Thursday, March 28, 2013

Monsanto Doesn't Need Protection. They Need a Boot to the Ass.

(UPDATE: Apparently, this entire thing is false. My statements about Monsanto still stand.)

Salon is reporting on how Monsanto successfully, and anonymously no less, managed to sneak a provision into Agriculture Appropriations Bill — basically the budget for federal spending on farms. This provision does precisely what you would expect a massive, evil corporation would want a provision to do: protect them from fallout caused by their own chicanery. In this case, the little provision is about preventing lawsuits regarding injury caused by GM seeds.

Now, first things first, I am not an enemy of genetically modified food-stuffs. I have almost no doubts about their safeness for human consumption, so this Monsanto Protection Act would likely never be used.1

The much more dangerous possibility, and the one for which I am leery of GMO anything, is ecological damage. While we can test foods on humans, we cannot test organisms on nature. The consequences of a super-plant, which is precisely what GM companies intends to make, when thrown into nature has a much higher probability of being damaging.

Moreover, I am also a hard-core anti-Monsanto fanatic, so potential application or not, I want to stop Monsanto from doing just about anything. There are few corporations that are as demonstrably evil as Monsanto. They are an appalling corporation run by appalling people. We should not be protecting them; we should be dismantling them.

As Salon notes,
“It sets a terrible precedent,” noted the International Business Times. “Though it will only remain in effect for six months until the government finds another way to fund its operations, the message it sends is that corporations can get around consumer safety protections if they get Congress on their side. Furthermore, it sets a precedent that suggests that court challenges are a privilege, not a right.”
It’s a terrible precedent that Monsanto will work to ensure becomes as solid as possible.


1: There have been a few scary studies, such as a well-reported one last year involving rats developing tumors. That said, the majority of studies show no issues. That’s not to say there aren’t issues. Indeed, I wouldn't be much surprised if there were, but as it stands, with todays data, they seem safe. Pesticides are another thing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Conservatives Own Their History

I have often argued that to accept a worldview requires you to accept the history of that worldview — its genesis. You have to own that history. Frequently, this can be painful. Lots of worldviews have some nasty underpinnings. For example, the history that I must own because of my education in psychology is pretty dark. Indeed, many of my classes dedicated significant amounts of time to discussing the manifold failures of science and ethics that peppers the history of psychology and psychiatry. Owning, understanding, and thus learning from that history was a primary element of our education.

Not owning one's history generally requires revisionist history, whereby the nasty elements are either ignored (denialism), reduced in significance (reductionism), or reframed in such a way that makes those who enacted the bad stuff seem less bad — sort of a reverse ad hominem attack. Most of the time, these forms of revisionism don't hold up to even the slightest analysis. How, then, can people possibly believe them?

I don't think that they do.

Almost all revisionist history is found on the extreme ends of the spectrum. I don't want to say conservatism exclusively, because forms of extreme liberalism can be similarly insane. In the U.S. at least, "conservatives" are almost wholly responsible for this sort of behavior.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Capitol, recently. Conservatives are giving up on the revisionism publicly. Previously, they would vociferously deny racism and jingoism and try to fight on the same terms as the liberals and progressives. It doesn't take too long on a well-known progressive website like Alternet or Mother Jones to find extensive analysis of the inconsistencies inherent to this strategy. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it generally turns out to be bullshit.

It results in the Republican party currently trying to argue that their strategy will increase racial quality, increase tax revenue, increase good, decrease bad, and so on. Of course, as I mentioned, it takes little effort to find inconsistencies in this rhetorical strategy, but the current conservative movement is relying on its adherents not doing research. That works in the short term, but the slow death currently being suffered by the American conservative movement shows that it doesn't work in the long term.

Thus we have a few Republicans coming out saying that Republicans need to, for lack of a better term, stop being stupid. The most notable one that springs to mind is Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana -- a state that has taken full advantage of Bush's school voucher program to send its children to dozens of newly opened fundamentalist Christian schools.

Unfortunately for the future of the party, the majority of them are not doing this. They are reacting to the changing political landscape, though, and this is coming in the form of cracks —  cracks in their public facade behind which hides all of the nasty stuff that has been festering under the surface for the past seventy-five years. Overt racism, misogyny, fear, and intolerance were all more or less obvious, but they were hidden behind euphemism and circumlocution, and if those speaking the hate were ever called out on it, they would fall back on said euphemism and circumlocution to say that their attacker was "seeing things."

Now, though, not we have cracks. I suspect that these cracks represent the death throes of a fading social entity, to wit, the conservative, post-Depression social mores that defined the Greatest Generation and many of the Baby Boomers.

Some recent and salient examples of these cracks are Antonin Scalia barely hiding his homophobia and racism. We have dozens of examples of lesser people doing similar things, and while not nearly all of them are letting their defenses down enough to see all of the 'isms therein, they are letting them down enough to see the strange rationalizations that they use in private.

The example that sticks in my mind, and the example that triggered this article, was a set of comments from a variety of people in the Republican Party about how Joseph McCarthy was justified in fueling the Red Scare, and indeed, the Red Scare itself was completely reasonable. Again, this is unsupported by the evidence, but it is significant because the pretense of generally agreeing with the historical consensus has been dropped. No longer do they try to argue that the Soviet Union was a threat, but the Red Scare itself was wrong. Now they admit that they think that any charge against "evil" is justified in the righteous fire of American Freedom. They are now using the argument that McCarthyism was justified as support for whatever social crusade they believe needs to be enacted today.

The moral and philosophical ancestors of the current conservative movement are no longer being rejected by the conservative movement. They are owning their history, and I think that that is a big deal.

As I mentioned, I think that this represents the death throes of a social system. When faced with adversity, and unable to reconcile their views with the emerging mores, the movement is doubling down on their beliefs and are rejecting the rhetorical assumptions that have previously defined the arguments.

By rhetorical assumptions, I mean the set of unspoken beliefs about the definition and value of certain words that underlie a discussion. At the most basic layer, we have terms that are representative of physical phenomena: ball, cloud, rock. But anywhere above the basic layer of language, values and judgements are attached to the words: good, freedom, mother, bad. These values and judgments come from the massive and complex system that gave rise to the people using the words. The further apart two people are vis-a-vis their rhetorical assumptions, the more difficult communication becomes, because most of our higher level language is predicated on these assumptions. It can reasonably be argued that the history of philosophy has been a three-thousand-year-old process to strip away assumptions in a quest for a perfect language.

Many of today's rhetorical assumptions were defined with the last major social shift: the counter-culture. I'm using that term to describe everything that exploded post-WWII: feminism, civil rights, free love, drugs. The educated progressives of the day helped to define the values on which our modern language rests. Sixty-five years ago, a white person could casually describe a black person as a nigger in public with little fear of retribution. Today, though, doing so would be social suicide.

This is because, for all intents and purposes, we won the culture war. For a long time, the reaction of those on the losing end was to complain about "political correctness." That's the reason why that term is always used in a negative way. Political correctness is the sigh of the oppressed bigot.

Now, we have the oppression being cast off. They aren't going so far as to call anyone who is anywhere past off-white as a nigger, although I am confident that they are doing so in private, but they are complaining about how whites are the oppressed. Whites need to be afraid. Whites are under attack. They then look to a glorified past of white supremacy to show how "their" world is crumbling away.

And in their bizarre minds, this is true. They are still raging against a culture war that they lost decades ago. Rush Limbaugh has lost, as best as I can tell, damn-near all of his sponsors after his attacks on Sandra Fluke. Fox News ratings, though still easily #1, have fallen for the past many years. Gay marriage went from having minority support to majority support in less than five years. Acceptance of misogyny and the patriarchy is becoming widespread.

These are all good things from a reasonable perspective, but those who lost the culture war are not reasonable. They are angry. They are afraid. And they are going to make life miserable for the rest of us until they finally die out.

At least, as the Tea Party has put in stark display, these people are no longer pretending to be arguing the same things as us. They are openly admitting that they reject reason and rationale. They are openly admitting that they are speaking a different language from me. They are openly admitting that there can never be a common ground, and we are seeing this in Congress. There is no hope. All we can do is relax, and wait for the inevitable day when the world of the white conservative does precisely what white conservative are afraid of: pass into history.

So, my dear conservatives, roar and rage all you like. We won the war. The rest is just a waiting game. And I'm a lot younger than you, so I have all the time in the world.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Really Existing Free Markets

This is less than an hour out of your life that will hopefully change your views, if you haven't already heard this. It was a seminal speech given by Noam Chomsky and one of the most piercing bits of economic philosophy done in the past fifty years. I stress philosophy, because this is not economics. He mentions many economic studies to back up his philosophical thesis, but it is definitely logical and qualitative in nature.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Greatest Intellectual Dishonesty Of Religious Believers

I was just watching a documentary about Catholic history, and I was thinking about how so much of early Catholic belief was pulled from someone's ass. Indeed, after Augustine, and even a bit before him, difficulties in reaching conclusions from scripture alone resulted in the generally-accepted practice of determining doctrine from the works of interpreters. As such, we are in our current bizarre situation, where the vast majority of Christian dogma cannot be found in any gospels or scrolls.

For my part, the point of greatest WTF, and indeed the point of greatest intellectual dishonesty, lies with the learned members of the church who rabidly research church history, and thus admit the truth of the history, yet seem to ignore the inconsistency inherent to this. To wit, if one accepts the history of the church, they must accept that beliefs and behaviors have changed and evolved, existed before the church, and will likely exist after the church has faded. Indeed, they must accept that the church will likely fade.

How can one's beliefs be timeless and be true, if they were different in the past? To me, it is impossible. If an eternal truth is one way today, then it must have been the same in the past, and will be the same in the future. Admitting the evolution of the truth negates its status as true, at least as regards this situation.

For the average church-goer, my criticism doesn't much apply. Many of them are unaware of the history of their own church, and are even less aware of obscure theological conflicts like the "mystery" of the Trinity. Since their beliefs are nebulous and undefined, there is no conflict, and thus no intellectual shenanigans. But the hypocritical dishonesty necessary to accept the evolution of one's own dogma while still asserting the truth of that dogma is almost beyond my ability to understand.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Save The U.S. Post Office

I, a priest, a rabbi, and a shit-load of asshat Congresspeople who are trying to force the USPS out of business, all walk into the Post Office... all of them. I'm not kidding. I was in the Post Office about two hours ago and it was like a sardine can.

The fact that it was packed to literally overflowing was not what angered me. If anything, I felt sympathy for the man behind the counter, who was obviously frantic in his attempts to clear the line all by his lonesome. He complained loudly that back-up was supposed to be arriving, but "who knows?"

What infuriated me was the fact that this line -- this annoyance -- was business. Business was booming! If the UPS Store or Fedex Store had lines like this, they would be doing twice their current business. And yet, the USPS is losing money? How is that possible?

Oh right. It's not actually losing money. It's earning money. It's earning about a $1 billion annually. The reason why it is still technically losing money is those aforementioned asshat congresspeople who are literally forcing it to lose money.

To me, the USPS represents the corpus of America. It's on life support. It's being clogged up with idiotic hyper-conservative wingnuts. And it's on the verge of a collapse brought on by those wingnuts.

I do not think it exaggeration to say that as goes the Post Office, so goes America. And if we are stupid enough to, completely intentionally, drive this entire thing to collapse, then we deserve the bed we have made. We deserve every, single, fucking moment that we are forced to sleep in it.

Save the post office.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Open-Minded Westerner

The horse meat scandal that continues to unfold over in the UK (and seems destined to trigger a WTO conflict over what kind of import restrictions countries can implement) has also provided an interesting insight into the progression of Western thought.

Fifty years ago, if something like this had happened, we would have been up in arms. With one voice, we would have called out those in the countries passing this meat off as beef as savages. I don't mean something specifically like this, but a similar case of something that is socially acceptable in one culture coming into conflict with the mores of our culture.

The horse meat scandal has been met with two responses: people angry that they don't know what is in their meat; and people who seem to be entirely open to the prospect of eating horse nonetheless.

While the first response is probably the most important -- our global food system is a train wreck and this only serves to highlight that problem -- it is the second response that makes me smile. I have read dozens of articles online talking about eating horse meat as healthy, the ways to eat horse meat, what cultures do it regularly, and why we grew to not eat horse meat in America.

But what I have seen nary a mention of is how appalling it is to be eating horses. Imagine if people found that the burgers were 20% bug meat. Still harmless. Still meat. But people would be vomiting. That was the response that I was more-or-less expecting.

I think it a testament to general cultural progress when, after discovering that we are eating horses, that we respond with a general shrug. We're still angry, no doubt about that, but not because of the specific thing we were eating. We are angry because yet again, giant corporations are lying to us.1

It may seem odd to focus on this, but it makes me happy. It reminds me that we are progressing. It reminds me that deeply held culture dogmas can simply fade away, to be replaced with perspective and understanding.


1: I know that this is more complex than that, since the corporations were also lied to. But when a company is trying to sell crappy beef at super-cheap prices, color me not surprised when their supply chain management breaks down. Also color me not compassionate to their plight when the end result, horse meat, is only a single, salient element of a gigantic, broken system that they themselves perpetuate and defend.