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Archive for October, 2008

Oct 31 2008

This is a trailer of an upcoming movie about the meltdown of US economy.

Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show we mean business.

Jonah Goldberg of National Review

According to ecological economist Lester Brown it would only cost $190 bln to save the planet which is about a third of the US annual military expenditure, and less than a third or its recent banking bailout. The rationale behind military spending must be to protect US citizens from threats. So you got to ask yourself what is the bigger threat? “Once you accept that climate change, population growth, spreading water shortages, rising food prices etcetera are threats to our security, it changes your whole way of thinking about how you use public resources,” Lester Brown told Reuters in an interview. With $10 trillion in national debt (it has grown more than a trillion since the trailer was made) how can you rationally justify those priorities? Who could help? Europe, China – the Saudis? Who would want to help? When it comes to making friends, using Hellfire missiles and calling it “self-defence” just isn’t fair play in anyone’s book. 

If the bully wants to make friends why is he hitting everybody?

Oct 30 2008

Protologism is a unique word, not only because it is new, but because it is probably the only word that for a limited time is an example of itself. Protologism is itself a protologism – it is autological – but as opposed to autological words like “noun” or “polysyllabic” it will not remain autological for long. Like a quantum particle that changes as a result of being observed, the fact that I use the word has the curious effect of ever so slightly changing not what it means, but what it is. The fact that you are learning about the concept protologism again contributes to the process by which it is no longer itself a protologism.

What on earth am I talking about?!

Protologisms are new concepts that are suggested by someone to be adopted by society. It is a word made up of proto, as in prototype, proton etc meaning first, and logos, meaning word or law. They should be distinguished from neologisms which are words that have already been adopted by at least a group of people for at least some time, eg. to google or chatear [Esp]. At the other end paleologisms are ancient words that have been with us for centuries. Protoloogism as a concept has been proposed by the authors of wiktionary, but has yet to be widely circulated.

I think it is a brilliant concept for a brilliant thing. Coming up with new words is one of the best cures for the common illness of thinking one understands something just because one has a word for it. Truth is that using old familiar words often blinds us from seeing new things. Protologisms can give us a jamais-vu experience (seeing old things in new ways, never seen before, itself a neologism).

Here some of the wiktionary protologism contenders:

  • aaaabuse: The act of trying to use unusual naming conventions to get your entry placed ahead of everyone else’s. Cf. the George Lopez episode where Angie states that she had her wedding planning business put in the phonebook as Aaaaangie’s Wedding Planning. “I knew I’d get more business if I came before Triple A Weddings!”
  • a: The fear of short words, not to be confused with hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, the fear of long words.
  • wonkalicious: Expression of delight on the flavour of a food that looks disgusting.

Some are less promising than others I guess, but I think everyone should make up words, as many as possible. I suppose that makes me a linguistic liberal, or simply a pro-protologist – one for the list?

Oct 30 2008

Paco de Lucia Shreds. Hilarious.

Whoever does these shredding videos on youtube is a comic genius.

Oct 30 2008

Sarah Jane, a mother of three with a stable if not exciting marriage to a lawyer, is staring at a text message from a rather dashing young journalist by the name of Laurence. They met at a party at a common friends house and she let herself flirt and insinuate she was up for play. When they ran into each other at the local supermarket she felt a thrill at the mere thought of a secret adventure and that is when she gave him her number. As her heart is beating and her eyes re-reading the message in that old black and gray Nokia font for the fifth time she takes a deep breath and decides to ignore the invitation. It is not a choice based in what her feelings are yearning for now, she knows that right now her skin would come alive as if back from the dead, but she knows that if she makes this choice it will lead her up to another choice. She may change due to the choice she could make now. She might change into someone that is prepared to loose that which she now holds the most precious – her marriage, her family and her reputation. It is not a mere choice based in her wish, it is a pre-emptive choice protecting herself from a future choice by her potential self.

A lot of choices in life are like Sarah Jane’s. You might want to stay away from a crowd of earlier wild friends once you find yourself studying for a degree or in a stable relationship. You might avoid reading a book you suspect might challenge your faith or opinions, not because you think the opposing ideas are false – rather the contrary. You are attached to your ideas and prefer to keep them whether or not they are true, so you pre-emptively avoid scrutiny.

The difference between a normal choice and a pre-emptive choice is that the latter is aimed at preventing yourself from making another choice. It is an act of will against developing another will. You currently do not want what you suspect you might come to desire, and now you do not want to be such a person.

pre-emptive: made so as to deter an anticipated unpleasant situation

UPDATE: 8 FEB. 2012

After having listened to a wonderful podcast from Little Atoms featuring the neuroscientist David Eagleman I have come to learn that there is actually a concept in decision making theory that captures this idea, and that is goes all the way back to Homer. It is called a Ulysses contract. “The term refers to the pact that Ulysses (Greek name “Ὀδυσσεύς”, Odysseus) made with his men as they approached the Sirens. Ulysses wanted to hear the Sirens’ song although he knew that doing so would render him incapable of rational thought. He put wax in his men’s ears so that they could not hear, and had them tie him to the mast so that he could not jump into the sea. He ordered them not to change course under any circumstances, and to keep their swords upon him to attack him if he should break free of his bonds.

Upon hearing the Sirens’ song, Ulysses was driven temporarily insane and struggled with all of his might to break free so that he might join the Sirens, which would have meant his death.”

Oct 30 2008

“If this is the work of the Communists, which I do not doubt, may God have mercy on them!” These words were uttered by Hitler when standing in front of the burning Reichtag, the German House of Parliament in Berlin, 27 Feb 1933. This became the justification the Nazi party needed to implement extreme measures against known Communists, and already at midnight the search parties were on their way to get their victims. “Left-wing deputies and literary figures, unpopular doctors, officials and lawyers” were dragged out of bed and the first wave of concentration-camp arrests began.

In the autobiography “Defying Hitler” Sebastian Haffner is telling the story of an individual well-educated German’s effort to keep both his sanity and life while left and right wing extremists stage a battle, neither using more humane or dignified means than the other. “It was only next morning that I read about the fire, and not until midday that I read about the arrests. Around the same time a decree of Hindenburg’s was promulgated. It abolished freedom of speech and confidentiality of mail and telephone for all private individuals, while giving the police unrestricted rights of search an access, confiscation and arrest.

“Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Reichtag fire is that the  claim that it was the work of the Communists was so widely believed. Even the sceptics did not regard it as entirely incredible.” Everybody expected a Communist retaliation but as it didn’t come people took it as an implicit admission of guilt. “After all that,” Haffner continues, “I do not see that one can blame the majority of Germans who, in 1933, believed that the Reichtag fire was the work of the Communist. What one can blame them for, and what shows their terrible collective weakness of character clearly for the first time during the Nazi period, is that this settled the matter. With sheepish submissiveness the German people accepted that, as a result of the fire, each one of them lost what little personal freedom and dignity was guaranteed by the constitution; as though it followed as a necessary consequence. If the Communists had burned down the Reichtag, it was perfectly in order that the Government took ‘decisive measures’!

What struck me personally when reading this passage is the eerie resemblance to current events. One can go over the text and simply substitute the Reichtag for the Twin Towers, the Communists for the Muslim terrorists, the Hindenburg decree for the US Patriot Act, UK Communications Data Bill or the Swedish FRA law. The issue is not whether a democratic government should take actions to protect it citizens against potential threats – that is the essential raison d’etre of a representative government – but whether or not one can trust any government with absolute power.

Las 13 RosasIf one considers even as a remote possibility that the government itself would be a part of that threat against which the public needs to protect itself, the implications of giving them – or any group of people – the right to be both judge and jury are just unimaginably horrific. As it turns out one doesn’t actually need the imagination  – two brilliant recent movies show how historically those horrors have manifested themselves. I’m thinking about Las 13 rosas and Sofie Scholl, both dramatizing real events in Germany and Spain, where young idealists – mostly minors – were sentenced to death for the crimes of spreading pamphlets. I would imagine one of those pamphlets could have said something akin to this blog post.

But surely we have learnt from past mistakes? The US, UK and Swedish governments embody the ideals of democracy and respect the right to free speech and tolerance of diversity. They have accepted and signed the declarations of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions which in effect make them law in these countries. Or have they? As it turns out at the beginning of May, 2001, the United States lost its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Commission for the first time since the panel’s founding in 1947. The US are not adhering to the Geneva convention as is clear in the US treatment of Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. They are being tortured and some have been killed. Their guilt is not only relative to whoever would be judge and jury – not that they have had a chance to have a fair hearing – but highly questionable from the simple fact that the majority of them were sold to the US army by the Iraqi equivalent of bounty hunters.

At the very least if we were to place trust in the government to have the lawful right to infringe on those human liberties previous generations so painfully struggled to establish, we can demand that they exact extreme caution and vigilance when exercising those rights. If we give them exceptional mandate to protect us from terrorists we do so only in the faith that they must not abuse that mandate by say invading a country quite unrelated to the assumed responsible for the attack. As the Reichtag fire was used to justify Hitler’s invasion of Poland so was 9-11 used to set in motion a plan that the US neoconservatives had long been wanting to realise. All they needed was an excuse, and with a people still sore and with a lust for revenge even a far-fetched one would do.

More recently, on the 8th Oct 2008, the UK the Anti-terror Crime and Security Act of 2001 showed its versatility and was invoked against a whole country that has until then had been considered one of their best friends – Iceland. Until 2006 Reykjavik airport Keflavik was in effect an American airbase. When I lived in London Reykjavik was considered the coolest capital in Europe, and I have many wonderful friends there. As this tiny country of some 300.000 inhabitants have run into grave financial difficulties as of late and is facing nationwide bankruptcy, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has the perfect baton to hit them when they are lying down. Iceland is put on the list of suspected ‘terrorist regimes’ subjected to financial sanctions, along with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, North Korea, Sudan and Iran. Why? To protect UK financial interests or because they did not want to be American underdogs?

The only case in which absolute power can be justified is when it is paralleled by absolute goodness and undepletable resources of patience, tolerance and understanding. That is, omnipotence demands nothing short of divine justice and divine omniscience. What human institution would ever come close to that?

In the case of the Reichtags fire, Hitler and Goering saw it as a sign from heaven, and the staged trial was supposed to give them complete mandate to eradicate their enemies. The 1933 equivalent of the hijackers was a 24 year old psychopathic Dutch homosexual by the name of Van der Lubbe. He had joined the Communist Youth League and spread pamphlets for them. According to Arthur Koestler, he was a tramp and a compulsive liar with ambitions to fame but no trace of qualities that would make it happen. When failing to swim the Channel he set fire to the House of Parliament and became an historic figure. He was captured and under torture confessed and was brought to trial along with the leaders of the opposition Communist Party. He was declared guilty and subsequently guillotined.

If history repeats itself the equivalents of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein perhaps would have been Georgi Dimitrov, the future General Secretary of Communist International and Ernst Torgler, another leaders of the Comintern. Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld would be a suitable candidates for the Goering and Goebbels parts, but who would be Hitler? A tricky one. Or not.

The trial was perceived as a struggle between truth and falsehood, guilt and innocence, whereas in fact both parties were guilty. They were both lying and using propaganda and crime as means to their ends. The irony of the proceedings was that while the Nazis hoped to be able to frame the guilt on the Communists, their utter failure to do so became by implication an indictment of their own guilt in the fire. Both parties agreed that Van der Lubbe was guilty and that there must have been a conspiracy behind him. However since there was no evidence to prove a link between the fire and the Communists and because the Nazis themselves stood to gain more from the arson the plan literally backfired. Turns out that there was an underground tunnel that connected the Reichtag and the palace of Hermann Goering that could have been used by the incendiaries. Instead of enjoying the humiliation of his enemy, Goering found himself busy defending his own honour and innocence.

The Communist leaders were acquitted there and then.

In January 2008, the Federal Court of Justice of Germany overturned the death penalty verdict of Van der Lubbe.