Saturday, September 6, 2008

Different school district, different issue, but...

there is some commonality. If you read about about Chester Smalkowski's battles with the Hardesty School District over his daughter's refusal to recite The Lord's Prayer (which has no business being imposed on kids in any public school-sponsored activity), you'll appreciate a bit of what I and some other parents are preparing ourselves and our kids for.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Community Organizers

After Sarah Palin's snide comment about community organizers during the GOP's ritual "two minute Hate" (i.e., the Convention), one might be asking what exactly are community organizers and what do they do? WOC PhD has a nicely done essay that breaks it down, with links to actual community organizers just to drive the point home.

Say hello to

Mudflats - a relatively new blog from Alaska that seems to be showing up at Memeorandum. Gee, I wonder why.

Make of it what you will

Over at Ben Smith's Blog, there's an anti-Palin email that's been making the rounds, written by a Wasilla, AK resident who has known her since the early 1990s. Basically, she seems to be a perfect fit for US national electoral politics - she comes with plenty of baggage including corruption investigations, deficit spending, dishonesty and secretiveness, and vindictiveness. What's not to love? The only question left is which of the four horses of the Apocalypse she plans to ride.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why we fight

It simply comes down to the refusal to view the coercive practices of authoritarian regimes as acceptable. The RNC convention sites have been notorious for their brutal police crackdowns (not to worry, the DNC convention sites are not far behind on that front these days). This year in St. Paul is no exception. The following is an image from my man ludditerobot (of the cool blog Emo As Fuck):

Also check out this video of journalist Amy Goodman's arrest, and footage of a subsequent St. Paul MN police news conference:

Eric Garris sez
:
You may be surprised to learn that charges against her and two of her producers are still pending. Charges against producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar include felony riot charges.

The public information officer of the St. Paul police department can be contacted at: 651-266-5735.
Richard sez:
Al-Qaida is no longer the problem, Americans engaging in civil disobedience are. So are people with video cameras who intend to record the actions of the police. Mass arrests and raids upon residences and convergence centers are required. Please report any suspicious behaviour to the Department of Homeland Security.
The Indymedia LiveWire looks like a good resource for updates from that particular culture war zone.

One word of two letters = rebel

Albert Camus sez:
What is a rebel? A man who says no; but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes as soon as he begins to think for himself. A slave who has taken orders all his life, suddenly decides he cannot obey some new command…He [says] "there are certain limits beyond which you shall not go….The slave asserts himself for the sake of everyone in the world when he comes to the conclusion that a command has infringed on something inside him that does not belong to him alone, but which he has in common with other men – even with the man who insults and oppresses him….

Revolt does not occur only amongst the oppressed but…can also break out at the mere spectacle of oppression in which someone else is the victim. In such cases there is a feeling identification with other individuals. And it must be made clear that it is not a question of psychological identification – a mere subterfuge by which the individual contrives to feel that it is he who has been oppressed. It can even happen that we cannot countenance other people being insulted in a manner that we ourselves have accepted without rebellion…Nor is it a question of a community of interests. Injustice done to men whom we consider enemies can, actually, be profoundly repugnant to us. Our reaction is only an identification of destinies and a choice of sides. Therefore the individual is not, in himself, an embodiment of the values he wishes to defend. It needs at least all humanity to comprise them. When he rebels, a man identifies himself with other men…

Claiming the unity of the human condition, [rebellion] is a force of life and not of death. Its most profound logic is not the logic of destruction; it is the logic of creation. Its movements, in order to be authentic, must never abandon any of the terms of the contradiction which sustains it. It must be faithful to the yes that it contains as well as to the no…The logic of the rebel is to want to serve justice so as not to add to the injustice of the human condition, to insist on plain language so as not to increase universal falsehood, and to wager, in spite of human misery, for happiness. …The consequence of rebellion is to refuse to legitimize murder because rebellion, in principle, is a protest against death. …Every rebel, by the movement that sets him in opposition to the oppressor, therefore pleads for life, undertake to struggle against servitude, falsehood and terror.

…The most extreme freedom, the freedom to kill, is not compatible with the motives of rebellion…The object of its attack is exactly the unlimited power which authorizes a superior to violate the forbidden frontier…The rebel demands undoubtedly a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and freedom of others… Murder and rebellion are contradictory. If a single master should, in fact, be killed, the rebel in a certain way is no longer justified in using the term 'community of men' from which he derived his justification. If the world has no higher meaning, if man is only responsible to man, it suffices for a man to remove one single human being from the society of the living to automatically exclude himself from it.

[Yet] if rebellion exists, it is because falsehood, injustice and violence are part of the rebel's [own] condition. He cannot, therefore, absolutely claim not to kill or lie, without renouncing his rebellion [against absolutes] and accepting, once and for all, evil and murder [the inevitable product of slavish adherence to an absolute exalted beyond our common, particular humanity]. But nor can he agree to kill and lie, since the inverse reasoning that would justify murder and violence would also destroy the reasons for his insurrection. Thus the rebel can never find peace. He knows what is good and, despite himself, does evil. The value which supports him is never given to him once and for all – he must fight to uphold it, unceasingly…. In any case, if he is not always able not to kill, either directly or indirectly, he can put his conviction and passion to work at diminishing the chances of murder around him. His only virtue will lie in never yielding to the impulse to allow himself to be engulfed in the shadows which surround him, and in obstinately dragging the chains of evil, with which he is bound, towards the light of good.

….The longing for rest and peace must, itself, be thrust aside; it coincides with the acceptance of iniquity…On the contrary, let us sing the praises of our times when misery cries aloud and disturbs the sleep of the surfeited rich. Maistre has already spoken of the "terrible sermon which the [French] Revolution preached to kings." [Rebellion] preaches the same sermon today and in a still more urgent fashion, to the dishonoured elite of the times. This sermon must be heard. In every word and in every act, even though it be criminal, lies the promise of a value which we must seek out and bring to light. The future cannot be foreseen and it is possible that the renaissance is not impossible…. Resignation is, quite simply, rejected here: we must stake everything on the renaissance.

…Rebellion…is the refusal to be treated as an object and to be reduced to simple historical terms. It is the affirmation of a nature common to all [people], which eludes the world of power.
The word "no" is most useful for fighting the banality of evil on not only the international and national level, but on the local level as well.

A cautionary note

Sarah Palin is undoubtedly a strange choice for a running mate, and there is plenty to dislike about her politics (I'll simply say that the sort of fringe right-wing agenda she supports is one that I find creepy, and one that I think should be fought vigorously). However, don't underestimate her (and McCain's) capacity to do a whole lot of damage. Running against a largely corporate-controlled mass media (that ironically is more or less quite supportive of much of what amounts to movement conservatism) is the one thing that right-wing authoritarian culture-warriors do well. As they go about the business of bullying, they'll play the victim card as long as we're willing to let them.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In the eye of the beholder

Before I got sidetracked by our local school board's shenanigans, I noticed that Jim Kunstler's "eyesore of the month" for August was a tattoo studio. I've noticed the dude's snide comments about the increased popularity of body art among those of us belonging to Gen X and younger, but largely chalked it up to generational differences in aesthetic preferences. However, given the commentary accompanying the alleged eyesore, I realized that something deeper is involved:
The activity taking place here, however, is a symptom of the growing barbarism in American life. Tattooing has traditionally been a marginal activity among civilized people, the calling card of cannibals, sailors, and whores. The appropriate place for it is on the margins, in the back alleys, the skid rows. The mainstreaming of tattoos (on main street) is a harbinger of social dysfunction.
Now, I'm not going to pass myself off as a scholar on the history or sociology of tattooing, but I do know enough to state vehemently that he's made some statements that are factually in error, and that reveal a serious prejudice regarding what constitutes a "civilized" culture. Even a cursory scan of tattooing's lengthy history would suggest that contra Kunstler, tattooing has been quite mainstream throughout much of the world, and acceptable in many great civilizations (including Egyptian, Japanese, and Mayan to name a few). Tattoos sometimes have been used in the course of medical treatment (the earliest preserved tattoos seem to have been for such purpose), sometimes for aesthetic reasons, sometimes used in religious rites of passage. Tats, like piercings, have been taboo in much of what I suppose would be Kunstler's idea of "civilization," namely European (and later white American) culture since the early Medieval period until perhaps the last couple decades.

What's happened in the last few decades? Part of the story almost certainly has to be the increased level of individualism that has characterized the US from the 1960s to the present. What exactly caused an increase in individualism is still largely unknown, although I suspect some of it has to do with changes in living patterns and technology that occurred in the mid-20th century. Concurrent with that trend has been a trend for members of previously silenced minority groups and cultures to assert themselves, to become much more visible than had been the case previously. I suspect that for someone like Kunstler, both trends have caused a certain amount of anxiety as the previously "safe" world of sundown towns, Ward Cleaver, and Stepford Wives has receded into a distant memory. What I get from his writings is the sense that he's yearning for some return to a monocultural existence - even if only a provincial one that would presumably be possible in a post-peak oil world. At that point, in his fantasies, he and those who uphold his narrow view of "civilization" can run all those "scary" brown people and tattooed people out at sundown, and he can live happily ever after on organically grown sunflower seeds or something to that effect.

Although I bookmarked all of this for a later date, it occurred to me that there was a connection between Kunstler's periodic musings on tattoos and our school board's attempts to turn our community's kids into little carbon copies of the sorts of kids you'd find on those corny 1950s sitcoms and hygiene films. That connection can simply be summed up as one that is culturally conservative (idealizing a narrow vision of white Euro-American civilization as the standard against which all else is judged) and in which its adherents feel threatened by changes over which they largely have no control. In Kunstler's case, about all he can do is to write "clever" missives about hordes of tattooed young barbarians storming the gates of civilization and bringing about the end of the world as we know it. I imagine that if he's been gracious enough to stay away from his locality's school board or town council, his neighbors should consider themselves blessed. Those holding somewhat more tangible positions of power, as my kids are learning the hard way, can do considerably more damage.

And yes, Kunstler would just love our district's new grooming standards, which govern not just hair length and facial hair, but also forbid visible tattoos and body piercings (the latter include exceptions made for ears). These culture warriors mainly seem to be resorting to insult and coercion as their primary tactics - to me a harbinger that they wouldn't be taken seriously otherwise. Of course once these folks start resorting to coercion, I'd suggest to deal with them the way one deals with bullies: fight back and fight hard. Oh, and yes, it is incumbent for those of us who are "different" to stay as visible as possible.

As an aside, I think it should go without saying that the above tattoo studio looks quite nice, and its visitors should say that Jim Kunstler sent them (just kidding, kind of).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Footnote to the preceding

WOC PhD puts the choice of Palin as McCain's running mate in its proper context. Really, the whole essay should be read, but I'll give you a few highlights to whet your appetite:
Palin has two years of service at the state level as Governor, as well as two terms in city council and mayor’s office in small rural towns in Alaska. she has no national service whatsoever.

She is

* a supporter of teaching creationism in the schools
* anti-choice
* anti-gay marriage
* pro-corporate
* pro-war
* pro-drilling
* a “lifetime member of the NRA”
* a previous supporter of Buchanan for president
* has no foreign policy experience
* a person who does not believe in human contribution to global warming

[snip]

For those who do not teach in conservative parts of the country, creationism is probably something you can shrug off. What I would like to remind you is that Palin does not just believe in Creationism she supports it being taught in schools and in regions of the nation like where I am that would help solidify embattled district that are currently trying to replace accepted science with creationist texts. As a Catholic, I do believe God created the world, as an educator I do not believe that my world view needs to be taught, nor trump or erase other intellectual models, in school.

[snip]

In her acceptance speech, Palin spent a considerable amount of time praising her children and talking about her differently-abled newborn whom “she would never have aborted,” implying that pro-choice is about genetic engineering. (Sadly, in some camps, particularly with regards to the differently-abled, poor, and woc, it is. However, in the mainstream, it is not.) Besides that implication, it should be noted that Palin also does not believe in abortion for rape survivors or in case of life threatening complications. Her extensive focus on her children in the speech was thus more than a mother’s pride; it was a political statement about the definition of family and the “sanctity of the unborn.” She has made it very clear that she intends to support the nomination of Supreme Court Justices who agree.

Palin’s conservative construction of “wife,” “mother,” and reproduction are not only regressive, with Supreme Court nominations at stake and recent court cases challenging the existence of Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies, the teaching of multiculturalism at the grade school and high school levels, the challenges to title IX, protection of women, poc, and GLBTQ people in the work place that have been decidedly pro-corporate in the lower courts of late, and affirmative action in education and in the workplace (for which white women have been documented as the largest beneficiaries) will all be impacted under a McCain-Palin ticket.
There's also plenty of commentary on the regressiveness of Hillary Clinton and her followers (those wonderful self-described PUMAs) whose "feminism" seems to extend no further than support for figureheads representing white privilege, corporatism, and war.

Sarah Palin: Just a distraction?

Nothing would surprise me any more. Cernig sez:

There's a continuing lack of diplomacy in Georgia. Biden's saying Iran is a threat to Israel that the US must defend against. Anbar's being handed over to the Iraqis so that the Green Zone "powers that be" can (when it suits them) pursue a fixed election against the "powers that aren't" and the Awakening is about to go nutzo. The Taliban are winning in Afghanistan and Pakistan is falling apart at the seams. Nuke-armed India is losing patience with its nuke-armed neighbour's sponsoring of terrorism. There's flood water and Blackwater in Nola again, Hana is a hurricane. The North Pole is circumnavigable but the GOP's global warming denialists have left America with an 8-year lag on other nation's attempts to make hay while the ice melts. The police in Minn. are conducting raids for thought crimes and tens of thousands are marching against runaway crime in Mexico. The economy, at least as far as real people with less than ten houses experience it, is in the tank. The Republican convention was going to be a massive flop, with big names staying away in droves, McCain revealing himself as a craps-shooter unfit to lead and the religious right walking away from McCain - and few are even noticing how the GOP was saved from embarassment by Gustav.

And all anyone is talking about is Sarah Palin. Check memeorandum. She's sucked all the air out of the news cycle and that's all she was meant to do. Is anyone talking about how successful the Democratic convention was or how good Obama's speech was? This friend of corrupt politicos attended a church where they speak in tongues - she's Huckabee in a dress and without the track record. It's the biggest example of smoke and mirrors in US political history. And we've all gone for it.

Picture (which I assume is something someone photoshopped - please tell me that one is photoshopped - Arthur Silber, you're right; it adds nothing) courtesy of Jim Kunstler (see the latest Daily Grunt), who also seems to view the whole sorry spectacle as farce. There's something tragicomical about empires in decline, so I suppose one will look for the comedy where it can be found. Nothing changes the the reality that one one side, we have potentially (semi)competent stewards of empire who will no doubt steer the ship of state on a more Bush I/Clinton trajectory (plenty of genocide, but with lower deficits). Then we have the other side which is offering up a repeat of the last eight years. In other words, expect the Rapture-ready crowd to be gleefully expecting Armageddon any day under a leadership that can best be characterized as a combination of incompetence and incontinence. I wouldn't be too surprised if after Palin has sufficiently distracted the public and punditry as a pin-up girl for good old-fashioned know-nothing wingnuttery, she'll exit the scene on some trumped up pretense. Until then, I guess the call is for more popcorn.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

One of your best resources for the latest Gustav news

Dr. Jeff Masters' blog has been a consistently invaluable resource for news and analysis during the hurricane season. The latest news is that Gustav has weakened after slamming into Cuba, and is expected to make landfall probably near where Katrina did three years ago. If Gustav veers a bit west of Katrina's path, New Orleans' levees may still be dealing with a Category Three storm surge, and it's questionable if those levees will hold up. Obviously I'm keeping the fingers crossed; another catastrophe like Katrina is the last thing anyone should want.

Scott Crow of the Common Ground Collective sez (h/t Arcturus):

Why would I care you may ask?

Good question. A couple of reasons, remember Katrina and the levee failure in NOLA? Besides the travesty of indifference and arrogance from the government and the Red Cross that we remember, there were many other places along the Gulf Coast that suffered in silence. Now on the third anniversary many of these communities are under direct threat from the storm as well as indirect threat of being ignored and forgotten again.

Vigilance and deeds

We of Common Ground Relief are asking that you all remain aware. Aware that the potential for history to repeat in response to disaster or really to anything. Also not forget during this time of remembrances. New Orleans has still not been rebuilt, and the progress is slow. The levees are only 20% completed and millions of dollars over budget. The coastal areas which include First Nation and other small towns and Vietnamese and Cajun fishing villages; these people are still in disrepair and vulnerable due to major wetlands loss of human cause.

We at Common Ground are making preparations to again be first responders through out most any region in the Gulf. We will need people, material aid and ways to keep the story visible. We have some supplies and coordination to mobilize quickly and efficiently but we also need you. We are monitoring the situation, preparing ourselves and others to be ready to act should it be necessary.

Stay alert and prepared to support those in the Gulf Coast if necessary. It is we--in civil society--and those affected directly who will face the real needs head on. Governments and large bureaucratic agencies will raise money, will do little and often will not do it well.

There are many small grassroots groups throughout the region that will need support. Find them, and do what you can from your home with what you have access to.

Don’t let corporate media and complacency forget. Don’t let the pageantry and fireworks of systemic corrupted Power distract us from immediate needs. All empires fall and theirs despite pomp and circumstance will be no different. On this third anniversary of remembrances tell and retell the stories to move us all into actions again.

Not too surprisingly the fish heads, Jesus Freaks, and fascists are already crawling out of the sewer:

Posted by Millionaire2 on 08/30/08 at 10:38PM

I make these comments with the most sincere intentions: There was a Decadence Festival about to take place in New Orleans in 2005… then came Hurricane Katrina. There is another Decadence Festival approaching, and here comes Hurrican Gustav. I am a firm believer in the wrath of “GOD”. God is tired of all the sin and corruption that takes place in New Orleans, and he is sending his “WRATH” and “ANGER” upon New Orleans because of it. Remember Sodom and Gomorah in the Bible: God destroyed an entire city because of Homosexuality. Until we turn away from this, it will only get worse until there is no city to visit anymore. You can agree or disagree, but I believe that the Political Corruption, killings, stealing and sin has caused GOD to pass his judgment on New Orleans. We must PRAY and turn our attention back towards Him and ask for forgiveness.

I wonder how long it'll take rumors of cannibalism to surface, as they did during the Katrina catastrophe?

Oh, and of course it looks like everyone's favorite mercenaries will get in on the act - no doubt shooting first and asking questions later. All hail neoliberalism.

Another good resource: NOLA.com.