Friday, July 27, 2007

Some summer reading

It's been almost two decades since I read anything by José Ortega y Gasset. Some of his writing was part of an anthology of existentialist philosophy that was assigned in one of my philosophy classes. I remember digging on what I was reading back then, and having stumbled upon Revolt of the Masses, I think I know why his words (along with those of Jean-Paul Sartre) left an impression on me. Enjoy.

Notes from behind the Orange Curtain pt. 2

Tonight Madame and I took our son to see an old friend of ours over at a place in Yorba Linda called Java Joe's (mental note: there are thankfully a few coffee houses left doing live entertainment, and if you like folkies, Mark Hermann is well worth checking out). Brendan's a bit out of commission these days when it comes to music - tendonitis is one of those injuries that simply takes a lot of time for recovery. He's in good spirits though, and still hangs out with other local musicians. Hopefully next trip back he'll be gigging again. It was good to catch up.

Haven't checked out too many of the blogs, but did stop by Nezua's and saw his post, Freedom is slavery pt. 2. Seems that the gargantuan US Embassy in Baghdad is at least in part a product of slave labor. I can't say I'm terribly surprised. Nothing the US Empire perpetrates these days really shocks me much - merely fuels a slow-burning anger that simmers beneath the surface. What Nez says here is primo:

We are witnessing, in slow motion, a massive and compound crime against humanity—all under the reign of the Decider. From stolen elections, to the negligence (at least) and cover-up of the 9/11 crime, to the lied-up rush to invade and bomb and kill over half a million people; to torturing humans and lying about that; to sexual horrors and crimes committed against Iraqis in our prisons that are as of yet revealed to the public, to spitting on the Constitution, to secret prisons, Government spying on citizens—and now kidnapping and slavery...this is a collection of evil so massive that the only good I can take out of it is imagine the days after we rebound from this. I hope I am alive to see it. I believe in humankind enough to think that at that time (rayos de luz del Sexto Sol) we will see a new era of people power and truth and a celebration of life, and all her joys. Rather than a devotion to the dark magiks of murder, greed, powerlust, deceit, and sadism.
Hold on to your seats and your hearts. This ride ain't over.
Jaded as I am, I too have just enough of a soft-spot for my fellow humans to believe that something good will emerge from the ashes of our current dark age - we've been witness to the tentative first steps over the last couple decades as folks have sought out and found the means to actually live together autonomously and sustainably, sometimes fighting the machine or mal gobierno (think of the Seattle WTO protests of 1999), sometimes discarding the machine, sometimes both (Zapatistas come to mind). While reading Nez's post, I thought of a dream I had about ten months ago:
I was basically walking, grocery items in hand, and stumbled upon a riot. Think of the images of the late 1990s WTO protests. People were all over the place. A number of men were taking whatever items they could find to smash windows and break down doors to buildings that I suppose had until recently housed the workings - financial and political - of what many of us consider "civilization."
What was most striking was the vibe of the whole scenario, as well as my reaction to what was going on. The atmosphere was not especially angry or intense. I saw no violence to speak of. In fact there was almost a block party element to the proceedings. Near where I was standing, right in the middle of the street, some couches that had apparently been looted at some point in the recent past were being occupied by various people conversing - young and old, male and female, various ethnicities, some quite counterculture in their outward appearance, others appearing as if they had until recently had a stake in whatever system had once existed. There was no traffic noise to be heard, although there were plenty of cars to be found parked. Whatever law enforcement or military presence that I happened upon seemed minimal and stifled. I wondered if they were even still on some payroll or were merely standing around out of habit.
My own reaction to the whole thing was nonchalant - this was apparently the norm (perhaps explaining why I was walking rather than driving as I usually do). I merely went about my route. Whatever constituted "western civilization" in that particular urban corner of America had fallen it appeared, and it seemed as if life went on.
That dream or vision continues to haunt me, of course, but in a good way. Life will go on. It won't be paradise - just humanity making use of the remnants of what had been and moving on to something else. The potential for that "something else" to be mostly good is what keeps me going. It's still winter in America (as Gil Scott-Heron once wrote) - actully winter all over the globe - but spring will come. Those first tentative signs of new life are already there if one merely stops for a second and takes a good look. Until then...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Notes from behind the Orange Curtain

I've been here in The OC the last few days, catching up with friends and family. It's been good to get away from the usual environs for a few days, and still have a few days left before heading back. I've very occasionally been at the computer, but mostly to do some work-related stuff (I know, I should not be working - but anyone intimately acquainted with me knows that my thoughts never go on vacation, and as long as I am enjoying what I'm doing at the moment it isn't really "work"). I've also been doing some pleasure reading, including John Ross' recent book ¡Zapatistas! It's a book well-worth reading, and the more I read about the Zapatistas the more I realize that they have ideas that could be applicable here in the U$.

Yesterday took the family down to Huntington Beach to walk around. The US Open of Surfing is currently in progress, so we watched some of the festivities. The waves were a bit disappointing, but surfers are a resourceful lot and made the best of what Mother Nature gave them. I also managed to get some snapshots of some "bike trail blogging" - some chalk art that included the slogan "Peace is Patriotic". When I have time to upload those pix I'll do so. Probably sometime near the end of next week.

Today I showed the kids around my old alma mater, and caught up with some friends who still work there - including the cat who runs a coffee stand on campus, who was kind enough to fix me up with an iced "red eye" on the house.

One thing that we've noticed on this trip is just how humid it seems in the inland portions of the LA/OC basin relative to even a few years ago. It definitely seems as if the summer monsoons that are part of the New Mexico and Arizona deserts have moved somewhat west. I'm not certain if this is a relatively permanent change in the climate out in these parts or not. What I do know is that summer precipitation and humidity that seems reminiscent of Oklahoma is taking a bit of getting used to. At least it is not as hot as it was last summer. The natural air conditioning provided by the Pacific Ocean may not work as well as it once did, but it has kicked in once more.

I haven't been entirely oblivious to the news. I did read about the CU Regents voting to fire Ward Churchill. I can't say I'm surprised - it seemed that it would have taken a minor miracle for the outcome to have been different. Universities tend to shy away from controversy and controversial figures, and administrators can be counted on to make decisions based largely on the prevailing political correctness of the era. Churchill and Finkelstein are only the most recent prominent vicitims. A few generations ago, it would be James McKeen Cattell, for daring to speak against the draft during WWI, who would be fired.

I have also been following John Conyers' sad performance regarding impeachment of the Lush/Zany gang. Conyers was one of the last Democrats to have my respect. You'll notice I use the past tense.

Of course a day doesn't go by when more tragic news comes out of Iraq. The sheer loss of life overwhelms me with sadness. To the families of those killed and wounded Iraqis, you're in my prayers.

Finally, many thanks to Manny, who has been kind enough to keep this blog fresh. If you read this blog and have not yet visited Manny's place (Man Eegee - see one of the links to his place), you really should check what he's up to.


Bush Lackeys Held In Contempt

Here's some forward movement on accountability.
The House Judiciary Committee voted contempt of Congress citations Wednesday against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and President Bush's former legal counselor, Harriet Miers.

The 22-17 vote — which would sanction for pair for failure to comply with subpoenas on the firings of several federal prosecutors — advanced the citation to the full House.

A senior Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the House itself likely would take up the citations after Congress' August recess. The official declined to speak on the record because no date had been set for the House vote.

As you will note in the last paragraph, this is only a baby step. I don't understand why Congress will now wait until after their August vacation recess to push forward with something actionable. It's not as if the White House will suddenly have an avalanche of remorse for using the Constitution as toilet paper. They have become quite the experts at defying democratic precedents.

BushCo is going to run out the clock unless things start moving more quickly up on the Hill. Comity be damned - the only way the checks and balances will be restored is if Congress exerts its Constitutionally mandated powers con ganas.

Excuse me while I go on about my day instead of holding my breath.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Report on Texas Concentration Camp

XicanoPwr has photos as well as a write-up on the past weekend's protest at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Tejas.
Williamson County’s Hutto Residential Center is a former high-security state prison that was converted into a detention center that is authorized to hold non-Mexican immigrant families and children on noncriminal charges. Its purpose is to hold immigrant families while their applications for asylum are being considered. It began operating in the summer of 2006 and currently holds 375 detainees, approximately 200 of which are children. Detainees are a diverse group, including single men with children, pregnant women, infants, and 17-year-old boys that house immigrant families.

If you are connected into MySpace, here is the link to the Free the Children page that is organizing on-the-ground activism aimed at shutting down this shiny, modern-day concentration camp.

Low Level War Profiteers Get Caught

Every once in a while, the spotlight finds a lurking roach
An Army major has been arrested on charges that he took $9.6 million in kickbacks and anticipated receiving $5.4 million more for rigging military supply contracts.

Federal authorities arrested Maj. John Cockerham, a contracting and procurement officer, and his wife, Melissa, on Monday as they returned from Louisiana to Fort Sam Houston.

The two are charged with accepting bribes, defrauding the United States, money laundering and conspiracy.

The intrepid watchdogs at Halliburton Watch led me to this update on the antics of Dick "Dick" Cheney's former company.
Federal investigators have uncovered what they describe as a sweeping network of kickbacks, bribes and fraud involving at least eight employees and subcontractors of KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary, in a scheme to inflate charges for flying freight into Iraq in support of the war, according to court papers unsealed yesterday.

The latest conviction in the cases related to the scheme came yesterday, when a former Houston-based executive for an air-freight carrier hired by KBR pleaded guilty in federal district court to dispensing bribes and then lying to federal investigators. The executive, Kevin Andre Smoot, 43, of The Woodlands, Tex., served as a managing director for Eagle Global Logistics Incorporated, a carrier that received a subcontract from KBR to ship the freight.

If only the ones controlling the nest could meet the same fate...