Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why Ask Why - The Torture Memos

A great deal of genuine angst is being expended on a question that is consuming a lot of thought, happily or sadly. The question is this: "What could possibly allow people to convince themselves that torture and abuse of other human beings is OK, in the name of any cause?"

The answer, sadly enough, is simple.

Because it's fun!

It is perhaps an unpalatable truth about humanity, but it is true nonetheless; the sublimation of our urge towards sadomasochistic behavior manifests itself in every aspect of our culture, from sport, to politics, to entertainment. I leave the the fun of finding appropriate examples to you, save for this one.

It's the sort of fun that we have to create general social rules to prevent, but it's also a pretty basic, if very dark human urge, made the darker for being buried and repressed. It forces us to make up justifications and rationalizations and excuses that allow us to pretend that we are doing what we would do anyway for Higher Purposes, even because God Demands It.

The ability to degrade and abuse other human beings and get away with it is one of the single greatest perks of power, nor has any human being ever managed to entirely free themselves of the thrill that comes from grinding a victim's face in the dirt.

Some manage to shed or regret the impulse quicker than others. The best of us realize that it must an may only be savored when it is to the end of genuine right action, because only then do the karmic dominoes resolve into an aesthetic whole, rather than a noisy, chaotic mess.

The very worst of us seek power for the very purpose of being able to inflict pain and horror on others.
They have or need no greater reason and any motives they cite are there only to convince you to give them the power to do as they will. But any good or evil that results from their exercise of power is entirely beside the point, save to concentrate and preserve their power to do it again, harder and more frequently.

We call that "Evil" - or if you wish a more personal image, try Dick Cheney.

There is a man who has created an entire world-view that permits any imaginable exercise of power over others while keeping whatever remains of his conscience restrained from it's duty. But let's face it; Cheney would be nothing without his enablers and fellow travelers; those who think of their perception of humanity as being "realistic," their understanding of power and consequence as being natural and free of "Naive self-delusion," their manipulations of the body politic "necessary" to evade the "squeamish" objections of "cowardly liberals" who think - as does the FBI - that torture brings nothing but bad karma and highly motivated enemies.

This viewpoint is ultimately shared by the likes of Cheney - but if you were to ask him bluntly during a sodium thiopental interview, the answer might well be a question - as in, "what's your point?"

The creation of external enemies from people who's viewpoints might or might not make them enemies is all to the good for such a mind. It places everyone into two neat little boxes. "Us, and Them." All that remains is to slowly crush anyone labeled "them" Repeat as often as needed, until only "Us" remains.

Unfortunately for the rest of humanity, the only "Us" in Dick Cheney's universe is Dick Cheney and perhaps a handful of direct relatives. I wouldn't bet on that, though. While blood may be thicker than water, there is a great deal of history regarding tyrants and dictators that suggests that power is at least an order of magnitude thicker than blood.

The thing to remember is that there is nothing more visceral, nothing more primal than forcing some "deserving" loser's face into a pile of horse dung and raping him with one's riding crop whilst forcing him to watch his wife and children being "entertained" by the troops. The torture memos reveal nothing more than an attempt to make it possible for our leaders to enjoy this classic perk of leadership without being held accountable by "squeamish moralists."

Now, frankly, I have no moral qualms with consensual sadism. For every person who enjoys wielding power, there are many that enjoy it being used upon them far more than conventional moralists and ethicist would believe. I think it an important dynamic, but it breaks down when the one wielding the staff of power refuses to admit that their power is donated by those they have power over toward the end of creating a society that is more than the sum of it's parts.

And when the entire purpose of a society is the self-gratification of a Great Leader, it is not more, but less than the sum of it's parts.

Americans can see this all around them, if they care to look. The idea that society is composed of "winners and losers" and that the "winners" owe nothing to those less successful save, perhaps a charitable kick in the ass to "motivate them." For example, equating a lack of charity and community with patriotism and responsible behavior has become the latest trogladyte meme.

I find it starkly hilarious that any "online entrepreneur" could say that with a straight face, for any profit they have "earned" from their efforts is due to an infrastructure developed as a direct result of hundreds of thousands of volunteer man-hours undertaken with no particular anticipation of profit.

Furthermore, Internet Marketing is, even at it's most ethical, something of an intrusion upon the tolerance of others. How much spam, for instance, has the Tea-Party movement generated all by itself? Perhaps Google or Yahoo might tell us the frequency of "Tea-Party" as a spam filter keyword.

Without a collective infrastructure, there is no commerce. It breaks down in confusion, or - as we have seen - due to those who see a collective trust in a system an opportunity to abuse that trust for personal gain. Whether that be Bernie Madoff, the Savings and Loan industry, Enron, the Securities industry, or even the US Federal Reserve, abuse and manipulation by insiders for personal power, influence and reward leads to the destruction of not just individuals, but puts the whole fabric of civilization at risk. Commerce and capitalism are certainly parts of that fabric - but they are certainly not the point to it. Commerce and profit are means, one hopes, to the end of a better life and a more secure and enjoyable life for all.

If for no other reason than this; happy, fufilled people are far less likely to rip you off at gunpoint.

The stated position - that one "earns" one's bread without incurring any obligation to the rest of society or it's common financial, social, political, legal, regulatory or transportation infrastructures is intuitively ethically untenable, it requires a great deal of propaganda, religious brainwashing, jingoism and induced paranoia to maintain. A rigorously monolingual and functionally illiterate mindset helps a great deal, due to the fact that most writings in the social sciences are either in other languages or written in an English that is inaccessible to the majority of the American people - that is to say, above a sixth grade level.

One of the great problems American Conservatives have with the French is that they have committed great Socialistic Sins, have placed people far above capitalistic ideals - and have yet managed to muddle through. Though if anything, American Conservatives hate Scandinavia and Canada as much or more, for each, in their way, prove that with more social structure and investment comes more, not less individual liberty. (A reality, that to be fair about it, alarms many liberals and socialists as much as it does our own Social Conservatives)

But never mind all that; the stated motives of politicians are but an illusion; a mask upon a corpse. And even when such an idiology is sincere and genuine, the Liberal mindset is no more useful, for it tries to deny just as many aspects of human nature, or suggest that a properly constructed society could and would successfully suppress them, for the Greater Good.

Greater Good arguments, far from being a slippery slope, are a precipitous cliff. You see, it all goes toward the question of what the Greater Good is, who is empowered to define it, and whether they actually understand if their chosen means can possibly achieve the desired end, even if that end is unarguably desirable.

One can eliminate crime, for instance, by simply shooting all criminals. Sharp reductions in criminal behavior will be immediately evident - if only due to the enhanced caution of criminals.

One can also eliminate crime by eliminating all laws, under the premise that if there is no foul, there can be no harm. Even as a quite seriously anti authoritarian, I present this as an absurd premise. With no law, no regulation, no justice - you get Somalia.

In both cases, negative consequences will occur - but those negative consequences are commonly dismissed as being "the price of security" or "the price of freedom." Actually, they are, in both cases, direct and predictable consequences arising from human responses to a social matrix developed without regard to human nature is the price of willful, unethical stupidity. It's entirely possible for a civilization to be more free and more secure by indulging neither conceit.

There can be no lasting social structure that does not account for all aspects of human nature, create places for people biased in particular directions and put in place mechanisms that tend to reward positive expressions while disadvantaging negative ones, so long as society never expects nor demands perfect results in all cases. Society must be satisfied with statistical progress, while permitting and collectively insuring against risks that may lead to individual failures.

Why? Ask any successful businessman how many failures it took for them to succeed. Or any successful person who is known for anything remarkable at all. It is not the conformist that makes great things possible, it's the non-conformist; the guy that would rather accept the risk of failure than buy into a managed, franchized "sure-fire success."

Paradoxically, a society that does not permit enough room for people to make horrible mistakes is too inflexible to learn and grow. And a society that demoniezes, or worse yet, denies the existance certain tendancies that lead to certain very predictable mistakes can easily collapse overnight, as the structures that appear to be sound reveal themseleves to have been consumed from within.

Dick Cheney is not evil because of his nature. There's nothing inherently evil about enjoying pain, suffering, the defeat and humiliation of competetors or the exercise of power upon one's enemies. It's very often a critical, survival grade trait. For instance, Dr. Christian Barnard is often said to have been a sadist; it is certainly a trait that is clearly useful to a surgeon. Likewise, the ability to send young men and women to their deaths is a trait we value in the military, even in slightly glorious excess - though even there we sharply disapprove of those who contrive excuses for doing it.

The choice to value the limbic rewards of an action to the point where right action and just outcomes become immaterial - that is evil.

That sort of person flourishes best when there is a structure intended to oppress and oppose the very thing they most wish to do - by the methods and means they most like employing themselves.

Take the war on drugs. In the name of protecting people from their own choices, the very worst case outcomes are enforced, making the apparent need a seeming necessity. The war on drugs is nothing more and nothing less than a contrivance, a self-fulfilling prophecy and a sinecure for those who can imagine no better life-path than one based upon imposing their will upon others.

This is not to say that there are not very upright and capable people within law-enforcement who sincerely believe that the road to hell is paved with recreational medicine, or those who see drug cartels as being heavily armed dangerous people who really should be dealt with appropriately. I'm sad for the first, for they are sincere fools, and sad for the second, for they are correct without having any leverage upon the problem.

But the vast majority of those who take up the cause of suppressing Vice in the name of Virtue... I would say their grasp of virtue is, or will soon be compromised. It's simply a matter of time.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bush's Torture Program: Were Democrats Complicit?

One day after the Obama administration released four gruesome Bush-era torture memos, a majority of Democrats have remained collectively silent on whether the disclosures warrant a full-scale criminal investigation. That begs the question: were Democrats aware of the torture program and are simply remaining silent because they approved it?

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Astroturfing Zazzle - Graphic evidence of Faux Populism

As you may gather from reading this, my post took a sharp turn midway through, when I went looking for graphics to illustrate what I was going to say. I'll let it stand as it is, because I think the deadly serious effort being made to make this all seem Like A Very Serious Grassroot Movement and not a last ditch hail-mary attempt to keep the US from returning to relatively civilized, Centrist politics is worth noting in both contexts.

It's difficult to address this issue at all without quoting Jon Stewart. Or better yet, embedding a clip. There's simply no way to satirize these people. They go right over the top all by themselves.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Nationwide Tax Protests
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

(In Canada, go here)

The fun starts at about 2:50 if you are pressed for moments.

It's terribly easy to simply dismiss the Teabaggers as an inherently ridiculous movement with a transparently naked appeal to nativist prejudices and suspicions of brown people and "freethinkers."

I am particularly struck by the frequent quotation of "No Taxation Without Representation." Was there not an election? Are there not democratically elected representatives from every state in Washington - with the temporary exception of Minnesota? Or does it only count when there is a "democratically elected" Republican?

To suggest that a person is not represented in Washington simply because their fellow citizens preferred a slightly less reactionary representative betrays a sad ignorance of civics and the philosophy of government. No politician, of any stripe, can afford to neglect their constituents - whatever their preferred party. There are limits, however. Few politicians are foolish enough to pander to outright sedition, unless they see no other path to power. Sadly, there are always a few with an ambition to become the biggest frog in a smaller pond. Politics is the art of the possible, within the bounds of the Constitutionally permissible.

Now, Texas may well claim they have a conditional escape clause, and they may well be legally correct - but the Secessionist movement is not limited to Texas, and many advocates are not shy about speech that amounts to sedition.

Now, others are pointing out the very obvious financial and special interest backing of the Teaparty Movement, for instance by underlining how much coverage Fox News is giving it at the expense of, oh, immigration, same sex marriage and white slavery. One might think there is some agenda behind this movement.

Well, I'm not an accountant; I'm a visual thinker and an artist. As I was looking at "Tea Party" designs on Zazzle, it struck me how very many stunningly professional images were showing up, in such a co-ordinated way, and how very similar they were.

create & buy custom products at Zazzle

As if, perhaps, there was money being spent on creating these images for people to upload. It's not out of the realm of possibility for one or two stores to show up with remarkable designs - but so many at once smacks of not terribly subtle co-ordination, and the thematic and graphic similarity seems to suggest that perhaps one or two graphic design houses are involved.

This is happening over at Cafepress
and likely all the others; professional political activists using these services to create the impression that the "teabaggers" are a genuine, widespread populist movement, when in fact it's clearly a very well funded propaganda effort.

Now, this is a bit above my pay-grade; I could use some A-List blogger help on the matter. Meanwhile, another lonely Zazzler sums it up for me with this shirt:

Tea & Potatoes T-Shirt shirt

"Tea Party? I bet you were one of those idiots ordering 'Freedom Fries,' too!"
Ripped from a conversation I overheard on the bus to work.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When Government Becomes Alarmed By The People

Glenn Greenwald: The Ultimate Reaping of What One Sows: Right-Wing Edition:

It's certainly true that federal police efforts directed at domestic political movements -- even ones with a history of inspiring violence in both the distant and recent past -- require real vigilance and oversight, and it's also true that the DHS description of these groups seems excessively broad with the potential for mischief. But the political faction screeching about the dangers of the DHS is the same one that spent the last eight years vastly expanding the domestic Surveillance State and federal police powers in every area. DHS -- and the still-creepy phrase "homeland security" -- became George Bush's calling card. The Republicans won the 2002 election by demonizing those who opposed its creation. All of the enabling legislation underlying this Surveillance State -- from the Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act, from the various FISA "reforms" to massive increases in domestic "counter-Terrorism" programs -- are the spawns of the very right-wing movement that today is petrified that this is all being directed at them.

When you cheer on a Surveillance State, you have no grounds to complain when it turns its eyes on you. If you create a massive and wildly empowered domestic surveillance apparatus, it's going to monitor and investigate domestic political activity. That's its nature.

See, here's where all that talk about "ethics in government" that neocons ignored and dismissed as being the speech of cowardly weaklings comes back to haunt them - exactly as I and many other people said, many times. I'd create links, but jeez, the very idea makes me tired. Search this blog and Google. Or you can just take my word for it. LOTS of people said that permitting these things to stand was a really dumb idea.

Well, could be worse. Hillary coulda won. Oh, wait, she figures rather prominently in the Cabinet, doesn't she?

Power corrupts. Etc. This is why it's a very good idea to sharply limit the power of government to interfere with individual people.

But having said that, there's another thing to be observed here. Greenwald observes in passing, without commenting - but I'm nowhere near so polite. I will observe - and then I will be blunt.

Greenwald cites a New York Times article from 2005 describing the sort of people that were being watched by the FBI, using the questionable powers granted by the Patriot Act.

F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 - Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, John Ashcroft, who was then attorney general, loosened restrictions on the F.B.I.'s investigative powers, giving the bureau greater ability to visit and monitor Web sites, mosques and other public entities in developing terrorism leads. The bureau has used that authority to investigate not only groups with suspected ties to foreign terrorists, but also protest groups suspected of having links to violent or disruptive activities.

But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.

One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The documents, provided to The New York Times over the past week, came as part of a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. For more than a year, the A.C.L.U. has been seeking access to information in F.B.I. files on about 150 protest and social groups that it says may have been improperly monitored.

The F.B.I. had previously turned over a small number of documents on antiwar groups, showing the agency's interest in investigating possible anarchist or violent links in connection with antiwar protests and demonstrations in advance of the 2004 political conventions. And earlier this month, the A.C.L.U.'s Colorado chapter released similar documents involving, among other things, people protesting logging practices at a lumber industry gathering in 2002.

The latest batch of documents, parts of which the A.C.L.U. plans to release publicly on Tuesday, totals more than 2,300 pages and centers on references in internal files to a handful of groups, including PETA, the environmental group Greenpeace and the Catholic Workers group, which promotes antipoverty efforts and social causes.

"It's clear that this administration has engaged every possible agency, from the Pentagon to N.S.A. to the F.B.I., to engage in spying on Americans," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the A.C.L.U.

"You look at these documents," Ms. Beeson said, "and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in F.B.I. files that they're talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology."

Hm. Just off the top of my head, these people don't sound all that dangerous - except, of course, to major Republican corporate sponsors. On the other claw, DHS is (finally) concerned (pdf) about the obvious fruits of radicalizing "the base" for eight years.

Historically, domestic rightwing extremists have feared, predicted, and
anticipated a cataclysmic economic collapse in the United States. Prominent
antigovernment conspiracy theorists have incorporated aspects of an impending
economic collapse to intensify fear and paranoia among like-minded individuals and to
attract recruits during times of economic uncertainty. Conspiracy theories involving
declarations of martial law, impending civil strife or racial conflict, suspension of the
U.S. Constitution, and the creation of citizen detention camps often incorporate aspects of
a failed economy. Antigovernment conspiracy theories and “end times” prophecies could motivate extremist individuals and groups to stockpile food, ammunition, and weapons.These teachings also have been linked with the radicalization of domestic extremist individuals and groups in the past, such as violent Christian Identity organizations and extremist members of the militia movement.
That, and the growing "successionist movement," a matter of arguable concern for any government, regardless of your opinion on the matter. Considering that there has already been one civil war fought on similar ideological grounds and that it's being promoted again by similar idiots.

I happen to approve of a stricter interpretation of the US Tenth Amendment, in theory. In practice, though, I see it as being an issue being brought to the fore by power-mongering pipsqueaks who cannot abide calling a black man "Mr. President," or sending "tribute" to a government that values non-white, non-churchgoing, non-conservative citizens as much, or perhaps a teense more than them.

Photo: The Washington Independent

Scenes From the Real America

How about another excerpt from Rightwing Extremism:Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment (PDF)

(U//FOUO) Lone Wolves and Small Terrorist Cells
(U//FOUO) DHS/I&A assesses that lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States. Informationfrom law enforcement and nongovernmental organizations indicates lone wolves and small terrorist cells have shown intent—and, in some cases, the capability—to commit violent acts.
— (U//LES) DHS/I&A has concluded that white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy—separate from any formalized group—which hampers warning efforts.
— (U//FOUO) Similarly, recent state and municipal law enforcement reporting has warned of the dangers of rightwing extremists embracing the tactics of “leaderless resistance” and of lone wolves carrying out acts of violence.
— (U//FOUO) Arrests in the past several years of radical militia members in Alabama, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania on firearms, explosives, and other related violations indicates the emergence of small, well-armed extremist groups in some rural areas.
Boy. And they get paid to write such blinding glimpses of the obvious? With such wide-ranging powers and insights, this mild and obvious set of observations is the product of the best and brightest paranoids available?

All this "intel" could have been cribbed from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Let us also observe that it's perfectly reasonable for sane people to be concerned about the sorts of people that the SPLC has been tracking for decades. Sane people can actually be concerned about flaming nutbars while still supporting the rights of gun owners, the Bill of Rights and the principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility. It's not at all evidence of "persecution" to be concerned about people like Tim McVeigh or the Christian Identity people who get all exercised about Race Wars and Religious Cleanings.

Quite aside from the motivations of ideology, people who take the Second Amendment to empower them to mix large batches of ANFO or stockpile large quantities of ammunition without regard to proper storage and handling doctrines. are a matter of legitimate concern for any person within several miles.

Oh, and let us remember, that "sovereignty" does not mean that each and every state would then be free to oppress and persecute whatever sort of people it disapproves of, or legislate whatever consensus morality it's elected officials happen to hold. The 9th and 10th Amendments of the Constitution of the United States is not about the sovereignty of mobs - it's about the inalienable rights of of free individuals. Even the queer black geeky over-edumacated atheist ones.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Autism Awareness Month - Again!

What Part Of flapflapflap ARRRGHH.... shirt

This is my boilerplate response:

What part of FLAPFLAPFLAP ARRRRGHGGGG!!!!!! do you STILL not understand?

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See other Words To Live By T-Shirts -- New Site for "Teabagger" Coverage

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Welcome to! We’re here to serve as a gathering place for clear minded coverage of the Tea Party movement, provide information on high-profile teabaggers and serve as a clearinghouse for teabag related puns, innuendo and sex jokes.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Mighty Wind Is Breaking

NOM Launches "2M4M" Really.:

File this under "Stuff You Just Can't Make Up". First we had the unintentionally hilarious "teabaggers", now we have the National Organization for Marriage. They are the folks who produced this ridiculous "scary" ad:

Now they are formally launching a campaign called "2 Million for Marriage" which they have so helpfully abbreviated for us as "2M4M". No, really. I swear to God.

What's even better is that they apparently didn't register the domains for their campaign before they announced it either. The URL is, shall we say, less than sympathetic to NOM's cause.

You just can't make this stuff up.

But wait! There's MORE! Nothing like that can be posted on YouTube without a cascade of responses. This is aside from the snarky comments and the single star rating (the aggragate of 1,826 as of writing this).

Let's leave the windup for Rachel Maddow.

Wait... what was that about teabaggers?

UPDATE: The Gay Divas & Icons Remix! Crude, but effective!


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