Friday, June 30, 2006

MUST SEE: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

     Wow, I just got done watching the documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised which covers the events surrounding the coup which put Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez out of power temporarily in 2002. It was filmed by a group of Irish filmmakers who were doing a documentary on Chavez but then got caught up in all of the action as it took place. Maybe I'm biased towards films like this, but I thought it was fucking amazing. I've never been so interested in what was going on in a documentary before.

     Quit wasting your time reading this and go watch it over at Google video. Below are the parts that I liked the most. Don't read the following if you're going to go watch it, it might spoil some of it for you.

  • At the beginning of the movie, before the coup, the filmers were at a meeting on the wealthy side of town where a bunch of rich, white people were gathered and discussing what they should do. A rich, white girl tells the filmers that the poor have no values and that they haven't "struggled" like the rich have. But then, when they are filming the meeting that she is attending, the speaker at the meeting says "keep an eye on your domestic servants". I thought that was great. Having domestic servants can really make life tough.

  • The film shows clips of the private media during the whole ordeal and of course the media shows a very obvious bias and even lies when the people retake the Presidential palace after the coup. Before the coup however, when covering the peaceful demonstrations in support of Chavez, the media says that the demonstrators were "like the mobs used by Mussolini and Hitler".

  • There was awesome footage shot in the Presidential Palace of the guards and people when they knew that the army had switched sides and was surrounding them with tanks and was planning on bombing the building if Chavez didn't resign as President.

  • When the people took back the Presidential Palace, the Chavez's VP was getting sworn in as President (Chavez was being detained by the army). After being sworn in, you see the VP on the phone saying to someone "I hope this will settle now that I've been sworn in as Vice President", and then you hear someone else say "You're President" and then he says "Yes, I mean President". I thought that was amusing.

  • I think the most exciting part of the film is when the people in support of Chavez surround the Presidential Palace currently being controlled by the "transitional government". With the people around it, the guards of the palace (with hidden loyalties to Chavez) decide to organize and take back the building. Once they've taken it back, you see a couple of soldiers on top of the building with their fist in the air and waving at the cheering people.

         I meant to make a post about my religious deconversion today, but that will have to wait until next time. I just had to tell you about this documentary. Hope you like it.
  • Monday, June 26, 2006

    Vote Green: Bad Behavior Bumper Sticker

         This weekend I was waiting on my fiancee in a mall in Portland and I started to think about voting. I used to be very gung-ho about voting. This isn't really much of a surprise since I was also a Fox News watching, Bush voting, hard-core, jingoistic patriot. However, since my political deconversion (which I view as being, at least in practical matters, more important than my religious deconversion) I now look at voting much differently.

        As I've mentioned in a previous post, I think the two-party system is absolutely horrible, a complete joke of a democratic system. As Hellen Keller once said

    Our democracy is but a name. We vote. What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real -- though not avowed -- autocrats. We choose between 'Tweedledum' and 'Tweedledee'

    showing that even being blind and deaf is not an excuse for believing in the 2P system.

        But anyway, it's what we've got, and until we can change it, how should we act within it? One suggestion is that we vote Democrat. Why would I want to do such a thing? The Democrats don't even have the moral clarity to be able to denounce the Republicans strongly for what they're doing. Senator Biden quickly retreats from any suggestion that Bush should be impeached, and simply stops at censure. And I choose Biden because he seems to be one of the better Democrats. Most Democrats wouldn't even speak favorably of Biden's censure resolution. I'm sorry, but if you can't even say with confidence that Bush should be censured, then there is no way in hell that you deserve my vote. And in many respects, Democrats are very much like Republicans. Most Democrats are also just as much in the hands of big business as the Republicans are. Democrats have started wars of aggression against innocent people in the past also; Iraq wasn't an Republican invention (which is another thing that Democrats won't denounce strongly enough to make an impression on the American people). The Democrats do differ from the Republicans in their rhetoric however, but less so recently, and with the Democrats looking at stealing some of the evangelical vote in the upcoming elections you'll probably see more references to God in their speeches as well.

        Some suggest that voting is completely worthless and even harmful. They say it gives legitimacy to a corrupt system, which I think is hard to refute. It's the worthless attribute that I'm skeptical of, and I'll address that next. From those who want a completely different system, whether it being a different economic or political system, the claim is that this can't occur by participating in the current system, but that one must overthrow the current system by other means. I think that they are generally correct in this view, but I don't think that the solution is to not participate. Look around. Revolution is not around the corner. Republicans are getting elected. I don't want to be in a revolution of people who vote Republican and defend torture on primetime TV. I think it makes sense to try to shift the political debate to the left first, and then, perhaps when people are more sympathetic to concerns relating economic fairness, sustainability, democracy, freedom, and peace, well then perhaps then we'll have a revolution and overthrow the corrupt systems that control our lives and endanger humanity.

        I think the best thing that we can do is vote third party, such as the Greens. For one the Green positions are often close to my own and so it's nice to actually be able to vote for a candidate that represents my views in at least a rough sense. Voting Green shifts the political debate to the left, because it forces the Democrats to look to the left for votes. Without this incentive, the Democrats will simply go over to the right, which is where all the money and all the unquestioning voters are (thanks Jesus). And perhaps if enough people vote third party, we'll be able to start a movement toward a proportional representation (PR) system.

        With this reasoning I've decided to become more active with the Green party. Will much good come out of it? I'm doubtful, but I'm not ready to completely give up on voting yet. During my wait at the mall I decided to create a bumper sticker for my car, as seen below.

        If anyone is interested in purchasing one, you can buy them here. And if you haven't checked out Cafepress before, you should. They have a lot of really nice designs, for t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, etc.

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Random Comedy

         I'm going to be out of town for the next few days. In the meantime, check out the Farting Preacher .

    In addition, here's a few really good cartoons (stolen in the worst possible way from beepbeepitsme and Atheist Girl)

    Also, for you fans of Paperboy on NES, you MUST check this out (h/t to Wustlog).

    Sunday, June 18, 2006

    Parecon Reading #1

         This weekend I got busy with my goal that I mentioned in my last post of learning more about Parecon. I ordered Parecon: Life After Capitalism by Michael Albert and read my first non-Wiki article on the subject. This was an introductory paper by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel entitled Socialism As It Was Always Meant to Be. It's not too long, but it gives I think a good introduction to the basic concepts of participatory economics.

         I'm not going to write a book report type of summary here, because that's incredibly inefficient when you could just read it yourself. Rather, in the spirit of learning together and discussing, I'll mention a few aspects of the article that I found interesting.

         Firstly, the notion of rewarding people based on their effort, i.e. "to each according to his or her labor". This was a feature that I knew existed in Parecon before reading this article and I had some definite skepticism about this. Shouldn't those who are naturally gifted and intelligent benefit the same from less effort if they can produce more efficiently? I'm not criticizing Parecon in that there wouldn't be incentives for innovation, because I think they made a decent case in such a short paper that there would indeed be. However, this idea is relatively new to me. They argue that giving people more just because of their gifts that they are born with is no different than giving people more because they are born with more money and property. And I can see this point of view. However I don't think that analogy works completely because intellectual differences contribute to real differences in productivity, whereas property ownership simply means that you're benefiting from someone else's productivity. However, even this sort of compensation might result in an increase of living standards for educated people over what they get in the current capitalistic system. In the current economy, when you think of the big money, who do you think of? CEOs and property owners get the lion's share of the economic output, yet produce little to nothing of value. Jobs that take a lot of education, like science for example, get paid next to nothing in comparison.

         I also thought the idea of Workers' and Consumers' Councils and the iterative planning process that they are involved in was interesting. They didn't discuss this too much in this paper, and I look forward to hearing more about the details of it in upcoming readings.

         What were your thoughts? Does anyone else want to host the next reading or next topic? It doesn't have to necessarily contain a reading.

    Thursday, June 15, 2006


        Here's a bunch of different things I wanted to say, most of which don't justify their own post. So here we go.

  • Thanks to Foosh from Wustlog for bringing Google Analytics to my attention. It can give you some pretty cool information about the visitors who come to your site. You have to request to be invited, but I was accepted just 2 or 3 days later.

  • For those of you who might have wondered how the YearlyKos meeting in Las Vegas went, LBBP from Skeptic Rant has a first-hand account here. Also, I've heard that the GOP is going to use euthanasia as one of its focuses for the 2006 elections. And I'm glad. This affects me so much more than war or the economy. And it's about damn time I lost the right to end my own life. Only our Leader can make decisions that end lives. Anyhow, Fair Enough has a post about the issue here.

  • I just watched Ann Coulter on Jay Leno tonight, hoping that something interesting would be said by Carlin, who was also on the show. He didn't say anything of interest. But I got a little pissed watching it. For one Coulter is a fucking psycho. And actually listening to her talk made me realize that she's even more of a pyscho than I had previously thought, which is hard to do. But I basically knew that beforehand. What bothered me was the applause that she received after she would state her disgusting and pathetic point of views. She got booed a little, but the applause was much louder. It was just sickening.

  • In the comments of my last post there was some discussion about alternative economic systems, namely Parecon (Participatory Economics). Personally I don't know that much about Parecon, and from the little reading I've done of it there are some issues that I don't agree with. However, Parecon has also gotten some good reviews from people whose opinions I respect, and I feel that it would be beneficial to look into the issue more. Most notable of these is Chomsky, who says of Parecon
    A great many activists and concerned people ask, quite rightly, what alternative form of social organization can be imagined that might overcome the grave flaws -- often real crimes -- of contemporary society in more far-reaching ways than short-term reform. Parecon is the most serious effort I know to provide a very detailed possible answer to some of these questions, crucial ones, based on serious thought and careful analysis

         Even if its not perfect (which is certain), it may easily be superior to capitalism and worthy of progress towards. And the flaws it does have, well, by learning about them perhaps we could improve on the ideas.

        Anyhow, I plan on learning about Parecon in my free time for at least the rest of the summer. What I thought would be nice is if others wanted to learn more about this as well, defend it, or simply critique it, we could structure our discussions in a "reading course" type of way. I basically imagine selecting an article or paper discussing the concepts of Parecon, of which there are many available (especially on Znet), and then someone would write up their opinion on the particular concept of Parecon that the article was about and people would discuss it. A week later (the exact time depending on how many participants we had) it would be someone else's turn.

        Would anyone be interested in this?
  • Thursday, June 08, 2006

    Book Review: Government in the Future by Noam Chomsky

         Noam Chomsky's Government in the Future is a small book based on a talk that he gave in New York in 1970 in which he asks "What is the role of the state in an advanced society?" To answer this, he gives his views on four major political positions-classical liberalism (libertarianism), libertarian socialist, state socialist, and state capitalist.

        He makes his personal preference known from the outset. He states that he believes
    libertarian socialist concepts (left-wing Marxism through anarchism) are funamentally correct and are the proper and natural extensions of classical liberalism into the current era of advanced industrial society

    He then begins his look at classical liberalism. He says
    Classical liberalism asserts as its major idea an opposition to all but the most restricted and minimal forms of state intervention in personal in social life. This conclusion is quite familiar. However, the reasoning that leads to it is less familiar and I think a good deal more important than the conclusion itself

    This reasoning for limited state intervention, Chomsky explains, was that man's most important attribute is his freedom. Citing the 18th century libertarian Alexander von Humboldt,
    To inquire and to create-these are the centers around which all human pursuits more or less directly revolve.......Whatever does not spring from a man's free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very being, but remains alien to his true nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness

    Chomsky then compares Humboldt's statements with those of Karl Marx, born a half a century later, who speaks of
    the alienation of labor when work is external to the worker, ...not part of his nature,....[so that] he does not fulfill himself in his work but denies himself...[and is] physically exhausted and mentally debased

    Chomsky continues

    Robert Tucker, for one, has rightly emphasized that Marx sees the revolutionary more as the frustrated producer than as a dissatisfied consumer. And this far more radical critique of capitalist relations of production flows directly, often in the same words, from the libertarian thought of the Englightenment. For this reason, I think, one must say that classical liberal ideas in their essence, though not in the way they developed, are profoundly anticapitalist. The essence of these ideas must be destroyed for them to serve as an ideology of modern industrial capitalism.
    Writing in the 1780s and early 1790s, Humboldt had no conception of the forms that industrial capitalism would take. Consequently, in this classic of classical liberalism he stresses the problem of limiting state power, and he is not overly concerned with the dangers of private power. The reason is that he believes in, and speaks of, the essential equality of conditions of private citizens. And of course he had no idea, writing in 1790, of the ways in which the notion of a private person would come to be reinterpreted in the era of corporate capitalism. He did not foresee-I now quote the anarchist historian Rudolf Rocker-that "Democracy with its motto of 'equality of all citizens before the law,' and Liberalism with its 'right of man over his own person,' both [would be] shipwrecked on the realities of the capitalist economic forum." Humboldt did not foresee that in a predatory capitalistic economy, state intervention would be an absolute necessity to preserve human existence and prevent the destruction of the physical environment....Humboldt also did not foresee the consequences of the commodity character of labor,the doctrine,again in Polanyi's words, that "it is not for the commodity to decide where it should be offered for sale, to what purpose it should be used, at what price it should be allowed to change hands, and in what manner it should be consumed or destroyed." But the commodity is, of course, in this case, human life....

    I'll stop there for the reasons of length, but Chomsky continues in much the same way for two more pages, until he reaches the concluding statement
    Classical libertarian thought seems to me, therefore, to lead directly to libertarian socialism, or anarchism if you like, when combined with an understanding of industrial capitalism

         He then begins his discussion of libertarian socialism. This collection of ideas
    reflects the intuitive understanding that democracy is largely a sham when the industrial system is controlled by any form of autocratic elite

    Chomsky then goes on to explain some of the basic thinking associated with libertarian socialism and discusses some events in history related to the ideas or those who held them. I won't go into those ideas here, partly for length and partly because I will have another book review in the next month on a book that deals primarily with these concepts. He then addresses two counterarguments against this sort of social system, those being that such an organization is contrary to human nature, and that it is incompatible with the demands of efficiency.

         Chomsky ends the book by looking at state capitalism and state socialism. But rather than discuss these ideas abstractly, he looks at the behavior of the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1970 when he gave this talk it was surely a good way to discuss these issues, but I didn't find this small section particularly illuminating, perhaps because I've heard Chomsky and others discuss these issues in much greater detail than is allowed in a public talk.

        In conclusion, I thought it was a good read. I had gone into the reading thinking that he might make predictions about the government in the future, but instead he simply discussed some major political philosophies. However, in hindsight, this is the logical thing for him to do. The government of the future is for us to decide, and the first step towards a decision is to hear about all the options.

        I wouldn't recommend buying the book though. It's only 67 pages long and there isn't even that many words per page (like I said, it's a speech). Get it at the library if you can and read it, it won't take more than an hour. Also, you can listen to an audio version of the speech at the last link on the page here. In my opinion it's somewhat hard to listen to the talk because Chomsky intermingles a lot of quotes of people in his talk and without the ability to see it separated as you do in a book, or see Chomsky reading from his notes (as you would in a talk), it can be hard to distinguish when he's talking and when he's quoting someone.

    Sunday, June 04, 2006

    Grilled Cheese Virgin Mary Continues to Inspire

         This is a followup to my earlier Virgin Mary grilled cheese related story here. Apparently the lady is getting it tattooed to her chest (video here) She explains herself with "We all believe in certain things okay, and this is what I believe in, and this is what I want close to my heart". It's never felt so good to not be included in her We.

         And another thing, for something she loves so dearly it seems odd that she would simply sell it. Well, I suppose she probably consulted with her Savior first and he told her that it was okay. Too bad he didn't tell her to spend that extra dough on some new front teeth though. Bah, what am I thinking, teeth look trashy.

    Thursday, June 01, 2006

    MoveOn Vote Decides on Focus for 2006

        Last week MoveOn coordinated house parties around the country to brainstorm on what issues they could get their members to rally around and support. This week members were emailed and given a chance to vote and decide which 3 out of the 10 listed issues would become the primary focus for MoveOn in 2006. I signed a petition against the genocide in Darfur and ended up being a "member" so I was able to participate. I certainly don't consider myself a Democrat, but MoveOn works for some good causes and I'm glad to help make any difference that I can.

    So first, the ten issues that were voted on:

  • A balanced federal budget
  • Publicly funded elections
  • A guaranteed living wage
  • Solutions to global warming
  • High quality education for all
  • Global leadership through diplomacy
  • Guaranteed accurate elections
  • Restored constitutional rights
  • Sustainable energy independence
  • Health care for all

  •     I was really hoping that publicly funded elections would win out. This is because if you can get the politicans responsive to the people, which is something we haven't tried in this country before, many of the other reforms would be much easier to achieve. And I was really hoping that "global leadership" and "restored constitutional rights" would lose. That's beause I didn't think these issues were concrete and there's no way you could measure progress. What would you do, ask politicians to promise to honor your constitutional rights? What Bush is doing now is flagrantly illegal, but most politicians say that it's legit or at best that it should be "looked at". Without real politicians in office or without a great deal of public outrage and activism, criminal behavior will never be punished. The same sort of deal with global leadership. Most politicians would tell you we're the global leader now.

        The winners of the poll were sustainable energy dependence, health care for all, and a tie (very close in votes) between restored constitutional rights and guaranteed accurate elections, which they're combining into a single title of "restoring democracy". I think both of the first two are good concrete goals that would be nice if they could achieve. "Restoring democracy" isn't really a concrete goal in the same sense that the others are. But if MoveOn is prepared to use its resources to make a change in the minds of the American people, and get them to realize what democracy is and why it's important, then perhaps this issue could be a good thing as well. I think all these issues would be achieved much easier and much less superficially if progress could be made with campaign finance reform, but perhaps this goal isn't feasible at this time. It'd be pretty easy to produce propaganda against it, along the lines of "George Bush wants YOU to pay for his election party". So maybe we're not ready for that.

        Energy independence is going to be the first issue that they tackle, starting this month, and I'll probably have a post on it later. If you'd like to be get emails from MoveOn just sign up.

        Which issues would you or did you vote for?