Sane man !

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

With God

So Sharon decides to expand the West bank, he has to really, pushed by the whole of Israel, angry at him for leaving that little strip of beach to the original squatters.
But the mentality of the settlers is interesting:

But Shlomit Ziv, a teacher and mother of eight children who has lived in the settlement for 13 years, says not. "Are we to say that we should not defend a part of Israel because soldiers are killed?" she said. "No one is happy to be living under terror but the value of the place is worth it. The people of Netzarim suffered from terror because we believed that even if it's hard, that's what God wants."

Not very nice for the soldiers (nevermind the gunned down palis), but I guess if you know what God wants...
Oh and how funny that these people are never tallked about as "religious fanatics"...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Great joke from Billmon


I see that no less an imperial personage than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, has asked a federal judge to block the opening of the Abu Ghraib Film Festival of the Damned:

Myers . . . said in a statement put forth to support the Pentagon's case that he believed that "riots, violence and attacks by insurgents will result" if the images were released.

"It is probable that Al Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill, which will result in, besides violent attacks, increased terrorist recruitment, continued financial support and exacerbation of tensions between Iraqi and Afghani populaces and U.S. and coalition forces," he said.

Sheesh. Suddenly everybody's a movie critic.

Billmon is one of the sanest and a fearless US bloggers... Longwinded sometimes but he doesn't feel forced to pay lip service to the troops/flag/freedom, he calls a spade a spade and proto-fascism proto-fascism. Best of all he is not on the defensive from the right-wing attacks, but constantly analysing the situation from an objective viewpoint, while still striking a reasonable and humble tone.

Trying to make it real... compared to what?

I was going to say: stating the "obvious" is missing sometimes around blogs. This is because political or topical blogging is a reactive medium: basically a giant letters-to-the-editor page, without the newspaper. This reactive discourse always revolves around the tacit assumptions, on the terms and in the frame given by the mainstream, which mainly means the media or politicians. Both avoid basic unconfortable truths, as they are bad for sales/votes (few want to read about this) and often quite boring. Also, opinion-makers are constantly in the quest for some new "angles".

(This could be confused with the idiots ranting about the "MSM" and how it won't report (for example) that all arabs are killers... They use the same type of reasoning to rationalise their ranting about the media.
I suppose common sense is needed (hence the problem) and also a clear motivation. There is a good reason for the BBC to be subservient to the government, and they have a clear incentive for sensationally overselling and hyping up non-stories, while avoiding unpleasant truths (as explained above). I find that the various conspiracies about the "liberal" or PC media are quite lacking in that respect...)

In fact "The Media" is also very reactive: Tv, and (to a lesser extent) newspapers. As has been wildly noted, they sell only news, and often lack basic truths and context. They describe only correctives to an assumed universal base. It also complicated by the political filtering to cater for the political template of their readers. This is also true of blogs of course, in an even more strident way. As the blogs react to media reports, the trends are amplified as much.

I think the main conclusion is that reading only reactive media such as blogs or newspapers will twist your perspective and make you lose objectivity. RTFM!
This is true of the corporate media as well as the lefty indymedias, which portray struggles and under-reported facets of commercial activities: if you only read this kind of thing...

The problem with the internet is that there is so little common sense. All the empty talk about its potential is belied by the vast proportion of asocial people with little contact with the outside world contributing to it intensely and regularly. Hence the disporportionate amount of "Libertarians", and the vacuity and nerdy unreality of many of the political debate.

A random example is the "new you"...controversy!!!: Why does the media report insist on reporting A while B is true, as you can clearly see, and as these google links prove beyond any doubt!?! Why are the police and the BBC lying???!?

So with a demographic biased against common sense, and reading only the hyper-reactive media that is blogs, and filtering out those you don't like... well, you might end up (unconsciously) totally cut-off from reality... and loving it!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Slightly reactionary quote...

[T]here is no reason, art should gain the point of honour of our great and puissant mother Nature. We have so much by our inventions, surcharged the beauties and riches of her works, that we have altogether over-choked her: yet wherever her purity shineth, she makes our vain and frivolous enterprises wonderfully ashamed.

Monday, August 15, 2005

More from Vonnegut:

2 other great quotes from Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.:

All people are insane. they will do anything at any time, and god help anybody who looks for reasons.

It's no doubt a great flaw in my personality but i can't think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves or pixies. I can't believe that they mark the beginning or the end of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will.

I really feel a great affinity to this last quote, I have felt like this since I was young...

The tagging fallacy

Tentative def: basing your evaluation on something good/bad tagged to the end of an (abstract) object, and more or less separated from its main body. As opposed to doing a complete evaluation, in context.

This is based on a logical fallacy, ie B in A does not mean A in B. Do a lot of math and you learn to spot these...

For ex: Prince Charles and the biodynamics...

It starts pretty reasonably:

Biodynamic farming was founded early last century by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, scientist and social reformer. Steiner is best known for his schools, founded on the philosophy that the “whole child” should be nurtured.

A holistic view of the garden? That seems like a pretty good idea, owrthy of consideration! The problem for Steiner is that holistic thinking is pretty tough, and to find good rules governing the way a garden works as a whole would take a lot of work and time. The solution? Make some shit up with

[...]the sowing of crops should be timed to fit in with the cycles of the moon, planets and signs of the zodiac. Steiner’s Biodynamic Agricultural Association draws up a day-by-day timetable for planting. This is sent out annually to the 140 biodynamic farmers registered in Britain.
Under the Steiner system each crop type is linked to one of the four traditional elements: earth, water, wind and fire. Root crops such as carrots are seen as earth plants while fruits such as apples are linked with fire. Leaf crops, including lettuce, are associated with water.

This is utter rubbish of course. But only seeing the tag above, you might be drawn into it (like poor Charles).

Other example: some liberal descriptions of religions... "The Bible says you should help the poor and the needy, and that you should turn the other cheek. Surely you can't disagree with this?" But it's a big book, and the admittedly good ethics are only a sideshow to the main tenets of theism: the revelation, salvation, and the mystical caracter of the immanent God.
There is of course the reverse: those who lead a bigoted life of selfishness, hate, treachery etc, and who still feel good about themselves because they are "good christians", ie they've done the right prayers and been to church (or even less than that). They've put the Jaysus tag on their unethical life, so all is peachy.

Or of course the hawkish Iraq War arguments (as opposed to the passive ones): "Surely you'd agree that Saddam is a bad man? You'd like him gone? Then you must subscribe to the US/UK plan..."

Friday, August 12, 2005


If it's true that for every difficult problem, there is a simple solution that is wrong, it's also often true that there is a right solution that is boring.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Incompetent hegemony snapshot

On my google RSS readout:

Reuters: Top News

-Four US soldiers killed, 6 wounded in Iraq attack
-Defiant Iran to proceed with more atomic work
-Bush, advisers paint rosy picture of US economy

Is it just me hearing a sarcastic tone in that last headline?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nice one

It's worth sometimes trawling through the bitchfests happening in the comments of Crooked Timber, to find some pearls, like the Vaclav Havel quote, or this from "jasmindad":

All these questions about “what facts” changed Hitchens’, Cohen’s or Anthony’s opinions arise from a misunderstanding of the logic of political side-taking. Everyone here assumes, in a way that is flattering to themselves, that their own political positions are based on a relentless application of rational inference to the million facts about this or that. What in fact happens is that by various heuristic means, we organize the facts and assign significance before seriously processing them. One such means is use of templates we inherit from our peers with whom we feel comfortable or with whom we agree on other things. Another might be an earlier template that we felt comfortable with in a similar but different situation. And so on. What these templates do is help organize the facts in various ways, including assignment of credibility, significance and so on. This way one person might regard Blair as sincere in his expressed concern for democracy and human rights in Iraq—a fact—, while another one might view this simply a cover for other real motives. Facts get interpreted and collated and processed in different ways. The template does most of the work. This is why political discussions are so frustrating. We hurl “facts” at each other and are amazed that the other person doesn’t make of them what seems so obvious to us. The only explanation we can think of is idiocy or immorality.

Several things might happen to shake this up in individual cases. In my own case, e.g., I had long taken a certain political position on some issue, and that framework required that people who take an opposite position need to be some combination of cretin and moral monster. But then I met someone whom I dearly loved who was neither a cretin nor a monster, but who subscribed to the opposite view. This particular event reverberated through my template in a certain way that I became much more ambivalent about my own position in that matter.

So I’m willing to believe that an evening with a Kurd shook Hitchens up and tore up his template. But what I’d have hoped this event might have done for Hitchens is to make him question his own style of argument in which anyone who is not completely on his side on any political issue is a moron or a person of bad faith. It is also disappointing that he has not gone over his earlier political positions, once expressed with equal disdain for opponents, and given himself and others an honest account off how his earlier template had misled him, and perhaps express something like a regret for his earlier disdain for opponents. But as far as I can make out, he has always been right in every position.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Logic of terrorists

ane analysis:

[E]very major suicide-terrorist campaign
has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw [from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland].

Another really good article from "Lenin". It is really annoying to hear so much nonsense about these terrorists, especially given the dangers involved. We have to fight against them without the slightest idea of what's going on?

But an analysis on different levels is necessary. Our brains are quite simple and are usually only comfortable with linear, A->B->C thinking and causal relations. But many objects have more complex structures: either composite/multipartite (horizontal structure) or spanning several levels of abstraction (vertical structure). Most of the
problems and arguments we entertain come from confusions between these different levels: selective picking, or subsequent switching between them. More on this later.

In fact, the different Qutbist (and related!) terrorists all have different aspects to motivate them:
  1. Reactionary: against modern "western" values, ie the post-60's liberal progress faught by about half the Western world!
  2. Anti-colonialism: cf above. Military geo-strategy and its discontents. It is tinted by religion, as some sites are more important than others...
  3. Political: thirst for power and the creation of a global califate.
  4. Personal situation: whatever personal motivations come from the particular history of the person.
A mix of all these elements is probably found in most terrorists, with a varying proportion.
The people who go on and on about "Islamo-fascism" just focus on item 3, mostly confined to some of the leadership, add a bit of 1, and attach this to the whole Qutbist movement. But it varies for different individuals, at different levels at the hierarchy, hence the confusions and the spurious debates about "apologists" etc.

Religion binds all these things together, but is not the impulse. The terrorism is not "essentially Islamic" as the racists keep telling themselves. The religion provides the essential objective context, which allows the soldier (not the Bin-Ladens!) to forget his self and forget his life to fight for the "higher cause". Suicide bombing is just the limit form of this selflessness, with its deadly efficiency, as it is near-impossible to stop in modern societies. The religious impulse replaces the nationalist impulse, which is actually another form of "objectivism" (I mean implanting the objective in the subjective).
Islam becomes a new national identity, which is why it's so stupid to force people to choose it as an identity versus the default nationality.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Decently scared

It's quite funny that the weblog cranks clamoring the loudest over the Horrible Islamic Threat; going on about "Islamo-fascists"; saying you have to denounce, denounce denounce; saying you cannot explain or "excuse" what is just pure evil; mutter darkly about the intrinsic properties of Islam and the general instances of violence from its followers; constantly putting this threat over any other consideration...
...are the one who are the most scared of terrorists!

What they call a "strong, resolute stand" is often just an aimless expression of fear-fuelled hatred. Any cool, rational analysis is perceived as weakness, simply because it doesn't reiterate meaningless revenge fantasies.

It is of the major aim of terrorists attacks to cause this fear and insecurity, increasing divisions, and prompting stupid responses. Hence the actions of the US since 9/11, falling right into UBL's Middle-Eastern trap.

Case in effing point!
But look, to be against terror you first have to acknowledge that it exists.
How funny, exactly my point... Brendan in comments actually brings up a great text from Vaclav Havel, right to the point:
Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan, ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient’, he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. … To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, ‘What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?’
There is a also a clear racist element which fuels these reactions; on this more later.

Added: they get pre-verbal now! Fantastic piece from Andrew... But it fails to really explain the central irrationality and fear at the centre of all this behaviour, it just circles around it... Mushy Americans, they don't want to offend their fellow nut-cases.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Why do we find these terrorist attacks so horrible?

I wasn't sure about this but now that the second bombers team's intentions seem to be clear...

Half of the answer is that they are happening to "us", ie someone similar to us, close in the ethnico-cultural space represented in our reptilian brains. This is normal, and the way empathy works.

But it is often said that the attacks are particularly evil because they target innocents, civilians... like me. I'm pretty innocent I guess. But this is absurd: would it be less "evil" if they had targeted the military, bombed some soldier's barracks in Hampshire? Would it have been better if they had come down Oxford street with some tanks? Of course not. Is it the surprise effect? It increases the terror but not the nature of the acts.

The problem, and unpleasant truth, is more that we think we're out of any war. We live in a peacetime, thriving economy where the biggest concern is what to consume, how to fine-tune our governmental expenditure, and the house prices. But there is an ongoing war, waged far away from our direct awareness.
Foreign wars are a distant abstract, the full nature of which it is quite easy to ignore.

The same people would also say that the traditional wars are not aimed at civilians, but they have been lulled by the military euphemisms ("capture", "progress", "neutralise" etc). Wars impose by force and death some political aims.
The major aim of the terrorist attacks wasn't to kill civilians, but was strategic, politic, etc.

War is brought back into Babylon...
This is not to diminish the horror of the act of course. But the Iraq War was pretty horrible as well, and it is quite sickening to read endless one-sided discussions by people who keep going on about one half of the world, and wondering about those horrible events while ignoring the other half quite easily. I wished none would happen.

This is like foreign slave labour and the failure of socialism in modern western societies: this is a failure of empathy in a globalised world, which is a fairly new but crucial phenomenon. It is quite easy for us to ignore the sufferings of labourers in third world countries that bring us the cheap products we enjoy... And no "working class" here will fight for the rights of others over there.