Plots and Thoughts

Musings on Israel and Palestine

Posted in Musings by Captain Optimistic on November 30, 2009

I was talking with a friend about Israel, and he did something uncharacteristic.  He tried to shut down the debate.  He did so using a few problematic arguments.  Arguments I would like to take a look at before adding in my own thoughts on Israel and Palestine.

Tax Dollars and Speech

J made the point that since my tax dollars go towards supporting Israel’s violence towards the Palestinians, I couldn’t talk about “opposing violence”.  This is a pretty easy argument to defeat.  J opposes the Iraqi war, yet his tax dollars go towards its support.  Would anyone say he ought to shut up about his opposition?  Of course not.  It is vital we speak our minds, especially when our tax dollars go towards a cause we deem unjust.

Privilege and Violence

J then pointed out that the Palestinians were under attack, and I was speaking from the position of “Extreme Privilege” in condemning their violence.  Ironically, this is the exact same argument the Israeli government uses to justify its attacks on Palestinians!  J is hardly living under threat, from missiles or bombs, Palestinians or Israelis.  We share in this privilege, but it does not bind us to silence.  If anything it compels us to educate ourselves and seek to impact the situation positively.  Privilege is a blindfold, not a perpetual state of being.  We must first realize we are blind, but then we must tear off the blindfold as best we can and see!

Knowledge and Speech

J Finally said he didn’t have time to educate me, and I ought to “go do some critical thinking”.  This reminds me of a professor I had in college, who used to attack students whose viewpoints he disagreed with by lambasting them for “not having done the reading” (even when they had).  It also reminds me of a student of my own.  After establishing she had political viewpoints after all, I asked why she didn’t express them.  She responded that she didn’t feel she knew enough to have a voice.

One must always have a voice.  Knowledge is not a prerequisite for taking part in the discourse of society.  It is a desirable thing of course.  But too often knowledge is transformed into agreeable knowledge.  That is, the right kind of knowledge according to a particular point of view.  So I was told to read books that supported J’s viewpoint (no mention of those that opposed it).

Discussion as Democratic Vitality

Regardless of one’s viewpoints, it is essential to the health of Democratic discourse that we work to increase, not shut down, communication.  The Israel Palestine problem is huge, and one we all have an interest in seeing solved peaceably and sustainably.  We need to be finding ways to open channels of communication.  Especially when it comes to this issue.

OK OK, Where do YOU Stand?

I support a single secular state.  I don’t think two theocratic states prone to violence in close proximity is a recipe for success.  I think Israel-Palestine’s promise is in becoming a force for peace and an advocate for the oppressed.  I consider both the Israeli and Palestinian people to be a part of my heritage, and get excited thinking about the wonderful things they could accomplish together.

When it comes to guilt and responsibility, I find that both sides use violence, both sides kill the innocent, and both sides employ lies and propaganda to further their aims.  Being the state carries with it a higher responsibility, and Israel needs to step up.

I cannot say whether or not I would be moved to commit acts of violence if I were in their shoes.  What I can say is that as long as that violence continues it will make the situation ever worse, and consume the very blood of the innocent those acts of violence were meant to protect or avenge.

What do you think?

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Apartment Hunting in NYC Summed Up in LOLCats

Posted in Observations by Captain Optimistic on November 25, 2009

This is pretty much what looking for an apartment in NYC is like.

  • Expensive tiny box to live in?  Check.
  • Trash right outside?  Check.
  • Overbearing real estate agent?  Check.

ZOMG IT IZ SO MUCH FUN.

I ought to rant sometime about how ridiculous finding an apartment has been.  Essentially 99% of the brokers you meet are dishonest.  The craigslist housing section is filled with utterly choice examples.  Did you know that every apartment in NYC is “steps from the subway”, “sundrenched”, and “a great space that will end your search”?

Evolution, Religion and Bullshit

Posted in Analysis, Observations, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on November 19, 2009

Gather round for a lesson in poor reporting.  The NYTimes has an article on the relationship between evolution and religion, and wow do they make a zinger of a mistake (I’ve gone ahead and highlighted the stupid for your convenience):

This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

Let’s look at the fallacies:

  • Failure to consider co-evolved vs evolved traits
  • Failure to consider vestigial traits

If the traits necessary to support religion did evolve for a purpose, what proof do we have that purpose still persists to this day?  Or that those traits are the best solution?

It is easier to see from hunter-gatherer societies how religion may have conferred compelling advantages in the struggle for survival. Their rituals emphasize not theology but intense communal dancing that may last through the night. The sustained rhythmic movement induces strong feelings of exaltation and emotional commitment to the group. Rituals also resolve quarrels and patch up the social fabric.

What effects do rituals have today?  How does this kind of tribalism and tendency to follow the leader play out in today’s global society?  Looking at religion through the lens of an evolved trait lends it an additional appearance of usefulness and legitimacy.

All this allows that the traits which support religion evolved directly, and didn’t co-evolve with other directly beneficial evolutionary traits.  Following the logic present in Nicholas Wade’s article, one might consider anything from red hair to armed conflict to be “evolved”.  They too have “occurred in societies at every stage of development”.

This article is one in a long line of “gee golly” articles meant to lend religion the legitimacy of science.  They let faith put on a labcoat and call itself doctor.

Could the evolutionary perspective on religion become the basis for some kind of detente between religion and science? Biologists and many atheists have a lot of respect for evolution and its workings, and if they regarded religious behavior as an evolved instinct they might see religion more favorably, or at least recognize its constructive roles

Religion can be viewed, and judged, within the context of its impact on society today and historically.  The addition of pseudo-scientific hypothesis about religion as an evolved trait will not clarify the debate over the role of religion in society.  It can only muddy the water.  And at some point we must question why so many of religion’s proponents feel the need to dip into trickery and dishonesty to prop up their cosmology. And we must re-evaluate our own responses keeping that tendency in mind.  Especially when responding to apologists who hide under a guise of science.

 

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Using Tasers on Children

Posted in Analysis, Observations by Captain Optimistic on November 18, 2009

Feministing reports that a taser had been used on a 10 year old girl.  From MyEyeWitnessNews:

A police officer in a small Arkansas town used a stun gun on an unruly 10-year-old girl after he said her mother gave him permission to do so. Now the town’s mayor is calling for an investigation into whether the Taser use was appropriate.

Uh, NO IT WAS NOT.  There, that was a quick investigation.

“We didn’t use the Taser to punish the child – just to bring the child under control so she wouldn’t hurt herself or somebody else,” Noggle said.

If the officer tried to forcefully put the girl in handcuffs, he could have accidentally broken her arm or leg, Noggle said.

By using a taser the accident could very well have been death.

Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser, said it’s up to individual law enforcement agencies to decide when Taser use is appropriate.

In some cases, a Taser “presents the safer response to resistance compared with the alternatives such as fists, kicks, baton strikes, bean bag guns, chemical agents, or canine response,” Tuttle said in a statement.

Are we to suppose the police officer might have used chemical agents on a child of 10?!

The context in which the taser was used was complex and difficult, to be sure.  But it seems like as we learn more and more about how very deadly tasers are (to the point their manufacturer now warns about where on the body to target), we are becoming more cavalier about their use.

This when we need to become more critical, especially of their usage on vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly.

Keep in mind when reading that in this case, the mother of the child consented to the taser being used.

What Would Happen if Fox Fired Glenn Beck?

Posted in Analysis, Observations by Captain Optimistic on November 18, 2009

As Glenn Beck gets crazier and crazier, I found myself asking this question.  Just look at his latest bit of extra-crispy sanity at play.  David Neiwert has a point:

There’s a reason the ADL officially dubbed Beck our national “Fearmonger in Chief” this week. And there’s a reason militias are springing up like mushrooms everywhere.

And the reason is that Glenn Beck has a national TV network show on which he is not only permitted but encouraged to promote complete wingnuttery whose sole purpose is to make Americans fearful, paranoid and angry.

I don’t see Glenn getting any milder as 2012 draws closer.  So what if at some point Fox News responds to the pressure and decides he is enough of a liability to fire him?  Or what if, in the more likely scenerio, Fox realizes what a coup it would be to fire Glenn Beck?

Fox is, at this point, utterly committed to fostering fear and hatred of the current government.  Firing Glenn Beck would allow them and Beck to play the victim (of the liberal elites), drive viewers and listeners for Glenn’s radio program and Fox’s news shows as everyone capitalizes on the self-referential publicity.  It would also position Beck to become even more of a voice for those who feel alienated and targeted in the utter absence of evidence since they would now have an event – “Liberals Censor Our Beck!!!” – to unite around.  Meanwhile Fox could use the firing to simultaneously seek to appear more responsible while, in their commentary, directly appealing to Beck’s audience by painting the decision as regrettable and forced.

At the moment it looks like Glenn Beck could directly incite a riot and Fox wouldn’t bat an eye.  But in the event they respond as CNN recently did with regards to Lou Dobbs, it will be important to maintain an awareness of their motivation and the actual impact of the decision.

 

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Must Read: On Fighting Terrorism

Posted in Observations by Captain Optimistic on November 18, 2009

There is a must read article on fighting terrorism over at Salon:

In other words, the very policies the U.S. has been pursuing in the name of combating Terrorism — invading, occupying, and bombing Muslim countries; locking them up without trials; torturing them; violating the values we’ve been preaching to the world — have been the most potent instruments for fueling Islamic radicalism and terrorism.  By contrast, those who have been continuously accused of being “soft on Terrorism” and even being allied with the Terrorists — those who opposes our various wars, who demanded and provided basic human rights protections and equal liberties to Muslims, who objected to their own governments’ oppressive and belligerent policies — have done more to diffuse and impede Muslim radicalism than virtually anyone else in the world.

Quite a few useful insights to bring to the table when discussing terrorism and the most effective response.

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Sao Paulo – This is What Theocracy Looks Like

Posted in Musings, Observations by Captain Optimistic on November 17, 2009

Roman Catholic Sao Paulo, Brazil, has decided to give us Americans a jolly preview of theocracy in action:

Outrage over female sexuality?  Check:

A video showed Arruda sitting in a classroom in a mid-thigh length red dress, then six military police officers protecting her as she left the campus wearing a white jacket. A line of students stood by chanting “whore.”

Another video showed a mob stopping and kicking her car and blocking her when she tried to escape on foot.

In fact, violence over female sexuality.

Uniban said it had also suspended a number of students identified by video footage and witness accounts of taking part in the violence last month. The university’s legal advisor said Arruda had been expelled for “gestures” and “attitudes” she had manifested rather than because of her short outfits. He would not give details.

Of course he wouldn’t give details.  He’s full of shit.

There’s something deeply wrong with people who get angry and violent over the sexuality of others.  There is also something deeply wrong with a belief system that encourages the transformation of the natural into the hated and feared.

So much of religious conservatism is about denying the aspects of human sexuality that go against painstakingly constructed myths – the same myths used as social livestock fencing for centuries.

When we go beyond rules of civilization and morality to deny who we are and what we allow our neighbors to be we provide the kindling the hate and violence.  These kinds of beliefs are fundamentally at odds with equality and justice.

How could anyone believe they were born of a divine source?

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Palin and the Courtier Media

Posted in Analysis, Observations by Captain Optimistic on November 16, 2009

Sarah Palin makes an excellent heir to Ronald Reagan.  Reagan exemplified the Courtly Style, defined by Robert Hariman.  It can be summed up simply in its power to separate royalty from peasantry, the speaker from the spoken to.  (It may be contrasted with the Republican Style (classical Republican), which may be thought of as a rhetorical tool to unite the speaker and her audience, to join citizen with like-citizens).

This separation seeps into the mindset, actions and perception of the speaker in a way that makes the word elitist a living, fire breathing creature.  How ironic when one such as Palin utters it!

This skewed approach to the world is evident in Palin’s interview with Oprah:

“I think that [Couric’s] agenda was to not necessarily show me in the best light and not allow my mistake, my gaffe to go uncaught,” said Palin, who flubbed Couric’s question about which newspapers, books or magazines she read regularly.

Admitting that she had been annoyed with Couric’s “badgering,” even rolling her eyes at times, Palin, 45, said it was unprofessional of Couric to wear that “annoyance on her sleeve.”

For Sarah Palin the media is there to legitimize her rule and extend her reach.  Not to question.  Not to investigate.  Which fits so well with the theocratic, proto-fascist astroturf populism she sells.  It is a brand so unnatural it requires a surgically supportive media environment to snag consumers.  Which is why she ties it so tightly to her image as a family woman.  Because the idea of blind acceptance and obedience is viscerally counter to Democracy and Americana.  It only feels natural when we view childhood through eyes jaundiced by nostalgia.

Something to keep in mind when Palin runs for Big Mother in 2012.

Its Your Time Now Man

Posted in Art, Letters by Captain Optimistic on November 16, 2009

Anya Bachyavitch writes in words carved from refined spam:

Look at your options.
Media Revolution!
It’s your time now man.

An auspicious beginning for Plots and Thoughts!

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Stupak’s God in Our Government

Posted in Analysis, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on November 16, 2009

The problem with unifying Church and State is it becomes the unification not of some abstract Church, but specifically the Church of the ruling class.  In this case Bart Stupak’s efforts to hijack health care reform to push an anti-women agenda is part of a larger effort to put God into Government.

The health care bill is a series of very small steps towards meaningful reform.  We should be able to take those steps without them falling on the neck of women’s rights.

Mr Stupak’s threat is a serious one and it deserves a vicious rhetorical response.  His efforts cannot be seen as anything less than anti-reform, and anyone who is against reform at this point isn’t a Democrat.  This goes deeper than party loyalty however.  This battle is a real struggle between those who are truly pro-life and those who are pro-insurance-company-profits.  Theocratic forces have seen an opening and are standing with the paid-for anti-reformers to try and maneuver for power.

Given the weight of this battle we ought let fly without reserve.  From a rhetorical perspective we should hold nothing back and purposefully include the Stupak crowd in with the anti-reformers.  The tendencies towards binding US law to a strict interpretation of conservative Christianity is fundamentally incompatible with the separation of Church and State, the 1st amendment, and inclusion within the Democratic party.  Any elected official taking such a position needs to feel the heat directly under their feet if we are to drive home our position:

Health Care reform is vital.

Theocratic laws are never acceptable.

We will never sacrifice women’s rights to advance the “greater” progressive agenda.  Women’s rights are an irremovable part of the progressive agenda.

We are nowhere near victory but the very act of lifting up our heads to speak as we lay in the mud has conservatives frothing at the mouth and banging their spears against their shields.  If we are to survive much less win, we absolutely must stand united, tall and firm and let loose one hell of a roar.