Thursday, February 28, 2008

Unpeople of the World Unite

Noam Chomsky: Why is Iraq Missing from 2008 Presidential Race?

A few days ago, the New York Times—the military and Iraq expert of the New York Times, Michael Gordon, wrote a comprehensive review, first-page comprehensive review, of the options for Iraq that are being faced by the candidates. And he went through them in detail, described the pluses and minuses and so on, interviewing political leaders, the candidates, experts, etc. There was one voice missing: Iraqis. Their preference is not rejected; rather, it’s not mentioned. And it seems that there was no notice of that fact, which makes sense, because it’s typical. It makes sense on the tacit assumption that underlies almost all discourse on international affairs. The tacit assumption, without which none of it makes any sense, is that we own the world. So, what does it matter what others think? They’re “unpeople,” nice term invented by British diplomatic historian [Mark] Curtis, based on a series of outstanding volumes on Britain’s crimes of empire—outstanding work, therefore deeply hidden. So there are the “unpeople” out there, and then there are the owners—that’s us—and we don’t have to listen to the “unpeople.”...
It’s only the position of the large majority of the population, kind of like national healthcare, but not of the people that count. So there are plenty of “unpeople” here, too—in fact, the large majority. Americans share this property of being “unpeople” with most of the rest of the world. In fact, if the United States and Iran were functioning, not merely formal, democracies, then this dangerous crisis might be readily resolved by a functioning democracy—I mean, one in which public opinion plays some role in determining policy, rather than being excluded—in fact, unmentioned, because, after all, they’re “unpeople.”
Read the entire thing to get honest commentary on the state of things. I only highlighted the parts about unpeople, but there is a lot more interesting things in this speech. As an unperson myself, I thought I would focus on this portion at the moment. Also, read the entire thing to get more context. The first paragraph and the second paragraph have little to do with one another other than the "unpeople" part. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Establishing a Legacy

We’ve all heard Bush’s claim that history will treat him well, and we’ve heard that he’s spending this last year building his “legacy” as President. He is operating under the impression that a fa├žade of fiscal conservatism roughly applied at the end of his term will be what history remembers him for, not illegally invading a country or two, authorizing torture of prisoners, or willfully disregarding the Constitution and doing away with the legal and philosophical foundations of Western Civilization. And yet, even his fiscal “responsibility” is not shaping up to leave a legacy his country, much less his children, can be proud of.

Bush issued a 5-year, $3.6 billion cut to Medicaid through a “shift in federal reimbursement policy” for special needs children in public schools around the country. This was not routed through Congress, and will be in effect by next school year if Congress doesn’t intervene. Bush has no problem paying $12 billion a month to kill people around the world, but $53 million a month for special ed students is suddenly something the schools should be paying as part of their education mission.

LEGACY: Bush tells retarded kids to buy their own damn short bus.

This month’s issue of Scientific American gives us the next piece of Bush’s fiscally “responsible” legacy. Late last year, Bush demanded that Congress present him a budget that did not go over his arbitrary spending limit or he would veto the entire budget. Never mind that Bush has yet to include the cost of killing people around the world in his annual budget request, instead relying on “emergency supplementals” that he requests from Congress whenever it is politically expedient to remind the country we are at “war”. Congress had to scurry to find cuts to make to account for the positive additions they had included. Unfortunately, they chose to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the Department of Energy’s scientific research budget, including around $100 million from high-energy physics research at our national labs. Fermilab will have to lay off 200 employees by June, with everyone else taking days of unpaid leave every month. They are mothballing NOvA till at least next year, and our bid to build the ILC in America is dead before the ink dried on the proposals. ‘"The ILC will go forward, but the U.S. will fall behind," says Barry Barish, director of the global design effort for the collider.’ These were the big upcoming projects scheduled at the nation’s premier accelerator lab that would give the scientists there a purpose after Tevatron closes in a few years, supplanted by a higher-energy accelerator at CERN coming on line later this year. ‘"The greatest impact is on the future of the lab," [Fermilab’s director, Pier] Oddone says. "We have no ability now to develop our future."’ SLAC in California faces layoffs as well, and an early end to BaBar experiments. Argonne faces similar budget shortfalls. The US has also backed out on its pledge of $160 million to an international project testing the feasibility of nuclear fusion power plants. Again, that project will go forward with or without American cooperation and funding assistance. The question for our political leadership is this: Do we want to be at the bleeding edge of cool science, developing the new technologies that have useful, society-improving applications, or do we want to be like one of those poor countries still using gas centrifuges to enrich uranium in 2008?

I haven’t checked, but I bet the Homeland Security and nuclear weapons projects at Los Alamos are in fine shape.

To counter claims that their immigration fears are founded in racism and fear of the brown man, Republicans claim that they don’t mind immigration, so long as the immigrants are smart and rich. Mark Messier of Indiana University, one of the spokesmen for NOvA, said "The signal this sends is, 'Go do your research somewhere else.'" These policies will deter exactly the kind of immigrants they claim to want from coming to the US for education and research, and it will begin to drive out American scientists, forcing them to other countries to accomplish their research.

Basic research into unanswered questions is the spark of new technology. New technology is rarely generated out of old knowledge. Sure, Congress may say, “I don’t know the difference between a muon neutrino and an electron neutrino, so let’s cut that experiment.” But when that experiment unlocks the answer to why matter dominates the universe instead of anti-matter, which gives us clues into how to generate anti-matter more efficiently, which leads to powerful compact energy sources to transport us to other planets, it doesn’t really matter what Congressman Schmuckatelli (idiot-BFE) does or does not understand.

This doesn’t even get into the attempt to force privatization on the nation’s scientific infrastructure or face closures. Arecibo, the largest single dish telescope in the world, was told last year to find its own source of funding in the private sector, because the nation apparently cannot scrounge up $1 million a year to fund the radio telescope’s operations. The staff has said this essentially kills all chance of continued operations at that site because the chance of finding a donor is almost zero. It appears the study of cosmology is not terribly profitable.

Politicians are at least discussing issues surrounding our nation’s science education. But they need to understand that if the only jobs available for scientists coming out of college are in the weapons industry, the nation is going to lose out on the best theorists, researchers, engineers, professors, and experimentalists who will go to another country where the pursuit of knowledge is valued as an end in itself, rather than as a means to kill people more efficiently.

LEGACY: Bush cuts jobs, creates a reverse brain drain, and drops our science community’s standing in the world to save a few bucks now, costing us time and knowledge, priceless commodities in the search to understand the world we live in.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I Hate the Primaries and Election Season

Why have I been absent for a while? Maybe because what I have to say isn't interesting or "relevant" at the moment. I am not picking apart candidates or endorsing a candidate either. All I have to write about is now considered old news and looking in the past when I should be looking forward. To what? More of the same? Why isn't anyone talking about the war anymore? Why wasn't there more outrage at the government's admittance that our country engages in torture? Why is our government still spying on us? Why hasn't Bush been impeached yet? Why isn't anyone talking about the coming kangaroo trial in Guantanamo where evidence gained through torture will be admissible? That got a blurb on some sites, sandwiched between the latest stories on Obama and Clinton.

I don't care about who is the shrillest, coolest, most charismatic, most so-called experienced, etc. What are their foreign policies and how do they differ from the current clusterfuck? I also don't care to partake in the debate about which supporters of what camp are more rude, mean, cult-like, etc. Who the fuck cares, really. Why can't anyone talk about important things?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008