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True Blue Door

True Blue Door's Journal
True Blue Door's Journal
October 9, 2014

The Two Paradoxes of Democracy

1. Reform in a democratic system requires the consent of the corrupt.

2. Strong citizens tend to elect weak leaders, who then disappoint. Weak citizens tend to elect strong leaders, who then betray them for greed or power. A strong nation must have strong citizens and strong leaders, at the same time, and on the same side.

October 8, 2014

Three Sardonic Epigrams for the Liberal Philosopher

Why is education important? Because catastrophes caused by hubris are more entertaining than those caused by ignorance.

A libertarian is a conservative who loves money more than they hate black people.

Say conservatives are wrong, and they'll call you immoral. Prove it, and they'll call you an enemy of God.

October 5, 2014

Ben Affleck vs. Bill Maher on Islam: Bill's right.

On HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Ben Affleck (who I have great respect for on most occasions) sparred with Bill Maher (who I also respect) on the topic of the meaning of Islamophobia, and to what extent criticism of Islam as a set of ideas can be distinguished from bigotry against Muslims. Here is the discussion:

Affleck appears to take the position either that criticizing Islam is indistinguishable from bigotry against Muslims, or that it's a much higher priority to combat the latter than to stand up for the former - and thus implying that criticizing Islam is antagonistic to standing up for Muslims. I find this position shockingly illiberal and irrational.

Maher, however, appears to assert that fighting theocracy is an inextricable responsibility of liberalism, and that liberals can and must acknowledge how widespread theocratic opinions are in Islam. He makes the point that doing so is standing up for Muslims, since they are overwhelmingly the victims when the opinions of their communities lead to theocratic laws that punish them for either leaving or attempting to change their religion in some way.

I have to say that Maher is simply correct. There is no ethical option for a liberal to tolerate intolerance under the aegis of "cultural differences," or to pretend that an objective fact isn't true because it makes the job of fighting bigotry more complicated. Simply by the numbers, the political opinions of Muslims worldwide (though this might be different in the US) veer sharply toward legally imposing the core tenets of their religion - e.g., punishing blasphemy, punishing apostasy, etc. Maher noted one poll that found British Muslims overwhelmingly thought that criticism of Islam should be legally punished.

Another poll, reported by the Washington Post, which is far more disturbing, found that 78% of Afghans, 64% of Egyptians and Pakistanis, 59% of Palestinians, 58% of Jordanians, and 53% of Malaysians...supported the death penalty for leaving Islam. In other words, majorities in these countries were found to support killing other Muslims who decide not to be Muslims anymore.

Now, it's not a monolithic picture of worldwide Islam, because "merely" large minorities (38% and 36%) favored killing apostates in Iraq and Bangladesh, and it is actually good news that only 13% were on board with that in Indonesia (the most populous single Muslim country) and only 2% in Turkey. But it still means that in huge swaths of Islam, this is considered a legitimate or even mainstream political position to take, and the numbers are likely far more staggering if you were merely to ask about lighter punishments like imprisonment or fines.

I haven't seen the numbers for other religions, but I'm willing to bet substantial money that they're not comparable in their respective countries. So...this problem has to be acknowledged and dealt with, and the fact that bigots will exploit it doesn't change that. The current cultural state of Islam worldwide is radically conservative and authoritarian, and the only way to change that is to confront it - not be morally relativistic.

Bigots will always exploit the truth to undermine it. They exploited the atrocities of the Japanese Imperial Army in WW2 to terrify the American people into putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps, but no one would argue that that insanity meant we shouldn't have fought Japan. They exploited the horrors of the Stalin regime to wage authoritarian campaigns against the peaceful American left, but no one would argue that the madness of Joe McCarthy meant the US should not have stood firm in Europe against the Soviet empire. And today they exploit the Dark Age that Islam is currently experiencing to attack Muslims. But it would be ass-backwards to let that dictate how we respond to a very real and destructive social problem.

Liberals should be leading the charge against Islamic theocracy, not because it's Islamic, but because it's theocracy! We should be angrily telling those people who think their religion gives them the right to kill or imprison apostates or "blasphemers" that they do not have that right - that freedom of and from religion is an absolute, fundamental aspect of basic human dignity, and violating it is despicable and evil. When a Muslim somewhere decides not to be a Muslim anymore, and that leads to their being murdered; when a woman somewhere is stoned to death because she was raped; when mobs chant "death to (insert country)" because someone in that country criticized Islam; when a "blasphemer" is imprisoned...this should boil our blood. It does no service to the world, to liberal values, or to persecuted minority groups in any country to offer up these people as sacrifices on the altar of political correctness.

We can morally excuse some individuals involved in this madness because they grew up in an environment that told them this was acceptable, but we cannot excuse the vile ideas themselves, and certainly not people who grew up in Western countries and somehow still cling to gruesomely authoritarian ideological modes. At that point they are not naive people of a country with no liberal history - they are just radical right-wing conservatives exactly like the ones waving the cross in the name of hate, and should be fought with passion and contempt on behalf of all decent people of all backgrounds and religious beliefs.

Moreover, as noted in the discussion clip, it's not just jihadis that are the problem - not just people blowing stuff up and shooting people. The main problem is the sphere of political opinion that breeds such radicalism, even if it rhetorically condemns it. If it is acceptable to impose your religion on others, then the dispute between "mainstream" conservative Muslims and jihadis is merely one of degree - one believes they should immediately seek to impose Islam by just killing as many of its "enemies" as possible through terrorism, and the other that an orderly governmental process should be instituted to imprison and/or execute apostates and blasphemers. The dispute is mainly one of style and tactics - like the difference between white supremacists and white separatists, it's mostly rhetorical.

So...let's be liberals and stand up for human beings, not be the nihilistic PC priesthood the right paints us being. Say it without hesitation and without mealy-mouthed language: The current state of Islam is repugnant to liberal values. Stand up for the Muslims (or former Muslims) who say that and face brutal consequences to make life better for their people, rather than for the vile conservative degenerates in their communities who try to silence them.
October 1, 2014

Why not start direct democracy cities?

I was severely disappointed when Occupy just dissolved in the face of what were, historically, mild police assaults. While it's true they still exist in some rump form, doing things like cancelling relatively small amounts of student and mortgage debt, I thought they had completely missed and abandoned their true potential as a catalyzing force: Experimentation with practical direct democracy. And the most bizarre thing is that no one seems to talk about that aspect of it, as if there's some collective amnesia going on - or at least stunning lack of imagination.

But here's what occurs to me, that a bold, energetic, and lively society would attempt: Buy some land, incorporate some municipalities on various models, and charter them on the basis of various method of practical direct democracy - with the obvious shortcomings of that system counterbalanced with some thoughtful mechanisms. Just as a thought experiment the possibilities immediately extend far beyond what has been tried, so it seems like the only reason they haven't been tried is that our culture is so wretched with conservatism that even the radical progressives are afraid of new things.

Any objection you could make to the functioning of such cities could be planned against, if it's so obvious that it comes up in a conjectural conversation like this. And the problems that are non-obvious, finding those issues would be part of the benefit of the attempt - because they would represent new information, and give rise to new solutions. Moreover, the design of the mechanisms could be made flexible to deal with such unknowns. Finally, there would (hopefully) be several distinct communities operating in parallel and pursuing independent approaches, providing the diversity that is the fuel of evolution.

Now, I would stress one thing though: As experiments, they should be controlled - as in, the only thing that should be radically different in the initial conditions is the form of government. They should not otherwise be radical - i.e., not utopian communes that represent only a societal niche and deter average, non-ideological people from living there. This stipulation is the main difficulty, I think, since self-defeating insularity is the natural tendency of the boldest elements of the left. It truly hates associating with the wider culture and society, and that solipsism was often on display in the later days of the Occupy movement when the broad-based coalition started to unravel.

So that's a tendency that needs to be overcome, and especially the ludicrous ideology that rejects success and popularity as "selling out." Rather, we need a movement that wants to be emulated in society, wants the influence that comes with shallow political imitation. In this specific subject, we would need a set of town founders who would want to create models that other communities not activated by any kind of ideological zeal might want to emulate. In other words, the form of the direct democracy should be carefully maintained at a level of simplicity that remains accessible to novices, and doesn't degenerate (as it eventually did with Occupy) into an opaque set of shibboleths and insular practices that look alien, bizarre, and intimidating to outsiders. The forms of the wider culture should be diligently maintained while being rearranged into more democratic systems.

While respecting individuals, they should not be allowed to devolve into self-limiting counterculture cults that glory in multiplying the contrasts with the rest of society, since that would totally defeat the purpose of insinuating direct democracy. Basically it needs to be strictly a technocratic set of experiments with a maximally representative cross-section of the population, with obnoxious anti-everything ideological types discouraged without violating the democratic principle. The reason for this is that, whatever successes are discovered, would then be far easier to transmit to larger scales - counties, states, nations, regions, even globally over the longest term. But if the experiments devolve into counterculture caricatures, then other people would reflexively reject its lessons simply because of the form they've taken.

Needless to say, only people whose foremost priorities are humanity and democracy should be involved in the planning. Ideologues whose values are a chaotic laundry list of unrationalized niche issues should not, since they would produce exactly what I just mentioned should be avoided. Beyond that, I won't bother to conjecture exact policies and forms. I'll simply note, again, that if you can raise an objection in a theoretical conversation, then someone seriously planning such a community would probably also think of it and be able to plan for it. Basically, there's no reason not to do this.

There are challenges to doing it, certainly - most immediate simply being the money to buy the land, and attracting the non-ideological expertise to manage the completely technical aspects of planning, building, maintaining, and expanding the communities that are created. But it can be done: Many of the cities and states of this country were founded for a political or moral purpose, and only lately have we completely resigned the further colonization of our own country to development corporations. Boston (and Massachusetts in general) retains the highly literate and education-oriented character of its history, to cite one example. And on the other political side, Utah is still gruesomely Mormon. There's no reason why we have to simply abandon the future shaping of this country to the blind forces of real estate capitalism.

In fact, let's take this concept further: It isn't even strictly necessary to form a new town to pursue these experiments. Just get together with people in your neighborhood, call it the _____ Assembly, and vote on stuff. Doesn't matter if any authorities recognize your resolutions, because if you stick to it, eventually they'll have to at least pay respect to them to avoid alienating a chunk of active voters. With that respect, the reputation and influence of that Assembly would grow, as would its numbers, and you could then take whatever measures were needed to keep its functioning practical while maintaining its direct character. Slowly you could grow such a thing into such an influential force that you might eventually be able to have laws changed giving it some kind of de jure authority. Not likely sole authority, but at least some role in the structure of local government. From there, anything is possible.

The fact that Occupy didn't stick with direct democracy as its primary mission, and instead treated it like an afterthought to be abandoned to the impotent counterculture rather than expanded into the wider culture, is one of its most tragic failures and missed opportunities. But every day is a new opportunity, and the value and potential of this idea will never disappear.

In fact, it's the distilled lesson of all of history: That the single most explosively creative, artistically beautiful, philosophically prolific, and influential civilization in history was the handful of generations in a single city (Athens) living under direct democracy. The fact that it could do what it did in those few generations, in a people numbering little more than 20,000 voters, is just mind-boggling. Now, then again, it was not perfect: It self-destructed as the citizens became a greedy mob willing to endanger their entire society for the spoils of imperialistic wars. But the lesson to be drawn from that is how to tweak direct democracy to avoid those problems, not to simply avoid it altogether. The foundation from which you grow and evolve has to be democracy - it should not be an outgrowth of tolerant monarchy or permissive oligarchy.

We in this country have never had such a democratic foundation. We have always been a state constructed on a permissive oligarchy, and over time the oligarchy is reasserting its foundational privileges. That can, should, and must change - however slowly, it must. There's room enough in this country for thousands of different approaches to direct democracy, but all of them should be attempted, across as many diverse situations as possible.

Experiment with different "action thresholds" (the majority needed to produce a given type of resolution); experiment with different relationships between the Assembly and the courts, the Assembly and the bureaucracies, the Assembly and the Executive; experiment with Assembly sizes and thresholds for fissioning into separate bodies; experiment with methods of order, etc. etc. But for fuck's sake, experiment. Stop just doing things because they've been done before.

September 30, 2014

I was a banker in high school.

This is one of the strangest experiences of my life in retrospect, and offers insights into a number of things I wouldn't otherwise know. For a period of about a year and a half in high school, I - without planning to do so, without appreciating it while it happened, and without doing much of anything to make it happen - accumulated a shocking amount of money, spread it out among other students, and almost never had to pay for anything. Without realizing it, I had stumbled into being a banker.

It started out innocently enough: The food offered by the school at lunch was crap, so I just started skipping it and keeping my lunch money. But then some of the people I knew noticed this and wondered if they could borrow the money to buy an extra snack or whatever, and I was fine with that. Then it became a regular thing, and other people came to me for money at lunch. The people I didn't consider friends I would ask for a little bit of interest - the percentage was high, but since the principal was only a few bucks, the absolute amount of interest was trivial, like fifty cents.

For some reason I never figured out, more and more people came to me for money. It's not like they were poor either - it was a pretty affluent community, and a lot of these kids went to island surf camps and traveled abroad during the summer. But at lunch they never seemed to have any cash - maybe money was such an afterthought to them that they just never came prepared. And since the amounts were so individually trivial even at usurious interest, they always paid me back. Maybe fussing over so little money would have just seemed uncouth, so they never did. And the more I trusted them as they paid me back each given time, the more I'd lend them. There was no Finance 101 theory behind it - it was just common sense.

But as more and more of them owed me money, the amount coming to me started to get significant even if each individual principal was still small. And the people who I trusted enough to loan significant amounts would, in lieu of cash, start doing me favors. I don't mean they repayed me with favors - I mean they merely delayed the date of repayment, so I was literally getting something for nothing.

At first it was just friendly little courtesies like offering me some of their french fries at lunch, or offering me a cigarette after school. Slowly this practice ballooned into an entire lifestyle that the sum total of the money I was owed couldn't possibly have paid for directly. I always had a ride somewhere, sometimes a borrowed car - and some of the cars the people of this community gave their children were absurd. If they were petty and insisted I pay for gas, that was okay: The kid working the gas station owed me money. Ditto the registers at Del Taco, In 'N Out, 7-11, Carl's Jr., Pizza Hut, a couple of movie theaters, a grocery store, etc. etc.

Eventually, I could pretty much just wander around and find free food, cigarettes, beer, and entertainment, depending on who was working where at any given time. And since all this free stuff wasn't theirs to give in the first place; and since there were enough of them around that I wasn't leeching off any one of them too often; they never felt the need to insist on an exact accounting. So it just went on and on, and grew bigger.

I'll spare you the sordid details of the more preposterous freebies I got. You wouldn't believe some of them, and others are too embarrassing. The actual amount of cash in circulation was only a small part of the value I was getting - everything else sprang from the independent actions of self-interested people associated with the cash or who owed it. And the thing is, I never did anything to collect: I wasn't a loan shark. If someone stiffed me, then I just stopped giving them money and cut them off from the network of freebies I'd built. By that point I would already have made so much from them that I still made a net profit.

But then some shady characters started noticing what I was doing, insisted on "borrowing" from me and other people I did business with, and were always mock-apologetic if I asked about the "loans" they'd taken out. "Ah, man, sorry about that. I forgot to bring the money. Check back next week. But, hey, you think you could loan me some more in the meantime? What? No? What, you calling me a liar? That ain't nice, man." When the guy saying that looks like a recent jailbird and your main physical activity is picking up hardcover books to read, that sounds a little intimidating.

I myself couldn't fight for shit, most of the people I knew were just suburban kids like me, and it was obvious that any sort of security arrangement I could make with other tough guys would just devolve into extortion anyway. And worrying about such things felt like work, which would defeat the whole point of being a money guy. If it was going to be a job, then fuck it. So it was time to retire. I called in my markers before any hoodlums could snatch the rest up, and blew the cash within a year. When nobody could get any money from me anymore, the predators got the message and moved on.

Anyway, the main thing I drew from that era was how addictive it is to just throw money into the wind and have it blow back at you in larger denominations. You don't see what produces it: You simply drop a seed, walk away, and then come back and eat the fruit that someone else cultivated. This is fundamentally what finance capitalists do. But they do it so massively, riding such a colossal storm - one of global proportions - that it must be intoxicating.

Everything they get is free, from their perspective. In fact, more than free - the world rewards them for simply existing. They advance by standing still. They invariably grow richer if they don't actively sabotage their own interests. They live off a network of freebies that encompasses the entire world economy, and it's a drug to them. A banker doesn't have to worry about anything: Like I had done, they can just wander through an economy passively grazing off the fat of the land, and everyone else does the work either because they have to or because their own, smaller self-interests motivate them. A banker just surfs the wave, and doesn't concern himself with what's under the water.

September 30, 2014

The Mission of a Liberal

1. To solve problems in such a way as to avoid perpetuating them - i.e., first do no harm. (As distinct from leftism)

2. To create new opportunities without compromising existing ones. (As distinct from libertarianism)

3. To ensure absolute equality of rights, and practical equality of opportunities. (As distinct from conservatism)

September 29, 2014

Superb Full-Globe View of Mars from Indian orbiter


This is one of the best full-globe images of Mars ever taken. And it's important to note that it's an actual photograph of Mars as an entire planet, not a mosaic of closer images taken over time. So it's that entire world captured in a given moment - about what you'd see out the window of a spaceship.

Note the dust storms in the Northern hemisphere. If you right click and select "View Image" and then magnify, you can see the faint wisp of the atmosphere on the limb.

September 27, 2014

Calling for terrorism at the polls and then saying "Kidding!" a week later is not a "hoax."

Here's the long and short of it:

A Facebook page purporting to belong to a right-wing Wisconsin militia called for armed interdiction of Democratic voters at the polls in November, specifically to target those who signed the recall petition against Scott Walker. It contained images of firearms, target practice at shooting ranges, and black voters standing in line. Days later, when this call for terrorism at the polls drew exactly the kind of attention we would expect, the page was edited to say essentially "Just kidding! Stupid libruls r too sensitive!" Or more literally what it said was: "You’ve Been Trolled by Journalists with Zero Credibility" and claimed "This page was made by one person. No conspiracy, no militia, no paid funding ... just one guy."

Even if it was just one guy, that doesn't change what it represents, and certainly doesn't mitigate the context of nationwide right-wing terrorist murder sprees that have happened on a steady basis over the past several years. Not to mention the context of Jim Crow 2.0 election-rigging measures in numerous states and lawless 5-member Supreme Tort rulings dismantling civil rights. Seriously, if this guy or guys behind this were Muslims who openly support ISIS and said they were going to blow up a skyscraper, then said "Kidding!" a week later, no one would be saying "Phew! It's just a hoax!"

So what the fuck is going on when that's the reaction here, on Democratic Underground, to something like this? If - IF, goddammit - the subsequent claim to be just one person is true and not a defensive reaction to the response, then it's at best an example of stochastic terrorism: Cowardly demagogues and propagandists continually pushing fantasies of violent confrontation and terrorist intimidation through rhetoric and only partly backing down when they get blowback. It leads to real incidents. We know this for a fact, because by this point too many mass-killers have been found to be motivated by right-wing talk radio and Fox News rantings.

But...why the fuck would we just accept the word for it of the kind of person/people who would do something like this that they are just one person and were "just kidding"? That's utterly insane. It's as if the reality of such a thing, even at its most benign possible interpretation, is just too awful for some people to confront. Well, I'm sorry the world isn't a safe and comfy kindergarten, but we have to deal with things like this. The right-wing is increasingly terroristic in this country, increasingly justifying the label of cancervatives, and this is just a manifestation of where their minds are running these days - if not their plans. Don't hide from it.

September 26, 2014

Militia group planning armed interdiction of Democratic voters at the polls.

Something this...blood-boilingly infuriating...is probably old news, but it's the first I've heard of it.


I could churn out some long-winded intellectual exposition about this kind of reptilian fuckery, but I think I'll just say...


...it looks delicious.

September 26, 2014

Economic Segregation is not Okay.

In the list of the many, many socioeconomic issues that are never discussed in this country, probably the one that flies furthest below the radar is this: Economic segregation - the physical stratification of communities, cities, even entire regions along class lines.

It's true that we often hear about gentrification, and people complain when they're priced out of their own communities, but how often do people look deeper than that and ask whether the very concept of economic segregation is acceptable? We denounce the quasi-imperialism of rich areas expanding into middle-class and poor areas, but how often do we hear the very notion of such areas called into question? Not very often, if ever.

We accept the underlying phenomenon without question, perhaps as an inevitable outgrowth of the "free" market - another illusion we accept without question. But obviously there is nothing "free" about a market where your set of options is walled off by what people with more money than you want - if they want it, then you can't have it. And it isn't even that they want it more, merely that the absolute dollar value of their desire outweighs what you are capable of offering, so a desire that might in their case literally be nothing more than an afterthought outweighs what in your case might be a lifelong dream, simply by dollar arithmetic.

The rich thus have the power to completely shut off all possibility of your living in a given area without getting the permission and charity of some individual among them - an indulgence they could cut off or modify for any reason that suits them. In other words, we have a situation that's essentially Manorialism. The rich, becoming physically contiguous, create areas where those with less not only can't live in independently, but usually are not even welcome in as ordinary citizens and consumers: Basically a separate country with separate rules, that keeps expanding and encroaching further into the common space of the people.

And that's bad enough, but it gets worse when you realize that the only way these areas can function economically is by importing workers who can't possibly afford to live there on what they're paid. So these areas suck in economic value from surrounding areas, but then externalize the costs of their lifestyle by forcing their employees to live elsewhere, in areas too far away to benefit from the work they do. The rich get a free ride at the expense of everyone around them, and those who bear the cost are prevented from enjoying the benefits of their labor. Landscapers may spend all day beautifying a community an hour away from where they live, while their own streets are rundown and depressing. A teacher educates the privileged young while the kids of her own community go to some half-prison of a school where they teach burger flipping.

It's just wrong, and has already badly eroded the fabric of American civilization. So I say desegregate. Aggressively. Blend the classes back together, at least in the urbanized areas where that's clearly an issue. Mandate some fraction of all developments is set aside for each and every stratum as a price/rent-controlled bloc, proportionally, and they have to be homogeneously distributed so they can't be segregated into some leper colony. And for fuck's sake, no "poor doors." If a rich person is such a piece of shit they can't bear to mingle with other human beings who happen to have less money than them, they should live out in the boonies, not in the middle of a city.

Either this is one country or it isn't. And if it isn't, let's make it one.

Profile Information

Name: Brian
Gender: Male
Hometown: Southern California
Member since: Mon Oct 28, 2013, 05:48 PM
Number of posts: 2,969

About True Blue Door

Primary issue interests: Science, technology, history, infrastructure, restoring the public sector, and promoting a fair, honorable, optimistic, and inquisitive society. Personal interests: Science fiction (mainly literature, but also films and TV), pop culture, and humor.
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