Friday, April 29, 2011

CIA releases super-secret documents!

From 1917.
If it takes this extreme fight to release six WW1 era documents explaining that invisible ink is made with lemon juice, don’t hold your breath for the 400 million pages of classified historic US documents stalled at the National Declassification Center.

“Decades Later, NARA Posts Documents on Guatemalan Syphilis Experiments”
The failure to disclose for decades the unethical procedures used in the Guatemalan syphilis experiments should prompt rich debate within international scholarly and archival communities not only about the preservation and academic use of records, but to the obligation to inform when such records contain clear and irrefutable evidence of immoral practice and the violation of internationally recognized human rights.

“The ‘Cost of Doing Business in Colombia’”
The new collection of some 5,500 pages of documents, culled from Chiquita’s own archives and the result of a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Justice, show conclusively that the company and its Colombian subsidiaries did, in fact, get something in return for their investment – extorted or otherwise – in Colombia’s illegal armed groups, and contrary to the conclusions of a 2007 plea deal with U.S. prosecutors. That sentencing agreement concluded that the company had never received “any actual security services or actual security equipment in exchange for the payments.”

I fully support the idea of lego heads of state

Why stop there? Can’t we have lego states?

A worthwhile interview, if lacking in focus and citations – a discussion of historical and contemporary empire, a recommendation of Late Victorian Holocausts, and an entertaining image of Amy Goodman in a furry royal wedding hat.

Gnu atheism as prefigurative politics

Paul W. has a nice comment up about the differences between accommodationists and gnu atheists. There are a few missing elements that I won’t bother to bring up as I know he’s discussed them at length in the past (and this is just a comment, after all). But there is one point on which the anarchist movement perhaps has some thoughts to contribute.

Accommodationists generally seek to frame their criticisms of gnu atheists in strategic political terms. As Paul notes, their claims about our political ignorance are wrong, and their boundless confidence in their own rightness is baseless. As he shows, accommodationists’ arguments can certainly be countered in the terms they themselves favor.

A purely principled response also makes sense. The point PZ made several months ago about simply needing to live and speak honestly regardless of the political consequences is important both in terms of the underlying moral obligation and in that it calls attention, as I noted at the time, to the revolutionary potential of living within the truth, particularly in systems in which power operates through the concerted theater of submission and living in the lie.

But the gnu insistence on living and making decisions on the basis of reason and evidence (and challenging actions based on irrationality and faith) can also be seen from an anarchist point of view, as a form of prefigurative politics. Anarchism has historically emphasized the need for “building a new world in the shell of the old” – developing the sort of society you want to see within the movements for change themselves.*

The Marxists’ failure to appreciate this was the basis of anarchist criticism from the early days: Centralized, hierarchical organizations, anarchists argued presciently, were not leading and would not lead to equality or local control. States, made stronger, would not wither away. Party discipline and barracks-style social relations would not produce, even in the distant future, self-actualized people or a blossoming of free cooperation. An instrumental approach to the rest of the natural world would simply encourage further alienation from it….

In short, practices and forms of social organization would not magically transform into their opposites “after the revolution.” In precisely the same way, habits of deference and institutionalized patterns of irrationality can’t be expected to magically dissipate “after the acceptance of science.”** If we want a culture that actively values reason, science, and critical thinking, we won’t create it through promoting its opposite. We need to construct this society within the shell of the old - encouraging independent, vocal skepticism, reason, and epistemic responsibility and discouraging deference to irrationality and epistemic abdication.

I believe this understanding, though not always made explicitly, underlies much of the gnu approach. Importantly, it contrasts with the false image put forth of gnus as naively thinking that if religion were to vanish a wonderful society would magically appear (similar to the false notion that anarchists are millenarians who irrationally hold that the destruction of governments would alone magically usher in a perfect era). A reasoning culture is acquired and built through practice and embodiment in organizations and institutions. Gnu atheism prefigures a reasoning culture within the shell of an irrational one, and fighting religion is an aspect of this constructive, prefigurative work.

The gnu atheist project and its rejection of accommodationism therefore have at least three substantial justifications: as movement strategy (including in attaining goals shared with accommodationists); as principled, honest living (with potentially transformative effects; and as the necessary foundation for a freer, more reasonable world.

*I should note that atheism and popular science promotion have been central to anarchist projects from the beginning. (Indeed, these are inseparable from the larger anarchist project: participatory democracy and resisting authoritarian culture and social organization require broad scientific understanding and the rejection of the sacred and religious “authority.”) I don’t mean to imply that I’m the first to draw these connections.

**The anarchist argument that the Marxist revolutionary program was wholly inadequate – would not work to eliminate significant institutions of oppression but rather would expand and reinforce them - parallels the gnu atheist point that the accommodationist vision of science “acceptance” is meager and insufficient and would merely replace one form of epistemically-ungrounded “knowledge” and authority, and one form of unthinking awe, with another.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Interlude - Today

Bill McKibben, Tim DeChristopher, Vandana Shiva, and Maude Barlow on Democracy Now!

US intervention map

¡Presente!, the magazine of SOA Watch, has produced a poster-sized map of US interventions in Latin America.

It's the Day of the Book!

[Painter outside Parc Güell, Barcelona]

Today is the only saint-related holiday I’m truly fond of,* and maybe my favorite holiday of all. In Barcelona, it’s La Diada de Sant Jordi (Saint George’s Day). The tradition is sexist - men give women roses while women give men books – though that’s somewhat fallen away and books are exchanged amongst all. Book and flower sellers have special deals and set up hundreds of stands all along the Rambles. Perhaps best of all, the Catalan festival has spread, and today is now UNESCO’s International Day of the Book!

As much as I’d love to give everyone books in celebration of the holiday, that’s not possible, so I’ll just mention the fiction I’m reading at the moment, Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil:

Enjoy the holiday, and buy a book for someone you love!

* Though I admit to a fascination with patron saints due to an unhealthy interest in identity and categorization.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Yes, Templeton is antiscience

Building my list of organizations in the Latin American Rightwing Network, and with recent gnu discussions in mind, something jumped out at me: the name Templeton. The Templeton Foundation is simply all over these networks: founding, funding, grooming, championing. (It’s odd that Sourcewatch has virtually nothing on them.)

There've been several posts among atheists and detractors lately about the disrespect for and abuse of science perpetrated by the Templeton Foundation. Sunny Bains’ recent article looks at rampant cronyism in the organization, but just barely touches upon the contempt for science evidenced by the organization’s funding choices. Bains mentions the Templeton Freedom Awards for the Promotion of Market Fundamentalism (OK, not the actual name), hinting at Templeton’s role as a rightwing funder. Josh Rosenau, not one to be denied the opportunity for apologetics, tries to run with it:
The sloppiest part of the piece comes when Bains tries to justify the claim: "For a group that claims to be pro-science, the Templeton Foundation, and Jack Templeton, its Chair, seem to fund organizations that have an anti-science bias." Bains makes that "and" do a lot of work, since she never shows the Templeton Foundation itself funding anything that she can characterize as anti-science. She talks about Jack Templeton's private funding of conservative groups of various sorts, both directly and indirectly, a trend which might be problematic if she could show that Jack Templeton (Sir John's son) was using his position to sway the Foundation in more conservative directions. The Nation offered some evidence of that, but Bains simply doesn't try. Talking about the Foundation itself, she notes that:
the Templeton Freedom Awards are administered by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a group that is perhaps most notable for its opposition to taking action against climate change and for being a defender of the tobacco industry that has traditionally given them funding.
She never clarifies what relationship the Templeton Freedom Awards have with the Templeton Foundation or the Templeton family. A bit of searching on Google turned up that the Foundation did endow those awards, but Bains never bothers to mention that tie, leaving the reader to do her research for her. Nor does she establish what, if any, ongoing role the Foundation has in the administration of those awards. This is the closest she comes to showing the Foundation itself flirting with anti-science positions, but she fails to show the crucial link between the Awards and the Foundation, or to clarify what influence, if any, the Foundation still has on the awards. It's possible that the Foundation does direct these awards toward climate change deniers, but it's also possible that the initial endowment of the award gave AERF complete autonomy. Bains doesn't give us enough information to draw any conclusions. She may well not have gathered enough information to draw conclusions. Yet draw them she did.

Thus, when the story concludes that she finds the Foundation's agenda "unclear" and adds "At worst, its agenda is pro-religion and anti-science," she simply hasn't made the case for the latter point, and doesn't show a good faith effort to actually examine the agenda. No, Rosenau, it’s you who hasn’t made a good faith effort.
Aside from your ignoring your own acknowledgment of evidence of the organization’s conservatism, the willful blindness it takes to suggest that Templeton merely endowed these awards, with their name, and handed them to Atlas while stepping aside (It’s possible!) is staggering. Since the “research” you claim to have done for Bains appears to consist of following a Google search to a Wikipedia page, allow me to elaborate a bit.

One recent award winner is the Free to Choose Network, specifically for its web site Izzit distributes free rightwing propaganda to schoolteachers. An example is “Unstoppable Solar Cycles,” an AGW denialist video for which Heartland evidently tricked people into appearing. Where does Free to Choose – also one of the sponsors of Heartland’s 2009 climate-change conference - get its funding? Well, the Templeton Foundation gave them almost $1.5 million for a project in 2007. (Several of the organizations listed as sponsors of the 2009 Heartland conference are funded by Atlas.)

Another 2009 award winner is Poland’s Globalization Institute, in Atlas’ AGW-denial stable, “for publishing ‘The Mythology of the Greenhouse Effect’, right before the 2008 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznán.” I can’t make this up: The full title is “…: How eco-terrorists, big business and politicians manipulate the public.” This is the Templeton Freedom Award video put out by Atlas on YouTube. Here’s their “History” page in English, where you can read about the winning mix of market fundamentalism, AGW denial, and Catholicism.

Atlas is rightwing and antiscience through and through. It’s sponsored events with Heartland and, as mentioned above, spawns ideologically allied and AGW-denying think tanks around the world. It’s been funded by ExxonMobil and Phillip Morris, and received a $4 million 2009-2012 “Discovery and Innovation in Free Enterprise Education” grant from…Templeton:
Building on the success of the Templeton Freedom Awards (Grant #10605), this expanded program seeks to improve research and education on the nature and benefits of freedom and free enterprise. The program will introduce a new competition to launch Free Enterprise Centers and establish a high-profile Templeton Leadership Fellowship program to advance the strategic impact of think tanks.
If you want to do a comprehensive study of the Templeton Foundation’s funding, Rosenau, you can start here. They’ve funded and worked with the AGW-denying Mercatus Center (another Templeton Freedom Award Winner). They’ve funded the Heritage Foundation, the John Locke Foundation, AEI, the Manhattan Institute, Alliance for the Family, the Jesse Helms Center Foundation,… And if you insist on emphasizing that, well, they fund many things, I will insist on the fact that you’re recklessly and irresponsibly naïve.

Accomodationists have to get past this willful blindness and see Templeton for what it is, and the apologetics have to stop. They don’t even have implausible deniability. They promote a religious-right neoliberal agenda that cares about science only to the extent that it can be manipulated, twisted, distorted, and denied. They and the think tanks they fund are antiscience to the core, and there’s no excuse for pretending this isn’t the case.

The Latin America Rightwing Network

Recently, Adrienne Pine linked to this interesting piece by Cole Stangler, “Georgetown’s Latin American Board.” It discusses a particular instance of a phenomenon Pine has been drawing attention to for a while now - the use of US universities as vehicles of rightwing and military policy and politics. It also points to an important fact: these centers and programs are not independent or isolated within educational institutions, but form a significant part of a formal and informal network of rightwing organizations that spans the US, Spain, and Latin America, in which think tanks and propaganda centers in Latin America are set up, funded, promoted, and peopled by organizations in the US and Spain with links to the parties of the Right. As Stangler writes of the Georgetown program:
Not every GCL [Global Competitive Leadership] alumnus becomes immediately involved in political activities upon returning. There are even a few who engage in social entreprenuership. But a disproportionate number have taken up leading roles in neoliberal think tanks in the region, many of which are affiliated with the Fundación para el Análisis de los Estudios Sociales, a think tank chaired by Aznar and funded by the Spanish Partido Popular. Others have created similar leadership programs based in Bolivia and Ecuador.

Several Spanish GCL graduates from the program’s early years are now involved with FAES and the Partido Popular....

Pia Greene, a 2007 alumnus [sic] from Chile, is FAES coordinator for the country and also works at the neoliberal Fundación Libertad. Greene notably penned a piece for the Hispanic American Center for Economic Research entitled “To be or not to be pro Pinochet,” in which she concludes, “At the end of the day, Chile and the whole world learned that societies require the biggest dose of liberty to prosper: Pinochet’s government was not an exception, since they were the ones who planted the seed of a big success.” The article is accompanied by a video featuring a montage of photos of Pinochet set to Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
The report comes at a moment when the relatively more hidden groups involved in the making of policy – as in the cases of William Cronon’s pieces about the American Legislative Exchange Council and the web of AGW-science-denial think tanks described in Merchants of Doubt* – are being exposed to the light of public attention. In the Americas, where leftwing movements and sympathetic governments continue to rise and overt violence has become a more complicated (though by no means abandoned) strategy for the Right, this is an important means by which they seek to quietly reinsert themselves and their projects in the political landscape.

Drawing on just a few sources, I’ve put together this list – certainly incomplete, and suggestions for additions are most welcome – of organizations involved in this network, several with links to information:

Americas Democrat Union

Atlas Economic Research Foundation:**

  • Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty

  • Center for the Dissemination of Economic Information (CEDICE)

  • Hispanic American Center for Economic Research (HACER)

  • Bolivian Foundation of Leadership for Global Competitiveness (FUNBOLIDER)

    Fundación Ecuador Libre Fundación Iberoamérica Europa

    Fundación Libertad

    Foundation for Social Analysis and Studies (FAES)

    Fundación Rafael Preciado

    Global Center for Development and Democracy (GCDD)

    Heritage Foundation

    Institute on Religion and Democracy


    John Templeton Foundation

    Latin American Board (LAB, Georgetown):

  • Global Competitive Leadership Program (GCL)

  • LatinInsights

    Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

    National Endowment for Democracy*** Network of Democratic Research Institutes

    Partners of the Americas:

  • Inter-American Network for Democracy

  • Center for Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL)

  • Strategic Culture Initiative, Florida International University


    US Chamber of Commerce:

  • Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)

  • It may be time for a specifically Latin American Right Wing Watch…

    *If anyone doesn’t understand what I mean when I discuss the apparent bias of Book TV, here’s the “About this Program” description: “Author of the study Beyond the Ivory Tower writes about what she calls the subgroup of scientists who try to discredit was [sic] she believes is the settled science in controversial areas, such as climate change and tobacco use causing cancer. The event is in San Francisco with Erik Conway.” [emphasis added] Seriously.

    **Their site features a global events calendar.

    ***This site has a list of grants by country.

    Saturday, April 9, 2011

    Chinese government afraid of artist Ai Weiwei

    Last week I watched the Frontline story “Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei?”* about the outspoken artist whose blog was taken down by the Chinese government and who bravely captured his arrest and beating on his cell phone.

    [Source] © 2009 Ai Weiwei

    Earlier this week, Ai was arrested again and continues to be held incommunicado, his whereabouts unknown.
    On April 6, in what can be read as the first official acknowledgment of Ai's arrest, a newspaper article in the state-run Global Times announced that Ai would "pay a price" for being an activist and that "the law would not concede" to his criticisms of the government.
    The artist currently has a show at the Tate Modern in London. Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009, a book based on his blog posts (seems hard to resist a book with “digital rants” in the title), has just come out.

    *I can’t embed it, but you can watch the entire program at that link.

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Archives of Nazi cultural plunder: new resources for history and restitution

    I recommend The Rape of Europa to anyone who hasn’t seen it.

    I mention this because it deals with Nazi looting, and there’s important work being done on the subject. In fact, this appears to be a turning point in the historiography and public understanding of the era. Like the significant recent work on the camp system by Geoffrey Megargee, Patricia Kennedy Grimsted’s efforts to compile and make available the records of Nazi cultural plunder open up new possibilities for history. They also contribute to the possibilities for restitution. From the IISG:
    One of the main Nazi agencies engaged in looting cultural valuables in Nazi-occupied countries during the Second World War was the 'Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg' (ERR), a special operational task force headed by Adolf Hitler's leading ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. In this extensive international survey Patricia Kennedy Grimsted describes the archival remains of the ERR in 29 repositories in 9 countries - from Washington and Brussels to Moscow and Kyiv. The detail with which the ERR documented the art, archives, books, and other Judaica it plundered has proved essential for the recovery of cultural valuables after the war and their return to victims or heirs.

    The survey serves as a preliminary guide to documents generated by the ERR as well as records by postwar agencies seeking to return the ERR loot. Links are provided to many dispersed materials now available on the Internet with additional digital contributions to be expected soon. The survey provides easy access to a major component of the record of wartime cultural plunder and retrieval.
    The Foreword and Introduction to “Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder: A Survey of the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg” (PDF at the link just above) are well worth reading, providing an overview of the history of the ERR, its archives, and retrieval and restitution efforts. As Wesley Fisher describes in the Foreword:
    In consultation with Dr Grimsted, the Claims Conference…undertook to support three major activities in regard to the records of the ERR. The first is the online publication of the current survey and preliminary guide. The second is the ongoing imaging of the ERR files located in Kyiv (Kiev), Moscow, Vilnius, Berlin, Koblenz, Amsterdam, Paris, New York, and Washington with a view to making the ERR records generally available. And the third is the joint creation with the USHMM of a Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume that brings together in searchable form documentation, including photographs, of the over 20,000 major art objects that the ERR confiscated from Jews in Paris, in other parts of France and parts of Belgium and brought for processing to the Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries Gardens.

    These three activities should prove to be very helpful to the field of provenance research that has developed so greatly in the art world – but also in regard to libraries and Judaica - over the past decade or so. Indeed, in some respects these three activities taken as a whole may constitute a paradigm shift for the field. Instead of looking at collections in museums today, at lists of objects being sought by claimants, or at lists of objects found after the Second World War, the aim is to reconstruct the original record of what was seized and from whom by bringing together what remains of the detailed records that the Nazis – in this case specifically the ERR – kept of their looting.
    The Jeu de Paume database is indeed available online, here.

    “Paris, France. Clocks looted from Jewish apartments during Möbel-Aktion on display at one of the M-Aktion camps.” [Source]

    OK, more rocks and water

    ...and some birds...and some traps.

    More repression in Honduras; (possible) (delayed) justice for Guatemalans

    Repression and impunity continue in Honduras. Meanwhile, as in Argentina and Spain, there is some possible progress in Guatemala in bringing those responsible for human rights crimes to justice. As reported by UNREDACTED:
    Judge Santiago Pedraz of the Spanish National Court* has issued an international arrest warrant for Jorge Sosa Orantes, the Guatemalan ex-Kaibil officer suspected of participation in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre that left more than 250 people dead, according to the Associated Press yesterday. Pedraz moved against Sosa as part of his investigation into Guatemalan genocide and other crimes against humanity in the case filed in Spain in 1999 by Nobel laureate and Guatemalan rights activist Rigoberta Menchú.

    The arrest warrant was sent via Interpol on April 1 to authorities in Calgary, Canada, where Sosa has been detained since January on U.S. charges of lying on his citizenship application to the United States in 2008. Although Sosa’s defense lawyer asked in March that his client be released on bail, Judge Suzanne Bensler denied the request, saying Sosa had already proven himself a flight risk. Last September, as the U.S. was preparing to arrest Sosa for naturalization fraud, he fled his home in southern California, first to Mexico and then Canada.

    It is not immediately clear how the Canadian government will respond to the Spanish arrest warrant. Sosa was scheduled to appear in a Calgary courtroom on April 20 for a hearing on his extradition to the United States. But Canada, like Spain, recognizes universal jurisdiction and could decide to open its own investigation into Sosa’s alleged role in the Dos Erres massacre. Meanwhile according to a prosecutor in the Guatemala attorney general’s office, the Public Ministry issued extradition requests last year for Sosa and three other ex-Kaibiles connected to Dos Erres who were located in the United States; the requests are still being examined by a Guatemalan court, however.
    I don’t know if it would help for people in Alberta to take action, or if some already are – I’ll try to find out. Here’s more information from the National Security Archive about “the scorched earth operations that decimated hundreds of Mayan communities in the department of Quiché in Guatemala’s highlands during the early 1980s” and other crimes against humanity there. Genocidal policies and actions against indigenous communities, very much ongoing, have received far too little attention.

    In writing my very first post here, I had come across this video, which I didn’t include at the time but will now:

    *The Spanish government has its own problems, as the UN the other day spoke its disapproval of Spain’s human rights violating system of detention:
    In Spain, people held in incommunicado detention may be deprived of effective access to a lawyer as well as access to a doctor of their own choice, and are unable to inform their family or friends of their detention. Incommunicado detention can be imposed both before and after the detainee is brought before a judicial authority.

    In addition to the UN, other human rights organizations have pointed out that in this situation the detainees are deprived of their most basic rights and guarantees and are in optimal conditions to be victims of torture and ill-treatment, given the relative impunity with which the police and law enforcement bodies can act under these circumstances.
    This and Spanish penal policy in general have long been condemned by international human rights organizations and numerous groups within the country.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Atlantic rocks

    My pictures of the super full worm moon were rather pitiful (though it was fun to join my tripod-toting town to take them). These are some from this morning. I did take a few of subjects other than rocks and water, which I'll post tomorrow.

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Questions for OBGYNs


    Is pregnant women's mental health a major issue? If so, how do you address it? As far as pregnancy is concerned, do you think of yourselves as doctors for pregnant women or doctors for fetuses?

    Thank you.

    Interlude - for my father

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Supersizing the Mind, Andy Clark

    I truly hate to say it, but I was disappointed with Carl Zimmer’s latest book, Brain Cuttings. I couldn’t get the sample chapter to download,* so I went ahead and downloaded the whole thing

    The problem wasn’t the content, which is illuminating and written in the pleasant, lucid manner of his blog posts. ...Well, actually, therein does lie the problem: it appears it essentially is a collection of his blog posts (and an article from Playboy), lacking a real introduction, conclusion, or material in the individual chapters tying them together. This is disappointing as Microcosm

    was one of the best books I read last year. Anyway, the very bright spot is that it introduced me to the work of Andy Clark, whose Supersizing the Mind

    I’m now reading. (This introduction, of course, could have come earlier had I read *ahem* the original blog post.) I’m about a quarter of the way through Supersizing, and it's captivating. Undoubtedly not for everyone – for those unsure, the sample gives a good sense of the book as a whole – but I’m quite taken with it.

    * (Now I’m further annoyed because Kindle is telling me it can’t be opened and that I have to redownload it; does this mean my highlighting and notes are lost?)