Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chomsky Interviewed on Fox News Radio

A pretty good interview you can hear here.  I'd love to be a fly on the wall watching Ailes or Murdoch as they listened, if they had.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Atrocities of Pol Pot

At the risk of being called a lover of Pol Pot I have to admit that I just find the number of dead attributed to him to just make no sense.  Take Vietnam as a reference point.  For the US the war started about 1961 and ended in 1975.  The most intense bombardment the world had ever seen.  It included Laos and Cambodia.  More bombs dropped on Laos alone than were dropped during the entirety of WWII by both sides.  We had astonishing bombing runs.  Imagine a row of 5 B-52's.  They'd completely destroy a strip 2/3 of a mile wide and 2 miles long.  Everything would be killed, including those that were not in the actual blast zone that would die from the shock wave as blood streamed from their ears.  The world's most powerful tools of death controlled by the world's most well trained death makers all with the goal of maximizing the number of dead (hoping to achieve the "crossover point" where the dying rate exceeded the replacement rate), which meant civilians dying at an astonishing pace.  We're bombing dams to destroy their ability to make food.  In Laos they're living in caves and trying to farm at night to avoid being killed.  According to Wikipedia if you add in the further 6 years prior to the start of the US involvement the total dead on both sides is between 1.1 and 3.9 million.  The population of the three countries at the time total was about 50 million.  Between 55K and 195K dead per year for 20 years.

Contrast with Pol Pot.  He had only 8 million potential victims.  No saturation bombing, none of the advanced chemical weapons created by the Dow Chemical Company.  He had executions, malnutrition, forced labor.  Yeah, what an ass hole.  How many did he manage to kill?  In 3 years?  According to Wikipedia between 1 and 3 million.  That's between 333K and 1 million dead per year.  He's got no B-52's, no agent orange, no napalm, no white phosphorous.  Are we really expected to believe this?  He's supposed to have killed the same amount in 3 years that the US military killed in 14?  Are all of our military personnel really that incompetent?  Is Pol Pot really that much more of an efficient killer?

It just doesn't add up for me.  My suspicion is that since he was an enemy of the state inflated figures are accepted without much challenge, whereas of course killing by Americans is being done by the "good guys" so every corpse tally must be justified rigorously.  Probably Pol Pot's figures are inflated and the reverse is true for the US military.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Frank Turek takes on some guy named Jon

My friend DagoodS tipped me off to the fact that recently Frank Turek on his podcast was talking about me.  Listen to what he had to say here or below.

Well, I gotta say that's not quite how I remember it.  Kind of reminds me of something I read from Vinny recently.  The apologist sometimes wants to respond to the argument he wishes the skeptic had made rather than the one he actually made.

Two days after I saw Frank speak and asked him a question I blogged about it, and you can read that here.  He's right that I did say that his argument was "God of the gaps".  We really don't know how the universe came into existence.  In the past when we didn't understand a phenomenon the spiritualists claimed that God or gods were the cause.  Every time we've been able to make a determination one way or the other, and obviously there are still some phenomenon we don't understand so we haven't made a determination in every case, but the ones we have determined have all, 100%, been discovered to have natural causes, not spiritual causes.  The "spiritual causality" answer is batting zero, whereas the "natural causality" answer is batting 1000.  So here we are.  We're considering a new phenomenon for which we don't know the cause.  What caused our universe to come into existence?  It's a gap in our knowledge.  Frank shoves God in that gap, I am content to say I don't know, but based on the track record my money is on natural causation.

Now, here's where Frank is possibly misremembering our conversation.  He attributes to me the claim that I believe science WILL discover that the cause was natural.  There's no way I said that, because I don't believe they will.  They might.  They might not.  We may never know.  That's good enough for me.  Of course I do believe that the there was no supernatural agency.  That's because the supernatural agency explanation is batting zero and the natural cause explanation is batting 1000.  If you want to call that faith, I guess that's fine.  I have faith in that in the same way I have faith that if I release a ball it will fall to the ground in accordance with gravitation.  It's always done it in the past, so it probably will in the future.  That's a belief based on evidence, which is not normally what people mean by faith.  But if that is what you mean by faith, fine.  I have faith that the universe wasn't caused by a supernatural agent.

Frank believes that the cause of the universe is not a knowledge "gap" because there are things we know about it.  We know it's timeless, spaceless, and a few other things.  But really, what do we know about what our universe was prior to the Planck time, which is something like 10^-43 seconds into the life of our universe?  As I understand speaking of "time" doesn't even make sense at that point.  None of our scientific laws work any more, even mathematically.  As I understand even talk of "space" doesn't make sense, because apparently in some way all of our dimensions were folded in on themselves.  Frankly the whole thing is incomprehensible to me.  "Before" time when time didn't exist as we know it?  What does that even mean?  As far as science is concerned this is just an impenetrable mystery.  A "gap" in our knowledge if you will.  I think the apologist wants to pretend that he knows what happened between zero and 10^-43 seconds, but I just don't buy it.  And obviously I can't be convinced by an appeal to the incomprehensible.

Anyway, I think Frank is a pretty good guy and he probably misremembered our conversation, which is no big deal.  If you read my post describing our prior encounter you may think Frank has an amazing memory, so it's unlikely he got it wrong, but without going into all the details I think there's actually a good reason why he was able to remember the details I referenced in that post about me.  Still I was impressed that he remembered all that he did.  But as I say, I like Frank.  He's very pleasant to talk to and seems like a lot of fun.  I wonder if he takes calls on his podcast?

Important Historical Events

It's September 11, and there will be no shortage of stories in the news about what happened in New York 12 years ago today.  And it is for that reason that I like to also talk about the forgotten suffering of others that happened around this time.  When the weak and powerless suffer it's not talked about as often.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the coup in Chile, which was much more deadly and caused a lot more suffering.  Some of the lessons are discussed briefly at Crooked Timber.  When capital feels threatened, this is how they react.  This is very much worth remembering.

On September 10, 1987, 19 unarmed coal miners were shot in the back and killed as they tried to negotiate a decent life for themselves and a larger share of the revenue they created.  The owners, once again facing the prospect of threatened profits, called in the violence.  It's discussed at Daily Kos.  One of many bloody incidents that's not often discussed in your high school American history classrooms.

A few weeks back was the 42nd anniversary of a monumental event.  The dismantling of the Bretton Woods financial framework, which has since ushered in the age of finance.  The framers at Bretton Woods understood that unrestricted capital movement was the end of democracy.  Owners of capital become the new virtual senate.  So suppose a nation wants to initiate policies that are in the interest of the people and supported by the people, such as building infrastructure, providing health care, and providing education.  These policies are irrational from the perspective of the owners of capital in their drive for short term profit.  Facing the prospect of capital flight the will of the people must be disregarded.  Capital can enjoy the spoils as the place deteriorates, then quickly move on to the next victim.  Today it's India's turn.  Read the discussion at Naked Capitalism here.  Rising inequality, even in the US, is a direct consequence of this action.

Some rich privileged types say they don't mind that, but they should for a lot of reasons, including the fact that inequalty harms them as well even though they are rich.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Grief and Atheism

You may have heard the story of Fred Stobaugh, a 96 year old guy that had recently lost his wife of 73 years, Lorraine.  There was a song writing contest and Fred was inspired to enter.  He wrote basically a poem to Lorraine and submitted it, though he didn't sing or put the poem to music.  The people running the contest were touched and turned his poem into a song.  The story is in the video below and you can hear the song at about the 5:50 mark.

What I really like about it is for me it expresses what I expect I would honestly feel if I were in his shoes.  So for me it's very relatable.  Fred seems to be expressing the belief that he cannot experience her again.  He says "Life only goes around once, but never again."  "I wish we could do all the good times over again."  "But the memories always linger on."  The sadness and grief is especially deep because he views her as truly gone, except in memories.  For me that's how I would feel.

But if I had gone through that experience as a religious person, as in my earlier days, I don't think I would have felt that way.  Death is a temporary separation that ends in heaven where the sadness is remedied.  This is a comforting belief and I have no interest in preventing others from convincing themselves of this.  But it's not really possible for me to grieve in that way any more.  This is more how I would have to grieve.  It's sadness without (what I consider to be) illusions.  I wonder if that is how Fred is grieving.