Thursday, October 15, 2009

We are all in this together

A War of Absurdity


photo(Photo Illustration: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted From: soldiersmediacenter / flickr)

    There is no indication that any of the contending forces in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, are interested in bringing al-Qaida back. On the contrary, all the available evidence indicates that the Arab fighters are unwelcome and that it is their isolation from their former patrons that has led to their demise.

    Every once in a while, a statistic just jumps out at you in a way that makes everything else you hear on a subject seem beside the point, if not downright absurd. That was my reaction to the recent statement of the president's national security adviser, former Marine Gen. James Jones, concerning the size of the terrorist threat from Afghanistan:

    "The al-Qaida presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."

    Less than 100! And he is basing his conservative estimate on the best intelligence data available to our government. That means that al-Qaida, for all practical purposes, does not exist in Afghanistan -- so why are we having a big debate about sending even more troops to fight an enemy that has relocated elsewhere? Because of the blind belief, in the minds of those like John McCain, determined to "win" in Afghanistan, that if we don't escalate, al-Qaida will inevitably come back.

    Why? It's not like al-Qaida is an evil weed indigenous to Afghanistan and dependent on its climate and soil for survival. Its members were foreign imports in the first place, recruited by our CIA to fight the Soviets because there were evidently not enough locals to do the job. After all, U.S. officials first forged the alliance between the foreign fighters and the Afghan mujahideen, who morphed into the Taliban, and we should not be surprised that that tenuous alliance ended. The Taliban and other insurgents are preoccupied with the future of Afghanistan, while the Arab fighters couldn't care less and have moved on to more hospitable climes.

    There is no indication that any of the contending forces in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, are interested in bringing al-Qaida back. On the contrary, all the available evidence indicates that the Arab fighters are unwelcome and that it is their isolation from their former patrons that has led to their demise.

    As such, while one wishes that the Afghan people would put their houses in order, these are not -- even after eight long years of occupation -- our houses. Sure, there are all sorts of angry people in Afghanistan, eager to pick fights with each other and most of all any foreigners who seem to be threatening their way of life, but why should that any longer have anything to do with us?

Google Removal Request

Ridiculous Study Blames Feminism for Non-Existent 'Happiness Gap' Between Men and Women

Reproductive Justice and Gender

Feminism made women miserable. This, anyway, seems to be the most popular takeaway from "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," a recent study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers which purports to show that women have become steadily unhappier since 1972. Maureen Dowd and Arianna Huffington greeted the news with somber perplexity, but the more common response has been a triumphant: I told you so.

On Slate's DoubleX website, a columnist concluded from the study that "the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s gave us a steady stream of women's complaints disguised as manifestos… and a brand of female sexual power so promiscuous that it celebrates everything from prostitution to nipple piercing as a feminist act -- in other words, whine, womyn, and thongs." Or as Phyllis Schlafly put it, more soberly: "[T]he feminist movement taught women to see themselves as victims of an oppressive patriarchy in which their true worth will never be recognized and any success is beyond their reach... [S]elf-imposed victimhood is not a recipe for happiness."

But it's a little too soon to blame Gloria Steinem for our dependence on SSRIs. For all the high-level head-scratching induced by the Stevenson and Wolfers study, hardly anyone has pointed out (1) that there are some issues with happiness studies in general, (2) that there are some reasons to doubt this study in particular, or (3) that, even if you take this study at face value, it has nothing at all to say about the impact of feminism on anyone's mood.

For starters, happiness is an inherently slippery thing to measure or define. Philosophers have debated what it is for centuries, and even if we were to define it simply as a greater frequency of positive feelings than negative ones, when we ask people if they are happy, we are asking them to arrive at some sort of average over many moods and moments. Maybe I was upset earlier in the day after I opened the bills, but then was cheered up by a call from a friend, so what am I really?

In one well-known psychological experiment, subjects were asked to answer a questionnaire on life satisfaction, but only after they had performed the apparently irrelevant task of photocopying a sheet of paper for the experimenter. For a randomly chosen half of the subjects, a dime had been left for them to find on the copy machine. As two economists summarize the results: "Reported satisfaction with life was raised substantially by the discovery of the coin on the copy machine -- clearly not an income effect."

As for the particular happiness study under discussion, the red flags start popping up as soon as you look at the data. Not to be anti-intellectual about it, but the raw data on how men and women respond to the survey reveal no discernible trend to the naked eyeball. Only by performing an occult statistical manipulation called "ordered probit estimates," do the authors manage to tease out any trend at all, and it is a tiny one: "Women were one percentage point less likely than men to say they were not too happy at the beginning of the sample [1972]; by 2006 women were one percentage more likely to report being in this category." Differences of that magnitude would be stunning if you were measuring, for example, the speed of light under different physical circumstances, but when the subject is as elusive as happiness -- well, we are not talking about paradigm-shifting results.

Joy Behar brings gay teens front and center in advance of National Coming Out Day.

Oklahoma gay teens featured prominently last night on The Joy Behar Show.

Joy Behar has a liberal streak which might put Keith Olbermann to shame. Last night she showed it by using her show to promote National Coming Out Day, which is Sunday, October 11. She even had a logo for it alternating with her own!

Last night's topic was gay teens coming out earlier and earlier, in what was obviously a follow-up to the piece in the New York Times Magazine that we covered last week. She had kids from Oklahoma, who were featured in the article, on to discuss their coming out experiences. For contrast, she had Christian Siriano, who went to a creative high school, and represented both the older generation and the coasts.

Check out the video...

I think she did the piece great justice, and switched masterfully back and forth between the bubbly and media friendly Siriano, and the decidedly more reserved teens.

The Nobel Peace Prize II

Money Does Grow on Trees

Did your mother ever chastise you with the words 'money doesn't grow on trees' in a possibly fruitless attempt to curb your profligate ways? Well, maybe – just maybe – she was wrong. There are places in England where money apparently does just that.

Image Credit

Perhaps it is to simply good luck or perhaps people believe that by leaving a coin in the bark of the tree they may have it returned to them many times over.  Whatever the origins of this strange habit, there are a number of trees in the United Kingdom that bear the financial hopes of many.  Perhaps they found it difficult to reconcile their gross habits with their net income.

Image Credit

The people of Yorkshire, in the north of England are renowned for being careful with their money.  While this localized stereotype may not always be fair there is evidence that on occasion they are willing to throw caution to the wind and hammer their low denomination coinage in to trees.  The good folk of Ingleton in North Yorkshire have some of the most stunning woodlands in the country and the local waterfalls trail has something other to offer than the sight of the wet stuff cascading in a picturesque way.

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5 Ways You're Secretly Being Monitored

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It's so easy to tune out the crazy bloggers and Alex Jones types, screaming that the NWO is watching your every move. After all, these guys are paranoid about everything, all the time, so there's probably nothing to it. Right?

Well, whether or not there is actually a massive room full of government operatives monitoring everything you say or type, you are being tracked. Whether it's done in the name of theft prevention or stopping terrorism, basically nothing you do - nothing - is a secret any more.

Who do you have to thank for that? How about...

Public Transit Audio Surveillance

You roll over at 10:47am to see that you've overslept and, shit, you're late for work! You spring out of bed, slather on enough deodorant to substitute for showering and hustle to catch your bus to work. After all, those fries aren't going to supersize themselves.

You just barely make the bus, plop down and start venting to anyone who will listen about how much you hate modern technology and the fact that it must be a government conspiracy that makes your alarm clock suck balls. We've all been there. Good thing the government boogeymen didn't hear it, right?

Little Did You Know...

Having decided that the rambling nonsense of people on buses is a major security issue--which it is, assuming your average bus passenger works for Cobra Commander or some shit--cities around the U.S. have installed surveillance equipment in their buses.

A study back in 2001 found 80 percent of the transit agencies surveyed had some kind of surveillance in place, including closed circuit TV cameras and separate audio recording.

Keep in mind, this was in 2001, not even close to the height of post-9/11 paranoia. Cost was the biggest factor (Chicago spent more than $3 million to put the equipment in their 300-plus city buses) and of course the cost of the technology only goes down every year.

The practice has been found to be perfectly legal (a bus or a train is a public place, so all bets are off). So everything you say to the guy sitting next to you, what materials you were reading, whether or not you picked your nose- all recorded for posterity. Even everything you say into your end of a cell phone call.

Hell, what's next? They listen in on your cell phone, too?

Remote Cell Phone Tapping

If you don't have a cell phone, you're probably living in a time where the Internet doesn't exist, so how the hell are you reading this? Get out of here before you fuck up the space-time continuum!

And since the entire modern world relies on these things for their voice communication, they must be nice and secure, right?

Little Did You Know...

The odds are very good that at least some of you reading this right now have already had your phone remotely tapped.

How does it happen? Covert government spying programs? Nefarious groups of teenage computer hackers? Yep, probably. But anyone else can do it too! It's as simple as downloading widely available software from the Internet. At that point, anyone who has your phone in their possession can tap it in less time than it'll take you to notice you don't have it in your pocket.

Even better, you don't even have to be on the phone for them to listen in! This software allows someone to remotely turn on the microphone function of your phone even when you're not using it.

So not only can they eavesdrop on the depressing phone sex you're having with your long distance girlfriend, they can even listen in while you bang the chick you're cheating on her with and send her the audio via text message. Awkward!

Law enforcement agencies are even developing a method of implanting this software on phones wirelessly, with the software being delivered and installing itself via text message. Because surely that's not a technology anyone would ever want to abuse or exploit.

But this is all just a paranoid hypothetical, right? After all, why would anyone even want to listen to your calls? Well, one study estimates around three percent of phones in the U.S. are already tapped, and up to five percent in parts of Europe.

PC Printer Tracking

If you work in an office setting, soul crushing or otherwise, you've almost certainly used a printer at some point. And if you're reading this at work instead of, you know, working, you've probably printed something less than business-like on the company dime; your fantasy football roster or a stack of fliers for that underground donkey show you're promoting perhaps. It's not like anyone's gonna find out, right?

Little Did You Know...

Have you heard of ECHELON? If not, don't worry. It's just a global network of computers. Nothing scary about that. After all, that's kind of what the Internet is, and what's scary about the Internet except fucking everything? But where the Internet is terrifying in a tentacle porn/endless stream of Pedobear memes kind of way, ECHELON is terrifying in that it monitors your e-mail, phone records and Web surfing on behalf of several world governments, all in the interest of, supposedly keeping tabs on potential terrorists and other assorted criminal masterminds.

What does this have to do with you and your donkey show, you ask? Well, whatever intergalactic team of anal probe wielding space dwellers created ECHELON also came up with a way to embed every piece of paper that goes through a laser jet printer with a microscopic code that identifies the specific printer that the paper came from.

This is fucking ECHELON, by the way.

Granted, this code can only be seen with the aid of blue lights and magnifiers, but still, someone can read it. Companies including Xerox, Dell, Canon, Lexmark and others have all begun installing this technology. So when it comes time to type up your manifesto, probably best to do it from somebody else's desk.


The accident

One nation, under illusion

THE HOARIEST and most oft-repeated cliche in American politics may be that America is the greatest country in the world. Every politician, Democrat and Republican, seems duty bound to pander to this idea of American exceptionalism, and woe unto him who hints otherwise. This country is "the last, best hope of mankind,'' or the "shining city on the hill,'' or the "great social experiment.'' As if this weren't enough, Jimmy Carter upped the fawning ante 30 years ago by uttering arguably the most damning words in modern American politics. He called for a "government as good as the American people,'' thus taking national greatness and investing it in each and every one of us.

Carter was speaking when Watergate was fresh, and government had been disgraced, but still. The fact of the matter is that whenever anything really significant has been accomplished by our government, it is precisely because it was better than the American people.

Think of World War II, America's entrance into which was strenuously resisted by the populace until Franklin Roosevelt carefully laid the groundwork and Pearl Harbor made it inevitable. Think of civil rights, which Lyndon Johnson pressed despite widescale opposition, and not just in the South. Even then it took more than 100 years. Or think of the current health care debate in which Americans seem to desire some sort of reform, just not a reform that would significantly help people in dire need, while the Obama administration is pushing to provide that assistance. In the end, government has inspired Americans far more than Americans have inspired their government. They are too busy boasting.

There is nothing wrong with self-satisfaction or national pride. But the incessant trumpeting of our national superiority to every other country in the world is more than just off-putting and insulting. It is infantile, like the vaunting of a schoolyard bully that his Dad is better than your Dad. It is wrong. And it might be dangerous both to ourselves and to the rest of the world.

Consider what it means. By what standard is one nation any greater than any other nation? Yes, the United States has vast material resources - we rank eighth in gross domestic product per capita - but we also have, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the "highest inequality and poverty rate'' in the world, outside of Mexico and Turkey, and things are getting worse. Nothing to boast of there.

Washington Post Media Critic Gives Opinion Writers a Truthiness License

From yesterday's Washington Post online chat featuring media critic Howard Kurtz:

Fairfax County, Va.: Hi Howard, This Sunday, I read the editorials in The Post and The New York Times about the surprise Peace Prize. I liked the NYT editorial (which was pro), but like most of us, including Obama, I could certainly have handled an editorial that was anti this choice.

When I read The Washington Post editorial, I felt so sad for what this paper has become. Their whole idea was that the prize should have gone to Neda, the woman who was murdered by the Iranian police. Nobel Peace Prizes can't be given posthumously. It's a basic, easy factcheck. There are other fact problems, too (the protests hadn't happened by the nomination date, Neda may not have been a protester).

So the idea that the committee made a careless or inappropriate choice is refuted by a slapdash editorial "choice" that nobody bothered to check? It just screamed out to me "we laid off almost all the copy editors." I feel so sad for The Post I grew up with. It's great to have an opinion. It's bad to look dumb.

Howard Kurtz: I take your point about no posthumous awards, though by that standard Martin Luther King couldn't have won after being assassinated (yes, I know he won the prize earlier). My reading of the piece was that Neda was being used more as a symbol (though the rule should have been mentioned). But it's an editorial. It is by definition opinion. Of course some readers are going to disagree.

Unpack Kurtz's reply and your jaw will drop. He acknowledges the reader's point but then and amplifies his newspaper's negligence.

This isn't a trivial point. As the Atlantic's James Fallows has noted in painful detail (here, here), the Post editorial page made a rookie error. The Nobel Peace Prize rules are clear: The only time it can be awarded after death is when the honoree had already been named "but who had died before he/she could receive the Prize on December 10."

As Jim Fallows noted, allowing posthumous awards could spark "a debate every year on whether Abraham Lincoln, St. Francis of Assisi, or Gandhi was the most deserving choice."

Kurtz, coming to his colleagues' defense in a way that utterly dismisses the reader's serious chiding of a paper he or she has long cared about, says Neda was a symbol, but that the rule "should have been mentioned" in the editorial. Come on. Had the Post editorial writer or his/her editors known of the rule, they would never have run that piece in the first place without a different spin.

Mr. Deity and the Science Advisor

North Carolina church to burn ‘Satan’s books,’ including works of Mother Teresa

By Kathleen Miller

A Baptist Church near Asheville, N.C., is hosting a "Halloween book burning" to purge the area of "Satan's" works, which include all non-King James versions of the Bible, popular books by many religious authors and even country music.

The website for the Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, N.C., says there are "scriptural bases" for the book burning. The site quotes Acts 19:18-20: "And many that believed, came and confessed and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts, brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed."

Church leaders deem Good News for Modern Man, the Evidence Bible, the New International Version Bible, the Green Bible and the Message Bible, as well as at least seven other versions of the Bible as "Satan's Bibles," according to the website. Attendees will also set fire to "Satan's popular books" such as the work of "heretics" including the Pope, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Rick Warren.

"I believe the King James version is God's preserved, inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God," Pastor Marc Grizzard told a local news station of his 14-member parish.

Grizzard's parish website explains that the Bible is the "final authority concerning all matters of faith and practice," for Amazing Grace Baptist Church. In the Parish doctrinal statement, Grizzard expounds that "the Scriptures shall be interpreted according to their normal grammatical-historical meaning, and all issues of interpretation and meaning shall be determined by the preacher."

The event also seeks to destroy "Satan's music" which includes every genre from country,rap and rock to "soft and easy" and "Southern Gospel" and" contemporary Christian."

David Lynch, a resident of nearby Asheville, N.C., told Raw Story "it's a little disconcerting how close this is to my home."

Portland man gets probation after stabbing ex-girlfriend's pet fish

By Aimee Green

fite.jpgDonald E. Fite IIIA 27-year-old Southeast Portland man who beat his ex-girlfriend and then stabbed her pet fish and left it impaled in her apartment has been sentenced to two years of probation and a psychological evaluation.

 An attorney for Donald Earl Fite III said he didn't want to talk about the details of the assault, but that stabbing the fish was "a very low point" in his client's life.

"He is absolutely mortified and ashamed about what he did to the fish," said attorney Tom MacNair today in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Fite had no criminal history and declined to comment, saying only that his attorney had said it all.

According to an affidavit filed with the court, Sarah Harris had broken up with Fite, but returned to her East Burnside Street apartment in Portland last July 25 to find Fite lying on her bed. Fite wanted to get back together, but Harris didn't.

When she told him she had plans that evening, Harris refused to let her leave the room she was in, the bathroom, according to the affidavit. She tried to push past him. He threw her against a wall. She again tried to leave, punching him in the nose to get by. He grabbed her by the hair and threw her against the bathtub – ripping out her hair extensions and causing her to hit her head.

She escaped and called 9-1-1 from a pay phone. When she returned with an officer, she discovered her fish, a brilliant purple betta named DeLorean, had been impaled on her wood floor. It still had a knife sticking through it.

"I started crying hysterically," said Harris, who didn't attend the hearing but spoke with The Oregonian by phone.

"Donald bought the fish for me, and I'm sure he knew how much I cared for it."

Fite admitted to police that he killed the betta, saying, "If she can't have me, then she can't have the fish."

Going Rogue