Monday, January 21, 2008

Bill O'Reilly: the Stephen Glass of cable news pundits

I realize we've become deadened and desensitized to this. In fact, many people will view my bringing the thing to light more irritating than the thing itself. The thing is Bill O'Reilly's denial of the existence of homeless veterans. First he said there weren't any, then he said there were very, very few.

The moral significance of this threatens to eclipse the epistemological controversy, but in some ways they are the same question. Alternet and Brave New Films blogger DJK
talked to over a dozen homeless vets, some who had served as far back as the Korean War, and showed them the clips of BOR denying or dismissing their existence. The reactions to the clips were quite similar -- a shaking of the head in disbelief, a derisive chuckle or snort, and a deep sigh when the videos were over. Some of the veterans couldn't believe that anyone could be so clueless and naïve, while others wondered why BOR hadn't bothered to do any research before making such a dubious claim. Twice.

Someone should ask Fox News whether they believe the existence or number of homeless veterans in America is a flexible, fluid, negotiable matter of opinion, and whether their vanguard talking heads are allowed to say whatever they want on their shows regardless of fact-checking standards employed by other news (and news-opinion) media.

Friday, January 18, 2008

my brave anti-whaling stand (yes, controversial I realize...whaling bad, yeah...)

As the international press has been obsessed with the story of Australian-based protesters being held on a Japanese whaling ship, an odd story appeared: A whaling video game--yes, you get to hunt whales and package and sell their meat--popular in, of all places, Australia, where environmental activists and government officials have fallen all over themselves about Japan's whale hunting. In the game (Harpooned if you're interested), players even have to avoid protest ships. The game's defenders say it's a protest game and that the response to it has been overwhelmingly positive and appropriate. People get it. Whaling is just wrong. Japan’s recent whale hunt near Australia is particularly and insidiously wrong, because of the defiant way they are conducting it.

The first reason to be concerned about the Japanese whale hunt is that whales are sentient, intelligent beings. "Scientists recently found that whales have specialized brain cells previously found only in humans and the great apes. Called spindle neurons, these brain cells are involved in processing emotions and social interactions." Their sentience is an emerging scientific consensus, but has been a phenomenological and spiritual consensus for centuries.

If you need other reasons to oppose the harvesting of giant, beautiful, articulate, intelligent beings, such reasons are plentiful. The International Whaling Commission instituted a ban on commercial whaling two decades ago. Norway, Japan and Iceland "exploit loopholes in the ban to continue slaughtering whales using harpoons and explosives." If these seem like brutal methods it's because little has changed in the brutality of whaling in the last 20 years. In other words, the hunt is a clumsy attempt to sidestep international law, and the international community isn’t buying it. Japan argues that there is a loophole, essentially: the international ban on whaling allows hunts for scientific research, and was passed at a time when whales had to be killed for research, before non-lethal techniques were developed for subduing and studying whales. As long as Japan does some kind of research on the mammals, they can harvest the bodies. And they have—killing almost ten thousand whales in the last twenty years.

Last week, an Australian Federal Court ruled on an injunction requested by the Humane Society, enforcing Australia’s “whale sanctuary.” The ruling, unfortunately, cannot be enforced unless Japan is caught in those waters, but its symbolic value should be obvious: It is a legal ruling against what Japan is doing, as well as a fundamental rejection of their only defense for it.

In the meantime, ties between Tokyo and Canberra are becoming increasingly strained as Japanese whalers ignore and argue about the ban and Australia is compelled to try to enforce it. Japan has said previously it would ignore an injunction in the case if it were granted. In general, Japan has been arrogant and heavy-handed in its response to protests. While the ship, Yushin Maru, was sailing off the coast of Cape Town, two Greenpeace activists boarded it, an event Japan surely should have anticipated. Whether or not the allegations that Japanese sailors assaulted or tied up the protesters are true, the incident displays the same kind of arrogance on Japan’s part as their authoritative pronouncements in the media that they are not violating international law.

And even if Japan's connection to its ancient whale consumption is not more show than truth, the government of Japan is openly flauting the moratorium by feeding whale meat to its schoolchildren. Which, by the way, brings us to our final point against whaling, in general: Whale meat is just bad for you. In addition to being really fatty, "...whales are particularly vulnerable to environmental contaminants, including organochlorines—such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and dioxin—and heavy metals, such as methylmercury." Yum.

One wonders if Japan really believes they are fooling anyone. Their interpretation of international law only proves that the law is hopelessly out of date; their behavior has sparked what appears to be an international incident, and they are marketing cans of meat from a sentient being to their children. It’s almost as if Japan is being more morbidly ironic than the whaling video game that’s all the rage in Australia these days.

Monday, January 07, 2008

the chest-thumping of political independence

I don't like to criticize my own kind. There's something about spending my precious intellectual resources (including time--I'm writing this at 6AM so I can get some writing in before the kids wake up) on criticism of those whom, fundamentally at least, I agree with that just seems counterproductive in the "discursive economy" if you will--or the political economy of discourse (that's it). But this is pretty important. Over the next election year, we'll once again see a new round of chest-thumping from socialist political parties about the necessity of building a political movement outside the Two

It is necessary. Of that I have no doubt. But it's the chest-thumping that bugs. It manifests itself whenever we fiercely independent, uniquely enlightened, gee aren't we cool socialists dismiss the sentiments behind support for, say, John Edwards or even Green candidates. Let's not fool ourselves: For those who don't methodically and faithfully (I'll explain that if you want) put class conflict first as our analytical and sociological, as well as political postulate, President John Edwards would be fundamentally different from, and better than, any of his predecessors. Now, the fact that we can see Edwards easily slipping into compromise, being manipulated and overhandled, watering down his progressive politics to a thin nothingness of what they are now, or even being "pornographied" by scandal, is important, and speaks to something I find very satisfying about our political method.

But we must be on guard against sounding like we are squaking and boasting about our political independence, ourselves watering down the political differences between sections of the Democratic party, and worse, failing to acknowledge the feelings and intentions behind support for the most palitable of those candidates, especially for people struggling to get by in their lives, who don't have the privilege of critical reflection we've managed to imperfectly forge for ourselves.

Understanding those differences in political perspective is critical to be able to truly say that a worker's movement has no interests apart from those of workers.

None of this is to excuse the equivalent chest-thuming on the part of our left-Democrat friends who blame Nader for 2000, and accuse us of not caring about the short-term benefits (or overwhelming Bush-avoidance) of electing Democrats now. But I'll confine this moment of self-reflection to our chest-thumping, not theirs.

I'm guilty of it myself. It's laziness, really: Instead of carefully analyzing the conditions that shape bourgeois politics, and explain the legitimate needs on the part of workers who cast their lot with the bourgeois left, I revert to cynicism and doctrine to dismiss those choices. Such cynicism is counterproductive in the extreme, because it tells people who aren't socialists that they should give up altogether. That kind of forced choice runs counter to my own experience--seing people mull over joining a socialist organization for weeks or months, before joining and becoming incredible activists and leaders for years. It's a shame, too, because election years are important opportunities for political discussion.

So if I do it, readers can call me out on it. Let me make my position clear: I understand the choice to support a progressive Democratic candidate, or even a weakly progressive one as an alternative to, say, the worst president in history. I've said that before, last time a little over three years ago in reference to Kerry, Nader, and Cobb, and even went so far as to say it was "smart" to vote for Kerry in states where it would make a difference. Kerry would have made a horrible President, btw, but I can understand where I was coming from. It! In my defense (see, I have to defend myself against my own chest-thumping) I also pledged to stand by fellow Cobb supporters in those "key" states if they decided to vote Green. But I understood why Kerry. We need to understand that why. One of the things that keeps great people away from our politics is our smarminess.

Just some things to think about...I don't pretend to know an immediate way around the dilemma that inspires such conflict, but we can certainly be more thoughtful and engaging about it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

no comment

XXX [4:01 P.M.]: that's what happens when you abandon class as an explanatory postulate.

ZZZ [4:01 P.M.]: oh, matt, you and your Marxism

XXX[4:02 P.M.]: that's exactly what an apologist for capital would say

ZZZ[4:02 P.M.]: and that's exactly what a dogmatic marxist would say to reinforce his ideology.

XXX [4:03 P.M.]: which is exactly what a bourgeois faux radical pomo person would say, conveniently reappropriating the trappings of marxism without the substance (and commitment)

ZZZ [4:05 P.M.]: And to continue to reappropirate his fantasy, the Marxist continues to construct fantastical spectres out of criticism against the rigidity and failure of a Marxist interpretation, only to continue to define the world in terms of an out moded view.

XXX [4:07 P.M.]: word

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

intellectual honesty at its best--no, that's not sarcasm

It's certainly hard not to respect this move, even if it seems somewhat paradoxical. Earlier on this blog I have said I understood the thinking behind those who voted for Kerry. I understand this thinking even more. Although I don't think Edwards is more than a sliver of an answer to the real causes of poverty, inequality and the corporatocracy, I understand that, for some, a sliver makes a difference. And what both Nader and Edwards say about HClinton is spot-on. Nader doesn't criticize Obama in this speech, though. It would have been simple enough to just say: Edwards supports universal health care. Obama doesn't. At this point in time, that's as good a litmus test for progressives as any. (I put opponents of UHC on the same political plane as environmentalists place global warming deniers...)

By the way, what's with a national progressives conference booing Nader? In my opinion, the myth that "Nader cost Gore the Election" is one of those keep-believing-in-it-for-myriad-reasons-even-though-it's-absurd myths that a person could spend a great deal of time analyzing and refuting and Gorebots and Democrat pansies would just keep repeating anyway...The article at similarly, uncritically repeats the assumption.

But enough of that. Like I said, it's hard not to respect, and even kind of smile at, this move:
Nader throws support to Edwards
By: David Paul Kuhn
Dec 31, 2007 08:18 PM EST
MUSCATINE, Iowa — Ralph Nader unleashed on Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday - criticizing her for being soft on defense spending and a chum of big business - and expressed his strong support for John Edwards.
In an 11th hour effort to encourage liberal Iowans to "recognize" Edwards by "giving him a victory," the activist and former presidential contender said in an interview that Clinton will "pander to corporate interest groups" if elected. Nader specifically accused Clinton of failing to challenge military spending because "she is a woman who doesn't want to be labeled as soft on defense and she doesn't want to be shown as taking on big business." As Clinton campaigned through a snowstorm in southeast Iowa, pledging to "bring about the changes we need," Nader accused the Democratic senator from New York of using empty rhetoric. "[Clinton] has not led the way against the avalanche of military contracting, corporate crime, fraud and abuse," he said. "We want to inform the people of Iowa about Hillary Clinton because all the focus is on, do they have the experience and do they have the personal charisma, and can they cross the aisle" Nader said. "The issue is corporate power and who controls our political system and it's not who has experience for six years or two years," he said, alluding to an ongoing debate over experience between Clinton and freshman Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). "She has experience in the Senate, and what that experience has meant is going soft on cracking down on corporate crime, fraud, and abuse, soft on cutting tens of millions in corporate subsidies," he continued. The Clinton campaign declined to comment on Nader's criticism. Nader, a four-time presidential candidate, called Edwards a Democratic "glimmer of hope." He has long criticized Democrats as indistinguishable from Republicans, chiding both parties as slaves to corporate financing and interests. It was Nader who famously - or infamously to many Democrats - siphoned off enough liberal votes from Al Gore in 2000 to hand New Hampshire and Florida, and as a result, the presidency, to George W. Bush. Since 2004, however, Nader has been increasingly controversial within the political left. He was booed at a national conference of progressives earlier this year. But he remains a popular figure among some liberals. Activists are particularly influential in the Iowa caucuses, if only because participation asks hours of voters' time. Only a small portion of Iowa Democrats caucused in 2004. Clinton is currently locked in a heated three-way race with Obama and Edwards in Iowa, the first contest of the presidential primaries.On Monday, Nader also issued a public statement criticizing Clinton as a "corporate Democrat," echoing the exact words Edwards uses to challenge Clinton. Nader said he has watched Edwards from afar and sees his more pugilistic brand of populism as an encouraging sign."It's the only time I've heard a Democrat talk that way in a long time," Nader said, acknowledging what was, for him, a rare moment of praise for a Democratic leader. "Iowa should decide which candidate stands for us," he added. "Edwards is at least highlighting day after day that the issue is who controls our country, big business or the people."