Friday, April 08, 2005

Ah, Breakthroughs Are Fun.

So an argument has stumped me since freshman year (or at least, partially stumped). In discussions of global warming, people have said "Volcanoes produce more greenhouse gas than man ever has".

Now, I point out that man has done so quickly, with uniquely qualitative results, that the impacts are real and that volcanoes are part of a natural equilibrium, but nonetheless, the argument threw me off.

Then today, I learned something, or rather relearned it. Volcanoes produce sulfur and various contaminants that fill the stratosphere and REFLECT, not trap, light. They don't produce many greenhouse gasses at all, but even if they did, the science shows that their effect is, in NET terms, a cooling factor. After all, the volcano that erupted in the 80s caused snow in the midst of July in New England. Volcanic activity has been associated with the ONSET of severe crippling ice ages, not the end of them.

There are more greenhouse gasses than there ever have been in all of history, even at the peaks of normal variation. We are also augmenting the Earth's reflectivity and eliminating the Earth's natural carbon sinks.

Whenever I have doubt about how to defeat an argument, my discovery of it shows me what little respect the conservative leaders have for the intellect of their minions.

Prevailing Doctrinal Assumptions, Part VI

An important, yet entirely predictable, event happened recently. To quote David Peterson:

"Thursday’s release of the Report to the President of the United States, the latest official re-assessment of the state of pre-war “intelligence” behind the claims that the former regime in Baghdad possessed various nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons capabilities, programs, and/or intentions (Don’t you love this last category? Intentions being pre-eminently pre-emptable. Of course.), was immediately portrayed as damning for the Executive Branch, and equally damaging. "

Peterson then goes onto indicate something that can be used as a heuristic for the difference between conservatives, liberals and leftists.

Conservatives will argue that the intelligence community had good reason to believe things that may have been inaccurate, that the war is still justified because [insert reason here], and that a number of "mistakes" are erroneous creations of liberal media.

Liberals will argue that the intelligence community made mistakes that propelled the country to war, that the war was insane and terrible, and that the media did a good job after the war.

Leftists will argue that the intelligence community didn't "fail" if we're being ideologically clear-headed. The intelligence community was being actively recruited to lie. Reading foreign relations articles and doing basic Google searches, the elite intellectual critique of the buildup for the war was incredible. But critics were actively silenced and smeared, like Joseph Wilson. The Bush Administration knew the risks: they proceeded because elites overwhelmingly don't care about security. Further, the media did not report and continues to not report the truth, despite elites being scared, because Bush is such a popular candidate among the rich and because encouraging critique of der Fuhrer empowers ordinary people to begin to ask questions.The world looks a lot different from two parts of the left.

Cartoon Network's "Kid" Shows

Frankly, I'm impressed with the degree of sophistication that is being allowed into the primetime cartoon market these days.

Take Teen Titans. It has inspired a fairly interesting adult fanbase, and for good reason. A fantastic example is "Spellbound" in the third season. The general plot was pretty easy to anticipate: Raven finds someone trapped in a book, she decides to free him, the dude ends up being less than scrupulous, etc. But there were a number of excellent thematic choices. During the period where Raven is being "corrupted" and being taught black magic by her newfound friend, she wears white. Only when she returns to her original black is the metaphorical spell over her broken. This points up the comment made by the "wizard" Malchior about how black magic is simply misunderstood magic and the concept that power is power irrespective of its source. It also is a charming and very adult look at a relationship that ends poorly.

Mucha Lucha is also fun: It's a quirky show about luchadores, Mexican wrestlers. (There was an Angel episode that also featured unapologetically hoaky luchadores). Multiple quotes indicate a really interesting outlook on the world consistent with Latina/o identity: "Man, just when you start to get ahead, the Man always gets in the way!" " 'It's time I behave like a true manager.' 'What, do nothing and take 10%?'" A lot of these jokes probably fly by the target audience, but they're funny to me.

Adult Swim has also recently become counted as a separate block from Cartoon Network for purposes of Nielsen ratings. I think cartoons are finally starting to get some respect in this country.

Prevailing Doctrinal Assumptions, Part V: Multi-Culturalism

I remember my 7th grade class. We were discussing Rome (as our school system deigns to cover all of world history in one year in 7th and 9th grade and US history in 8th and 11th grade, as well as US government in 12th - that alone says about as much as this entire post will), and, since my teacher was sensible enough to recognize America as an empire, decided to give us an assignment: Will America fall (using Rome as a parallel)?

Of course, one of the assumptions was that America is having an influx of new immigrants, much like Rome did. Even as an innocent junior high student, I could see something that smelled pretty rotten was being sold to me.Flash forward to me being a college student. Having to read the stuff I do means that I get to see a lot of people who argue for a monolith culture: one language, one nation, one Fuhrer... oops, let that one slip. They typically argue that the new cultures "we let in" will destroy our illustrious empire.

If only it was so simple. In fact, history not only doesn't support this conclusion, it pretty near refutes it. Rome was at its strongest and most vibrant when it ruled over an incredibly diverse empire with hundreds of religions and ethnicities. Persia was similar. Rome's collapse was concurrent with the adoption of a monolithic Christian ideology. Other conquerors, such as the Aryans, Turks and Mongols, expanded endlessly largely because they assimilated other tribes in their way through conquest or creative alliances (usually cemented by literal marriages of convenience). The strongest empires were exactly multilingual, multicultural, etc. They thrived through a reasonable level of tolerance. They faltered when their tolerance slipped away.Not that the collapse of the American empire would throw me for a loop...

As a brief aside: Here's another good way to juxtapose conservativism, liberalism and the left. Here's IR.

Conservatives/Realists: States are anarchic actors who seek to gain power in the chaotic international system. Security is a primary concern.

Liberals/Idealists: States live in a hierachical structure where cooperation can be net beneficial. Security and wellbeing are primary concern.

Leftists: States are power vehicles for dominant elites. Security is a non-issue, and well-being is only important insofar as well-being can't be attained exclusively for the elite. And, the key distinction: Both realists and idealists assume that the state must exist and that we cannot replace it with structures with vastly different allegiances.

A Brief Post

Not a lot coming from this corner recently, I know. It's been spring break and I've been partying.

Listening to: Final Fantasy 6 Airship Remix called "Eres Des Points" with French rap overlaid - an excellent song available for free at OCRemixes

Some "deep" thoughts on my part:

Innovation makes the grandiose mediocre.

Those who fail to anticipate the mistakes of the future are doomed to commit them.

A Defense of Porn!

In response to an article by Lucinda Marshall here,, I had this to say:

It strikes me that, while open discussion of pornography must be part of the movement, and yes feminism shouldn't cut short its critique to make misogny "safe", that the porn issue is not one that MUST be settled before the movement acts. Wendy McElroy, Emma Goldman, numerous people within the porn industry, etc. are people I would consider feminists who would or do support pornography. Remember that some women choose to not simply do porn but RUN porn companies because of their own sexual desires.

Re: "Porn stars aren't paid much, the industry's run by rich white guys"
A) The same can be said for law, medicine, indeed almost every economic activity. This is a problem of the economy making labor into a commodity, not a problem of the gender system. I've never heard anyone outside of the pomo left say that we should ban medicine because of current unjust practice within it; rather, we should revolutionize it. Yes, the system should not be rigged to generate economic coercion; yes, people should share equally in choosing how to bake the cake and distribute it and eat it; yes, labor should not be a commodity; no, banning porn doesn't get us anywhere in that regard.
B) Wendy McElroy, among others, has noted that when porn stars are actually INTERVIEWED, they overwhelmingly say that they like their job, that they choose it (some can and do have other jobs, like software design) voluntarily, etc. Moreover, compared to the average wage worker, they make an assload of money; and, even more importantly, they are conscious of the potential problems in their industry.

"Secondly, way too many of the women who work in pornography have been coerced into participating."

So have people who knit sweaters, make toys, even program software. Does this mean these activities should be banned? No, it means that there must be stringent regulation to stop coercion and sweat shops and there must be wide-range economic forms that let people get good jobs so they don't need to choose a task they find degrading. It also means consumers of porn must be conscious of what they're buying.

"And lastly, why are we defending a business where one of the job hazards is the risk of AIDS?"

The same reason why people might defend coal mining despite the black lung or being a policeman despite the risks of being shot or an activist despite the death threats: Because there's a social value to the work. First of all, interviews and investigations of the AIDs complaints have shown that, while there certainly was a problem at the onset of the epidemic (just as there was everywhere), that the porn industry is now far safer than casual sex (check out interviews with Ron Jeremy, for example). Yes, there should be government regulations to make the work safer, but if someone chooses voluntarily to engage in a potentially unsafe yet fun activity, I see no reason any polity should stop it, let alone a nation-state.

What surprised me when I did my little research project on pornography was that people within it were overwhelmingly very conscious about the dangers of porn in a way that is fairly rare compared to other industries, and that they also had interesting things to say on the matter of gender.

The worst part is that anti-pornography laws inevitably, over and over, get used to slam the feminist movement more than porn. It's the danger that Chomsky talks about of giving the decision to the state to handle. Pornography may need an overhaul, but it offers at least the promise of expanding the range of our sexual behavior and freedom. How many couples make sex videos (home-made porn) for their own tittilation? How many women dream of being ravished by Johnny Depp and might get something akin to that with porn? And so on. Yes, we should work to make it not violate reasonable standards of liberation; no, we shouldn't eliminate it out right.

Blacks Better Athletes?

Now, after a brief diversion to gender, it's straight back to race. (I wonder: Has anyone noticed a focus on race from this blog? It may be because my blogging days started after I began to credit race more in my analysis...) When playing on PokerStars, the aptly named teen kkk666 commented that there are no good black quarterbacks. Donovan McNabb alone shoots that theory out of the water, but I was wondering, given comments by Dave Chapelle and others: Are blacks better athletes genetically? Maybe slave breeding made them stronger (though certainly not dumber), or maybe Africans happen to be better at sports. Certainly, looking at the Olympics and American national sports, you see a lot of black faces.

As an initial caveat: Though on a class level I don't approve of the ludicrous money professional athletes make, on a race level I damn sure do. I'm not going to launch into a neo-Nazi tirade about parasitic black athletes - the parasites are far too often white for me or anyone serious to broach that topic. I'm merely inquiring.

This Salon article reviews a book that points out some interesting genetic discoveries (though not remotely conclusive yet).

What interested me most was this:
"To avoid misunderstandings, Entine makes it clear from the outset that he is talking about groups, not individuals: It is not the case that all or most blacks are better athletes than members of other racial groups, only that over the entire population, there are higher odds that some individuals will be faster or able to jump higher than individuals from other populations. The black guy playing corner in a pickup football game may or may not be a better athlete than the white wide receiver lined up opposite him, but there's no statistical reason to assume he is -- genetics doesn't work that way. But when you leave the sandlot and move up to the level where the world's elite athletes compete -- world-class track meets, the Olympics, the NFL and the NBA -- genetics confers the tiny advantage that separates starters from bench-warmers, world record holders from also-rans. Entine also addresses an even more volatile subject: the unfair devaluation of black athletes' blood, sweat and tears that can all too easily accompany encomiums to their "natural abilities."

He is at pains to point out that having a genetic advantage doesn't automatically confer success: Black athletes have to work as hard as athletes of other races if they want to reach the top. Their success is a result of a "unique confluence of cultural and genetic forces."

This makes me wonder: So often, we hear comments from white supremacists or, heck, supremacists of any ilk, that their kind dominates X highly competitive profession. Now, all too often this is hyperbolic, inaccurate, ignores social realities and even more nuanced genetic explanations, etc., and further the entire discussion is based on fundamentally bad science anyways, but maybe we can concede that, heck, maybe black dudes will dominate COMPETITIVE pro basketball no matter what, but who cares because that certainly has zero impact on whether or not your black buddy is going to kick your ass at the YMCA?

Here's another interesting article: This is a complex piece, but the conclusion is very interesting. It underscores something I see a lot: Blacks, while suffering from discrimination, know how to deal with it; they internalize ways of handling racist pressure. But if a white fella goes to a mostly black college and experiences the reverse of what happens normally, he doesn't know how to cope.

The key part is this: Like most things, you can take this insight two ways. You can say "Blacks can be racist too" and thus subvert legitimate claims against the preponderant white racism, not to mention the institutions and history that make that racism matter. Or you can say "Look, white culture is so used to privilege and to race and culture being a non-entity that white people aren't prepared to deal with their position and privilege being challenged." The latter, for someone within the white community, is the pertinent thing to say.

Relationships in a Perfect World

In general, I think that my political and economic framework are most supple and rich, with my racial framework coming in behind. Unfortunately, I'm not so good with gender issues.

I approach the issue from a prima facia rationality viewpoint. People get into relationships to satisfy desires, urges, and to enrich themselves, so why do they so frequently come away with pain? It seems to me that one problem is the search for "true love" as an entity. The entire endeavour is founded on contradictory logic: We're searching for something we don't have and is supposed to be obvious when it strikes, yet we place numerous conditions upon it. What is "true love"? Who cares? Can't we freely find ways to relate to others as we damn well please, having fun (sexual or otherwise) as the time feels right?

Suppose one woman loves two men who are best friends. The staunch rule of monogamy forces conflict, pain, suffering as a prima facia condition. Why not simply "share"? If every person involved is fine with it, why not go running?

To me, long-term relationships should be viewed as something of a contract. Certain ground rules need to be established: certain things are not to be violated, a certain space is left, etc. As long as that contract is formed with the full interest and uncoerced desire of all parties involved, I don't especially care about the nature of the contract, nor do I think society has any pressing interest in creating impositions, cultural or legal.

Why, then, is infidelity unacceptable? If both parties establish that a monogamous relationship is appropriate, then for one to step outside of the bounds is a violation of that contract. Either the situation must be resolved or the contract must be made null.

Why would homosexuality, bisexuality or polygamy be unacceptable? No reason whatsoever. As long as every person involved has a say equivalent to how they are impacted and is being fully satisfied, why not? This applies as well to any number of sexual fantasies or "fetishes": bondage, rape fantasy, uniforms, whatever the hell is in your kinky mind. As long as one partner is not imperially demanding something that the other partner feels uncomfortable giving but does not feel ready to say "No", run with it.

How about pedophilia? Here, we take a reasonable exception when someone is declared incompetent to make decisions for themselves. This does mean, however, that we have to be serious about it. A thirty year old preying upon the insecurities of a twenty year old (or vice versa) is not illegal, yet a nineteen year old preying upon the insecurities of a seventeen year old (or vice versa) is. Of course, legally, one has to be concrete, but it strikes me that setting some arbitrary age is not going to account for the complex gradation. Perhaps we should simply make it possible for anybody to take up a case on behalf of someone who is deemed incompetent to make sexual decisions on their own, with stringent guidelines as to what that would imply. Obviously, a father preying upon his prepubescent daughter would clearly fall within these guidelines, and such a reprobate would be removed from his daughter and likely from the community.

How does rape fall under this concept? Having read the rape law debates on both sides, I feel that the issue is a lot more complex than people think. To me, there is no doubt that, while some rape cases are falsely reported, the pressures that would lead to underreporting are almost infinitely more present. After all, going to court with a rape claim means, almost by necessity, having one's credibility torn to shreds. That having been said, the solution is clearly not to define rape to meaninglessness. If I have sex with someone and regret it in a week, is that rape? No, because at the time I made the decision to go ahead and jump her bones, I was fully consenting. But it seems that some radical feminists, as Wendy McElroy has documented, have taken a reasonable desire to make rape actually stick to the point of theoretically allowing a rape conviction on any pretext if either partner ever decides they were raped (though in actual fact rape cases will tend to be underreported). On the other hand, by the same logic, rape can still be prosecuted even if the victim liked it or experienced arousal - it's not relevant for determing the voluntary nature of the act.

It should be noted that I don't think that any polity, especially the nation-state, has the right to prevent any action that it considers immoral. I think someone has the right to insult someone else even when I consider it to be cruel and vile. This means that we must distinguish between something that a community would have legal sanctions against versus something that a community may allow but nonetheless despise.

Another comment: I generally feel that no person in a relationship should dominate or submit all the time, but slipping in and out of such roles can be appropriate if the net result is general equality.

Anarchism and Kindergarten

Supposedly, everything people needed to know, they learned in kindergarten. There may be some truth to it. Think about the Left's demands.

Anarchism: Don't bully people; leave them alone.

Critical Legal Studies: If you make the rules of the game and the game is unfair or unfun, you can't defend it by saying that it's the rules.

Socialism: Share; help out with the tasks of the community.

Defense of the Ecology: Clean up your mess; don't hurt animals.

Feminism: Treat girls with respect.

Racism: Play well with others.

I frankly agree with Noam Chomsky on the matter of monosyllabics: There's very little in politics, economics, etc. that needs words outside of a normal dictionary.I'd also like to correct some myths about anarchism:

-Anarchism means chaos: Not at all. The Greek anarkos meant not just "no government", but voluntary sharing and governance. It was contrasted with the traditional state. Read Rudolf Rocker, Bakunin, Proudhon, etc. For example, Rudolf on the topic: ""Anarchism recognises only the relative significance of ideas, institutions, and social conditions. It is, therefore not a fixed, self enclosed social system, but rather a definite trend in the historical development of mankind, which, in contrast with the intellectual guardianship of all clerical and governmental institutions, strives for the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life. Even freedom is only a relative, not an absolute concept, since it tends constantly to broaden its scope and to affect wider circles in manifold ways. For the Anarchist, freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all capacities and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account. The less this natural development of man is interfered with by ecclesiastical or political guardianship, the more efficient and harmonious will human personality become, the more will it become the measure of the intellectual culture of the society in which it has grown."

-Anarchism is a definite ideology: Anarchism is less any particular advocacy of a post-statist and post-capitalist society than an outlook that credits freedom, not simply freedom FROM state and private intrusion but concrete freedom to act as one wishes without constraining others. It implies anything from parecon to green bioregionalism to primitivism or simple anti-statism and anti-capitalism to libertarian municipalism to syndicalism to any infinite number of other concepts.
-Anarchism assumes violent, direct action: There are plenty of anarchists who believe in reform; after all, anarchists support wage raises, ending of wars, etc. Any tactic that doesn't immediately replace the state and capitalism isn't revolutionary in the anarchist sense, nor is anything race or gender related revolutionary if the society doesn't immediately change basic rules. That having been said, anarchists are willing to do direct damage to property if they feel that reverence for the law should be eclipsed by effective resistance to illegitimate structures. This doesn't mean that we like to kill people for no reason or burn down buildings as a matter of principle, though perhaps some deranged individuals calling themselves anarchists have justified such behavior. Nor do most anarchists believe that anything is okay if it's effective. However, we do believe that the law can be illegitimate.