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I wuz bugged

Security Expert: All Occupiers Phones were logged.

In light of news that every day the entirety of telecom giant Verizon’s call system records are handed over to the NSA, news that Occupy Wall Street protest attendees’ cellphones were logged should hardly come as a shock. It nonetheless bears noting that cellphone metadata of march and rally participants was likely specifically logged, as security expert Steven Ramdam recently noted. This means that individuals were directly targeted for their engagement with First Amendment-protected activity.

So, let me see if I have this right.  As a result of my coverage of Occupy events in New York City where I went to observe and cover the protests and marches for this blog and exercise my First Amendment Rights, my cell phone was put on a surveillance regime.  Not only that but the phone usually ends up in bed with me at night while I listen to various podcasts and books so I have been literally sleeping with the enemy and depending on what technology they’ve been using, they have been able to record everything that I did or didn’t do there.  Everything that happened in my house has probably been recorded for posterity and stored on a cloud server at the NSA.  I should probably warn the new owners of my old house…


Now, I can imagine a bunch of stupid whip kissers out there thinking that anyone who went to an Occupy event deserved this because nothing bad happens to you if you are obedient and pious.  But I’d like to know if 2nd Amendment assholes who threaten to shoot the shit out of anyone who threatens to take away their guns are similarly targeted and if not, why not.

Someone has some explaining to do, preferably in front of a Congressional committee.

Lest we forget who we are talking about, this picture was taken at the peak of the Occupation of Zuccotti Park in October 2011.  These are the people who were bugged.  We’re not talking about lice infested anarchists.  We’re talking about ordinary Americans who went to the park on a nice October day to check things out and talk to other like minded people about economics.  For this, we’re not entitled to privacy.  It just goes to show how powerful Occupy was to the ruling elite and their politicians.  More than ever, I’m glad I went.  I rocked the boat just by showing up.  How many Americans can say that they were considered dangerous enough to be bugged simply because they were there?  The rest of you can hold your manhoods cheap.

Come to think of it, that means Paul Krugman and his wife were probably bugged too but in their case, they’ve always been rabble rousers and trouble makers.

The Rude Awakening

Update: Paul Krugman has a post on Wisconsin up at Conscience of a Liberal.  He says not to give up but sometimes I feel like Frodo trying to carry that ring up the mountain and Samwise Gamgee is taking a nap when he should be helping out.


Are you up yet?  Do you know what just happened?

Ok, let me fill you in:

The left is broken.  It is unable to formulate a message that the voters understand.  It can not explain cause and effect in a simple way that will get past the media filter that the big money guys have bought.

This is like the lead up to the Iraq War all over again.  No matter how you try to explain it to the public, they still want to go to kick Saddam Hussein’s ass.  The public threw away trillions of dollars in Iraq and there wasn’t a damn thing the opposition could do to stop it. In this case, the public is being lead to believe that taking away people’s pensions (and they’ll go after everyone’s pensions shortly, you know they will) is going to save them money.  They don’t get the paradox of thrift.  They don’t see that it will harm their economy down the road.  They aren’t getting it because their brains are soaked in deficit reduction propaganda.

What could have possibly pushed back on that message?  Well, it would help if there was a president in the White House who was trying to combat it.  And it would help if Occupy was still getting people’s attention.  But between the right wing smear campaign that Occupy consisted of a bunch of dirty, lice infested, public sex addicts and the actions of the DHS to squash the movement with militarized riot police, the push back of the 99% is having a hard time getting out.  If I were the Democrats, I don’t think I would have been too hasty about jumping on the “let’s gag the protestors!” bandwagon.  Because now, there is NOTHING that distinguishes the president and Mitt Romney.  They both seem to be heading for a grand bargain and austerity for years to come.

And the people the left dumped in 2008?  That is quite possibly the most tragic loss of all.  They were angry at being written off and they were susceptible to right wing talking points.  I have to say I am extremely disappointed at some of them for letting their emotions cloud their ability to think clearly.  On the other hand, the left needs to stop blaming them.  It needs to take a long hard look at itself for being cocky assholes in 2008 and thinking they were better than these people.  It is the working class who is genuinely angry at how the left has abandoned them who are going to control this election.

The president has done nothing for them in the past four years.  All he has done is allowed the rape by the bankers and the rich to continue.  The working class may not yet understand how they are causing the economic misery to continue because they are being mislead.  But the blame for that lies squarely at the feet of the left who think they’re hot spit and smarter than everyone else and left a big hole for the right to march through with their austerity messaging system.

If I were a Democratic activist, I’d do some soul searching and ask myself whose side the party and the president is on because I can’t tell anymore.  And if I can’t tell, you can be sure that the people out there who think that slashing public sector employee’s pensions is a good idea can’t tell either.  Social Security is next.  I know there are people who will disagree with me on this but I am getting the feeling that the senior class is taking what they think we owe them and pulling up the ladder, leaving the rest of us who have paid into the system for decades vulnerable.  Don’t think they won’t do it.  If seniors think their own benefits are at risk and that there isn’t enough to go around, they’ll be more than willing to sacrifice the young to take the money and run.

You can blame the right for this because it has more money than God to pump out its poison propaganda.  But I blame the left for doing nothing.  For doing worse than nothing.  I blame it for dismantling its own message machine and the movements that could have helped it.  And I blame it for not having a leader who can or is willing to fight back.

I’ve got things to do today that will keep me busy, which is a good thing because I suspect that my side of the blogosphere is going to try to make excuses for what happened and just the thought of that is nauseating.  Go on and talk to the air.  No one of any importance is listening to a single thing you say.


Allow me to clarify my statement about social security and upcoming generational warfare because early in the comments thread, we already have one person who has instantly misread that and taken offense.  Well, deal with it.  Here’s how it will work: The right wing has already vomited enough propaganda to the seniors who are already comfortably retired to make them think there is a deficit problem and entitlements need to be cut.  But the right has also lied to them and told them that it won’t be *their* entitlements that will be cut.  Noooo, they’re already retired.  It will be those lazy kids they raised who are at the tail end of the babyboom generation.  Forget the fact that retired widows in their 70s have probably never held down a ful time job, understand what it is like to have to work for 10 years before they get more than 2 weeks of vacation or prepay their social security benefits in advance for 3 decades.  No, to these particular Fox news loving, right wing leaning seniors, *their* generation worked hard for those benefits and deserved every penny.  Your generation did not.

So, when it comes time to cut benefits, do not be surprised to find that these particular seniors have abandoned the social compact that makes social security workable.  They will be perfectly happy to cut YOUR benefits and let you figure out a way of living on less.  If you had led cleaner, more moral, upstanding lives, this wouldn’t have happened to you.  You would have been more prosperous.

Do you see how this works?  It is already at work in this country.  The conditions are ripe for the Fox News loving, right wing leaning, social conservative seniors (it’s absurd that I have to spell this out to this degree) to cut us off.  Don’t think they will not do it.  We’ve just seen what voters will do when they think their precious shrinking income is going into the pockets of those lazy teachers and their pension funds.

I have already personally encountered several of these seniors, the last time was about a week ago who when two of them heard I was laid off told me in no uncertain terms that my future would be bleak and I would have to learn to live on a lot less even if I found a job.  And not to expect to ever be able to retire.  Nice guys.  They had Republican campaign signs all over their lawns.

Yes, it sounds insane because if that’s the attitude they want to take, why would I want to contribute even one more penny of my potential income to support their comfortable lifestyle while they’re sucking off my prepaid social security account?  How is this different from the taxpayers of Wisconsin’s resentment of the pensions that their public service worker unions are getting?  That’s right.  It’s no different.

It’s coming.  I will eat my blog if we don’t start hearing about it more before the general election and the grand bargain.  It’s deliberate generational warfare intended to provoke the same kind of resentment and stinginess that we saw playing out against unions.

Now, you can get all huffy and say I’m calling you a greedy geezer.  I would never do such a thing and I am being very specific here.  The people who will fall for the generational warfare message of “I’ve got mine, you go get your own” are the same people who don’t tend to think through right wing messages to begin with.  But they are going to provoke a backlash against themselves, and you as collateral damage, if you’re recently retired, because once the pensions are gone for the late babyboomers and younger workers and once we’ve lost everything and the politicians start making it impossible for us to retire, we’re going to start wondering why the f&(* we have to pay for these morons who believe every stupid thing that the Fox News anchors say.  You can’t expect the younger generations to be endlessly reverential towards their seniors and altruistic while the rich continue to sit on the cash and force their wages down.  Eventually, the younger generations are going to start to fight back.  This is just what the Republicans want.  Don’t get mad at me for saying out loud what you secretly fear.  Unless something drastically changes and Americans grow their IQs by twenty points, it’s going to happen.

You heard it here first.

More on the Reason Rally: What the left can learn from the godless

Jesus rides a dinosaur at The Reason Rally, March 24, 2012

Brooke woke up earlier than her customary “crack of noon” wakeup on the weekends and is now busily draining my hot water tank for her “hour shower”. (note to self: commence 5 minute shower training regimen for upcoming exchange trip to Germany) All this is to say that once she’s awake and has fed that monster that lives in her stomach, she can set about to download her pictures.

In the meantime, I want to talk about what I think the left can learn from the Reason Rally and vice versa. This is really important because although movements like Occupy have struck a nerve with the public and have reintroduced morality into our public discourse (that’s what the “we are the 99%” mantra is all about), it suffers from something that the Reason Rally already has- established community organizations or just organization, period.

Organization is not a bad thing. Getting together and having a show is much easier to do when you plan and delegate. It’s also much harder for police to breakup. The people on the mall yesterday were every bit as committed as anyone who has attended an Occupy event. They are just as concerned with the erosion of our constitutional rights, just as concerned with the suffering of the poor and disenfranchised and just as committed to do something about it. But they choose to do it through the groups they have already established. They are humanist, secularist, rationalist, freethought, atheist and skeptic groups. They’ve been around for awhile but in just the past few years, they have seen an explosion of their ranks. Here are a few things that set them apart from the Occupy movement:

1.) They organize conferences. There are a number of freethought, skeptic and atheist conferences across the country. Some of these happen in colleges, like Skepticon, which is held each year in Missouri. But there are also a lot of freethought groups scattered all over the bible belt in places like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and even Mississippi. Find a venue that won’t be raided by dudes in riot gear and invite some speakers. This last point is important. The kind of people who went to the Reason Rally are the kind you might have seen at early Occupy marches. They are ordinary, middle class and working class people and their kids. But what you won’t see at a Reason Rally event is batallions of storm troopers. I didn’t see a strong police presence at all at yesterday’s rally.

2.) They write books. Many of the invited speakers for yesterday’s rally in Washington have written very popular books that fall into the category of what I will call The New Enlightenment (shout out to Dan Barker who started a “Tell me what Enlightenment looks like, This is what Enlightenment looks like!”) Some of those books, like Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, are well known and popular. Others, like Dan Barker’s Godless is a *de-conversion* story, and we’ve all seen the power of personal testimonials at DailyKos. The important thing is that the these de-conversions broke new ground. It’s important that religious insiders write them because it comes from an authentic place and those insiders know how the “company” works. Other speakers like Michael Shermer, write on morality. It is important for your prospective audience to know what issues you are wrestling with so they can engage and dissent. And dissent is crucial to growing confidence in a movement. That’s how ideas grow and breakthroughs happen. Your audience shouldn’t be afraid to challenge you on your statements and that leads to something that I think the Reason Rally participants value most of all (I’ll get to that at the end).

3.) They use media in many forms to reach out to others outside the group. There are a number of podcasts and community television programs that are employed so that outsiders have a chance to interact and learn. One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed about New Enlightment leaders is that they’ve found their niches of specialization pretty easily and are developing their talents in that specialization. Richard Dawkins is like a guru. He is full of wonder at the breathtaking beauty of nature and he communicates that very well. His audiences listen with rapt attention to the way he articulates what they are experiencing about the world and themselves without the interference of dogma. Jerry DeWitt of Recovering from Religion is another talented speaker who encourages us to live fully in the present and be joyful about our own uniqueness and individuality. Other leaders inspire through humor or entertainment, like Tim Minchin or Eddie Izzard. I’d even put Dan Barker in this category because his Friendly Neighborhood Atheist song (please put this online, guys. It’s delightful), which was a homage to the very decent Fred Rogers, can take the heat out of possible conflict with gentle humor and musicality. Some leaders are very good on YouTube. That media suits their deftness with editing their stream of consciousness thoughts into brilliant arguments. I’m thinking Cristina Rad, AronRa, Thunderfoot and Evid3nc3. Still others like Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist) who is involved with the Secular Student Alliance, Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist) and Matt Dillahunty (The Atheist Experience) engage the public through dialogue in a radio and TV format. You can call in and ask them anything. If you’re a feminist, check out The Godless Bitches with Beth Presswood and friends. Then there are watchdog groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation who work with lawyers and the law to make sure the rights of non-believers are respected. They defend people like Jessica Ahlquist, see to it that they don’t go it alone and know they have support and the law behind them. Or Sean Faircloth’s lobbying effort through the Secular Coalition of America. In short, there is something for everyone. You pick the level and method of your involvement and there will be a community out there for it.

4.) They learned from the experiences of other groups. Greta Christina, atheist activist, has a brilliant piece about what the non-believer community can learn from the LGBT community and the similarities are striking between the two groups. People like Greta are invaluable in pointing out how to avoid the pitfalls of the groups that went before you and where you might even speed up the process or avoid alienating your friends.

5.) Finally, and this is the most important part that I think is hardest to articulate, they have RIGOR. What is rigor? Well, from a labrat’s POV, rigor is a hard quality to achieve. It is discipline of the mind to learn to separate data from bias, experience from artifact and to be able to make conclusions that survive past the current set of observations. If your conclusions can’t be applied to new experiences, your method must be revised until they can. A method must have rigor or it’s a fucking useless piece of shit, excuse my French. That’s why sciencey types are always asking questions and poking holes in other people’s arguments. They’re not trying to be pains in the asses (unless they’re suckups who are trying to impress their bosses). They are looking for rigor. And you shouldn’t be insulted when they ask you to defend yourself. In fact, it’s kind of a challenge of equals. You show me your evidence, I’ll show you mine and we’ll do sort of mental fencing and see who wins. You should have the evidence, data and preliminary conclusions to back up what you are saying. It’s only when you don’t have that evidence, and then refuse to acknowledge that you need it, that the rationally minded individual starts to pigeon hole you as a nutter or ignorant or most of the time, just plain lazy.

When Fox News types accuse the Reason Rally audience as simply having faith of a different kind, those leaders can come back with, “not really, we just have rigor!“. That ought to send the Fundies scrambling for their dictionaries.

But a lot of the left is just as plain lazy and ignorant as those on the right. They’re just lazy about different things. The right goes on about God and faith and evolution and can just be tiresome after awhile. And on the left, the stupid non-rigorous posturing about GM food, vaccines, and homeopathic remedies gets really old as well. Yes, they may actually be good or bad for you but where is your rigor?

The left needs to be on its guard, but frequently isn’t, to people who will seek to exploit this lack of rigor for their own ends. We may all laugh at Michelle Bachmann’s crazy talk about the HPV vaccine causing brain damage but the left doesn’t blink an eye when some equally crazy person on the left makes the claim that bee colonies are being wiped out by GM corn. Whole websites have been known to eat that bit of “vacuous crap” without question. And it doesn’t need to be said at this point that if the left had been more rigorous in its selection process in 2008, it wouldn’t have been rolled by the Democratic party’s PR operatives into supporting the weakest candidate that moderate Republicans would find acceptable.

Failures like these hurt the left because when it starts to respond with emotion rather than reason, it can often fail to identify the real causes for alarm. It makes the left less effective advocates or adversaries because emotion and faith is easy to dismiss. In fact, there are just as many people on the left who haven’t got a clue what “critical thinking skills” are as there are on the right. It just a term that sounds good and smart. But from what I have seen of the left, there’s a lot of learning to do about what it means to think critically. It is vitally important that we learn to do so as quickly as possible because evidence and rigor are much more deadly than mere tribal beliefs when we seek to disarm our adversaries.

So, what I would advise Occupy to do is to start applying more rigor to its methods. It should not be afraid to challenge its own beliefs. It is a good thing to apply the scientific method. You know that there is widespread suffering. You know that people are being exploited, cheated, mislead. You want to do something about it. Doing something positive about negative things that are destroying your society is a very laudable goal. It will contribute to the overall happiness of society. But to do this, it is not simply enough to get angry and protest. You must also get smart. You need to put aside your prejudices, emotions and biases and apply a more rigorous method for developing your proposed solutions. Collect evidence, ask questions, recruit experts, solicit advice, analyze carefully, eliminate noise and concentrate on signal and test your conclusions. Accept challenges. I understand that some Occupy working groups are already doing this. The one that came out with the thorough, well researched response letter to the financial crisis is a case in point. But the ones that have to do with science and pharma are still mired in some very non-rigorous debate and pseudoscience that is not going to be helpful. It just looks stupid, from my perspective, and should get the same kind of treatment that Tim Minchin gave to Storm.

When I heard Minchin’s poem for the first time yesterday, I immediately thought of some people on the left I’ve met. What a waste. Without rigor, some of them do just come off looking like Dirty Fucking Hippies. They might be right but all their opponents see is incense, astrological charts and an easily lead mind that poses no threat to them. It is really important for the left to challenge the lazy thinking of some of its adherents and not be afraid to tell them when it’s utter crap. Policing your own will greatly enhance your reputation.

Ok, I’m off of my soapbox now. I do have to say that after the past couple of months, reviewing all of the material online and attending the Reason Rally yesterday, that I think the two major parties are engaging in poo-flinging and I don’t want any part in it anymore. I think I’m ready to finally give up the Democrats altogether, even though that’s where my sympathies are. The question is, are the Democratic party’s sympathies with its base? The overwhelming evidence of its actions over the past several election cycles is very clearly No. I’m ready for The New Enlightenment and where it’s going. That doesn’t mean I think Occupy is a waste of time. Far from it. I think Occupy has tremendous potential but only in that it needs to intersect with The New Enlightement and learn from it to make it an effective tool against growing authoritarianism. But there needs to be a new foundation laid upon which we base our worldview and the Reason Rally participates are actively engaging in doing it while the left is still struggling out of a fog. Greta Christina would probably recommend that we reach out to each group and form a coalition with each other. Let’s try that.

Here again is Tim Minchin’s poem Storm as he delivered it yesterday at The Reason Rally:

Monday: Bubba and Baruch

A recent Esquire interview with Bill Clinton didn’t get as much attention in the blogosphere as I might have expected, or maybe I missed it.  But it’s a fascinating article in many respects.  For one thing, Bill Clinton still has it, that damnable facility with language that drives his enemies and detractors to distraction.  Nevertheless, for all of his political skills, which are formidable, there seems to be a blind spot where Republicans are concerned or maybe he sees the lengths that others are willing to go but he’s made up his mind not to go there.  The conversation he had with one of his impeachment foes, former Representative Bob Inglis, is an example of this:

So he came to me and he said, “I just want you to know, when you got elected, I hated you. And I asked to be on the Judiciary Committee in 1993, because a bunch of us had already made up our minds that no matter what you did or didn’t do, we were going to find some way to impeach you. We hated you. You had no right to be president.” And he said, “That’s wrong.” And he said, “I’m sorry.” And he now meets with a group in South Carolina with a woman he once defeated, Liz Patterson. Very commendable thing.

In one sense, he was blindsided by this irrational hatred from the Republicans when he first came into office.  Maybe that’s the problem.  Bill, the politician, can handle rational behavior, the pulls of different ideologies.  He gets that kind of hardball politics.  It’s the meaningless, destructive, selfish kind of politics that elude him, the tearing down just because you can.  Call me naive but I kinda like that in my politician.

There’s a lot to still like about Bill.  Some of his ideas about work shows that he’s still learning and there is still an openness about where the future can take us in the area of workplace flexibility.  I am in complete agreement that we should adopt the military’s method of teaching people new skills every couple of years.  I know this helped me quite a bit when I went back into the lab for my last year of work.  I relearned how to do experiments hands on, learned an entirely new but related area of study and best of all, was able to add my previous experience to my new experience.  The result was greater than the sum of the parts, especially because I had the added advantage of working on the same protein in a different capacity.  It was a revelation to me, renewed my interest in science, and triggered something in my brain that we think we lose when we get older.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that this is not true.  So, my advice to employers is not to write off people who have been in the same job for years.  Change it up, if they are willing.  You’ll be encouraging flexibility and building a knowledge pool of expertise.  In fact, I would predict that your chances of hitting on something truly innovative will be increased.  Of course, this should be encouraged and not forced.

Bill has something to say about the Occupy movement as well.  He’s for it.  But he also says that the occupiers should come up with 3-4 statements or demands.  Now, I know that other people have made this kind of suggestion before and I agree that it’s somewhat premature to be asking this of Occupy.  But let’s consider this suggestions from Bill’s point of view.

In my humble opinion, Bill and Hillary Clinton have a very well developed worldview.  You may not *like* that worldview or find that it doesn’t gel with your concept of what a politician is or should be or whatever.  But this worldview is internally consistent.  That is, the Clinton’s have a philosophy about how the world operates and what it takes to meet your goals.  Their approach to politics and policy is based on this worldview.  A glimpse of this can be seen in Hillary’s book “It Takes a Village”.  If you believe that the community you construct has the biggest impact on a child’s life, your policies will reflect that as well as the approach you take to dealing with members of that community.  That worldview was also evident in their approach to healthcare in the early 90s.  Back then, health insurance was a problem but we saw it from a personal point of view.  Cost and access were the problems.  I think the Clintons saw it differently.  If you have a well developed worldview of how people, business and politics work, it isn’t difficult to project into the future and see that the costs of health care were unsustainable and would eventually have a severe impact on business.

It was a glimpse of this worldview at Hillary’s breakout session at YearlyKos2 in 2007 that I found so appealing.  This internal consistency and study allowed Hillary to define the problem and develop policies to address this problem and stay within this worldview.  This is their biggest strength. I think this is also the Clintons’ weakness because it relies on rationality and clearly defined goals and the Republicans introduced a measure of senselessness into that worldview.

I’m not sure how to derail the Republicans and make them see reason but if you have a worldview, you must find a way to put that senselessness and selfishness in its proper place and learn how to incorporate it.  Capitulating to it in the hopes that you will be able to reason with it clearly didn’t work in 2008.  I think the Clintons keep learning.  They aren’t perfect but they’ve been working on this stuff for a long time.

Now, what does this have to do with Occupy?  Occupy has a great starting point.  How do you address income and social inequality and make life more rewarding for the 99%?  Without a consistent worldview your demands may end up looking like a laundry list of various complaints that don’t relate to one another.  They will be easy to shoot down.  Your spokespeople won’t know how to defend them.  I looked at Occupy Science’s facebook page a couple of weeks ago and despaired.  The participants were in full react mode without bothering to find out how modern science research and business work.  Without that knowledge base, you can not make sensible demands or craft good policy.  It’s not enough to be angry and act like an injured party.  You need to understand the nature of the problem.  This does not mean all of the complexity.  It simply means, how do the components relate to each other so that you know which buttons to push to get the desired endpoint.  That goes for all of the other important issues as well.

What is your worldview?  In your world, what are the things that relate to one another?  How do you account for human nature?  What are the things that make people do good?  How do you encourage people to do those things?  What is valuable?  What is democratic?  Is democracy even a desired endpoint?  I hope it is but have we thought about this problem thoroughly to convince ourselves that this is true? What are our premises?  What do we have to work with? What is the role of business, government, religion, ethics, nature?  It’s a very philosophical problem and it takes most people a lifetime to figure this out.  The problem is, we don’t have a lifetime.  We have only a few months.  Therefore, we may have to borrow someone else’s starting point.

Who might we call on?  One possibility is Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Dutch Jewish philosopher who had a very well developed worldview.  Unlike other philosophers who tackled one weighty question at a time, Spinoza had a comprehensive worldview that melded human nature, ethics, psychology, politics and theology and he did it at a time in history when all of these things were in conflict with each other.  There are some parallels between Spinoza’s Europe and our modern day that make him a pretty good starting point.  In fact, the other philosophers of the enlightenment drew heavily from Spinoza’s works.  Was he perfect?  No.  Some of his ideas are limited by the examples he had on hand.  There was no American revolution and the ideas of Adams, Jefferson and Franklin.  And yet, our founding fathers incorporated Spinoza’s ideas into our country’s working documents.

When I was taking philosophy courses decades ago, we read Decartes and Hume and Kant but skipped over Spinoza.  There’s really no satisfactory answer for why this is except that Spinoza was a radical enlightenment thinker whose unconventional view of god might have scared conventional philosophers away.   But if you’re looking for a starting place to base your demands, you could do worse than adopt Spinoza’s method of constructing an internally consistent worldview that incorporates nature, politics and man.

For more information about Spinoza, there are a couple of youtube videos that might be useful. For a lite overview of Spinoza, try this In Our Time podcast. I like this kind of thing but it might not be your cup of tea.  This two hour discussion of Spinoza is particularly juicy:

Don’t be put off by the moderator.  He’s the only one who talks in this hesitant style.  The other panelists are more fluid.

Friday: Your Hell doesn’t scare me

Jon Stewart declared war on Christmas the other night.  Bill O’Reilly said he was going to hell.  Jon’s not scared.

Check it out here.

Come to think of it, none of the right wing haka should scare you.  Or left wing haka, for that matter.  We’re not children.  They can try to use fear to get us to fall in line but if it doesn’t make sense from a personal values point of view, then we shouldn’t give in to fear or intimidated into silence.

I’ve heard that the Occupy Movement is over and was a failure.  I disagree.  I think the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with local police, have used overwhelming force in order to scare people into shutting up and becoming invisible again, like that’s going to work.  The parties have been complicit in painting occupiers as dirty, lazy and criminal, but we have the pictures that prove otherwise.

Zuccotti Park Occupation, October 2011

And just because the camps are gone, that doesn’t mean the movement is gone.  The movement is not tied to a specific locale.  The movement is us and anyone who regards economic and social injustice as unacceptable for America and the world.

As far as I know, 2 + 2 still equals 4.

For those of you who weren’t with us in 2008, let me bring you up to speed.  The parties and minions of the 1% are going to try very hard to instill in us a sense of “learned helplessness”.  That’s what the overwhelming use of force was all about when the police evicted the Occupy camps.  The evictions were coordinated and we can assume that Obama was onboard with them.  They *want* the 99% to  helpless and overwhelmed.  They also want the 99% to feel like the acquisition of obscene gobs of money is the only measure of success and without it, you’re nothing.  You’re lazy, stupid and immoral.  And some of these people, like David Brooks, are not only getting paid to talk to us like the Mouths of Sauron, they actually believe that their success is the result of some kind of special personal virtue.

They believe that the person who makes money by playing with money is of more worth to society than someone who teaches kids how to read.  Can we give it up for the reading teachers here, whether they are professionals or parents?  I can’t imagine a more valuable individual in society today than a reading teacher.  You can’t go anywhere without that skill.

Or how about garbage collectors.  Are you kidding me?  You can live without a stock broker for days.  Try to live through a week of no trash pickups.  Those of us who recently lived through Irene can tell you what that’s like.

Or welders.  A good welder is invaluable.  And mechanics.  Who doesn’t appreciate the person who can get your only car running and back on the road so you can get to work?

Or drug designers and biologists and chemists.  WE make the substances that get you through an infection or help you live with cancer and AIDS.

Today, find someone who did a good job for you and sincerely thank them for doing it.

Is someone like David Brooks or Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck (they’re all versions of the same thing), going to tell the rest of us that we’re bad people and worthless and lazy because we don’t have a duplex on the upper east side or a second home at the shore or even a job?  That we’re going to go to hell if we don’t kiss the asses of the fanatically religious, mean spiritied Fox viewer with Acquired Stupidity Syndrome?

Am I going to let some Democratic party asshole blame me for his party’s losses next year because I refuse to accept the tepid surrender of his party to learned helplessness, especially when there is plenty of time for his party to avoid a catastrophe?  No, I am not.

It’s rough out there.  Some of us are living through that roughness.  And we may be materially poorer but we don’t have to be poor in spirit.  We can still be defiant and demanding and not give in.  We’ve done nothing wrong and we have as much right to respect and justice as any arrogant rich jerk whining about how we blame him for everything he does.

This is not about envy.  This is about dignity.  I won’t be cowed into thinking I’m going to some earthly or non-existent religious hell just because I won’t be a good peasant and defer to my betters.  There aren’t any betters.  This is not an aristocracy.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”, said Eleanor Roosevelt.  And no one can tell you to give up on your ideal of justice and prosperity for everyone.  Be careful of people on TV and newspaper columns and in blogs and comment threads who tell you all is lost or pronounce a movement over.  They don’t have the power to declare any such thing.   We must never give into despair because finishing the task is the most important thing we will ever do and if we don’t find a way, no one will.

OccupyWallStreet: We have been starving the wrong beast

I’m back at home in my own warm little bed. Ahhhhh. So, I have a little time to process what I saw here today. I have pics but will wait until tomorrow to post them. Many thanks to Partition Function for meeting me in Zuccotti Park and letting me bounce impressions and ideas off of him.

Ok, here are my general impressions and hints about where I think this is going:
Tonight was OWS‘ first month anniversary. So, they’ve already crossed an important milestone. The park looks different from the first time I visited there in both a good and less good way. There are a lot of people. It’s fairly packed and there really aren’t many places to sit down and collect your thoughts. There is still a very diverse population. You will find people of all ages and ethnicities there. These people seem to be very smart. Organizationally, it feels like a neighborhood block party with small groups working on logistics or concepts. There is a lot of openness and sharing and this is all good. (I’ll say why there should also be a note of caution as well later.) There are also a few more freaky types. I don’t know where these people come from. If I didn’t know better I’d say they were hired, as in, if they didn’t exist, Fox News would have to invent them and for all I know, it did. I didn’t notice these people the last time I was here.

The mood of the place seems a little less festive and a little more serious. By that I mean that people are turning up because they are looking for connections. They have something important to say, their own perspective on a complicated puzzle and they are seeking synergies. It seems a little disorganized but there wasn’t one person I spoke to who didn’t know exactly why he/she was there. Think of it as a giant open air salon.

There are more people who have mapped out their own little smidgeon of the park for identity politics. In this respect, I’m a little concerned. In my humble opinion, the more you go overboard to make your point, like wearing a grim reaper costume and earnestly proclaiming your concern about who is killing the planet, the more people you will drive away. Yes, the environment is paramount in all of our minds but it would be a shame if the movement, which is based primarily on economic grievances, is derailed by this kind of thing. It would give an unrealistic picture of the 99% and, frankly, I’m an omnivore. I like my steaks medium rare and my veal grilled with porcini mushroom dust. I’m not interested in your lifelong committment to veganism. I understand why having options for vegans who are occupying is important but I don’t want to feel like I’m doing something immoral if I don’t get onboard some crunchy granola agenda. No, seriously, some of these identity groups have a quasi-religious zealousness to them and I don’t want any part of that.

So, there are two possible solutions that the facilitators might want to consider. They could ask the people in question to tone it down. Or they could try to make the economic issues more prominent. What we the 99% can do is continue to come to the occupations. I’m cool with the prospect of safe nuclear energy someday. We need more people there who are willing to entertain that idea. We need more people from corporations who are willing to say that some industries work better as corporations. It’s the way they interact with the financial industry, politicians and deregulation that are the problems. I don’t want buzzwords and tribal allegiences to ruin what could be very promising.

As to where I think this is going, hmmm, I got a few hints and clues. The alternative currency working group is up to something. If I were the typical hysterical Glenn Beck viewer, I would relax. They don’t want to cause an economic catastrophe. But it sounds like this group has been talking with “prominent” experts who would be able to act as outside consultants. They are weighing their options about how to create a new, vibrant economy. I am intrigued.

The other interesting thing I picked up on was the plan for the global day of solidarity on 11/11/11. OccupyCentralPark wants to kick off a weekend of learning on that day and have a massive occupation in Central Park. The theme of this event appears to be that we hate Wall Street because we are dependent on it. And our individual and national economic well being is tied to how well Wall Street does even as it feels free to abuse us. So, OWS would like to present some plans to teach us to free ourselves from the Wall Street tentacles so that we can reassert control over our lives. I don’t know what this will involve but if you’ve ever felt that your life was out of control because Wall Street had you strapped to its global roulette wheel, this event would seem to be geared to presenting alternatives so that you can break that gambling addiction, at least for yourself. If I had to sum that idea up in a short meme it would be, “We have been starving the wrong beast”.

Finally, about the perils of openness and sharing. Let me tell a story about an event called YearlyKos. YearlyKos1 in 2006 was planned as a meetup for the users at DailyKos to get together and brainstorm how to take back Congress. Few of us had ever met before and when we did, the feeling of complete openness and sharing and psychological flow state was very powerful. It was like a 3 day high. It took me a week to come down from my euphoria. YearlyKos2 was a different story for me. I had logistical problems, like a missing registration, a hotel room that was distant from the ones that the rest of the kossacks were staying and related transportation issues. In short, I was not experiencing the flow state of the year before and I was not as attuned to the emotional state of the other participants. It occurred to me today that this was a very good thing because emotions can be easily manipulated when they are in an excited state and the people all around you are responding to the same stimuli.

This afternoon, I briefly got that fleeting feeling of YearlyKos1. There were some people who I felt I was connecting with who wanted to talk about stuff I felt was important and the sharing of ideas was very simpatico, not because we were thinking the same things but because I was getting information that was filling in the data I was missing from my own perspective. That is when I started to feel that I had to be cautious. Collaboration is highly desirable; a hive mind is not. That is not to say that OWS is promoting such a thing. It’s just that it’s probably inevitable due to the nature of the movement, our grievances and our desire to work this out. It’s a social phenomenon as well as a psychological one. When that flow state is reached and we’re all in an excited emotional state, that is when we are most vulnerable to each other and to outside forces who may wish to infiltrate and redirect the movement in a certain direction. I want this movement to succeed and grow and add as many diverse voices as possible that will work to help us shake our dependence on Wall Street, and by extension, the parties that rely on Wall Street. So, I would advise you that if you start to feel euphoric, that you step out of the conversation, go get something to eat, take a pee, walk around the park until the feeling goes away. If it doesn’t go away, go home. Come back when you have a clear head and have learned to master your ability to put some emotional distance between you and the rest of the group. Be happy, enthusiastic and engaged. Do not get giddy. Engaged is good, giddy is not. I hope that makes sense.

Ok, I’m off to beddy-bye. Things are starting to take shape. It’s a good thing. Make it grow by getting involved. We CAN do this.

nighty night

Here are my notes from the general assemby (GA), and other observations from today:

7:25 pm: partition function and I are at the general assembly. Is there any topic you want us to present at the progressive stack? Please let us know ASAP.

First working group reportback: Occupy Halloween. They need donations. Check the kickstarter page for Power to the Puppets

We are making a flowchart of the declaration of Occupation of NYC. We want to make it easy to read without too much simplification. the working group is requesting help.

Visions and goals document group working group report back: a new group whose goal is to collect, refine and working toward publishing liberty plaza’s visions and goals. The results will be released only with the consensus of the general assembly. Over 200 people have had input. We will have a meeting tomorrow to explain creatively the goals of this group. We will also be discussing potentially a proposal that the GA will follow.

A statement of the document will be proposed at tomorrow’s general assembly.

The divine feminine discussion group will be held tonight for females and female identified individuals. There will be a women’s caucus.

Working group on alternative currency has gone missing.

Religious support group: any religion, philosophy, or chemical affiliation. ???

Think tank working group: collects ideas and solutions. Email your ideas to owsthinktank@gmail.com

Alternative currency working group has been found! Next Monday, there will be a meeting where we can see the stars. (this has meaning to them, but is Greek to me). There will be a meeting tomorrow at Charlotte’s place. There will be prominent thinkers. All very mysterious.

Media working group: breakout session on GA to more effectively communicate everyone’s message of solidarity.

Widescreen subgroup: we need some help with media production. Contact the media subgroup.

ANNOUNCEMENTS: they are for important information but not personal opinions
Save your opinions for Soapbox. It happens every night after GA. No time limit.

– I’m from security. I just confiscated a whole case of alcohol. This will get us kicked out of this park. Don’t even think about it.

– Christina: I would like to announce a march on Oct 22 against police brutality at 2:00pm. We do not promote violence at any time. We don’t know how people got the idea that we do otherwise.

– Community affairs: please read the good neighbor policy and do not pee or poop in public. I can’t stress this enough. We are under attack by the media. Don’t give them ammunition.

– Occupycentralpark: we are growing. We aren’t allowed to camp there. But it’s our park. We want to be able to meet there on one weekend. We want to teach people. We only hate Wall Street because we depend on it. We can run our own system so we don’t have to depend on wall street. So, meet in central park on 11/11/11. (That’s binary for 63, right?) We would like the whole world to join in for a day of solidarity. What part of central park? We are designing a new map of central park. We are planning to meet at the bandshell but we are hoping so many people come that we will be everywhere in central park.

Sounds like there will be a plan on how to escape Wall Street on 11/11/11. That’s my interpretation.

2:43 pm: Ok, I’m in Zuccotti Park. It’s packed here. The place is crawling with press. I just got interviewed by a student at Columbia for a report she’s writing. I told her all about the decimation of the R&D industry but she wants to hear from more people who have advanced degrees and can’t find a job in the sciences. If you are interested in talking to her, leave a comment in the comment threads. You don’t have to announce who you are or your contact info. I can retrieve your email address from the comment and will send you the student’s name and email address. Deadline for her report is Wednesday morning.

5:20pm Hello this is Partition Functions with RD in occupied OWS on this beautiful but windy
Autumn day. While the crowd is diverse in ages, background and interests, there appears to also that specialization is occurring in that working groups on topics related to the wider community
are forming, for example we were both recruited to be a part of a school policy curriculum working group. There are also more musicians, but despite that, the mood is more serious. Not sure why, could be that maybe it’s the office crowd. Maybe it’s because it’s a weekday. We’re heading over to open mic. RD signed up.

See you later.