Former US Assistant Treasury Secretary on Iran

I wasn’t aware of Paul Craig Roberts before watching this video, but he was apparently an Assistant Treasury Secretary under Reagan and was associate editor and columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

He makes a lot of sense on this video, talking about the nuclear deal with Iran.

I’m impressed that the Obama administration managed to pull of this deal (not that’s it’s finalised yet, but it sounds promising) which will throw a massive spanner into the neocon war machine, but of course it’s ridiculous that Iran needs to agree to a deal like this in the first place. Even according to Mossad, Iran does not have a bomb, and hasn’t been trying to build one. They are signatories to the NPT. They haven’t invaded another country since Xerxes in 400BCE.

Israel, on the other hand, have an estimated 100 – 200 nukes, is currently trying to convince the US to bomb Iran and has been illegally occupying parts of Palestine since 1967. They should be the one trying to lift sanctions, not Iran.

Just to recap: In 1953, the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran over an oil dispute. They lied about doing so until the 90s. They then re-installed the Shah and supported his oppressive regime until he was finally overthrown in 1979. The US immediately launched a proxy war against the people of Iran via their puppet in Iraq, Saddam Hussein. As soon as that episode was over, the US threw harsh economic sanctions on the people of Iran which have continued to this day.

Anyway… Watch the video.

Good Yemen Analysis

RT has a panel comparing the differing U.S. positions on Ukraine and Yemen. Both had democratically-elected governments deposed by rebels. In Ukraine, the US backs the rebels and criticizes Russia for supporting the deposed government. In Yemen, they are backing the deposed government and supporting the Saudi-lead attacks on the rebels.

Other analysis I found interesting:

All of this serves to continue to underline, for the X-thousandth time, the cornerstone operating principle of the United States: We can do anything, and places we want to conquer can do nothing (the principle of any unreasonable person or group with a lust for power over others).

Part of this principle involves ignoring that, while the Saudis are “desperate to portray this [their invasion of Yemen] as a counter to Iran”, and that is supposed to be the excuse for the aggression (legally, excuses for aggression are irrelevant and to be ignored), Russia would not be allowed to use “countering the US/NATO expansion” as a reason for supporting Ukrainian anti-coup democrats. That would be violating the US principle: you are not allowed to counter the terrorism of the US or its collaborators, such as the freedom-loving Saudi “royal” dictatorship. Thus Russian can have no involvement with eastern Ukrainian democrats, while the US can organize a terrorist army to destroy Syria, as it continues to do.

Trademark Jaw-Dropping US Hypocrisy On Display re Saudi Aggression vs. Russian “Aggression”

And this:

For all the talk of protecting state sovereignty, and ensuring regional stability and security, it is clear that different rules apply to different situations. The American endorsement of Saudi actions in Yemen must necessarily be counterposed against Saudi and American attempts to dislodge the Assad regime in Syria, as well as the opprobrium directed towards Russian intervention in Ukraine. While this should not be taken as sufficient reason to support either Assad or Russia, it is equally important to recognize how there is more than a whiff of cynicism around the platitudes currently being mouthed to justify the Saudi military campaign. As always, the conflict is one that is about politics rather than principle, with yet more lives being lost in the pursuit of imperial interests and regional hegemony; another pointless, unnecessary war fought by ‘powers’ that pay for it with the blood of those who have played no role in creating it.

Where angels fear to tread, The Nation

Good luck trying to find much comparison between the U.S.’ position on Yemen and Ukraine in most of the mainstream media this week. Let me know if you find anything.

Spurious Article Defending Free Will

I read this article by Terry Eagleton in The Guardian tonight and it was so lame that I had to write a rebuttal. My commentary is in **bold.

Freedom Regained by Julian Baggini review – the question of free will

Two or three centuries ago, most of the common people of Europe believed in God, while a small bunch of intellectuals were convinced this was a delusion. For some of these scholars, however, it was a delusion of a mightily convenient kind. Religious faith played a key role in maintaining social order, and so was not to be brutally exposed as bogus. The truth can be wantonly destructive, and not everyone is tough-minded enough to take it. Voltaire was famously anxious about the effects of his own religious scepticism on his domestic servants. Plenty of Victorian agnostics clambered into a pew in the belief that behaving as though there was a God would keep society on the rails. As Friedrich Nietzsche was among the first to recognise, an increasingly secular civilisation had killed God off; but it had disowned its act of deicide and pretended he was still alive.
There is a similar doublethink in our own time, but it is now freedom, not God, which is at stake. Rarely has the idea of freedom been so popular in practice and so disdained in theory. Almost everyone assumes that they are free, except for a small band of neuroscientists and geneticists for whom neural firings or inherited genes lie at the root of everything we do, including our sentimental attachment to the myth of free will.
**Ah no, actually. There are a lot of non-scientists who don’t believe in free will, myself included. We have just spent enough time examining the way our minds work and studying science and have become convinced that free will is indeed an illusion. 
For them, as Julian Baggini remarks in this excellent book, “consciousness is just the noise made by the firing of neurons”. Like the closet atheists of Victorian England, however, these people continue to choose from menus, vote Lib Dem or select posh schools for their children, for all the world as though they were possessed of the very liberty they deny.
**This is a common misconception and reveals that the author hasn’t thought very deeply about the subject. Denying free will does not mean we deny that brains make choices. All we mean is that we fully accept that the choices our brains make are 100% governed by the laws of chemistry and physics and there is no “ghost in the machine” that is magically subverting these laws. Our brains works like every single other part of our anatomy – chemistry. 
For them, social existence is one enormous fiction, in which we suspend our theoretical disbelief in free will and pitch in with the deluded, freedom-loving masses for the sake of a quiet life.
**Again, the author’s attempt at sarcasm belies his lack of thought about the subject. Life without a belief in free will isn’t an “enormous fiction”. Life goes on, decisions are made – we are just aware that every decision is the result of natural processes occurring in the brain. 
Yet some of the versions of freedom these scientists throw out are not worth having in the first place. No reputable philosopher for a very long time has taught that when we decide to put the cat out, we make something called a conscious act of will a millisecond before we rise from our armchairs. To say that I downed the glass of Scotch freely is to say that nobody was holding a gun to my head. It is to describe a situation, not report on an inner experience.
**This may be true for the author but it certainly isn’t true for most people I have discussed free will with over the last 20 years. They absolutely believe that they are consciously in control over whether or not they put the cat out or down the Scotch. 
Free will in this sense is most certainly a myth, and one, as Baggini points out, that was scarcely known to the thinkers of antiquity. He might have added that for a medieval thinker such as Thomas Aquinas, the will is a matter of love and desire, not of steel-hard determination.

Equally vacuous is the idea that freedom consists in a total absence of constraint, as in the callow postmodern cult of “options” (the future, one postmodern thinker excitedly remarked, will be just like the present, only with more options). On this theory, the individual confronts a range of possibilities with complete freedom to decide among them. The only problem with this, as Baggini argues, is that such an individual would not be a human subject at all. We decide what to do on the basis of our values, beliefs, temperament, conditioning, predilections and the like – which is to say that it is we who decide, not some blank space. To be entirely free of such constraints would mean that you had no basis at all on which to choose.

What, however, if our beliefs and desires lead us to act in a way that feels inevitable? Can we still be free if we could not have acted otherwise? Baggini is surely right to claim that we can. In fact, most of the things that matter – being in love, composing a superb sonata, detesting Piers Morgan, feeling horrified by the slave trade – have a smack of inner necessity about them, as this book argues in a perceptive chapter on art. What define the self most deeply are the sort of commitments from which we could not walk away even if we tried. The point, however, is that we don’t want to. Freedom from such engagements would be no freedom at all. True liberty lies in being able to realise such a self, not shuck it off.
**So if I understand the author correctly, true freedom lies in accepting the fact that our decisions are inevitable? If that’s what he’s saying, and he extends that to all of his decisions, then I’m in total agreement. I suspect, however, that this isn’t what he means. He seems to mean that only some of our decisions are inevitable – others are within our control. 
Most critics of free will assume too readily that it draws on a disreputable idea of human autonomy. To be free is to be absolved from all determining influences – to be self-generating, self-dependent and absolutely self-responsible. This is not so much a philosophical theory as American ideology. A belief in absolute responsibility is one reason why so many Americans languish on death row. The truth is that without an enormous amount of dependency – on our parents, culture, language, nature and so on – we could never achieve the mildest degree of independence. Freedom is not a question of being released from the forces that shape us, but a matter of what we make of them. The world, however, is now divided down the middle between off-the-wall libertarians who deny the reality of such forces, and full-blooded determinists such as the US convict Stephen Mobley, who 20 years ago tried to avoid execution for the murder of a pizza store manager by claiming that it was the result of a mutation in his monoamine oxidase A gene. It wasn’t the smartest way to appeal to a jury of citizens likely to endorse Oprah Winfrey’s view that “we’re responsible for everything that happens to us”.
** We certainly don’t argue that the absence of free will is based on whether or not you are influenced by your culture. It’s obvious that our brains all respond to inputs from our environment. Our argument for the non-existence of free is based on basic chemistry – something I note that the author hasn’t bothered to mention at all in this article so far. 
Men and women aren’t authors of themselves, as a character in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus remarks of its proud protagonist, but neither are they slaves of their genes. When Richard Dawkins describes human beings as “survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes”, his language is redolent of neoliberal capitalism as well as the scientist’s laboratory. To see people in this demeaning way is simply the flipside of the idealising talk of pure autonomy. If the former captures something of the bleak reality of the marketplace, the latter belongs to the heady rhetoric that helps to legitimate it.
** The author is one of those people who are content to criticise a theory purely by being sarcastic and not by providing counter evidence. Why is Dawkins’ statement that we are programmed by our genes from demeaning? It sounds to me reminiscent of the Catholic arguments against Galileo from centuries ago. Arguing against a scientific premise purely by saying you find it “demeaning” is meaningless. 
Some neuroscientists imagine they have dispatched the idea of freedom to the outer darkness by mapping the unconscious processes underlying our conscious decisions. If they were not so allergic to Freud, who speaks of unconscious intentions, they might recognise that this is as much stale news as many another supposedly novel insight. Anyway, as this book asks, why should free choices be exclusively conscious ones? A great many factors conspire to shape our decisions, some rational and some emotional, some cultural and some temperamental, some conscious and some not.
** Why should free choices be conscious ones? Simply because the operating definition that most people have of free will is the ability to consciously choose and control their thoughts, decisions and actions. If your decisions and actions are governed by subconscious processes, then you aren’t in control of them – they are determined by chemistry and physics. 
A lot of neuroscience seeks to reduce decisions to behaviour in the brain. But we act according to reasons as well as neurological causes, and reasons are a question of meaning, which in turn involves the inescapably creative business of interpretation. No doubt this is one reason why meaning isn’t exactly a hot topic in the laboratories these days. The primary model of human creativity is language, which, like art, dismantles the distinction between freedom and necessity. Grammars constrain what it is possible for us to say, but they also generate utterances that can’t simply be read off from them. Language isn’t productive because of some transcendent principle or ghost in the linguistic machine that overrides its constraints. On the contrary, a certain self-surpassing is built into the system itself.
** “We act according to reasons as well as neurological causes”. I assume the author believes that reasons are process by some part of the body other than the neurones in the brain? If not, then they are neurological causes. Everything your brain does is neurological – every idea, every thing you learn by experience, or reading a book, or something someone says to you in a class room – it’s all captured and encoded as neurones. 
For most people, Freedom Regained will seem like a kind of Maginot line, defending a territory that is not under attack. This, however, is because the new enemies of freedom are not much evident in everyday life. They are mild-mannered, soft-spoken men and women in senior common rooms, not wild-eyed dictators raving through public address systems. Among its other virtues, the book reveals how many of these soft-spoken types engage in one of the oldest of all debating devices: setting up a straw man of the concept under fire so as the more conveniently to bowl it over. It is just what Dawkins does with God.
** I don’t think critics of free will are setting up a straw man – in fact, it’s the other way around. Authors like Eagleton and Baggini are misrepresenting (and, I suspect, misunderstanding) our criticism of free will. And the fact that his last sentence is another out-of-the-blue attack on Dawkins and, it seems, a defence of the existence of God, says all we need to know about Terry Eagleton’s biases. He may be an esteemed literary theorist, but he’s out of his depth on this subject. 

Obama Sends Egypt’s Military Dictatorship More Weapons

Despite the fact that the Egyptian military overthrew a democratically-elected government and then imprisoned 40,000 people, the US has decided to sell them “12 F-16s made by Lockheed Martin Corp., 20 Harpoon missiles from Boeing Co. and kits to assemble 125 M1A1 Abrams tanks from General Dynamics Corp.”

So much for the “Arab Spring” and America’s love of democracy.

How long before these weapons are used to kill more civilians?

They shipped weapons to Iraq and they ended up in the hands on ISIL.

They shipped weapons to Mexico and they ended up in the hands of drug cartels.

They shipped weapons to Yemen and they ended up in the hands of… well, they don’t really know. They just “disappeared”.

Living With A Small Drive

I finally bit the bullet yesterday and bought a new Macbook Pro (13″). My 2009 17″ had been on life support for the best part of 18 months and the cost of keeping it running was delivering diminishing returns.

The problem I have now is: how do I live with only 256 GB internal storage?

Here’s what I’ve set up so far but I’d be happy for suggestions on how to improve it.

1. Previously I had my DOCUMENTS folder sitting inside GOOGLE DRIVE. It was pretty large (>65GB). So I’ve set up HAZEL to automatically grab files that either a) haven’t been modified in the last six months or b) are larger than 50MB and haven’t been modified in the last week, and move them into a Dropbox folder which sits on a portable USB drive, maintaining the same folder structure. So I still have access to those files in the cloud, but they are off my local drive.

2. For redundancy purposes, I’ve got SYNC FOLDER PRO set up to automatically keep the portable drive in sync with an old 4TB drive I have on my desk. So when I’m traveling, I can take my 1TB drive with me – if it gets lost, stolen or fries, I have a backup. My photos and videos are all on the 1TB drive too, so they are always being backed up in case of disaster.

3. Of course I have TIME MACHINE backing up my internal drive.

4. And I’m keeping all of the documents that are less than six months old in GOOGLE DRIVE.


Any suggestions on better ways of living with a small hard drive?