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Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0

As you watch the conversation in Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0, it might help to know about one of the sources that was helpful to me in formulating the agenda, assembling the cast of characters, and setting the tone for the meeting. I quoted this passage from Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century by Jonathan Glover (who directs the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College, London):

“Now we tend to see the Enlightenment view of human psychology as thin and mechanical, and Enlightenment hopes of social progress through the spread of humanitarianism and the scientific outlook as na?ve…One of this book’s aims is to replace the thin, mechanical psychology of the Enlightenment with something more complex, something closer to reality…another aim of the book is to defend the Enlightenment hope of a world that is more peaceful and humane, the hope that by understanding more about ourselves we can do something to create a world with less misery. I have qualified optimism that this hope is well founded…”

I say Amen to that. If Enlightenment 1.0 took a thin and mechanical view of human nature and psychology, I think Enlightenment 2.0 can offer a much ‘thicker’ and cognitively richer account – less na?ve and also, perhaps, less hubristic. If there’s one thing we’ve learned – particularly from cognitive neuroscience – it is that we need to have some strategic humility about the hobby horses we are inclined to ride.

-Roger Bingham
Director, The Science Network

(Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0)

The Church Of Stop Shopping

“Outside the Disney Store on Fifth Avenue 35 bellicose elves were chanting, “Silent night, we’re on strike: no outsourced toys for little tykes”, while a red-robed choir sang, “Stop, stop shopping”. In the midst of this chaos stood a white tuxedoed preacher bellowing into a bullhorn: a “shopocalypse” was coming, the Reverend Billy warned baffled shoppers – “the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt!”

In recent years the Church of Stop Shopping – a secular street-theatre group led by Bill Talen, a 57-year-old playwright and actor – has mounted other similar performances, but this year, with the release of What Would Jesus Buy? , a documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock, director and star of Super Size Me , the protest is going nationwide. The film follows the Rev Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir as they tour the US exhorting Americans to think about the real meaning of Christmas. Chief among a number ofconfrontations-cum-provocations is the occasion when Rev Billy attempts to exorcise Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Arkansas.”

(via The Financial Times)

The Revolt of the Comic Books

revolt of the comic books

Excellent article on the attempts of superhero comics to deal to critique American politics, and how they fail:

The Superhero Registration Act is a straightforward analogue of the USA PATRIOT Act; the rhetoric of its opponents could have been cribbed from an ACLU brief. But under scrutiny, their civil libertarian arguments turn out to hold very little water in the fictional context. The “liberty” the act infringes is the right of well-meaning masked vigilantes, many wielding incredible destructive power, to operate unaccountably, outside the law — a right no sane society recognizes. In one uneasy scene, an anti-registration hero points out that the law would subject heroes to lawsuits filed by those they apprehend. In another, registered hero Wonder Man is forced to wait several whole minutes for approval before barging into a warehouse full of armed spies from Atlantis. Protests about the law’s threat to privacy ring a bit hollow coming from heroes accustomed to breaking into buildings, reading minds, or peering through walls without bothering to obtain search warrants. Captain America bristles at the thought of “Washington … telling us who the supervillains are,” but his insistence that heroes must be “above” politics amounts to the claim that messy democratic deliberation can only hamper the good guys’ efforts to protect America. The putative dissident suddenly sounds suspiciously like Director of National Intelligence Mitch McConnell defending warrantless spying.

I haven’t read Ellis’s Black Summer yet (I have issue 0, just need to find the time), but I suspect it falls into the same trap: Horus’s murder of the president is little different from the US’s invasion of Iraq.

Full Story: American Prospect).

(via American Samizdat).

Plan 9 From Outer Space

“Fears of an alien invasion created greater alarm in the US than the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack, writes Philippe Mora.

In January 1979, The New York Times reported that despite repeated, feverish denials, the CIA had indeed investigated the UFO phenomenon: “CIA Papers Detail UFO Surveillance” screamed the headline. The report is said to have so upset the then CIA director, Stansfield Turner, that he reportedly asked his staff: “Are we in UFOs?” The answer was yes – since the late 1940s, apparently. But exactly how, what, when, why and who remained layered in mystery, leaving grist for the conspiracy mill.

But this year a raft of newly unclassified CIA documents revealed that the remote possibility of alien invasion elicited greater fear than the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack.”

via The Sydney Morning Herald

The US as Police State, part 2

Read Part 1 of The US as Police State.

In part 1, I took a very brief look at the history of the United States from 1787 to around 1980 and found a history of government repression of citizens at varying levels of government: restrictions on voting, vote fraud, and slavery. Not to mention the genocide of the Native Americans at the hands of the US military.

So now I turn my attention to Ronald Reagan and the point where the “War on Drugs” actually became a war, and not mere prohibition. The drug war is meant to stamp out the “drug problem” in America. A problem that the government helped engineer in t he first place. As detailed in Gary Webb’s series of “Dark Alliance” articles for the San Jose Mercury News, and later a book by the same name, the C.I.A, with the explicit knowledge of the Reagan administration, supported Nicaraguan contras in their sale of cocaine to drug dealers in Los Angles starting around 1981. For more information, see Webb’s 1998 article for the Orange County Weekly, The Crack-Up.”

In his article “The CIA, Contras, Gangs, and Crack” William Blum quotes Webb saying the CIA’s drug network “opened the first pipeline between Colombia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the ‘crack’ capital of the world” and notes that “the huge influx of cocaine happened to come at just the time that street-level drug dealers were figuring out how to make cocaine affordable by changing it into crack.” Blum goes on to write “The foregoing discussion should not be regarded as any kind of historical aberration inasmuch as the CIA has had a long and virtually continuous involvement with drug trafficking since the end of World War II.” Blum then outlines this history. The article provides a quick overview, and I presume he goes into more detail in his book Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II.

“In my 30?year history in the Drug Enforcement Administration and related agencies, the major targets of my investigations almost invariably turned out to be working for the CIA.”

So the government, having spurred the “crack epidemic” and having trafficked drugs since at least WWII, instead of scaling back its own drug running operations expands it military empire to a new front: the homes of US citizens.

Radley Balko chronicles the increase in the use of paramilitary force for servicing drag warrants in his paper Overkill: the Rise of Paramilitary Raids in America. Balko writes:

The use of paramilitary police units began in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Through the 1970s, the idea slowly spilled out across the country. But at least until the 1980s, SWAT teams and other paramilitary units were used sparingly, only in volatile, high-risk situations such as bank robberies or hostage situations. Likewise, ‘no-knock’ raids were generally used only in situations where innocent lives were determined to be at imminent risk. America’s War on Drugs has spurred a significant rise in the number of such raids, to the point where in some jurisdictions drug warrants are only
served by SWAT teams or similar paramilitary units, and the overwhelming number of SWAT deployments are to execute drug warrants.

The Posse Comitatus Act, according to Wikipedia, “was intended to prohibit Federal troops from supervising elections in former Confederate states. It generally prohibits Federal military personnel and units of the United States National Guard under Federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress. The Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act substantially limit the powers of the Federal government to use the military for law enforcement.”

In her 1999 paper “Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments” Diane Cecilia Weber notes a massive blow to the Posse Comitatus Act:

In 1981 Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Officials Act. That law amended the Posse Comitatus Act insofar as it authorized the military to “assist” civilian police in the enforcement of drug laws. The act encouraged the military to (a) make available equipment, military bases, and research facilities to federal, state, and local police; (b) train and advise civilian police on the use of the equipment; and (c) assist law enforcement personnel in keeping drugs from entering the country. The act also authorized the military to share information acquired during military operations with civilian law enforcement agencies.

She goes on to list further erosion or violations of the act:

In 1986, President Reagan issued a National Security Decision Directive, which declared drugs a threat to U.S.
‘national security.’ The directive allowed for yet more cooperation between local, state, and federal law enforcement and
the military. ”

In 1988, Congress ordered the National Guard to assist state drug enforcement efforts. Because of this order, National
Guard troops today patrol for marijuana plants and assist in large-scale anti-drug operations in every state in the country.

In 1989, President Bush created a series of regional task forces within the Department of Defense, charged with facilitating
cooperation between the military and domestic police forces.

In 1994, the Department of Defense issued a memorandum authorizing the transfer of equipment and technology to
state and local police. The same year, Congress created a “reutilization program” to facilitate handing military gear
over to civilian police agencies.

She also notes: “In 1996 President Bill Clinton appointed a military commander, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, to oversee enforcement of the federal drug laws as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.”

By the time George W. Bush nullified the Posse Comitatus Act 2006 (see Wikipedia), it was as good as dead.

Balko goes on to detail how the movement of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies and federal funding incentives for drug enforcement encouraged expansion and deployment of SWAT team units.

In 1972, there were just a few hundred paramilitary drug raids per year in the United States. According to Kraska, by the early 1980s there were 3,000 annual SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were 30,000, and by 2001 there were 40,000.70 The average city police department deployed its paramilitary police unit about once a month in the early 1980s. By 1995, that number had risen to seven.

Balko explores the problems that the militarization of the police force has created at length in the rest of the paper. Overkill is excellent and illustrates just how far the War on Drugs has really gone.

According to Wikipedia: “Martial law is the system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice. Usually martial law reduces some of the personal rights ordinarily granted to the citizen, limits the length of the trial processes, and prescribes more severe penalties than ordinary law.” The current system stops just short of trying drug offenders in military tribunals, but the mandatory sentencing laws (first signed into law by Reagan in 1986) implemented under the The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 constituted a significant change in the severity of sentencing and seized the power to sentence criminals from the judicial branch.

In conclusion: the US government helped create a social problem, and gradually implemented martial law to solve it. The need to formally declare martial law wasn’t necessary – in fact it would have been a hindrance.

Perhaps worst of all the utter failure the War on Drugs has actually been on solving the problem. Detailing why it’s been a failure and all the different ways it’s been a catastrophe for civil liberties is far beyond the scope of this article, but here are some further resources:

Drug Policy Alliance.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

The Cato Institute’s Drug War section.

This Foreign Policy magazine’s article on the drug war.

Radley Balko’s blog.

End part 2.

The Banality of Truth: The government finally admits pre-9/11 bumbling

On Tuesday Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell told the House Judiciary Committee things that, had a government official said them in the days, weeks, or months following 9/11. would have sparked public outrage-and may have significantly blunted the push for greater police and surveillance powers like the PATRIOT Act.

McConnell told lawmakers that “9/11 should have and could have been prevented.”

Full Story: Reason Magazine.

See also this piece by the same author:

It is now clear that senior FBI officials, Maltbie and Frasca, did know about Moussaoui’s arrest. They knew the case so well that they denied Samit’s request to seek a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to search Moussaoui’s computer and belongings. Because Samit never made the explicit link to Afghan terror camps, the FBI could not claim a ‘foreign power’ was directing Moussaoui, the test for an intelligence warrant from the court. But had the bureau taken Samit’s fears of mayhem seriously, it could have sought a plain vanilla criminal warrant on Moussaoui based on probable cause. Samit was told that pressing too hard to obtain a warrant would hurt his career.

This decision not to seek a warrant gave rise to the myth that the ‘wall’ between overseas intelligence and criminal investigations made the PATRIOT Act necessary. This myth is cherished among right-wing radio talkers and has now morphed into a clumsy justification for the White House’s warrantless wiretaps. It is pure fantasy. Samit cited ‘obstructionism, criminal negligence and careerism’ by top FBI officials-not domestic spying restrictions-as the factors that stopped his investigation.

(Emphasis mine).

The Top Twenty Most Bizarre Experiments of All Time

The Museum of Hoaxes provides an excerpt from the book Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments:

Warren Thomas, Director of the City Zoo, fired a cartridge-syringe containing 297 milligrams of LSD into Tusko the Elephant’s rump. With Thomas were two scientific colleagues from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine, Louis Jolyon West and Chester M. Pierce.

297 milligrams is a lot of LSD – about 3000 times the level of a typical human dose. In fact, it remains the largest dose of LSD ever given to a living creature. The researchers figured that, if they were going to give an elephant LSD, they better not give him too little.

Full Story: Museum of Hoaxes.

(via Boing Boing).

A factory of one’s own

According to MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld, the digital revolution is over, and the good guys won. The next big change will be about manufacturing. Anyone with a PC will be able to build anything just by hitting ‘print.’

(Fortune Magazine) — Imagine a machine with the ability to manufacture anything. Now imagine that machine in your living room. What would you build first? Would you start a business? Would you ever buy anything retail again? According to MIT physicist Neil Gershenfeld, it’s not too early to think about these questions, because that machine, which he calls a personal fabricator, is not so far off – or so far-fetched – as you might think.

Gershenfeld is director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), an interdisciplinary outfit studying the intersection between information theory and industrial design. He also teaches a course called How to Make (Almost) Anything.

Five years ago the National Science Foundation awarded the CBA $14 million to build a manufacturing lab full of futuristic hardware. That includes a nanobeam writer that can etch microscopic patterns on metal, and a supersonic waterjet cutter that generates 60,000 pounds of water pressure, enough to shear through almost any material. The CBA factory can churn out anything, from the tiniest semiconductor to an entire building.

continue reading via money.cnn.com

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