I just can’t resist this Bill Maher video. The atheist view point is so rare because there is one thing the many religious communities can agree on, and that is denouncing the atheist. It is a mandatory comment in network TV programs. The “They all seek god at the end” comment to appease the religiously minded. So many people in US culture will completely cut you off if you aren’t religious that it is far too big a bottom line career risk to let anybody know you are not a religious believer. So good on you Bill. Religion, like nationalism / patriotism, is often used as a tool consciously in power politics and as such, while we need to be tolerant, it has a price, and we may not want to condone it. The charitable view is that for some it has become a tool unconsciously.
I use to have mixed feelings about Michael Moore but the sheer absence of any other political debate and his tally of good points made in his films keeps me wanting more from him. After his film about Flint I thought of it as a collection of great characters in an independent film with some unrealistic political commentary but since then there have been times when Michael Moore and Al Franken seemed to be the only political opposition in the US. The only democrat to ever raise a subject appeared to be Al Gore and good on him for that. We need more debate and to do that somebody needs to be able to stand up and speak. And that would be much easier if we had a safe environment for public speech.
Michael Moore’s latest film, “Slacker Uprising”, is available here.
Lord May of Oxford gave a very interesting lecture on why co-operative associations exist in the way that they do. He discusses Darwin’s understanding of how generically related groups benefit and theories on how the governance of common assets is managed by groups. It has implications for international governance of the management of resources. Why genetic, visual or dogmatic reasons are often used to motivate groups in inter group battles of resoources.
Clearly we have many global assets which are not currently being equitably plundered such as oil, fish, water and the atmosphere. A problem for one and all in the long term and only for the weak for now.
He also touches upon the battles between dogmatic faith and enlightenment that several people have pointed out form the basis of European battles over the last thousand years, recent US politics and some of the discussions in the Islamic world.
The lecture is clear, well referenced and very listenable. The mp3 can be found here.
You have to wonder who Condoleeza Rice thinks appointed the US as ruler of the universe. This is for the security council to say and otherwise we had better hold our peace and argue any case rather than diving into the usual mindless rhetoric to stir up the pundits.
The reason the security council can’t say it is that Russia is militarily significant and as a result has a veto. This reality is reflected in the governance model because it is better in the long run to argue any real case than to play games of reckless bravado with major powers.
- War is not a battle between good and evil;
- War is a battle between the misled and the unprepared.
The conflicts around South Ossetia this week began within one war between Georgia and the independent South Ossetia. Firstly Georgia blockaded the regional capital of Tskhinvali and then began to shell it. This was an unnecessary escalation against the under prepared South Ossetia. However the second and more serious conflict arose when Russia moved significant armored divisions into South Ossetia to support the ethnic Russian town. This resulted in a battle between Russia and Georgia for which Goergia was unprepared. The failing on the part of the Russian leadership to communicate their willingness to support South Ossetia is something for which Russia can be blamed if in deed they had not made this clear to Georgia. If Georgia had understood this then insanity is the only explanation and Georgia will have received the outcome which such leadership tends to ultimately result in: Abject defeat.
The rights and wrongs of this debate are not simple. Since the Second World War the consensus among nations has been to allow autonomy. South Ossetia had been independant for over ten years but had not been widely recognized as a sovereign nation so it would appear not to have been able to have had the benefits of UN membership and been able to claim recognition of a mutual defense pact with Russia that would have automatically permitted action by Russia under Article 51. The defense or Russian citizens outside of Russia’s borders is a much less clear issue.
At the anti war protests this Saturday I was thrilled to see that so many people were taking an interest in the politics behind the occupation of Iraq but had to note how completely absent both the Democratic and Republican parties are. The void is being filled by a variety of socialist groups who appeared to be the only people raising the genuine political issues of our time.
Somehow the limitation of US politics, to only two parties being able to get on ballots nationally, has reduced the level of debate to a cozy duopoly that avoids any difficult debates. For example about the openness of opportunity for individuals, The American Dream or how far our current market economy can take the people of world. There were many good questions being raised in leaflets and CDs at this event which are largely missing from the media debate. Having a political discourse which isn’t familiar with basic political arguments is risky.
Our structuring of the media with funding from advertising, rather than to educate and inform, has led to an arrangement where, like the work environment, a politically correct manner avoids discussing anything deeply political. A TV program can’t easily question the value to the public of being sold excessive insurance, financial plans with excessive fees, combustion powered vehicles or teaching the public the symptoms to describe to their doctors, if twenty two minutes per hour of your show promotes these products. It is a barrier both from a point of view that one knows one is rocking the boat and risking the disdain of management and also just from the point of view of the media content looking ideologically consistent. Everybody tends to be co-opted. It would be unpleasant not to be.
It is appropriate that these thoughts are coming up in the context of the War because in the same way as the need for return on capital causes the message being sent to the public to be one of excessive and even destructive consumerism. The military economy, which is over a third of federal spending, is focused on making their market (our politicians) aware of every possible fear and possible mechanized solution on offer. It is our willingness to accept the debate being driven by peoples understandable need to get a return on capital that has caused us to accept the low level of political assessment that we have engaged in and the brutally unnecessary results both for the Iraqi people and our own.
So we continue to ignore the facts and follow the lead both as voters and as politicians of those with a well funded message rather than questioning the real effects on real people and asking if the world is being made a better place or not. This complacency needs to change.
I sit in a local Manhattan restaurant watching the skill with which the Spanish speaking grill chef across the counter from me, works while chatting with the four or five other staff in a language I still don’t understand, despite having been in New York for over ten years. I can’t help wondering if it is exploitation or constructive that I am enjoying and paying $13 for a burger with fries while he and his cohorts earn I suspect around half that in the time it takes to cook about a dozen burgers. In Europe he would be twice as well paid and my burger would cost twice as much.
Does the owner exploit his staff ? It would be a harsh judgment as I expect that he doesn’t make a fortune on a single store but maybe it is more that he is able to maintain his compensation by not sharing the revenue with a lot of aspiring wage hungry locally born staff. Or more accurately that this is the only price at which he can stay in business in an unregulated labor market. That also appears to be how we cope with the global wage economy. We do as much work as we can with cheap labor either offshore or here. Using insecure cautious immigrants to prop up the salaries of the few still managing the business. Are we growing our economy by allowing all the aspiring locals to run their own burger restaurant – partly – but as a trend the surplus of talented local people who grew up expecting to pay for a burger increasingly have to scratch around to find our own burger joint to run and somebody to sell to.
Given that the supply of underprivileged people in the world includes most people in the world what will this trend eventually result in? Almost certainly continually eroding differentials. This is after all the only fair outcome.