London to Bangkok by Train in 9minutes and 30 seconds

I was listening to Rush’s 2112, feeling inspired after recently seeing the new Rush documentary, “Beyond the Lighted Stage“, and the song “A Passage to Bangkok” made me wonder whether it is actually possible to travel from Europe to Bangkok today by train. Well, turns out it is – this guy has done it and you can watch his journey in a 9 minute film. His voyage isn’t exactly on “The Bangkok Express” mentioned in the Rush song – he passed through Moscow and Beijing on his not very direct route. Quite an adventure!

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Democracy and the End of Metaphysics

Long I have desired to connect my interest in democracy and participatory politics, (i.e. unionism, syndicalism, anarchism etc…) with my interest in the work of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger’s philosophy is not explicitly democratic, and Martin’s actual political exploits leave much to be desired. Heidegger’s late position wasn’t so much conservative as anti-political, taking the stance that no current political thought was adequate the the situation of man gripped by the essence of technology.

This has always disappointed me about Heidegger – why is democracy so inadequate? Certainly in practice it has been inadequate – the climate crisis is evidence enough for that. If you want more evidence – wages have stagnated since the 70s, personal debt levels have skyrocketed, and reasonable economists are shut out of positions of power. But, there is something the idea of democracy which I think is worth saving – the idea that authority is in-itself part of the problem. Authority might just be, under capitalism, that which turns – in Heidegger’s words – humans are “en-framed” as “standing reserve“.

Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve. Enframing means that way of revealing which holds sway in the essence of modern technology and which is itself nothing technological.

And then I read, in Richard Semler‘s book “Maverick“, this passage:

The era of using people as production tools is coming to an end. Participation is infinitely  more complex to practice than conventional corporate unilateralism. Just as democracy is much more cumbersome than dictatorship. But there will be few companies that can afford to ignore either of them.

Continue reading “Democracy and the End of Metaphysics”

No Rape, just Racism

When is accusing someone of rape an act of racism? When the “victim” decides its rape only after the fact, on the basis of your race:

Although conceding that the sex was consensual, district court judge Tzvi Segal concluded that the law had a duty to protect women from “smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price”

“If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have co-operated,” Mrs Segal said as she delivered her verdict.

This judge is a racist. He doesn’t simply hold a racist political position, like Zionism, but he has in fact made a decision which puts someone in jail on the basis that someone has right to be prejudice against Palestinians, and that this overrules the consent of a sex act, making it retroactively an instance of rape.  The fact that he recognizes the rape was concensual and yet has decided in favour of a rape conviction makes him not only racist, but also insane, since it flies in the face of the basic meaning of rape.

But, there’s only so much we can say about the decision itself. To understand it, we need to put it in a context. This will sound strange to people who believe Israel to be an enligthened democracy, but a 2007 study found that “more than half of Israeli Jews believed intermarriage should be equated with “national treason”. So, this act of “deception” (he introduced himself as “Daniel”) was, in the eyes of many Israelis, almost the incitement of an act of treason. I say “almost” because it would be unfair to equivocate

striking up a conversation, the two went into a top-floor room of a nearby office-block and engaged in a sexual encounter, after which Mr Kashur left before the woman had a chance to get dressed.

with marriage, but the xenophobia of this nationalism should not be ignored. We should also be aware that the Times of London has reported that groups of  Jewish religious vigilantes are patrolling the streets at night in East Jerusalem, Beersheba, and Haifa, looking for inter-community couples. They are concerned about a “growing epidemic of Arab-Jewish dating and spend as many hours as they can on patrol”.  Furthermore, in the town of Petah Tikva, a team has been set up with the express purpose of “rescuing” Jewish women from relationships with Arabs.

In short, the racism of this rape conviction, can only be understood within the context of the relationship of racism to sex, marriage and relationships in Israel.

EDIT: It’s come to my attention that actually Israel went insane with respect to rape back in 2008:

In 2008, the High Court of Justice set a precedent on rape by deception, rejecting an appeal of the rape conviction by Zvi Sleiman, who impersonated a senior official in the Housing Ministry whose wife worked in the National Insurance Institute. Sleiman told women he would get them an apartment and increased NII payments if they would sleep with him.

High Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said a conviction of rape should be imposed any time a “person does not tell the truth regarding critical matters to a reasonable woman, and as a result of misrepresentation she has sexual relations with him.”

What is the CUPE Academic Boycott?

These are just facts that anyone can easily access. I found this source in two minutes using google:

It is important to understand that this is not a call to boycott individual Israeli academics. Rather, the boycott call is aimed at academic institutions and the institutional connections that exist between universities here and those in Israel.

This could include calling on Ontario universities and university workers to:

Refuse to participate in academic cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli universities, such as participating in conferences in Israel, refereeing or editing articles for Israeli journals, or evaluating research proposals for Israeli institutions.

Advocate a boycott of Israeli universities, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies.

Promote divestment from Israel by Ontario academic institutions.

Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies and actions in the occupied territories by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic and professional organizations and associations.

CUPE Ontario is taking this action in response to an appeal from the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees.

Furthermore, since no one actually is “in” any CUPE unions, because of the way labour unions are structured in Canada (virtually no one is technically a member of a union in Canada), nothing CUPE ever says is institutionally obligated onto anyone it represents.

In Canada, the “Rand Formula“, obligates all members represented by a collective agreement to pay dues, but there is no obligation to participate in union programs or governance, and one can even apply for special consideration to have ones dues directed towards a charity and yet remain represented by the union.

So, any employee represented by CUPE who supported the massacre in Gaza, or thought it was proportional, or think it’s racist to criticize Israel just because Canada support’s Israel is free to boycott the boycott, and actually try to hurt CUPE financially by redirecting his or her dues in another direction, perhaps a pro-IDF charity.

As, for Sid Ryan, he has also pre-emptive response to that tired criticism levelled by pro-Israeli Zionists, “Why aren’t you critical of this other thing instead of the thing I want you to stop paying attention to”:

We too have condemned the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. However, these and Israel’s disproportionate response – the loss of innocent lives that has horrified the entire world – are only the latest developments in a decades-long conflict that will not end without sustained international pressure to end the occupation and work for a negotiated peace.

Yes, there are many powers in the world that do things we should oppose. But even more important than opposition is robbing them of support. In other words, I personally think it’s worse to actively apologize for and support a criminal regime, than remain neutral. Moreover, since you can remain neutral to a regime, or even support it, while denouncing specific actions and policies, there is simply no excuse for defending Israel against charges of war crimes because of personal identity.

Anyone prepared to give reasons should feel free do disagree with anything or everything I say. Anyone unwilling to give reasons, or who would attack me personally rather than criticize the content of my writing, rejects the fundamental norms of dialogue, and thus can’t be responded to.

“Hey, Paul Krugman”, Confirmation Bias, and the Pop-idolization of Academics

Jonathen Mann writes a song a day, everyday. Last thursday he posted the “Ipod Antenna Song” which was featured in Apple’s July 16th press conference on “Antenna Gate“.

When you write a song everyday, and you aren’t terrible, some of them are going to be good. This is actually his theory – given any stable proportion of good songs to crap, the greater the total number, the greater the total number of songs – the greater the number of good songs. One of his good songs, “Hey Paul Krugman, where the hell are you man?” has over 240 thousand hits, and has been featured on Network television (see Krugman’s response).

The song portrays Krugman in a positive light, ridicules current treasury secretary Timothy Geithner for using TurboTax, and asks why Krugman isn’t in the administration, and out “on the front lines” making decisions, instead of “writing a blog” and for the New York Times.

It’s a fair point – Krugman could probably make a significant contribution to US policy if given a change, but it would likely be at the expense of strategic elite interests. But this song is mostly not about the message, but the medium. The fact that public intellectuals become something like pop idols tells us something about the way democracy functions today. As soon as Krugman is a romanticized hero of the liberal “left” (centre), and I think that’s what goes on through this youtube-ization of assent, readers will encounter his work through a confirmation bias.This doesn’t make Krugman wrong, but it does make his advocates less believable.

Milan has written about confirmation bias on his blog, as well as on his climate blog, burycoal.com. When I brought up his dislike of Chomsky as a form of confirmation bias, he specifically asserted that confirmation bias is less of a problem when directed towards individuals than towards ideas. And, he might be right – but I still think it’s a problem. When people become fans of an academic to the point of idolization, they don’t treat that thinker’s work critically enough – at least not from the perspective of that figure’s detractors. On the other hand, people resolutely opposed to figures to the point of hatred also fail to say anything intelligent, i.e. Faye’s recent book on Heidegger’s Naziism (see also recent NY Times articles on Heidegger).

Maybe the most pernicious characteristic of confirmation-biased arguments is that bad arguments get repeated. This seems true in the case of climate denial, and among defenders of racist political ideologies. However, it very well might be true of myself, and my support for Chomsky, Anarcho-Communism, and a resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict along the Green Line and for the fulfillment of UN resolution 194.

However, I don’t think it does any good to bring an ad-hominum argument against someone, i.e. “the problem with your political position is the confirmation bias which follows from supporting your politics”. All one can do is be open to honest critique of actual positions, i.e. “what is wrong with what this person says”, and produce the source. Anyone unwilling to debate political, philosophical and economic issues based on decidable facts and observations about positions is not willing to debate them at all.

Come And See

Come and See is a 1985 Soviet film about the Barbarossa campaign’s effects on the villages of Belorussia.  While everyone is familiar with the Holocaust, the extent to which operation Barbarossa was a racial extermination, a genocide against the “lesser peoples” of Russia, is significant and deserves knowing about.

The film chronicles a boy’s life during the war, beginning with searching for a gun buried at an old battle sight so that he would be allowed to join the army, and following him through various unbelievable disasters of humanity – which he, and sometimes no one else, survives.

What might be called the climax of the film consists of Nazis rounding up an entire village into a barn, then proceeding to burn the barn with the inabitents inside. Two people are allowed to escape and witness the violence, and in the end the boy survives because laying on the ground he is presumed dead. According to the film, 628 villages in Belorussia suffered a similar fate.

The film is watchable on youtube in 15 parts (there is a playlist which will automatically switch you from one part to the next).  Please note, the film is not in an American style – what this means is it is much closer to “Horror” in tone, although not specifically gore, than a conventional American war movie, i.e. Saving Private Ryan, or The Thin Red Line. The poster on youtube loudly instructs the film is “NOT FOR CHILDREN”, and this warning should probably be heeded.

This reservation aside, I highly recommend “Come and See”.

What’s Wrong with Rawls’ Defence of Capitalism?

I’ve always found it a bit strange that Rawls considered the question of whether free markets, or socialism, could better fulfill the principles of justice. It appears plain to me that “free markets” are anything but, and modern capitalism is a political system where power is concentrated in the hands of economic actors, primarily high finance. To understand Rawls’ defence of capitalism’s moral possibility, it’s necessary to make a distinction between markets in ideology and markets in reality. Rawls’ idea of capitalism is:

… [a] system of markets [that] decentralizes the exercise of economic power. Whatever the internal nature of firms, whether they are privately or state owned, or whether they are run by entrepreneurs or managers elected by workers, they take the prices of outputs and inputs as given and draw up their plans accordingly. When markets are truly competitive, firms do not engage in price wars or other contests for market power. In conformity with political decisions reached democratically, the government regulates the economic climate by adjusting certain elements under its control, such as the overall amount of investment, the rate of interest, the quality of money and so on. There is no necessity for a comprehensive direct planning. Individual households and firms are free to make their decisions independently, subject to the general conditions of the economy. (241)

Continue reading “What’s Wrong with Rawls’ Defence of Capitalism?”

Apple, Capitalism, and doing things for free

Apple today held a press conference to address concerns over reception issues with the new Iphone G4. The technical factors of cell phone reception is not a topic I find particularly interesting – however, other things about the presentation are of significance. Specifically, the many times repeated love of Apple for their customers, and the sense in which pleasing the customers is the motive for all the hard work done by the many engineers at Apple.

Now, the Marxist in me immediately wants to point out two things. First, isn’t the motive not the good feeling of pleasing customers, but profit? And while the engineering done on US soil is certainly labour, what about the labour done by foxxcon – the outsourced manafacturer of iphones, which has had many worker suicides, and has recently had to replace its factory and double wages.

But, this is too easy. While I think that’s all true, and that Steve Jobes is more than happy to conceal the less happy features of apple product production from the magic of macworld and other public addresses, something is going on in his repeated assertions that “everyone” (read: not everyone) at apple is working really hard to make the product as good as possible for the consumer.

The fact is, it’s not unlikely that many people working for Apple, at least on US soil, are highly motivated by the desire to satisfy customers. This short film about motivation gives us a sense why – in cognitively heavy tasks, people are more motivated by purpose, autonomy, challenge and mastery, and making a contribution – rather than profit. The fact that apple products excel, both in the market and in objective excellence, suggests that the people working there are not merely profit motivated, but motivated by the purpose of improving computing and smartphones.

Apple is not like Linux – people at Apple do not work for free. And yet, the line between jobs people are willing to do for free and jobs people are paid for is likely to falter in the advanced high tech industry. Specifically because, if purpose-motive gets you the best talent and the best productivity, money will logically cease being the central factor in success of companies.

It’s essential to remember that this sector of the economy more motivated by purpose than profit is limited to jobs which are cognitively based, which are not limited to simple menial tasks. At the same time, technological automation means less and less manuel labour is (or at least could be) required to satisfy the world’s needs.

What can be learned from this story is, I think, the beginning of an idea of an economy not based on money – but where money ceases to be an issue. Instead, people would work on meeting needs primarily motivated out of making a contribution. And, since the need for continuous profits would no longer be necessary, we could do away with the public relations industry and its practice of constructing and producing needs in subjects in order to push forward conspicuous consumption.

Iran’s nuclear program: Threats, Agression and “Crazy”

Two days ago, Israeli president Netanyahu has claimed that the only way to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is U.S. threats of military action against Iran:

“There has only been one time that Iran actually stopped the program,” Netanyahu told Fox News’ Chris Wallace Sunday. “That was when it feared US military action.”

Netanyahu is, in short, encouraging the U.S. to threaten Iran with military action, in response to unproven allegations that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The threat of force against an independant nation is a contravention of the Charter of the United Nationsarticle 2, paragraph 4:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

Israel has also independently threatened Iran with military force to stop its development of a nuclear program – peaceful or otherwise. As reported in the BBC on July 6th:

“If Iran continues with its programme for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective,” Mr Mofaz told Yediot Ahronot.

Threats of war are a serious problem. If we look at article one, chapter one of the UN charter, we find that the declared first principle of the United Nations is:

To maintain international peace and security, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

It’s a nice idea, no doubt. And if Obama and Netanyahu were to act on the simple principle that one should hold oneself to the same standards that expect others to meet, then there would be no impending war with Iran. But, there still could be the secret development of nuclear arms in Iran. It’s actually possible to say something relatively intelligent about this – Israeli historian Martin Levi van Creveld described Iran’s position in the region in a 2004 opinion piece in the New York Times:

Even if the Iranians are working on a bomb, Israel may not be their real concern. Iran is now surrounded by American forces on all sides — in the Central Asian republics to the north, Afghanistan to the east, the Gulf to the South and Iraq to the west. Shamkhani expressed Tehran’s unease at the American presence in an Al Jazeera interview broadcast late Wednesday, in which he hinted that some Iranian commanders believe they should strike first if they sense an imminent threat from the United States.

Wherever U.S forces go, nuclear weapons go with them or can be made to follow in short order. The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy.

Though Iran is ruled by Islamic fundamentalists, most commentators who are familiar with the country do not regard its government as irrational. The only figure capable of inspiring Iranians to extraordinary sacrifices, Ayatollah Khomeini, died more than a decade ago. Even before then, it was Saddam Hussein who attacked Iran, not the other way around; since then Iran has been no more aggressive than most countries are.

In short, Iran is effectively being encouraged to develop Nuclear weapons by American imperialist foreign policy in the region. If we were to find that Iran was developing a bomb, we should not be in the least surprised – and we should not interpret it as an aggressive act at all but as self-defence.

But it’s worse, if Iran’s building of a nuclear bomb is interpreted as a rationally required response to American imperialism, then America could actually be considered responsible for a potential Iranian breech of the non proliferation treaty. This is because of how “aggression” was defined at the Nuremburg trials, (citing from the UN website on war crimes):

The Nürnberg Tribunal condemned a war of aggression in the strongest terms: “To initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Now, I’ll admit this is a bit of a stretch because the US have not engaged in a war of agression against Iran – but they have committed the crime of aggression insofar as Obama has continued to threaten Iran with nuclear war:

the U.S. will not launch a nuclear attack against any country that signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and abides by it, a loophole leaving both North Korea and Iran on any potential target list.

Obama should rescind this threat of first strike nuclear war, and change US middle east foreign policy to tolerate dissent. Supporting democracy means not supporting or enacting the overthrow of democratically elected governments.

The Killing of Oscar Grant: this is what racist police brutality looks like

If anyone hasn’t heard about the police execution of Oscar Grant, please read up on the facebook page. In short, white officer Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant, a black man, in the back of the head while Grant was handcuffed and lying facedown on a train platform. The murder occured on the early morning hours of New Years Day, 2009. The killing is a good example of how youtube video can greatly increase the public awareness of an incident of police brutality. If you can stomach it, watch some video here. Even Bill O’Reilly reported it, along with the assertion that protests are useless and that he was certain that heavy criminal charges would fall upon the officer.

In fact, the officer has been convicted of relatively light criminal charges, involuntary manslaughter rather than second degree murder. The mandatory sentence is two to four years, but a sentencing enhancement of up to ten years many be added because the crime was committed with a gun. The lack of conviction on the second degree murder charge, coupled with the total absence of african american jurors deciding on the case, motivated riots in downtown Oakland.

There are two things here which I think are key. First, that the statement of the defense lawyer was actually much more optimistic the statement from Oscar Grant’s mother. This is not to say that he thought what has happened was not a miscarriage of justice, but that this is the first time he’s seen a police officer found guilty of any crime committed against a minority in his experience working as a lawyer. So, we can probably be assured that the youtube footage contributed to a higher degree of justice than is usual in Oakland.

The second thing, however, is that this remains an injustice – and one in plain sight. Everyone with a computer can see that Grant was killed execution style by a police officer, and everyone knows that this constitutes murder. In fact, it probably constitutes some kind of hate crime – since it’s unthinkable that a similar amount of violence would have been used against white partiers on new years eve who had allegedly gotten into a fight on public transit.