"Tivo-ifies the web" Paul Kedrosky

The President’s Guide to Science

There is much less difference between the Democrats and the Republicans than the polarization of voters would suggest. They both sit to the right relative to most other Western economies, and both are hostage to jingoism and superstition which again registers higher than in other wealthy nations. My main beef with Bush Jnr. was that he showed no intellectual curiosity, a fundamental trait that differentiates us from beasts. But the Obama administration may be less hostile to knowledge, or science, as it is termed from the Latin.

This program imagines a briefing for the new president (it was made just before the election) and asks some well known scientists what they would teach the President.

Running time: 50 mins.

5 comments politics, science

America’s Civil Rights Movement

The first episode from the mammoth 14 hour documentary about America’s Civil Rights Movement. Further parts here.

I don’t like politics, patriotism or politicians, but just once in a while something happens that renders me cynicismless.

Who would have thought that less than a lifetime after American apartheid, less than a decade after someone called Osama became America’s most feared individual and 5 years after America went to war against someone called Hussein, a black man called Barack Hussein Obama would claim the White House? As a marketing challenge, it would have seemed impossible and that is why this is a triumph of truth over fiction.

But it is much more than that, not since Rome, when racism was traditionally directed against Northern Europeans, has someone of African decent been the most powerful person in the world (Rome had a Libyan Emperor).

The tragic news is that poor people in America, in places like Detroit, where the median house price is less than $10,000 are about to feel the devastating affects of a brutal recession. Just when there seemed to be hope, some people might turn to hopelessness and then to anger. The recession had nothing to do with Barack Hussein Obama. I suspect that will be an even bigger challenge for the truth.

5 comments history, politics

The Living Dead

Running time: 1 hour

Part 2 (1 hour)

Part 3 (1 hour)

I have previously posted links to almost all of Adam Curtis’ superlative documentary series apart from this, which examines how the memory of the Second World War was manipulated and changed during the Cold War, in various countries and to suit political ends.

Curtis’ documentaries are always worth watching, they fulfill the instinctive craving that humans have for conspiratorial drama while remaining intelligent, a patently difficult task considering the paucity of other examples. To be fair, Curtis’ pieces are less about secretive cabals than unabashed manipulation through political spin, in an era of manufactured consent.

Despite being a fan of Curtis’ films, I have a problem with the core intellectual premise than envelopes almost everything that he has done. Not only are there few of the secret cabals of the conspiracy theorists that Curtis outshines, which would be like trying to herd tigers (its difficult enough to organize ordinary people, let alone powerful ones with large egos), there is no need for manufactured consent on the scale of what Curtis alleges.

Curtis’ argument is by design, that people are manipulated deliberately. This is something that I would argue is an example of teleological illusion, the hardwiring of human brains to see a creator in everything. If we turn the chain of cause and effect around the other way, then consent isn’t so much fabricated by others, but self-emergent, fabricated by personal desire. Since this requires far less effort, it is more likely to happen most of the time.

The counter argument is that manipulation clearly exists in the real word, from totalitarian propaganda to the seemingly banal world of advertising. The rebuttal is therefore a bit more subtle: that the evolutionary niche that allows for the survival of such things as advertising in a society, and the subsequent manipulation of instinct and desire is actually a product of that desire and driven by it.

This has different implications. Unlike undesirable political manipulation, if the marketplace for distortion of reality is created by us, and if we overcome our irrational desires through reason, it will go away.

We create a fiction to feed our desires and this is a more powerful force than the standalone manipulation comprising manufactured consent, which in turn is more likely than active conspiracy.

In other words, the real world is controlled by Self-delusional Consent.

7 comments history, politics, series

Commanding Heights

A mammoth 3 part series on the globalization of the world economy, made by two Frontline veterans Greg Barker and William Cran. This is an example of a great documentary that has the same instinctive appeal as conspiracy theorist nonsense like Zeitgeist. In which case, Commanding Heights is possibly a perfect vaccination against such viruses of the mind. Perfect, healthy, brain crack.

Part 1 here: 115 mins.

7 comments politics, series, world

How The Chinese See Us

It has become such customary practice for politicians to criticize other regimes as if they could only possibly rule without the will of the people that this was even trotted out when the Chinese government waded into China. Which is why this clip found by Charles Firth is so interesting – it gives us a glimpse of popular Chinese nationalism and for reasons Charles explains convincingly.

Comments Off politics, world

The Terror of Zimbabwe

A solid documentary on the tragic Failed State of Zimbabwe and the responsibility for it that one man, Mugabe, bears. Watching this made me wonder if failed states were not the result of monsters, but that monsters were the result of failed states.

If Mugabe were assassinated, there is a strong chance that many innocent lives would be saved and huge number of people would suffer less. Unlike many leaders Mugabe does not have the resources to make himself safe, and a single Cruise Missile would perhaps have a chance of success. Yet this outcome is unlikely, leaders rarely get assassinated outside of war, by a foreign state. There are reasons for this: Zimbabwe has no strategic benefit to others – no oil, and it is ‘illegal’ under UN law to assassinate a leader of a foreign state etc. But what if these reasons were actually an inevitable result of the way that countries evolve collectively?

What if the institutions of states evolve over time so that they self calibrate towards the stability of rule rather than the well being of the largest number of people? The natural equilibrium of politics is such that decision paths that allow for attacking the head of an organization or society will be rarer than war which requires bottom up confrontation with lots of individuals when evaluating the chance of a net reduction in suffering.

In other words, like the Selfish Gene perhaps there is a Selfish Meme, a naturally selected macro organization where people are expendable if the rules and institutions and nationalistic ideas (extended-genotype?) that create countries (extended-phenotype) survive. Perhaps what looks like the result of corrupt humans in government, is in fact the nature of government itself.

4 comments politics, world

Undercover in Tibet

A very good news feature piece about Tibet. Its a shame, but I can’t find anything this intelligent floating around about what is going on in Iraq.

48 mn 26 s

3 comments politics

Control Room

Control Room

This is a film that takes a look behind the scenes of Al Jazeera as the Iraq War unfolds. Although this is a staple film posted by those who oppose the Iraq War, that in itself is almost proof that Al Jazeera has an impossible task as an objective news source. For that matter, so do the US cable channels as long as Fox can still get advertisers.

The film is interesting to me primarily because it is about modern media and how war is and will be covered, spun, pushed and distorted by all parties involved, particularly those on the offensive.
1 hr 25 min 54 sec Mar 17, 2007

1 comment media, politics

Inside The Economist Magazine

This interview with John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief at The Economist magazine may seem a little dull, after all, Micklethwait is hardly a celebrity. But that’s the point, The Economist does not print bylines, so the very nature of those who write for it is anonymity. However, in a period when traditional newspapers look extremely fragile, from local rags to the laurel resting, but dull and myopic New York Times, publications like the Economist, look like the only news properties with any future. And here Micklethwait talks about the future of newspapers.

If anyone wants to challenge me on the notion that the New York Times is boring, consider their recent-ish headline: “No Anthrax Found in Pond”. This roughly translates as: “Nothing Happened in an Insignificant Body of Water”. If I were teaching a journalism class, I would use this as a case study example of a poor headline.

Hoover Institution, Stanford University
42 min 47 sec Feb 5, 2007www.hoover.org


Comments Off interviews, politics