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    Tab dump 16-11-09 (though really not so much a tab dump as three-four blog posts in one)

    First off, Andrew Corsello's blistering and sublimely, viciously angry takedown of Ayn Rand. It is at least ten thousand characters too long, and not so much an article as a 26.000 character rant, but it is readable, funny, immensely satisfying and it makes a good point when it connects the dots between Randian uncritical thinking and the clusterfuck of the global economy. Highlights include this wonderfully obtuse letter to the editor from Alan Greenspan, literary critic and bigtime randroid, on the occasion of Atlas Shrugged being panned in a review.
    To the editor:

    "Atlas Shrugged" is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.

    Alan Greenspan
    Corsello comments:
    It's a remarkable letter for two reasons. The first, of course, is that Greenspan wrote it; a line can be drawn from that letter to the wholesale deregulation of the American economy, to the invention of hydra-headed derivatives and credit-default swaps, and finally to the collapse of the financial and housing markets.
    I recently made an offhand remark about how Rand had a way of reaching nice, likeable, intelligen but maybe involuntarily celibate young men and turning them into horrible people. Morsello really captures this process. And the article ends, orgasmically, with this outburst:
    Fuck you, Ayn Rand.

    Fuck you for turning some of the most open and interesting people I ever met into utopian dickheads.

    Fuck you for injecting them with a sneering sense of superiority, and with the tautological belief that anyone who didn't "get it" was a jealous know-nothing—which, ipso facto, only proved that superiority.
    In the very last paragraph, you learn why the author is so angry. It's a nice payoff.

    A fabulous interview with climatologist Stephen Schneider on climate skepticism. He also makes some really well-argued points along the way about both the injustice of the climate problem, and more importantly the entire scientific process itself. How it works, and why the climate skeptics are arguing in bad faith.
    You talk about subjectivity, but isn’t science supposed to be objective?

    No. Science is truthful, which doesn’t necessarily mean objective. How can science be objective about the future? How much data do we have for 2100? Try zero. We have data for 2009 and previous years. We take that data, analyze where we think it’s high quality, analyze where we’re not so sure of the quality, show how well the data explains multiple phenomena from the past, and ask how closely related those phenomena are to the future.


    Once we build our climate models, we must always make a subjective judgment, because it is going to be a prediction outside the realm of direct verifiability. We have to be able to predict whether this is a potential catastrophe for humanity. We can’t just hang around and wait.

    In your book, you suggest a kind of continuum: from objective data to subjective determinations based on the data, and then to value judgments.

    Right. What to do about what we know--that’s a question of values. But it’s values informed by science. In 1973, I got a call from the Council on Foreign Relations wanting me to talk about policy. I told them that if we’re using the atmosphere as a free sewer to dump our tailpipe wastes, and it’s going to cause change that could harm agriculture, ecosystems, ice sheets, and sea level, then maybe a smart move would be to slow down the rate at which we pollute. That’s a value judgment, and I’ve been making them from the beginning. I’m a very risk-averse person and I worry much more about the planetary life support system than the bottom line of the coal industry.

    How then do you defend against charges that you’re an activist?

    I am an activist. I want the world to be a better place, and I define specifically what I mean by that: If one group, the rich, benefits from an activity like dumping their waste in the atmosphere and the other group, the poor, are hurt by it and don’t get much benefit, that’s an inequity. Therefore, in my value system, that’s a higher criteria for action than aggregate dollars. I don’t have aggregate dollars as my moral principle. I look at who’s responsible. But I never say that without admitting that those are my values. So, that’s activism.

    What’s the difference between being a climate-change skeptic and a denier?

    Every good scientist is a skeptic. In fact, I would argue that every good citizen is a skeptic. We have to learn to discern, and listen to the quality and logic of an argument.
    Read the whole thing.


    For the Norwegians:

    Bergens Tidende
    har flere interessante artikler i dag om gatevold og unge frustrerte menn som er verdt å lese. Ikke minst fordi den tar opp spørsmålet om integrering og sosial kapital – for første gang på lenge ikke som et etnisk/kulturelt spørsmål, men som et sosialt spørsmål, som vi kan behandle, avgrense og møte med sosiale, politiske, økonomiske og pedagogiske virkemidler. Ikke som noe abstrakt, fremmed og fjernt. Denne serien med artikler er noe av det mest tankevekkende jeg har lest om norsk integrering på flere uker, og innvandring nevnes ikke med et ord (bortsett fra når det er snakk om innvandringsfiendtlige miljøer).

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    Sol mun svartne,
    sig jord i hav,
    av himmelen kverv
    klåre stjernor.
    Eimen gøyser,
    og elden sleikjer.
    Logar leikar
    lukt til himmels.
    Voluspå 57
    vavtrudne kvad:
    Liv og Livtrase
    løynde held seg
    i Hoddmimes holt;
    av morgondoggi
    sin mette dei fær
    frå dei skal ætter alast.
    Vavtrudnesmål 45


    Voices from Guantanamo

    Apropos my last post, my father showed me this incredibly powerful video. It is just a series of interviews with British Guantanamo detainees who have been released. The video is called "Voices from Guantanamo", and it does give us some of the voices that have been completely silenced by their captives, voices that have been completely absented from our debates. These people happen to know our cultural mores and way of talking. But most of the prisoners are not so lucky.

    The American philosopher Richard Rorty points out that moral progress (so to speak) and activism grow out of stories that force us to include other narratives and ways of speaking in our understanding of ourselves and our communities. According to him, stories are in fact the only way "moral progress" happens.1 The political activism that follows stems from the moral convictions acquired through stories. These kinds of videos become an important tool in remembering exactly what imprisonment without trial, without limits actually means. Why we have a justice system and why legal checks and balances are important.

    1. If you know the work of Richard Rorty, you'll know why I put the phrase in quotes. If not, well: long story.

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    Recommendation: Glenn Greenwald

    The blogroll isn't really the best way to introduce other bloggers. I'll try to do posts like this one occasionally, where I recommend other people.

    Today: Glenn Greenwald.

    Greenwald is a constitutional/civil rights lawyer who works for Salon as a blogger. He is distinguished by being absolutely relentless in his pursuit of justice for the horrors of the Bush years and their ongoing obfuscation by the failure of the Obama presidency to prosecute them. He is in my opinion the most interesting voice in the blogosphere on issues of torture, extraordinary rendition, legal black holes, Guantanamo, etc. as well as other issues, like drug policy, foreign policy, civil rights/human rights issues in general, and so on. He is a skilled dismantler of government or media hypocrisy. He is very much not hoped up by the Obama administration. Which, on these issues, is extremely refreshing.

    His recent post, "A court decision that reflects what type of country the U.S. is", is a blistering attack on a court decision right out of Kafka. You've probably heard the story of Maher Arar already:
    Maher Arar is both a Canadian and Syrian citizen of Syrian descent. A telecommunications engineer and graduate of Montreal's McGill University, he has lived in Canada since he's 17 years old. In 2002, he was returning home to Canada from vacation when, on a stopover at JFK Airport, he was (a) detained by U.S. officials, (b) accused of being a Terrorist, (c) held for two weeks incommunicado and without access to counsel while he was abusively interrogated, and then (d) was "rendered" -- despite his pleas that he would be tortured -- to Syria, to be interrogated and tortured. He remained in Syria for the next 10 months under the most brutal and inhumane conditions imaginable, where he was repeatedly tortured. Everyone acknowledges that Arar was never involved with Terrorism and was guilty of nothing.
    And now the court basically says -- incredibly -- that they can't grant Arar his rights, because the president might need to mess with said rights because of national security. I think I agree with Greenwald that there are substantial holes in their line of reasoning. A must-read.

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    Imagine this design assignment: Design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, accrues solar energy as fuel, creates complex sugars and food, creates microclimates, changes colours with the seasons and self-replicates. Why don't we knock that down and write on it?*
    – William McDonough, in this TED talk

    * (It's a tree)

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    Every man is rich or poor according to the proportion between his desires and enjoyments. Any enlargement of wishes is therefore equally destructive to happiness with the diminution of possession and he that teaches another to long for what he never shall obtain is no less an enemy to his quiet than if he had robbed him of part of his patrimony.
    – Samuel Johnson, fra The Rambler


    Crimes of War

    Despite being written in semi-legalese, The Goldstone report [warning: 600-page PDF] never ceases to be an interesting read. I keep finding these dry little statements of fact that are either heartbreaking or pithy wordings that somehow encapsulate the breadth of the crimes committed. Here are a couple of the ones I found today.

    First off, the account of the shelling of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) compound in the southern Rimal area of Gaza City, on January 15th of this year. It's interesting reading. You find it on page 162 to 174 of the PDF.

    (photo by Flickr user blhphotography CC-BY)

    Basically what happened here was that the Israeli forces, despite having GPS coordinates and despite at least forty telephone calls from UN leaders in Gaza and Palestine to Israeli authorities through established channels on that morning and provable contact between those authorities and the field personnel of the army, they repeatedly shelled a United Nations compound where 700 Palestinians were taking refuge, with illegal white phosphorous grenades.

    The report is blistering in its dismantling of the Israeli arguments defending this attack, summed up in this paragraph:
    The question then becomes how specialists expertly trained in the complex issue of artillery deployment and aware of the presence of an extremely sensitive site can strike that site ten times while apparently trying to avoid it.
    They also note that the area struck by the shells was within one football pitch of one another, and coincidentally, the incendiary weapons all happened to strike near the enormous fuel depot of several hundred thousand litres of fuel on the site. The entire site was two football pitches in size.

    Another paragraph that struck me deals with the equally horrific attack on the Al-Quds hospital, in direct violation of Geneva Convention IV §18 and §19. The Israeli military also used illegal white phosphorous shells here. The story that really struck me was this one:
    596. The doctors with whom the Mission spoke all occupied senior positions but also witnessed the events that occurred throughout that day. The Mission was impressed with their objectivity and the genuine distress several of them showed at being unable to help or protect the sick and wounded who had come to the hospital. Throughout that day many of the staff, including the doctors, took exceptional risks to stop fire spreading, including by removing white phosphorous wedges from near diesel tanks. One doctor in particular showed remarkable courage. He left the hospital to drive an ambulance through artillery shelling as he sought to bring an eight-year-old girl to al-Shifa hospital for treatment which he was no longer able to provide in al-Quds. Having taken the girl there, he drove back to the hospital in the same conditions to continue assisting the efforts to fight the fires.
    The 8 year-old girl, who had been shot in the jaw by an Israeli sniper (since the snipers prepare their shots, presumably while she was engaged in launching terror rockets against Israeli settlements or other military activities), later died from her injuries. The report concludes that she would not have died had the attack on the hospital not occurred and considers the Israeli military responsible for her death.


    Longtime readers of this blog have probably noticed that I will occasionally write about human rights, international humanitarian law, crimes of war or crimes against humanity, which are all topics I've been interested in since at least high school. For two years in high school and on and off afterwards I was an active member of my school Amnesty Youth group. It was a great time, and I learned most of what I know about international law and human rights -- which isn't a lot compared to most of the wonderful activists I met in Amnesty -- during those two years. Then, just as I was starting university and entering my last time in Amnesty, I bought a book called Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know. I think more people should do themselves the favour of reading that book. It is by far the best introduction to the topic I know of.

    If I'm completely honest, I pretty much bought it impulsively because it's an uncannily well-designed, physically beautiful book: it is printed on high-quality smooth paper and bound in a strange, tall and narrow format, with a gorgeously simplistic cover and a magazine-like layout. It is thoroughly illustrated with stunning black and white photographs from war zones all over the world taken by some of our time's leading photojournalists, including many from the Magnum group.

    But the book turned out to be a remarkable book which I am constantly coming back to. It is basically an illustrated A to Z guide to war crimes and international humanitarian law written by legal scholars and other experts. I know that sounds dry, but it is quite simply relentlessly readable. I read it from cover to cover (it is ingeniously laid out so that if you read it in this order, it proceeds more or less from basic rules to more complex issues). It is meant as a guide for people requiring a basic working knowledge of the laws of war. In this day and age, I'm afraid that means everyone who follows the news, but particularly journalists, commentators, teachers, activists, aid workers, anyone working with international issues and politicians.

    I still find myself constantly returning to this book to look things up -- if my brother hasn't stolen it, that is -- and refind my footing when Israel or the US or some other beligerent power tries to relativise what they have done or try to give rhetorical cover to their crimes. It is one of the most useful books I have ever read, and while I have read many other books later on these topics, this one must be the most influential one. I have made a habit of recommending it to everyone over the past couple of years.

    So imagine my delight when I discovered yesterday that the entire book has been made availably online for free along with numerous other extra materials, commentary and articles not in the book.

    Though you will have to miss out on the great layout on the web, I hope that at least a few of my literally tens of readers will take the time out to read a few articles or maybe even the whole thing over a few days. It's a book that taught me a lot proportional to the amount of work I had to put into it. I can only second the blurb on the back, from W. Pfaff of the International Herald Tribune: "A reference work that has no counterpart ... civilization is in debt to all [its contributors]."

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    Ord for dagen

    Året har 16 måneder: november, december
    januar, februar, marts, april, maj,
    juni, juli, august, september, oktober,
    november, november, november, november.
    (Henrik Nordbrandt, fra Håndens skælven i november

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