Failed Empire

Chronicling the collapse of a failed society

Monthly Archives: December 2010

Happy New Year!

Stay safe and have an excellent New Year, folks.  Here’s hoping 2011 is the year we finally get done whatever it is we’ve been meaning to do – and I’m not just talking politics.

every year is getting shorter
never seem to find the time
plans that either come to naught
or half a page of scribbled lines…

thought I’d something more to say


Study Suggests the Conservative Brain is Less Evolved

The concept of evolution has traditionally been thought of in terms of physical development only – birds evolved wings to fly, fish developed gills to breath under water.  What has perhaps been less apparent is that the thoughts and beliefs of human beings can also be attributed to evolutionary processes.

It is obviously understood that the capacity for thought and consciousness is facilitated by the physical brain.  It is not a great leap to conclude that the types of thought patterns and behavior exhibited by any given individual is largely determined by the extent to which that brain has evolved.  For example, human beings of today are vastly different than the human beings of 10,000 years ago.  And although certain barbaric tendencies remain, it seems evident that the evolutionary trend is one of increasing compassion, empathy and altruism.

In light of these two realizations – that human thought is a result of the evolutionary progress of the human brain, and that compassion seems to represent a more evolved state – we arrive at two important conclusions.  The first is that the destructive impulses of greed, violence and individual gain at whatever cost are representative of a less evolved state, similar, in many respects, to the differences between the mental capacities of humans and apes.

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People Are Vicious – Why Bother?

There’s something about the holiday season which seems to bring out the worst in people – or at least that seems to be the case here in Thailand.  The last 24 hours have perhaps been the worst in my life, and it’s entirely due to the shockingly mean-spirited actions of my fellow human beings.  The details are not worth delving into, but it is enough to say that my day began with being pick-pocketed and ended with my cat being poisoned, with a host of intentionally nasty behavior in between.

Today I saw myself in a world full of Dick Cheneys, surrounded by humans who saw fit not only to benefit themselves at whatever cost, but who seemed to genuinely take pleasure in inflicting maximum harm.  Today was one of those days where I found myself questioning the basic nature of human kind – are we a benevolent species?  Are our positive tendencies such as love and compassion the predominant ones?  Or are our malicious traits the ones which will prove victorious in the end?

Judging by the state of the world, it is easy to conclude that the latter characteristics are winning the battle.  It could very well be that human beings are, quite simply, a wretched, nasty, mean-spirited bunch, and that our occasional bouts of goodness are but anomalies in a broader trend of malignant behavior.  And in light of such observations, one begins to wonder – why bother at all?  Why bother trying to help others, to improve society, to make the world a better place?  Why not just join the rest of the selfish bastards and say, “Fuck it, I may as well enjoy myself and screw the rest of you assholes”?

I’m afraid at the present moment I can find no satisfactory answer to that question, aside from a vague, lingering impulse towards egalitarian values that flies in the face of all evidence and logic.

Alleged Wikileaks Source, Bradley Manning, Apparently Subject to Psychological Torture

The BBC reports that the health of Bradley Manning, the alleged source for Wikileaks, is deteriorating after months in custody:

Pte Manning, a US soldier, is being held in solitary confinement in a high-security military prison at Quantico marine base, Virginia.

US journalist David House, who has been visiting him since September, told the BBC World Service he looked “frazzled”. …

The 23-year-old was arrested earlier this year and charged with stealing secret information. One accusation is that he handed Wikileaks video of an Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

However, there has been no formal indictment and no date for a trial has been set, according to Mr House.

“He is being kept in a kind of punitive fashion before his trial and it is definitely weakening his mental state,” the journalist said.

When Mr House first visited Pte Manning in September, he found him mentally “very alert” and, physically, he looked to be “in very good health”.

Over the months, I’ve seen his condition deteriorate. Mentally, he now has trouble keeping up with some topics of conversation. He has bags under his eyes and he appears to be very weak.”

This information comes after earlier reports that the UN was investigating the treatment of Manning, after allegations surfaced that the conditions he is being held under equate to torture.  It is impossible to know precisely how Manning is being treated, since his situation is cloaked in so much secrecy.  But it is not difficult to surmise that, at the very least, Manning is being intentionally mistreated in an attempt to coerce him into cooperating.

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The Myth of a “Strong Defense”: No Offense is the Best Defense

In its usual half-assed manner, the NY Times has finally broached the largely taboo topic of our indefensibly bloated military budget.  As with most issues deemed “controversial” by our ultra-conservative corporate press, the impression here is that the NY Times addressed the subject, via its opinion page, out of absolute necessity only.  In a time of such dire economic conditions, with the right and pseudo-left Dems screaming for budget cuts, even the NY Times realizes that it must at least mention what is obviously the most wasteful example of government spending.

Nicholas Kristof deserves some credit for daring to criticize the sacrosanct altar of military expenditures, and his piece, The Big (Military) Taboo, does address some critical issues:

• The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.

• The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?  …

• The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined. …

It was President Dwight Eisenhower who gave the strongest warning: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Clearly, there are some powerful points here, points that need to be addressed on a much broader scale by both the MSM and the nation as a whole.  Kristof even highlights the oft forgotten fact that it was the presence of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia which, in part at least, precipitated the attacks of September 11.  But the problem with Kristof’s piece, as with most coverage by the NY Times which borders on being genuinely relevant, is that it doesn’t go far enough, and it’s couched in terms that reinforce the status quo:

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Happy Holidays

Obama Deserves No Credit for Bogus “Season of Progress”

You know Obama’s transformation into a Republican is complete when the AP so shamelessly fawns over him:

Obama toasts “season of progress” after big wins

WASHINGTON – Buoyant in political victory, President Barack Obama on Wednesday wrapped up a long, rough year in Washington by rejoicing in a rare, bipartisan “season of progress” over tax cuts, national security and civil justice. Halfway through his term, he served notice to his skeptics: “I am persistent.”

If, of course, by “persistent” he is referring to his efforts to uphold DADT, or to reject anything even remotely progressive.  But I digress.

Obama spoke on the same day that he found enough allies in both parties to get Senate ratification of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, a vote watched around the world as a test of international security and presidential clout. He also signed landmark legislation to allow gays to serve openly in the military, calling himself overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment.

And that was on top of other achievements, including a hard-fought deal to extend tax cuts and unemployment insurance even as it piled on more debt, a broad food security bill, a trade deal with South Korea and declarations of progress in the widening war in Afghanistan.

Now, I am hardly an expert on any of these issues, but it seems to me that Obama is being extremely disingenuous here.  Obama has actively struck down the repeal of DADT several times this year, and it has only passed this time due to the unexpected – but highly welcomed – efforts of Congress, lead by Nancy Pelosi.  For Obama to in any way attempt to take credit for its repeal is dishonest in a way I thought only Republicans were capable.

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So Julian Assange is a Pervert – Who Cares?

The character assassination of Julian Assange has taken some strange twists in recent days.  In the latest from Gawker, we learn of Assange’s creepy email (and limited real-world) stalking:

Julian Assange, the founder of the world’s most notorious secret-sharing operation, has some embarrassing documents in his own past. We’ve obtained a series of emails detailing his stalkery courtship of a teenager in his pre-Wikileaks days.

Although the emails are wholly irrelevant to the WikiLeaks story, there is something morbidly fascinating about reading them.  Perhaps it’s because they contain such literary gems as:

A man feels that which is soft, warm and yielding in his arms must also be in other circumstances.  But like Maugham’s Mirriam you are hard above the neck; voice salted and manner typical of your class when not trying to impress…  You pulled a tiny pedal off my world just when I thought you were to add one but all around in the meadow, where I shall again dance and skip and sing till some fool girl should brush my wing.


And then, also from Gawker, we learn of Assange’s Narcissistic self-image, as demonstrated in his awkward online dating profile:   Read more of this post

The Top Ten Scientific Breakthroughs of 2010

The steady march of science continues unabated, much to the chagrin of religious fundamentalists everywhere.  2010 has been a very busy year, and Science magazine has compiled a list of the ten most profound scientific developments.  Topping the list was the first quantum machine, the very purpose of which boggles the mind:

Physicists Andrew Cleland and John Martinis from the University of California at Santa Barbara and their colleagues designed the machine—a tiny metal paddle of semiconductor, visible to the naked eye—and coaxed it into dancing with a quantum groove. …

Then they raised the widget’s energy by a single quantum to produce a purely quantum-mechanical state of motion. They even managed to put the gadget in both states at once, so that it literally vibrated a little and a lot at the same time—a bizarre phenomenon allowed by the weird rules of quantum mechanics.

Other highlights from the list included the creation of a synthetic genome, the sequencing of neandertal DNA, vast improvements in the efficiency of DNA sequencing, and the development of two fresh methods to prevent the transmission of HIV:

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Biden Speaks Out Against WikiLeaks, Cites Bogus Link Between Secrecy and Security

The Obama administration grows more similar to the Bush regime with every day that passes.  Today we observed more of that transformation as smilin’ Joe Biden flashed his true, Cheney-esque colors:

Vice President Biden today said that by disclosing classified documents and diplomatic cables, Wikileaks has endangered lives and “done damage” to U.S. diplomacy. In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Biden confirmed reports that the Justice Department is looking at possible charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Look, this guy has done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of people in other parts of the world,” Biden said. The Vice President went on to say that Wikileaks has “made it more difficult for us to conduct our business with our allies and our friends,” citing his own meetings with world leaders.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that those in positions of power are the most vocal opponents to WikiLeaks.  And unfailingly, the argument has to do with national security:  we need secrets, they claim, in order to protect the American people.  After all, there are evil boogeymen out there who are intent on destroying America merely because, in the words of the immortal ‘tard, “they hate our freedom.”

Sadly, the American people seem to be buying the lies:

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