Saturday, April 7, 2007

We don't need a religious dictatorship!

The battle against theocracy has been on-going since the Puritans first set foot in North America. One can read plenty about how well the Puritan "utopia" went (Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States or David Stannard's American Holocaust will fill you in on the necessary details). Nearly four centuries later, we're still dealing with Puritan wannabes who are desperate to impose their "paradise" on the rest of us (consult Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy, for example, for a treatment of the contemporary Dominionist vibe that pervades the GOP). Thanks, but no thanks.

Thing is, our current theocrats have a narrow literalist interpretation of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible that allows no room for dissent, no room for those who are from different worldviews. Such a view is foolish, at best and destructive at worst. We live in a society that is too authoritarian as it is. If the trends that folks like Phillips have been tracking remain unchecked, freedom of worship (as is the case with all the other basic civil liberties) will be largely a thing of the past. Be aware of those who claim to have THE answer; to attempts to control the language of social and political discourse in order to consolidate power; who pay lip service to "love thy neighbor" while advocating shunning or violence against those of different races, religions, sexual orientations, or non-authoritarian political persuasions. Be wary of those who speak of charity but who act to further consolidate a rigid caste system that condemns many millions of humans to grinding poverty. Be wary of those who love their fancy SUVs (complete with the fish symbol and "support the troops" ribbons) and their air-conditioned homes, but who work to derail not only the sciences that made those monstrosities possible but the sciences that might serve to minimize the damage we've done to our planet and prevent further damage.

Heck, we would be well advised that even a cursory study of Christianity's history would show that the monolithic facade of today's neo-Puritans is largely that of urban legend, and that in fact there were and still are varied approaches to worship, fellowship, and witnessing. As an admittedly very unorthodox Christian, I would just as soon not only tolerate but openly accept my fellow human beings in all their diversity. Beats the alternatives - which have and continue to lead to unnecessary conflict and violence.

For more info, check out the Blog Against Theocracy, and First Freedoms First.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned

Way back when I was a 13 year old (which means we have to go back all the way to the late 1970s), the schools I went to (yeah, we did a bit of moving around 1979) had a fairly simple approach to dealing with a kid writing on a desktop: detention. Now I know, this new 21st century thinking is still a bit foreign to me, but I cannot for the life of me see how arresting a kid for defacing a classroom desk is even remotely appropriate.

Now I realize that simply sending the girl to a principle's office, and perhaps phoning her parents doesn't have quite the same pizazz as having the cops bust into her class and cuff her in front of her peers, and then haul her to a police station. That'll surely show the kiddos that writing the word "Okay" on a desktop is simply not "okay." Or perhaps not. Maybe instead, the kiddos get the message that the authority figures in their lives are prone to way too much overkill over the slightest of transgressions, leading them to have even less respect and trust for the adults in charge than they would have otherwise. I would also imagine that such overkill on the part of school authorities will make their relationship to the kids' parents more adversarial to boot. Let's just say if this were my daughter involved, I'd have pretty much lost sight of imparting the lesson that respect for school property is a virtue and would instead be imparting the lesson that the school system was run by raving lunatics.

In the meantime, I have some advice for any would-be school administrator: the old fashioned approach to having the consequences fit the behavior, while not as glamorous as the spectacle of having your students featured on the next episode of Cops for drawing on school desks, is probably less likely to make you look like a complete ass and more likely to create a tolerable learning environment for the kids.

OK Dems in need of a spine transplant

Via Okiedoke:

The most glaring thing I see in the debate over this year’s state budget bill is not Republican control, or Gov. Henry’s veto, it’s that too many state Democrats still can’t find their gonads.

First came a threat from GOP leaders in the House:

… a tiny cabal would end up crafting the state budget – leaving the vast majority of lawmakers with a single, up or down vote on a nearly $7 billion spending blueprint.

No input. No give and take. It would be take it or leave it – period.

And Democrats took it. Bigtime! The entire Senate was crazy about the bill, voting 48-0. In the House, a majority of Democrats joined Republicans, 84-16, in what some called “a historic bipartisan agreement".

Wow! With that kind of bipartisan support, we must have one heck of a good budget. I guess us Okies should be proud to have Democrats and Republicans so quickly agreeing on $7 billion in government spending with so little discussion.

And that should be that. Except, then Gov. Henry got a look at it and used his veto power to strike 99% of the bill’s appropriations.

Obviously, Henry is familiar with his gonads. And with a 75% approval rating, sports a pretty big pair. But to avoid fellow Democrats from overriding his veto, Henry had to first give most House Dems a refresher course in anatomy, so they could reacquaint themselves with their own. Evidently, some of them were pleased with their find.

House Democrats pledged to vote as a group to block any attempt to override Henry’s veto.
The final budget bill may not be much different than the original, but it is worth the extra effort if it enables some Democratic legislators to reach puberty.
I'm actually surprised that Henry vetoed the bill. Unusual spine coming from him. I suppose that since he's in his last term as Governor, he feels a bit more free to confront the state's GOP. As for the rest of the state's Dem party: what a waste.

Martin Luther King's Last Year

Forty years ago this week, Dr. King presented the US with his noteworthy anti-Vietnam War speech. The speech, which was indeed a classic - and one from which Americans have yet to learn much of anything - was part of a transformation in his thinking that occurred during the last year of his life. From Ahmed Shawki's book Black Liberation and Socialism(pp. 200-204):
King began to see the connections much more clearly between racism at home and racism abroad, in particular between the economic inequities at home and the war budget. King also started to rethink his understanding of violence. He was keenly aware that the growing urban unrest in the North was an expression of the frustration and impatience that existed among Blacks - and a corresponding sympathy and openness to more radical solutions. After the Watts riots, King declared, "It was a class revolt of the under-privileged against the privileged." In 1967, he concluded, "after Selma and the voting rights bill we moved into an era which must be an era of revolution.... The whole structure of American life must be changed."

King now made clear that there was a great deal of difference between the violence of the U.S. state and the violence of those rioting in urban centers across the country, and he began to use a different vocabulary to describe his tactics, referring to "massive nonviolence," "aggressive nonviolence," and even "nonviolent sabotage."

Trying to overcome the collapse of the coalition he built to challenge Southern segregation, the apparent failure of the movement in the North, and the growing impatience among Black activists and Blacks more generally, King formulated a new strategy:
Nonviolence must be adapted to urban conditions and urban moods. Non-violent protest must now mature to a new level, to correspond to heightened Black impatience and stiffened white resistance. This high level is mass civil disobedience. There must be more than a statement to the larger society, there must be a force that interrupts its functioning at some key point.... To dislocate the functioning of a city without destroying it can be more effective than a riot because it can be longer lasting, costly to the larger society, but not wantonly destructive. It is a device of social action that is more difficult for a government to quell by superior force.... It is militant and defiant, not destructive.
King's most powerful indictment of the war came on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was murdered. In a speech at New York City's Riverside Church, aptly titled "A Time to Break Silence: Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam," King declared:
Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
These kinds of views were not welcome by many of the liberals who had previously praised King in the struggle to end Jim Crow. As [Michael Eric] Dyson observes:
King's assault on America as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" elicited a predictably furious reaction from the White House. The news media was even harsher.... Richard Lentz notes that Time magazine had, early in King's opposition to the war, characterized him as a "drawling bumpkin, so ignorant that he had not read a newspaper in years, who had wandered out of his native haunts and away from his natural calling." Newsweek columnist Kenneth Crawford attacked King for his "demagoguery" and "reckless distortion of the facts." The Washington Post said that King's Riverside speech was a "grave injury" to the civil rights struggle and that King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people." The New York Times editorialized that King's speech was a "fusing of two public problems that are distinct and separate" and that King had done a "disservice to both."
Once King began to attack a war that many "respectable" liberals had deemed necessary, he became public enemy number one among the establishment PC police of the day. Not too surprisingly, the White House, along with the elite media organs of the day began a smear campaign against their former ally.

If King were alive today and making similar speeches about the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I have little doubt that the "Support the Troops" crowd (not only on the right-wing of the nation's political spectrum, but also among the nominally "liberal" and "progressive" wings) would be attacking King as "uppity" and bordering on "treason" and no doubt being "irresponsible" to the civil rights cause.

If King were alive today, I also suspect that he too would be reflecting on how little we had learned in the last four decades.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

"Denver and Colorado's reliable source for breaking news" my foot!

Via The Try-Works, we learn that the Rocky Mountain News reports as "breaking" news a story from two years ago. Classic. I'm sure the Rocky Mountain News will dazzle us with the breaking coverage of the Hindenburg disaster any day now. Good job!

Say Hello To

The Try-Works. Got turned on to this blog via Mickey Z. Make sure to peruse the series on The Churchill Smear. Guaranteed to get America's PC police all riled up.

Too funny

There aren't too many opinion polls where Junior Caligula would come in first place, and even on the one where he does claim the first place mark, his official propaganda channel refuses to acknowledge it. That's right: instead Faux News did the fair and balanced thing and awarded the honor of "most foolish American" to Britney Spears. No doubt that Britney has acted like a damn fool lately, but even she cannot hold a candle to the deciderererer.

Gotta give credit to those who were willing to wade through the muck at Faux News to offer up this gem. The graphic presenting the poll results is mildly clever. We'll just call it the Faux Bell Curve.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Say Hello To

Misión Riley, which purports to be "a small contribution to the fight against illiteracy about Venezuela." It'll be interesting to watch it develop.

Meanwhile, Misión Riley's author, Gabriel Ash has an article on the radical changes going on in Venezuela as its experiment with 21st century socialism continues.

Tip o' the hat to Lenin's Tomb.

Bomb Iran on Good Friday? Let's Hope Not!

The rumors have been flying for a while. The latest is that the US could begin bombing Iran as soon as Good Friday.

Certainly there has been plenty of hype over the last few months, with the recent capture of British forces in disputed waters acting as a potential "Gulf of Tonkin" moment (or what IOZ would say is more properly comparable to Gleiwitz). Of course Iran has been demonized for a while now, and among other things has been accused of smuggling weapons into Iraq (with naturally nothing in the way of solid evidence to back up the claim). The "Iran will have nukes any second" alarm has also been consistently sounded for some time, and given that the source of the claim is the same US government that lied about Iraq's mythological WMDs, I'd suggest steering clear of the hype. If for no other reason, the consequences of starting yet another war - this time against the Iranians, will amount to unleashing Armageddon. If the Iraq war hasn't already tarred the US government and society as a rogue element in the global community, bombing Iran will seal the deal. Just as with Iraq, the happy talk about surgical strikes and all that will be little more than empty words: we can count on heavy-duty civilian casualties (been there before - again, think Iraq; think Bosnia). Think $3 per gallon gas is expensive? We'll be yearning for those good old days once the Persian Gulf is effectively shut down (not just from any Iranian counter-attack, but from squeamish insurers who'll jack the rates for oil tankers that would ordinarily ship oil from the region). Economic life as we know it will be drastically affected in much of the world - with the possible exception of those fortunate enough to rub elbows with the Hiltons and the Trumps. Those least able to afford economic disruption - and are already being hit hard by rising food prices as a consequence of the ethanol boom - will be hit the hardest. In the US, I have sufficient faith in our more reactionary elements to find convenient scapegoats for the recession/depression that follows (probably "illegals", as well as anyone who looks even remotely Arab or Persian).

So it goes. Hopefully such rumors will remain just that: rumors. In the mean time, let's keep speaking out against any possible war against Iran. It's easy if you try.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Not quite

Clive James sez:
We can still see it today, even when totalitarianism is no longer a thing for states, but only for religious fanatics.
My understanding - and I'll simply state this is a gut-level understanding - is that those closest to a totalitarian system are least likely to realize it. That would be true of a society's intelligentsia: especially the intelligentsia. I'm pretty unlikely to defend the notion of permanent revolution that was advocated by Trotsky and his followers (some of whom have taken their Jacobin tendencies with them on their way to becoming neoconservatives), nor his actions as a leader as I am generally leery of those political figures who are trying to sell me on their brand of revolution and have been around the block enough times to recognize that there are no purely "good guys" or "good gals" in political endeavors. I do however find James' comparisons of Trotsky to bin Laden, while reassuring himself and his readers that totalitarianism as we know it is a thing of the past to be disingenuous.

Just a quick and dirty definition of totalitarianism to ponder as a starting point:
Common to all definitions is the attempt to mobilize entire populations in support of the official state ideology, and the intolerance of activities which are not directed towards the goals of the state, entailing repression or state control of business, labour unions, churches or political parties. Totalitarian regimes maintain themselves in political power by means of secret police, propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, regulation and restriction of free discussion and criticism, the use of mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror tactics.
We have our secret police in the US, as well as a mass media (nominally private) that serves primarily to disseminate propaganda, increased regulation and restriction of free discussion and criticism of the political and economic system, plenty of mass surveillance, and at least some reliance on terror tactics (think of last December's Swift Meat Packing raids for example) by the government, as well as the more ad hoc actions of the Minutekan crowd. Basically totalitarian systems - whether of the old Stalinist variety or the more familiar fascist variety - operate to dominate the language of discourse, to dominate the perceptions of as much of the citizenry as possible. Hence the propaganda. Hence the marginalization of dissent. Since some perception of liberty is important to Americans, part of the mythology includes superficial choices between two nominally different political parties that in practice operate toward the same ends (who coincidentally are the only ones to receive any media attention). All the rest (the surveillance, the use of terror, and so forth) is to maintain the relative silence of those who don't buy the myth. In other words, I'm far from convinced that totalitarian states have ceased to exist, nor am I sanguine enough to consider the US in any other light than one of a society that if not totalitarian is well on its way to that point.

Keeping mentally healthy: Seek out the positive people

This looked like an interesting article to check out: Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain. The ideas in that article are ones I've been pondering a good deal recently.

The "angry/negative people" the author refers to are not 'folks who are pissed off at the unjust state of the world', and so on, but rather individuals who are incessantly negative, whose very reason for existence is to find fault with whomever they associate or with whatever their situation. They're a drain to be around as they're perpetually miserable, they tend to make those around them miserable as well.

Basically the author focuses on three factors:

1. The role of "mirror neurons", suggesting that constant exposure to incessantly negative & angry individuals has over the long haul an influence on our neurological make-up (thus leading us to be more negative as well).

2. The role of emotional contagion (along the lines of social contagion): emotional states are "catchy." Hang out with someone who's constantly bickering and irritated will tend to make one irritated as well. Hang out with folks who are feeling good tends to make one feel good as well. Turns out that this is something that we don't need fancy degrees or credentials to suss out. Chances are that we've already been exposed to this lesson via the university of hard knocks.

3. The happy person as a genuine and rational person: the author endeavors to dispel the myth of the happy person as superficial and glib, but rather - again focusing on neuroscience and social science - is predisposed to be quite thoughtful and rational. Nor does the relatively happy person suppress or repress angry or sad emotional responses. Indeed, one can point to folks who are just bursting with positive emotional energy who are quite up front with their emotions and who are quite capable of using that energy to effect positive social change (the author's references to Mohandas Gandhi for example are quite salient here).

Just some grist for the mill that I wished to share. I've lately been in the process of burning some bridges in order to surround myself with a bit less negativity and a bit more positivity, as exposure to chronic gratuitous complaining and misery has drained me of energy that I need for writing and activism.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Don't Be Biofooled


About a month ago, I highlighted the dark side to the biofuel boom. Earthside has also highlighted a couple articles that further suggest that biofuel is not the panacea it is made out to be. Bottom line is that the effects of this much hyped "green" revolution are already being felt in the form of higher prices for grains (primarily corn and wheat), leading to strained budgets for the world's middle classes and desperation for those in poverty. Not only are those loaves of bread and tortillas going up in price (I do the grocery shopping for our family - trust me: I've noticed), but the prices of milk are going up significantly. Milk? Yup. Turns out that dairy cattle are primarily put on a corn diet. Corn costs go up, so do costs for milk or any product using milk as one of its ingredients.

Not only that, but as Monbiot's article points out, the rate of deforestation is increasing with negative effects not only for any living creature relying on those specific habitats (think extinction of species such as orangutans) but also will lead to a more rapid release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Aside from those sufficiently well-to-do who might squeeze out a few more years of happy motoring in their SUVs, the rest of the planet loses.

Note, the image (found at Earthside), isn't necessarily the easiest to read, but it does give some idea of the cost of biofuel.