Saturday, January 26, 2008

The People Posted by Anthony McCarthy

formerly known as olvlzl

Parts One, Interlude, Part Two, Darwin as Icon

Part Three

he People are the foundation and the ultimate authority of democracy. Democracy assumes that The People will rule themselves better than despots or elites or even “a government of wise men”. Democracy assumes that The People will act more wisely, more justly, more fairly than other authorities. Most of all, including all of these benefits, democracy assumes that the collective actions of The People will be more beneficially effective in the real world than any other form of government.

In order for democracy to be preferable to any other known form of government it has to pass a fairly low test, to produce a better life than undemocratic governments. The history of the world provides conclusive evidence that The People could hardly do worse.

There are four fundamental prerequisites for democracy to exist, The People must be assumed to have political equality, they must have a sufficient grasp of the truth to make the right decisions, and they have to have a sense of fairness, honesty and decency. It must be taken as given that The People possess the inherent rights to govern their lives and their polity. In order for democracy to really exist, these have to be more than assumed, they have to be made real. Without these prerequisites, democracy is a sham.

But the exercise of rights, though they might be said to be unalienable, cannot be exercised outside of a context which will permit it. Democracy is notably rare in the world, it is gained with enormous difficulty and it is difficult to keep. Would be rulers are always endangering it and elites actively despise it even as they appropriate its words as tools of deception. In the modern world one of the dangers to democracy is the propaganda power of mass media and in the United States that media is owned and controlled by the economic elite. We have the example of the media here perverting the concept of democracy to the point where it is to be held as unremarkable that George W. Bush - brought to office by Supreme Court ruling, approving a clearly corrupted election in a state ruled by his brother - claims the right to impose democracy, by unprovoked invasion, on a foreign country. When words become slogans without any coherent substance, the truth can’t be told. We are at a crisis which is destroying democracy and which endangers the entire biosphere.

An even greater danger to Western democracy is the loss of confidence by The People in our own ability to govern, when we doubt our actions can be beneficially effective. That is seen in low voter participation rates, the cynicism with which government and politics is regarded and the ever lower regard in which The People are led to hold ourselves. An apathetic, demoralized, jaded population is set up for subjugation.


I began with a section about the immense dimensions of EVOLUTION. In the arguments that ensued no one disputed the contention that it was effectively infinite when compared with the capacity of the human population to deal with even those data which could be obtained. Less noticed, since it was unremarked, was the contention that the enormous duration and numbers of EVOLUTION would allow it being known through only as a minute part of the whole. I mentioned that this limit in what was knowable might apply to mechanisms governing the processes of EVOLUTION which the human study of it might devise or even discover. I am going to state that as probable, if not a given.

The “Interlude” mentions, very nontechnically, the Hegelian dialectic, a form of allegedly scientific determinism which has had at least a nominal effect in many countries. It has never been very influential in the United States. Those countries which followed Marx, more in the breach than in the observance, can be said to have followed that form of determinism. I’ll leave it to you to consider the largest of those countries, China, and the results for both The People of China and the Environment in which they will have to try to survive. I will also leave you to consider what it might have to teach about the probability of elites saving the planet.

This “Interlude” was originally meant to be published at the beginning of what became the discussion of Darwinism, but was broken off in a futile attempt at concision. The subject wasn’t specifically Darwinism or the dialectic but political theories which do not start with the assumptions necessary for democracy, but in various forms of determinism, biological, historical, and others. All of these theories begin by aspiring to the objective reliability and prestige of science. Some are more scientific, others take the prestige but make do without the objective reliability. The social sciences are replete with examples.

Darwin, resting on the reality of EVOLUTION, was certainly an important figure in science, no one can deny that just as no serious person can deny EVOLUTION. But from before the publication of The Origins of Species, as that book was incubating, Darwinism was more than just an attempted explanation of EVOLUTION.

We love our pet ideas and in the competitive struggle for attention and professional recognition the promotion of them can outstrip the fact that they are all contingent. The competitive pressures in university departments, the ruthless need for scholars to defend their goods, the need of the would be intellectual descendants of those holding a department or, in the worst cases, entire fields, often lead to the use of less than objective means to render competitors extinct. The desire of elite scholars and their intellectual heirs to promote their ideas to the point of invincibility is, perhaps, a result of scarce resources. I don’t know if it has ever been studied in those terms. It isn’t any surprise that such loudly touted ideas have the potential to leave a cultural legacy that can outlive the position they hold in intellectual life. Freudian psychology is a definite example of that. Such ideas have a life outside of science, They aren’t required to adhere to the requirements of science in the wider culture, though they never give up the pretense to have remained faithful to its exigencies.

It is mentioned in an earlier section that the position of natural selection, like all of the contingencies of science, is open and, in spite of enormous resistance, active. But that isn’t my fight. There is another aspect of natural selection that I believe is more important for democracy and, through it, the survival of the species.

Part Two, analyzed a specimen of thinking which became influential in the general culture. I think any honest observer of evolutionary science and the enormously varied cultural descendants of it would admit that is true. While quotes from other people could have been used, this one encompasses enormous political implications. Since the political implications of this kind of idea are the subject of this essay, that one is entirely fit for the purpose. An idea of science that steps into the mechanics of politics has made itself the proper subject of political analysis. I will finish the analysis begun in Part Two.

Whatever else this application of natural selection* to human populations asserts, it unmistakably holds that not even democratically chosen actions will reliably produce effective beneficial results overriding natural selection.

Darwin clearly didn’t think they would in this case. After Malthus, he warned of dire consequences that were practically certain to result if what he identifies as the “weak members” of the human species happened to leave descendants. He all but guarantees that if they live to reproduce, disaster for the entire population will result. Inequality is assumed as a given, it is assumed to be an intrinsic part of the operation of natural selection, even in its assumed govenance of the political lives of reasoning humans.

Darwin identifies the mechanism of the disaster, the failure of natural selection, and he identifies the cause of the failure, charitable aid and medical care which will allow survival to the point where children are born to these “weak members” . I am sorry if it is difficult to face that analysis but it is inescapable, that is what Darwin said would happen. Unsupported by corroborating data, he confidently expressed that the attempt to take effective beneficial action on behalf of these People would lead to tragic consequences. And notice, he assumes its intended effect, relief to the Wretched of the Earth, would be achieved. Its success was the problem.

After giving his dire forecast in steely, in what I must believe he felt to be, ‘manly’ language of dispassionate science, Darwin looked aside meekly and said that the aid must be given. This subsequent assertion, less vivid in language, that we must give that unwise aid though it lead to disaster, frankly, is irrational unless he pits the interests of the “weaker members” against the good of the rest and opts for the “weaker” ones. You might even say that he opts for them in spite of the good of themselves, since they will also experience the degenerating human population, front row seats, most probably. And in the paragraph, even as he is striking these moral postures, he is continually undermining them. **

That soft insistence on taking cross-starred moral responsibility is not one that all contenders for his mantle would feel it was necessary to observe, despite its having been made by Darwin himself. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the world would know that the demure assertion of moral responsibility would be forgotten while concentrating on the crisis it was clearly stated would result from it. Darwin witnessed the so-called reforms of the New Poor Law. That “reform” slashed aid to the poor, making the lives of the poor of under them even more miserable than before. Yet he condemned it as a too charitable hindrance to natural selection. Like the present “reforms” in the United States, forcing “competition” onto the weakest members of society, producing cohersive misery was its intended result. It is a bitter irony that the party embracing creationism and opposing EVOLUTION, has made this feature of Darwinian-Malthusian morality the dogma and law of the United States.

Though Darwin’s assumption of inequality is corrosive and the callousness infectious, the assumption of the uselessness of reason in the face of natural selection is fatal to democracy. The assumption of the futility of human intelligence to overcome an entirely theoretical “natural force” is the original sin against democracy that virtually every deterministic theory holds. It is in their application to human politics and society that the intended subjects of them have a fully justified skepticism of such theories.

It is one of the strangest features of the writings of many who assert the rational, scientific precision of their thinking, that they discount the effectiveness of human reason to change reality for the better or for humans to govern their lives by reasoning. You wonder how they could put their faith in reason or expect anyone else to care about it, if that is true. As I demonstrated, they tend to hold themselves outside and above the very laws they assert. You wonder how they account for their faith in science if reason is so impotent and it’s application has such notable exceptions.

I think it is because they are trying to force tools that can’t do the job. When Darwin and the rest try to apply science to the effectively infinite complexity of human thoughts and actions, both individual and, especially, collectively, to say they cut corners is one of the greatest understatements made in the history of language.

EVOLUTION is measured in billions of years, the universe of human thought and action is equally measured in the billions, no two People alike, everyone, now and in the past, more than just a variation, changing and dynamic over years of each individual life. The details and infinite variety of behavior, communal interactions, the infinite capacity of human beings to act well or badly, honestly or deceitfully, with hidden motives or little self-reflection, but most of all on the basis of reason and experience, precludes science from ever knowing more than a small fraction of an effectively infinite universe of human life. It is illogical and unreasonable to believe that science can make general laws about it.

Science cannot exist where there is no physical evidence which can be observed, quantified and analyzed. The temptation in scholarship is always to look for the grand unified theory of whatever. In the pursuit of a science of human behavior, of political and economic science, those grand theories have come and they’ve gone. In between, their pretenses of objective reliability are necessary for the professional prestige and funding of these efforts but that is seldom achieved except in studying a small part of the whole. Before they fade from science, they gain currency and have effects that often outlive their reputable lives in science.

Science absolutely depends on the observation of the physical universe, the physical universe is what it was made to study, it can’t study anything else. That is why assertions of intelligent design, even if it was true, have absolutely no place in a science classroom. You would think that religious believers would take it as an act of desecration to assert that science could perceive God who we are told you cannot see and live. If it is an act of blasphemy to put God to the test of statistical analysis, though, isn’t my subject here.

That those trying to subject human beings to the rule of science do not find free will or much in the way of the human rights which are the essential prerequisites for democracy to exist, is a confirmation of the nature of science. In their folly, due to their professional and personal arrogance, they assume and pretend that since they can’t find them they aren’t there. They aren’t alone in doing that, it is the habit of elites of all kinds to deny them, certainly to those less elite than they are. But anyone who seeks after these rights or, most often, the falsification of them, with science in order to make their name as the discoverer of a primary law of the universe is a fool. Unfortunately, their status can make fools of us all.

In The Death of Socrates, I. F. Stone points out that despite the condescending derision with which the sandal maker is treated by those earliest scholarly enemies of democracy, Socrates and Plato, at least he could make a pair of shoes while Socrates and the entire subsequent 2,500 years of the history of philosophy couldn’t find even one Universal. Not so the world of scholarship has taken all that much notice of the fact.

* With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit*, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind*; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage*, though this is more to be hoped for than expected. The Descent of Man

** Please notice the final note of pessimism and the discouraging, conditional reservations throughout Darwin’s would-be humanitarian demurral.

In addition to my sister-in-law who discussed the scope included in EVOLUTION with me, I would like to thank Echidne who has allowed me to write at length on controversial topics, who has put up with my losing my temper a few times, and who writes one of the best blogs online.

I would also like to thank Marilynne Robinson whose essays provided the missing idea in a piece I’ve been thinking over for a long time. I would also like to thank those who have read and responded to what I’ve written for the past two years.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Hope Blogging

For hope blogging, go here. Phila works hard to put it together and it's important for an emotionally balanced moonbat to also hear the good news. Among those, note that Saudi women might now be allowed to drive cars.

Today's Short Health Insurance Lesson

It is about the words "universal coverage" and "single-payer coverage." The two are not identical. Note that a candidate could be for universal coverage but not for having a single source of funds. That would mean wanting everyone to have insurance but the insurance could be sold by many different firms, some for-profit, some not-for-profit, and by the government. A "single-payer" proposal is something different and greatly hated by the insurance industry, naturally.

Universal coverage helps with the problem of access, letting everyone see a physician without worrying about being able to afford it and reducing the pressure on emergency rooms at hospitals. It's unlikely to save any money, though, and most likely would cost more than the current system (at least in the short-run), because more people would use medical care when it's more available and because competition in health care tends not to work to lower prices (the reasons for that are something I can discuss if there is interest in it).

Single-payer coverage would directly affect the costs of health care, by giving the one buyer much more power in price setting and negotiations, as is done in Canada. But it would also make the system more bureaucratic, and the general opinion seems to be that Americans will not want it enough to vote for it.

Still, universal coverage without that control of the purse strings will not cut health care costs.

Bad Poetry For Today

I found this poem while looking for some old tax forms. I'm pretty sure it was my reaction to hearing about the "shock-n-awe" tactic.

and rubble and pain.
Blood-red cocks dancing
for the God of black rain.

Give me your arms
or give me your powers.
Then give me a bed for the
frightening flowers.

and purple and blue.
My Lady of Thunder
has split into two.

Bad to the Bone?

Common Dreams reports on an interesting study about political corruption by state in the U.S.. The study used public corruption convictions from federal suits as the measure of corruption by state.

This could be a problem, because not all corruption cases are taken to federal courts and not all states have enough funds to prosecute corruption. Some states might also be more accepting of corruption as the usual way of doing political business. But on the whole the measure probably reflects the general level of political corruption.

So which states are the most corrupt, at least in this study? The answer:

Louisiana (1), Mississippi (2), Kentucky (3), Alabama (4) and Ohio (5) are the top five most corrupt states in the country, according to the analysis.

Rounding out the top ten are Illinois (6), Pennsylvania (7), Florida (8), New Jersey (9), and New York (10).

What's so bad about corruption, anyway, a cynic believer in free political markets might ask. A little money slipped to a customs official in some foreign country might get those clunky bureaucratic wheels moving again, and at home a nice check might get you the building permit you really desire but which the zoning laws won't allow.

But corruption also distorts democracy. It gives those with more money more power in the government, too. And the kind of corruption where government contracts, say, are awarded to the firm which pays the most to some civil servant drain the money taxpayers have paid into private pockets.

None of this is efficient and all of this is unethical.

This Is Getting Old, Quickly

Mike Barnicle wants to be as popular as Tweety among the gals:

On the January 23 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, during a discussion of the January 21 Democratic presidential candidates debate with an all-male panel that included co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist, and guest co-host David Shuster, political and social commentator Mike Barnicle said of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY): "when she reacts the way she reacts to [Sen. Barack] Obama [D-IL] with just the look, the look toward him, looking like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court, OK? Looking at him that way, all I could think of ... was this fall, if it's [Sen. John] McCain [R-AZ] that she's facing, McCain is likable. She's not." All three MSNBC co-hosts laughed at Barnicle's comparison of Clinton to "everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court," with Scarborough interrupting Barnicle by laughing loudly before saying, "I'm sorry. Go ahead."

The bolds are mine.

Note that Barnicle asked the other guys to hate on Hillary Clinton because she reminds him of one of the frightening myths attached to women in general: The ex-wife who takes you to the cleaners. Barnicle is not commenting on Clinton; he is commenting on Clinton's femaleness, and by that extension he is commenting on all women. And this was done in an all-male company on television.

Barnacle [sic] is pretty well known to me as a guy who really doesn't like chicks except perhaps in the same sense he likes a nice rib roast. That guys like him are viewed as mainstream and their ideas as quite ok to express tells us how common that low-level misogyny is in our culture. Similar levels of misandry would not be acceptable in what is called mainstream television.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


A video on the new haute couture fashions by Dior and Armani. The Armani dresses show some nice tailoring, as usual for him, but the Dior dresses are a hoot. Not sure where one of those dresses would be appropriate to wear. Perhaps for the first meeting with your space alien in-laws?

Added later: I probably should have done a more feminist post on these dresses in which one can neither run nor sit. But they're so preposterous that nobody would expect to be able to do anything in them but to be gawked.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan

The power of the warlords and right-wing mullahs is rising:

An Afghan reporter was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court yesterday for allegedly questioning the prophet Muhammad's respect for women's rights.

The case has raised concerns over declining press freedom in Afghanistan and the growing power of militia commanders and ultra-conservative clerics.

Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, a 23-year-old reporter for the Jahan-e-Now daily, was tried behind closed doors and without a lawyer in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif after allegations by university classmates that he had mocked Islam and circulated an article that argued the prophet Muhammad had ignored the rights of women. Kaambakhsh denied writing the article, saying his name was added after it was printed, but he was found guilty.

Imposing the death sentence, the judge said Kaambakhsh would have the opportunity to appeal to three higher courts.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), which trains Afghan journalists and promotes independent reporting around the world, said the case against Kaambakhsh was a fabrication, motivated by a desire by warlords in northern Afghanistan to silence his brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, also a journalist, who had written investigative reports exposing their abuse of human rights.

Not much to say about all this, except that there was a small opening to make a real difference in Afghanistan and that opening was closed once most of the war-money went to Iraq. To also turn that country into a right-wing theocracy, really.

And no, letting the warlords fight it out over power is not democracy.

Counting The Lies

It's an odd world where a study of the number of incorrect statements to get the U.S. into the Iraq war causes no great astonishment anywhere. But such a study has now been conducted:

A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top Administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The study concluded that the statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."

The study was posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity, which worked with the Fund for Independence in Journalism.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel did not comment on the merits of the study Tuesday night but reiterated the Administration's position that the world community viewed Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, as a threat.

"The actions taken in 2003 were based on the collective judgment of intelligence agencies around the world," Stanzel said.

The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and Administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaeda or both. "It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to al-Qaeda," according to Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith of the Fund for Independence in Journalism staff members, writing an overview of the study. "In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003."

Mmm. I was thinking about the psychology of drawing down the trust bank. How many incorrect statements can you make as a private person before your friends and relatives label you a liar and never believe anything you say again? It's not as silly a question as you might think, because once the trust bank is empty everything you say will be discounted.

This is the most important part of the linked article:

The center said the study was based on a database created with public statements over the two years beginning on Sept. 11, 2001, and information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches and interviews. "The cumulative effect of these false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts — was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war," the study concluded.

"Some journalists — indeed, even some entire news organizations — have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas notwithstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, 'independent' validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq," it said.

All the more reason for the press to not be deferential and uncritical right now, you know.

Haloscan Loves Me Not

I can't respond to anything in the threads. My apologies. I've been told that I might be able to comment tomorrow, perhaps.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


That would stand for Citizens United Not Timid, a new "527" organization. It's supposed to spread education about what Hillary Clinton really is. All the organization will do is sell t-shirts (for 25 dollars each) which essentially say that Hillary Clinton is a cunt. This will serve to make her hated everywhere and guarantee the election of some suitable Republican man.

Just a small hint to all people like Roger Stone, the "brains" behind this idea: The more misogyny you show when talking about Hillary Clinton, the more women will vote for her. Because lots of women have been called a cunt by some asshole, and they empathize with the recipient of the slur, not its maker.

Mercury. The New Chic Food

The New York Times reports on the high mercury levels in sushi:

Recent laboratory tests found so much mercury in tuna sushi from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants that at most of them, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed the levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sushi from 5 of the 20 places had mercury levels so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market. The sushi was bought by The New York Times in October.

"No one should eat a meal of tuna with mercury levels like those found in the restaurant samples more than about once every three weeks," said Dr. Michael Gochfeld, professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J.

The article then goes on the usual way about individual responsibility: Pregnant women and children should avoid canned tuna, don'tchaknow! Even non-pregnant adults might get sick of the mercury! And what's wrong with these restaurants, anyway?

What is not mentioned except just quickly in passing are two things:

No government agency regularly tests seafood for mercury.


Mercury enters the environment as an industrial pollutant.

These two issues are the most important ones, sadly. But even in an article like this they are too frightening to really properly discuss and digest. Like mercury, I guess.

Today's Ditty

It goes like this:

I hate the world
And the world hates me
In perfect harmony.

Having an Impact

Eric Boehlert discusses the impact liberal and feminist blogs had on making Chris Matthew's sexism known. He even suggests:

When Chris Matthews' long-winded monologue at the opening of the January 17 Hardball program eventually touched down with an apology to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) for the way the cable talker had been treating the candidate on the air, the moment represented an unmistakable victory for the liberal blogosphere.

By not only getting Matthews to apologize, but by also forcing the rest of the press -- post-New Hampshire -- to back off its, at-times, overtly sexist coverage of a prominent Democratic contender, the blogs have already had more impact on how the traditional press covers this presidential campaign than they did during the entire 2004 White House run.

Nice, don't you think? Especially after years of feeling as if our writing falls letter by letter into some odd vacuum of utter invisibility.

Only one thing wrong with Boehlert's piece: He failed to quote any of the many Tweety posts I have written since 2004.

Haloscan Problems

Haloscan (the commenting system) is seriously ill right now. I can't post at all. You might be able or not, depending on what servers are affected or something like that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Rising Food Prices

The British Guardian has an interesting article on the recent rise in food prices. It notes that most people in the U.K. (or the U.S., actually) don't remember a time when food was becoming more expensive. It has pretty much become more affordable for a long time.

This may now be changing, both in the short-run because of rising costs of energy and transportation and in the long-run because of population pressures in India and China, both countries which are rapidly becoming wealthier. This results in changed consumption patterns: more meat, less rice, and meat is much more expensive to produce. It also results in the desire to have all the modern conveniences, including SUVs. That, in turn, results in the need to turn more of the environment into roads, houses and fields of fodder for the animals.

Add to this the recent fad of turning the staple foods of poor people into sources of energy, and you can see the reason for food riots in some parts of the world as well as the price freezes on basic foods in China and Mexico, for example.

What are the solutions to the potential problem that more expensive food (and more expensive everything else, by the way) might create? As far as I can tell, the solution seems to be for people to voluntarily start eating the way the poor already eat. But I doubt this will work. Humans are mostly not built towards the ascetic frame of mind. And the poor, thanks to television and other forms of mass communication, now know how the rich live. They will not be satisfied to stay poor for much longer.

Talking about population control is a new taboo, for several reasons, including the fact that the industrialized west isn't seeing large indigenous increases in populations and that this control then becomes an attempt to control the emerging countries of Africa and Asia. If anything, the conservatives in the industrialized west fear the death of the "white race" and want fertility wars.

But I see no other long-run solution to these problems except that of population control. If all people want to have a good standard of living and if we also want to have some wild nature left, with a few polar bears and so on, we need to seriously go back to talking about population control. Note that the way to talk about it is not by comparing the earth's bearing capacity with some arbitrary numbers, under the assumption that we will turn all land into fields and that everyone will be happy to live like a Buddhist monk in terms of property and food. The proper way to talk about is to ask what population size the earth can carry while also giving people what they desire in terms of their lifestyles and while letting the earth breathe a little.

The Hillary Hate

An interesting piece on that. The same guy sends me e-mails, I think.

The Invisible Voting Blocs

Atrios posted about this piece over the weekend:

At Anjay's Salon in Charleston, the only thing louder than the hair dryer is the chorus of political opinions.

Analysts say black women are more engaged and hold tremendous power in selecting the Democratic nominee.

On this day, owner Angela Jackson is outnumbered. She is the only one supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton over Sen. Barack Obama in South Carolina's Democratic primary Saturday.

"When you apply for a job, they ask you, do you have experience? They hire you based on experience. Hillary's been in office how long?" Jackson asks.

Customer Carol Singleton responds, "For me, Hillary, yes, she was a wife of a president, but she was not a president, so she doesn't earn credit for more experience than Obama. To me they're equal."

Stylist Shanese Jones says, "I just feel like it's his time. I think he's ready."

While three say they're undecided, the rest of the women in the salon say they plan to vote for Obama.

Analysts say black women this year never have been more engaged in a political campaign or held such power in determining the Democratic nominee.

Recent polls show black women are expected to make up more than a third of all Democratic voters in South Carolina's primary in five days.

For these women, a unique, and most unexpected dilemma, presents itself: Should they vote their race, or should they vote their gender?

No other voting bloc in the country faces this choice.

The bolds are mine.

The statement is silly, of course. White Democratic men, as an example, face exactly the same dilemma: Should they vote for Obama (their gender) or for Clinton (their race)? Republican women of any race face the dilemma that they can't vote for their gender and Republican POC can't vote their race.

But in one sense the statement makes sense: There is no black and female candidate in this race. All other Democrats can vote for their gender-race combination if they so wish. Republicans, of course, can vote for white guys as usual.

Some Nina Simone

I love her voice, her talent in both voice and the piano and her ability to project feeling so very well in the songs. I should post "Mississippi Goddamn", but the YouTube version isn't that great. So instead, here is Sinnerman:

Bad Economic News

Picture from the Hong Kong Standard.

International financial markets have a head-cold, caused by the flu in the American housing markets. In short, looks like the beginning of a recession to me:

A sell-off in global stock markets on a day when Wall Street was taking a respite, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, sent a chill through investors anticipating that Tuesday may bring a chaotic start to trading when U.S. markets reopen.

In a grim portent, futures on the Dow Jones industrial average were off by as much as 500 points. The Dow has fallen by more than 2,000 points, or about 14 percent, from its peak reached in October.

"We could have a messy opening," said Chicago economist Carl Tannenbaum, who said the wave of overseas pessimism seen Monday is hard to explain. "Much of the blame was placed on recession fears, but those fears have been expressed many times in recent weeks."

There was no particular trigger to Monday's huge sell-off, he said. But other analysts said the biggest factor is a new wave of pessimism about the global banking sector.

While others were eager to blame a $145 billion tax-stimulus plan offered by President Bush late last week, Tannenbaum said, "It's easy to take a negative view of the proposal, but many people have been positive about it."

The downbeat mood began in Asia and spread to Europe, leaving no major market unscathed.

In many cases, the sell-offs were stunning. Britain's benchmark FTSE-100 slumped 5.5 percent; France's CAC-40 index tumbled 6.8 percent; and Germany's blue-chip DAX 30 plunged 7.2 percent.

In Asia, India's benchmark stock index tumbled 7.4 percent, while Hong Kong's blue-chip Hang Seng index plummeted 5.5 percent, its biggest percentage drop since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"It's another horrible day," said Francis Lun, a general manager at Fulbright Securities in Hong Kong. "Today it's because of disappointment that the U.S. stimulus package is too little, too late, and investors feel it won't help the economy recover."

Note the double-speak in that quote. Is it Bush's wrongheaded stimulus proposal or is it not? Lowering the taxes on the wealthy will not work, because the less wealthy don't have money to buy anything and thus the wealthy won't invest the extra money in new firms, say, and the wealthy consume a smaller fraction of the extra income they would gain than the less wealthy would.

This is just my opinion, but I think we should increase public spending by fixing the decaying infrastructure all over the country and by rebuilding New Orleans. We could fund it the same way the Iraq war has been funded...

Monday, January 21, 2008

On Martin Luther King Day

This year I'm posting links to what others are saying about Martin Luther King's speeches and legacy. Pam of Pam's House Blend points out that the speeches more appropriate to this particular time might not be the famous "I Have a Dream" but King's anti-war speeches. Brownfemipower, in a post a few days ago, does address the "I Have a Dream" speech but notes that its message was not color-blindness but justice. TomP's diary at Daily Kos is about Dr. King's views on poverty and social class.

And V for Virginia has made up a video tribute to Dr. King:

Today's Action Alert

Would you like to sign an Open Letter From American Feminists? Katha Pollitt has written one, an important one. This one:

An Open Letter from American Feminists

Columnists and opinion writers from The Weekly Standard to the Washington Post to Slate have recently accused American feminists of focusing obsessively on minor or even nonexistent injustices in the United States while ignoring atrocities against women in other countries, especially the Muslim world. A number of reasons are given for this supposed neglect: narcissism, ideological rigidity, reflexive anti-Americanism, fear of seeming insensitive or even racist. Yet what is the evidence for this apparently now broadly accepted claim that feminists don't support the struggles of women around the globe? It usually comes down to a quick scan of the home page of the National Organization for Women's website, observing that a particular writer hasn't covered a particular outrage, plus a handful of quotes wrenched out of context.

In fact, as a bit of research would easily show, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of US feminist organizations involved in promoting women's rights and well-being around the globe — V-Day, Equality Now, MADRE, the Global Fund for Women, the International Women's Health Coalition and Feminist Majority, to name some of the most prominent. (The National Organization for Women itself has a section on its website devoted to global feminism, on which it denounces a wide array of practices including female genital mutilation (FGM), "honor" murder, trafficking, dowry deaths and domestic violence). Feminists at Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have moved those organizations to add the rights of women and girls to their agenda. Feminist magazines and blogs– Ms,,'s Broadsheet feature, womensenews,com (which has an edition in Arabic) — as well as feminist reporters and commentators in the mainstream media, regularly report on and condemn outrages against women wherever they occur, from rape, battery and murder in the US to the denial of women's human rights in the developing or Muslim world.

As feminists, we call on journalists and opinion writers to report the true position of our movement. We believe that women's rights are human rights, and stand in solidarity with our sisters who are fighting for equal political, economic, social and reproductive rights around the globe. Specifically, contrary to the accusations of pundits, we support their struggle against female genital mutilation, "honor" murder, forced marriage, child marriage, compulsory Islamic dress codes, the criminalization of sex outside marriage, brutal punishments like lashing and stoning, family laws that favor men and that place adult women under the legal power of fathers, brothers, and husbands, and laws that discount legal testimony made by women. We strongly oppose the denial of education, health care and equal political and economic rights to women.

We reject the use of women's rights language to justify invading foreign countries. Instead, we call on the United States government to live up to its expressed commitment to women's rights through peaceful means. Specifically, we call upon it to:

* offer asylum to women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution, including female genital mutilation, domestic violence, and forced marriage;

* promote women's rights and well-being in all their foreign policy and foreign aid decisions;

* use its diplomatic powers to pressure its allies — especially Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive countries in the world for women — to embrace women's rights;

* drop the Mexico City policy–aka the 'gag rule'–which bars funds for AIDS- related and contraception-related health services abroad if they provide abortions, abortion information, or advocate for legalizing abortion;

* generously support the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports women's reproductive health including safe maternity around the globe, and whose funding is vetoed every year by President Bush;

* become a signatory to The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the basic UN women's human rights document, now signed by 185 nations. The US is one of a handful of holdouts, along with Iran, Sudan, and Somalia.

Finally, we call upon the United States, and all the industrialized nations of the West, to share their unprecedented wealth, often gained at the expense of the developing world, with those who need it in such a way that women benefit

If you agree and wish to be included in the list of signatures, send Katha an e-mail at kpollitt at thenation dot com. Include the name you prefer to use and a descriptor of what you do, i.e., your relevant identity or your job or whatever characterizes you best. If you work for an organization that is relevant, include that, too.

A Re-Posting: More On The Unattainable Perfection

I feel like posting this piece again (somewhat modified for ease of reading), because it is always current.

The topic of this post is the view of eating and exercise as a moral or religious enterprise or a competition as to who can get closest to an almost nonexistent thinness without dying, without dying EVER!

These are two very different ideas and putting them together looks like an oxymoron. But it is not, or if it is, then life is full of oxymorons (oxymora?).

The first idea is the Puritanical one, still quite common in this country, the idea of life as a moral struggle against temptations, a religious walk through nonreligious sins. Everything, I have noticed, can be twisted into a moral failure by some people, often by experts. Who was it who said that only in the United States it is the fault of the elderly that they die? Because clearly, if you try hard enough, if you are earnest enough, pure enough, you will live forever. And your body will look like that of a twenty-year old, forever, too. If it does not you have sinned, and perhaps the health insurance shouldn't cover your sinning.

Why does this anger me so? Partly because I'm using my red-hot anger as a source of energy, but mostly because such sermons make life really horrible for those most vulnerable to its seductions. For note that the people who read articles on good eating and good exercise and how to take care of your health are not those sedentary and overweight Americans who might benefit from the advice the most. They are also, and perhaps most likely, those Americans who are already too thin and who already overexercise.

I've thought similar thoughts on the many articles on "good mothering" and the awful consequences of neglectful mothering. I'm willing to bet quite a lot that the wrong people are affected by these articles, people who already try too hard and feel too much guilt, and that the people who actually might learn something useful from them (and this does not only mean mothers) will not read the articles or if they do are not affected by them.

What is it about pleasure and enjoyment of life that is so very bad? Think about it. If your daily meals can't give you enough pleasure, because they have become part of the Puritan "religion" of striving, where are you going to get your good feelings from? And if all you see when you look at your children are the many ways you might fail in bringing them up correctly (did you play enough Beethoven? did you eat a pickle while pregnant?), how are you going to enjoy them and the time you spend with them?

And if moving and exercising and dancing are not making you feel a little like one of God's little acrobats, because you are busy writing down your pulse rate and your calorie consumption, when are you ever going to feel that divine breath on your nostrils? Or take sex. If sex is all about counting weekly frequencies and how good your orgasms are, when are you going to have fun?

All this confuses the trip with its destination, and as none of us knows the destination, why not enjoy the trip?

My plea is for moderation, of course, not for becoming a morbidly ill couch potato. But I don't really see the urgings of the fitness and health industries as pleas for moderation, most of the time. There is a slippage towards one extreme or another, all the time. And come to think about it, "moderation" isn't the right word, either, because it conveys the idea of temptations successfully avoided. We need a better word for what I think of as living life as a human being, eating wonderful and healthy (and sometimes not-so healthy) food, moving enough for your body to stay limber, enjoying the gifts this can give you in pure enjoyment of life. We need a word that makes it quite clear being alive is not just a time given to you so that you can leave the stringiest body possible when you die. And die you will.

So much for the first paradoxical idea. The second one has to do with the role of all this in the lives of women, in particular, rather than in the lives of people, in general. There is a whole subgenre of writings and programs aimed at making women feel in the need of improvement. This subgenre serves firms very well, as a worried woman is more likely to buy that expensive face-cream or that educational toy for her child or that Victoria's Secret bra for her husband's ogling enjoyment. The guilt industry, I sometimes think it should be called.

The guilt industry works especially well in affecting women, because the subgenre is not that novel. You read the Bible and find Eve at fault. You watch movies such as "Educating Rita" and you find women in need of improvement. You read fashion magazines and find your body needs fixing. You read articles on child psychology and find that you are walking across a mine-field where every wrong step will cause your child to become a drug abuser who will hate you, the mother in later life. You read anti-feminist writings and find that some argue that women shouldn't have been given the vote. You read other anti-feminist articles and find that women are already ruling the whole world and that this is destroying EVERYTHING. You read articles about women in Afghanistan getting killed by their families for the crime of having been raped by some strangers first. You read articles about how the selfish and uppity women in Europe refuse to have enough children to perpetuate the White Uberrace (and you wonder how much damage they would have done to those nonexistent children by forgetting to play Beethoven while pregnant). And so on.

It's one way of making a person into a pretzel. (And don't come in here giving me counterexamples or scolding me for my intemperance. I'm on a roll.) Even a woman can become a pretzel, and that is a painful process. So what's a girl to do? It's not that hard to see that on some subconscious level many women think that they can somehow prove that they are not so bad, that at least they, if not other women, can be good and upright and ordinary citizens. Maybe working on the body will help. Or committing to Motherhood. Or saying that YOU agree about how terrible other women are, but that YOU are one of the women with a mental penis. YOU are ok. You are not Anna Nicole Smith or Hillary Clinton or Condie Rice or any of those other nasty uppity women who for some reason are seen as a stand-in for all women.

I'm running out of steam and I have to go out to chisel off the ice on the front steps as the postman is complaining about the hazards caused by my refusing to be nice to anyone at all.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

For the Budding Etymologists In The Audience.

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (Science Masters Series) (Paperback)
by Richard Dawkins (Author), Lalla Ward (Illustrator) "All peoples have epic legends about their tribal ancestors, and these legends often formalize themselves into religious cults..." (more)

See Also:

More, I want to persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence. This makes it a doubly satisfying theory. A good case can be made that Darwinism is true, not just on this planet but all over the universe, wherever life may be found.

Untitled First Posted on olvlzl June 18, 2006

The past two weeks have held a rather startling lesson. If my e-mail and the responses it's gotten on comment threads are any indication, the plain statement of the supremacy of the People in a democracy seems somehow strange, even far out. Assuming Republicans aren't readers of this blog, that is something I never thought would be found among people on the left.

Thinking about it, though, the out-right statement that leftists hold the basic tenets of democracy as a given isn't repeated nearly often enough. It might be best to begin by considering why we are going to all this bother, anyway.

If we don't believe that the People are the only legitimate and best source of government then we had better say so now. We are on the edge of so many disasters that there isn't time to waste. If we don't believe that the People are the best hope of getting it right, avoiding the distortions of self-interest and the greed-based society, then the only logical thing is to dump democracy and try for a benevolent despot. But experience proves that there isn't any such thing as a benevolent despot. All despots, all non-democratic governments are held in place by violence and thuggery. A very few, such as Tito in Yugoslavia, find it in their interest to suppress ethnic bigotry but almost all of them use racism and bigotry as their primary organizing tool. In very few middle eastern countries it is in the interest of the despot to allow women to be human beings while using ethnic violence. In most the total suppression of women replaces it or rides in tandem.

As a sometime subscriber to The Nation and a few other leftist magazines I've seen some of the more spectacular apostasies of the past forty years. Not having the leisure to go into it and without the interest of the professional left I haven't poured over their writings this week but my impression is that the leftists who turned never exhibited a firm belief in popular supremacy. They all seem too refined and sophisticated for that quaint idea. Maybe that's the key to what made them turn quisling. Maybe it's a line of hypertext in their program that allows them to click and instantly show what seems to be a totally different document, though really a part of the same book. It's happened often enough so someone who does have the time might check it out.

Given the number of these treasons and the character of those who didn't turn, I wonder if this isn't it. The Rev. Martin Luther King, the greatest American leftist of my lifetime, was ridiculed by the flashier leftists who didn't have any use for his Beloved Community* and his ideals. His critics became fashionable and progress in civil rights stopped rather abruptly. The usual explanations are that King tried to extend the movement Northward and the war in Vietnam but some of the explanation might lie in those who were ascendant at the same time. The number of those who turned conservative must mean something.

Something happened. Some combination of factors stopped the progress. It's not any one thing but it is clear that without a solid basis of belief in the People, even if it's in their unfulfilled potential, the agenda of the left will die. It can't be said often enough. This is an idea that has to be an explicit part of everything we do.

Darwin As Icon Posted by olvlzl.

When this series was planned, it was to be posted on successive Saturdays with Sunday’s free to post about news items. Circumstances led me to change that schedule a bit, moving things up. The third part will be posted next Saturday.

One of the weeks would have to deal with Darwin, there wasn’t any way to dodge that hot topic any longer, and I knew that would be the most controversial. Darwin is a number of things to different people depending on their agendas and, apparently, on whether they’d bothered to read him and his followers.

Those who really read the post yesterday will see, that was anticipated. And anyone who also bothered to read Part One will see, I am not a creationist, a stealth ID quack or any of the other assorted things attributed to me in the comments and the e-mails I’ve gotten. The posted and e-mailed suspicions that I would support Huckabee only prove that some people who can type apparently can’t read. By the way, if you want to e-mail your invectives, I don’t open attachments. Please use this address,

For some who believe they are supporting “science”, Darwin is an icon, an ideological figurehead with not much relation to his writings and life. From what I’ve seen, you don’t have to have the slightest idea of Darwin to be that kind of a Darwinist. Unfortunately that works just as well for rallying the opponents of evolutionary science. He’s also an icon of creationism, and, I’m sorry to say, as an icon of the devil, he’s worked a lot better for them than he has for science. If you don’t believe that, look at the polls so frequently bemoaned by the would be, pro-science side of this struggle. The battle for the public understanding of science doesn’t seem to be going our way, anyone with an interest in science should find new tactics or the war will be lost.

I’d thought of writing a post about the politics of Darwinism within science, having followed a few of the vicious fights over even minor attempts to introduce additional mechanisms of evolution for consideration (no, ‘intelligent design’ was even considered) but it would have gotten way too long. One of the things found while researching that topic was this abstract by Susannah Varmuza of the University of Toronto. This says it better than I can.

Evolution is an idea that inspires huge emotional responses, in part because it speaks to our very identities. The religious overtones associated with debates about evolution are not restricted to those between evolutionary biologists and creationists (the inspiration for the quote above). Among evolutionary biologists, there is an aura of deification of Darwin that tends to stifle discourse on ideas that are construed by the mainstream to be anti-Darwinian, perhaps, as pointed out by Gould (1981), to counteract the political machinations of the creationist movement. Over the decades, attempts by non-traditionalists to introduce new thinking into the study of evolution have met with either stony silence or rancorous derision. Goldschmidt, Gould, and proponents of Lamarckian inheritance can still raise hackles, even posthumously (‘Goldschmidt is a bum!’ echoed around the lecture theatre at a recent scientific meeting, 44 years after his death.

You should read the entire thing if you’re interested in evolution and genetics. I’ve got the feeling the epigenetics might help open up a lot of new areas into the effectively infinite reality of EVOLUTION. But they have to stop pretending that Darwin can’t be questioned first.

Answer to those objecting to the word "Darwinism" Posted by olvlzl..

It's one thing I didn't think would have to be defended, the use of the word "Darwinism". Is it too much to expect that the cult of Darwin will at least know who Thomas Huxley was?

Huxley's fourth review of Darwin's book, The Origin of Species appeared in the April 1860 issue of the Westminster Review. Coining the word "Darwinism" as it is still used today in this review (it had been used before with regard to the work of Erasmus Darwin),

For those who have never heard of the guy.

Huxley remarked to student Henry Fairfield Osborn, twentieth-century American paleontologist and director of the American Museum of Natural History, back in the mid-seventies:about Charles Darwin, "You know I have to take care of him–in fact, I have always been Darwin's bull dog." Though he much pleased Darwin by striking out at the enemies of evolution, he also much displeased him by failing to be a 100% defender of the hypothesis of natural selection. Huxley was a defender of the idea that evolution had occurred, but not of natural selection as its explanation.