Thursday, October 05, 2006

Home Sweet Home

Google maps is pretty impressive. That's our apartment complex on the left there. [Notice we are surrounded by the rice fields. Welcome to Japan. Land of no zoning.] Full Google Maps layout here.

Fair and Balanced

Fox News repeatedly labels Republican Foley [he of the instant messaging underage boys Foleys] as a Democrat.

Via Boing Boing:
Fox News has decided to start calling disgraced Congresscreep Mark Foley a Democrat.

Fox also reported that "we are at war with Eurasia; we have always been at war with Eurasia."

The AP helps out by calling Dennis Hastert a Democrat too. Via Crooks and Liars.

Helpful, aren't they?

Only a coincidence, I assure you. Move along, nothing to see here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The monthly reading list for Sep 06

Only two books finished this month, far less than last month. I blame the start back up of school and actually, you know, having to work again. It doesn't help I'm about 3/4 of the way through about 4 other books, which means I either am an impressive multi-tasker, or plainly need to learn to focus.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick.
Not my favorite book from Dick, that's probably VALIS or The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, but an entertaining read. A little light on plot, but really intriguing characterization. It's pretty fascinating watching a man slowly devolve into drug induced schizophrenia, and it's made all the more interesting knowing that Dick spent his own fair share of time experiencing drug induced schizophrenia.

When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? by George Carlin.
Entertaining book from one of the comedic masters. On the downside, if you've seen his last, say 3, HBO specials, you've heard a lot of the material in the book. And an entire book of Carlin's unrelenting "don't things suck and aren't they getting worse?" can be a little tough on the soul.

But it's worth it just to see the ways in which Carlin plays with, uses, and points out the absurdities of language. And this has his outstanding Ten Commandments routine, one of my favorites of all time.

Carlin on the 10 Commandments
Here is my problem with the ten commandments- why exactly are there 10?

You simply do not need ten. The list of ten commandments was artificially and deliberately inflated to get it up to ten. Here's what happened:

About 5,000 years ago a bunch of religious and political hustlers got together to try to figure out how to control people and keep them in line. They knew people were basically stupid and would believe anything they were told, so they announced that God had given them some commandments, up on a mountain, when no one was around.

...It is clearly a bullshit list. It's a political document artificially inflated to sell better. I will now show you how you can reduce the number of commandments and come up with a list that's a little more workable and logical. I am going to use the Roman Catholic version because those were the ones I was taught as a little boy.

Let's start with the first three:
Right off the bat the first three are pure bullshit. Sabbath day? Lord's name? strange gods? Spooky language! Designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious nonsense like this apply to the lives of intelligent civilized humans in the 21st century. So now we're down to 7. Next:
Obedience, respect for authority. Just another name for controlling people. The truth is that obedience and respect shouldn't be automatic. They should be earned and based on the parent's performance. Some parents deserve respect, but most of them don't, period. You're down to six.

Now in the interest of logic, something religion is very uncomfortable with, we're going to jump around the list a little bit.
Stealing and lying. Well actually, these two both prohibit the same kind of behavior- dishonesty. So you don't really need two you combine them and call the commandment "thou shalt not be dishonest". And suddenly you're down to 5.

And as long as we're combining I have two others that belong together:
Once again, these two prohibit the same type of behavior. In this case it is marital infidelity. The difference is- coveting takes place in the mind. But I don't think you should outlaw fantasizing about someone else's wife because what is a guy gonna think about when he's waxing his carrot? But, marital infidelity is a good idea so we're gonna keep this one and call it "thou shalt not be unfaithful". And suddenly we're down to four.

But when you think about it, honesty and infidelity are really part of the same overall value so, in truth, you could combine the two honesty commandments with the two fidelity commandments and give them simpler language, positive language instead of negative language and call the whole thing "thou shalt always be honest and faithful" and we're down to 3.
This one is just plain fuckin' stupid. Coveting your neighbor's goods is what keeps the economy going! Your neighbor gets a vibrator that plays "o come o ye faithful", and you want one too! Coveting creates jobs, so leave it alone. You throw out coveting and you're down to 2 now- the big honesty and fidelity commandment and the one we haven't talked about yet:
Murder. But when you think about it, religion has never really had a big problem with murder. More people have been killed in the name of god than for any other reason. All you have to do is look at Northern Ireland, Cashmire, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the World Trade Center to see how seriously the religious folks take thou shalt not kill. The more devout they are, the more they see murder as being negotiable. It depends on who's doin the killin' and who's gettin' killed. So, with all of this in mind, I give you my revised list of the two commandments:
Thou shalt always be honest and faithful to the provider of thy nookie.
Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless of course they pray to a different invisible man than you.

Two is all you need; Moses could have carried them down the hill in his fuckin' pocket. I wouldn't mind those folks in Alabama posting them on the courthouse wall, as long as they provided one additional commandment: Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Evolving political ideas.

I've been, probably for a bit of time now, a left-leaning libertarian type.

[When I'm not entirely in the mind frame of anarchism, or the apathetic/enlightened frame of dismissing the whole, increasingly seemingly corrupt, ball of wax. That's, in many cases, probably the dissillusionment of youth falling by the wayside... But I digress.]

Government's increased intrusion into every aspect of our lives, lead by the culture of fear perpetuated by the current administration, fills me with a sense of loathing for the political process I don't think I've ever had before. Its increasing departure from actual constitutional democracy and its seemingly absolute disregard of the Bill of Rights pushes me further and further to disregarding the whole thing.

But in my more practical moments, when thinking about the type of government I could actually support, instead of simply bear, a limited government of the libertarian type seems optimal.

But I've always struggled with two aspects of the libertarian philosophy. First, it always seemed to me that government works as a fairly effective check on the abuses of the sociopathic corporate culture that prizes profit over everything else.

And secondly, the one aspect of some European types of socialism that tends to appeal, is that despite the incredible intrusive and bureacratic aspect of it, it seems to stem from a place where the genesis of it is giving a damn about other people.

The libertarian ideal is frequently dismissed with the retort that it's nothing more than the politics of selfishness, and if you don't make caring about other people required by government, soon you have old people eating Alpo and suffering all about.

But when you think about it, that presupposes the idea that people naturally suck. Or are negative and evil. But people have both profound capacities for charity and kindness [as well as evil, of course] and to say that leaving people the hell alone and not mandating "kindness" returns to a Darwinian dog-eat-dog scenario where the strong gobble the weak, is short sighted, and imho, results from years of Western thought corrupted by the insanity that is Chrisianity. Original sin, the concepts that people are born corrupt and require Salvation, the hatred of the "flesh" for the spiritual, etc, etc.

And it also disregards that from a Darwinian perspective, cooperation is as biologically evolutionarily advantageous as competition.

When people are free to do whatever they want, they are equally free to help others. The are free to assist the disadvantaged and protect the weak. The idea that freedom results only in selfishness isn't one that I'm willing to submit my psyche to anymore. [An ongoing process, of course. Seventeen years of brainwashing is tough to kick.]

It seems most of the damage done to others throughout history has been done by those who want to impart the "help" of the "one right way to live" on others.

Like C.S. Lewis says -
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

As for government as a corporate check on power... that stems, I think from an idealistic sense of what the role of government should be, as opposed to what it is. I read this this AM and had a sense of illumination, for lack of a better word.

Markos Moulitsas Is Not a Libertarian
Government is the source of corporations’ power. Corporations have gotten very good at getting government to empower them to do whatever they want. Without government, corporations could not exist. And the less power government wields over the people, the less power the corporation can leverage to its own.

...and Markos Moulitsas is still not a libertarian
...corporations gain their undue power from government. Government is the enabler, empowering corporations to step on individuals and small businesses through both regulations and subsidies. It’s only by restraining government that corporations can be held in check.

This makes a lot of sense to me right now. And whether that's logic or rationalisation [yes, the same thing, I know], who's to say?

People are pretty good. As individuals. Get a bunch of them together, not so much.

It's probably a combination of being The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements and The Mass Psychology of Fascism. [Both great books, btw.]

Like Groucho Marx said,
"I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."
And yes the irony of trying to find a political label to "join" doesn't escape me, but in the process of working all this out in your head, you have to use some kind of words and labels.

Unless Zen somehow becomes a political party. Which would be kind of cool, now that I think about it.

Save me from "normality", please.

Normal is entirely overrated.

Normal, of course, being an illusory matter of perspective.

Though save me from the espoused, "consensus", "mainstream" normality, I'd say.

Defining normal is rarely anything other than an opinion poll.

Normal as the the majority opinion quickly devolves into "Well, millions of German Nazis defined normal as something else entirely, didn't they?" And thus self referentially invoking Godwin's Law, we proceed.

"Act Normal"
Who is it that gets together in mobs and hunts down, tortures and kills people who are different from them? Who is it that teaches modesty, courtesy, and generosity but lives in depravity, rudeness, and greed? Who is it that can gather together the time, energy and money to murder millions and destroy cities, for the sake of a flag, deity or economic system? Not weirdos, not kooks or cranks or nuts. It's the "Normal" people who do those things.

It's the "Normal" people who believe there's only one "real world" and it's the one THEY'RE living in. It's the "Normal" people who kill each other over differences in that reality, and if someone can't trick themselves into ignoring the millions of inconsistencies or can't gloss over the gaping flaws in that reality-construct, or can't even pretend convincingly that they believe that flimsy and self-contradictory world is ALL TRUE, rather than have their own illusory stability undermined or accept that other ways of thinking and seeing might be valid, the "Normal" people imprison those "mentally ill," and experimentally destroy their personalities by use of drugs, electroconvulsion, and brain surgery.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I only spent 5 years as a Marine officer...

...but yeah, this sounds about right.

Fred Reed "Not Today, Sir."
...Recently I talked by email about the war with Jim Coyne, an airborne-infantry friend who served two tours as a gunship door-gunner in Viet Nam and then made a career in journalism. I asked, “Do they [I meant the officer corps, the official military] actually believe the optimistic twaddle this time around? Do they really not know what is happening?”

Jim’s response: “In my opinion, they really don't know; they may not even want to know on some level. You know as well as I, these are mission-oriented folks; can do folks; failure and its introspective handmaidens are not options to them. And in a tactical mission-oriented world our military doesn't really fail very often; in a strategic military/political world such as the Mideast and Iraq, however, we simply cannot win.

”Again, as in Viet Nam, the career officer corps salutes and marches toward the sound of battle. Eventually however (and it won't be long now) it's the grunts who will begin to revolt, first in small ways (as in the 101st in late 1968, "No sir. We are not going up that hill again.) and then, quickly thereafter (As in 1973, "Fuck you, asshole.") By that time the media may get wind of things and spin it exponentially out of control. That’s what I think.”

...The pattern is so common in recent wars as to be routine. The enlisted men know that the US is losing. The officers do not know it, or refuse to know it. This will eventually have consequences.

When men die pointlessly in a war they know cannot be won and that means nothing to them, when they realize that they are dying for the egos of draft-dodging politicians safe in Washington—they will revolt. It happened before. It will happen again. But when? Next year, I'd guess.

It is important to understand that officers and enlisted men are very different animals. For example, enlisted men do things (drive the tank, repair the helicopter) whereas officers are chiefly administrators. But the important difference is psychological. Enlisted men are blue-collar guys or technicians. They carry little ideological overburden. They want to fix the tank or finish the field exercise and then go drink beer and get laid.

Above all, they are realists. If the new radio doesn’t work, or Baghdad turns out to be a tactically irresolvable nightmare, the enlisted guys feel very little urge to pretend otherwise. This is why officers do not like reporters to be alone with the troops. And they seriously don’t.

...officers can’t conclude anything but the positive. There are several reasons. Career officers, first, are politicians. You don’t get promoted by saying that the higher-ups are otherworldly incompetents. An officer’s loyalty is to his career, and to the officer corps, not to the country or to his troops. If this sounds harsh, note how seldom an active-duty officer will criticize policy, yet when he retires he may suddenly discover that said policy resulted in unnecessary deaths among the troops. Oh? Then why didn’t he say so when it would have saved lives?

There is a curious moral cowardice among officers. They will fly dangerous missions over Baghdad, but they won’t say that things aren’t going well. They don’t go against their herd.

Further, and I want to say this carefully, officers often are not quite adults. They can be (and usually are) smart, competent, dedicated, and physically brave, and some are exceedingly hard men. But there is a simple-mindedness about them, an aversion to the handmaidens of introspection, a certain boyishness as in kids playing soldier. A lot of make-believe goes into an officer’s world. Enlisted men, grown up, see things as they are. Officers are issued a world by the command and then live in it.

Note the heavy emphasis of the military, meaning the officer corps, on ritual and pageantry. It is adult kid-stuff.
Three thousand men building a skyscraper just show up, do their jobs, and go home. The military wants its men standing in squares, precisely at attention, thumbs along the seams, with brass perfectly polished. It wants stirring music, snappy salutes, and the haunting tones of taps, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full, sir.” This is justified as necessary for discipline. It isn’t. A gunny sergeant has no difficulty maintaining his authority without the hoop-la.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Board of Education Barbecue

Shiraishi-san, superintendent of the Board of Education, invited everybody over to his home on Saturday for a bbq. Good times...

Aotani-san is what we call an "affectionate" drunk, god help us all.

Sandy's visit to a Buddhist Temple

"Stick Magnetic Ribbons on your SUV"

Satire is lovely.