Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What constitutes imperialism? According to Chalmers Johnson, the United States has an "imperial basing policy:"
As but one striking example of imperial basing policy: For the past sixty-one years, the U.S. military has garrisoned the small Japanese island of Okinawa with 37 bases. Smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, Okinawa is home to 1.3 million people who live cheek-by-jowl with 17,000 Marines of the 3rd Marine Division and the largest U.S. installation in East Asia -- Kadena Air Force Base. There have been many Okinawan protests against the rapes, crimes, accidents, and pollution caused by this sort of concentration of American troops and weaponry, but so far the U. S. military -- in collusion with the Japanese government -- has ignored them. My research into our base world resulted in The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, written during the run-up to the Iraq invasion.
So: The United States makes agreements with the legitimately elected, democratic government of Japan, rather than with activist groups, and this constitutes an "imperial basing policty." By the way, I like the language of this paragraph - by making an agreement with the government of Japan, the US becomes in collusion with it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In the course of an article on the influence of wealth in politics, Bradford Plumer writes

Bruce Bartlett, a conservative columnist, [argues] "If my real income does not fall, how am I hurt when Bill Gates makes another billion dollars?"

On their face, these arguments sound reasonable enough, although one could interject with all sorts of complaints (among other things, median incomes in the United States have largely stagnated in the past few years, so Bartlett's hypothetical doesn't quite apply).
This seems to me to be misleading. Here is a chart of real US median household incomes:
Its certainly technically correct to say that household incomes have stagnated over the last few years. However, looking at the chart, this stagnation is quite typical of the pattern in the years following depressions. Overall, the trend seems to be consistently positive.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Click here to listen to someone who cares about the proper use of the English language.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

There's an interesting article in the Times today entitled Of Gay Sheep, Modern Science and the Perils of Bad Publicity, about the attempts of PETA and gay rights advocates to shut down basic research into sensitive subjects. From reading the article, its pretty clear none of the activists actually understand the science in question:
Mr. Gala, who asked that he be identified as openly gay, cited the news release for a 2004 paper in the journal Endocrinology that showed differences in brain structure between homosexual and heterosexual sheep.

The release quoted Dr. Roselli as saying that the research “also has broader implications for understanding the development and control of sexual motivation and mate selection across mammalian species, including humans.”

Mr. Newman, who wrote the release, said the word “control” was used in the scientific sense of understanding the body’s internal controls, not in the sense of trying to control sexual orientation.

“It’s discouraging that PETA can pick one word, try to add weight to it or shift its meaning to suggest that you are doing something that you clearly are not,” he said.
This is pretty standard scientific lingo across many different fields - see for example control theory.

This part is the most ridiculous of all:
By discussing the human implications of the research, even in a somewhat careful way, Dr. Roselli “opened the door” to the reaction, Dr. Wolpe said, and “he has to take responsibility for the public response.”

If the mechanisms underlying sexual orientation can be discovered and manipulated, Dr. Wolpe continued, then the argument that sexual orientation is based in biology and is immutable “evaporates.”
Except if human sexuality is not immutable, then its not immutable. Dr. Wolpe seems to be concerned that reality will take a shape he finds unattractive, which leads him to be critical of research that might lead to discoveries that settle the question.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Check out Dinesh D'Souza's appearance on the Colbert Report; it can be watched here.

Fucking amazing. See video here.

This is pretty funny, in a sad way.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

It seems like the best suggestion in the debate over the Iraq surge comes from Hillary Clinton:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumed Democratic front-runner, called on Tuesday for the United States to cap its troop level in Iraq at the number present in the country on Jan. 1, but also to send more American forces to Afghanistan.

Just back from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, Senator Clinton said that the administration had “frankly failed” in its dealings with the Iraqi government. Instead, she said, “Let’s focus on Afghanistan and get it right.”

With Taliban forces in Afghanistan expected to mount a major offensive soon, she said that “this spring is a make-or-break time” for the U.S. and other foreign forces there.
It has been clear for a while now that continued US military presence in Iraq is not accomplishing much. Moreover, ``success'' in Iraq - defined as the establishment of a stable, tolerant democracy - is at best elusive. Afghanistan, on the other hand, differs in a number of ways. It already has a working democracy; unlike Iraq, it is actually important to the war on terror; and, most importantly, the overwhelming majority of Afghanis want US troops in Afghanistan:
Five years after the fall of the Taliban, public optimism has declined sharply across Afghanistan, pushed by a host of fresh difficulties: Worsening security, rising concerns about a resurgent Taliban, troubled development efforts, widespread perceptions of corruption and reduced faith in the government's effectiveness in facing these challenges.

The U.S.-led invasion remains highly popular, the Taliban intensely unpopular...

Most Afghans — 57 percent — now call the Taliban the single greatest danger to their country...Compared to a year ago, this poll finds deterioration in a range of public perceptions about the country's condition: a 22-point drop in views that it's headed in the right direction, a 17-point drop in the belief security has improved since the Taliban was in control and a 13-point drop in personal optimism for the year ahead....Some of these ratings, to be fair, have fallen from probably unsustainable levels. Sixty-eight percent approve of Karzai's work — down from 83 percent last year, but still a level most national leaders would envy. Fifty-nine percent think the parliament is working for the benefit of the Afghan people, down from 77 percent but still far better than American approval ratings of the U.S. Congress....

...big majorities continue to call the U.S.-led invasion a good thing for their country (88 percent), to express a favorable opinion of the United States (74 percent) and to prefer the current Afghan government to Taliban rule (88 percent)...Indeed eight in 10 Afghans support the presence of U.S., British and other international forces on their soil; that compares with 5 percent support for Taliban fighters and 11 percent for jihadi fighters from other countries.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

From today's Times:

[Bush] put it far more bluntly when leaders of Congress visited Mr. Bush at the White House earlier on Wednesday....pressed on why he thought this strategy [the troop increase in Iraq] would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back: “Because it has to.”

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Theres an interesting Crossfire episode from 1986 on censorship available online and definitely worth watching. The broader lesson, I think, is that its amazing how much latent support there is for anti-democratic measures (restrictions on speech, and more recently renditions, torture, etc).

On a related note, what is the purpose does bleeping out swear words in radio/tv? Spoken language has redundancy in it, so that one can reconstruct the sentence even if some words are deleted - for example, in the above video, when Frank Zappa tells the conservative columnist "kiss my -bleep- ass," you know exactly the word that was bleeped out. Unless you attach some special meaning to the act hearing the swear word, the bleep does absolutely nothing.

Monday, January 01, 2007

There is a piece in Slate on the most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006. Only six years ago it was impossible to imagine that so many such things would happen...