I Just Didn’t Know: Republicans invented the reality then, and are doing it now

I just didn’t even know this happened.

I knew about the Swift Boat ads, and I knew about a bunch of POWs trashing Kerry’s war record only because he spoke out against the war when he returned back to the states. But I simply did not know the extent of this. Take a look at this great student-written article about it. Apparently a broadcasting company named Sinclair pushed to have a documentary named “Stolen Honor” broadcast on TV just days before the 2004 election. To see what the documentary is about, check out NewsMax’s “news report” on it. I put that in quotes because it begins sounding like an AP article but ends just accepting the thesis of the documentarian hook, line and sinker, and making the creators of this documentary seem heroic.

The basic premise of the film isn’t that Kerry did bad things during war. The basic premise is that he was a traitor because he chose to be against the war while the fighting was still going on. The film includes all sorts of references to POWs who say that their torturers used to refer to Kerry, that Kerry is lionized in modern Vietnam as a hero for the enemy, and that the museums in Vietnam worship Kerry as helping fight the good fight for the Vietnamese.

Of course, this is all bullshit, and even if it were true, it doesn’t mean Kerry’s a traitor. It is true that Kerry was against the Vietnam war, but guess what–historical revisionism is with him on that one. The Vietnamese can idolize whomever they want, the important thing was that Kerry had the courage to come home and admit that this war was wrong. Did he benefit politically from it? Maybe. But that’s a better way to advance your political career than George W. Bush, who was just handed his career by his daddy.

Almost all historians who have studied Vietnam and written anything about see it as nothing more than a war in error, whose nature caused soldiers to act in a completely amoral way simply due to their yearning to survive. No one blames the soldiers for being amoral–the circumstances bred that. There was no fucking law in Vietnam, it was kill or be killed. But it is the task of a government and its generals to prevent those situations–to plan strikes on concentrated enemy forces. We just dropped soldiers into a foreign jungle and expected them to only kill the bad guys. Some plan we had.

Anyone who thinks that Vietnam was a just war, and that someone is a traitor to be against it, is seriously living in a dream world. It was a god-damn mess, and we raped and killed people, gave them cancer with Agent Orange, pillaged villages and lost many soldiers, and all for a war that was very much political from the start (part of the grand national obsession with communism, which has only been replaced by terrorism as of late).

But more than that, this documentary was solely based on a quote of Kerry’s taken out of context, as usual for these Republican scumbags. Take a look at FactCheck’s analysis.

I know Kerry is long off the radar and the 2004 was a long time ago at this point, but this still baffles me. Just look at how the documentarians refer to it as the documentary “that made history.” It even quotes a NYTimes article which says “”Stolen Honor”…should be shown in its entirety on all the networks, cable stations and on public television,” yet another quote taken out of context. The NYTimes review was actually very negative on the film in general, and said its only value was to show how those being tortured in POW camps felt betrayed when people came out against the war. But the review goes on at length about how various things are blown out of proportion in order to try to make the film a political propaganda piece against Kerry. When the author of the review wrote it should be shown on all news stations, he was being a bit ironic. He said that because he would then say, “This histrionic, often specious and deeply sad film does not do much more damage to Senator John Kerry’s reputation than have the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s negative ads, which have flooded television markets in almost every swing state.” In other words, the political damage has been done, so at this point may as not worry about it.

Why am I worrying about it? Because this points in general to the state of our media. Conservatives don’t like objective analysis. so they have a real easy answer: we’ll just invent the reality. I still remember one of the scariest, and craziest quotes I had ever come across:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

Conservatives don’t like global warming, so they pretend it isn’t happening. They don’t like evolution, so they pretend that isn’t happening. They don’t like Kerry, so they pretend he was a traitor to his country. They don’t like opposition to the war in Iraq, so they pretend it is doing lots of good. They don’t like blame for Katrina, so they pretend that “no one is to blame”, or that the poor people Left Behind in that state are to blame for settling down there, or that Democratic politicians are to blame for not doing something about it.

In short, they are creating the reality. NewsMax, Fox, Weekly Standard, Think Tanks, etc. When a conservative says to me the media is liberal, I’m no longer going to respond with the laugh I usually do, saying something like “I wish that the media were liberal. That would make us all a lot better off.” Instead, I am just going to talk about this, and ask them: tell me, what liberal media won John Kerry the 2004 election? Oh, that’s right. The one that pushed out propaganda on public airwaves calling Kerry a traitor. That liberal media.

Arghh, this stuff gets me so angry sometimes!

(p.s. I never really supported Kerry anyway, but for completely different reasons. I didn’t support him because he wasn’t at all radical, he was as close to the center as democrats go. He would have held off the Bush onslaught of 2004-2008, but he wouldn’t have brought our country back to a place I’d like to be–a place where social justice and fairness enter at all into the role of government. But with a President as bad as Bush, Kerry looks like Mahatma Ghandi.)

Interference in the “free market” is always bad?

A great little exchange on the second-to-last Bill Maher show about global warming:

MAHER: Doc, let me ask – let me ask you this. This administration loves to pretend that there is a debate going on about scientific issues, because, really they’re a bunch of Jesus Freaks, quite frankly. So they pretend that people are debating, or scientists are debating, about evolution, when I don’t think they are. They certainly pretend that there’s a debate about global warming. Now, you’re a scientist. You hang out with scientists. Even when you guys are drunk, when there’s no cameras around, have you ever heard another scientist say he doesn’t think global warming is happening?

SCHNEIDER: I’ve heard a few, but the vast, vast majority believe not only that global warming is occurring and that we’re about a degree Fahrenheit in the planet warmer than we were a century ago, but the vast majority of those who know something about it believe that at least half of that in the last 30-40 years is due to our using the atmosphere as an un-priced sewer to dump our tailpipe and our smokestack wastes. And every time we try to talk about getting a tax on those emissions, they tell us it’s an interference in the free market, as if, somehow, we should get our garbage collected for free.

How true. Interference in the free market, beh. Well, guess what, economists? The free market doesn’t realize that the environment isn’t an infinite resource, and our generation and the few afterward will pay for that oversight.

She says she’s 18, but you’re a sexual predator and pedophile

In this article you see quite an amazing statement by one of the guys who busts “sexual criminals”…

“These girls are only 13, 14 or 15 saying they are 18. Some of the things they are writing are leaving them open to sexual predators and pedophiles,” said Drass.

Excuse me, but if I have sex with a girl who tells me she’s 18, I may have committed a crime, but I did so unknowingly. Having sex with someone who tells you she is of the age of consent but isn’t doesn’t make you a sexual predator or a pedophile. Sexual predators and pedophiles seek out underage people because they are easy victims.

But it’s strange–these cops are so singly-focused in making big busts that they can hardly tell the difference between a pedophile and someone who has sex with someone underage but never knew the girl’s real age.

Shouldn’t the parents have to take any responsibility if their children are pretending to be older than they are and thus having illegal sex with people? You can only go so far “shielding” your kids from harms before you just have to sit down with them and tell them the reality of life. But most parents are so thick-headed they don’t even want to talk to their children about sex (hell, most parents have never even let their kids see them naked). Is anyone thinking that perhaps the taboo we have on sexuality in this country is what leads kids to have such strange misconceptions, so that eventually there are 14 year olds who think it’s cool to list on their profile, “I like rough sex and I like it 10 times a day.” Why don’t parents just talk to their kids, it’s the only god-damn reason you’re a parent in the first place.

Why do parents think leaving kids on the Internet unattended is any different from letting your kids walk into the public square unattended, or make random telephone calls unattended? The Internet is a way to contact people, and communicate with them; often, people you do not know. An “innocent child” who cannot make judgements for him/herself should simply not be on there without a full armament of knowledge about the reality of the situation.

Meanwhile, the real victim here isn’t the 14 year old who thought it would be cool to have sex and so lied about her age to lose her virginity, but the guy who sincerely thought she was 18 and ends up going to jail for it.

Bill Moyers speaks The Truth: The New American Political Movement is Religion

This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long, long while. Bill Moyers elucidates the religious and moral situation of the United States with a clarity simply not found elsewhere.

Here is an amazing passage I am posting only to whet your appetite, but you really should read it yourself.

Not many people at the time seemed to notice that Osama bin Laden had also been reading his sacred book closely and literally, and had called on Muslims to resist what he described as a “fierce Judeo-Christian campaign” against Islam, praying to Allah for guidance “to exalt the people who obey Him and humiliate those who disobey Him.”

Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a “holy war” as defined by fundamentalists on both sides. You could see this pathology play out in General William Boykin. A professional soldier, General Boykin had taken up with a small group called the Faith Force Multiplier whose members apply military principles to evangelism with a manifesto summoning warriors “to the spiritual warfare for souls.”

After Boykin had led Americans in a battle against a Somalian warlord he announced, “I know my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol.” Now Boykin was going about evangelical revivals preaching that America was in a holy war as “a Christian nation” battling Satan and that America’s Muslim adversaries will be defeated “only if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”

For such an hour, America surely needed a godly leader. So General Boykin explained how it was that the candidate who had lost the election in 2000 nonetheless wound up in the White House. President Bush, he said, “was not elected by a majority of the voters – he was appointed by God.”

Not surprising, instead of being reprimanded for evangelizing while in uniform, General Boykin is now the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. (Just as it isn’t surprising that despite his public call for the assassination of a foreign head of state, Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing was one of the first groups to receive taxpayer funds from the President’s Faith-Based Initiative for “relief work” on the Gulf Coast.)

We can’t wiggle out of this, people. Alvin Hawkins states it frankly: “This is a problem we can’t walk away from.” We’re talking about a powerful religious constituency that claims the right to tell us what’s on God’s mind and to decide the laws of the land according to their interpretation of biblical revelation and to enforce those laws on the nation as a whole. For the Bible is not just the foundational text of their faith; it has become the foundational text for a political movement.

Homeland Security, or the Department of Peace?

I really have been so caught up in my own nonsense that I haven’t even deeply parsed and analyzed what has gone on since the feds fumbled dealing with the Katrina approach and aftermath, but I will say this.

We spend billions of dollars on supposedly preventing unseen harms, on supposedly stopping catastrophes before they happen. The irony here is that we knew this catastrophe was coming, and we did nothing. The catastrophe happened and we still did nothing. And people suffered from its aftermath, and only then we did something (but only slightly more than nothing).

As I said in an earlier post on a completely different topic, we should just all come to our fucking senses and not spend a god-damn dime on homeland security. You think that’ll open the flood gates for terrorism? Fine. Let them come, let them attack. If the Bush administration is allowed to think in terms of “this many innocent lives may be sacrified for the greater good,” then I will too. I can deal with 3,000 people dying if it means we have $300 billion dollars to spend to save and ameliorate lives in this country.

The typical conservative response is to get completely sensitive about it. “You wouldn’t say that if one of your family members were among the 3,000 who had to be sacrificed.” Sure I wouldn’t. And George Bush wouldn’t be charging ahead in Iraq if it were his daughters whose lives were on the line. And I wouldn’t cross the street if I knew once I step foot on the other side, one of my friends had to die. But that isn’t a way to reason about things. Sensitive situations simply push away the moral issue and replace it with a familial one. We study this very much in Ethics, for example:

A train hurtles down it’s track, towards a junction. The junction can either leave the train upon it’s current track or divert it. On the current track stand five people. On the diversion track stands a single person. All, like the train driver, are unaware of the imminent collision. Only you, standing at the junction box, are aware of what is about to occur.

You therefore have a choice before you; to leave the junction box lever untouched and see five people die, or to close the lever and in doing so shift the train to the diversionary track, and see one person die.

What do you do?

“Well, ” you think to yourself, “I would rather no one died at all, but since there’s no getting away from it, it’s better than only one person dies, rather than five, so I will close the lever.”

A variation of this thought experiment, which points to the difficulty of choosing one life over another, has the single person be your mother, and the five others be five anonymous bystanders. In this variation, you have a choice: let the train kill 5 bystanders, or let the train kill your mother.

Of course, most people respond to that thought experiment by saying they’d rather kill the five people, especially since killing the five requires little action, while killing your mother would require the push of the lever. But that obscures the main issue: if the people were anonymous, you’d choose one death over five. Therefore, the fact that you are so intimately connected to your mother should not enter into it when we reason about what the morally right decision is.

In this case, I look at our Homeland Security spending as having many, many hidden harms. One, it enthrones the military-industrial complex yet again, putting weapons manufacturers at the forefront of our capitalist system, and allowing them to feed the politicians with the things they need and get big contracts in return. In this sense, we all pay a kind of tax to weapons dealers, and we pay it without even being able to measure what kind of protection this tax affords us.

Second, it creates a constant state of panic, which shrouds other important domestic and foreign political issues. Security, terrorism, homeland security: these have become the #1 issues of our time, almost a national obsession. Healthcare, unemployment benefits, fair capitalism, small business support, science and research, all of that has taken a back seat. And, it is reflected in the federal discretionary budget.

Meanwhile, the paradox is that so far, we only have, in America, the 3,000 deaths of September 11 as our major loss of life directly from Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations, yet we probably have between 10 and 100x that many deaths from other preventable causes that could be saved with the use of the hundreds of billions we toss into the anti-terrorism toliet bowl. (Among others, people who can’t afford healthcare, the homeless, domestic violence, gun violence, suicide, drug overdose, crime-related deaths, on and on).

Furthermore, we have the upcoming generational deaths that are much harder to measure but are equally important: pollution, environmental disasters, and chemical tampering with our food, which could each lead to cancers and other health-related disorders.

Aside from this, we have a less grave but perhaps even more important loss: the flight of our brain share. Our educational system is crumbling alongside the competition, and the best our incompetent government can do is yell “privatize!” We have poor, smart kids who can’t afford an education, and these kids will end up in drugs, crime, or both. We have high school systems that encourage apathy, lack of civic duty, and unchecked consumerism, and we have the least intellectually curious generation possibly ever. These harms mean that when I get older, and look over the society that the Bush administration has shaped, I will not even see the tiny, rare bits of political activism you see around us today. The Left, I’m afraid, is really dying, even from the bottom-up.

Did I seem to tread off-topic? Well, I didn’t. All of this is related to how singly-focused we have become on “homeland security.” I just keep repeating to myself what my Dad said to me a long time ago: “Do you think that when fascism was taking hold in Italy, we all knew it was happening? Fascists don’t arrive waving flags of fascism and calling themselves fascists. Fascists arrive looking like you or me, telling us all that we need protection, and that they have a vision. You then follow along, because it sounds good, and because you’re scared. And then before you know it, you’re no longer asking questions; you’re just following orders.”

Classes change, new schedule

Well, this week I was caught up in classes, but then eventually decided that I had to change the classes I’m in. Why? Well, let’s just say that in high school, I supposedly took AP Calculus, but in reality, I used to use that period to think up my best ideas. I recently found my Calculus notebook, and about 90% of it is very unrelated to integrals and derivatives. It’s amazing but although I got an A in Calculus, and thus tested out of having to take in college, since I literally have never used it for 3 years, my brain has all but forgotten about the discipline entirely. Therefore, I dropped by Calculus II class, and am going to audit a Calculus I class so that I can actually get up to speed for next semester.

Meno male, as the Italians say, because I got to get into a class I wanted to take anyway–US History up to 1865. I e-mailed the professor and was let in today. Lots of reading, but thankfully, most of it interesting. So now I am taking two non-CS courses (this one and one on Modern Philosophy) alongside one pure CS course (Theory of Computation) and one sort-of CS course (Introduction to Motion Capture). This last course is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life–more on that later.

Alas, my schedule isn’t as sweet at before, especially with a “fifth” class to audit, but I’ll make do.

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
8:25-
9:15am
      US History
Recitation
9:30-
10:45am
US History Theory of
Computation
US History Theory of
Computation
12:30-
1:15pm
Modern
Philosophy
  Modern
Philosophy
 
2:00-
3:15pm
Calculus (review) Motion Capture Calculus (review) Motion Capture

To Snip?

I need to read this.

UPDATE: I heard about the same studies mentioned here (re: circumcision lowers HIV rate among Africans) years ago in a documentary on the topic.

However, the context not provided here is the actual paradox in circumcising to prevent HIV. What the study finds is that of men who have sex with HIV infected women, you are say 70% less likely to contract the virus if you are circumcised. However, mass circumcision would do nothing but slightly slow the spread of AIDs, since Africans will treat the procedure as “protection” and therefore not use condoms or any other form of protection.

The proper way, instead of slicing off as many foreskins as you can find, is to distribute condoms, educate the people to use them, and get people to start having safer sex. Not only is this cheaper, but it’s, morally-speaking, much more sound.

Loaded Terms: Pro-Life, Anti-Abortion, or just True Believers?

I recently read an amusing article about a LA Times editor who changed a review of an opera which included the sentence “an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean” to read “an incomparably glorious and goofy anti-abortion paean.”

If you didn’t get it the first time around, it may be clearer if you see that the author meant “pro-life” in the sense of “life-affirming,” and that the opera actually had naught to do with abortion.

Someone responding to the report pointed out that he was an LA Times reporter, and understands that the error was made because of an LA Times style guide entry about abortion, reproduced below:

abortion

Those who favor maintaining legal access to abortion are abortion rights advocates, supporters of legal abortion or those who favor abortion rights. They should not be called abortion advocates or be characterized as being pro-abortion. Those opposed to abortion may be called opponents of abortion or abortion foes or may be characterized as being anti-abortion. Do not use the term pro-life.

Conservatives immediately lunged a response, claiming for example:

The ban of “pro-life” only makes ethical sense if its part of an even handed treatment of the abortion argument that includes a ban on the equally loaded and misrepresentative term “pro-choice”, for example phrasing the sides as pro- and anti-abortion. It’s very telling that the pro-abortion people are only characterized in positive terms (advocates, supporters, favor) while anti-abortion activists are entirely negative (oppponents, foes).

Here, the conservative missed the point. People who support the right to abortion aren’t “pro-abortion.” To be “pro-abortion” would mean you favor abortion over all other options–such that, for example, you think all pregnancies should end in abortion. Of course, pro-choice people are only focused on the right to abort–they don’t, for example, extol the virtues of aborting a fetus, but only want the option available. Pro-choice people support the right to choose whether to have an abortion, instead of being told one way or the other about it.

To put it another way, though one may support the right one has to murder another man in defense of one’s own life, one would be quite illspoken to call such a right “pro-murder.” The killing may be justified in this or that case, but there almost always exists the riskier and less convenient route, say, to capture the attacker, tie his hands behind his back, and bring him to the police. Likewise, abortion rights advocates believe that when a pregnancy is unwanted, one should not be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, since doing so forces risks and inconveniences upon the woman in question (such as, for example, complications during pregnancy, complications at delivery, being unable to perform in school or work during the ultimate months of the pregnancy, and having to care for a born human being after birth). If the woman was raped and seeks an abortion afterwards, things are even more complicated, as there may be serious psychological issues at play.

Ultimately, the pro-choice crowd sees this issue as a decision only that a woman and her doctor should be allowed to make–not lawmakers or priests or the Vatican. As I will argue in my future article evaluating the ethics surrounding abortion, the decision to abort a fetus who has the potential of becoming a full-grown human-being rests entirely with the creator, and, ironically, this view of the creator’s power over its creation is entirely consistent with Christian scripture (not that it has to be to be morally true, but this just happens to be a nice and elegant if-I-may-say-so-myself consequence of the ethical analysis).

On the other hand, anti-abortion is a completely proper term for the conservative crowd, because they think abortion should not be allowed in any instance (in other words, women shouldn’t be give the choice of abortion), so not only don’t they support the right to have an abortion, but they equate abortion with a kind of murder, and are therefore almost unequivocally against it.

The reason “pro-life,” as a term, is so grossly distorted, is that it equates a love of innocent life with being against a woman’s right to choose to abort a fetus which she created and about which there is no consensus whether it can be considered to be a “human life.” (The only consensus, lest you forget, is that the fetus has the potential at becoming a human life, but as I argued earlier in my blog, so too do my glances at a fertile woman.)

It also equates the morality of abortion with the morality of euthanasia, two issues that are so crazily opposed on the ethical analyst’s scale that it is strange to find them uttered in the same sentence. It also plays into the love that spiritual and religious people have of life, and tries to place them as diametrically opposed to people who are implied to be “anti-life,” or life haters. This is quite a distortion, and as a newspaper editor, I’d leave this term out of the debate as well.

The reason I, personally, am disgusted by the term “pro-life” is because of how inconsistent (and, sometimes even racist) the people who declare themselves pro-life tend to be. Now, here I am speaking in generalities, so please don’t take the following paragraph as the ultra-serious analysis you come to normally expect from me ;-). Coming from an Italian background, I think speaking in generalities is sometimes important, as often the “stereotypes” arise from somewhere.

There are many “pro-life” people who support the war in Iraq and our general military presence in the world, and there are many “pro-life” people who are very much against this war and all others. But just to point out the general moral inconsistency, I have to say that I find it quite laughable when a person claims he or she is “pro-life” but accepts as a consequence of our war in Iraq “collateral damage,” namely “innocent life lost as a means to an end.” I again am speaking in generalties, but I’m sure you can also find more than a few thousand “pro-life” people who believe we were justified in dropping the atom bombs on Japan (see earlier articles on my blog). The term pro-life only refers to fetuses and euthanasia because ultimately the issue is not at all about practical political or secular philosophical issues for these people. The issues revolve entirely around scripture, the Bible, and moral righteousness, seeing the people who ask for abortions as the same people who also do such evils as having sex for fun, smoking marijuana, and using swear-words.

When I analyze the issue of abortion from a philosophical standpoint (I am currently working on a WordPress draft that does just that), I leave miracles out of it. But these people can’t help but cite the scripture. It’s funny and sad that we see the same trend emerging as they aim to stamp out evolutionary theory, as well.

That said, as a newspaper editor I’d leave the term “intelligent design” out of the evolution debate, preferring instead to refer to those people as “people who believe that the only way to explain the natural diversity of this planet is to say that a higher being–call him “God”–designed each and every species on this planet, and on all the other planets in this universe that may have life forms. But those who support this view have no explanation for who created this higher being, or where he may have come from.”

As Bill Maher recently said in his wonderful New Rules from last show:

And the reason there is no real debate, is that intelligent design isn’t real science. It’s the equivalent of saying that the thermos keeps hot things hot and cold things cold… because it’s a god. It’s so willfully ignorant you might as well worship the U.S. Mail. It came again! Praise, Jesus!

No, stupidity isn’t a form of knowing things. Thunder is high pressure air meeting low pressure air. It’s not God bowling. “Babies come from storks” is not a competing school of thought. In medical school, we shouldn’t teach both. The media shouldn’t equate both. If Thomas Jefferson knew we were blurring the line this much between church and state, he would turn over in his slave.

Perhaps the grossest distortion of views ever engaged by the “pro-life” crowd was related to Terri Schiavo. I’m glad that even after that woman finally got to rest in peace, a Roman Catholic University will continue to mourn her death with a scholarship for priests in her name.

Right after my Mom had me, she had an aneurysm of her brain. The operation that had to be performed on her had a 30% chance of success, with a high chance of intense brain damage (leading to a vegetative state).

When my Dad found the doctor to perform the surgery, he spoke with him in confidence, and said to him something to the effect of, “My wife has told me she doesn’t want to end up a vegetable. Either she survives the operation, or she doesn’t–understand?”

My Mom survived the operation, thank goodness. But if the operation had failed, and my Mom would have been left there in a vegetative state, I would have thanked anyone who gave my father the right to end her life as someone who truly understands humanity, and the morality of life and death. Since then, my Mom has said the same thing to me. She was utterly disgusted by the Terri Schiavo case, and how so-called religious people’s could support keeping alive a woman who was clearly suffering so much, just to push forward their biological-life-obsessed agenda. But perhaps the concurrence between intelligent design theorists and “pro-life” people isn’t so far-fetched. After all, it’s quite hard to get so very excited about saving embryos, 1- or 3-month-old fetuses, or braindead human bodies, if you don’t believe that “God” had a hand in creating each of them, if you don’t believe that each of those configurations of cells are works of art from an Almighty Creator.

Corporate Pork in the Age of “Homeland Security”

As reported on most major news stations, Air America, and Slashdot, Lockheed Martin was awarded a big $212 million contract to install thousands of cameras in NYC’s subway system and a wireless network which, incidentally, will not work in moving cars. I don’t know whether the cameras themselves will actually work in the cars (it seems to me if one seems a technical hurdle than the other will as well), but that remains to be seen.

I know this almost goes without saying, but this is really a waste of taxpayer dollars. People will say this is a good step, that anything goes to make them feel safer, but in the end, we have to think about the facts.

9/11 didn’t happen because of a failure of security or intelligence. It happened because of a failure of imagination. We’ve said this time and time again, but perhaps now we’re forgetting just how surprised we were that terrorists decided to hijack our airplanes and fly them into our buildings while we were worrying about trucks full of explosives being driven into the underground parking garage.

People have worried about subways being a terrorist target for years, even before 9/11. Therefore, it’s quite likely they won’t be a target. It will more likely be an unattended package in Times Square, where it’s crowded and relatively light on security, or a smuggled package into Carnegie Hall, where the well-to-do nature of the crowd makes no one suspect anything, or any other number of possible things that are completely not obvious. Because protecting against a terrorist is ultimately futile, because smart ones will obviously choose means that you didn’t think of, then why take these measures at all?

Well, one reason is because people in public policy feel this pressure to do something, so that when something does happen, they won’t be fired on the grounds of taking no steps to counter terrorism. Then, we hand $200 million dollars over to a corporation that already lives and breathes on our taxpayer dollars for fighter jets and missiles, and we never look back.

In return for this false sense of safety, we get other hidden harms. Invasion of privacy? Check. Feeling like you live in a police state? Check. $200 million dollars we could have spent on health care, education, or retirement benefits? Check.

How about when the new “anti-terrorism” cameras start being used to spot young black kids who might be carrying marijuana, so we can lock them up? Are there legal exemptions in this system if, when approaching a person for suspection as a potential terrorist, finding a bit of marijuana isn’t admissable as evidence against this person? I doubt it. It’s probably just like the cameras in the parks around New York; installed, supposedly, to prevent rape, but used most often to bust drug deals.

My other concern is much more practical. These cameras won’t work. I heard the woman who sponsored the project for the MTA saying the purpose was to be able to find a suspicious package, identify it, and dispatch bomb sniffing dogs to “take care of the situation.”

You must be kidding, right?

First of all, whoever will be manning the camera stations, if they are anything like the luggage screeners in the airports, I very much doubt they will notice “suspicious packages” when we need them to. Second, following the trends of most modern terrorists, you’ll be looking at a suspicious bag at the West 4th Street station, while a young man wearing a backpack suddenly explodes.

What if the coordinated terrorists decide to drop “suspicious packages” all over most of the subways in Manhattan, at about the same time. 30 suspicious packages across New York. They’ll only actually blow up 10 of them, but you’ll be spread so thin by that point that you won’t even know how to respond.

Do you see what I’m getting at? How futile is this stuff? I know it’s hard to accept, I know it’s cold and maybe downright mean, and you may be saying, “Andrew, you’re full of shit, you don’t understand this at all,” but this is what I say to all this spending:

Fuck it. Fuck it all. Don’t spend a god-damn dime on pre-empting a terrorist attack.

Spend it, instead, on providing health care for sick Americans. Making sure the unemployed get employed so they don’t turn to crime. Focusing on education in poor neighborhoods where crime is common. In the end, you spend $200 million dollars in any of those, and you’ll probably save a few hundred lives every year, and at least we can measure it, and at least I don’t have to sacrifice my civil liberties for it.

In this country, we spend over $400 billion on defense. That’s more than our combined spending for Education, Housing, Justice, Housing Assistance, Environment, Employment, Science/space and Transportion, among other things. And it’s not just slightly more; it’s $100 billion more.