistah Vegan

On February 23, 2012, at University of California-Davis, I attended the Social Justice Teach-In. Keynote speaker was Angela Davis. I asked Angela Davis about extending compassion beyond humans as part of social justice and making Occupy Movement successful.

I got to ask her my question about something she alluded to in her keynote, that sounded like she is pro-vegan and anti-speciesist. My husband video recorded my question and the answer she gave me. I felt silly that I didn't have a copy of Sistah Vegan on me so she could have that reference! ARGGGHHH!!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Happy 75th birthday to Raymond Scott's POWERHOUSE!

From the Raymond Scott blog, "Exactly 75 years ago today, Raymond Scott recorded his iconic hit tune, 'Powerhouse.' On the same date, following 8 months of rehearsals with his Quintette at CBS, he also recorded 'Twilight In Turkey,' 'Minuet In Jazz,' and 'The Toy Trumpet' — not bad for a day's work. He didn't realize it at the time, but these compositions would jump-start his stellar career, and accidentally inspire cartoon antics for future generations. To celebrate the milestone, check-out this collection of 75 YouTube clips of Scott's classic 'Powerhouse,' here and see details about our year-long 75th anniversary events schedule here.

Via BoingBoing

Thursday, February 23, 2012

L.E.D. Snow Boarder

Jacob Sutton’s L.E.D. Surfer
A Night-time Snowboarding Short Lights Up the Last of the Winter Snow

Fashion photographer and filmmaker Jacob Sutton swaps the studio for the slopes of Tignes in the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France, with a luminous after hours short starring Artec pro snowboarder William Hughes. The electrifying film sees Hughes light up the snow-covered French hills in a bespoke L.E.D.-enveloped suit courtesy of designer and electronics whizz John Spatcher. “I was really drawn to the idea of a lone character made of light surfing through darkness,” says Sutton of his costume choice. “I've always been excited by unusual ways of lighting things, so it seemed like an exciting idea to make the subject of the film the only light source.” Sutton, who has created work for the likes of Hermès, Burberry and The New York Times, spent three nights on a skidoo with his trusty Red Epic camera at temperatures of -25C to snap Hughes carving effortlessly through the deep snow, even enlisting his own father to help maintain the temperamental suit throughout the demanding shoot. “Filming in the suit was the most surreal thing I’ve done in 20 years of snowboarding,” says Hughes of the charged salopettes. “Luckily there was plenty of vin rouge to keep me warm, and Jacob’s enthusiasm kept everyone going through the cold nights.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Rules for Radicals: 10 Ways To Spark Change in a Post-Occupy World

By Sara Robinson, from AlterNet
The first rule is this: The world is different now. The rules have changed.

Since Occupy, we all understand this. Nothing works now the way it did even just a couple of years ago. Political tactics that haven’t budged public opinion in years — like petitions and big street demonstrations — are suddenly working again. Narratives that seemed unassailable — like the primacy of free markets and low taxes — are being openly questioned. Doors that used to be closed to us are now opening. The media that once ignored us is now starting to listen. The conservatives are shaken and fumbling, stuck on autopilot and unable to re-route away from their old course even as disaster looms dead ahead. What’s going on here?

What’s going on is that we are (finally!) in the first giddy months of a deep-current sea change in American politics, the kind of realignment that happens once every several decades. This change has put us into a whole new political era, one that runs by an entirely new set of rules — and one in which a great many impossible things may, all of a sudden, become possible.

The reasons for this shift are complex and wonky, and are the stuff of other articles. But we all sense it, and we all want to know what it means.

As a Silicon Valley brat-turned-futurist, I’ve spent a lot of my life in a culture that churned constantly with this kind of upending, unending change. There are things tech people know in their bones, survival strategies and cultural knowledge and habits of mind and specific attitudes that allow one to stay loose and adaptive in times of turbulent transformation.

So, with that, we are already on to Rule Two, which is really the most important one:

2. No despair. Despair is a waste of time and energy.

Anger is useful. It gets the blood moving. It gets people out of their chairs and into the streets. Harnessed quickly to constructive action, it’s the fuel that drives change. But anger, once generated, also cools and congeals quickly into frustration, cynicism and despair. Indulging in our daily two-minute hate may be cathartic, but ultimately, it doesn’t change a damn thing about our situation. Even worse: it curdles, producing paralysis. Worst of all: once it starts festering, there’s nothing left to do with it but turn it on each other.

So: let’s drop that cool, cynical, I’ve-seen-it-all, let’s-not-get-too-excited-here stance. Stepping back from the pain by telling ourselves sagely that it’s all too much, our enemies are too strong, and there’s nothing we can do — that’s the lazy way out. Yes, you are no doubt right: and yes, it sucks mightily. But the answer to that isn’t to sit around indulging in a group bitch session about how awful it all is. The answer is to get off our butts and get back to work, because life is short and there’s a whole planet out there that needs to be fixed on our watch.

3. Try everything.

Because I have no idea what will work now, what we can ask for or expect, or where the boundaries of this new landscape lie. And neither do you. (Thrilling, isn’t it?) It’s all up for grabs. So, try everything. Try it, even if you’ve tried it before and it didn’t work. Try it, even if it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Try it, just because it’s there. It’s going to take many thousands of experiments before we really understand the contours of this new political and economic reality we’re living in.

Of course, there are boundaries: don't try anything that violates our principles, or replicates the things we hate the most about the other side. There will be no cheating, no lying, and no crazies with guns taking out people we disagree with. We have to be better than that: if we betray our values, we lose everything.

But apart from that: Go. The sooner we get going, the sooner we’ll figure this thing out.

4. Trust the vision.

Those of a progressive bent — and by “progressive,” I mean anybody who believes that business-as-usual is no longer acceptable and that real progress is not only possible, but necessary for our very survival — have a strong, vivid vision of what this nation can and should become. In our minds’ eyes, we can see that future as clearly as we can conjure the familiar rooms of our old childhood homes. And for most of the past few decades, it seems like it’s been just about as far away.

Still, we can close our eyes and linger over every shimmering detail. The optimistic comfort of a middle-class life in which most Americans have dignified work, happy families, and enough wealth plus some to share. The relief of knowing that our basic needs for adequate shelter, healthy food and water, safe work, inspired education, useable transportation, essential healthcare, world-class recreation, and a good retirement are met through strong, trustworthy community commitments we can count on. The peace of mind that comes from knowing that we’re providing all of this in ways that won’t deprive our grandchildren of options crucial to their own survival. We want justice, equity, opportunity, and a government and an economy that are finely tuned to the spritely and practical rhythms of the common good. We want to be rich in the things that genuinely matter, rather than slaves to predatory institutions that produce things that don’t.

That’s our vision, and we’re sticking to it. The problem is: until very recently, a lot of us have felt isolated, like this alternate reality existed nowhere else except inside our own skulls. Few corporations paid it anything more than lip service. Their pet media declared our ideas dangerously crazy and unworthy of “serious” coverage. Our federal government, even in Democratic hands, has been almost totally non-responsive (unless somebody screws up). The cultural authorities who used to defend and uphold our values without restraint or apology — the academy, the scientific community and non-fundamentalist religious congregations — were systematically discredited and silenced. Progressivism is literally being written out of history, its heroes co-opted, its astonishing victories erased. The very words we once used to describe these very American ideals have been redefined to the point where it’s sometimes impossible to even talk about it.

It’s hard to trust a vision that nobody else recognizes, let alone validates. After a while, even you might even start to agree that this is all just a weird personal delusion that’s best kept under wraps.

The new rule is: Trust the dream. Trust it enough to not only talk about it, but defend it proudly to any and all bullies. Trust the deep wisdom and sanity of it. Trust your own craziness in believing in it. Trust the other people who share it. Trust the change that you create while you pursue it. Trust that much of that imagined world has existed before; and trust also that it will — in a new and better form — rise again.

5. Focus on our goals, not on our enemies.

This one builds on #1, the “No despair” rule.

I’ve made a career writing about the conservative movement’s uncanny skill at thwarting our dreams. This is red meat to progressives (and a perennially effective traffic booster at lefty Web sites). No blogger ever goes wrong by describing, explaining, or expressing spittle-flecked outrage over the overwhelming will, reach and resources arrayed against us. It’s easy, and not entirely wrong, to tell ourselves that we’re being stalled by the unfathomable cunning and treachery of our enemies.

But we’ve got a lot to do, and are strapped for time, energy and resources to do it with. Every moment we spend focusing on How Evil They Are is a moment we are not focusing on creating the next America where we (and they) will all be spending the future. Yes, absolutely: we need to name our villains, clearly call out the threat they pose, and put names to the tools they’re using to stop us. But vanquishing them is not the ultimate goal. We’ve got bigger, better, more rewarding work to do. All they are to us is in the way. And all the energy they deserve is however much it will take to get them out of the way.

6. Expect resistance.

It’s the political corollary to Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. Whatever you do, you are going to piss somebody off. (In fact, I’ve always thought that this is an important life metric: if you’re not pissing somebody off, you’re not doing enough to change the world. Call it Robinson’s First Law of Politics.) It is a waste of energy to be surprised by this. It’s also political malpractice not to think ahead to figure out where it’s likely to come from, what form it will probably take, and what you’re going to do about it.

Also: there are people (and not all of them are on the other side, sadly) who have made a lifelong commitment to resisting change. For them, obstructionism is a spiritual path. And they’re masterful at it. It’s a waste of energy to be surprised by them, too. Obstructionists are a force of nature all their own; you cannot be angry at them, any more than you can be angry at a rattlesnake for wanting to bite you. It’s who they are. It’s what they do. It’s part of the Zen of change-making.

Anticipate resistance as much as you can, and do whatever it takes to steer clear of known sources. If surprised, find the flow and go with it. As an Aikidoka friend once put it: If someone attacks you, lean into them. Become part of their attack. And then: become the part that goes horribly, catastrophically wrong.

7. Find and nurture innovators.

We’re building a lot of new stuff very fast right now. New politics, new media, new cities, a new economic paradigms, a new relationship with the planet — it’s daunting. We need new answers much faster than we’re able to generate them.

There are people in our midst who are really good at this stuff, and times like this tend to be good ones for them. In more stable times, these folks are often pushed to the side: they often look and talk goofy, they have weird ideas, they don’t fit in, and nobody really gets what they’re talking about a lot of the time. Also: trailing in their wake you’ll find quite a few successes, along with a few stunning failures — the sure sign of somebody who’s comfortable taking a lot of risks, and not afraid of bombing out.

Genius comes in all ages, genders and colors. It’s the old Boomer codger who’s got a thousand tricks up his sleeve, and forgotten more than you’ll ever know. It’s the young kid who’s never been told it can’t be done, so she just went ahead and figured out how to do it. I’ve seen world-changing political innovation come from farmworker organizers in Phoenix, women’s activists in Atlanta and rural organizers from Montana and Oregon. There are often no markings on the package it comes in that give you a clue as to what’s going on inside, so you have to drop your biases, and look closely.

We need to seek out these folks and put their amazing brains to work. To do their best work, they need time and space to think. The basic necessities of life. Really good and worthy problems to solve. Permission to let their minds wander, unfettered and free. Permission to fail spectacularly. And then fail again. And again, over and over, because really complicated problems usually require outrageous quantities of failure before success is achieved. The process takes time, patience, and faith; this is what innovation runs on.

And then we need to listen to them, which is often the hardest part of all.

8. Expect iterations, not perfection.

Even when we find some solution that’s shiny, new, and actually working, it’s smart to expect that the early successes will be so compromised that they’ll create a whole new round of problems of their own. It will take a while, sometimes a long while, to knock the rough edges off to the point where it’s an unqualified Good Thing. That’s part of the process, too.

In technology, this fact is well understood. The first version of the product is never as good as later versions; this is new stuff, and we expect that we’re going to keep getting smarter about it. In politics, though, this is often the point at which the innovator is kicked to the curb. “She’s really smart, but that thing she does; well, there are problems. Move on to something else.” We lose a lot of brilliant people this way. In this new era, it’s a loss we can’t afford any more. If there’s promise, stick with it, and give the innovator the chance to keep making it better.

9. Celebrate every win, no matter how small. Every one matters.

We may be the world’s worst winners. We can get 75 percent of what we want, and spend the next three days whining about the 25 percent we didn’t get. (Also: we’ll probably forget to reward the politicians who actually managed to deliver the goods for once. And then we’ll wonder why they don’t help us out again next time.) We’ll eagerly do the two-minute hate, but ask us to spend two minutes feeling good about something, and we’d much rather drop back into that lazy cynicism thing instead.

This has got to stop. Whatever we focus our attention on, we do tend to get more of. And as long as we’re spending more time focusing on failure than success, we shouldn’t be surprised that that’s exactly what we get. Would it really hurt us to break out the champagne, turn on the music, and just enjoy the win once in a while? (I sometimes wonder how much of the conservative success was simply built on the fact that those people know how to throw a party, and will do it even when they lose.)

No, that city ordinance didn’t change the world, or even all that much in this town. But for once, we made sure the bastards also didn’t get exactly what they wanted. That, right there, is something to celebrate. So let’s party.

10. Replicate success.

College teaches us to value original ideas. (Borrowing thoughts from others is called “plagiarism,” and it’s frowned on.) But guess what: this ain’t college any more. Out here in the real world, it’s OK not to spend valuable time and energy reinventing perfectly good wheels that have already been dreamed up by other people. If it works, use it. Good ideas belong to everybody, and nobody is going to flunk you for stealing them.

There’s a corollary to this. This is a big movement, encompassing tens of millions of people and more moving parts than you can possibly imagine. And we’ve spent a decade building up some really good infrastructure. So every time you find yourself grousing: “Why isn’t someone doing X, dammit?” your next thought should be to assume that someone already IS doing X. Because the odds are good that they probably are. And your next move is to find out who that person is, and offer to extend, help with, or replicate what they’re doing.


Ten new rules for the new era. We’ll probably figure out a lot more as time goes on and this weird new era we’re in becomes more familiar to us. I’d love to hear what other rules you’re discovering that help you navigate the post-Occupy world; if I get enough of them, I’ll turn them into a future column.

Sara Robinson is AlterNet's Visions editor. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at Orcinus since 2006, and is a founding member of Group News Blog.

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Plantagon Breaks Ground on its First ‘Plantscraper’ Vertical Farm in Sweden!

from Treehugger via inhabitat:
Several years ago a Swedish-American company called Plantagon unveiled plans for a series of massive skyscraper greenhouses that stood to transform urban farming in large cities. While the spiraling vertical farms seemed too good to be true at the time, Plantagon just broke ground on its very first vertical farm this week in Linkoping, Sweden! The “Plantscraper” will grow and supply fresh vegetables while creating solutions to some of the most vexing city pollution issues.

Plantagon seems to have traded in its initial geodesic dome design for a sheer tower that both contains and showcases the plants growing inside. This prototype building will be called the International Centre of Excellence for Urban Agriculture, and it will be a place for scientists to test new technologies aimed at improving urban farming.

Inside the massive glass walls, vegetables will be grown in pots and then transitioned to trays positioned around a giant central helix. The plants grow as the trays slowly migrate down the central core and are ready to be harvested once they reach the bottom. Plant residue and manure will be collected along the way and transformed into biogas to run the heating and cooling systems of the greenhouse. Scientists want the vertical farm to not only grow food but also help in developing sustainable solutions for energy, heat, waste, and water issues of daily city life.

Construction on the company’s first enormous vertical greenhouse is expected to take 12 to 16 months.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Noam Chomsky: America's Decline Is Real -- and Increasingly Self-Inflicted

By Noam Chomsky, via
Significant anniversaries are solemnly commemorated -- Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, for example.  Others are ignored, and we can often learn valuable lessons from them about what is likely to lie ahead.  Right now, in fact.

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-World War II period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops.

The prime target was South Vietnam.  The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during World War II, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In this, Henry Kissinger’s orders were being carried out -- “anything that flies on anything that moves” -- a call for genocide that is rare in the historical record.  Little of this is remembered.  Most was scarcely known beyond narrow circles of activists.

When the invasion was launched 50 years ago, concern was so slight that there were few efforts at justification, hardly more than the president’s impassioned plea that “we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence” and if the conspiracy achieves its ends in Laos and Vietnam, “the gates will be opened wide.

Elsewhere, he warned further that “the complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history [and] only the strong... can possibly survive,” in this case reflecting on the failure of U.S. aggression and terror to crush Cuban independence.

By the time protest began to mount half a dozen years later, the respected Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall, no dove, forecast that “Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity… is threatened with extinction...[as]...the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.” He was again referring to South Vietnam.

When the war ended eight horrendous years later, mainstream opinion was divided between those who described the war as a “noble cause” that could have been won with more dedication, and at the opposite extreme, the critics, to whom it was “a mistake” that proved too costly.  By 1977, President Carter aroused little notice when he explained that we owe Vietnam “no debt” because “the destruction was mutual.

There are important lessons in all this for today, even apart from another reminder that only the weak and defeated are called to account for their crimes.  One lesson is that to understand what is happening we should attend not only to critical events of the real world, often dismissed from history, but also to what leaders and elite opinion believe, however tinged with fantasy.  Another lesson is that alongside the flights of fancy concocted to terrify and mobilize the public (and perhaps believed by some who are trapped in their own rhetoric), there is also geostrategic planning based on principles that are rational and stable over long periods because they are rooted in stable institutions and their concerns.  That is true in the case of Vietnam as well.  I will return to that, only stressing here that the persistent factors in state action are generally well concealed.

The Iraq war is an instructive case.  It was marketed to a terrified public on the usual grounds of self-defense against an awesome threat to survival: the “single question,” George W. Bush and Tony Blair declared, was whether Saddam Hussein would end his programs of developing weapons of mass destruction.   When the single question received the wrong answer, government rhetoric shifted effortlessly to our “yearning for democracy,” and educated opinion duly followed course; all routine.

Later, as the scale of the U.S. defeat in Iraq was becoming difficult to suppress, the government quietly conceded what had been clear all along.  In 2007-2008, the administration officially announced that a final settlement must grant the U.S. military bases and the right of combat operations, and must privilege U.S. investors in the rich energy system -- demands later reluctantly abandoned in the face of Iraqi resistance.  And all well kept from the general population.

Gauging American Decline

With such lessons in mind, it is useful to look at what is highlighted in the major journals of policy and opinion today.  Let us keep to the most prestigious of the establishment journals, Foreign Affairs.  The headline blaring on the cover of the December 2011 issue reads in bold face: “Is America Over?

The title article calls for “retrenchment” in the “humanitarian missions” abroad that are consuming the country’s wealth, so as to arrest the American decline that is a major theme of international affairs discourse, usually accompanied by the corollary that power is shifting to the East, to China and (maybe) India.

The lead articles are on Israel-Palestine.  The first, by two high Israeli officials, is entitled “The Problem is Palestinian Rejection”: the conflict cannot be resolved because Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state -- thereby conforming to standard diplomatic practice: states are recognized, but not privileged sectors within them.  The demand is hardly more than a new device to deter the threat of political settlement that would undermine Israel’s expansionist goals.

The opposing position, defended by an American professoris entitled “The Problem Is the Occupation.” The subtitle reads “How the Occupation is Destroying the Nation.” Which nation?  Israel, of course.  The paired articles appear under the heading “Israel under Siege.

The January 2012 issue features yet another call to bomb Iran now, before it is too late.  Warning of “the dangers of deterrence,” the author suggests that “skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease -- that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.

Others argue that the costs would be too high, and at the extremes some even point out that an attack would violate international law -- as does the stand of the moderates, who regularly deliver threats of violence, in violation of the U.N. Charter.

Let us review these dominant concerns in turn.

American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster.  Despite the piteous laments, the U.S. remains the world dominant power by a large margin, and no competitor is in sight, not only in the military dimension, in which of course the U.S. reigns supreme.

China and India have recorded rapid (though highly inegalitarian) growth, but remain very poor countries, with enormous internal problems not faced by the West.  China is the world’s major manufacturing center, but largely as an assembly plant for the advanced industrial powers on its periphery and for western multinationals.  That is likely to change over time.  Manufacturing regularly provides the basis for innovation, often breakthroughs, as is now sometimes happening in China.  One example that has impressed western specialists is China’s takeover of the growing global solar panel market, not on the basis of cheap labor but by coordinated planning and, increasingly, innovation.

But the problems China faces are serious. Some are demographic, reviewed inScience, the leading U.S. science weekly. The study shows that mortality sharply decreased in China during the Maoist years, “mainly a result of economic development and improvements in education and health services, especially the public hygiene movement that resulted in a sharp drop in mortality from infectious diseases.” This progress ended with the initiation of the capitalist reforms 30 years ago, and the death rate has since increased.

Furthermore, China’s recent economic growth has relied substantially on a “demographic bonus,” a very large working-age population. “But the window for harvesting this bonus may close soon,” with a “profound impact on development”:  “Excess cheap labor supply, which is one of the major factors driving China's economic miracle, will no longer be available.

Demography is only one of many serious problems ahead.  For India, the problems are far more severe.

Not all prominent voices foresee American decline.  Among international media, there is none more serious and responsible than the London Financial Times.  It recently devoted a full page to the optimistic expectation that new technology for extracting North American fossil fuels might allow the U.S. to become energy independent, hence to retain its global hegemony for a century.  There is no mention of the kind of world the U.S. would rule in this happy event, but not for lack of evidence.

At about the same time, the International Energy Agency reported that, with rapidly increasing carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, the limit of safety will be reached by 2017 if the world continues on its present course. “The door is closing,” the IEA chief economist said, and very soon it “will be closed forever.

Shortly before the U.S. Department of Energy reported the most recent carbon dioxide emissions figures, which “jumped by the biggest amount on record” to a level higher than the worst-case scenario anticipated by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  That came as no surprise to many scientists, including the MIT program on climate change, which for years has warned that the IPCC predictions are too conservative.

Such critics of the IPCC predictions receive virtually no public attention, unlike the fringe of denialists who are supported by the corporate sector, along with huge propaganda campaigns that have driven Americans off the international spectrum in dismissal of the threats.  Business support also translates directly to political power.  Denialism is part of the catechism that must be intoned by Republican candidates in the farcical election campaign now in progress, and in Congress they are powerful enough to abort even efforts to inquire into the effects of global warming, let alone do anything serious about it.

In brief, American decline can perhaps be stemmed if we abandon hope for decent survival, prospects that are all too real given the balance of forces in the world.

“Losing” China and Vietnam

Putting such unpleasant thoughts aside, a close look at American decline shows that China indeed plays a large role, as it has for 60 years.  The decline that now elicits such concern is not a recent phenomenon.  It traces back to the end of World War II, when the U.S. had half the world’s wealth and incomparable security and global reach.  Planners were naturally well aware of the enormous disparity of power, and intended to keep it that way.

The basic viewpoint was outlined with admirable frankness in a major state paper of 1948 (PPS 23).  The author was one of the architects of the New World Order of the day, the chair of the State Department Policy Planning Staff, the respected statesman and scholar George Kennan, a moderate dove within the planning spectrum.  He observed that the central policy goal was to maintain the “position of disparity” that separated our enormous wealth from the poverty of others.  To achieve that goal, he advised, “We should cease to talk about vague and... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization,” and must “deal in straight power concepts,” not “hampered by idealistic slogans” about “altruism and world-benefaction.

Kennan was referring specifically to Asia, but the observations generalize, with exceptions, for participants in the U.S.-run global system.  It was well understood that the “idealistic slogans” were to be displayed prominently when addressing others, including the intellectual classes, who were expected to promulgate them.

The plans that Kennan helped formulate and implement took for granted that the U.S. would control the Western Hemisphere, the Far East, the former British empire (including the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East), and as much of Eurasia as possible, crucially its commercial and industrial centers.  These were not unrealistic objectives, given the distribution of power.  But decline set in at once.

In 1949, China declared independence, an event known in Western discourse as “the loss of China” -- in the U.S., with bitter recriminations and conflict over who was responsible for that loss.  The terminology is revealing.  It is only possible to lose something that one owns.  The tacit assumption was that the U.S. owned China, by right, along with most of the rest of the world, much as postwar planners assumed.

The “loss of China” was the first major step in “America’s decline.” It had major policy consequences.  One was the immediate decision to support France’s effort to reconquer its former colony of Indochina, so that it, too, would not be “lost.

Indochina itself was not a major concern, despite claims about its rich resources by President Eisenhower and others.  Rather, the concern was the “domino theory,” which is often ridiculed when dominoes don’t fall, but remains a leading principle of policy because it is quite rational.  To adopt Henry Kissinger’s version, a region that falls out of control can become a “virus” that will “spread contagion,” inducing others to follow the same path.

In the case of Vietnam, the concern was that the virus of independent development might infect Indonesia, which really does have rich resources.  And that might lead Japan -- the “superdomino” as it was called by the prominent Asia historian John Dower -- to “accommodate” to an independent Asia as its technological and industrial center in a system that would escape the reach of U.S. power.  That would mean, in effect, that the U.S. had lost the Pacific phase of World War II, fought to prevent Japan’s attempt to establish such a New Order in Asia.

The way to deal with such a problem is clear: destroy the virus and “inoculate” those who might be infected.  In the Vietnam case, the rational choice was to destroy any hope of successful independent development and to impose brutal dictatorships in the surrounding regions.  Those tasks were successfully carried out -- though history has its own cunning, and something similar to what was feared has since been developing in East Asia, much to Washington’s dismay.

The most important victory of the Indochina wars was in 1965, when a U.S.-backed military coup in Indonesia led by General Suharto carried out massive crimes that were compared by the CIA to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.  The “staggering mass slaughter,” as the New York Times described it, was reported accurately across the mainstream, and with unrestrained euphoria.

It was “a gleam of light in Asia,” as the noted liberal commentator James Reston wrote in the Times.  The coup ended the threat of democracy by demolishing the mass-based political party of the poor, established a dictatorship that went on to compile one of the worst human rights records in the world, and threw the riches of the country open to western investors.  Small wonder that, after many other horrors, including the near-genocidal invasion of East Timor, Suharto was welcomed by the Clinton administration in 1995 as “our kind of guy.

Years after the great events of 1965, Kennedy-Johnson National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy reflected that it would have been wise to end the Vietnam war at that time, with the “virus” virtually destroyed and the primary domino solidly in place, buttressed by other U.S.-backed dictatorships throughout the region.

Similar procedures have been routinely followed elsewhere.  Kissinger was referring specifically to the threat of socialist democracy in Chile.  That threat was ended on another forgotten date, what Latin Americans call “the first 9/11,” which in violence and bitter effects far exceeded the 9/11 commemorated in the West.  A vicious dictatorship was imposed in Chile, one part of a plague of brutal repression that spread through Latin America, reaching Central America under Reagan.  Viruses have aroused deep concern elsewhere as well, including the Middle East, where the threat of secular nationalism has often concerned British and U.S. planners, inducing them to support radical Islamic fundamentalism to counter it.

The Concentration of Wealth and American Decline

Despite such victories, American decline continued.  By 1970, U.S. share of world wealth had dropped to about 25%, roughly where it remains, still colossal but far below the end of World War II.  By then, the industrial world was “tripolar”: US-based North America, German-based Europe, and East Asia, already the most dynamic industrial region, at the time Japan-based, but by now including the former Japanese colonies Taiwan and South Korea, and more recently China.

At about that time, American decline entered a new phase: conscious self-inflicted decline.  From the 1970s, there has been a significant change in the U.S. economy, as planners, private and state, shifted it toward financialization and the offshoring of production, driven in part by the declining rate of profit in domestic manufacturing.  These decisions initiated a vicious cycle in which wealth became highly concentrated (dramatically so in the top 0.1% of the population), yielding concentration of political power, hence legislation to carry the cycle further: taxation and other fiscal policies, deregulation, changes in the rules of corporate governance allowing huge gains for executives, and so on.

Meanwhile, for the majority, real wages largely stagnated, and people were able to get by only by sharply increased workloads (far beyond Europe), unsustainable debt, and repeated bubbles since the Reagan years, creating paper wealth that inevitably disappeared when they burst (and the perpetrators were bailed out by the taxpayer).  In parallel, the political system has been increasingly shredded as both parties are driven deeper into corporate pockets with the escalating cost of elections, the Republicans to the level of farce, the Democrats (now largely the former “moderate Republicans”) not far behind.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, which has been the major source of reputable data on these developments for years, is entitled Failure by Design.  The phrase “by design” is accurate.  Other choices were certainly possible.  And as the study points out, the “failure” is class-based.  There is no failure for the designers.  Far from it.  Rather, the policies are a failure for the large majority, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movements -- and for the country, which has declined and will continue to do so under these policies.

One factor is the offshoring of manufacturing.  As the solar panel example mentioned earlier illustrates, manufacturing capacity provides the basis and stimulus for innovation leading to higher stages of sophistication in production, design, and invention.  That, too, is being outsourced, not a problem for the “money mandarins” who increasingly design policy, but a serious problem for working people and the middle classes, and a real disaster for the most oppressed, African Americans, who have never escaped the legacy of slavery and its ugly aftermath, and whose meager wealth virtually disappeared after the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, setting off the most recent financial crisis, the worst so far.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. His latest books are Making the Future: Occupations, Intervention, Empire, and Resistance, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, Gaza in Crisis, with Ilan Pappé, and Hopes and Prospects, also available as an audiobook. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Chomsky offers an anatomy of American defeats in the Greater Middle East, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Noam Chomsky

© 2012 All rights reserved.

Read Part 2 of Chomsky's "Decline of America" series here. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Leak Offers Glimpse of Campaign Against Climate Science

from The New York Times
Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.

The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called the Heartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet. “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” one document said.

While the documents offer a rare glimpse of the internal thinking motivating the campaign against climate science, defenders of science education were preparing for battle even before the leak. Efforts to undermine climate-science instruction are beginning to spread across the country, they said, and they fear a long fight similar to that over the teaching of evolution in public schools.

In a statement, the Heartland Institute acknowledged that some of its internal documents had been stolen. But it said its president had not had time to read the versions being circulated on the Internet on Tuesday and Wednesday and was therefore not in a position to say whether they had been altered.

Heartland did declare one two-page document to be a forgery, although its tone and content closely matched that of other documents that the group did not dispute. In an apparent confirmation that much of the material, more than 100 pages, was authentic, the group apologized to donors whose names became public as a result of the leak.

The documents included many details of the group’s operations, including salaries, recent personnel actions and fund-raising plans and setbacks. They were sent by e-mail to leading climate activists this week by someone using the name “Heartland insider” and were quickly reposted to many climate-related Web sites.

Heartland said the documents were not from an insider but were obtained by a caller pretending to be a board member of the group who was switching to a new e-mail address. “We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes,” the organization said.

Although best-known nationally for its attacks on climate science, Heartland styles itself as a libertarian organization with interests in a wide range of public-policy issues. The documents say that it expects to raise $7.7 million this year.

The documents raise questions about whether the group has undertaken partisan political activities, a potential violation of federal tax law governing nonprofit groups. For instance, the documents outline “Operation Angry Badger,” a plan to spend $612,000 to influence the outcome of recall elections and related fights this year in Wisconsin over the role of public-sector unions.

Tax lawyers said Wednesday that tax-exempt groups were allowed to undertake some types of lobbying and political education, but that because they are subsidized by taxpayers, they are prohibited from direct involvement in political campaigns.

The documents also show that the group has received money from some of the nation’s largest corporations, including several that have long favored action to combat climate change.

The documents typically say that those donations were earmarked for projects unrelated to climate change, like publishing right-leaning newsletters on drug and technology policy. Nonetheless, several of the companies hastened on Wednesday to disassociate themselves from the organization’s climate stance.

“We absolutely do not endorse or support their views on the environment or climate change,” said Sarah Alspach, a spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline, a multinational drug company shown in the documents as contributing $50,000 in the past two years to support a medical newsletter.

A spokesman for Microsoft, another listed donor, said that the company believes that “climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate worldwide action.” The company is shown in the documents as having contributed $59,908 last year to a Heartland technology newsletter. But the Microsoft spokesman, Mark Murray, said the gift was not a cash contribution but rather the value of free software, which Microsoft gives to thousands of nonprofit groups.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Heartland documents was what they did not contain: evidence of contributions from the major publicly traded oil companies, long suspected by environmentalists of secretly financing efforts to undermine climate science.

But oil interests were nonetheless represented. The documents say that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation contributed $25,000 last year and was expected to contribute $200,000 this year. Mr. Koch is one of two brothers who have been prominent supporters of libertarian causes as well as other charitable endeavors. They control Koch Industries, one of the country’s largest private companies and a major oil refiner.

The documents suggest that Heartland has spent several million dollars in the past five years in its efforts to undermine climate science, much of that coming from a person referred to repeatedly in the documents as “the Anonymous Donor.” A guessing game erupted Wednesday about who that might be.

The documents say that over four years ending in 2013, the group expects to have spent some $1.6 million on financing the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, an entity that publishes periodic reports attacking climate science and holds lavish annual conferences. (Environmental groups refer to the conferences as “Denialpalooza.”)

Heartland’s latest idea, the documents say, is a plan to create a curriculum for public schools intended to cast doubt on mainstream climate science and budgeted at $200,000 this year. The curriculum would claim, for instance, that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy.”

It is in fact not a scientific controversy. The vast majority of climate scientists say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain about the exact magnitude of that risk. Whether and how to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases has become a major political controversy in the United States, however.

The National Center for Science Education, a group that has had notable success in fighting for accurate teaching of evolution in the public schools, has recently added climate change to its agenda in response to pleas from teachers who say they feel pressure to water down the science.

Mark S. McCaffrey, programs and policy director for the group, which is in Oakland, Calif., said the Heartland documents revealed that “they continue to promote confusion, doubt and debate where there really is none.”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Meet the Shameless Plutocrats
Choking What's Left of Our Democracy

The race for the White House may cost more than two billion dollars. What’s getting trampled into dust are the voices of people who aren't rich.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship,

Watching what’s happening to our democracy is like watching the cruise ship Costa Concordia founder and sink slowly into the sea off the coast of Italy, as the passengers, shorn of life vests, scramble for safety as best they can, while the captain trips and falls conveniently into a waiting life boat.

We are drowning here, with gaping holes torn into the hull of the ship of state from charges detonated by the owners and manipulators of capital. Their wealth has become a demonic force in politics. Nothing can stop them. Not the law, which has been written to accommodate them. Not scrutiny -- they have no shame. Not a decent respect for the welfare of others -- the people without means, their safety net shredded, left helpless before events beyond their control.

The obstacles facing the millennial generation didn’t just happen. Take an economy skewed to the top, low wages and missing jobs, predatory interest rates on college loans: these are politically engineered consequences of government of, by, and for the one percent. So, too, is our tax code the product of money and politics, influence and favoritism, lobbyists and the laws they draft for rented politicians to enact.

Here’s what we’re up against. Read it and weep: “America’s Plutocrats Play the Political Ponies.” That’s a headline in “Too Much,” an Internet publication from the Institute for Policy Studies that describes itself as “an online weekly on excess and inequality.”

Yes, the results are in and our elections have replaced horse racing as the sport of kings. Only these kings aren’t your everyday poobahs and potentates. These kings are multi-billionaire, corporate moguls who by the divine right, not of God, but the United States Supreme Court and its Citizens United decision, are now buying politicians like so much pricey horseflesh. All that money pouring into super PACs, much of it from secret sources: merely an investment, should their horse pay off in November, in the best government money can buy.

They’re shelling out fortunes' worth of contributions. Look at just a few of them: Mitt Romney’s hedge fund pals Robert Mercer, John Paulson, Julian Robertson and Paul Singer – each of whom has ponied up a million or more for the super PAC called “Restore Our Future” -- as in, "Give us back the go-go days, when predators ruled Wall Street like it was Jurassic Park.”

Then there's casino boss Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, fiercely pro-Israel and anti-President Obama's Mideast policy. Initially, they placed their bets on Newt Gingrich, who says on his first day in office he’d move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a decision that would thrill the Adelsons but infuriate Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world. Together, the Adelsons have contributed ten million to Newt's “Winning Our Future” super PAC.

Cowboy billionaire Foster Friess, a born-again Christian who made his fortune herding mutual funds instead of cattle, has been bankrolling the “Red White and Blue Fund” super PAC of Rick Santorum, with whom he shares a social right-wing agenda. Dark horse Ron Paul has relied on the kindness of PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a like-minded libertarian in favor of the smallest government possible, who gave $900,000 to Paul’s “Endorse Liberty” super PAC. Hollywood’s Jeffrey Katzenberg has so far emptied his wallet to the tune of a cool two million for the pro-Obama super PAC, “Priorities USA Action.”

President Obama -- who kept his distance from Priorities USA Action and used to call the money unleashed by Citizens United a “threat to democracy” -- has declared if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. He urges his wealthy supporters to please go ahead and back the super PAC. "Our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it stands," his campaign manager Jim Messina said. To do otherwise, he added, would be to "unilaterally disarm" in the face of all those Republican super PAC millions. So much for Obama’s stand on campaign finance reform – everybody else is doing it, he seems to say, so why don’t you show me the money, too?

When all is said and done, this race for the White House may cost more than two billion dollars. What’s getting trampled into dust are the voices of people who aren't rich, not to mention what's left of our democracy. As Democratic pollster Peter Hart told The New Yorker magazine’s Jane Mayer, “It’s become a situation where the contest is how much you can destroy the system, rather than how much you can make it work. It makes no difference if you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after your name. There’s no sense that this is about democracy, and after the election you have to work together, and knit the country together.”

These gargantuan super PAC contributions are not an end in themselves. They are the means to gain control of government – and the nation state -- for a reason. The French writer and economist Frederic Bastiat said it plainly: "When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it." That’s what the super PACs are bidding on. For the rest of us, the ship may already have sailed.


Veteran journalist Bill Moyers is the host of the show “Moyers & Company,” on PBS - ALWAYS A MUST SEE.
More at

Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos and president of the Writers Guild of America, East, is senior writer of the new public television series "Moyers & Company."

© 2012 All rights reserved.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mike D for Net Neutrality In A Big Way

The Beastie Boys' Michael "Mike D" Diamond is part of an AT&T investor group seeking to put a net neutrality question on the shareholder ballot: "The shareholder resolution would recommend each company 'publicly commit to operate its wireless broadband network consistent with network neutrality principles,' the letter said. The companies should not discriminate based on the “source, ownership or destination” of data sent over their wireless infrastructure." (from BoingBoing via Consumerist)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Great example of how fucked American media is politically, from The Daily Show

This entire episode was pretty incredible, if you got the time click through after this clip and watch the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The oldest thing in the world

The oldest living thing on Earth is a massive "meadow" of sea grass growing in the Mediterranean between Spain and Cyprus. It's somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 years old and reproduces by cloning itself. Also, it's being killed by climate change.

thanks, BoingBoing

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Short Documentary on the Folks Who Were the Last to Develop Kodachrome

In commemoration of its 75th and final year, a documentary look at the first color film and the last lab in the world that processed it.
Thanks, Luke!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Birthday Henry Rollins

Henry turns 51 years old today, fucking incredible!

One of my very earliest classic photos of Hank.

This one's from the cover of Fuck You Heroes.

And a rare soundcheck photo from the same day.

(click to enlarge pic's)

Two classics from my favorite LP of all time:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores In The World

(As usual click on the images to enlarge)

With bookstores closing left and right, things can sometimes seem a little grim for the brick and mortar booksellers of the world. You can order your books online these days. But there are still bookstores so beautiful they're worth getting out of the house to visit whether you need a new hardcover or not.

Here's the full list with many more images, most beautiful bookstores in the world, from Belgium to Japan to Slovakia.

Thanks, Presurfer

Friday, February 10, 2012

Anarchy in the Magic Kingdom: Crass/Mickey Mouse tee-shirt hack!

from DangerousMinds:

It appears that someone is having a little fun with the whole “sacrilegious” Disney/Joy Divison tee-shirt controversy...

Some crafty anarcho-inspired culture hackers have made their own Crass/Mickey Mouse mash-up tees and discretely deposited them neatly folded in Disney boutiques. Unsuspecting shoppers will either be baffled or delighted by their DIY creation.

Me, I’m delighted! I need one of these! Now, I’ve got… Mickey envy.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why Conservatives and Liberals see the world differently

from DangerousMinds:

How absolutely grand it is to have a great American institution like Bill Moyers back on our television airways? After reading about Moyer’s reasons for returning to the public sphere—he feels compelled to re-enter the national conversation at what he believes to be a dark and critical juncture in American civic life—I had been greatly anticipating Moyers & Company. So far, the series has not disappointed, with a discussion on crony capitalism with Reagan’s budget director David Stockman and ace financial journalist Gretchen Morgenson, and a conversation on “winner-takes-all” politics with Yale professor Jacob Hacker and Berkeley’s Paul Pierson. We’ve only got him for two more years—Moyers will retire again when he turns 80—but it’s great to see him back conducting these meaty, intelligent and engaged conversations. Moyers & Company is among the very best programming that PBS has to offer.

On the most recent show, Moyers interviewed University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who many DM readers might be familiar with from his 2008 TED talk on the moral values that liberals and conservatives hold the most highly and how this influences their politics, and from his book The Happiness Hypothesis.

In his upcoming book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion Professor Haidt aims to explain what it means when the other side “doesn’t get it” to both sides. He makes some terrifically good points during his interview with Moyers, especially when it comes to explaining how “group think” and “the hive mind” work on both extremes of the political spectrum in America (and in other countries, too).

As you can see in this piece, Haidt’s research is fascinating indeed, but I found that some of his premises and conclusions were extremely unsatisfying. Some seemed downright counter-intuitive. Unhelpful. Don’t get me wrong, I think this entire interview is worthwhile, thought-provoking—even essential—viewing no matter which bit of the political spectrum you might fall on yourself, but the more or less false assumption that seems to be at the heart of Haidt’s work—that both sides have come to their positions through equally intellectually defensible routes—made my face scrunch up in in an expression that some might describe as a look of “liberal condescension.”

You could say that “Well, isn’t that just what he’s talking about? You’re a socialist, so of course you’d see it that way!” but even if that’s true, let me offer up Exhibit A in a lazy, half-hearted—yet utterly definitive—argument-ending rebuttal: Orly Taitz, WorldNetDaily and the whole birther phenomenon.

How is it “balanced” to give obviously unbalanced people the benefit of the doubt? What would even be the point of that exercise? What purpose would it serve to a social scientist? If someone’s political positions can’t be reconciled with actual facts, then their political opinions are absolutely worthless.

Try having a rational political discussion with a LaRouchie sometime! It can’t be done.

People who have difficulty grasping the complexity of the world they live in should not be seen as coming to the table as equals with people who are not as intellectually challenged! This seems self-evident, does it not? The birther phenomenon among Republican voters was never some fringe faction within the greater GOP. It still isn’t.

It would be a waste of time to try to catalog every instance of ill-informed right-wingers who can’t spell “moron,” vehemently protest policies that would actually benefit their own lives, and who think that every single word in the Bible is the infallible utterance of God himself, but at least in this interview (his book isn’t out yet) Haidt fails to demonstrate why stupidity, superstition and flagrant lies about established historical facts deserve intellectual parity alongside of opinions borne of widely accepted science, common sense and a commonly shared national history, as opposed to the made-up one the Reichwing subscribes to.

The age-old trusim of “There are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle” is no longer the case when you’re having a “philosophical disagreement” with a Drudge Report reader or Fox News fan who lives in their own private Bizzaro World where there is no difference between facts and Rush Limbaugh’s opinon . Internet comments that invoke conspiracy theories about Frances Piven, ACORN, the Tides Foundation, George Soros, Saul Alinsky, Van Jones or that comically conflate “Socialism” with “National Socialism” are dead-giveaways of a stunted intelligence on the other end of the keyboard. Teabaggers who want to pressure school textbook publishers to remove any mention of the Founding Fathers being slaveholders or Christianists who argue that Creationism is as equally valid as Darwin’s evolutionary theories should not be in a position to influence policy and yet in many parts of the country this is exactly what is happening, to the detriment of the school systems, the intellectual growth of the students who will be ill-prepared for higher education, etc. Does Haidt truly feel that these people who deny history and science itself came to their positions honestly and rationally? And if he doesn’t feel that way, wouldn’t that admission require a caveat so huge as to at least partially invalidate much of his take-away?

I’m intrigued by what his research has found, I’m far less impressed by how he interprets it.

I get that Haidt’s thesis must be presented in a manner which bends over backwards not to appear partisan, but when it’s been shown that a statistically significant percentage of lower IQ children tend to gravitate towards political conservatism in adulthood (read “Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice” at Live Science) I feel like Haidt might missing the boat entirely: What if the REAL revelation at the heart of his research is that there’s an unbridgeable IQ stratification in America due to our shitty public schools, and the malign influence of the churches and talk radio/Fox News that may have already rendered this country basically ungovernable. (Jonathan Haidt regularly asks his audiences to raise their hands to indicate if they self-identify as “liberal” or “conservative” and notes that when he’s speaking to an audience of academics, that over 90% tend to call themselves “liberals”—is this merely a coincidence? I should think not!).

I respect what Haidt is attempting to do with his research, but ultimately, watching this, I saw so many flaws in his assumptions and methodology (at least as he explains it here, which I suspect is adequate) that I can’t help feeling that someone else is going to come along later and take up some of the more valid points of his work, discard the less impressive parts and get it right. He’s on to something in a big way, but I have deep reservations with much of what he concludes.

Still, as I was saying before, this is some must-see TV. Most thinking people will find something of value here, for sure. If this is a topic that interests you, it’s a fascinating discussion.




Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Oregon Bill That Would Criminalize Twitter

from Mother Jones
Under a bill debated today [yesterday] in Oregon, that tweet could be illegal.

The bill, SB 1534, would make it a felony to use "electronic communication to solicit two or more persons to commit [a] specific crime at [a] specific time and location." The punishment could include up to 5 years in prison and a $125,000 fine.

Critics worry that the bill is so broadly construed that it could outlaw everything from tweets about student sit-ins to Facebook posts calling for the occupation of Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. In Oregon, it might become a tool to crack down on Occupy Portland, which is calling for the nonviolent shutdown of corporations such as Bank of America and ExxonMobil later this month.

Earlier today, activists posted contact information for the bill's 11 co-sponsors and urged allies to call to voice their opposition. None of the lawmakers could be reached for comment this afternoon. In many cases, their phones were busy.

The author of the bill, Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, defended it during a public hearing today. He wrote it to prevent people from saying: "'We are all going to arrive at Joe's Jewelry Store at 4:55 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon and we're going to rob him blind,'" he said. "This has been happening. At least 8 percent of the retailers in the United States have experienced that type of situation."

Still, speakers at the hearing overwhelmingly opposed the bill. "The law would inhibit somebody like Dr. Martin Luther King," said Eric Coker, an Oregon State PHD student. "It would have prevented something as simple as the Selma Bridge protest. All those people, if they had heard about it through electronic communication, they would all have been subject to a Class C felony."

Dan Meek, an attorney representing the Oregon Progressive Party, added: "I have to say, this is the kind of law that I would expect to see in Myanmar, Turkmenistan, North Korea or Zimbabwe, but not in Oregon."

UPDATE: The Oregonian reports that the bill died in committee today.

Thanks, Occupy Portland and Anonymous via Andy Stepanian

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What happens if you ask Google Images what's most similar, starting with a blank image, repeating the process 2951 times?

Sebastian Schmieg of the Netherlands created this video by feeding a transparent image to Google Image Search and asking it to find similar images, and then taking the top result and feeding it back into the similarity algorithm, 2951 times. It's a wonderful look at an evolutionary process.

Search by Image, Recursively, Transparent PNG, #1

Thanks, BoingBoing

Monday, February 6, 2012

Totally Fucking Annoying

Almost as bad as the telephone conversation I had to deal with a few hours ago.
But actually this is pretty fucking amazing.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. Using a variety of techniques (miniatures, computer animation, 2D animation) award winning author/ illustrator William Joyce and Co-director Brandon Oldenburg present a new narrative experience that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. “Morris Lessmore” is old fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is one of five animated short films that will be considered for outstanding film achievements of 2011 in the 84th Academy Awards ®.

Film Awards Won by “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”
To date, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” film has drummed up fans all over the world taking home the following awards:
· Cinequest Film Fest: Best Animated Short
· Palm Springs International ShortFest: Audience Favorite Award
· SIGGRAPH: Best in Show

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A retired teacher's courageous crusade:
Tackling neo-Nazi hate

By Andy Eckardt, NBC News
BERLIN – Irmela Mensah-Schramm has embarked on her very personal "combat mission" almost daily for 26 years. Her weapons? A scraper, nail-polish remover, a camera and lots of courage.

Come rain, heatwaves or stormy weather, the 66-year-old sets out to battle what she calls "extremely disturbing" neo-Nazi and racist graffiti, stickers and posters that blight the streets of Germany's capital.

The retired special-needs teacher has now removed more than 90,000 stickers and scribblings.

"Even when I injured my leg several years ago and was walking on crutches, it did not stop me from removing the muck off traffic light poles, bus stops or building walls," Mensah-Schramm says.

Mensah-Schramm travels by commuter train to areas she believes are right-wing strongholds, places where xenophobic propaganda and spray-painted Nazi symbols mix with gang-related graffiti and the more colorful works of spray-paint artists.

Her "vocation" started with a single neo-Nazi sticker on a street light outside of her apartment in the upmarket Berlin-Wannsee area.

"One morning, I saw a banned Nazi symbol well visible on a lamp post and was appalled that people in my neighborhood ignored it day in and day out, without removing this trash," Mensah-Schramm recalls.

"Only a short while later, I witnessed an incident in which my Indian brother-in-law became the victim of racist bashing. This shocked me so much that I decided to act."

She documents much of the offensive material in photographs and has compiled a scrapbook, which she always carries with her. Mensah-Schramm calls her project "Hate Destroys."

"For many years, I have been displaying my pictures in exhibits across the country," Mensah-Schramm says. "I talk about my experiences in schools and I regularly host workshops with children and students, generating awareness for the bad impact of these ugly racist messages."

Even ill health hasn't stopped her determined drive to wipe out extremist propaganda. After undergoing a cancer operation at a Berlin hospital in 1995, Mensah-Schramm found two swastikas painted in a stairwell. She rushed back to the nurses, asked for acetone and scrubbed away as much as she could before becoming too weak to finish the job. It was the first day Mensah-Schramm was able to get out of bed.

"In some journeys, I need to take tougher measures with black spray-paint or anti-graffiti solvent to remove writings off walls, and sometimes I even ask people on the street to help me out, if I cannot reach the graffiti," Mensah-Schramm says as she walks past run-down apartment buildings in an economically depressed neighborhood in the Berlin suburb of Koenigs Wusterhausen, which was once part of communist East Germany.

"Look, that is my work," she proudly points out, as she walks past a black square, which was once a swastika that she recently painted over.

Her message is clear: Don't look away.

"You cannot achieve something by doing nothing," explains Mensah-Schramm, whose husband was born in Ghana.

"This type of xenophobic propaganda on the streets can help to spread dangerous ideologies, which can be part of a radicalization process that ultimately can lead to extreme violence," she says, referring to recent revelations about a neo-Nazi terror cell that shocked Germany and led to a nationwide debate about the danger of right-wing extremism in the country.

Murder spree
Two men, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, and their 36-year old female accomplice, Beate Zschaepe, formed the so-called National Socialist Union (NSU). The group is believed to be responsible for the murders of at least nine small businessmen of Turkish and Greek origin between 2000 and 2006, as well as the slaying of a police officer in 2007.

Much to the embarrassment of German authorities, the country's law enforcement agencies only connected the crimes and their xenophobic motives in late 2011 after two of the three cell members committed suicide, following a bank robbery that put police on their trail.

German investigators originally suspected that the victims were most likely killed by fellow immigrants and might have been involved in gang-related crimes.

While critics say that German authorities had turned "blind on the right eye", by focusing instead on tackling Islamist terrorism, lawmakers set up an anti-terror center for right-wing extremism in December. Last month, Germany's parliament also appointed a commission of inquiry into the series of killings.

The German government has also established a database aimed at better coordination in the fight against violent neo-Nazis, partly because the NSU terror cell apparently remained in the shadows for so long due to poor lines of communication between different national security agencies and state authorities.

"Attacks on local politicians and violent acts against foreigners show that the goal is to spread fear and terror," Heinz Fromm, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, told a recent symposium in Berlin.

Germany's domestic intelligence agency estimates that there are about 9,500 potentially violent neo-Nazis among the 26,000 right-wing extremists in the country.

"For years, we have been seeing that brutality within right-wing extremism has been on the rise," says Dr. Alexander Eisvogel, vice-president of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.
* * Homes raided after neo-Nazi torchlight parade
However, Mensah-Schramm insists that she remains unafraid.

"I have been threatened many times by neo-Nazis, who have seen me remove their works,” she says. “And once, I came across big letters written on a wall that read: 'Schramm, we will get you'.

"Another time, I found my photo illegally posted on a well-known neo-Nazi website, where the subtitle indicated that nobody would care if I was dead," Mensah-Schramm describes.

She filed an official complaint over the violation of her personal rights. "Unfortunately, that got me nowhere because the server for the page was based in the United States," Mensah-Schramm says.

In fact, German authorities are facing a growing challenge when it comes to online enforcement.

Extremist groups are turning to web servers in the United States to host their content and spread their messages beyond the jurisdiction of local authorities. While displaying of Nazi symbols and the incitement of racial hatred are outlawed in Germany, neo-Nazi websites take advantage of free speech laws in the United States.

As the retiree counts sticker number 70,076, removed at a bus stop outside a local high school, she turns and says, "There are these small, but very rewarding moments."

"A former neo-Nazi, who had massively threatened me in the past and later exited the scene, stopped me on the street one day," Mensah-Schramm says with a choked voice. "He took off his sunglasses, looked me straight in the eyes and said that he wanted to thank me for never giving up my fight.

"I was so overwhelmed by the gesture that I started to cry," Mensah-Schramm says, before walking off to complete her mission of the day.