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Projection as Rhetoric

via Ipecac:

In an article at Townhall Mona Charen expresses what are likely the feelings of more than a few partisan Republicans when she writes, "Many on the left seem incapable of carrying on a political discussion without descending into character assassination." The ironic thing, however, is that this is her segway from a wack-job on Michael Moore to one on Paul Krugman.
These days [Republicans] are fond of simply declaring that liberals are insane and comparing them with terrorists. Clearly, they are out of ideas. When they say they cannot comprehend the "Bush-hater's mentality" they are telling the truth. They have little comprehension of or tolerance for any (world)view which does not jive with their narrow ideological outlook.

The classic Freudian definition of projection is:

A defense mechanism in which the individual attributes to other people impulses and traits that he himself has but cannot accept. We project our own unpleasant feelings onto someone else and blame them for having thoughts that we really have. It is especially likely to occur when the person lacks insight into his own impulses and traits. Thus the cheat is sure that everyone else is dishonest. The would-be adulterer accuses his wife of infidelity.

And to quote Hofstadter once again:

As Reinhold Neibuhr has remarked: 'Extreme orthodoxy betrays by its very frenzy that the poison of skepticism has entered the soul of the church; for men insist most vehemently upon their certainties when their hold upon them has been shaken. Frantic orthodoxy is a method for obscuring doubt.'

The feeling that rationalism and modernism could no longer be answered in debate led to frantic efforts to overwhelm them by sheer violence of rhetoric and finally by efforts at suppression and intimidation...

The knuckle-draggers are becoming desperate — just think of Cheney's recent comment to Leahy. The gloves are starting to come off (or rather the chains are loosening) — we haven't seen anything yet.

Much more on this soon...


Xymphora — a Blipvert Appreciation for an Important Blogger

Just a heartfelt "Thanks!" to Xymphora for helping me understand the Canadian election results.

I haven't been paying the attention I ought, seeing as it's my new country and all, so I thank him for providing an analysis I trust. And I do trust it, since what I was able to determine for myself he confirmed as correct, such as the Canadian press's bias in favor of a conservative victory.

I don't have any idea who this blogger is (hell, I don't have any idea who any blogger is!), but he is one of the most brilliant, incisive, sophisticated political analysts I'm aware of. I trust him implicitly (as much as I can trust any of them, that is). So, Xymphora, if you should ever deign to read my humble little blog, please accept my thanks for putting yourself out there!


The History of Modern Intellectuals in 172 Words

A self-conscious concern with alienation, far from being peculiar to American intellectuals in our time, has been a major theme in the life of the intellectual communities of the Western world for almost two centuries. In earlier ages, when the life and work of intellectuals had been bound up with the Church or the aristrocracy or both, consistent alienation from society was rare. But the development of modern society, from the eighteeth century onwards, created a new set of material and social conditions and a new kind of consciousness. Everywhere in the Western world, the ugliness, materialism, and ruthless human exploitation of early modern capitalism affronted sensitive minds. The end of the system of patronage and the development of a market place for ideas and art brought artists and intellectuals into a sharp and often uncomfortable confrontation with the mind of the middle class. In various ways intellectuals rebelled against the conditions of the new bourgeois world — in romantic assertions of the individual against society, in bohemian solidarity, in political radicalism.

Richard Hofstadter: Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. (Vintage 1963, repr 2004; p 398.)

The New State of Bliss

"If you are tired of government-endorsed sin, then stand up and be counted!"

Via Xymphora this really quite excellent idea:

ChristianExodus.org is coordinating the move of thousands of Christians to South Carolina for the express purpose of re-establishing Godly, constitutional government. It is evident that the U.S. Constitution has been abandoned under our current federal system, and the efforts of Christian activism to restore our Godly republic have proven futile over the past three decades. The time has come for Christians to withdraw our consent from the current federal government and re-establish the sovereign nation of South Carolina upon the Christian principles once so predominant in America.

If Ignorance is Bliss then this new state sounds like it will be Heaven on Earth.

I wish them Godspeed!


Flocking to Greener Pastures turning Brown?

I work in the business we call show. For many years I've been doing computer graphic special effects. And I've wanted out for many years. Don't get me wrong — if you have to have a job it's a great one to have. I get paid well, I work with very intelligent and creative people, I can dress as down as I like, I don't have to pee in cups, I get to use my brain to its fullest, and I work on some of the sexiest projects imaginable seen by countless millions of people.

But it's almost a cliché that those who have been in this industry a long time clamor to leave. The hours can be grueling. For instance, I've been wanting to blog all week but work's been prohibitively consuming. In the past I turned down a job to work on Matrix 2 & 3 because the starting hours were 12 hours a day, six days a week; it was only a couple of weeks after what would have been my start date that the schedule became 14+ hours a day, seven days a week — for over two and half months! I would have missed my then 2 year old son's entire summer, and I was not willing to do that.

My longest work week was 109 hours, including a stretch of 65 straight hours. The pressure to deliver by (sometimes arbitrary) deadlines can be intense: eg, final renders for The Matrix were still being computed shortly before the final release cut was due for printing, and it was an insane week trying to complete the shots in time; when they finally finished they had to be hand delivered by flying the visual effects supervisor to Hollywood who ran into editorial with scarcely minutes to spare. This is more common that it ought to be. And because the CG industry is not unionized (except for ILM, which even there doesn't really mean squat anymore) employers often get away with shit they should never get away with, like demanding 50 hour week minimums and not paying overtime.

Though I like what I do a great deal I want more time for myself and my family. I had actually left the industry after my last job, and it was only because a great opportunity to finally get to Canada came along that I gladly returned to it. (I would have done almost anything to get to Canada. And — wonder of wonders! — Canada puts artists such as myself on the shortlist of most-desirable immigrants! Imagine that — a country actively recruiting an artsy-fartsy intellectual type such as myself! I was diamond-laned through immigration and handed a work permit on a silver platter. And it has proven to be one of the best decisions of my life!)

As it turns out the entertainment industry is coming back to life in Toronto, so it's a good time to be here. It was recently announced that Toronto will be the home of a giant film studio (pending approval from the city board), which is good news for the city, and for the Canadian entertainment industry.

I'm still a newbie at Canadian politics, and I haven't been following the upcoming election closely, so I can't speak with any authority concerning it. My impression is that Harper and the Conversatives are kissing cousins to Murkan Republicans, and I know a lot of people are really worried that should they assume a majority we'll be following Murka down the fascist toilet. I suppose people are justifiably pissed at Martin and the Liberals, but as someone at work said "You don't sign up with the devil just because God made a few mistakes." (I take this with pounds of salt, but I think there's some merit to the general thrust of his argument.)

From a purely selfish point of view it would totally suck to go to the trouble of returning to an industry I left in order to leave Murka to find greener pastures in some other country, only to have the herbicidal poison-cloud blow over the border and turn the pastures as brown as the shirts worn by the crop dusters. Of particular concern, at least to the entertainment industry here, are the plans Harper has for gutting the CRTC — Canada's version of the BBC — and converting Canada's airwaves to the privatized corporate propaganda system so favored by the FCC. It seems that Harper is bent on making the perception of Canada as Murka's 51st State a reality. Xymphora, as usual, has a solid take on it all.

The reason for this reflection is due to an email I received from Jon Husband at Wirearchy about a comment left at The Whiskey Bar:

Here's the scary part: many of my friends in "The Industry" want out too --- no joke -- people are planning their escape routes. So if Bush is re-selected you will see a massive talent drain in the entertainment industry, which is probably a good thing because the US entertainment industry lately is styfling. (sorry, awful speller)

Also, many who work in entertainment are here on special visas -- anyone see that report today that says that after July 16 the US govt. will force people holding a bunch of different visa classifications to leave the country and re-apply when their visa expires?

This is going to ensure that whatever entertainment we get down here will be about 1/8 as much fun.

How much worse is it going to get? And what are the words to "O Canada?"

I had a duty to myself and my family to leave Sparta. Not that Canada is Athens — though with what I expect to be an influx of Murkan artists and intellectuals over the coming few years it could become a kind of early 21st century bohemian enclave, much as New York and San Francisco became when artists and intellectuals fled the Nazis. It would be sadly ironic — no, it would be immensely tragic — should so many people come here, as I did myself, only to find themselves back where they started.


My Favorite Biblical Contradiction

From The King James Bible:

Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.
Jeremiah 3:12

And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.
Jeremiah 17:4

There are so many to choose from, but I think this one's my favorite because it's a 180° degree contradiction within 14 verses of the same book.


A friend from the states was in Toronto recently. He mentioned a great idea he had that would be a surefire marketing sensation.

A line of clothing called


For Kids -- By Kids

I don't see how it could lose, except for the tiny demographic of whiny socially responsible types. But since they're so easily dismissed there are no limits to the possibilities! A fortune awaits!


On Creating & Destroying Monster Corpses

From Seeing the Forest (via Wealth Bondage):

The Enron Tapes and the Snohomish vs. Enron hearing aren't just about a few potty mouthed "bad apples" at Enron engaging in opportunistic exploitation of regulatory loopholes (as Enron's PR people would like you to believe). They highlight a fundamental problem of our system of governance: the balance of power between corporations and the average human citizen is way out of whack. This is a point that those of us on our side of the issue would be well served to bring to the fore.
This goes beyond partisan ideology - what we are talking about here is the fact that elements of corporate America have systematically subverted our government's regulatory apparatus for private gain. This happens over and over and over again, regardless of which party is in power, at any level. In this particular instance, it just happened to go sour in a very big, and very public way.

The movie "The Corporation", subject of a feature article in Metro Santa Cruz (an alternative weekly newspaper published in my home town) posits that this is part and parcel of the behavior fostered in those participating in the economic structures of corporation based capitalism. I haven't seen the actual movie yet, but it is clear from the article that the movie's creators believe that until we change from a system based on the corporation as the basic operational economic unit, a system which makes amoral behavior not only legal, but essentially mandates it, all efforts to remediate the problems our society faces will be futile.

But the problem is deeper than corporations subverting the system. The system is designed for just this kind of exploitation.

In my opinion, the single most defining moment in modern history was the careless, even offhanded remark that led american corporations to be defined as a person, with all the legal rights of personhood:

Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite simply pronounced before the beginning of argument in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company that:

The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.

The court reporter duly entered into the summary record of the Court's findings that:

The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteen Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Thus it was that a two-sentence assertion by a single judge elevated corporations to the status of persons under the law, prepared the way for the rise of global corporate rule, and thereby changed the course of history.

The doctrine of corporate personhood creates an interesting legal contradiction. The corporation is owned by its shareholders and is therefore their property. If it is also a legal person, then it is a person owned by others and thus exists in a condition of slavery -- a status explicitly forbidden by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. So is a corporation a person illegally held in servitude by its shareholders? Or is it a person who enjoys the rights of personhood that take precedence over the presumed ownership rights of its shareholders? So far as I have been able to determine, this contradiction has not been directly addressed by the courts.

Eventually it was this that led to Global Reach. For further historical background via Ratical:

But throughout the 1800s, especially after the Civil War, "[u]nder pressure from industrialists and bankers, a handful of 19th century judges gave corporations more rights in property than human beings enjoyed in their persons."(Ibid):

The biggest blow to citizen constitutional authority came in 1886. The US Supreme Court ruled in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, that a private corporation was a "natural person" under the US Constitution, sheltered by the 14th Amendment [(even though that amendment had been written and ratified in 1868 to protect the rights of freed slaves) [3]] , which requires due process in the criminal prosecution of "persons." Following this ruling, huge, wealthy corporations were allowed to compete on "equal terms" with neighborhood businesses and individuals. "There was no history, logic or reason given to support that view," Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas wrote 60 years later. [4]

Once corporations were legally defined as "natural persons", they automatically were endowed with the same "Bill of Rights" as human beings, and so came to possess and then exploit with devastating consequences, the same "rights" of the freedom of speech, and the ability to participate in elections and lobby elected officials.
Under the form of ownership, known to us today as "the corporation," the legal act of incorporation creates a `person' or `corpus'. For over the past 100 years these legal entities have been exercising more and more of their powers to recreate the circumstances of their own existence. This is exactly what the first citizens of this country feared the most, and attempted to prevent the occurence of by defining the subordinate nature of such legal ficticious entities to that of flesh-and-blood human beings. They implemented this through the legal mechanism of charters -- the certificates of incorporation.

POCLAD (Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy) seeks ways to turn these zombie corpses (Corporations in the guise of flesh-and-blood) back into harmless and productive public servants. In case anyone is interested, POCLAD is

...looking for people experienced in stopping corporate harms who want to rethink organizing strategies, exercise democratic authority at the local level, and strip fundamental powers-such as free speech and due process-from corporations.


On a Clean-Plucked Ostrich

     "Despise whom we fleece!" exlaimed Dr. Middleton. "Oh, no, Lady Culmer, the sheep is sacred."
     "I am not so sure," said Vernon.
     "In what way, and to what extent, are you not so sure?" said Dr. Middleton.
     "The natural tendency is to scorn the fleeced."
     "I stand for the contrary. Pity, if you like: particularly when they bleat."
     "This is to assume that makers of gifts are a fleeced people: I demur," said Mrs. Mountstuart.
     "Madam, we are expected to give; we are incited to give; you have dubbed it the fashion to give; and the person refusing to give, or incapable of giving, may anticipate that he will be regarded as benignly as a sheep of a dropping and flaccid wool by the farmer, who is reminded by the poor beast's appearance of a strange dog that worried the flock. Even Captain Benjamin, as you have seen, was unable to withstand the demand on him. The hymeneal pair are licensed freebooters levying blackmail on us; survivors of an uncivilized period. But in taking without mercy, I venture to trust that the manners of a happier era instruct them not to scorn us. I apprehend that Mr. Whitford has a lower order of latrons in his mind."
     "Permit me to say, sir, that you have not considered the ignoble aspect of the fleeced," said Vernon. "I appeal to the ladies: would they not, if they beheld an ostrich walking down a Queen's Drawing Room, clean-plucked, despise him though they were wearing his plumes?"

This snippet of highbrow victorian parlor room conversation is from George Meredith's The Egoist, one of my very favorite novels from one of my very favorite novelists.

George Meredith was kind of the John Barth of his day -- a prestige writer more known than read by his contemporary literary cognoscenti. Which is really a pity. Granted, his ornate style can be daunting and recondite at times. But he's such a brilliant author, with a razor sharp mind who possessed immense powers of psychological observation and metaphorical analogy. He was a humanist who was perhaps the first to explore the subconscious psychological and cultural motivations behind behaviors, and is perhaps the only author of his time, except for George Elliot, who wrote empathetically from the female point of view -- he was even an early advocate for women's suffrage. He is considered a proto-modernist who developed his style partly as a code to express culturally proscribed subject matter, much as Shostakovich was compelled to hide his messages in his music: eg, it was many many years before it was discovered that a chapter in his first major novel, The Ordeal of Richard Feveral, was about masturbation. His dialogues are amongst the most witty, convincing and entertaining in literature. He loved to challenge complacent readers, as well as defy convention. The Egoist is a great example of this: whereas most contemporary novels were concerned with finding the right mate and getting betrothed, The Egoist is entirely about finding a way to break an engagement from a wholly unsuitable mate -- and, it is laugh-out-loud funny to boot. It is perhaps the greatest unread masterpiece of Victorian literature. (I even wrote a screenplay adaptation of it, in case anyone's interested.) I am the proud owner of #93 of only 400 sets of the complete works of George Meredith published shortly after his death, and it's one of my treasures.

I could go on about Meredith, but that's not what this post is about.

This excerpt is one that has stayed with me through the years. I think in many ways it captures one of the fundamental schizophrenic dichotomies in human existence qua social beings: that between striving towards civilization, versus the biological recidivism of the pack mentality. I know it's a bit tough to follow for even literate readers nowadays, given the critical accolades for some of the books on Orprah's list [NOTE: this is not to say that unreadability or difficulty is automatically a sign of a great work of literature!], but just to make sure we're on the same page the topic of this drawing-room conversation concerns wedding gifts. But as with so much in Meredith there is a subtext beneath the glimmering prose: in this case the deeper meaning concerns the nature of humiliation and victimization.

On the simplest level it's about the contempt we have towards those who are victimized. Simply, we victimize those who appear as victims. Vernon is suggesting that rather than castigate the victimizer we are more inclined to castigate the victim. History is rife with examples of torture performed for the amusement for the masses.

When I read this passage, particularly Vernon's assertion that the ladies would despise a clean-plucked ostrich "though they were wearing his plumes", I can't help but think of the attitudes of imperial powers who decimate native populations in their attempts to "convert" them to civilization as they pillage their resources. Whether its christianizing the heathens while distributing smallpox-laden blankets with one hand while grabbing their resource-rich land with the other, or bringing freedom and democracy to Iraqis as we destroy their infrastructure and culture while grabbing their oil, the bringers of "civilization" reduce the humanity of those they oppress then scorn them for their own victimhood.

It's easier to victimize victims. The more victimized someone becomes, the more of a victim they appear, thus feeding a cycle that ends up reducing the humanity of both. It's all too easy to fall into the role of victimizer, to pick up a rock and join the others as they stone someone to death. It takes rare courage to side with the victim, and all too often those who do are just as likely to be stoned as well (or run over by bulldozers) for their treason. Bullies succeed in their bullying because they understand this. We all want to share in the feeling of power. Who wants to side with the weaker side? We mock the easily duped, the gullible, the losers, those we deem inferior to us for any reason, and feel they deserve their fate for having been bested. We do indeed "scorn the fleeced." The clearest contemporary example of this can be seen in the photos of Abu Ghraib.

"Why didn't they defend themselves?" we cry when we witness the ease with which Nazis filled the trenches with Jews who lined up to get shot. It's because both the victim and the victimizer shared their scorn of the victim. People fulfill the role they are asked to perform, and thus victims internalize their victimhood. The feather-plucked ostrich would sooner feel shame at being naked than accuse those who tore its feathers out; while those who pluck the ostrich and wear its feathers despise the ostrich for its nakedness.

People generally live by appearance. Countless studies confirm that one's appearance is decisive in determining how one is judged. "How you sell yourself is how others will buy you." Thus a victim fulfills his victimhood merely by being perceived as one.

America is a culture that plays with a stacked deck. The cult (and myth) of individualism is so woven into the fabric of the culture that people are blamed for their inability to succeed in life and society, regardless of how many strikes they are dealt when they are born. The myth of the self-made man so permeates the cultural air that it becomes easier to blame a solitary person for their inability to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps than it is to look at the systemic causes that practically preclude entire sectors of society from achieving success, however one chooses to define it.

Civilization is a most fragile veneer over our biological nature and it requires an attitude of respect to persist. I would go further and suggest that true civilization requires a culture of empathy, specifically an empathy that seeks to prevent all suffering, whether human, animal or even environmental. ("Pity, if you like: particularly when they bleat.") And such respectful attitudes require an amenable and nurturing culture in which such an attitude can blossom, beginning with educating our children to think for themselves and urging them towards self-actualization.

But as we shall see in a forthcoming post, such an attitude is anathema to vast sectors of society with vested interests in preventing it. The history of history can be seen as a battle between our biological nature and our aspirations towards civilization. Nature is winning.

"Practice. Credibility. Humility. Aggression."

File under The Wonderful World of Capitalism, Chinese Variant: World's Hottest Name in Electronics.

Perhaps an excerpt or two:

The corporate strategy is neatly summarized by a slogan in large silver letters on a display room wall: "Practice. Credibility. Humility. Aggression." While the executives prefer to talk about the third quality, their competitors are more worried about the fourth.
Step outside the factory and talk to workers on their breaks, however, and you soon discover how Apex was able to stun its competitors with the $29 (U.S.) DVD player that became a huge bestseller at Wal-Mart stores across North America last Christmas.

Most of the workers are earning a monthly wage of just 450 yuan -- about $74 Canadian. This is barely enough for survival in a city where the cost of living is 300 or 400 yuan a month, so the majority are supplementing their salaries with hundreds of hours of overtime work.

Most workers are on shifts for about 330 days a year, up to 12 hours a day, to bring their incomes up to the equivalent of about $135 a month, one worker said. He recalled once working 42 consecutive hours. "But I wasn't on the production line," he explained. "I was on quality control."

Under a strictly enforced quota system, each team of workers must assemble 1,800 machines every day. If they fail to meet the quota, they must work late, or the shortfall is added to the next day's quota.

Whatever. Remember, Arbeit Macht Frei -- Work Makes One Free. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, so quit whining!

UnCivil Electioneering

I just learned via The Republic of T. that Jon Bon Jovi has been the recipient of hate mail and other insults merely because he's been campaigning for John Kerry. That's all he did -- fundraising for a politician he wants to be president. How Apple Pie is that? Isn't that one of the great stereotypical down-home images of what makes America great: actively participating in democracy for a candidate you want to win?

I've never been a fan of Jon Bon Jovi, and I am certainly no fan of John Kerry, but that it has reached a point where simply campaigning for a presidential candidate causes such incivility is just more proof of how politics in America has been hijacked by the brown-shirts. I know there are countless such signs, many of them far worse, but this one hit me for some reason.


What a Relief!

Hallelujah! Jesus Christ™ Almighty be praised! The Supreme Court Preserves 'God' in Pledge!

Now I'll sleep better knowin' the little ones are larnin' Murka still has a direct line to the one true God™ -- even if those lib'rul cowards on the Supreme Court evaded the real issue by undermining parental rights. Well, win one, lose one...

But anyhoo, that'll show those Godless communists lib'ruls Democrats non-Republican hate-Murka-first traitors terrists and Muslamiacs that Murka still carries the torch and pitchfork of Freedom™ and Justice™!


It's Legal -- the President is Above the Law

Billmon quotes an article from the WSJ that discusses a memorandum that provides BushCo legal cover for torture in violation of the Geneva Convention. Included in the article is the following quote:

Likewise, the lawyers found that "constitutional principles" make it impossible to "punish officials for aiding the president in exercising his exclusive constitutional authorities" and neither Congress nor the courts could "require or implement the prosecution of such an individual."

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president." [emphasis added]

The article concludes:

The report seemed "designed to find the legal loopholes that will permit the use of torture against detainees," said Mary Ellen O'Connell, an international-law professor at the Ohio State University who has seen the report. "CIA operatives will think they are covered because they are not going to face liability."

Apparently the lawyer in charge of this policy, Mary L. Walker, had God at her side while coming up with this defense of torture.

But the thing to worry about, of course, is that not only has the Executive Branch thought about such things, but they have actively put policy into place that justifies any activity, legal or not. And this has always been the case with BushCo: I remember Bush claiming after a meeting at his ranch in August of 2002 (a meeting he denied was even about Iraq before anybody even asked, which makes this statement all the more peculiar -- that's why I remember it) that, on the word of his legal advisor, he didn't need Congressional authority to go to war against Iraq.

BushCo has rendered themselves legally above the law. They do not respect the legitimacy of American democracy -- never did, never will. And those who don't tow the (republican xtian) party line and wave the flag and gleefully genuflect at Murka's atrocities will soon find themselves declared "the enemy within."

BushCo ain't leaving, folks.


The Uncanny Valley

An astute observation that nicely articulates the reason why the more realistic CG humans appear the creepier they look, rather like a hi-tech version of the resultant grotesquerie between the rotoscoped Gulliver and his cartoony captors in the Fleischer Studio version of Gulliver's Travels. From The Undead Zone: Why realistic graphics make humans look creepy.

In 1978, the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori noticed something interesting: The more humanlike his robots became, the more people were attracted to them, but only up to a point. If an android become too realistic and lifelike, suddenly people were repelled and disgusted.

The problem, Mori realized, is in the nature of how we identify with robots. When an android, such as R2-D2 or C-3PO, barely looks human, we cut it a lot of slack. It seems cute. We don't care that it's only 50 percent humanlike. But when a robot becomes 99 percent lifelike—so close that it's almost real—we focus on the missing 1 percent. We notice the slightly slack skin, the absence of a truly human glitter in the eyes. The once-cute robot now looks like an animated corpse. Our warm feelings, which had been rising the more vivid the robot became, abruptly plunge downward. Mori called this plunge "the Uncanny Valley," the paradoxical point at which a simulation of life becomes so good it's bad.

As video games have developed increasingly realistic graphics, they have begun to suffer more and more from this same conundrum. Games have unexpectedly fallen into the Uncanny Valley.

Variations on a Theme, I

From Paul Krugman via me:

It seems clear to me that one should regard America’s right-wing movement — which now in effect controls the administration, both houses of Congress, much of the judiciary, and a good slice of the media — as a revolutionary power in Kissinger’s sense. That is, it is a movement whose leaders do not accept the legitimacy of our current political system.

From a previous post of mine:

BushCo is not like any phenomenon the US has seen before. They do not play by the rules people are accustomed to. People still think BushCo is playing with America's traditional rulebook, and thus cannot entertain notions that once BushCo ascended to power they've switched rulebooks. The BushCo rulebook is very simple. In fact, it can be summed up in one sentence: Heads I Win -- Tails You Lose.
People need to reckon with the fact that BushCo is playing hardball for keeps because they are absolutely convinced that they deserve to be in office (especially seeing how God ordained it), and because they do not see democracy as a legitimate political construct. They will do absolutely anything they can to hold onto power. They are not going to let go.

From Seeing the Forest via Wealth Bondage:

We have to realize that we are dealing with an organized revolutionary conspiracy to seize power, enrich the few, and subject us to an ideological/theocratic/imperialist dictatorship. They often describe THEMSELVES as being modeled on the old Communist Party and their methods for infiltrating and seizing power.

"You cannot cripple an opponent by outwitting him in a political debate," [conservative activist David Horowitz] explains in The Art of Political War. "You can do it only by following Lenin's injunction: 'In political conflicts, the goal is not to refute your opponent's argument, but to wipe him from the face of the earth.'"

This is an emergency and we must recognize it as such. These people will go to all costs to succeed, including fomenting civil war.

From Mark Stoller via Seeing the Forest:

Political opposition is an important part of liberal democracy. Rhetoric is often harsh, dishonest even, but at the end of the day, for a nation to function, political attacks must not undermine the idea of opposition itself. And that's what Dick Morris is doing here. Far from kooky, Morris is a political professional, and his professed opinion is often representative of what's coming down the RNC's pike. This incredibly audacious attempt to frame the contest as Bush/Cheney versus Kerry/Osama is not just attack politics, it is toxic politics. It is meant to poison and kill not just Kerry's electoral chances, but a Kerry Presidency, should he win. If Clinton perfected the permanent campaign, Bush has perfected the permanent negative campaign. In other words, even if a Democrat wins an election, it's just a prelude till his negatives can be driven up and a political castration opportunity appears.

That this is happening without much comment reveals cracks in the foundation of the American political system. It's breaking down.

Legitimacy is the key to governance. If an authoritarian government isn't seen as legitimate, it must act incredibly harshly to sustain its rule, or it will fall. The legitimacy of a liberal democracy goes further than this; it relies on an acknowledgement that the opposition has a right to exist, and even, to oppose. When this assumption breaks down, when the loyal opposition finds itself considered treasonous, a slew of terrifying events is set in motion, and ultimately, liberal democracy fights back, or liberal democracy falls. We are in the midst of seeing this struggle play out.

Dick Morris says flat out that to elect Kerry is to elect bin Laden. I fear that Morris's tome is not just his, but is the centerpiece of the Bush reelection campaign. This political attack is not an honorable disagreement that will end after the election. This is a declaration of illegitimacy, a statement that a Kerry Presidency is unacceptable even if the American people find the alternative unpalatable. Morris is echoing sentiments - from top Republican officials like Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, and others - that there is a political war raging, and that survival for the other side is not an option. The impeachment and the toxic politics it helped foment will continue, either crushing Democrats further under a second Bush term or preventing governance through impeachment or investigation of a President Kerry.

From comments at Whiskey Bar via Wirearchy:

Being a native Latin American, I know a coup when I see one. And let me tell you, the US has been victim of a coup.

You have a dictatorship installed now, complete with its terrorist dirty war, systematic torture, and prisoners held outside the judicial system, alongside with the usual parasitic corporate and religious cronies.

The only unusual thing about this coup for me is that in the old country the military would show up at the presidential palace one day before dawn, and by breakfast time, when people would be turning on the radio and opening up their newspapers, they would learn that they had a new government.

It's quite fascinating to see how a democracy can metamorphose into a dictatorship, without any of the outward signs of a coup. Ashcroft's testimony is just the monster shedding its old dead skin. I can just see the Argentine generals musing "so, it can be done this way, too. And most people wouldn't notice...


The Ride has Begun

I suggested in a previous post that

BushCo has irreperably damaged its relations with the CIA and with the Pentagon. They have pissed off some serious and powerful people in these agencies. I have no idea what they could do, or how they would do it, but the CIA has successfully overthrown democracies for the US throughout the world. Perhaps they'll do the same for their own country.

The Tenet resignation indicates this is just what's occurring, via an article cited at length by Kurt Nimmo: COUP D'ETAT: The Real Reason Tenet and Pavitt Resigned from the CIA on June 3rd and 4th by Michael C. Ruppet and Wayne Madsen. Here's the beginning of their article:

JUNE 8, 2004 1600 PDT (FTW) - Why did DCI George Tenet suddenly resign on June 3rd, only to be followed a day later by James Pavitt, the CIA's Deputy Director of Operations (DDO)?

The real reasons, contrary to the saturation spin being put out by major news outlets, have nothing to do with Tenet's role as taking the fall for alleged 9/11 and Iraqi intelligence "failures" before the upcoming presidential election.

Both resignations, perhaps soon to be followed by resignations from Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage, are about the imminent and extremely messy demise of George W. Bush and his Neocon administration in a coup d'etat being executed by the Central Intelligence Agency. The coup, in the planning for at least two years, has apparently become an urgent priority as a number of deepening crises threaten a global meltdown.

Based upon recent developments, it appears that long-standing plans and preparations leading to indictments and impeachment of Bush, Cheney and even some senior cabinet members have been accelerated, possibly with the intent of removing or replacing the entire Bush regime prior to the Republican National Convention this August.
Shortly after the "surprise" Tenet-Pavitt resignations, current and former senior members of the U.S. intelligence community and the Justice Department told journalist Wayne Madsen, a former Naval intelligence officer, that they were directly connected to the criminal investigation of a 2003 White House leak that openly exposed Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA officer. What received less attention was that the leak also destroyed a long-term CIA proprietary intelligence gathering operation which, as we will see, was of immense importance to US strategic interests at a critical moment.

Here's an excerpt from later in the article:

The Bush administration has proved itself to be an insular group of inept, dishonest and dangerous CEO's of the corporation known as America. They have become very bad for business and the Board of Directors is now taking action. Make no mistake, the CIA works for "The Board" - Wall Street and big money. The long-term (very corrupt and unethical) agenda of the Board, in the face of multiple worsening global crises, was intended to proceed far beyond the initially destructive war in Iraq, toward an effective reconstruction and a strategic response to Peak Oil. But the neocons have stalled at the ugly stage: killing hundreds of thousands of people; destroying Iraq's industrial and cultural infrastructure as their own bombs and other people's RPGs blow everything up; getting caught running torture camps; and making the whole world intensely dislike America.

These jerks are doing real damage to their masters' interests.

And finally:

It is one of the greatest ironies of the Plame affair that the Bush administration, spawned and nurtured by oil, might have committed suicide by vindictively, cruelly and unthinkingly exacting personal retribution on an intelligence officer who had committed no offense, and who was, quite possibly, providing the administration with critical oil-related intelligence which the President needed to manage our shaky economy and affairs of state for a while longer to squeak through to re-election.

I had a strong feeling the Plame scandal would be the one thing that could bring down BushCo: you don't fuck the CIA up the ass and not expect them to reciprocate tenfold. The article gives a succinct accounting of the nexus between the CIA, Big Oil, BushCo & their family of companies, Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Chalabi, and what could be a covert operation by America's own intelligence agency to depose its sitting president. It's vital reading. (This article by Chris Floyd makes for a good footnote as it paints the Iraq war as a "dust-up in the boardroom".)

And so, in a truly classical display of dramaturgy, we see the heroes brought down by their own hubris in a poetic justice worthy of Shakespeare.

But the show is not over yet. The last act will prove to be filled with classical dramaturgy's demand for a body-count in the denouement. With the inevitable slide of Smirky McClusterfuck into an increasingly unhinged political paranoia -- a real textbook case of bunker mentality -- we're going to see a political dogfight in America unequalled since the days before the Civil War. I can't predict who's going to win, but BushCo makes up in rabid zealotry what they lack in competence, and they are going to be vicious and fierce. You can be certain that if they go down, they're going to bring lots of others down with them -- whole populations aren't out of the question. Never underestimate the strength, tenacity and vengefulness of zealots -- they make formidable adversaries, especially when forced to confront realities contrary to their worldviews.

Unfortunately a lot of innocent people live in the warzone. What's that expression...something about "in a battle between elephants, the ants get squashed"?

The ride has begun.


Josie and the Pussycats [Movie Analysis]

Josie and the Pussycats: Product Placement as Saturnalia

There's an interesting phenomenon that occurs when the carrier wave of a satire is also its subject: it ends up protecting itself in proportion to its skewering. Just as a class clown defuses bullying by making himself the brunt of humor, or some celebrity bears the barbs of his peers during a roast in proportion to his success, so the current practice of corporate subsidization (euphemistically called "product placement") of movies inure itself to pointed satire by going along with the gag. (Even if, in the exceedingly unusual and commendable case of this movie, these corporations only contributed their brand markers instead of their cash.)

Just as with Minority Report, Josie and the Pussycats exploits its corporate graciousness to make satirical social points that end up pulling out their own teeth. The underfunders win both ways: they get to show their products in glaringly obvious ways that are ironically positive and "cool" (which is part of the point); and, even though the "message" of the movie is, ultimately, how evil they are, it's all so playful and "fun", the satire is so tongue-in-cheek and ironical, they must, after all, be really "cool" for being part of it, so how bad could they be, really? The message is co-opted, and thus emasculated, because they prove they can take the joke, showing how "with-it" and "in" they are; in fact, rather than dent their armor it only serves to increase their cachet. Everyone winks at everyone else — "We know that you know that we know we're exploiting you, so when you drink our sodas it's ok to (pretend) to hate us."

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival that provided a sanctioned release from social inhibitions, one feature of which was that the social order was reversed: the ruling class switched places with the peasantry for a day. This provided a socially acceptable way to blow off steam for pent-up, systemic resentments. It thus served a vital function to entrench the social hierarchy, since the assumption of class roles requires a tacit agreement that such class divisions are normal and natural. Though the masters may have resented being mocked and lampooned in this manner, they had the wisdom to go along with it because they knew that a permissible venting of spleen through playful satire was preferable to something more truly revolutionary. Thus the rulers played along (operative phrase, that) with the peasants because, at the end of the day, they easily assumed their dominant roles once again.

And so Josie and The Pussycats achieves the same effect here: our rulers — Corporations — can deign to be the brunt of our jibes because ultimately the joke is on us.

And yet even though their position is (seemingly) impervious, that doesn't mean the jabs taken at them don't help the peasants feel better for doing it. You may not be able to slay your masters (thereby achieving real freedom), but it helps relieve the pressure of wage and consumerist slavehood to be allowed to thumb your nose at them while throwing a ball at their dunking chair. And that's what Josie and the Pussycats does: it allows the peasants to wink knowingly to each other about their place while thinking they're putting one over on their masters; meanwhile, however, the masters wink to each other in their boardrooms too.


The Ride's About to Begin

The ride is starting up.

Via Kurt Nimmo:

"In interviews with a number of White House staffers who were willing to talk off the record, a picture of an administration under siege has emerged, led by a man who declares his decisions to be 'God's will' and then tells aides to 'fuck over' anyone they consider to be an opponent of the administration," including Kerry and the Democrats, writes Doug Thompson of Capitol Hill Blue.

"In this administration, you don't have to wear a turban or speak Farsi to be an enemy of the United States," says another aide. "All you have to do is disagree with the President."

I can't help but think of parallels with Stalin's increasing paranoia for some reason. I think I found a new book to put at the top of my reading list: Political Paranoia: The Psychopolitics of Hatred.

Xymphora is already getting in line.


Down in Plames?

For all their radiant incompetence, when it comes to politics BushCo is brilliant. The one serious mistake they made was the outing of Valerie Plame as an attempt to politically assassinate Joseph Wilson: they just got too carried away by their own hubris and believed in their own invincibility. But it just won't go away. John Dean serves up the latest on one thing that could bring down BushCo.


Two Snapshots of America From Inside & Out

I watched Marco Ferreri's 1974 movie Don't Touch The White Woman again over the weekend. It's a French film starring some of Europe's greatest actors (mostly Italian, like the director), and is about America's Indian genocide told from a marxist point of view via absurdist sardonic satire. Partly intended as a comment about Vietnam in specific, and colonialism in general, it sympathizes with the Indians and portrays their decimation as a fun-filled land grab enacted by vain dandies seeking glory in the service of their corporate paymasters. (Hmm...wonder if it has any parallels with what's going on now in Iraq? Nah!) It is America judged and evaluated from the outside, with humor, anger, poignancy, and even a touch of brilliance. It deserves much wider exposure.

Then last night I watched Bill Paxton's directorial debut Frailty and found myself thinking about Siegfried Kracauer's landmark book From Caligari to Hitler: a Psychological History of the German Film. Kracauer shows how the German films of the 20s and 30s presaged the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Since movies are snapshots of a culture's psychohistory I couldn't help but feel I was seeing with crystal clarity an example of it with this film. Frailty is about a God-fearing man who is convinced an angel told him to destroy demons -- unfortunately the demons are people just going about their business in life. I won't go into the finer points of the film; I will only say that as a snapshot of the inner psychical landscape of present day America it might be a little too accurate, especially how the conclusion (ie, the identity of the town sheriff) portends for Murka's future.

These two movies make quite an excellent double-feature to understand America from inside & out.