Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ten Reasons Not to Vote for Ron Paul

Let's be honest: Ron Paul doesn't have the slightest chance of winning the presidential election next year. Not even a shred of hope for him. Given that I don't think any of the candidates are particularly good ones, why am I wasting my time arguing against one that is marginal at best? Simple education. A lot of good, smart, left-leaning people are falling for the Ron Paul libertarian shtick, the same way a lot of the same people in Texas fell for Kinky Friedman in the governor's race. It breaks my heart, frankly, to see reasonable people supporting unreasonable politicians.

So let's get to it.

I intended to give ten reasons not to vote for Ron Paul. When researching the post, however, I found one on another blog that covered precisely all the bases that I would have, so I will give credit where credit is due and point you there for the facts while summarizing the list here... with my own commentary as well.
  1. Ron Paul thinks women and minorities are second-class citizens. Oh, he disguises it in pro-rights rhetoric. "We do not get our rights because we belong to a group. Whether it's homosexuals, women, minorities, it leads us astray. You don't get your rights belonging to your group. A group can't force themselves on anybody else." Sounds reasonable, right? And it's true, if taken at face value: groups don't have rights, individuals do. One of those rights is the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex or race. Unfortunately, this right is violated on a massive scale every single day, and so we have a system in place to help compensate for that: affirmative action. And when you realize that Ron Paul was talking about affirmative action when he said those words, you realize that he was implying that women and racial minorities simply being represented proportionate to their numbers is leading "us" astray. To Ron Paul, women and minorities don't have the right not to be discriminated against in education and employment. But it's hard to be surprised that someone who said that the 1964 Civil Rights Act had "nothing to do with race relations" thinks that women and minorities being as represented in the workplace and school as they are in the population at large is them "forcing themselves" on us white menfolk. And it's pure coincidence that racist folks like David Duke love him.
  2. Ron Paul thinks a single cell has more important rights than a woman. "I can assure you life begins at conception. I am legally responsible for the unborn, no matter what I do, so there's a legal life there. The unborn has inheritance rights, and if there's an injury or a killing, there is a legal entity. There is no doubt about it." Yes, that's right, Ron Paul thinks zygotes have inheritance rights. Look, there is wiggle room about late-term fetuses, or even early-term fetuses if you really want to be pedantic, but the idea that life begins at conception is so wrong on so many levels it is almost silly. For one thing, sperm and eggs are alive already -- life doesn't begin at conception, life began a few billion years ago and hasn't stopped since. It is morally irrelevant that a fertilized egg is alive; so are plants, but I bet Ron Paul doesn't want to criminalize salad. The only way for the living fertilized egg to be morally different from the living sperm and egg is magic: that's right, Ron Paul believes in that special type of magic called "God." And if that were the extent of his kookery it could slide, but he believes that the "rights" of single cells to... float around? implant in uteruses? divide? are so sacred that they override the rights of women not to be forced against their will into carrying a growing organism inside them. Yet, somehow, when asked about what the legal penalty should be for a woman who has this sacred cell-ball killed -- this being with full legal rights -- he thinks it should be zero. "Abortionists" (better known as "doctors") are the ones who should be punished, since they're the ones doing the killing. So if you want to kill your neighbor, husband, or boss, elect Ron Paul for president and hire a hitman, because only the one actually killing is responsible. This silly contradiction in his moral and legal reasoning makes sense when you remember that opposition to abortion isn't really about saving babies, it is about controlling women.
  3. Ron Paul thinks poor people have it way too easy. What with their lower-than-poverty-level minimum wage and all. And to think poor people actually want things like safe working conditions and retirement benefits. Ron Paul thinks that companies, driven solely by profit motive, will magically provide these things to their workers, despite a couple centuries of evidence to the contrary. That's, like, why we had to have things like minimum wages and OSHA and Social Security in the first place.
  4. Ron Paul wants a bunch of really rich people to have all the money. Not only does he want poor people poorer, he wants rich people richer. Abolishing minimum wages and other forms of economic regulation means that companies can make more profit -- and of course by companies I mean the people who own and run them. But that's not enough! Since Paul wants to cut all manner of taxes on the super-rich (the estate tax, for example) and replace them with at most a flat tax or national sales tax, these folks will get to keep even more money earned off the labor of all the people actually doing the work.
  5. Ron Paul to Earth: "Fuck you!" He wants all the things that damage and destroys the environment, from pollution to global warming to deforestation, to be perfectly legal. See, it's not our job to stop companies from killing everyone. The market will do it on its own!
  6. Ron Paul to Earth: "Fuck you! Again!" Isolationism. Enough said.
  7. Ron Paul hates the gays. You would think a libertarian would support things like, I dunno, liberty. The freedom to do what you want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. But Ron Paul doesn't want lesbians and gay men to have the liberty to do many things. Get married, for instance. He sponsored the Marriage Protection Act, proposed legislation that categorically describes homosexuality as unacceptable, and supports the bigoted continuation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
  8. Ron Paul loves killing. And he really wants it to be extremely easy for anyone to kill anyone else anytime. Automatic weapons in the home? Great! Guns on school campuses? Go for it! Want to slaughter animals in national parks full of tourists? Go right ahead! The Founding Fathers in their infallibility fully intended for assault weapons that hadn't been invented yet to be in the hands of all citizens at all times. Nothing settles an argument like a grenade launcher.
  9. Ron Paul wants kids to grow up stupid. Now this one is kind of tricky. It sneaks in there like his racism, sexism, and homophobia does. I am all for local control of schools. However, I also fully recognize that until we have equality between localities, it is impossible for all schools to be on an even footing in providing the same quality of education to all students. In our present system, dropping equalizing measures such as credential requirements or fucking desegregation for god's sake is the surest way to ensure that only those who already have all the advantages in life pull that much farther ahead.
  10. Ron Paul thinks "God did it" is science. Paul supported the encouragement of promoting creationism, agreeing with the idea that disallowing it in science departments is "dogmatic indoctrination." Yes, Ron Paul thinks letting scientists do science is dogma, and pointing at the Bible and saying it has all the answers is, I don't know, free inquiry or something. Of course, he consistently ignores the fruits of research anyway, supporting abstinence-only sex education that has been proven to fail. And it's no real shock he thinks God-centered theories should have special treatment, since Ron "small government" Paul wants tax money spent sending kids to Christian schools, and Ron "Constitution" Paul doesn't want the courts to be able to decide whether "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. Not to mention that whole sponsoring a constitutional amendment for school prayer thing he did...
There you have it. Far from being a "reasonable" Republican, Ron Paul is in fact the worst of the Republican candidates. A United States under the policies of Ron Paul would be a hellish place to live in, while one under any of the others would just be more of the same nonsense the last eight years have seen.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Climate Change Denial

Over the last week I had an interesting conversation about global warming with somebody who, while I usually vociferously disagree with on political issues, I normally think has a good understanding of science. He didn't deny that global warming is happening, or even that human contributions to greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere aren't contributing to the problem. No, he simply doesn't believe that humans are the root cause of the changes that we see, nor does he believe that the havoc predicted as a result of those changes is likely to occur.

I was, needless to say, astounded that someone who I usually engage in lively science-related conversation could hold such views -- views customarily associated with the likes of creationism or (shudder) libertarianism.

You see, in order to believe that humans are not responsible for climate change, you have to believe that one of the following facts is false:
  1. Carbon dioxide, methane, and other gasses trap infrared radiation in the atmosphere, a process called the greenhouse effect.
  2. Carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gasses have increased in the atmosphere by more than 35% in the last two hundred years.
  3. This rise and the introduction of widespread burning of fossil fuels being simultaneous is not a coincidence -- burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gasses.
  4. Throughout geological history, when greenhouse gas levels have risen at similar rates (due to various natural phenomena), temperatures have risen in response.
  5. Throughout geological history, when temperatures have risen in response to rising levels of greenhouse gasses, catastrophic climactic effects lasting centuries and millennia have resulted.
  6. Since we have produced a large amount of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gasses in the last two hundred years, and similar levels of greenhouse gasses lead to rising temperatures, the rising temperatures we experience now are the result of our emission of greenhouse gasses; it is reasonable to predict that the trend will continue along historical lines.
  7. Since historical rises in temperature in response to greenhouse gasses have produced long-lasting, catastrophic climactic effects, it is reasonable to predict that the current rises in temperature will do so as well.
This is the basis of the chain of logic that underlies human-driven global warming. However, in order to believe that one of these facts is actually false, one also has to believe in another:
  1. Virtually every scientist in every country is part of a conspiracy to deceive people.
The scientific consensus on the topic of global warming is as firm as that on evolution. I wasn't joking when I compared global warming denialism to creationism earlier. Both human-driven global warming and evolution are accepted as fact by the vast (and I mean 99+% vast) majority of scientists who study the topic, both are presented as "controversial" in the popular press, and both are presented as absurd in the right-wing press.

There is still hope for people, like the one I spoke to, who at least recognize the mechanisms that cause climate change, and accept some human responsibility. I think that it is not so much that he believes humans can't be responsible for such things as he doesn't want to believe we could be. Who wants to be complicit in ecocide?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I'm Around

I've been tumblelogging pretty regularly at despite the lack of updates here. It's mostly an aggregate of my Twitter updates, the occasional link, and photos sent from my iPhone. I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen here -- I still want to blog in long form again, and I'm sure I will soon. There's nothing I hate more than a dead blog.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Now that's scary

» The Big Melt: Lessons from the Arctic Summer of 2007 (PDF)

I saw Al Gore and his famous Inconvenient Truth slide show here in Austin last Monday. Today he won the Nobel Peace Prize. That's pretty neat.

I'm not a tremendous fan of Gore's general political positions; he's a center-to-liberal Democrat while I'm a crazy pinko commie. But I can't deny that on the issue of climate change, the man has been on point* from the beginning and we probably do owe a great deal of whatever concern the public has for the issue to his work in the last decade. His presentation was essentially the same as that from the film, modified with new developments that have occurred since its release.

One of those new developments is expanded upon in this:

You see that red line? That was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's best estimate of how fast arctic sea ice would be lost as a result of global warming. See the bottom dotted edge of the shaded area? That was the worst-case scenario imagined by the panel. Now see the bold black line? That's the actual amount of arctic sea ice lost in the last three decades.

Today we stand where a group of more than 3,000 experts thought we wouldn't be for another forty years.

As arctic ice melts, it creates a feedback loop. The darker color of the water absorbs more heat which melts ice faster. And while this melting ice, already floating in the water, doesn't raise sea levels, it does act as one of the planet's main thermostats. The loss of that ice, particularly an entire century earlier than expected, will have dramatic consequences. Among them could be accelerated melting of Greenland's ice sheet, which would raise sea levels by up to 23 feet, flooding coastal areas inhabited by close to a billion people and literally changing the map.

People look at the temperatures rising, at the occasional drought or hurricane, and they think, Even if there is a problem, it is a slow problem. But things are far worse than we knew.

* Of course, like most environmentalists Gore utterly ignores the tremendous contribution to climate change made by raising animals for food. Cattle alone are responsible for more greenhouse emissions than every car on the planet. Go vegan.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Intentional Buddhism

Those of you who have been reading my blog(s) for a while now may remember a post I made in which I tentatively described myself as an "accidental Buddhist." You see, it turns out that I independently came to more or less the same conclusions about anguish and happiness and ethics that Buddhism teaches, with a few exceptions here and there. Since that time, I've been studying Buddhism off and on, reading books and websites and listening to podcasts. All of this has confirmed what I thought before: when it comes to the actual core of what Buddhism is about and what it teaches, I was in some sense a Buddhist before I even knew these things.

I have hesitated to call myself a Buddhist for several reasons. First, the typical Western understanding of what Buddhism is covers many aspects of it that aren't central and ignores aspects of it that are, and I didn't want assumptions to be made about what I believed. It seems to me that the average American thinks that Buddhism is a quest for Nirvana, that it is concerned primarily with gaining good karma so as to get reincarnated in a better position and move closer to achieving that goal in some future life. I don't really believe in any of that, except perhaps metaphorically. For some reason, the actual central tenets of Buddhism (the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path) are pretty much not widely known outside of the occasional television documentary and comparative religion classes in favor of a focus on mysticism. Buddhism is a practice, not a belief system, even if there are many metaphysical and supernatural beliefs that most Buddhists hold. My concern was that if I said I were a Buddhist, people would think that I believe all of those things, and that has almost nothing to do with my understanding and practice of Buddhism.
Suppose, Malunkyaputta, a man were wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and companions brought a surgeon to treat him. The man would say: "I will not let the surgeon pull out the arrow until I know the name and clan of the man who wounded me; whether the bow that wounded me was a long bow or a crossbow; whether the arrow that wounded me was hoof-tipped or curved or barbed."

All this would still not be known to that man and meanwhile he would die. So too, Malunkyaputta, if anyone should say: "I will not lead the noble life under the Buddha until the Buddha declares to me whether the world is eternal or not eternal, finite or infinite; whether the soul is the same as or different from the body; whether or not an awakened one continues or ceases to exist after death," that would remain undeclared by the Buddha and meanwhile that person would die.

--The Buddha
I am still an atheist, a materialist, and a skeptic. I don't believe in rebirth, in souls, or in the supernatural. To the extent that I "believe" anything at all about Buddhism I believe that dharma practice is an effective way to live mindfully and reduce suffering and anguish for myself and others. That is all, and I believe that is enough.

The other main reason I didn't want to identify myself as a Buddhist was out of respect for practicing Buddhists themselves. I am just a guy, reading about the dharma and using what I've learned when I can. I don't attend any sort of group meditation or services, and I don't believe in a lot of the things that most Buddhists do (see above). I also didn't want Buddhists to make assumptions about what I believe or do not. But again I find myself at the conclusion that none of that matters. All that matters is the practice.

So I am now fairly comfortable calling myself a Buddhist, though when asked my religion I will still answer "none" and clarify that with "atheist." I do not believe Buddhism is a religion, but not for the usual reason that Buddhism does not require belief in a god. Buddhism doesn't require belief in anything other than the evidence acquired while practicing it. Every belief and behavior system we call a religion doesn't rely on evidence; "truths" about the nature of reality are declared, things are expected to be done. It doesn't matter if you like these things, or even if they bring you any happiness at all. You do them because God wants you to. Buddhism is dependent on trying things, and if they work, you keep trying them.
Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, "The monk is our teacher." Kalamas, when you yourselves know: "These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness," enter on and abide in them.

--The Buddha
So if I am in fact a Buddhist, what have I considered, practiced, experienced, and found to work for me?

The Four Noble Truths
  1. Suffering and anguish exist.
  2. The main cause of suffering and anguish in our lives is desire and attachment. We want things and situations to go our way, we expect fulfilling our desires to make us happy, and our suffering increases when, inevitably, they do not.
  3. Suffering can be relieved not by fulfilling our desires but by modifying them.
  4. The way to relieve suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path
  1. Right View. The Four Noble Truths are, in fact, true. Nothing is permanent. Everthing is interconnected in a chain of cause and effect. There is no real ego, no real self.
  2. Right Intention. Resist the pull of desire, resist anger, and strive to do no harm to any sentient being.
  3. Right Speech. Do not lie, do not slander, do not offend, and do not gossip.
  4. Right Action. Do not harm any sentient being, do not take what is not given, do not engage in harmful sexual relations.
  5. Right Livelihood. Don't earn a living doing something that causes harm, such as selling weapons, trading slaves or prostitutues, slaughtering animals, and drug dealing.
  6. Right Effort. Put your good intentions into practice.
  7. Right Mindfulness. Use your mind to always be aware and see things clearly as they are.
  8. Right Concentration. Use your mind to focus on good thoughts and action, such as training concentration through meditation.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The field

Not very promising.

Take the Political Compass quiz to see where you stand. Incidentally, I'm pretty much in the lower left-hand corner (-8.88, -9.44), so you can just imagine how thrilled I am at this...

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I recently had a conversation with a friend about animal testing. She repeated a common argument vegans hear on the matter: if you're against animal testing, you shouldn't take any medicine that has been tested on animals; that is, all medicine.

This is based on a faulty but familiar misunderstanding of why vegans avoid products that have been tested on animals. The premise of this argument is that veganism is based around a specific moral code that forbids the consumption of animals, animal products, and things that are tested on animals. Making exceptions, even life-saving exceptions, are therefore indulging in hypocrisy: "I won't use things that are tested on animals, except for..." And hypocrisy is, of course, the ultimate sin.

However, veganism is not just an arbitrary code that vegans strive to meet. It is not a purity test. Vegans abstain from certain products for a specific purpose: to prevent animal suffering. The vegan "moral code" is a practical one that has a goal, not a line in the sand adhered to for dogmatic reasons.

There are three types of animal suffering:

Direct suffering. This would be things that result directly from the exploitation of animals, such as meat, wool, leather, eggs, and milk. Obviously, vegans would object to consuming these things, and by opting out we reduce the demand for them.

Replaceable indirect suffering. This category includes, for example, soaps or shampoos tested on animals, for which there are cruelty-free alternatives. The product you actually take home didn't harm any animal directly, but at some point in the past development of the product, animals were harmed. Choosing the alternatives ("voting with our dollars") sends a message to producers, and reduces demand for animal-tested products.

Irreplaceable indirect suffering. This is the category medicine falls in. Animal testing is government-mandated for medicines. As above, the products do not come directly from harming animals, but at some historical point animals were harmed. However, there is no alternative available that was not tested on animals. As such, market signals do not apply. We can't "vote with our dollars," because in this race there are no other candidates. Buying or not buying medicine that was tested on animals does nothing to stop animal suffering, as regardless of whether people want cruelty-free medicine, and regardless of whether producers want cruelty-free medicine, they have no choice in the matter because of government regulations and the animals in question are already dead. Even while we hope for an end to animal testing and work towards that goal, and as we may personally mourn the animal suffering, there is no practical reason not to take medicine that was tested on animals in the past. In fact, there is an eminently practical reason to do so: we're no good to the animals if we're dead.

Veganism is not about moral purity, it is about stopping unnecessary animal suffering. Not eating meat does that. Buying cruelty-free options does that. Dying rather than take an antibiotic that was required by law to be tested on animals does nothing. When regulations change and we have options, we will take them.

Anarchism and me

I am an anarchist.

I didn't feel comfortable saying that for a long time, and I'm really not sure for how long the description has applied. What I do know is that it's true, and that my hesitation to use the word was entirely the result of my own misconceptions about what it means, and what it doesn't.

I thought that anarchists were opposed to government. In fact, this is simply not the case. What anarchists oppose is hierarchy — when talking government, they oppose that particular variety of government called the State. Weber defined the State as an organization with "a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory," and this is the sort of government that anarchists oppose. They also oppose capitalism, but that is another post entirely.

To be sure, you will often hear some anarchists talk of overthrowing the government, and this is true: they want to overthrow the present government. You might also hear some anarchists refusing to describe the sort of government they would be comfortable with as a government at all. In a sense, this is also true, as it would scarcely resemble any government that has existed before.

The majority of anarchists, however, actually do want to see a government in place, one in many ways more robust than the representative democracy we have today. Anarchists want a decentralized government, with local decisions made through Athenian-style direct democracy. Decisions that affect more than one locality would be made by sending delegates from local assemblies to nested confederations covering larger geographical areas.

There are two things that make this government utterly unlike the government we are familiar with, the State. First, decisions are always made from the bottom up. The members of the confederation of assemblies are not representatives elected by hundreds of thousands of constituents, they are recallable delegates who remain members of the lower assemblies as well. To confuse this sort of confederation with representative government is to confuse administration with authority — the role of representatives is to make decisions for people, while the role of delegates is to coordinate decisions among them.

Second, the confederation does not have a monopoly on physical force. In the United States at present, one has no choice but to participate in certain elements of society. You must register with social security and for selective service. You must pay taxes. You must participate in jury duty. If you don't, you may be arrested in a display of the State's physical force, and you will be further charged if you resist because the State has a monopoly on the legitimate use of it. In an anarchist confederation, none of this would happen, nor would it be necessary. If you do not want to participate in the confederation, simply don't — but expect to also not benefit from it. Since an anarchist society is by definition a socialist society, this also means you will be opting out of the economy entirely. But you will be unmolested, and you may freely choose to do so. The confederation doesn't "own" the land, nobody will evict you or arrest you.

I think the confusion over what anarchism is comes from two unrelated uses of the terminology. In general, people have come to see anarchy as a word meaning "chaos," when it actually means nothing more than "no rulers." But the more troubling use is the appropriation of anarchist language by what in the United States are called libertarians (and what in any sensible country would be called "fucking nutjobs"). Anarchists are socialists even before they are anarchists — anarchism is simply the most fundamental political expression of the same ideologies that drive socialism. Anarchism is a centuries-old political tradition drawn from the work of many philosophers and political scientists. But libertarians water down the language to generically mean "no government." So-called "anarcho"-capitalists, the absurd extreme fringe of the libertarian movement, do genuinely oppose all government, not only the State. But they are capitalists, believers in a system that relies upon competitive hierarchy as the fundamental force of the economy. "Anarcho"-capitalists are not anarchists, they are just plain capitalists, and want to smash the State not for human liberation but to remove roadblocks to capitalist exploitation and expansion. They usurped the word anarchy in exactly the same manner that libertarians usurped the word liberty; until the twentieth century, libertarian and anarchist were synonyms.

So I am an anarchist after all. I see the State — as distinguished from the organizational act of governance — as an unnecessary and exploitative hierarchy, just as I see capitalism. I support local direct democracy and delegated confederal democracy, and I oppose the present form of representative government. I'm a socialist. I'm everything your momma warned you about.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Listen, Vegetarian!

There are many reasons people stop eating meat. For some it is a choice made for a more healthy diet. After all, eliminating meat from your diet is associated with lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and many types of cancer. Given these benefits, it's perfectly logical to stop eating meat.

But if you're a vegetarian for any of these reasons, I'm not posting this for you — though I think you should read it anyway.

No, I am making this post for the ethical vegetarians. This post is for the people who are disgusted by the way animals are farmed for meat, and want to make an ethical choice to reduce that suffering.

Eating eggs and dairy still causes suffering.

I sincerely hope there are none reading naïve enough to believe that standard, factory-farmed eggs and dairy are in any way morally superior to meat itself. This fact should be self-evident, since the chickens and cows raised for eggs and dairy are treated as poorly or worse than those raised for meat. For this reason, it seems that most vegetarians choose to consume "alternative" eggs and dairy, labeled things like organic, cage-free, and free-range. By doing so, they believe that they are consuming products made by happy animals free from the suffering of factory farms.

In truth, choosing these products is more like choosing to merely punch someone repeatedly in the face rather than beating them with a bat. There are no particularly grand standards that producers must meet to gain these labels; terms like free-range are voluntary marketing devices. Typically, a "free-range" farm is indistinguishable from a factory farm, save a small door leading to a patch of dirt outside that a few animals may use at a time. As long as the animals had such access and at some point ate grass, they may be labeled "free-range."

All of the other suffering associated with animal agriculture remains: cutting and burning of beaks and tails, castration, branding, dehorning, tooth-grinding, and so on, all without anesthetic. They are still crammed into tight, unsanitary quarters.

These labels aren't on products to ensure you that the animals involved lived happy lives. No, they exist solely to make you feel good and not worry about where your food is coming from. They are there to make you halt your ethical inquiry, shut up, and buy the product.

Eating eggs and dairy still kills animals.

"But," says the vegetarian, "there is still no killing involved. A small amount of suffering might be inevitable, but at least no animals had to die for my milk and eggs!"

This is simply wrong.

Do you think that cows naturally produce large amounts of excess milk? Or do you suppose that cows produce milk for calves? If you're drinking the milk, what happens to the calves that were supposed to get it? Veal is the answer you're looking for, of course. Cows do not normally produce excess milk that must be taken and consumed by humans. They are involuntarily inseminated as often as possible to maintain pregnancy and lactation, and their calves are taken away after birth so they don't drink the valuable milk. Female calves are either raised to produce more milk or killed for rennet, while male calves are sold for veal, with all of the terrible suffering that entails.

Similar economic forces are at work in egg production. Most obviously, male chicks are largely unnecessary thanks to artificial insemination, and are killed immediately after hatching — typically by suffocation or being ground up in shredders. And even the hens that lay the eggs are almost inevitably sold and killed as food eventually.

Animals are not property.

This is really the bottom line. Even if we lived in a utopian world in which animals were not harmed or killed in the production of animal products, it doesn't change the root fact that we would still be treating them as means to our ends — purely aesthetic ends of flavor, utterly unnecessary. There is a fundamental ideology at work in the consumption of animal products, including eggs and dairy, which states that animals are ours to use as we please. This ideology suggests that it isn't what we do with animals that is right or wrong, but merely how we treat them while we do it. Anything an animal makes or does belongs to us, as long as they make or do it outside the torturous confines of a factory farm.

This ideology is absurd and hypocritical.

Nobody would argue that we ought to treat humans as property. We have a rather long and sordid history of overcoming this belief around the globe. Nobody would say that keeping slaves is acceptable provided they aren't beaten and are fed well and allowed time for recreation. The notion that this would be the case is abhorrent to modern minds. Nor would we allow that slavery is acceptable if the slaves are infants or mentally disabled and incapable of recognizing their status as property. So why, then is is considered acceptable to treat non-human animals as slaves? Does having a certain stretch of DNA in our cells really mean that we magically become morally immune to enslavement?

No, it doesn't. We grant all humans the moral and legal right to be free from treatment as property, and non-human animals should be granted that same right. Until that happens, the only ethical choice is to personally refrain from participating in their use. Vegetarians still support this paradigm with their voluntary consumption of products that belong only to the animals that make them, not to us. Vegetarians still tell the animal agriculture industry that using animals is acceptable, and encourage the exploitation with every dollar spent. Being vegetarian is not enough.

Go vegan.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Google Reader

I use Google Reader to read the feeds from a couple hundred blogs, and one of the neat things about it is you can share posts you find interesting. The list of shared posts happens to have a feed of its own, which I have put in the sidebar to the right. So even if I'm not posting daily, you can always check out something noteworthy over there.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sense of Wonder

This is one of those stories that will be flash in the pan for the mainstream media, but is unbelievably big for anyone who, well, knows how big it actually is.

For the first time, astronomers have discovered a planet (Gliese 581 c) that could potentially support life as we know it. Small enough to avoid crushing gravity, big enough to retain an atmosphere, and just the right distance from its star to keep the temperature between 32° and 104° F, allowing for liquid water — in other words, pretty much just like Earth, by astronomical standards.

Now, we shouldn't overstate the case. News articles are already calling the planet "habitable," which is only a possibility at this point. The planet may or may not have an atmosphere that would be friendly to life. It orbits a red dwarf star, which, due to the star's dimness, means that to be at habitable temperature the planet is so close that tides have locked one face to always face the star, and only certain hypothesized atmospheres could transfer heat efficiently enough to keep the air from freezing out on the far side. And the part where even with near-magical technology it would take decades to reach doesn't bode well for vacationing.

Nonetheless, it is not impossible that one could fly their magical spaceship to 581 c, pop the hatch, and breathe the air without a spacesuit. And whether that unlikely scenario turns out to be the case or not, in the history of humanity we've never been able to say it was even a possibility before today. And that's something.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Moral Musings

In the time since my last post, I've been doing a lot of two things: reading and sleeping. Specifically, I've read No Logo by Naomi Klein, Citizens of the Empire by Robert Jensen, and The Case for Animal Rights by Tom Regan. The latter was of particular interest to me, as it managed to raise some very interesting questions about rights theory that led me to a whole lot more reading online.

I've argued for a utilitarian philosophy for years now. Utilitarianism appeals for me for its egalitarian approach and for it's logic; there's no appealing to vague and variable intuitions, no appeal to some magical rules, and so on. That said, utilitarianism is not without its flaws and without its critics. There is certainly an appeal about some form of rights or justice theory; while they are harder to ground in logic, they're simpler and often easier to apply in practice. Apparently, it is a pretty standard experiment for the philosophy student to attempt to reconcile the two approaches; as an armchair student myself, I suppose it was inevitable that I would try as well. I'm sure the approach below has been done before, and probably better, but it's what I'm working with right now. I will try not to go into too much detail, so as to just get on with it.

We begin with equal consideration of interests. Interests are, essentially, what a being wants: preferences. Any sentient being capable of suffering has, at the very least, an interest in avoiding suffering. More mentally complex beings have other interests, and humans have massive collections of interrelated and independent preferences. So many, in fact, that it is impossible to account for them all. If we are to take all interests into consideration equally, then we must seek to maximize their satisfaction. We find ourselves at a position of preference utilitarianism: good is that which tends to satisfy the most preferences for the most beings.

However, sentience is a necessary but not sufficient criterion for the consideration of interests. A being cannot have sentience if it is not alive. Furthermore, a being cannot have preferences satisfied if it does not have the basic autonomy and liberty to do so. In other words, life and liberty are prerequisites for holding the type of preferences that our utilitarianism seeks to maximize. We cannot equally consider these interests if the prerequisite conditions are not met for all beings involved before we begin the consideration. We can account for these prerequisites in two ways, which have the same effect in practice. We may either say that all sentient beings have a right to life and liberty, and treat them as rights theories would, or we may arbitrarily say that the disutility of taking away life or liberty is always one unit worse than any possible utility arising from the satisfaction of preferences. For simplicity, and because it reeks of hybridism, I am inclined to call them rights and be done with it.

It is actually pure coincidence that my approach results in what amounts to the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (through satisfaction of preferences).

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sex and Violence

Last weekend I saw Grindhouse. The retro double-feature is great fun. Pure, unadulterated, gory exploitation in both films.

Spoilers follow.

Watching ostensibly escapist films actually makes me think quite a bit about the intersection of fantasy and reality. How can someone like myself, who abhors violence, enjoy scenes of death and revenge? How can someone like myself, who considers himself a feminist, enjoy films that by definition exploit women?

The answer to the second question is actually rather easy in this case, as both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino slickly turned their exploitation pictures into empowerment pictures where women are concerned. One of Rodriguez's protagonists in Planet Terror, a stripper who abandoned her dreams, becomes the ass-kicking leader of the straggling survivors of the human race. Tarantino's presumed slasher-film victims in Death Proof don't take their stalking laying down; they track down the killer and beat the shit out of him. And as for sex, well, there isn't a lick of it in the movie thanks to intentionally humorous missing reels. While the women in the films, particularly Death Proof, are properly glammed and sexed up according to patriarchal norms, even with the intentionally cheesy plotting and dialogue they never lack agency. In fact, one can note that the group of women who died in Death Proof were the more stereotypically feminized set — vapid, interested in dancing and drinking and hooking up with boys. Meanwhile, the group that survives and ultimately kills the killer include two stuntwomen and their girly-girl companion who wants in on the action. Some are even calling Grindhouse a feminist movie; I'm not sure I'd go that far, but the movie is certainly about women taking command of shit brought upon them by men — and brutal, bloody action, of course.

That brings me to my first question. Violence. I am, more or less, a pacifist. More to the point, I unequivocally don't believe in revenge, and I don't believe in punishment. But at the end of Death Proof, when Stuntman Mike's targeted victims track him down, reduce him to a sniveling heap, and beat him quite probably to death, I cheered. And it wasn't simply my amusement at the unexpected reversal of genre conventions; I was happy. I think the reason is that I do believe in justice. In revenge films, the violence is symbolic of justice, of people getting what they deserve. It's karma. And while in reality I would want to see someone like Stuntman Mike arrested, tried, and sentenced to life in prison where he couldn't harm anyone, in the world of fantasy I am perfectly content to let his demise at the hands of his intended victims stand in for that rather unexciting scenario.

I notice that most of my commentary seems to focus on Death Proof, which is interesting because I probably enjoyed Rodriguez's contribution more. While Planet Terror does share the strong woman theme, it is not a Tarantino film and is simply not intended to have much in the way of shades of meaning. Rodriguez chose to go for pure spectacle, and Planet Terror is nothing if not that. The violence in Planet Terror is mostly, well, zombie violence, and a lot of it. Considerations of morality and ethics are rather irrelevant when dealing with the undead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Abolitionist Approach

Gary Francione is a leading figure in the animal rights movement, best known as the principal public advocate for the abolitionist approach to animal rights. Earlier this year, Francione began blogging at the aptly named Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach, and he recently began an excellent series of FAQ posts about animal rights.

The abolitionist approach to animal rights is exactly what it sounds like: advocating the abolition of animal ownership, use, and exploitation. The abolitionist approach takes as it's foundation the notion that animals, as sentient beings capable of suffering, are not property. They should therefore be considered bearers of rights worthy of protection. As non-property, animals cannot be owned, which further means that they are not ours to use and exploit.

Most animal rights organizations would publicly agree with the abolition of animal use and exploitation as a long-term goal. The difference between these groups, such as PETA, and the abolitionists is that PETA believes that improvements in animal welfare, no matter how small, help bring about this goal. Abolitionists such as Francione believe that this is not the case.

The problem is that improvements in animal welfare, while certainly beneficial to the animals involved, actually make abolition less likely. Consider Burger King. The animals used in Burger King's products are tortured and mutilated for their entire lives, to say nothing of being killed needlessly because they happen to taste good. Under pressure from PETA and other groups, Burger King moved to make modest improvements in the treatment of animals. PETA publicly applauded these efforts, which undoubtedly slightly improved the lives of the animals involved. Does this do anything to reduce the demand for animal products, or to end the exploitation of animals? On the contrary, this merely made people who were squeamish about the treatment of animals for Burger King now feel comfortable again. With the stamp of approval from allegedly-radical PETA, consumers feel better about eating animals. Demand increases, and Burger King is more successful. Rather than making their stated goal of abolition more likely, making slaughter more "humane" does the opposite.

The difficulty with welfare reforms is that "humane slaughter" generally has a positive effect on animal product sales. It makes people feel good about buying the products. The only way to end the use of animals in a capitalist economy is to make their use unprofitable, and the congratulations offered by groups like PETA for welfare reforms only makes animal use more profitable.

Francione believes, and I am inclined to agree, that the only way to actually achieve the abolition goals of the animal rights movement is vegan evangelism. So long as people are comfortable eating animals, and using animals, there will continue to be a demand for animal exploitation, and no amount of welfare reform will ever reach the point of reforming that demand away. Instead of pressuring Burger King to torture animals slightly less before killing them, PETA should have been pressuring Burger King to stop torturing and killing animals.

People need to be aware and conscious of where their food comes from; most people are a bit disgusted when thinking about slaughterhouses when eating because most people instinctively know that the treatment of animals in them is disgusting. Mentally sanitizing the animal exploitation industries is no better than editing war footage to pretend it isn't bloody and painful.

The fact is that nobody needs to eat meat or use animal products, especially not in more developed countries such at the United States. There is no doubt that animals suffer in the production of meat and other products, and as this suffering is entirely unnecessary, based solely on whim, it is morally wrong for it to continue. Unnecessary infliction of suffering is always wrong.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Naked PETA

Remember PETA's State of the Union Undress that I discussed here in January? Well, the stripping spokeswoman is frequent nude protester Sarah Harley, and Dean Abbott has an interview with her. The interview mostly discusses nudity rather than animal rights, and doesn't really deal with the issue of sexism. I completely disagree with Abbott's reasons for objecting to the video, which seem to be shrouded in spiritual objections to nudity and sex outside marriage and desacralizing the body, especially when you read his original objecting post. But the interview itself makes an interesting follow-up.

As I said in my original post, my objection to PETA-style nude protests is not really that there are naked people in them. I think PETA's campaigns are problematic for two reasons.

First, I think this sort of thing makes people take PETA's message (which, as an ethical vegan, I agree with) less seriously. As with violence, I think that superficial attention-grabbing tends to be counter-productive, with few exceptions.

Second, they don't merely use nudity to get attention. If they did, there wouldn't need to be catcalling men, or references to "hot chicks" being an American tradition, or frequent zooms into body parts. How many people (let's be honest here, mostly men) watched the Undress video and even listened to what Harley had to say? How many just turned it off when the images of animal cruelty began? I'd honestly be interested to see statistics on how many visitors to the Undress page clicked through to PETA's main site. I'm guessing here, but I bet that the video was watched far more times as porn than watched resulting in anyone educating themselves on animal rights issues.

But as with porn, I don't believe that the problem is with the people doing the work. I don't think that Harley was exploited or coerced into making the video. In fact, I rather admire her dedication to the cause. The problem lies with the role these sorts of actions play in society. If we lived in an egalitarian society, in which women weren't often viewed and used as sexualized objects, I would honestly have little objection. But we don't live in that society, and using sexualized images of women to sell something (even something I believe in) continues to perpetuate the idea that women are nothing more than things to be ogled.

I have to admit a certain amount of mixed feelings about that sort of conclusion. I know, logically, that it is accurate. But, I also don't think that banishing sex and nudity from the public sphere is any sort of solution. We're in a catch-22 with the objectification of women; a catch-22 women know all too well from the double-standard of modesty and sexual femininity that society demands they maintain. I think nakedness and sex are positive, women are as validly sexual as men, and I'd love a world in which people could be nude or do sexy things in public and it would be considered good fun. At the same time, until that world exists, doing those things is tainted by the misogyny of capitalism, religion, and historically patriarchal society. And so we have to maintain a balance between promoting a healthy, positive outlook on sex and the body without promoting commodification of it, especially of women. I just don't think that PETA maintains that balance in their actions.

Don Imus: Asshole

By now you've certainly heard about how Don Imus referred to the predominately black women's basketball team at Rutgers as "some nappy-headed hoes." I have three things to say about this.

First, is Don Imus really one to talk about nappy hair?

Second, Don Imus is a douchebag and should be fired. This isn't the first time he's made racist comments, or even the only racist comments he made about the Rutgers team in that very show, and an apology or two simply doesn't cut it. There are certain things that, while one can sincerely apologize for their effects, one just can't take back. Saying he's sorry for being a dick is all fine and well, but it doesn't mean he's not still a racist dick and no sane radio station would want to give him a platform.

Third, just what is the correct way to pluralize ho? According to the New York Times, the word is ho's. The Washington Post says hos. At the Chicago Tribune, it's hoes. The Oxford American Dictionary is no help, giving hos or hoes as correct. American Heritage lists only hos.

Most English words that end in -o add an -es to form the plural, e.g., potatoes, tomatoes, and heroes. There are exceptions, but as ho is a relatively new slang word the intuitive thing to do would be to pluralize it as hoes. The one I'm really confused about is ho's. No word is pluralized with an -'s. The only rationalization I can think of is that the apostrophe stands for an omitted e, much like how it is valid to write OD'd for overdosed, but what I can't figure out is why one would want to omit the e in hoes.

Friday, April 6, 2007


I've been playing around with Twitter lately. Twitter is the most bare bones social networking site in the history of the Internet, and yet it is also one of the most useful and certainly one of the most addicting. Essentially, Twitter is a status message, like in an instant messenger program. Where Twitter takes things further is in two ways: 1. by making those messages RSS feeds, you can have a page where you can see what all your friends are doing and thinking in more or less real time, and 2. by integrating with instant messaging and cell phone text messaging, you can know what's up with everyone anywhere they are, and submit your own updates on the fly.

My friends that I've tried to get to join's reactions seem to be one of three: 1. cool! 2. I don't know if I am interesting enough/could keep it up, or 3. that is so lame, why would I want to know what people are doing? The thing about it is, you really have no idea how interesting Twitter is until you're using it. Certainly, the main page is less than inspiring, with a list of people you don't know doing random things. But as with most new ideas, you soon forget how you ever lived without it.

It is only a matter of time before Twitter, Blogger, MySpace, camera phones, Flickr, Consummating, Gmail, Tumblr, and all come together in a sloppy Web 2.0 orgy to give birth to true lifelogging, or, in the spirit of clever short forms, "flogging."

Many (most?) hip, geeky types already have an embryonic flog, it's just in pieces. I do. In Gmail, I have every e-mail message I've received in the several years I've had it and space for thousands more. While I've been lazy with it, in theory I could have a photographic record of my life recorded in Flickr. If I wanted to, I could use my phone and add photos from just about everywhere I go. I'm blogging my opinions right now. With Twitter, I have a record of most of the things I've been doing or thinking, from the mundane to the exciting, and people can see it in real time. stores websites I come across. I'm tempted to start a tumblelog to get down little snippets and amusing random happenings.

What if this was all in one place? What if it was all indexable and searchable and taggable, and maybe even automatic?

I think there will be a day, perhaps a decade or two away, when the idea of not having an external "memory archive" of everything you have ever done will be alien. There will be a time when it would be considered odd to not be able to google your flog on Januray 2, 2043 and see who you IMed on March 22, 2012, and to pull up the conversation to read. It will be strange to not have photos and video of at least a few events nearly every single day, stored for perpetuity and ready for recollection as vividly as the day they occurred.

I have to admit, I'm not a big privacy stickler. Personal information, such as identification and passwords and accounts, certainly, but I don't generally care if anybody knows who I am or what I look like or what I'm up to. But it is my sincere belief that they days of privacy as we presently think of it are pretty much over, and not because of Big Brother. People are voluntarily exhibiting themselves online, and increasingly using their real names to do it. People are realizing that the Internet isn't some scary festering lair of pedophilia and stalking, it is a place just like any other, as good or bad as the people who visit.

But a flog need not be public. Twitter is. As far as I know, and Twitter certainly has a pretty small user base right now, Twitter has not yet been used for somebody to track and harm anybody. I'm sure the day will come, but the odds are no greater than a person tracking and harming someone in real life. At most, more people will simply set their Twitter to "friends only."

And so it will be with lifelogs. You'll choose what things and how much of them to make public. I might be comfortable letting people see most of my life, if they were so utterly bored they might find it entertaining. Someone else might only allow certain choice bits out. It would have to be fully customizable and robust.

Somebody is going to get rich.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The John Doe Manifesto

Michelle Malkin's brilliant parody of the self-righteous insanity that passes for thinking in conservative circles really — what? You mean she's serious?
Dear Muslim Terrorist Plotter/Planner/Funder/Enabler/Apologist,
By Malkin's standards, this means "everyone to the left of Newt Gingrich, plus libertarians."
I am traveling on your plane. I am riding on your train. I am at your bus stop. I am on your street. I am in your subway car. I am on your lift.
Lift? Did I miss the part where Malkin's target audience lives in a flat on the Thames and wears pants under their trousers and tries not to get hit by a lorry while pulling the spare tyre from the boot?
I am your neighbor. I am your customer. I am your classmate. I am your boss.
Yikes. I guess we're surrounded by scary people after all.
I will act when homeland security officials ask me to “report suspicious activity.”
Which is to say, any activity she disagrees with.
I will embrace my local police department’s admonition: “If you see something, say something.”
"No, really, anything. A blathering ejaculation of a manifesto for the insane, even."
I will raise my voice against your subjugation of women and religious minorities.
Because that's a job for Americans, damn it!
I will challenge your attempts to indoctrinate my children in our schools.
Only Republicans and Christians get to do that.
I will combat your violent propaganda on the Internet.
With her own!
I will support law enforcement initiatives to spy on your operatives, cut off your funding, and disrupt your murderous conspiracies.
Wow, that's a bold statement.
I will resist the imposition of sharia principles and sharia law in my taxi cab, my restaurant, my community pool, the halls of Congress, our national monuments, the radio and television airwaves, and all public spaces.
Another bold statement. Because you just know we're a hair's breadth away from sharia in the United States. Wait.
I will not be cowed by your Beltway lobbying groups in moderate clothing. I will not cringe when you shriek about “profiling” or “Islamophobia.”
Good thing for Malkin it wasn't a group of Asian-looking Indonesian Muslims who hijacked those planes…
I will put my family’s safety above sensitivity. I will put my country above multiculturalism.
Because putting the United States above multiculturalism is much better than doing so with Islam. Oh, I'm sorry, it's the same fucking thing.
I will not submit to your will. I will not be intimidated.
Again, stepping on Uncle Sam's turf.
I am John Doe.
If only you were actually so anonymous.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

I don't believe in agnostics

An atheist is a person without a belief in any god. It doesn't matter why you don't believe in God. If you have carefully and rationally examined the evidence, found none for a god, and therefore you don't believe, you are not "more atheist" than some kid who is angry because his first girlfriend dumped him and decided God doesn't exist. There is one and only one criteria for being an atheist: you don't believe.

This is why I don't believe in agnostics.

Oh, I believe that there are agnostic people out there; the problem is, they are also either believers or atheists. It is simply impossible to be between belief and non-belief. Most agnostics are atheists who are afraid to admit it.

All of those people who say, "I don't know" or "I don't care" or "I don't think we can know" don't believe in God. They are atheists. That they don't believe because they haven't made up their mind, or don't think there is a way to prove it, is irrelevant, because the only criteria for being an atheist is that you don't believe. These people calling themselves agnostic does a fine job of telling us why they don't believe in God, but it doesn't make them somehow in a middle ground where they neither believe nor disbelieve. If they say they neither believe nor disbelieve, they still don't believe. That's covered in the neither part — that they followed it up with "nor disbelief" doesn't change that. Not actively disbelieving in God doesn't mean they don't still passively lack belief in him.

And I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of people who do believe are agnostic, too. I've heard a million times Christians saying something to the effect of "well, I really don't know, but believing makes me feel better" or "there's really no telling, but for me, believing feels right." These people are all agnostics, too. Most people are agnostics, when you get down to it, making the term so all-encompassing as to not have a whole lot of value unless you're specifically having a conversation about the topic of how and why people believe.

Agnosticism doesn't have anything to do with belief. It has to do with the limits of knowledge. There are agnostic atheists and agnostic believers all over the place, but there are no just-plain-agnostics.

posted without comment: drugs

Friday, March 30, 2007

where you at?

I started The Red Scare, rather than maintaining my eponymous blog, for two major reasons: having a blog named after yourself when you're a nobody is pretty lame, and I'm actually in a field where there is the potential for literal public outcry leading to me being fired if the wrong people knew what I was interested in and my views. It's happened before. So my goal at The Red Scare is to not have this blog linked to my real name.

I don't care if you know my real name. Ask me and I'll be more than happy to tell you. I just don't want this to come up when somebody googles me. This is actually somewhat unfortunate, as in all truth I want people to know what I think and who's thinking it. But that's a risk that I can't take right now. More or less dismantling the entire fabric of society is an unpopular opinion.

For many reasons I wish the world were a different place. I wish we lived in a world where diversity of opinion was a good thing. I wish we lived in a world where nobody cared what you did when you left the workplace as long as you did the work well while you were at it. But we don't, and I think I have to hide from the world we do live in.

At least when it comes to blogging.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

vagina will kill you!

At least that's what Roberto Gonzales seems to think. Apparently, for US attorneys going after consenting adults fucking on camera is more important that, you know, child pornography or terrorism — and if you don't agree, you can get fired for it. That's why Gonzales put darling of the Christian right Burt Ward — who once tried to make nude art models wear bikinis — in charge of waging the War on Porn. And that's why Ward recommended at least one two of the Gonzales Eight be fired.

There are some disturbing facets of the mainstream porn industry, but the part where some people fuck and other people watch isn't one of them. Sex is not obscene, it's beautiful.

Monday, March 26, 2007

turtle power

I was born in 1980, which means pretty much by default that I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a boy. I had a hell of a lot of their toys, at least. Technodrome. Pizza-shooting something or the other. Obscure mutants. Krang. I even had a ridiculous videotape of the Ninja Turtles musical. Anybody else remember that?

Now, two decades later, TMNT is actually the number one movie in America. And yet I have not even the slightest nostalgia-driven urge to see it. I think I always wanted to see a CGI Ninja Turtles movie, but somehow I thought that when it happened it would be different. I think I actually expected, and I can't believe I'm about to type this, a serious Ninja Turtles movie, a reboot faithful to the darker original comic books. Like, an R-rated Ninja Turtles movie.

What was I smoking when I came up with that one?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

high hopes and expectations

Jesus, has it been two months?

I don't know what to say. I didn't mean to do it, I swear. Promise, even. I have been so lazy, blog-wise, in the last year or so... it comes in spurts. So I have to say, once again, that I am back, and I intend to keep it up this time. My goal is at least one minor post a day, and at least one major post a week. I say this now so that you can laugh at me when I fail.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

state of the union

No, not the address, the undress.

If you don't care to click the link, here's what happens: it is a PETA-produced video of a young woman stripping from a business suit to full frontal nudity while explaining the current animal rights situation. After she's done, there are scenes of animal cruelty from a variety of industries.

I am for animal rights. I am for animal liberation. I don't think nonhuman animals are property, and if they can't consent then using them is no less unethical than using human animals against their will. I don't eat them or things that come from them, and I don't buy things made from them or tested on them. I absolutely, without hesitation agree with PETA's stated goals. But PETA drives me nuts.

A video like this doesn’t even have the (weak) justification that some of PETA’s other sexist campaigns do. For example, at least PETA can argue that when they put women in cages, or wrap them in cellophane, it’s not that they are saying women are equivalent to animals, but rather drawing attention to the idea that animals are just as worthy of fair treatment as women. The problem, of course, is that in a culture in which women are often actually treated as proverbial animals, the campaign is utterly counterproductive. Not only is it perpetuating the idea that women are things to be ogled, but it makes people who might actually agree with PETA’s point think of the animal rights movement as silly and frivolous at best — and actively harmful at worst. It’s the flip-side of the ALF, which makes people think of the animal rights movement as radical and dangerous.

If people really don’t think animals are property to be used for our benefit, skip all the stunts and do the thing that will actually help them: stop buying, using, and eating them, and encourage others to do the same.

I did notice that they managed to get a not-stick-figure-model-type woman to strip, which in it’s small way was kind of refreshing. Granted, she’s still pretty in the conventional sense, but at least she’s not emaciated. I guess it’s pretty sad that the best to be said for the objectification of a woman is that they didn’t pick the most stereotypical one around.… It's not that I'm against nudity, or stripping, or porn. But get naked for nakedness's sake, or art's sake, or for sex's sake. Sex shouldn't sell anything but sex, even metaphorically.

The worst thing about PETA is that if it weren't for these self-serving pranks, they might be a fairly awesome organization. Their websites are some of the more informative and accessible sources of information for new vegans or curious animal-rights-friendly people. If I were someone new to animal rights and I visited their website I would think they were completely respectable and right on the money, and I'd probably want to join and get involved. Hell, even as someone who knows better they've tempted me from time to time. The bullshit they put out totally overshadows the potential for good, and they don't seem to realize that dropping the bullshit would only make the good that much better.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Why I am pro-choice

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

Today is the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and as part of the celebration -- and it should be a celebration -- bloggers are posting about why they are pro-choice. My reasons are simple: decisions should be made by whomever is affected by them in direct proportion to the amount they are so affected. The decision of whether or not to gestate a fetus for nine months affects a pregnant woman far more than anybody else involved, including the source of the sperm, and certainly including the state. Therefore, there is no person with such an overwhelming interest in the outcome of that decision that their opinion should have any influence on the ability and right of the woman herself to make it.

The question is not, to me, why women should have the right to do with their bodies as they please, but why shouldn't they? What argument can forced-pregnancy advocates provide that justifies stripping a person of such a right? They all amount to enacting undue control over women's private lives, with the sole exception of the argument that a fetus has rights. If a fetus has a right to life, then obviously this would conflict with a woman's right to control her body, and there would be room for a healthy debate on the matter.

There is no such room.

Rights are the tools we use as societies to protect the interests of individuals. The key word in that sentence is interests. Something must have interests before it can have them protected by a right. The minimum necessary for something to have interests is the ability to feel pain, the ability to suffer. If a being cannot suffer it cannot be harmed, as harm is the infliction of suffering. Therefore all things with the ability to suffer have an interest in not suffering. How this relates to fetuses is not a question that must be left to speculation; there is ample scientific research into the matter. Pain receptors in fetuses are not connected to the brain until roughly 30 weeks, a time frame supported by electroencephalography. More than 99% of all abortions are performed before the fetus has the ability to feel pain, making such arguments entirely moot. Even after the 30th week, the evidence suggests that fetuses are not conscious. Almost every abortion performed at this point, and they are rare, is done for medical rather than personal reasons. How many women would carry a fetus for eight months if they didn't have to? Even in the event that fetuses could suffer from these abortions, their interest must be weighed against that of the woman -- and a conscious adult with dreams and desires has far more interests to be frustrated than a fetus.

I am pro-choice because only pregnant women have a compelling claim on making choices that affect themselves more than any other person. I am pro-choice because abortion is good for a woman who wants one, and I want good for women.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

My future

I'm feeling utopian.

I know the likelihood of anyone caring to take the time to read what I write is in inverse proportion to the length of it, but I'm just going to ramble on again. Nobody's got a gun to your head, after all, dear reader. So let's pretend that the good guys win, and I get the future I'm pulling for. What will the world of 2057 look like to your average person, after the revolution?

First of all, there is a certain technological base that I think will exist in 50 years pretty much regardless of what happens otherwise, provided "what happens" doesn't include the collapse of civilization or human extinction.

For starters, pervasive internet access and ubiquitous computing will be the standard. People won't have a home computer and an iPod and a phone and a home stereo and a TV, synchronizing their files between them. No, wireless internet access will be fast and it will be everywhere. You'll store your music and movies and documents on a server or servers somewhere (maybe at home, maybe you'll have what old-timers might still quaintly call "Web space") and access them from whatever output device you've got handy. If you're sitting on the couch, you can watch Spider-Man 12 on the screen on your wall, but when you're taking the train to work, you can watch your same movie on your phone, or on a sheet of digital paper, or on the screen on the back of the seat in front of you. While you take an automated cab to the airport, you can browse your vacation photos on those same display devices, not because you synched them before you left home, but because you have access to them everywhere. Your sneakers have as much processing power as a desktop computer did at the turn of the century, and if you lose them, you can use google to find them.

Another major change will be in biotechnology. From a health standpoint, pretty much any genetic disorder caused by a single gene or interactions between a few will be long forgotten. More complicated problems, including some cancers, will still occur, but will be treatable to the extent that few people still die from them. Genetic engineering will be banal, rarely even worthy of debate and discussion except when expanded to new domains. While genetic screening and prenatal repair of genetic disorders will be standard, here won't be a flood of "superbabies," because anything that could be modified in such a baby can be done later in life reversibly and consensually through the more powerful tools at our disposal. An adult could voluntarily choose to, say, give themselves "intelligence genes" through artificial chromosomes; but for anything as complex as intelligence, there are no simple miracles with guarantees. The real heroes of the biotech future will be the modified descendants of bacteria and viruses, functioning much as the nanobots of science fiction for purposes as diverse as curing disease to cleaning industrial spills to producing plastics.

The third change will be the decentralization of production. Fabbers will be a standard household appliance. Whether the molecular nanotechnology breakthroughs suggested by some proponents occur or not, a vast variety of products will no longer be manufactured in a factory, shipped to a store, purchased and brought home. What will be purchased are raw materials and three-dimensional blujeprints; the product will be manufactured in your home fabber, or if it's too large for that appliance, perhaps at the corner fabbing shop. Think of a fabber as a 3D printer; it gets data and prints out the object. At the very least, most consumer goods other than food and extremely complex electronics will be capable of home fabbing. If the nanotech boom does hit, essentially everything will be available from your desktop.

Technology is value neutral. It is only as emancipatory as the society that wields it. The three central values of the society I want for 2057 are liberty, equality, and solidarity.

There is a government in this world of the future, but it doesn't really resemble the one we have today. Oh, it is democratic, and there are regional delegates, but beyond that it shares few features with the present system. The most dramatic change is that every citizen is a part of the government. There is no state that exists separate from the population as a whole. We are the government, because every building, neighborhood, or region (depending on population density) has an assembly that makes decisions for that building, neighborhood, or region. People are as involved or uninvolved with this assembly as they wish, but if they choose to participate, they always have a seat and a vote. Each assembly can make whatever rules it sees fit to make for its own domain, and people are free to choose which assembly they want to be a part of by simply moving there, if there's room. Those that do not choose to participate in the assembly are still obligated to abide by its decisions; if they didn't want this society, they're welcome to take their fabber and live apart from it, but they will not receive any of its benefits.

These local assemblies cannot make all decisions, however, because there are decisions that affect more than one locality. For these decisions there are confederations of local assemblies. For ever larger groups of people, there are more confederations, until we reach the national (and potentially, in the ultimate utopia, global) level. These are roughly analogous to city, state, and national legislatures, though they would likely not correspond directly to those administrative divisions that exist today because they would be more unified in scale. The most important difference between these assemblies of elected delegates and those that exist today is that, because every citizen is a member of the assembly that elects them upward, decisions are made from the bottom up rather than the top down. All assembly delegates would be subject to recall if they made decisions the next lower assembly disagreed with. These delegates would be regular people, selected for relatively brief terms from the ranks of their neighbors, not career politicians -- a class that does not exist in this future.

Work and economics are remarkably similar to politics in 2057. There are no bad jobs that nobody wants to do for two reasons. First, automation has eliminated a large number of them. Second, and more importantly, there isn't heirarchy in the workplace. Why should a hospital have surgeons and janitors? If they had more surgeons, each could spend a certain portion of their day doing the janitorial work. In the average household, chores such as cleaning are typically divided among the people that live there. Why not, then, divide chores at the workplace among the people that work there? In other words, jobs would be much more fairly balanced than they are today, and combined with automation there are few if any jobs that nobody wants to do; or rather, the things that nobody wants to do everybody has to do, briefly.

If a job involves unskilled labor or rote, repetitive tasks, it probably doesn't exist. Pay is according to effort and sacrifice, the things people have control over, not things they don't, like intelligence or strength. Workplaces are democratic. Any administrative or "managerial" tasks are done by people elected from within that workplace to do them, subject to the same sorts of qualifications as in the political assemblies above. There are no economic or social classes in this society, including on the job.

The economy still works on supply and demand, but there are no markets. Workplaces and industries are confederated much like regions are in the political system. The economy is socialist, but it doesn't function through central planning -- in functions through decentralized planning. At periodic intervals, and with the power of ubiquitious supercomputing available for simulation and advice if needed, people estimate what they would like to buy for the next interval based on the amount of income they expect to have. At the same time, the production federation estimates what they can produce. These estimates are all combined and iterated until a best fit plan is produced. If unexpected changes occur, they can be incorporated into the plan on the fly. Supply is actually based on demand, rather than based on expected profit.

But recall that every home has a fabber, and access to larger fabbers. "Manufacturing" is an obsolete industry, so there are really only five major divisions in the production side of the economy: raw materials, food, services, information, and design. Obviously design specifications are a subset of information, but I am here distinguishing it from things like the content of books. It doesn't much matter what specific, say, chair or t-shirt someone wants to buy when they estimate their demand, all that matters is how much material it will require for their fabber and how many designs they want to buy. People are really estimating how much generic stuff they expect to produce themselves, whether the stuff is divided between thirty t-shirts or one chair.

Decisions which affect nobody but the decision maker are made exclusively by that decision maker. There are no victimless crimes in this society. People have been granted explicit rights to do with themselves as they please. People have full cognitive and morphological freedom; they can change their minds and bodies as they see fit, whether through drugs or genetic engineering or prosthetics or surgery. Along with this comes reproductive freedom for contraception and abortion. People also have romantic and sexual freedom, to have relationships of any kind with any person or people in any combination and number, provided they are all capable and have given consent.

The environment is recovering and managed. We are actively terraforming Terra to restore the things we cause the planet to lose. Animals are not used, killed, or kept as property. If anybody still cares to eat meat, it comes from a vat, though it is indistinguishable in taste and is healthier than natural meat ever was. Our energy is mostly provided by the Sun, though other renewable sources have their roles in certain places as well. Solar power may have been more expensive for a time than fossil fuels, but in a society not driven by profit, the benefits were well worth the cost. The vast majority of people live in clean, efficient cities, leaving most of the planet free for nature, even as that nature is being remedied. The cities are vibrant and green and organic, they are alive and colorful. People live there because they want to be around other people, connected and tied in and social.

So, that's my utopia.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The older I get, the more radical I become.

This is, apparently, in contrast to much of the population, who retreat to the safety and warmth of an ever-growing conservatism in the face of accelerating social and technological change. People who were fired up and active against the status quo in college get jobs for Boeing when they graduate. Is it simply a decline in virulent, youthful energy? Is it making peace with the establishment, resigning yourself to complacency that things can never change?

There is very little about which my opinion has not steadily and unremittingly shifted ever leftward over time, away from nearly all tradition and normalcy.

In high school, I was fairly apolitical. I thought of myself as a Democrat because I remembered my parents saying they preferred Michael Dukakis to George Bush in the 1988 presidential election. My eight-year-old memory might have been imperfect, as my parents now say they have no recollection of saying such a thing. But I felt a general sense that the Democrats were better than the Republicans.

Somehow, in my first few years of college, I decided I was a libertarian. I don't really know why that happened; I think I liked the libertarian social positions and didn't know enough about their economic positions to care. I had no reason to think that capitalism couldn't solve the world's problems. I think I may have been foolish enough to think of the libertarians as super-Democrats, extending the principles of personal liberty to all aspects of life. I never thought to consider that the libertarian conception of liberty amounted to having the freedom to choose who to sell yourself to.

Interestingly, it was around this time that I found myself defending communism to people as an ideal, while I apparently seemed to think that it was a utopian ideal and that the best-case scenario in the real world was market capitalism. I think I might have been a nascent neocon.

I followed the 2000 presidential campaign, but I didn't vote in the election. I favored John McCain initially. I was unsophisticated in my political analysis; he said things I liked and so I liked him. In the final election, I would have voted for Gore had I cared enough to vote. After all, he was a Democrat so he was probably better than Bush -- and as a Texas resident, I wasn't enamored with Bush's performance as governor.

But that 2000 campaign inspired me to pay attention to politics. I minored in political science and I became active in some groups on campus. I started to consider myself a liberal and even a progressive, but in retrospect I'm not sure just what progress I was in favor of. I had come to determine that on the whole the government was more useful than harmful, and that there were many things that markets could not provide but government could. On social issues, sure, I was progressive. I was in favor of gay rights, I was a member of feminist groups. But that was borne of a general sense that people should be treated equally and fairly. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan, though I had the sense to know that the already-percolating invasion of Iraq was bullshit.

It was around the time of the invasion and occupation of Iraq that I stopped thinking of myself as a liberal. I opposed the war, but in the course of my investigation into anti-war philosophy and activism I learned that most of the people who opposed war also opposed a host of other things I took for granted. And so I read, and I learned.

One can almost trace my path along a political spectrum as I slid from liberalism into progressivism on to social democracy and democratic socialism. I fell in love with the Scandinavian model: a market with a strong safety-net to catch those who fell through the cracks. There were many important things that could not make a profit that could be provided by a government. I strongly supported welfare programs, and I grew enamored with the idea of a basic income guarantee. I thought of socialism as an inspirational goal, but a distant one. All we could do was aspire to reform our institutions in increasingly beneficial ways.

I voted for Ralph Nader in 2004.

I continued referring to myself as a progressive, because I wasn't entirely convinced of the socialist program. I think it was my lack of true concern for economic issues. I didn't really understand the point of all that talk about "ownership of the means of production." I was interested in people having the necessities they needed to live, universal health care, and social equality. Whether corporations existed or not wasn't that important to me, though I did try to be conscientious about sweatshops. But I thought such things were the problem of individual companies, not a problem with the system itself.

By 2006, I had started calling myself a socialist, though I did retreat to "progressive" in mixed company. But even then, I was a market socialist. I understood how private ownership of the means of production and unfair bargaining power in labor markets resulted in some people working for a fraction of the wealth they generate, while others keep the remaining wealth without working at all. Private investors and the pursuit of profit ensure that the employees will always receive the least the employers can get away with giving them. So by giving workers ownership of the means of production through economic democracy, we could ensure that exploitation was impossible.

In the second half of 2006, I started thinking that this still might not be enough. So all Nike employees are equal partners in Nike, and share in the profits their company earns. What does this do to solve the issues of monopoly and inter-company coercion? How does Wal-Mart fairly distributing profits among its workers end the problem of Wal-Mart destroying local culture and small businesses? If there is still competition in the marketplace, there is still inequity. Some people collectively get ahead at the expense of others who collectively fall behind. It's better than capitalism, but that's a low bar to clear.

Market socialism also doesn't do anything about an increasingly unrepresentative government. I have long favored electoral reforms such as instant runoff voting and proportional representation, initiative and recall. Such things would go a long way to mitigate the problems with our governmental system, by giving people more control over their representatives. But it doesn't do anything about the fact that decision-making on every level is still reserved for a minority, even if that minority is chosen by the majority. Furthermore, each level of government is more powerful than the one below it. The national government can make decisions binding on states, and states on cities. While this can be good in cases of civil rights, it means that power is as far from everyday people as possible.

I think I'm an anarchist*.

If somebody asked me today, I believe I'd describe myself as a libertarian socialist. Anybody who knows anything about libertarian socialism knows it's just a way of saying anarchism with a different emphasis. I want a society that has a government, but doesn't have a State. I want a society full of diversity and participatory decision-making in both politics and economics. I don't want a society of cut-throat competition as in capitalism, but I don't want centralized planning as in state socialism. I want decisions of all kinds to be made as closely to those affected by them as possible, in proportion to the agree that they are affected. When decisions affect ever-larging numbers of people, whatever confederation makes them had better be accountable to those who deal with the benefits and consequences.

This is my political thought, but my opinions on other matters have followed the same spiraling trajectory from typical to liberal to eccentric to radical. I was an omnivore, then I became a vegetarian, and now I'm a vegan. I laughed at gay jokes, then I merely supported gay rights, and now I want the concept of sexual orientation to be meaningless in light of freedom to love and fuck as one chooses. I was raised Catholic, then I was agnostic in high school, and now I am an outspoken atheist. I was apathetic to women's issues, then I was a feminist ally, and now I am a patriarchy-smashing feminist myself.

Liberty! Equality! Solidarity!

I'm glad I'm growing up.

* Of course I refer here to anarchism as the opposition to heirarchy in politics and economics and the history of political thought examining and elaborating on that opposition, presently espoused by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Michael Albert, and Howard Zinn. I definitely oppose pop-cultural "anarchy," the implementation of which consists primarily of randomly fucking shit up.