On Protest as a Tactic

I’ve been thinking about the whole notion of “protest” lately – specifically the variety where a bunch of people gather together at some physical location to demonstrate their objections to policies or institutions that they disagree with. (I’m deliberately using “protest” to refer to this, not to individual acts or boycotts or other varieties of expressing displeasure.) We’ve had a lot of these hit the news this year: Greek austerity protests, the protest/riots in London, the “Arab Spring” wave of protests, and the Occupy movement, to name but a few. Gathering somewhere to publicly air grievances is a very old tactic, and obviously still popular. Still, I can’t help wondering about the efficacy and utility of this tactic in the context of your “average” Western society (if there can be said to be such a thing). I don’t have any concrete conclusions, but here is my thinking so far.

I think that the notion of a bunch of people gathering, maybe with signs, to yell and/or occupy a space works largely on a threat principle. Either the target of the protest is threatened with the possibility that the “non-violent” group of protesters could turn into a violent mob, or is “non-violently” threatened with a reputation hit for failure to resolve the issues that the protesters raise. Historically, this was somewhat effective when a group of people could gather outside the dwelling or halls of the person(s) with the power to resolve the issues with immediate action, usually the stroke of a pen or a simple proclamation, and shame or intimidate the target[s] into compliance with the demands of “the people.”

Secondly, these sorts of protests traditionally took advantage of the time it took for information to spread. What I mean by this is that if you, as the person with the power to effect change, were faced with a mob outside your door, you didn’t have immediate access to the counter-opinions of millions of people around the world arguing for the exact opposite. You only had your personal judgment and convictions, and whatever physical force you were willing to employ to maintain your position.

In modern Western societies, we generally face a different situation. First, the representative structure of our governments and the election cycle mean that protests are necessarily symbolic. In the US context, when you rally outside Wall St. or on Capitol Hill, you are not facing people with the power to effect immediate change. There is no one such person — not even the President. At best, you could set gears into motion to have someone draft a bill that might be passed into law if you are able to emotionally sway the bulk of 535 people to agree with you. More likely, you might generate some minor debate and perhaps have some subtle influence over events two or four years later – most likely insufficiently large influence, and not nearly soon enough if the issue is something causing enough discontent to draw out a protest group to begin with. In addition, even if you manage to rally a literal million people to show up in support of your cause, it’s easy to find ten million voices online criticizing your position and arguing the precise opposite. This, of course, is the perfect “out” for officials to say that an issue requires more study in order to find a “balanced” solution (since the search is for whatever pleases the largest percentage of an electorate, not for the solution that actually solves the problem at hand).

I realize that this is sort of a double-edged sword. The intent behind longer election cycles and the dual-house system is to deliberately introduce some delay in effecting change for the purpose of ensuring that more considered solutions prevail over knee-jerk legislative changes. This can be a good thing when the issues are purely cultural (e.g., do we really want to ban violent video games?), but a bad thing when the issues are technical and relevant to physical survival and well-being of some or all of a population. That said, the entire representative/democratic system is vulnerable to poor decision-making in the first place, because effectively the people making the decisions are the most popular, not the most competent. (No, I don’t pretend to have a better solution — but I am also not going to pretend that what we have is even very good.)

Moreover, the above comments only apply to government. When the target of your protest is an economic system as a whole — or even simply specific corporations — protest is largely useless. Unless you can generate enough public embarrassment, a corporation is unlikely to change its behavior. It is immune by law to direct violence, so attacking its property or its representatives brings the risk of direct criminal consequences. Its property is considered “private,” so there is no right to occupy its premises or disrupt its business – you’ll simply be removed for trespassing. If you’re protesting the entire economic system, then you are facing the fact that capitalism as we know it is woven into the very language we use, and it’s ridiculously hard for people to even sanely discuss alternatives as a result. In addition, instead of trying to convince one person or a small group of people to change, you’re literally trying to apply a “threat,” as I’ve defined it above, to millions of people with your protest — this tends to be laughed at, and I would suggest that to expect any other result is naive.

In the case of government, then, the implicit “threat” of a protest is limited – modern society is highly reactive to violence (you will be met with and dispersed by disproportionately larger force for even minimally aggressive or destructive behavior), and the representatives are beholden to their local electorates back home, not to the protesters outside the door of the legislative assembly. A vote by representatives against the interests that elected them is much more potentially embarrassing than ignoring a bunch of “hippies.” In the case of business, the threat is also limited – violence will not work for the reasons above, and the reputation risk is weighed in terms of the resulting media coverage: “does this make us look bad, or the protesters?” If the answer is the former, there might be some business motivation to change, otherwise the protest will simply be ignored. In the case of the “system,” you’re unable to bring even the hint of a credible threat to bear through a protest.

The only argument I can really think of in favor of protests is that they are capable of raising awareness; however, this almost always comes at the cost of protesters being abused. Awareness, in our society, comes largely through traditional media (papers, radio, and television – online or offline), and the media is drawn to sex and violence. If the protesters are merely ignored, they will fade into obscurity, as both supporters and detractors have observed in regards to the Occupy movement. If there is a hint of sex or violence, the coverage skyrockets and positive or negative awareness jumps.

I’m still trying to decide exactly how I feel about it all, but my instincts tell me that, while protests such as the Occupy movement’s are admirable and the need for change is real, the tactic is largely useless. Politicians look to home, and businessmen to their markets – neither looks outside at the protester waving a sign. The energy would be better spent creating real change on a local level, I think – in trying to organize people into participating in activities that reduce their reliance on distant corporations and governments, subverting the system instead of merely railing against its largely symbolic headquarters.

As an aside, at least one observer (John Robb) thinks that protests might simply become impossible in the near future. I completely agree that it’s technologically possible already to auto-disperse protests before they become entrenched, but part of the function of protest, from a cynical sociological perspective, is precisely to allow the most disaffected groups a harmless outlet for their frustrations — after all, nobody really pays attention to them in any serious way, and eventually the cops have an excuse to disperse them or they get bored and go home. Either way, things proceed as they were. I strongly suspect that the dystopian “crush the protests” outcome is unlikely — what’s more effective is to allow people their protests and just ignore them.

As a sort of postscript, I emphasize again that my thoughts only apply to the sort of largely non-violent “street protests” we’ve seen. When they cross the line into full-blown rioting, the threat scales and the implications change. There are also other types of protest, like boycotting and educating, that have much different dynamics, but I’m not really discussing those either. Not to say I haven’t been thinking about them, but that’s for another blog post.:)

Thoughts on Occupy and the State of the Global Economy

Advance Warning: I have no formal background in economics. I have a master’s degree in sociology and a lot of experience working on the topic of knowledge economies, but that’s about the short of it.

Time for my $0.02. 🙂 Comments/criticism encouraged – I’m always interested in improving my understanding of the world.

I’ve been following the Occupy Wall St. movement and the associated #Occupy movement worldwide for a few weeks now with a fair amount of interest. I’m trying to make sense of it, as is everyone else. As anybody who’s been following the mainstream news is undoubtedly aware, we’ve been cycling in and out of economic crisis mode now for the last four or five years, and we seem to be poised at a “make or break” point yet again with regards to global markets and more than a few national economies, with the global economy at stake. It makes sense to me that people would be upset and looking for solutions when the rich are getting exponentially richer at the expense of everyone else, even getting away with outright fraud in multiple instances (robosigning, etc.).

Part of the beauty of the Occupy movement is that it has steadfastly refused to produce any concrete list of demands that would allow it to be easily categorized and then demonized or dismissed. That said, a lot of the discourse is still framed from an approach informed by capitalism and the global economy we’ve worked and lived with for most of the last hundred years (I realize I’m horribly generalizing, but to address this properly is more writing than I can do as a quick first commentary). This bothers me, because I believe that the underlying premises that we derive our systems of resource distribution from have changed fairly abruptly in a way that is not yet appreciated.

In short, there will never be enough jobs again.^

Globally, the stats I can find (ILO’s Global Employment Trends 2011) indicate:
* 3.1 billion workers globally out of a population that has recently crossed 7 billion.
* 660+ million in industry (slightly declining).
* 1.06 billion in agriculture (declining).
* 1.3 billion in services (increasing).
* 220 million unemployed (increasing).

As globalization continues to break down the barriers for access to these labor markets, Western countries have increasingly found themselves competing directly with this global pool of labor, resulting in cries for increased protectionism and spawning anti-globalization movements from people of all political colors. This is an implicit recognition of the fact that there will never be enough jobs again^ – these calls seek to artificially prop up labor markets by limiting the competition to labor pools inside national borders, but the internet has reduced the relevance of national borders to the average citizen in almost every area besides employment and nationalist emotion.

It’s hard to get an exact figure, but the estimates I’ve found (google “how many people can one farmer feed” – I’ll try to find some easy-click sources later) indicate that somewhere between 100 and 1000 people (150-ish being a more common estimate) can be fed per farmer using modern farming techniques. I presume this refers to grain and livestock and probably not to more obscure types of farming (saffron, anyone?:P), but in terms of simply providing a base amount of food, the number of people working in agriculture can only be expected to drop massively as technological improvements and increased education hit the rest of the developing world. By today’s “modern” standard, at a low number of even 75 per farmer (a number more in line with the 1970s), we actually need less than 100 million, or one-tenth, the number of agricultural workers that actually exist. This suggests that, in agriculture alone, approximately 900 million jobs currently only exist due to massive systemic inefficiency (I won’t even go into market factors that result in outright waste, farmers destroying crops because they can’t afford to transport them to markets, etc.).

I haven’t even tried to find numbers for industry, but I’m presuming that at least a couple hundred million people working in modern industry are employed making “widgets,” textiles, etc. These are currently things that are impractical or impossible to produce easily at home – but with home fabrication under intensive development and the price of both open-source and consumer fabrication devices falling rapidly, I don’t think I’m out of line in predicting that the upcoming revolution in personal-scale manufacturing by simply downloading designs and “printing” real objects at home a la RepRap is going to utterly decimate jobs in both manufacturing and service which are related to the design, manufacturing, and delivery of these types of objects.

A conservative guess is that maybe half of the global workforce is currently necessary to maintain current levels of production if obstacles to efficiency were removed (patents, lack of access to capital, etc.). It’s not inconceivable to think that in 20-30 years, we could be facing an extra billion “unemployed” workers from technological improvements in agriculture and industry as well as from simple population growth, and the number of “necessary” workers could drop to a tenth of the available pool. And the truth is, we don’t need everyone to work to produce enough for everyone.

I realize that a lot of people believe in the magical free market fairy that “creates” wealth and jobs out of thin air (yes, improvements in resource use and efficiency do result in improved standards of living, a sort of wealth-by-adding-energy-to-the-system that is still subject to degradation like every other form of order in the universe), but short of utterly useless service jobs like everyone having a personal hairdresser or a maid, I don’t really foresee there being enough jobs ever again. And to further complicate matters, artificial intelligence and robotics are increasingly proving more efficient at a lot of previously service-oriented tasks as well, so I think that even this segment of the global workforce will ultimately see decimation.

The short of it is, we’ve reached a point where our collective technological advancement has outpaced our ability to know what to do with ourselves as a species. “Liberals” think that “conservatives” are keeping them poor. “Conservatives” believe liberals are lazy hippies who just need to get a job. Communists say that communism will save the world, and the Ayn Rand fans wave the banner of individualism and capitalism as some sort of cure-all. All of them, I think, are wrong.

The debate must be reframed in terms of a world where we no longer need everyone to work and there will never again be enough jobs.^ What sort of world do we want that to be? While I believe that not everyone needs to work, I believe most people are happier if they are being productive members of society in some way, so we need to refashion our economic realities to provide them an opportunity to do so and to have a basic standard of living. I don’t know what this world will look like. I don’t know if we will ever get there. I don’t believe capitalism is the answer, nor do I believe that communism is. Humans have a competitive instinct that must have an outlet, but must also be channeled for the greater good. All I know is that we – all of us, not just the Occupy movement – have to put our thinking caps on now because time is running out, and forgiving student loans, making the rich pay an extra percent in taxes, and/or building more Starbucks for barista jobs will not solve a damn thing.

^ I keep marking this statement because there are a couple of ways that there could actually be more jobs, only one of which is really currently feasible, and that’s simply annihilating large percentages of the working population so that there is suddenly sufficient demand for the remaining labor pool again. I don’t think anyone thinks this is a good solution, but historically humans have resorted to war when resource distribution goes out of whack, and we are naive if we believe that it will not happen again. The other is finding some magical way to colonize the oceans/space/whatever that isn’t outrageously resource-intensive, since that would provide a lot of work for a lot of people. Pure fantasy, at least in the foreseeable future.:)

Reminder Re: Atlanta Hostage and Purpose-Driven Life

A while ago, I posted about Ann Coulter’s “Purpose-Driven Left”, where she went on for a while about how Ashley Smith, by reading aloud from The Purpose-Driven Life, “about serving God by serving others,” was able to save the Atlanta judge-killer’s life, and her own, after she was taken hostage.

I still get the odd hit on that story, so I thought it might be important to note that Jesus shouldn’t get all the credit for the tidy resolution after all; seems like meth deserves some credit too. I haven’t decided whether meth should get ALL the credit, or if it’s just that meth + Jesus = calm killers and churches everywhere should add meth to their regular services. “Did you hear Pastor Smith? Have you heard Pastor Smith…on meth?!

Just a quick $0.02. Have fun!

Ann Coulter’s “Purpose-Driven Left” Dissected

I have to say that I’m not exactly sure what a “liberal” is. Maybe I’m one, but somehow I’d rather characterize myself as an apathetic SOB who is too independent to fit neatly into a box…or is that what a liberal is?

In any case, Ann Coulter apparently thinks that these “liberals” are what’s wrong with the nation, by gum! In a few poorly-written paragraphs, she manages to blame liberals for poor American cuisine, secularism, and violence.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t lift a finger, but the sheer amount of idiotic statements in this thinly-veiled diatribe compel me to do a rare line-by-line. Emphasis and things in brackets all mine.

It’s been a tough year for the secularist crowd. There was Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,”[1] the moral values election,[2] the Christian hostage subduing her kidnapper by reading from “The Purpose Driven Life,” and the Christian effort to save Terri Schiavo.[3] Not only that, but earlier this year Dr. James Dobson insulted the Democrats’ mascot, SpongeBob SquarePants, with impunity.[4]

1. Bloody Jesus on a Stick. What more can I say? That movie was just religious masochism getting off on itself. Unpleasant!
2. Say what you mean, Ann. Can’t have those gays marrying each other. No sirree-bob.
3. You mean trampling all over the Constitution and overriding states’ rights so that Christians can pat each other on the back and feel self-righteous while they gulp cheeseburgers and buy a two-car garage house while people are homeless across town.
4. Let go of the SpongeBob thing already. NOT GAY!

And now, for all the hullabaloo in the media, you’d think the Pope had died.[5]

5. He did. Very NOT funny.

The liberal[6] take on Catholicism is that it’s a controversial religion because of its positions on abortion, sodomy and various other crucial planks of the Democratic platform[7] (curiously, positions that are shared by all three of the world’s major religions)[8].

6. What the hell is a liberal? I fucking hate people stereotyping. Am I a liberal? Maybe.:-P
7. You mean JP2’s positions. Not all papal candidates want Africans to die of AIDS.
8. See above. I think you mean fundamentalists in the three major religions. Yeah, there are a lot of those. They’re kinda like social Luddites.

In defense of the Catholic Church’s most “controversial” position (meaning “contrary to the clearly stated opinion of CNN”), I wanted to return to a story from a few weeks ago that passed from the headlines far too quickly. The “controversial” Catholic position is the ban on girl priests.[9]

9. Weird, I’ve never really heard about that in the news. Like I said, everyone seems to be more concerned with the fact that JP2 was willing to let African Catholics die of AIDS rather than use condoms. There are a lot of Catholics with a much greater amount of social intelligence and genuine concern for peoples’ wellbeing than JP2. Lovely, isn’t it? I guess I’m anti-Catholic now?

I’ll leave it to the Catholics to explain the theological details, but we have a beautiful pair of bookmarks to the exact same incident illustrating women’s special skills and deficits. The escape and capture of Brian Nichols shows women playing roles they should not (escorting dangerous criminals) and women playing roles they do best (making men better people).[10]

10. Whoa! HUGE “What The FUCK!?” here. If I’m reading this correctly, a woman’s best role is making men better people, and women should never escort dangerous criminals!? It’s not just female officers who get overpowered and killed or disabled by detainees. The problem, dear Ms. Coulter, is procedures which put insufficient numbers of officers in charge of escorting dangerous criminals. Of course, Atlanta fixed that little problem at Nichol’s next hearing – but I suppose you think that’s overkill. Brian should have been escorted by a single male officer instead – yeah, that’ll teach him!

As far as women’s best role being to make better people of men, I imagine my girlfriend would tell you that it’s not her responsibility to make me a better person. In fact, if anybody tried to “make me a better person,” I would pretty promptly excise them from my life.

Nichols’ murderous rampage began when he took the gun from a 5-foot-tall grandmother who was his sole guard at the Fulton County Courthouse. It ended when an otherwise unremarkable 26-year-old woman appealed to the Christian conscience of this same violent killer holding her hostage.

At 2 a.m. one Saturday night, Ashley Smith went out for cigarettes while unpacking her new apartment, yet another victory for tobacco pleasure. Returning from the store, Smith was grabbed by a man at her front door, who put a gun in her side and told her not to scream. He asked if she knew who he was. When he removed his baseball cap, she saw it was Nichols, the dangerous fugitive all over TV who had escaped custody during his rape trial and had killed four people in the previous 48 hours. (Although he also looked a lot like of one the guys on “American Idol.”)[11]

11. Wow, that’s fucking random, Ann. AHAHAHAH. Okay, now I can continue reading this tear-jerking story since you have relieved the unbearable suspense with your wit!

In Smith’s apartment, Nichols bound Smith’s feet and hands and put her in the bathtub. Later, at Smith’s request, Nichols allowed her to hop from the bathroom into the bedroom, where she began talking to him.

In short order, Smith was reading aloud to Nichols from the Christian book “The Purpose Driven Life” — in direct violation of his constitutional right to never hear any reference to God, in public or private, for any purpose, ever, ever, ever! For more on this right, go to the “People for the American Way” Web site.[12]

12. I did visit the site. I assume that they are supporting the separation of church and state, which is an American tradition. I furthermore assume that you want to see GWB speaking in tongues before his State of the Nation address, otherwise I don’t know why you brought this up, since nobody is trying to outlaw Christianity or freedom of religion as your hyperbole suggests.

After reading the first paragraph of Chapter 33 aloud, about serving God by serving others, Nichols — the man pundits were calling an “animal” — asked her to read it again.[13]

Nichols listened to the passage again and responded by telling Smith he was already dead, saying, “Look at my eyes.” But Smith looked and told him God had a purpose for him, perhaps to minister to other lost souls in prison. Smith read to Nichols some more, both from the “Purpose” book and from another popular book that’s been dropped from all news accounts of this incident: the New Testament. (In the Hollywood version, Smith will be reading from the Quran.)[14]

13. Awww, you respect his humanity! How cute:-)
14. Is it still cool to bash Islam? I thought that was so 2001.

Smith knew all about Nichols’ violent depredations from TV. Yet she saw him not as a monster, but as one of God’s creatures. Most Christians — most people — have trouble seeing the humanity of people who take our parking spots. Smith could see God’s hand in a multiple murderer holding her hostage. By showing him genuine Christian love, Smith turned Nichols from a beast to a brother in Christ. This phenomenon, utterly unknown to liberals, is what’s known as a “miracle.”[15] Top that, Paul Krugman!

15. Everyone! I have a proposal. Let’s lock Ann Coulter up with a bunch of rapists and murderers in a supermax prison so that they can all sing “Kumbayah” together!

Nichols told Smith she was “an angel sent from God,” calling her “his sister” and himself her “brother in Christ.” Nichols said he had come to Smith’s home for a reason, in Smith’s words, that “he was lost and God led him right to me to tell him that he had hurt a lot of people.”[16].

This trampling of our Constitution — I mean this conversation — lasted long into the night.[17] They watched Nichols’ shooting people on TV. Nichols said he couldn’t believe he was that man. In the morning, Smith made Nichols eggs and pancakes for breakfast. Then she walked out of the apartment to pick up her daughter and to call 911. The last thing Nichols said as Smith was leaving was to say hello to her daughter for him. When the police arrived, Nichols surrendered without incident, an utterly transformed human being.[18]

16. Wow, Smith is a psychic!
17. *groan* Give it up already. No drumroll for you.
18. Yeah, agreed. He transformed from being the predator to the prey and found a great way to save his skin. The cops were “expecting” to kill or have a suicide-by-cop; probably, knowing law enforcement, they were pretty pissed at the loss of their own, and the only chance Nichols had at survival was to come out meek as a lamb.

Heaven help the average liberal if this ever happens to him! What would an urban secularist do? Come sit down and let me read to you from Michael Moore’s “Stupid White Men.” Or maybe he could put a SpongeBob video in the VCR. WE ARE FAM-I-LEEEEE! At least before he killed again, the dangerous fugitive would have warm feelings toward homosexuals.[19]

19. God, you’re an idiot. There IS such a thing as liberal christians who are tolerant toward homosexuals. I realize you’re a worshipper of Jack Chick and probably think that all liberal Christians are all going to H-E-double-hockeysticks, but let it go already. It’s obvious that you failed your research.

It’s also another example of how our universities are failing students. Today’s college coeds would be dead: They know nothing about Jesus Christ and can’t cook a good meal.[20]

20. *QUOTE OF THE DAY* Wow. According to Ann Coulter, it’s a responsibility of universities everywhere to teach students about Jesus Christ and cooking. If her previous comments are any indication, I bet she particularly believes this to be true for women. That’s right, be good little housewives, get married, cook, and pray to Jesus. It’s your calling, baby!!!

Smith saved the soul of a man on a killing spree by talking to him about Christianity.[21] But liberals think this won’t work with the Muslims? We ought to fly this Ashley Smith to Saudi Arabia. We could just make her a box lunch every day and send her on her way.[22]

Liberals would approve of a nice Christian girl like Smith going to the Middle East only if she went as a Marine or — better! — if she were getting herself run over by a tank while defending a PLO tunnel into the Gaza Strip used by suicide bombers. Sadly for liberals, feminist lunacy doesn’t convert and transform, it browbeats and harangues.[23] The only miracle it has ever performed is getting people to listen to Nancy Pelosi.[24]

21. So much for “Jesus Saves.” Apparently the proper quote is: “Ashley Smith saves!”
22. This is so fucking arrogant. You know those three major religions, Ann? At least one of them doesn’t believe in converting the other two. There are actually a lot of religions out there which promote tolerance for other religions – mainstream Christianity, sadly, can’t claim to be one. And in case you’d like to claim that you mean only fundamentalist Muslims should be entertained by Ms. Smith’s spiritual wisdom, let me remind you about the politico-religious nutjobs within Christianity. Maybe she should start cleaning her own house first?
23. Ordinarily I’d agree with you, but in context, you’re implicitly suggesting that non-feminists are all sugar, spice, and WWJD. Not true. (If it turns out she was a feminist, I’ll retract that, but until then my comment stands.)
24. Since I can’t tell if you’re sniping at Ms. Pelosi or not, I’m going to have to let this one go. But since Ms. Pelosi is reportedly a liberal, and taking into account your previous rant, all I can say is shame on you for tearing down a woman who has achieved a great deal.

So to sum up, it seems to me that Ann Coulter should have stopped while she was ahead – at least she looked like she was a reasonable researcher there. In this latest rant, she has revealed herself to be a raving Christian fundamentalist woman-hater straight out of the 1800s.

Bill Gates and China’s “New Capitalism”

There’s an interview floating around on Yahoo! News where Bill Gates is raving about China’s “new capitalism” and how great it is. According to Gates, the best part is:

It is a brand-new form of capitalism, and as a consumer its the best thing that ever happened…[the Chinese model is characterized by a] willingness to work hard and not having quite the same medical overhead or legal overhead”.

The translation, of course, is that Chinese workers are willing to work hard because they have no alternative and would otherwise starve. They have no medical benefits, work long hours, and have no freedom to engage in strikes if they don’t like their working conditions. And China-based corporations have less of a burden or incentive under Chinese law to make sure that their products are safe.

I’m quite sure that Bill Gates would love to have such working conditions imposed upon every employee of his. This is the man, after all, who equates free software with communism and seems to believe that corporate intellectual property rights should be unlimited – notwithstanding the fact that “rights” ultimately derive from the people. I guess it doesn’t matter because corporations are people too and obviously they’re much bigger and richer people than the rest of us.

I wonder how he sleeps at night? I guess it’s the giant band-aid on his conscience. Of course, the cynic might suggest that he just wants to make sure he has healthy slave…er…workers for his future corporate-totalitarian society…but I’m not a cynic, of course. Nope, not lil’ ol’ me.

America the Yellow

I was torturing myself earlier today by spending a few minutes listening to the appallingly mindless shit pouring from the mouths of Bush and Kerry in their recent first debate. At the same time, there were a few other thoughts turning in the back of my head, and the debate, as it were, brought things to a bit of a head.

I counted the use of a few terms in the debate. Granted, my count might be off, but a bit of an underlying theme emerges.
– secure: ~7 times
– protect ~15 times
– safe: ~15 times

Why the hell are Americans so obsessed with being safe? Seriously, people. Whatever happened to the America that produced the old West, those kickass pioneers who duked it out with the kickass natives, everybody kicking each others’ asses until nobody could sit down anymore? Now, it seems like both Bush and Kerry are more concerned with finding the softest pillows in the world to place under their fat, stinking butts.

Both Bush and Kerry go on about killing terrorists, protecting America, making America great, blah blah blah. I have a bit of a curiosity. See, if it was up to me, I just want guns. Big guns. If I see a terrorist on my way to work doing something heinous, like giving old ladies wedgies instead of helping them cross the street, I will use my big guns to paint the sidewalk with terrorist brains. So what happened to the rest of Americans? You’d think with us producing stuff like gangsta rap and the Matrix, we must still have a collective national grip on what it means to be badass. Instead, the military can’t keep enough soldiers and mothers hide their childrens’ faces when grainy videos of Osama Bin Laden in his bedsheets pop onto the television screen. Indeed, sales of air freshener have recently gone through the roof due to Americans shitting their pants every time the President decides to play with his little terrorism alert scale.

One of my friends asked me recently, what’s with Americans being so willing to bend over and lube up every time Big Brother says “National Security?” See, it’s the safety thing. What I think happened is this. In 1776, America kicked off the training pants and said “I’m a big boy now.” In 1860, America was doing its teenage rebellion thing. In 1914 and 1942, America was in its prime. Now? America is at the geriatric stage, having to pin hugeass diapers on with fucking safety pins because they can’t control their bowel movements every time someone says “terrorist.”

In his speech, Bush said that September 11 changed the way America must look at the world. I have a different suspicion. I think September 11 revealed that Americans can no longer roll with the punches. Instead, we cower in the corners, create departments of homeland security, make our borders so tight that even our friends can’t get in, and now we’re so fucking scared that we bury our heads in the sand and pray for strong leadership to protect our vulnerable asses from terrorist rapists. What do I think needs to be done?

Easy. I think Americans should get over it. ‘Terrorists’ are mostly pissed at us because we have troops in their countries interfering in their business. As long as we do that, they pretty much have every right to try to hit us where it hurts, and we should stand up and take it instead of trying to reshape the world into some sort of fascist wet dream where everything is perfectly secure for us. I know if it were the other way around, I’d be out there with whatever firearms I could find taking potshots at invading soldiers. So call me a terrorist. No, I think we should try to do more useful things…maybe develop space ships that don’t blow apart, or perhaps try to make sure that a quarter of our children are not growing up in poverty. Is it a pipe dream to think that the first duty of a state is to take care of its people?

Anti-Semitism or Anti-Imperialism?

I was scanning the news yesterday and came across a story describing the Israeli demolition of 35 Palestinian homes in a refugee camp. The IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] of course claimed that the homes were uninhabited and being used as staging grounds for mortar attacks on nearby Israeli settlements.

Nobody’s denying that the said mortar attacks did indeed occur, however, one would think that the Israeli missile fired into the Palestinian camp would have been retribution enough if this were an eye-for-an-eye fight (both incidents are documented in that news story). But, of course, this is your-sister’s-virginity-and-your-life-for-an-eye, so 35 homes are destroyed in addition and dozens more Palestinians rendered homeless. International observers have called this sort of activity “collective punishment” – something illegal by the Geneva and Hague conventions regarding rules of warfare.

But then, this is a brave new world, the so-called “post-9-11” world. 3,000 people died when a couple of buildings collapsed, and suddenly the world is outraged. What about the 35,000+ children who died the same day of malnutrition or lack of proper health care? Oh, but they weren’t important, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things. They were not employees of multinational corporations or involved in international trade, except maybe as the possible begrudgingly-aided recipients of corporate donations designed to demonstrate the “corporate citizen” being a good citizen. I mean no disrespect to those who died or their families, but fuck…whatever happened to putting things into perspective?

With all this in mind, one of my friends threw me a link to a little flash slideshow called Pipeline of Hatred. This little gem declares that the old anti-Semitism was a “world free of Jews” and the new is “A world free of a Jewish state.” Pardon me, but these are two vastly different propositions. A world free of Jews can rightly be called an anti-Semitic proposal, but a world free of a Jewish state? Hardly. This is no more anti-Semitic than me saying that a world free of a Clown-filled state makes me anti-Circus. First of all, the world is too small for every little ethnic group to have a country of their own. Imagine, an American-Italian state. A Roma/Gypsy state. A Kurdish state (ha, the Turks would love that one). Ohh…I know a good one. Each native American tribe getting their own state again!

I know what you’re thinking. Israel is already a state, and those others aren’t. Well, it’s just artifacts of history. States are born and die. Israel was arbitrarily created by the UN, and that rendered the Palestinians stateless. What do you expect? Most estimates say somewhere around 750,000 Palestinians lost their land and homes in the creation of an Israeli state. That’s a lot of people to piss off.

The best part of this little presentation though, is when the claim is made that so-called “radical left-wing movements” are essentially allied with radical Islam. The site states, “Radical Islam and the anti-globalisation movements identify a common enemy – the Jews as a nation and as the driving force behind global capitalism – a threat to both their very different worlds.” Woah! Just a minute.

The site itself admits that the “radical left wing movements” dislike captalism because it causes problems for workers because “cheap labour endangers jobs.” Of course, the unmentioned part of this that is problematic is that the jobs are free to move around and the workers arent, so the jobs go somewhere cheap and the workers lose their jobs because even if they WERE willing to move somewhere to keep their job, they couldn’t. Anyway, somehow this makes left-wing movements sympathetic to radical Islam because radical Islam also hates globalisation (although because it threatens Islamic cultural hegemony?) Okay, my head is spinning now.

I think it breaks down to this. Israeli policies right now toward the Palestinians are frankly brutal. I also don’t belive they’d get away with it if the United States were not so determined a strong ally for them. Israel would not be so much a force without American weapons and money, and might actually have to resort to diplomacy to deal with their neighbours instead of military force.

Oh, did I mention that I think global capitalism threatens jobs for the average Joe? I guess this makes me anti-Semitic. Gee, I never knew that about myself. I’m gonna have to call up my Jewish friends and tell them that I can’t hang out with them anymore.

No, it isn’t anti-Semitism that this presentation is railing against. Ultimately, it’s anti-imperialism. That is, if you’re anti-imperalist and you don’t support American/Israeli imperialism, then you’re by extension anti-Semitic. The discussion of radical Islam is a parlor trick, a little sleight-of-hand to conflate two distinct issues. Who isn’t against radical [insert religion of choice here]? Radical Christianity, radical Islam – it’s all the same to me. Something the world could do without.

Cat Stevens, You Terrorist Swine!

I read with some surprise today that Cat Stevens was taken from a flight and will be deported from the United States. This shocked me at first, and I began to rack my memory looking for some sort of logical explanation for the inescapable implication that Cat Stevens might be a dangerous terrorist. I mean, he has such a reputation for being a peaceful man.

At first, I couldn’t think of anything, so I decided to look up the lyrics to his songs. At first, they appear innocent enough, but after some examination, the darker, terrifying meanings behind some of his lyrics began to pop out.

Moonshadow [I’ve helpfully outlined the terrorist references for you to save you some time.]
Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
Here, Mr. Islam is alerting other members of his cell that he was being followed by three suspicious CIA agents.

Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
Younger readers, avert your eyes. This is Mr. “Stevens”” graphic description of how he murdered the agents and desecrated their corpses.

And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, oh if…. I won’t have to work no more.
These phrases, and the following ones, must be read carefully. The part preceding the ellipsis […] describes how he’s planning to maim civilians, destroy private property, and detonate a dirty bomb to permanently pollute American soil. The part following the ellipsis is an oblique reference to his expectation to be in paradise as a result of his martyrdom in the above plot.

And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, oh if…. I won’t have to cry no more.
This is more of the same terrorist rambling. Shocking, if you ask me.

And if I ever lose my legs, I won’t moan, and I won’t beg,
Yes if I ever lose my legs, oh if…. I won’t have to walk no more.
And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, oh if…. I won’t have to talk…
In this section, “Cat” graphically describes the torture he wants his colleagues to administer to any American civilians they kidnap. In the section following the ellipsis, he changes his tactics though, to throw anyone off. This time, he’s gloating in the limbless, mouthless tortured bodies of his prey.

Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? and are you gonna stay the night?
This is Mr. “Stevens” doing some foreshadowing, in which he talks to one of his many virgins in Paradise after he successfully carries out his mission.

This is amazing. Mr. Islam was already a bloody, child-butchering terrorist way back in 1971. All I can say is, it’s about fucking time, Mr. Traitor Stevens. I hope you rot in Great Britain. Long Live Our Terrorist-Fighting Komrades!! Heil Bush!

Why Nader is a Loser

Since I never bothered looking into Ralph Nader, I decided that, what with the upcoming elections and all of the furor over Nader getting on and off of election ballots, I might as well waste a few minutes to find out who he is. Earlier in the elections, I personally was a bigger fan of Dennis Kucinich than any other candidate, but Kucinich dropped out, oh well.

There were two things I wanted to know. 1) Why should anyone even vaguely care about voting for Nader, and 2) is Nader just another corporate whore like everyone else? To answer the first question, a logical place to start was Why Ralph? – his official campaign website

Honestly, I’m still sitting here 10 minutes later trying to figure out why anyone should care about voting for Nader, because his website is so poorly laid out that anyone trying to figure out whether they should vote for him will probably end up voting for Michael Jackson instead. I click on “Why Ralph?” and the ever-so-helpful response is:
# Biography: Peter Miguel Camejo
# Biography: The Independent Citizen for President
# F.A.Q.
# Letters to George W. Bush & John Kerry
# Main Story Archive
# Materials and Writings on the Decision to Run
# Ralph’s Writings
# Testimonials & Letters

This is just fucking stupid. None of this tells me why anyone would care if Ralph won. So he has a biography there, and some Camejo idiot who is going to be his running bitc….er…mate has a bio too. Camejo who? I don’t give a fuck about Camejo; I want to know about Nader. I’m guessing it’s gonna be in the FAQ, but frankly, Nader has already lost my attention. I don’t care whether or not Nader writes letters to his lovers Bush and Kerry, I would rather decapitate myself with a sytrofoam cup than read any stories he wrote, and the last time I heard a testimony was in the Pentecostal church my parents dragged me to as a kid. The last thing that is gonna help me make important political decisions is the rabid, foaming testimony of some Nader fanboy.

But in the interest of fairness, I decide to click on the FAQ, hoping to get some enlightenment about why anybody should vote Nader. Finally, something potentially useful: “To take our democracy back from the corporate interests that dominate both parties. Ralph is running, as all third-party and Independent candidates do, to mobilize citizens behind an issues agenda — a fundamental solution revolution — for the American people that neither major party will discuss or adopt.”

Okay, my bullshit alarm went off, and the pungent fumes are starting to make my eyes water. Let’s translate these sentences into plain English by filling in the blanks. “To take our democracy [otherwise known as a nascent police fascist empire] back from the corporate interests [other than the ones I own stock in – this, by the way, answers point #2] that dominate both parties [because they won’t let me come to their parties, those bastards]. Ralph is running [like Forest Gump], as all third-party and Independent candidates do [see why I said Forest Gump? The evil Republican and Democratic bullies want to knock the poor invalids over, those slutty corporate whores!], to mobilize citizens behind an issues agenda – a fundamental solution revolution [WTF?!] – for the American people [oh no, it isn’t for Nader] that neither major party will discuss or adopt.”

A “fundamental solution revolution” – that just makes my mouth hang open dripping drool over my chest with its rhythmic brilliance! Now I can finally understand why to vote for Nader. If Nader wins, we will live in a land of horrible rhetoric that will cause world peace by killing everyone via the noxious fumes that ooze steaming from his campaign writers’ pens. Just think, everyone dead and nobody left to screw the world up.

So, why is Nader going to lose the election? First of all, he’s so boring that I’d rather vote for the first geriatric patient with a stroke I can find, since that is guaranteed to be more interesting. Secondly, he’s going to lose because nobody can figure out why the hell they should give a fuck about him and his campaign. Third, and finally, he’s going to lose because he’s named after that stupid kid on the Simpsons who is always picking his nose, and nobody in Washington wants to deal with that on government paperwork after four years of having to spray air freshener on everything Bush touched.