Monthly Archives: January 2006

Profit Motives

I watched The Deal last night, and I found it an interesting portrayal of corporate America and the drive for greed, wrapped up in a fairly taught thriller. The important points of the movie was not the nonsense with the Russian mob, it was the greed and need for profits that compels companies into Enron-like malfeasance.

A better portrait of the ‘corporatocracy’ is the chilling 2004 documentary, The Corporation. This documentary looks at the development of the modern corporation and how the 14th amendment was perverted to define a corporation as a person. And if a corporation is a person, what kind of a person is it? Using the DSM-IV, (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-the standard diagnostic tool of mental health professionals) the Corporation points out the traits of a modern corporation;

  1. Highly antisocial
  2. Self-interested
  3. Inherently amoral, callous and deceitful
  4. Disregards social and legal standards that get in its way
  5. Does not suffer from guilt over its actions

What does this pattern of behavior describe? A psychotic sociopath.

But don’t take my word for it. Pick up Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, the memoirs of a man who spent the 1970’s making the world safe for global corporations. He bribed and blackmailed the leaders of third world nations, encouraging their countries to submit to massive development loans designed to subjugate them in perpetual debt to corporate interests. All designed to keep the profit margins high, with no moral qualms or remorse over the suffering such institutionalized penury creates.

The Root Of All Evil

I watched an astounding television program over the weekend. The Root of All Evil? was broadcast by Channel 4 in Britain earlier this month. It features Richard Dawkins, author, biologist and outspoken atheist, as he explores the dangers for fundamentalist religions around the world. From the conservative Christians in the USA to hard line Islamicists in Jerusalem and orthodox Jews in London, he blasts the idea of religion and its dangerous mindset that foments war and terrorism. Dawkins even takes religious moderates to task. Moderates betray both their religion and reason by picking and choosing which sections of their faith are most comforting and discarding the rest of it as inconvenient-at least fundamentalist zealots are rigorously faithful to their dangerous religions in the face of reason.

The program portrays all these people as dangerously delusion, and he does make a point. It is amazing that people are so quick to accept the crazed pronouncements of Bronze age goat herders over reams of scientific evidence and that they continue to do so despite all the suffering that religion creates goes counter to all logic. I am reminded of a quote by the philosopher Herbert Spencer:

Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by the facts, seem to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.

Coming on the heels of the Dover Intelligent Design decision, this program is simply astounding that such a frankly negative portrayal of religion was produced and allowed to air. It pulls no punches, and in addition to its scathing portrayal of religion, it lays out the battle between science and religion, a battle that has been waged for centuries and shows no sign of abatement. This program could never air in the United States, never. It is absolutely weapons-grade plutonium that could destroy whatever network put it on US airwaves. I pulled down the torrent files from Chomsky Torrents after hearing about the program from Panopticist. Search for “The Root of All Evil?” on Chomsky Torrents to find the link. Think of this distribution method as 21st century samizdat. Dawkins and Daniel Dennet lay out the case for atheism with a cold and brilliant logic. Atheism is not a philosophy, it is not a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.

Dazzle Ships

I’ve always enjoyed the idea of dazzle ships, gigantic machines of war painted in a style of cubism writ large. I knew this was a particular development of WWI in response to the threat of submarine attack. And I also knew it was rendered obsolete by the ascendency of the airplane. What I did not know was that once the threat of Japan’s air force was eliminated in World War II, the US quickly painted up the Navy’s warships in ‘razzle dazzle‘ designs to minimize torpedo attacks from the Japanese submariner fleet.

Oh, and I’m not talking about the 1983 OMD album. Oh yes, I used to have that album. Hey, it was the eighties. At least I was listening to OMD, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs instead of Stryper and Whitesnake and crap like that.

Dog Day Afternoon

The power was out yesterday, so I spent most of it wandering around the island in my car. A couple hours at the library, a couple hours at GPO, a couple hours to drive around down south, and the power was back on when I got home.

Let me wish everyone a happy new year – the year of the dog. I think I’ll eat a little Chinese tonight to celebrate.

Enjoy this link to beautiful China. Those are some amazing photos.

Altered States

I seem to be on a roll lately with the strange hominid urban legends, so why stop now? I read Altered States over the weekend, Paddy Chayefsky’s novel which was based on the real life adventures of mad scientist John Lilly. For those who are curious, Lilly became enamored with taking large doses of hallucinogenic drugs immersing himself in isolation tanks for long stretches of time. The results were interesting to say the least; he was able to dispel persistent migraine headaches which had plagued him for years, imagined he was an Australopithecine (an episode repeated in the novel), and eventually started a long association with extraterrestrial beings involved in a galactic struggle for life on the planet. Sorta like Terence McKenna but with lots of hooting and grunting and later communicating with dolphins.

A lot of this trippy nonsense was repeated in the book (and the movie), with most scientists coming across and drug addled loons. But hey, it was the Seventies right? Most people were drug addled loons, and especially the ones tripping on LSD and ketamine in isolation tanks.

Thursday Night At The Movies

I had a suspicion that Munich would be closing last night at the movies, so I made an effort to hit the 6:45 show last night. I wasn’t really up for a depressing serious movie, but I wanted to catch a quality film before it slipped off of Guam’s theater screens. I was the only one in a large theater, so I was kind of surprised that it is still playing today – though it’s down to one showing a day.

I was expecting a heavy, sobering vision of revenge warping the human soul. Munich was arduous to watch. I did not like having to witness a never ending cycle of violence, one murder after another, each inciting reprisal bombings… I didn’t enjoy watching it, as much as I respect the film’s purpose. Violence and revenge twist a bad situation into ever worse expressions, until paranoia and guilt settle upon the soul. The final shot of the picture, with the main characters avowal that violence only begets more violence, closes with a long shot of the World Trade Centers in the distance. A chilling coda, and a reflection on the world today. Nothing has changed in three decades.

After that bummer of a movie, it was a joy to come home and discover that TCM was playing a batch of Hayao Miyazaki animated movies. Miyazaki is the genius behind Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, and I managed to catch two of his earlier works last night, the last 45 minutes of Nausicaä and all of Castle in the Sky. I didn’t get to sleep until almost 2:00 am, but it was worth it. Castle in the Sky is one of my favorite animated movies, and after watching the mephitic Munich I needed something to cleanse my soul. Studio Ghibli delivered a salve of joyful animation last night, and I thank you. Turner Classic Movies is running a lot of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki’s films this month, I’ll need to keep an eye peeled for them on Thursday nights.

New World Found

No, not the ephemeral Terrence Malick movie that never seems to open in a theater near me; I’m talking about the announcement today in Nature of the smallest extra-solar planet yet discovered by astronomers.

OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb is only five times the size of the Earth, and orbiting in a normal way around its star, a red dwarf about 28,000 light years away in the core of the Milky Way. If it were placed in our solar system it would orbit somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. At that distance around a feeble red dwarf however, things are a bit chilly. Like liquid nitrogen chilly.

This is a major discovery. Most previous extrasolar planets are massive giants in scorchingly close, erratic orbits around their stars; the techniques used to discover this frigid snowball can be used on other stars to discover new worlds. Hopefully the next generation of telescopes will be able to directly resolve these alien worlds.

And maybe that hyperdrive will allow us to fly off and explore them too.

Medieval Man Measures Up

Contrary to a popular belief, medieval ancestors measured up to our height standards according this Times article. The reason doors are so low in medieval buildings was to conserve heat. And the little suits of armor reflect the fact that most soldiers were young recruits. The average height of people in Britain has not changed in five thousand years. In fact, there are plenty of normally sized suits of armor, the little ones just catch our attention and stick out.

The iPod Is Making Me Angry

Hmmph…

Well it looks like I killed my iPod yesterday. It hung up during my drive home last night and would not reboot. When I got home I tried the iPod Updater, but that only made matters worse. The next step was to put the iPod into disk mode, wipe the hard drive and reinstall the software. Well that really didn’t work, and I am left with a nice expensive, paperweight – which conveniently went out of warranty last month.

I got some more options, thanks to the almighty Google. Hopefully one of these tips will resurrect the iPod. But if it looks like the hard drive is fragged, it won’t surprise me. It’s been acting up for the last couple months like it had bad sectors or something. And that got me to thinking, if I need a new hard drive, why not just get a bigger hard drive? This guy put up all the directions on how to replace a 20 gigabyte drive, but why not slap a 40 or 60 gigabyte drive in that puppy? Looks like I would need a thicker case though and that makes it a little bit harder. Hmmm… Hey look The guys at TechRestore offer just this service, and upgrading my 20 GB to a 60 GB would be pretty cool.

Two Bits O’ Zen

  • On the very day Ford Motors announces the layoff of 30,000 workers Ford touts the fact that they received a $250 million tax savings from the federal government as per the American Jobs Creation Act. Corporate welfare, the only kind of welfare America needs apparently.
  • Thank goodness the Dept. of Homeland Security is ready to confiscate safe deposit boxes across the country. Wouldn’t want anybody getting their hands on valuables after a terrorist attack now would we? Can’t have that happen in Amerika.

Software Theft Protection

Orbicule Software has come out with an intriguing piece of software for the Macintosh. Undercover is theft recovery software that tracks the location and habits of your laptop after thieves have absconded with the precious hardware. It takes screenshots of whatever the thief is doing and sends them, aong with the computer’s IP address, to you and law enforcement authorities, hopefully facilitating recovery of the laptop.

Even better is “Plan B” – after the recover efforts fail, Undercover simulates a hardware failure, prompting the thief to take the machine to an Apple dealer for repair. When the machine is plugged into the Apple dealer’s store, it alerts the store personnel that it is a stolen machine and that it needs to be returned to the rightful owner immediately to become usable again. It will even start shouting this message, demanding its return to all within earshot. How ridiculously cool is that?

James Lovelock Sings A Song Of Doom

Last week James Lovelock, author of the Gaia Hypothesis, published a piece in the Independent about how it is too late for the planet; global warming is here and there is nothing we can do to stop it at this point. It is a grim, gloomy assessment. And I suspect he is correct. Everything seems to point to an irresistible surge in planetary temperatures.

This dire prediction was met with derision and concern from other environmentalists. Perhaps they have their blinders on, perhaps Lovelock is misguided. Regardless, most people on the planet don’t seem to care, and that is truly frightening.