Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Case of Lt. Watada

Lt. Ehren Watada, the highest commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, must be aggravating for the military, who seem to never be successful when trying him in court. His court martial in February ended in a mistrial. Another was scheduled in March and ended in double-jeopardy. His new trial is set for July 23 at Fort Lewis, but it's now unclear whether this will once again proceed on schedule. Watada has not been able to make a Nuremberg Defense, in which he would argue that the War in Iraq is immoral and illegal. In his defense is the US Constitution, the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, and the Supreme Law of the Land. But the military will have no such trial, and will continue its efforts to prosecute Watada for missing a troop movement to the war, and four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer for statements critical of the war--such as the statements in this video. If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of six years in prison.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Forgotten Genocide

Abdullah Gul, the AKP candidate from Turkey, flew to Washington to convince Condoleeza Rice and George Bush that there was never a genocide in Turkey. But historians around the world disagree. In the years the Young Turks were fighting the Great War, a decision was taken by the Ottoman government to deport the ethnic Armenians; over a million were murdered. And it is widely acknowledged to be the first modern genocide. Historians have found archived plans laid by the Young Turks in Constantinople that had the explicit aim of killing Turkey’s ethnic Armenians, and the sheer size of the death toll is evidence of a systematic effort by the government to permanently remove the Armenians.

Even though this is the second most-studied genocide in history, inside Turkey it is an offence to talk about the mass-slaughter of the Armenians. High school textbooks in Turkey dismissively denies the event. A number of writers have been prosecuted. An ethnic Armenian newspaper editor, Hrant Dink, was gunned down in January on his own doorstep in Istanbul. Elsewhere, it can be an offence to deny that this was a genocide. The UN Convention on Genocide considers this genocide. The International Association of Genocide Scholars formally recognize the Armenian Genocide and consider it to be undeniable. The French National Assembly recently passed a bill to this effect, and there is one before the American Congress, which Abdullah Gul is trying to curb. Its the Armenian Nuremberg all over again, and with laws like these flying around, whatever happened to free speech and the disinterested unearthing of historical truth?

Some argue that the reason why it wasn't designated as genocide after the War and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 is that Adolf Hitler was influencing Western powers not to cover the event. Perhaps he had secretly planned in 1919 to exterminate millions of Jews thoughout Europe. In speeches before invading Poland and several speeches in 1943 (at the height of the Jewish extermination campaign) he refers several times to the Armenian massacre. He calls the Persians a bunch of Armenians because they didn't finish the job.

During some of the Turkish EU entry talks, several calls were made to consider this genocide. It was initially part of its conditions to join the EU, but that was dropped. The French have now made it illegal to deny that this is genocide. And as history unfolds, this wasn't the first time the Turks massacred Armenians. In 1896 nearly 300,000 were terrorized and murdered by the Turkish government. The Young Turks, the revolutionary rules who originated from secret societies of students and military cadets and overthrew the sultan, also murdered the same number of Pontic Greeks in the years following the Great War. The Turkish minister of war declared that they were going to "solve the Greek problem during the war... in the same way he believe[d] he solved the Armenian problem."

Here are a list of documentary films about the Armenian genocide. There is also significant trivia in the Wikipedia entry.

  • 1975 - The Forgotten Genocide (dir. J. Michael Hagopian)
  • 2003 - Germany and the Secret Genocide (dir. J. Michael Hagopian)
  • 2003 - Voices From the Lake: A Film About the Secret Genocide (dir. J. Michael Hagopian)
  • 2006 - The Armenian Genocide (dir. Andrew Goldberg)
  • 2006 - Armenian Revolt (dir. Marty Callaghan)
  • 2006 - Screamers (dir. Carla Garapedian)

Monday, May 28, 2007

I'm Preparing for Military Coup in Turkey

I will be visiting Turkey in July, just days before the general elections will be held. This crisis over the secular inheritance of Ataturk, father of modern Turkey, might mean the pro-secular military will intervene in politics if Abdullah Gul, the majority candidate with an Islamist background, is elected.

Ataturk abolished the Ottoman sultanate and the caliphate in the 1920s, and moved the capital to Ankara. Turks revere Ataturk, whose secular legacy is jealously guarded by the Army. A month ago the Army put out a statement criticizing the government’s choice of Abdullah Gul, the foreign minister, as candidate for the Turkish presidency, and implicitly threatening a military coup. The Army has always disliked the AK Party government for its Islamist roots.

You might expect that the worldly elite of Istanbul would deplore such heavy-handed military threats and firmly back democracy. But that is not the opinion of most of the journalists, former diplomats and bankers. They are overtly sympathetic to the Army, concerned to preserve secularism in Turkey, and suspicious that the AK Party has a hidden Islamist agenda to turn their country into a new Iran.

In an era of creeping fundamentalism throughout the Muslim world, such concerns are understandable. Yet to a Westerner from Europe or the US West Coast the notion that a military coup might be preferable to a woman's sporting a headscarf in the presidential palace in Ankara seems bizarre. The truth is that, in Turkey, secularism has turned into another form of fundamentalism that trumps other values, including democracy and the country’s prospects of joining the EU.

The Fight For Turkey's National Identity

Turkey is a changing place. Its flag is Islamic, but its people are decidedly secular. Or at least its military is. The electoral board in Turkey has said elections will be in July this year instead of November to end the political deadlock over the presidential election--secularism or theocracy? Theocracy is an exaggeration. But many Turks feel that way. The only candidate in their presidential race is a Muslim. Party politics in Turkey have failed to produce viable opposition.

The AKP (the current party, meaning Justice and Development Party) appeared to be hoping that its success in promoting economic growth and pushing down inflation would see it returned to power with a renewed and strengthened mandate. Abdullah Gul, the AK party candidate, won the largest share of the vote but failed to achieve the required quorum after opposition parties boycotted the vote and failed to put forward their own candidate. The opposition parties--mainly composed of secularist, pro-army parties--then argued that the vote was invalid and appealed to the country's constitutional court to consider ordering a re-run. So now the vote will be repeated. But the vote has been boycotted by the parliament, so the election has to be done some other way.

Gul's candidacy has worried secularists who fear an openly religious president and millions of Turks have protested against him, erupting in violence and tear gas. So now the Turks are considering re-writing their own constitution with a modern understanding of the state as its distinguishing feature. President Erdogan (the current AK president) also said that he was considering changing the constitution to enable the president to be elected directly by a popular vote. Senior members of the army threatened on Friday to intervene in politics if the AK party moved to dismantle or weaken the country's secular constitution.

The military is pro-secular, but the ruling party is for religious elements. Turkey is nearly ruled by the military. What will the military do if the AK party is elected again? And it appears there is a secret agenda for the AK party. The election will now be much earlier than previously thought. This leaves hardly any time for any secularist campaigning.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Mediums of communication influence the conversations we carry in our society. And I don't mean that in a superficial way. I mean that the entertainment on television and other media mediums influence the way we speak to other people in a profound sense. We speak as if speaking was a form of entertainment. Or to push this thesis even further, speaking has to imitate the style of entertainment in these popular mediums. It disgusts me when I'm at a social gathering and all my peers are talking about are television shows that I know nothing about. Apart from feeling like conversation with them is pointless, it has become so commonplace that it stirs apathy from within. Apparently people have been pretty excited about a television show called Heroes, which is about ordinary people who are supposed to stop a terrorist attack in New York City by using superhuman abilities they didn't know they had. What a bunch of post 9/11 wishful thinking!

What is also popular seems to be these medical dramas, like Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs. These television shows actually shape the way we talk to each other, which is evident in the things we now find funny, and it has the property of converting conversations into entertainment so much so that public discourse on important issues has disappeared. We now learn how to talk about important issues by imbibing the way that JD talks about things in Scrubs. Serious issues have been treated as entertainment for so many decades now, the public is no longer aware of these issues in their original sense, but only as entertainment. I would argue that it's actually the top sitcoms on NBC that truly shape the way our culture converses perhaps more than the top Box Office films. The sitcoms spoon-feed us with words and ideas and phrases. These television shows are watched frequently, as with the availability of season-long collections, and people are trained daily how to discourse properly in our society.

Why do people like talking with other people? It's mostly because they can't stand themselves in the first place. They can't stand being alone for too long, or they'll drown hopelessly in their own thoughts. I had to be reminded by my housemates this last year just how much of a hold television still has on millions of people in America. Each day my housemates would sit in front of the television watching reality TV for supermodel wannabes, sacrificing their minds to this soma of the contemporary world. After analyzing their behavior for a year, and keeping aloof, I believe these people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think independently from their culture.

In America no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, their maturity, or their history. People willingly oppress themselves. The title and basic thesis of this entry is from a book by Neil Postman by the same title.

Rave Against the Occupation

Among all the peace efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is by far the coolest. The first political dance party against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza featured electronic DJs and rappers in Tel Aviv, 2002. The second was in 2003. These two dance parties actually inspired two films Noam Kaplan's Blue and White Collar and Eitan Fox's The Bubble.

Making peace is so difficult, and most efforts are slowed and hindered by the invocation of history and the use of blame tactics. For example, perhaps the British are to blame for all of this. I mean, what right had they, in 1917, to promise the Jews a national home in Palestine? And why did the Palestinians reject partition in 1947? Why did Israel colonize the territories after 1967? Why did the Americans let Israel get away with it? Why did the Arab states leave the refugees to fester in camps? The Palestinians are terrorists, Zionism is racism, Israel's enemies are anti-Semites. Yasser Arafat should have accepted Israel's “generous offer” at Camp David in 2000. But, hang on, Israel's offer was not so generous...

Israel now has at least abandoned the nationalist dream of a "Greater Israel" that mesmerized it after the "great victory" of 1967. The illusion that the Palestinians would fall into silence has been shattered by two intifadas and every rocket Hamas fires from Gaza. Israel's present government says it is committed to a two-state solution. But it is a weak government, and has lacked the courage to spell out honestly the full territorial price Israelis must pay. The Palestinians have meanwhile gone backwards. If Hamas means what it says, it continues to reject the idea that Jews have a right to a national existence in the Middle East. Hamas wants to drive the Jews "into the sea"--every anti-semite's goal. And nationalist elements in the Jewish territory-hungry state are no better.

What self-defeating madness!!! For peace to come, Israel must give up the West Bank and share Jerusalem; the Palestinians must give up the dream of return and make Israel feel secure as a Jewish state. All the rest is detail, and in the mean-time let's all do our postmodern dances and listen to the anti-occupation sounds of the underground. That's what the Rave Against the Occupation was about. Naturally then, Hip Hop is appropriate since its the music of oppression, and electronica is the music for dreams of bettering our future. Dam, the patriotic hip hop group from Gaza promote Palestinian moral superiority. They blame the Israelis for all their troubles, and they invoke history in songs such as "Born Here". Sameh Zakout, SAZ, is the Arab-identity rapper for peace and change. Groups like and Slingshot support the growing Palestinian Lyrical Front.

Israeli rappers like Subliminal, BooSkills, and Illan Babylon are all part of a label called TACT--Tel Aviv City Team--and are creators of "Zionist Hip Hop". They eschew drugs and promote patriotism and military service. Israeli Hip Hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari has collaborated with American rappers like Wyclef, Twista, and Kanye West. It's slowly becoming popular in Europe and the US. But most of the rappers in TACT were not "Born Here" just like the Dam song says. The Israeli rappers made aliyah from places like California and the Northeastern states. But they have all returned to their roots in Israel.

While musical propaganda is certainly interesting, it's inescapable that it is propaganda, and this means Liberal societies are faced with a false dillemma over whether to prohibit this music. Propaganda that supports the state is ignored or encouraged. Anti-state propaganda is suppressed. We are all psychologically adept at spotting Allied and Nazi propagnda from the 30s and 40s. But this new form is less visible and harder to spot, just like it was to the folk of ealier conflicts. We're used to believing lyrics and music are exercises and free speech, and they are. But they also can be tools of the state even though lyrical propaganda is not directly state-sponsored.

Yet it doesn't need to be--people will create their own propaganda and the government will do what they can to support it, or at least foster opportunities for it to grow, such as providing venues and not using their authroity to crack down on activity. I don't the government should crack down on any of this activity at all. Propaganda is speech, and is protected. But in cases where the state does crackdown, such as anti-electronic music acts just in 2004 which targets electronic music. This shows the discriminately anti-liberal purpose of a powerful state.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The 40-Year Occupation

Americans believed they won the War in Iraq just months after the invasion, but it is losing and perhaps has already lost the occupation. Israelis were in a similar state of mind after the Six Day War of 1967. Our occupation has lasted 4 years. But Israel's has lasted 40. The speed and scope of that war led many Israelis to see a divine hand in their victory. This changed Israel itself, giving birth to an irredentist religious-nationalist movement intent on permanent colonization of the occupied lands. After six days Israel had conquered not just Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights but also the old city of Jerusalem and the West Bank—the biblical Judea and Samaria where Judaism began. In theory, these lands might have been traded back for the peace the Arabs had withheld since Israel's founding. That is what the UN Security Council proposed in Resolution 242. But Israelis were intoxicated by victory and the Arabs paralysed by humiliation. Israel then embarked on its hubristic folly of annexing the Arab half of Jerusalem and—in defiance of law, demography and common sense—planting Jewish settlements in all the occupied territories to secure a Greater Israel.

Palestinians were scattered by the fighting that accompanied Israel's founding in 1948. Some fled beyond Palestine; others became citizens of the Jewish state or lived under Egypt in Gaza and Jordan in the West Bank. After '67 the disputed territories (Gaza and West Bank) were reunited under Israeli control and so sharpened their own thwarted hunger for statehood. Gaza and the West Bank were technically already occupied by Transjordan and Egypt before 1967. And according the British Palestinian Mandate, Egypt had no rights to Gaza. And decades later, Egypt and Jordan did make peace with Israel, the Palestinians did not recover Gaza and the West Bank. This has left some 4m Palestinians desperate for independence but in a confined land choked by Jewish settlements—along with the fences, checkpoints and all the hardships and indignities of military occupation. Ariel Sharon, it is true, dragged Israel out of the Gaza Strip two years ago. But it hasn't made any difference. The Palestinians will not consider peace unless they get the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem too. And Hamas, basically now the Palestinian government, says it will not make a permanent peace even then.

Lebanese Politics

Lebanese police invaded a flat in Tripoli 7 days ago tied to the Fatah al-Islam called Nahr al-Bared. It's a Palestinian Refugee camp on the coast, where about 30,000 displaced refugees live. I can easily see how radical jihadism could spread within the walls of such a large camp, and this is a lesson for the 13 other refugee camps in Lebanon, and for 4.3m+ Palestinian Refugees in the Pan-Arabic region. Though considered small and marginal, Fatah al-Islam has been linked to sporadic bomb attacks that have hit Christian areas of Lebanon recently. Once the group was provoked, they responded by firing at the military posts around the camp and hijacking military vehicles. Shootouts have happened for 7 consecutive days.

There's been more internal violence this week since Lebanon's Civil War in 1970-1990. Since Hizbullah's war with Israel last year (known to Israelis as the Second Lebanon War) Lebanon's Western-backed government has been locked in a stand-off against a pro-Syrian coalition, led by Hizbullah, the Shia party, over the opposition's demand for a veto-wielding share of cabinet seats. Lebanese political structure is obviously flawed if groups are barred from influence. Though the fighting in the north pits a widely disparaged Sunni Muslim group against a national army that embraces all Lebanon's faiths, I'm sure Lebanese view the clash through the prism of this wider political dispute over power in the government.

Lebanon is suspecting that Syria has something to do with this, since it just ended a 29-year occupation of Lebanon, and it might want to get involved in Lebanese politics. Another alleged Syrian aim is to block the setting up of an international tribunal to try suspects in a string of political murders beginning with the assassination in February 2005 of Rafik Hariri, a five-times Lebanese prime minister. Mass protests after his death is what shamed Syria into withdrawing its troops--but it left in place many forces that concur with Syria's view of Lebanon as a bulwark against Western influence. Lebanon says that it's no secret Fatah al-Islam is linked to the Syrian Fatah al-Intifada. Lebanon has 400,000 Palestinian refugees, and Syria is even accused of recruiting them into jihadist groups to attack the US presence in Iraq and the Lebanese army.

Hizbullah is a terrorist organization to the Bush Administration. But once this violence erupted in shootouts so far involving stolen tanks and rocket fire throughout the cities, Hizbullah and other rival political parties united to condemn Fatah al-Islam. Hizbullah even urged the Lebanese government to storm the camp and destroy the radicals. But just last year Hizbullah was shelling cities in Israel.

The US military was commanded to relieve the Lebanese army with weapons-aid, which it used to bomb indiscriminately on civilian Palestinians in the camp. One UN aid convoy crept into the camp, but was forced to retreat under heavy fire. At one point Palestinians inside the camp started protesting Fatah al-Islam and were gunned down. They were obviously holding the camp hostage at that point, but the Lebanese army kept shelling indiscriminately.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Life-Like Androids: The Actroid Race

The more a robot looks like a human, the more we respond to it. Because actroids looks so much like a human being we can expect it to elicits the sort of human-like responses. Osaka Unversity in Japan teamed with corporate sponsors at Kokoro and have developed ReplieeQ1-expo whose skin is made of silicon, rather than hard plastic, so it's much more flexible. Her hands, eyes, and lips are incredibly realistic and detailed. She's actually modeled after a young popular Japanese news anchor. (Popular because she's so sexy?) Nonetheless, she's very robust and can take strong physical hits, but if someone were to hit her, say in public, onlookers would most likely be upset. This sort of thing doesn't happen to a robot that looks more mechanical, like Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments says. But there's a unique balance between behavior and appearance.

Behavior is somewhat difficult to model, because androids in general tend to be somewhat stuffy by default. C-3PO for example is always uptight and stuck-up. Humans tend to make more natural movements, and even unconscious actions, like blinking, adjusting position, picking our noses or scratching our heads. If androids are capable of making these sorts of movements it would feel more natural, and give actroids a human presence, with our small imperfections and annoyances. To get actroids to mimic human behavior, compressed air in her stomach powers a series of actuators in her arms and face. She can make a very natural and large movement because of the actuator's power, but unfortunately much of the machinery to run this it outside of her petite body frame.

The picture on the left is the most recent actroid who is modelled after one of his male developers. Important gender research is taking place with the two different models. Sociological research has already found that people are less likely to lie to an actroid, or at least when they do, their eyes become smarmy and shifty as if they're speaking to a real human being. It would be interesting to see the results of gender android studies. Or to hear how Haraway would respond to such ideas. Humorously, it has also been noted that there's a point at which, because the actroid is so human-like, that there is a tendency at times to look zombie-like, like an animated corpse. When the actroid no longer is interesting, but just plain creepy looking, this is called the "uncanny valley". There are a number of ways of solving this. One is to refine the technology to make her movements less jerky.

In the US, researchers at MIT are first paid for with military educational funding. Their paychecks come from the United States military. If something like this is being developed in the US it is most likely and primarily a military operation before it is a civilian operation. We're probably secretly working on android projects for military purposes, or at least "human intelligence" usage. I would find it very difficult to believe if there is no military or governmental funding involved with actroids and android projects. The Japanese have no such obligation to their military, constitutionally. Their researchers are instead learning more about how the human brain responds to new technology by creating actroids. One of the goals of actroid development is to make technology so life-like that they can use it to understand human behavior. The human mind uses some of the most interesting and complex technology. Computer scientists are learning more about how the human mind works, functionally and behaviorally, by researching ourselves through this dim mirror which is becoming every day clearer.

Cronenberg's World of TranscendenZ (1999)

I liked eXistenZ so much that I'm reviewing it again. It is a pessimistic film, like most futuristic films, cautioning us to be fearful of a technological singularity. According to David Cronenberg, the future will have less autonomy, people will be less free to make their own decisions, and there is a struggle between realists and “gamers”. Cronenberg’s postmodern eye looks into the future and dreams only about corrupt lifestyles and perverse political systems. “Dreams are the postmodern solution to life in the present,” says Denzin, a popular film critic.

The most piquant moment (or the moment when I realized something deep about the film) is when Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) repeats her “scripted” line. It’s at that point you realize that the people in the game have voluntarily surrendered their free will in order to participate in a story--a scripted story. This is made even more frightening at the end when D'Arcy Nader (or rather his player) comments on the possibility of spending one's life in the game. I don’t sympathize with the “realist” philosophy of the film, and the director, David Cronenberg. He seems to take a stance that is luddist in nature, implying that providing interesting worlds in which people are located, like in the virtual world eXistenZ or TranscendenZ, is a recipe for a negative living experience. Futuristic films don’t tend to be technoprogressive, and I didn’t expect this from Cronenberg. The “anti-game elements” in the game were there because he is pessimistic about our potential for biological morphism, meta-consciousness, mind-uploading, and other feats humans will soon over come. Living “in the game” is considered by most people to be not really living at all, but is a tempting way to spend one’s time.

As Allegra comments about the real world, “There's nothing going on here.” But in her game nothing is going on either--and it's a scripted game, so there is no free will. (Although I have to ask whether Cronenberg considers this a self-indictment, considering that he himself offers up deterministic worlds to be experienced in 90 to 120 minute snippets.)

The “game” aspect of the film is what makes it postmodern. Located in the strange, eclectic world of eXistenZ, the players treat other “players” as if their lives were dispensable, as when Jude Law says he feels the “urge to kill someone”. But he hesitates, “He’s too nice. I won’t do it.” Moments later he’s shown exploding the organic pistol in the waiter’s face, sending bone fragments everywhere, and nobody seems to care. Their big hairy dog cares the least, and would much rather chew on the bone fragments. The dog is a device Cronenberg used to show apathy. We encouraged by Allegra to believe that acting in this way is a good thing. Before this scene, Ted (Law’s character) says, “I actually think there is an element of psychosis involved here.” Allegra replies cheerfully that this means his nervous system is engaging in the game fully.

There is also something to say about the pastiche of eXistenZ, which is absent in the real world. eXistenZ is an excuse to make the world pastiche-looking by using various film topoi which Cronenberg gathers from many different genres, styles, and compressions of time and place. The first set in the game, for example, is some kind of retro, mid-80s style rarity shop with lots of neon lights. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law are dressed like hipsters, and they become wildly sexual when left alone. This has no explanation other than it’s the game’s way of heightening the tension “for the next game sequence.” This way of referring to the past without being in the past is postmodern. Every game sequence has this pastiche element, and there’s something nostalgic about it, while at the same time there’s an element of terror, or perversity.

The only sets that are non-pastiche and un-interesting are the ones in “reality”—or at least the sets that Cronenberg would have us believe are reality in either eXistenZ or TranscendeZ. Reality in general is played down. It’s unimportant. Phantasy and gaming are much more important. But living in the Noosphere too long leads to problems, as Cronenberg points out. Jude Law exits the game at one point and says, “I’m not sure this is real at all. You’re beginning to feel like a game-character.” Cronenberg does little to create meaning in the real experiences of the characters. The game experiences are much more lively.

The question the film poses at the end is whether we are still living in a game, whether what we believe is reality right now has not already been replaced by a game, a false-consciousness of some sort (since we’re not aware we’re in any game.) I would argue David Cronenberg actually gives the answer to the question the Chinese gamer asks at gun point, “Hey guys, are we still playing the game?” The answer lies in the clue about the shaggy dog found in each of the game-scenes. Each time Ted and Allegra load new personalities the dog is somehow part of the set, like when he retrieves the weapon. However, the dog is not plugged into the TranscendenZ at the end, so he is not a part of the levels unless on some higher order. On the last sequence we see that the dog is not plugged in. A keen observer would have noticed that there must be at least another level that they are all, dog included, tapped into.

While I didn’t appreciate the film’s pessimism, it does make for good story-telling. I enjoyed the sci-fi theme of biological and technological mashups. The game pods were all too reminiscent of virtual world play like Second Life. And indeed, people in SL often act quite similar to the role-playing that goes on in Cronenberg’s gaming sphere. eXistenZ is a bit more prescient, however, since the technology in his film wants to be in our bodies. I believe Cronenberg thinks that technology came from our bodies in the first place. Technology is supposed to be inside the body, or at least close to it. First of all, in the obvious ways -- the eyes with binoculars, the ears with the telephone -- technology had to be an advancement of powers humans knew they already possessed. Technology then becomes more elaborate and more distant from us. More abstract. Yet the technology still emanated from us—technology is us.

The German Völk -- Leftist, Fascist, Nazist

"Folk" has a cognate in almost every other Germanic language, all deriving from the proto-Germanic "fulka". German, Dutch and Afrikaans all say "völk", and Danish, English Norwegian, etc., all say "folk".

A "völkisch" movement is populist, romantic, and organic. It has its roots in an almost spiritual blend of "Romantic Nationalism", or even Hyper-Nationalism. The Germans combined it with sentimental patriotic interests in Germanic folklore, local history, and "back-to-the-land" anti-urban populism. It's a kind of Rousseau-ean self-sufficiency combined with a mystical mixture of land-based mythology. The resurgence of this ideal, and the folk arts, is obviously a reaction to the industrial revolution. But also, for Germans, a resurgence of Germanophilia and Germanic-centered politics. A belief that Germany will take its rightful place in the world as leader of the human race.

German nationalism is very dfferent from American nationalism. The Vanderbilt Agrarians of the American South wrote an Agrarian Manifesto defending the lifestyle of the agarian South titled "I'll Take My Stand"--and this formed a kind of conservative folk populism in the 1930s. Post-Civil War still harbored a lot of folk nationalism in the South. But völkisch movements aren't always conservative. In the early half of the 20th Century with the rise of nationalism in Italy and Germany, the US, and everywhere else, it was conservative. After WWI the Germans invoked the will of the volk, the people, for inspiration and nationalism. It was the symbol of racial purity for the South, the fascists and the Nazis. Yet at the same time, Völk was also used by the international socialist parties in the German lands as a synonym for the proletariat--not a racial symbol, but a proletarian symbol.

The Leftist view of the folk life still exists today, and emphasizes things like folk music, black-letter calligraphy, runes, and Medieval legendry, much in the same way that the American left popularized folk-singing, ballads, and organic farming in the 1960s.

German völks pre-dated the Nazis, back to Otto von Bismarck at least. The painting on the left depicts Bismarck "Proclaiming the German Empire" in 1871. But it quickly became bound to Nazism. Völkisch Nazis met to celebrate the summer solstice and more regularly to read the Eddas and German mystics. From watching films like "Triumph de Willens" you get the idea that Hitler invoked and used the hyper-nationalist sentiments for the Nazi movement, as evidenced by the youth cadres playing and singing nationalist songs and the tellng of a kind of national folk stories. Or national epic. The Nazi Party first recruited from groups like retro-nationalist "Teutonic Order" or groups like the "Tatkreis", a Weimar "revolutionary conservative" group, and drew heavily from their membership. All this völkish nationalism is what elected Hitler in 1933.

There are dozens of these secret societies which influenced the Third Reich. But another völkisch movement, the occultist Thule Society, was transformed by Hitler into the German Worker's Party, which then became the Nazi Party. Thule is the land furthest north, according the Greco-Roman historians. It was also considered the capital of Hyperborea to the Nazi mystics, who re-inrepreted Nietzsche as well. Nietzsche called himself a Hyperborean in The Anti-Christ. I always believed he was referring to a mystical version of Scandinavia. But "Thule" has been the subject of much Nazi mysticism (and also the Theosophist mysticism of Blavatsky.)

Nazi historians, and Nazis too, claimed that the Thule Society paved the way for the Führer. In Rudolf von Sebottendorff's book Before Hitler Came, he said, "Thulers were the ones to whom Hitler first came, and Thulers were the first to unite themselves with Hitler." But after Hitler brought them into the party, the Nazis then suppressed the folk groups and closed their lodges down. Sebottendorff's book was banned. Many occult ideas found favor with Himmler, who, unlike Hitler who denounced occultism in Nuremberg, had a great interest in mysticism, but the SS under Himmler more closely emulated the ethos and structure of Ignatius Loyola's Jesuit order rather than the Thule Society.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Coffee and Your Health -- review of a study

It's not necessarily better for you than tea, since caffeine is a mild addictive stimulant. And coffee does have modest cardiovascular effects such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and occasional irregular heartbeat that should be considered. It seems studies have been largely inconclusive regarding coffee and its effect on breast cancer and osteoporosis for women. Coffee has been blamed for everything from moral turpitude to cancer. But none of the bad raps have stuck. Coffee may even be good for you.

Since most coffee-drinkers in long-term studies over the past thirty years have been smokers, most of the links that tried to single out coffee as the cause of pancreatic cancer or heart disease cannot be conclusive. A Harvard medical study actually shows that coffee in moderation can be healthy--and moderation is considered three cups a day!

The study reached some interesting conclusions.

  • The caffeine in coffee will temporarily restrict your arteries, but only the ones that are far away from your heart--like the brain's arteries. And this is why in some analgesics, caffeine is listed as an ingredient, since it will relieve those "throbbing" headaches which are caused by dilated vessels, not necessarily due to a lack of an addictive drug.
  • Coffee increases your blood pressure, but not by too much. And it doesn't cause chronic high blood pressure. And the study shows that blood pressure changes tend more to occur in people drinking coffee who don't usually drink it.
  • Coffee does help you stay more alert. But drinking 2-3 ounces an hour will keep you more alert than if you drink 16 ounces in one hour.
  • Coffee can increase levels of LDL cholestorol. (That's the bad cholesterol!) But paper coffee filters usually catch these compounds. It's those who drink espresso, French-pressed, or boiled coffees that will catch these toxins. (By the way, that's why French-press tastes so good!)
  • Homocysteine is a homologue of the amino acid cysteine, which causes heart disease. Deficiencies of vitamins like folic acid, or pyridoxine can lead to high homocysteine levels. But so can coffee, apparently. Another study showed that coffee had no effect on homocysteine levels for people who had healthy diets, consisting of the proper amounts of folic acid and vitamin B12. For vegans who drink coffee, however, that could be a problem unless they get more of the daily value of B12.
  • Heart disease--is not true for coffee. 1 or 2 cups in the morning will not affect your cardiovascular condition according to this study, which builds from other studies.
There are also some possible benefits to drinking coffee.
  • Coffee has been shown to improve performances such as running, cross-country skiing, and cycling. Studies suggest this effect occurs at doses of 2–9 mg of caffeine per 2.2 pounds of body weight. This is about the amount of caffeine found in 2–5 cups of coffee.
  • Research involving older men and women participating in the Rancho Bernardo Study found that lifetime coffee intake is associated with better performance by women (but not men) on several cognitive tests. No relationship was found between cognitive function and decaffeinated coffee consumption.
  • Several studies have found a reduced risk of colon cancer in people who drink 4 or more cups of coffee per day, compared with those who rarely or never drink coffee. In 2003, German researchers reported that they identified an antioxidant in coffee called methylpyridinium, which boosts the activity of enzymes that may discourage the development of colon cancer. The compound is found in both regular (caffeine-containing) and decaffeinated coffee.
  • Risk of developing type 2 diabetes is lower in coffee drinkers.
  • Risk of developing gallstones is significantly lower.
  • A strong association with drinking coffee and reduced risk of liver damage and liver disease.
  • Several large studies show that a strong reduced risk of Parkinsons disease (the degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, affecting motor skills) exists in coffee drinkers.
It seems that, particularly for older people, drinking coffee is actually beneficial to their health. There are some mild cardiovascular risks and bone loss. But this mildly stimulating drink has been the target of criticism ever since it was introduced to the West from Ethiopia. Many leaders tried to quash enthusiasm for the drink. But the latest research discounts the notion that moderate coffee consumption — which we interpret to be about 2–4 cups per day — causes significant or lasting harm. Indeed, some studies suggest that coffee and caffeine may offer some real health benefits.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Zwartboek, Or "Black Book" (2006)

Paul Verhoeven is the director of many films you may remember: Turkish Delight, Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, and now he has delivered another one--Black Book. But I wouldn't consider this film to be anything like Starship Troopers especially. It's huge sequences of war story are full of information and plotlines. It's had the highest box office tickets in Dutch history, and had the largest budget for any Dutch film, making it the most expensive Dutch film--at 18 million euro. It came out in 2006, but was released in the US just a few weeks ago.

It's a story about war and resistance, but specifically about a young Jewish singer (Carice van Houten) who dyes her hair blonde and becomes a member of the Dutch resistance after her parents were killed by the Nazi SD. While being a member of the resistance, she becomes a spy in the Nazi headquarters at the Hague, where she is entangled in a love affair, and gets very close the same Nazis who killed her parents. In a framing device at the beginning and end of the film, she is depicted living in Israel with her husband and children. During this time, she encounters Ronnie, her wartime friend and colleague from the SD office, who is now married and on a tourist package trip in Israel. During the war, Rachel (Carice) tells Ronnie she's a spy. Ronnie says, "Like Greta Garbo?" Then she adds, "You know, Greta got it in the end," implying that Rachel would die before the film was over. And almost every person in the resistance was killed, except Rachel and Gerben Kuipers, one of the leaders.

The slutty Ronnie reminded me of some sorority girls I've been introduced to before. She is only concerned about fame, wealth, and being accepted by the largest amount of people--fitting into the status quo. Ronnie had acquiesced to the occupation; she worked for the Germans, had wild sex with them, let them undress her, let them molest her all over in large groups, and accepted stolen gifts from them. She didn't care about the Nazis’ torture of Dutch citizens, except she said she found it dull. After the war, instead of being imprisoned and publicly shamed as a collaborator and "Nazi whore" like everyone else, especially Rachel (Carice)--who at one point had piles of shit and puke dumped all over her--Ronnie managed to get herself a key spot in the victory parade and then fell in love with and married a Canadian liberator.

War creates a moral vacuum. There is no morality in war, and the Nazis are not always persecuted. There is no absolute just retribution. Even the Allies could not protect Officer Muntze, who became a member of the resistance by default. A foul Nazi officer took his place, and when Muntze was on trial in front of the commanding Allied officer, the Nazi officer ordered Muntze be executed. When the Allied officer said he wouldn't accept Nazi execution orders even if they were for his own men, the Nazi cited an Allied document that allowed Nazis to punish their own officers after the war had ended. So they executed Muntze.

I suppose it was implied that the currency and jewels in the coffin with the traitor, Akkermans, were recovered by Rachel and then used to fund the kibbutz on which she lives. An idyllic scene of Rachel and her family at the end is suddenly then interrupted by explosions. An air raid siren goes off, and soldiers take positions in front of the kibbutz. Verhoeven implies that it was October 1956, and the Suez Crisis had just started.

The Discovery Game: The Coming Attack on Iran

Iran is in trouble. France's new president considers a nuclear-armed Iran “unacceptable” and that he would support tougher sanctions to discourage the government in Tehran.

The UN has already passed at least three resolutions prohibiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Iran. The last was Resolution 1747 in March that tightened sanctions and banned arms sales to Tehran and also froze some Iranian assets. Resolution 1696 (2006) and Resolution 1737 (2006) both express the IAEA Director General's serious concern over the issue of nuclear proliferation in Iran, and which Iran has failed to comply with. According to 1747 there should be another UN Resolution coming soon, since it's been more than 60 days since it was drafted.

Will this make much difference in Iran? Just this Monday, on Alalam Satellite TV, Ahmadinejad gave warning of “severe” retaliation. (Everyone has been keen that he used the word "severe".) Some, like Netscape News (Netscape News?) say he "vows a severe response". The full quote is on Political Gateway:

"They [the Americans] understand that if they should make this mistake, the retaliation of the Iranian people will be severe and they will repent."

This was said in Abu Dhabi, just days after Dick Cheney had been there. Iran is referring to attempts to blockade, most likely, the Strait of Hormuz (pictured above), where the American warships patrol and through which huge quantities of crude oil pass each day.

The IAEA says some 1,300 centrifuges are now spinning to enrich uranium at a facility in Natanz, a difficult task that many were not sure Iran could pull off. Some 3,000 centrifuges are needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to make a bomb in less than a year, and Iran may bring another 600 online by this summer. It must be noted that Iran has about 50,000 centrifuges at this particular site already, excluding places like Arak. But those 50,000 are running on gas at the moment, because of course, it is a power plant despite what the Bush Administration has been saying.

Human rights in Iran are terrible. HRW's list of atrocities is enormous. The regime continues to disregard the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, saying that while the West has only recently drafted this document, while the Islamic Republic has had the Qu'ran for centuries--which provides a basic model for equal human protection. But how can they say that when people like Canadian-Iranian photographer Zahra Kazemi are brutally tortured and raped in their prisons? Or when in 1998 Iranian intellectuals were targetted and secretly murdered by the government? Iran assassinates and imprisons political opposition, persecutes Bahai's and Jews, controls the internet, and controls the press. Surely this is not all sanctioned by the Qu'ran.

Less widely reported was the recent detention of Hossein Mousavian, a former top nuclear negotiator. He is accused of espionage after he allegedly had contact with employees of a foreign embassy. The Islamic Republic ranks second only to China for the World's highest number of "confirmed" executions. The nineteenth principle of the Iranian Fundamental Law states that "the Iranian people, no matter which ethnic group, should enjoy equal rights; color, race, language, etc. are not a cause for different treatment." Yet women are harassed in the street for not wearing proper dress.

The IAEA’s leader, Mohamed ElBaradei--a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his nuclear proliferation prevention efforts--has just recently split from Western powers, with a suggestion that Iran should be allowed to retain some uranium-enrichment capacity. This is something US officials will be irate about shortly, and their anger is hypocritical: they are angered when Iran has nuclear weapons, but not when Israel has them.

It is easy to be doubtful about whether the United States will attack Iran now. There are now more Leftist elements in the government to check their war belligerence. Ideas like "peace" are starting to spread, hopefully. But it has been circulating that the Bush Administration has plans to invade Iran before the 2008 election. An Arab News blog reported that a former US intelligence analyst leaked plans that the Bush Administration already had plans to control the Strait of Hormuz with nuclear weapons before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Reports on that plan, TIRANNT, can also be found in the Washington Post. So the invasion plans are out there, no doubt, and have existed since at least 2003. They exist in draft form. None of this has been disclosed by the US Military, of course. And none of it is widely known.

Something that journalists gravely regretted after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq was that most of them had not performed as intelligent and diligent journalists. They had not delved too deeply into these military plans, and report these findings to the public. Now, with Iran, it's once again going to be essential to play the discovery game. This time more vigorously. Citizen-media must also stay vigilant.

US officials now claim that Iran is secretly creating alliances with al-Qaida and Sunni militias in Iraq to prepare for a "summer showdown" with Western forces. This is making an invasion of Iran even easier for the US officials to justify: since we are already at war with Iran, via proxy war in Iraq, then it's not that difficult to follow the insurgents into Iran.

Any regime that has been linked to al-Qaeda gets attacked by the US. And that is exactly what we're seeing now. "The relationships between Iran and groups like al-Qaida are very fluid,” the official said in the Guardian. They use "Salifi Jihadist ideology for their own purposes." These insurgents from Iran and Syria are coming over the Iran-Iraq and Iraq-Syrian border, and American patience is apparently wearing thin. The same official said that the Syrians were collaborating on this "Summer Offensive" plan to drive US forces from Iraq.

Many people believe that the idea behind the 30,000 troop increase was to "beef up" the presence in Iraq in order to prepare for an invasion of Iran. When the pieces are put together, this makes clear sense. Military officials, who would rather have politics out of their operations, say that Iran is "getting away with murder" and that the "political will has already failed."

This is a clear sign that the military is seriously considering undeclared, open war with Iran. It is the very essence of contingency planning. Military elements in our government will likely push for covert or perhaps overt operations in Iran this Summer. We should keep our vigilance and decide to stay seized on this matter.

Tacoma--A Photoblog

I'm going in search of cultural Tacoma, not banal and casual Tacoma, but the Tacoma of the grainy, absolute destiny of the waterways. In search of the deep Tacoma of mores and mentalities, and superficial he Tacoma of industrial waste, of motels and spongy surfaces. But to understand it you have to take to its walkways and waterways. You have to completely disappear in your own backyard. The aesthetics of the city is a kind of local aesthetics.

Deep down, Tacoma, with its space, its industrial refinement, its bluff of good conscience, even in the spaces which open it up to liveliness, is only a dead society. The fascinating thing is to travel through as if everyone around you were dead, and that this is the apocalyptic wasteland of the future. It's a society built around industrial plants, and the military industrial complex. It's a haven for strict beeworker types, and types who follow orders easily. The conscience of the city is loyal to its anti-nativist roots, whose motto is The City of Destiny, and whose goal is to triumph nature, oust the savages, and claim the land for one's own.

Tacoma has no history besides that. Unless one were to tell the story of the train, or the papermill, or the dome. But every White Man's city has a history like that. Perhaps Tacoma's history is a history of utility. Or utilities--the water and electric kind--for the use of the public. That makes sense,because Tacoma operates as a wide network of wires, pipes, and tubes. Her technology is outdated, and yet she insists she is on edge of development. A director at the courthouse tells me the new city motto is The Most Wired City, to attract new businesses, of course. Only a promiscuous city changes her subtitle to when the tastes of consumers change. Now she is Most Wired. (Journalists did not pick it up. A Google search shows Tacoma, America's #1 Wired City, but no top ratings come close to rating Tacoma number one.. Seattle comes close at number three.)

But Tacoma will always remain The Most Industrial City. The American gas plant, as seen in this photo, will forever be her emblem. Her motto is still, secretly, "Onward and Upward!"

No, Tacoma should not be beautified. She has a kind of natural beauty, like in this photograph, in which industrial waste and nature's preserve can live peaceably together, respecting one another's life-affirming and life-exterminating qualities. Like the Yin and the Yang, sludge and stickerbush learn to live and love one another in harmony. Pure industrial harmony.

There are no pedestrians here. No mimes, no walkers. The most enlivening thing in the city is the graffiti on the walls, that kind of underground explosion of the arts that knows no authority. It respects flavors of the faceless performances, the markup languages of self-proclaiming existence, of endlessly self-evident activities.

Warplanes pass overhead, silently at first, but then uproariously. The glass windows of every building and skyscraper shake when the bombers fly to the military complexes outside the city.

This is "downtown". The cars are larger here. I've counted six hummers in an hour, and the ads are more aggressive. This is wall-to-wall prostitution. The lighting is uninteresting, and the density of the concrete is accumulating to a crescendo effect. It's always like this the closer you get to the center of the cosmos. Yet Tacomans know their city isn't the center of cosmos. People aren't as smiley as in other cities: this is the city of commerce. All banks and businessmen. Mostly out-of-towners. Still, no one speaks. Everyone is cubicalized, even on the sidewalk.

Tag cloud: practical, unfashionable, cautious, powerful, deceitful, controlling, highly materialistic, limited in outlook, inhibited.

Every military industrial complex is a police state. At this window you can fantasize about one day being a police officer when you grow up.

Tacoma is completely asexual. Other cities are like women in highheels, or women with librarian's glasses. Tacoma is none of these femmes. She is young, flat, unimpressive. She is also barren, and yet also seductive. Seductive because she has so many secrets, stashed away in her highrise buildings, those ironic commerce centers which are all planning and no reflection.

Tacoma is not like the green-skirted woman in this picture. Tacoma is a manipulative beast, always pressuring, and always propagandizing to the residents. The banner tells onlookers to "Be a tourist in your own backyard!" And we're supposed to be tourists by spending wildly in her uninteresting shops and greedy suit-and-tie corners.

But why tour Tacoma? Why wander her streets and ascend her torrid hilltops? How interesting is it to cruise these local, familiar streets, fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard? Why feed scenery into a hungry one-eyed camera, eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

World Trade Center: flag's at half-staff because Jerry Falwell died that day.

Tacoma has never been a community. You can tell that by the spacey streets. As soon as you set foot in Tacoma, you feel the empty presence of reflective windows and tinted sunglasses, even when the sun is not shining. There is a heightened sense of privacy: the vertiginous glass facades reflecting each building to the others. The people come out of their stuffy glass monuments to get a cup of coffee down below. All around is Indian land, but where are all the whales, the canoes, the utopian dream of a hellenistic city on the edge of the Cascades? Tacoma, Tacoma!

Why do people live in Tacoma? There is no relationship between them. Except for an inner industriousness which results from the simple fact of living in an innercity suburb. It gives off a sensation of being at once in an innercity, but the ignorance that your city even has something "inner". This is what makes it a self-attracting universe, which there is no reason to leave. There is no human reason for being here--except for the fact that there are opportunities everywhere.

There aren't anymore sirens on Hilltop, the infamous "ghetto" area of Tacoma, than here than 6th avenue. The police history archives say that drive-by shootings were a daily phenomenon in the 80s, ranking Tacoma number three in the "Highest Murder Rate On the West Coast" list. That's how Tacoma learned that being a community was less conducive to crime. Once people began speaking to one another, crime rates fell significantly.

Point Defiance: a daughter and her mother run past me, reminding me of their sleek animalistic faces, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Perhaps. Tacoma is the nature preserve within the city. The military industrial complex is nearby. And graffiti crops up inside the nature preserve. What is it trying to say?

Captain Charles Wilkes said, with guns on either side of the sound, him and his men could defy the world, and thereupon called this place "Point Defiance".

Tacoma gets its name from a mispronounced Nisqually word, Tacobet, meaning Mother of the Waters. The White Man mispronounced and mistreated the people of Nisqually, eventually hanging their chief, Leschi, in 1858. A few years ago a historical court ruled “as a legal combatant of the Indian War… Leschi should not have been held accountable under law for the death of an enemy soldier,” thereby exonerating him of any wrongdoing. The Nisqually and Puyallup tribes revolted against the Medicine Creek Treaty that was imposed upon them, and then ignored by the settlers. It gave 2.5 million acres of land to the settlers, in exchange for reservations, cash payments, and native rights. That was all ignored in 1974. The original Nisqually reservation was rocky, and unacceptable to the Nisqually, who were riverside fishing people. The parts of the Nisqually River they used has since been stolen by Fort Lewis in 1907 and McChord Airforce Base in 1917.

The simple precinct of home is a prostitute for business. There are no children in Tacoma. Or rather, there are no children, yet everyone is a child in Tacoma.

The only person in Tacoma at the moment. He is humming the tune to the song by Grandmaster Flash. "I'm in a concrete jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under."American Culture, Environmentalism, Evolutionary Biology, Industrialization, Nativism, Sexuality, Urban Planning

Monday, May 21, 2007

World Federalism Is On The Rise

Borders will one day dissolve. Take the European Union for example. It doesn't care about border between it and the nations it will soon absorb, such as Turkey and the Balkan countries, because they will soon be one. Nations and institutions in Europe develop cooperative and positive-sum arrangements. It was only 60 years earliers that Europe tore itself apart, and today it's the world's most powerful economic and political union. Unionization through regional federalism is becoming more popular and more feasible than the kind of political globalization we see through international organizations such as the United Nations. Talk of "reform" in the UN might be implausible. In fact, a restructuring of the UN might be impossible. Perhaps we need to abolish that un-democratic body and rely on regional organization instead. After all, that's how nations are making decisions already.

Federalism works well with Constitutional Democracy. The basic principle of federalism is that policy matters fall under the authority of local governments. "Soft" federalists will tell you that some policies do but others actually fall better under international and national authority. But I don't accept that. Local authority is always better. The trend in organizations like the EU, hopefully, will be an international recognition and fostering of this idea. So it will be international federalism. Call it International Localism--or at least that's the idea. The current international structure gives too much power to these national decision-making bodies, and not enough to local and international bodies.

Styles of Facebook Photography

Facebook photography in general is very candid.

It's almost a very pure form of photojournalism. It often sets out to tell a story in a series of images. Facebook albums usually have titles like, "No class," and "Spring Break," but most people I know come up with very clever titles. For example, the newest albums in my Facebook updater are, "Progression to Homelessness," "'Frizzing Camera' and other tales of Santiago," "The South Shall Rise Again," and "The Wifey Came To Visit Me In LA..."

So it appears my friends are facebook prosumers, pointing and shooting their lenses at orgiastic spectacles like drunken parties, or quasi-drunken parties. These albums show almost everyone in extravagant poses: snapshot sexuality, overexposed street sights, and celebrity-style snaparazzi shoots.

In the days when almost everyone has a Canon Powershot, wander around online and you might find a tagged photo of yourself, taken candidly at a dutch angle, and most likely while drunk. My voyeuristic stalker friends on Facebook might tell the story of your evening out in a funny album titled "My Friend Thinks You're Hot". Or they might compile a series of embarrassing pictures from Freshman Year and call it "Why Did She Wear Flip Flops?"

Artistic? If it is done right. Professionals like Henri Cartier-Bresson are considered to be the pioneers of the kind of photography Facebookers do: candid photography. Almost all successful Facebook photographers master the art of catching the moments that they're apart of, simply because they're part of that moment themselves. The photographer does not have to ask for them to move, or turn around, and tuck the chin in. The events and people are captured live. This is something that most photographers, even René Burri, Raeburn Flerlage or Murray Garret, could not do very easily, precisely because they were professionals at it, and their very presence changed the situation.

Since Facebookers usually have simple, lightweight equipment, it doesn't seem to intrusive to simply snap a picture of a friend chugging a Corona, or chasing pigeons. Everything is automatic--the field of depth, the quality, the focus--but it is also automatically unreliable. Great photography can come of it, especially if you are--like most Facebookers--logging every Friday and Saturday evening of your life. But it's because of the sheer accumulation of photos that one can then sift through them and find the interesting sights. Or, usually, people post all of their pictures, and our eyes will pick out the most interesting.

Tell Me Again, What is Dada?



Some People Are Quite Serious About This

If you're familiar with the Star Trek replicator, you'd know about molecular assemblers. It essentially transports any clump of matter from place to place by reconstituting it to the exact molecular schematics and conditions it was in when it was sampled. Some people are serious that this device would work in a similar way in which genes and ribosomes function to produce protein. They're known as biovorous self-replicating nanorobots. The people developing this technology have studied subjects like nanochemical engineering, diamond surfaces and diamond mechanosynthesis, and kinematic self-replicating technology. Needless to say, this would have enormous industrial capability, speeding up the process of trade, and demanded services, like food. But the replicator, at least the Star Trek version, is also capable of destroying matter. If this is a possibility, like some are suggesting, then we can learn quite a bit from Star Trek. For example, the numerous Voyager episodes where the Kazon and other races tried repeatedly to obtain this technology and use it for malicious purposes. The Kantian Prime Directive therefore demanded that Janeway not give this technology over, no matter what the price.

Speaking of price, there was also an episode of Voyager where the ship energy levels made the number of meals scarce, and therefore "replicator rations" became a kind of currency for those on board. The skeptical people at wrote an article explaining that there is a limit to the kind of dispersal velocity that this kind of replicator would have. At this point, it seems highly speculative, but nonetheless possible. And intelligent physicists are anticipating it.

The Trial of the 1931 Film "M"

M has beautifil Camera angles! What an anticipation of film noir! Fritz Lang did a brilliant job with the camera shots, the lighting, the flickering (even if that was unintentional, I loved it), and the story telling. M is a German film about a murderer (the brilliant Peter Lorre, pictured on the right) has the entire city searching for him, and the police are so invasive that the criminal underground decides the murderer is interfering with their business. So they search for the murderer themselves. When they find him a most interesting thing happens. They put him on trial in a kind of kangaroo court. Throughout the film before this, we weren't given any insight into the murderer's perspective. The director had sided the audience with the rest of the city. We are decidedly one of the "good guys" and we are pitted against (and searching for) the demonized murderer, the outcast, the scapegoat, the "other".

The murderer tries desperately to escape his trial, but he is forced to sit in. The mothers of the children he murdered shout, "Kill the beast!!!"

But the murderer demands a real court--he says he wants to be handed over to the jurisdiction of common law. The prosecution repsonds that he'll just be taken care of at the state's expense, and that he could just easily escape, or else get a pardon with his smooth-talking ability. And then "you'll be free, free as air", and because of his mental illness he'll be "off chasing little girls again."

"We must make you powerless!" the prosecution says, "we must make you disappear!"

Then the murderer screams back in rebuttal, "I can't help what I do!" He doesn't want to kill people. It's just that apparently he cannot control himself. The ghosts of the victims' mothers chase him through the night, he says in his heavy German accent while heaving and almost frothing at the mouth.

Someone in the peanut gallery shouts out, "That old story, that we cannot help it in court!"

Then Fritz seems to give the murderer a chance to explain himself. This is his spotlight. His true moment of real authentic living. True speech, as Heidegger would say.

And this is when our murderer accuses the criminals who are trying him of being guilty themselves. He is shamed into a sunken heap on the floor. But as he musters up some courage, he begins to rise up to give his speech. "Who are you? Criminals? Are you proud of yourselves," he begins. The murderer accuses the criminal underworld of not having any trade skills, just the ability to break safes and cheat at cards. He calls them a "bunch of lazy bastards." But he, of course, he cannot help himself. He has no control over murder. He must be schizophrenic?

"This evil thing inside me, the fire, the voices, the torment!" It's there all the time, driving him to wander the streets, following him, silently. But it is himself, he says. "It's me, pursuing myself." A man in the audience nods understandingly. "I want to escape, escape from myself! But it's impossible." He has to obey himself, and that means, of course, that he cannot stop being himself. (Unless of course he's dead.)

Somewhere in the course of filmmaking, someone decided that the topos for self-indulgence was rolling your eyes into the back of your head and having your mouth look somewhat frothy. Homer Simpson does this when he talks about "pink doughnuts". And Peter Lorre did this when he explains that he doesn't feel guilt only when he is murdering young children.

The prosecution: Someone who admits to being a compulsive murderer must be snuffed out like a candle.

During this underground trial, the defense is actually provided a well-spoken defense lawyer. The defense raises the point that the murderer had, that is, the prosecution is guilty of crimes themselves. In fact, the prosecutor is wanted for three murders. The defense claims that the murderer needs a doctor, not an executioner.

--What use are the asylums!

The prosecution storms ahead, about the execute the murderer. Then we hear another whistle, which happens all throughout this film. Everyone lifts up their hands in surrender. Then we see the hand of the law rest upon Peter Lorre's shoulder, and the police take the murderer into custody. Fritz Lang obviously held a very naive conception about the perfection of law. He didn't explain what happens after this. We assume that the same outcome was inevitable, that the murderer was sentenced to death. The mothers say "This won't bring back our children," as if to say that capital punishment doesn't serve any real purpose. The real courts and the Kangaroo court give us the exact same consequence, so what difference can there be, perhaps? And capital punishment is useless, and brutish.

Such a brilliant film, from 1931, makes me want to see more films by Frtiz Lang, or starring Peter Lorre.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Movement in the Republican Party 1980--2008

What are the essential features of the Republican party? In recent years it seems that if you're not anti-gay or anti-abortion then you must not be Republican. But by the 1980s, the increasing influence of the Christian Right on the Republican Party so conflicted with the kind of Goldwater libertarianism that traditional Republicans became a vocal opponents of the religious right on issues such as abortion and gay rights. Although Goldwater was not as important in the American conservative movement as Ronald Reagan after 1965, from the late 1950s to 1964 he redefined and shaped the movement. McCain summed up Goldwater's legacy thus: he transformed the Republican Party from an Eastern elitist organization to the breeding ground for the election of Ronald Reagan.”,

Goldwater actually viewed abortion as a matter of personal choice, not intended for government intervention--and he ran for President in the 1964 election. But Johnson the welfare statist painted Goldwater as an extremist whose views would plunge Americans into a nuclear war. As a passionate defender of personal liberty, he saw the religious right's views as an encroachment on personal privacy and individual liberties. In his 1980 Senate reelection campaign, Goldwater won support from religious conservatives but in his final term voted consistently to uphold legalized abortion and, in 1981, gave a speech on how he was angry about the bullying of American politicians by religious organizations, and would "fight them every step of the way". He disagreed with the Reagan administration on certain aspects of foreign policy (e.g. he opposed the decision to mine Nicaraguan harbors).

Among all the conservatives running for the 2008 Republican nomination, Ron Paul is by far the most honest and independent. He is the Bary Goldwater of the 2008 election. His views are strongly constitutionalist and libertarian--he would cut taxes immediately, he said that he would slowly get rid of the IRS. Will this be the man to restore the Republic? Nearly two decades ago he actually did run as a Libertarian candidate, but now that he is a "Republican" he has the advantage (from my perspective) of being anti-war and having voted against what he calls "interventionist foreign policy" and the Iraq War authorization in 2002. He also voted against the Patriot Act. This is a list of his political positions in this election.

The Japanese Rebel-Hero -- "Zatoichi" (1989)

Shintaro Katsu is an actor who needs no introduction. Having played the rascal Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, in 26 films, he knew exactly what made those films so indelible. Zatoichi: Darkness is his Ally, is a breathtakingly beautiful film, shot with almost totally natural lighting. In fact, the photography of the film is near brilliant in it's lighting and set-up. Something about it is deeply nostalgic, like something out of a film dream I've had. It must be reminiscent of films that I watched as a child. Zatoichi, the rebel-hero of Japanese action film, is always completely outnumbered and disadvantaged by his blindness--and always seems to defeat his armed foes. The final set piece in this film may be one of the best sword battles in Chanbara film history. And it was hard to believe that Zatoichi actually had sex with a gorgeous tattoed naked yakuza girl in a hot spring. It was even more incredible that at age 69 Shintarô Katsu pulled the scene off, and it was quite erotic! But what was the reason to have the English song in the film? It made absolutely no sense!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Strictly Social Concept of Self

Sometime I want to explore the idea that persons (in contrast to physical bodies) have no existence outside of a social framework, that persons are constituted by social roles, and such roles are to be understood in terms of communal norms and institutional practices. But such a view (expressed by Sellars and Rorty most recently that I know of) raises puzzling questions. After all, I can stand back from my social situation and appraise it. I can abandon one role and assume another--while remaining numerically the same throughout such transitions. How are such activities possible, if I am defined in terms of my social role? Strictly speaking, none of my social content seems to be necessary to me. But if the "I" is identified with its roles, various counter-factual and modal constructions containing personal pronouns become puzzling.

We thus entertain the idea that the "social self" is all there is to the self. But there is a multiplicity of social selves associated with each human body, and this suggests that deictic occurances of first person pronouns are pragmatically ambiguous. If told that a certain token of "I" denotes the self which is instantiated in (or "consubstantiated" with) this body, one can reply "Which self?"

The Cult of Zizek

A few monikers for Zizek are: the one man philosophical army, the academic rock star, the Elvis of cultural theory, and simply "ZIZEK!"

I like this film a lot. Zeitgeist begins it radically enough: Zizek expounds that love, in the way it values one life over another, is the ultimate evil. It is for this type of shocking but subtly persuasive argument that Zizek has become famous within academic circles. Yet, his niche popularity has as much to do with his persona as his ideas. For those who have had the pleasure to see Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek speak, the man is an abomination, or as he aptly states in the documentary, he is a "monster"--hairy, unkempt, his shirt drenched in perspiration. He works himself into the sweat as he makes his brilliant observations about everything from popular culture to the war on terror, and, in the process, he seems almost unable to control his own intellectual momentum, saliva flying from his rapidly moving lips. His fans, or the "idiots", as he calls them through his heavy Slovenian accent, cannot resist him.

Friday, May 18, 2007

What's So Artificial About Artificial Intelligence?

The vision of AI in the 1950s was to make machines that could do all the sorts of simple things humans could do but better. The field historically developed backwards actually. The first things MIT professors did was to get AI working on difficult calculus problems, which they could solve very quickly, and which people imagined would be very difficult. Things normally considered easy, like reading a children's book, developed later and turned out to be much more difficult to program.

But why call it artificial intelligence? A thing could be intelligent even if it was intelligent in a very different way from human intelligence. Each functional system has its own cognitive capacity and physical capacity. (Some AI researchers prefer the term "resourcefulness" to "intelligence" because it characterizes the situation better. "Intelligence" has much more social meaning.) Take Honda's ASIMO, for example. ASIMO is incredibly resourceful and incredibly entertaining. Entertainers are said to have a certain kind of "intelligence". One way to think about intelligence is that it can be described as something mental one human might envy about another human. I admire my friend's ability to play music on the piano, and I call that intelligence. I admire someone's ability to act on stage, and I call that intelligence. Granted, it may be called many other things as well. Like charisma, or reading-comprehension, or fearlessness, or emotional intelligence.

Like any good entertainer, ASIMO can dance better than most humans, and this is enviable, sadly enough. Even though ASIMO's brain works like a little physicist, not someone with human entertaining intelligence. But what difference does that make? Intelligence is functional and its behaviorist. There's nothing "innate" about intelligence. There's no "what-it's-like-to-be-intelligent-qualia". Intelligence qualia is simply meaningless.

Honda knows by repeated tests and experiments that ASIMO models can recognize moving objects, postures, gestures, environments, sounds, and even faces. Asimo has broadband capabilities and can provide information and function better for various commercial applications, such as reception. By connecting with a user's network ASIMO can offer many useful functions such as greeting visitors and informing personnel of the visitor's arrival by transmitting messages and pictures of the visitor's face and guide visitors to a predetermined location.

To say that ASIMO's intelligence is artificial is simply to say that it was created by human beings. But it does not mean that AI is somehow less intelligent or less worthy of the word "intelligent" than other functional systems. Human brains are functional systems. And we wouldn't call our own cognitive abilities "artificial" because they were created organically by another human being. Artificial ceases to have the pejorative sense that it tends to carry in this context.