Thursday, December 31, 2009

Okay, we know this decade sucked but...

Surely a few good things came out of it, right?

If you asked me, for example, if the Zapatistas would still be around back at the end of the 1990s, I might have wondered. Yet, they remain in Chiapas intact and inspiring activists throughout the globe.

How about elsewhere in the Americas? Venezuela's experiment with 21st century socialism is very much alive, in spite of an unsuccessful coup attempt. Evo Morales' Bolivia is also embarking on a genuinely progressive leftist course - also in spite of an attempt to overthrow the government that occurred in 2008. Same sex marriage just became legal in Mexico City, and has been legalized in a few other municipalities and states around the Americas. There's a long way to go, but it's a start.

Since I'm a pop culture junkie, I've found plenty to love as well as loathe this decade. Right now, I'll focus on the stuff I love. There have been some incredible, thought-provoking films this decade. If documentaries are your flavor, Michael Moore has been on a tear, starting with Bowling for Columbine, then Fahrenheit 9/11, then Sicko, and finally Capitalism - A Love Story. The last one I haven't seen (one of the joys of living out in the sticks), but will be getting it on DVD. Dig on dramas? V for Vendetta was an exquisitely produced and acted film that was a much-needed tonic to our government's fear-mongering and fascist tendencies, hit on the potential for despots to use false flag operations to manipulate the masses, and in its way made a case for revolution. It was a different experience from the graphic novel, but one that I actually dug more. The Strangers was far and away the best horror flick I ever saw - the tension never let up. It had its share of blood and gore, but, it was much more of a psychological thriller. I have a thing for zombie and vampire movies (no - not the Twilight crap!), and strongly recommend films like I Am Legend, Diary of the Dead, the hilarious Shaun of the Dead, and Zombieland. Ever since I read Vonnegut's novel Cats Cradle, I've been fascinated by the idea that the end of our species could occur from a combination of technology, hubris, and stupidity (in the Vonnegut novel, a substance called Ice Nine ends up freezing the planet's water supply thus ending life as we know it). In I Am Legend, it's a supposed cure for cancer that puts the human species on the endangered list. In Zombieland, a tainted burger at a convenience store is the culprit. The start of the new decade promises a vampire flick that touches on some very grave concerns about resource depletion (Daybreakers). District Nine had an interesting premise, tackling racial oppression and the role of private contractors in its perpetration, offering an allegory on not only South Africa's Apartheid era, but also contemporary Israeli oppression of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and the USA's own sorry history with its own American Indians. I've read good things about The Road, a post-apocalyptic film based on a novel, but since it bypassed my locality's movie theater, I'm awaiting its release on DVD. Apparently, I'll be abusing that Netflix subscription.

There have been some great television shows that deserve mention. I am a fan of The Office - the mock documentary thing combined with some great writing and characters works remarkably well. I wish that Life on Mars had been given at least a full season - the concept was fascinating, and my only real complaint with it was that the writers had to rush the series' ending. It was certainly not the only series to draw heavily on the 1970s, but it seemed to capture the vibe very well - although I was a kid during the period, as the series progressed, I'd find myself thinking, "damn, I remember that!" Jericho also deserved a longer run than the one and a half seasons it got. I felt it probably hit a bit too close to home - the series, I've argued is an indictment of the neoliberal corporatist state, portrays in stark detail the dire consequences of disaster capitalism, in the process offering up imagery that could have potentially stirred up populist sentiment. I suppose that the series got an airing at all is a minor miracle. Both House (which is basically Sherlock Holmes meets ER) and Lie To Me (possibly the first series in which the protagonist is an experimental social psychologist) offer food for thought, as does Criminal Minds.

On the animation front, The Simpsons has been hit-or-miss the last few years, but when it hits its mark, it's incredible. I will miss King of the Hill, which was smartly written, nicely animated, and well-cast. My favorite general satire cartoon is still South Park - funny as hell, and usually pretty thought provoking every bit as much as it is annoying. Pop culture junkies usually find plenty to love about Family Guy, which has provided a generation of viewers with what will likely be their only indirect exposure to classic comedy and musicals. Dig absurdist humor? There's always Spongebob Squarepants if you're into something family friendly. If you go for something a bit more Monty Pythonesque, might I suggest Aquateen Hunger Force? The first two seasons were arguably the best. As someone who grew up on 1960s and early 1970s action/adventure series, and who is well-versed in the era's Hannah-Barbera cartoons, The Venture Bros. has been one hell of a ride. It's beautifully drawn, has some fascinating plots and subplots, wicked satire, and its theme of failure applies not only at the individual level but at the societal level as well. Much like the Venture compound, the America of the Naughties is one that on the surface looks "normal" and "successful" but when one gets beneath the veneer, it becomes apparent that the promise of big science (in particular that wed to the military-industrial complex) was a shameless lie, as was the myth of the heroic figure who could save the day. Music is very much intrinsic to the series, and the soundtrack by J.G. Thirlwell and the incidental music that gets aired add an interesting nuance to the experience. Metalocalypse has fascinated me as well. Imagine Spinal Tap as a death metal band, and at its peak instead of in decline, and throw in a dark supernatural undercurrent to the story, and you have the series in a nutshell. Oh, and you get a cool history of heavy metal along the way - including the music's roots in the blues.

There was some great music this decade. The jazz revival that began in the 1990s continued unabated this decade. The record label Thirsty Ear's Blue Series imprint released quite a number of interesting avant-garde recordings by some of the scene's finest: Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and David S. Ware. In addition, the label released some fascinating collaborations between these musicians and artist who are usually associated with hip-hop rather than jazz: Antipop Consortium with Matthew Shipp, Beans with William Parker (see the album Only), el-p, and DJ Spooky. Cats from the 1970s resurfaced after lengthy absences. Arthur Doyle came back in the 1990s, has released a fair number of cds, lps, and singles on indie labels this decade and shows few signs of slowing down. His technique is reminiscent of Rahsaan Roland Kirk but even more out there. Detroit denizen Faruq Z Bey has been releasing albums with Northwood Improvisors and under his own name this decade after being quiet during the 1990s. Steve Reid, who was a fairly big name in Detroit area circles in the 1970s began releasing new albums this decade with his new ensemble, and has also issued some duets with electronics whiz Kieran Hebden (aka Fourtet). The early part of this decade saw the release of two albums - The Philadelphia Experiment and The Detroit Experiment - that revived and updated some fine compositions from the 1970s and in the case of the latter album brought individuals back to the recording studio for the first time in decades. Europe's Electric Barbarian issued a couple albums mid-decade that are notable not only for their incorporation of electronic and hip-hop elements into a jazz combo setting, but also brought former Last Poet Gylan Kain back into the spotlight. His poetry is as wicked as ever. Japan's "death jazz" combo Soil and Pimp Sessions deserves a listen by anyone with a love for the classic 1960s Blue Note era hard bop, and is cool with elements of death metal (stylistically, but not instrumentally) being included into the mix. I've been listening to some interesting avant-garde jazz from Russia in recent months. the form is alive and well. New York's Medeski Martin & Wood continued to release brilliant albums on Blue Note throughout the decade. Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith's band, Yo Miles!, which was started in the 1990s, released several recordings this decade that showed the band not only reprising classic 1970s Miles Davis classics, but using the spirit of those pieces to craft some very provoking originals. Former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt has appeared on and off this decade as a sideman for such projects as the fusion tinged jazz rock of Banyan. The rise of peer-to-peer networks and file sharing blogs revived many lost treasures from the 1950s-1970s that would have never seen the light of day otherwise - allowing the music to hopefully influence a new generation of artists, listeners, and thinkers. Several underground rap artists from the 1990s continued on this decade as mature artists: The Roots, Common, Antipop Consortium come immediately to mind. Although I don't dig on a lot of top-40 pop, I've been fascinated by the work of Shakira and more recently, Lady Gaga - both artists know how to write, and the latter's continuation of challenging gender assumptions in the tradition of David Bowie and Grace Jones will no doubt drive culture warriors nuts for the foreseeable future.

I'm sure I could go on, but one should get the idea. As much as I disliked the naughties, the decade wasn't a complete waste.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Musical Interlude

This is King Crimson playing The Sheltering Sky live - arguably my favorite tune off of Discipline.

Adrian Belew, one of the guitarists with King Crimson around that time, recently turned 50. Belew was everywhere back then it seemed. Not only did he have a steady gig with King Crimson, but he was very much in demand as a sessions musician, and embarked on a very ambitious solo career. As I've said many times, there was plenty to dislike about 1980s pop culture, but there were some genuinely creative artists as well - some of whom had access to large audiences. Belew was one of them, and his influence will be felt for some time to come. Here's a video of "Big Electric Cat" from his first solo album, Lone Rhino:

Since I've linked to a King Crimson video before, here is a reprise of what I said about the band's early 1980s lineup:
I'm sure fans of King Crimson's earlier recordings must have had no idea what hit them when the band started recording again in the early 1980s. For the rest of us, the albums that came out of that period, Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair were a breath of fresh air. I would have most likely encountered the tunes from these albums initially thanks to a friend who had installed a killer stereo system in his Ford Pinto - he'd pop in those cassettes along with contemporary solo recordings that Adrian Belew (guitarist and vocalist for King Crimson) had led. In a way, I'd already developed some familiarity with each of these musicians from other songs and recordings I'd either already acquired (with not much in the way of dinero, not too many of those), or simply heard on the radio (much more likely). Belew appeared on some tracks for David Bowie's Lodger album, Fripp had also made some appearances on Bowie's late 1970s recordings (Low and Heroes), Tony Levin's bass work anchored anything Peter Gabriel recorded during the period, and Bill Bruford had drummed for Yes (you couldn't grow up in 1970s suburbia without having encountered a few Yes tunes, it seemed). Combined, these cats were easily on par with, if not surpassing, similar outfits such as Talking Heads - very angular, funky, off-kilter music with vocals by Belew that seemed somewhat reminiscent of David Byrne's.

The Great American Swindle...

was also a great big fuck-up. That much was apparent even before we had the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. What also didn't require the benefit of hindsight was that it wouldn't have mattered one iota who occupied the White House after Bu$hCo. We would have likely seen the continuation of the same sorry-assed bailout under a McCain/Palin regime as we got with the Pope of Hope. A lot of that can be explained by a combination of age and wealth. I have absolutely no confidence that anyone in power from the Baby Boom generation could change their ways. These folks have been drinking the same Kool-Aid for too long, as well as feeding from the same trough that the only "change" you were likely to ever see would have merely been a matter of packaging rather than substance. I'm not so confident with those in positions of power who are among the older Gen Xers would be all that much better - maybe young enough to learn a couple new tricks, but let's face it, if they got any of the same propaganda in their prep schools that I got growing up, they are so thoroughly propagandized that they still believe in neoliberal economics and hyperindividualism - both of which really need to be abandoned. I hope the next generation does better, with what is left to them.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Stupidity reigns supreme

Right before I got home this afternoon, I saw an article claiming that it had an exclusive photo of JFK on a yacht with a bunch of nude women. Something seemed a bit hinky, but you know the drill. Had to get home and didn't have access to the computer til late this evening. Not surprisingly, the story turns out to be a hoax, and even better, a gossip site that ran the story fell for it (h/t):
In reality, the photo appeared in story about Playboy's "Charter Yacht Party: How to Have a Ball on the Briny with an Able-Bodied Complement of Ship's Belles." As seen in the below page from the November 1967 issue, the Playboy photo is in color. The "Exclusive" TMZ image is the same photo, just reproduced in black and white. [Click here for a side-by-side comparison of the original Playboy photo and the watermarked version published today by TMZ.]


According to the caption accompanying the Playboy photo spread, four couples were enjoying themselves on a trip to Petit Rameau, an island in the Grenadines. As "Andy" sunned himself on deck, "Elaine" dove naked into the water while "Roxanna" provocatively shimmied up a ladder. In an interview, Larry Dale Gordon, the Playboy photographer who took the yacht image, said that the man TMZ identified as Kennedy was a "paid model," as were the naked women featured in the shot.
Even better, as Charles at LGF notes, it didn't take long for the worst of the wingnut blogosphere to run with the story, and prove a complete lack of historical knowledge:
TMZ has the goods on this photo of JFK and a gaggle of naked women. Too bad the left wing pravda media protected him. Just think. For starters, we'd still have Cuba.
Only problem? Castro had already overthrown the puppet regime in Cuba in 1959. Oops. Oh well, it's a good thing that when embarrassing blog posts are published they can be easily removed without ever being seen again. Oh, wait. The Google cache is still intact.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

You don't have to be afraid

Found over at The Newshoggers:
James Joyner notes that the American political and security system decision loop is screwed as the Detroit bombing attempt is prompting a massive wave of security theater that will do nothing besides increases fear without increasing security:
We’re simply going to make people miserable for no apparent reason.  There have been precisely three attempts over the last eight years to commit acts of terrorism aboard commercial aircraft.  All of them clownishly inept and easily thwarted by the passengers.   How many tens of thousands of flights have been incident free?  And, yet, we’re going to make hundreds of thousands of people endure transcontinental flights without reading materials or the ability to use the restroom?
If I remember correctly, three attempted attacks against US airlines or airliners with a US leg in their flight path in eight years is significantly below trend level of attacks since the start of the intercontinental jet age.  The air transit system is fairly robust and fairly secure against most threats that can be smuggled aboard.  At some point, security measures have reached a negative marginal utility as people tune out the good with the idiotic. 

And this is emblematic of our wider society wide decision loop.  At some point there has to be a recognition that all life is at some manageable and tolerable level of risk.  Instead we have CNN, Fox and MSNBC chasing the missing blonde intern of the month, people freaking out about crazed serial killers as they drive six hundred yards to the store in their SUVs and fear that groups that don't have nukes and seldom have battalion level weaponry are an existential threat to the United States. 

Something approaching perspective would be wonderful.
There is a song that comes from one of the kids' shows that my youngest daughter watches that really should be played for adults - especially those who practically crap their pants over any perceived "threat" that has been fed to us during the War on Terra. The show, Yo Gabba Gabba is not on my top ten list - though it does have its moments, and the elements of trip hop that characterize the music are sort of cool. Anyhoo, there's a song I simply know of as "Don't Be Afraid" that totally captures the essence of what I would want to communicate - "You don't have to be afraid. Don't be afraid. It's okay."

Obviously, I'm not suggesting complacency, but merely perspective. There are some powerful interests out there that profit either monetarily or politically (or both) by keeping you afraid of the supposed monsters under the bed. When I was young, those monsters included international communist conspiracies, illicit drug use, and killer bees. These days, the monsters have merely been renamed - think in terms of "Islamists" (a catch-all phrase used to characterize anyone who even remotely considers practitioners of Islam to be humans worthy of respect and dignity), dark skinned men from far-away lands, 2012, and I suppose illicit drugs are somewhere on the list. I'd offer that the monsters either don't exist, or are at bare minimum easily manageable once they are viewed in perspective. Seriously, I remember reading somewhere numerous years ago data that showed that you were far more likely to die from falling in the shower or from a work-related accident than from a terrorist incident. Somehow, I doubt we'll be outlawing basic hygiene or working (although with the unemployment rate as high as it is, there are times I wonder if work is being outlawed). Don't be afraid. It's okay.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Silence is not golden

Killing Activists in Honduras:
“As a revolutionary I will be today, tomorrow and forever on the front lines of my people, all the while knowing that I may lose my life.” - Walter Trochez, 25, murdered in Tegucigalpa on 12/13/09

The bodies of slain activists are piling up in Honduras. While it’s being kept quiet in most Honduran and international media, the rage is building among a dedicated network of friends spreading the word quickly with the tragic announcement of each compañero/a.

Now that the world heard from mainstream news outlets such as the New York Times of a “clean and fair” election on Nov. 29 (orchestrated by the US-supported junta currently in power), the violence has increased even faster than feared.

The specific targets of these killings have been those perceived as the biggest threats to the coup establishment. The bravest, and thus the most vulnerable: Members of the Popular Resistance against the coup. Their friends and family. People who provide the Resistance with food and shelter. Teachers, students, and ordinary citizens who simply recognize the fallacy of an un-elected regime taking over their country. All associated with the Resistance have faced constant and growing repercussions for their courage in protesting the coup. With the international community given the green light by the US that democratic order has returned via elections, it’s open season for violent forces in Honduras working to tear apart the political unity of the Resistance Front against the coup.

The killings are happening almost faster than they can be recorded.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, a group of six people were gunned down while walking down the street in the Villanueva neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. According to sources, a white van with no license plates stopped in front of the group. Four masked men jumped out of the van and forced the group to get on the ground, where they were shot. The five victims who were killed were:

· Marcos Vinicio Matute Acosta, 39
· Kennet Josué Ramírez Rosa, 23
· Gabriel Antonio Parrales Zelaya, 34
· Roger Andrés Reyes Aguilar, 22
· Isaac Enrique Soto Coello, 24

One woman, Wendy Molina, 32, was shot several times and played dead when one of the assassins pulled her hair, checking to see if anyone in the group was still alive. She was taken to the hospital and survived.

The Honduran independent newspaper El Libertador reports that the group members were all organizers against the coup. According to a resident in the area, “The boys had organized committees so that the neighbors could get involved in the Resistance Front.”

This massacre was part of a string of Resistance-related murders during the past few weeks alone. On December 3, Walter Trochez, 25 a well-known activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community was snatched off the street and thrown into a van, again by four masked men, in downtown Tegucigalpa. In the report that he later filed to local and national authorities, Walter said he was interrogated for hours for information on Resistance members and activities, and was beaten in the face with a pistol for refusing to speak. He was told that he would be killed regardless, and he eventually escaped by throwing open the van door, falling into the street, and running away.

Make sure to read the rest. Of course a right-wing government installed under very shady circumstances suits the US government just fine - it's what our elites refer to as "democracy." The casualties, however, of this form of "democracy" demand justice. Their voices deserve to be heard.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We definitely come from different planets

I caught this quote as I was checking through a few of my favorite news sites and feeds:
I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era – peace, tolerance, due process, progress (as opposed to skepticism about human perfectibility).
What I find fascinating among movement conservatives is that they seem so pessimistic about humanity that they cannot fathom the notion that digging on such concepts as peace, tolerance, due process and progress and having some skepticism about human perfectibility are far from mutually exclusive. Speaking only for myself, I find both quite compatible, and I'm more in the radical lefty camp. Maybe it was all that exposure to the existentialist writings of people like Sartre or Fanon when I was an undergraduate, where the conversation on "human nature" for lack of a better term was decidedly neutral. Like a lot of existentialists and existentialist-influenced individuals, I tend to share that neutrality. I don't see members of my species as perfectible, nor as inherently evil, but merely as a mixed back that simply is. One thing else that I learned from those early influences on my thinking was simply that the lack of peace, tolerance, and due process coincide with a great deal of violence; and we each make choices with our words and deeds that will influence the extent to which there might be peace and tolerance or violence in its myriad forms (interpersonal, organizational, structural) practically with every breath we take.

Phenomena such as conflict, misunderstandings, and general fuck-ups are going to happen as long as our species exists. However, perceiving those happenings from a value system that places primacy on peace (or nonviolence), tolerance, and due process increase the odds of handling them with hopefully minimal damage, or even with all parties involved better for the experience. Coming at the same situations from a vantage point that already expects the worst strikes me as something that would lead to some nasty self-fulfilling prophecies.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

These roads make driving in Oklahoma City seem like a walk in the park

10 of the world's most dangerous roads (h/t BLCKDGRD).

Same sex marriage legalized

in Mexico City. The city, unlike the federal government, is dominated by the leftist PRD. The usual suspects - the Catholic Church and conservative groups - lobbied against it. Just to give you a run-down of where same sex marriage is legal on the American continents:
A handful of cities in Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia permit gay unions.

Uruguay alone has legalised civil unions nationwide and allowed same-sex couples to adopt children.

Last month, an Argentinean court narrowly blocked what would been the continent's first gay marriage.

In a last-minute challenge, a court referred the case to the country's Supreme Court, which is due to rule on the issue.
Baby steps, to be sure. Still it's nice to see some progress in the name of civil rights and dignity.

Monday, December 21, 2009

National mythology and dog whistles

I ran into this very interesting essay over at BroadSnark, White America's Existential Crisis. The author writes a great deal on some themes I've touched upon briefly since late 2008. A few excerpts are in order:
There is a certain segment of the American population that really believes in the American foundational myths.  They identify with them.  They believe that America was built by a handful of white, Christian, men with exceptional morals.  Their America is the country that showed the world democracy, saved the Jews in World War II, and tore down the Berlin wall.

These people have always fought changes to their mythology.  They have always resented those of us who pushed to complicate those myths with the realities of slavery, Native American genocide, imperial war in the Philippines, invasions of Latin American countries, and secret arms deals.

And we have been so busy fighting them to have our stories and histories included in the American story that we sometimes forget why the myths were invented in the first place.


Marginalization and myths have always been about economic exploitation.  White supremacy is not simply personal bigotry.  It is the systematic exclusion, dehumanization, and erasure of the majority in order to preserve economic dominance for the wealthy minority.  And while white men may be in most positions of wealth and power to this day, only a very few of them really benefit from our current economic system.  White supremacy helped distract poor and working class whites from targeting their economic exploiters.  White supremacy helped mask the lie of equal opportunity.


When Americans vote for a president, they want to see that heroic version of themselves looking back at them.  They want to see that free cowboy of the mythology.  No matter how poor or exploited white people were, they could always take subconscious comfort in the fact that, when they looked at the highest power in the land, they saw an idealized version of themselves.

And then came Barack Obama.


It’s a powerful thing to be able to identify with the people who are your leaders, to feel like they are one of you.  It’s a feeling that many people in the United States felt for the first time when Barack Obama was elected.  It’s equally powerful when your elected leaders are clearly not like you, when the fact that they do not represent you is glaringly obvious.


Many of these angry people are the very white, Christian, men that this country was supposedly built by and for.  And this is the first time the myth of America has been unmasked for them.

Undoubtedly, there are some bigots out there who are just angry that they have a black president.  Clearly, even for those who don’t feel motivated by personal bigotry, there is a healthy dose of racism underlying the fact that it took a black president for them to realize that their government is as dysfunctional as it is.  But I doubt the people we are talking about have an understanding of the difference between bigotry and racism.

And I don’t believe it is just blackness that makes Barack Obama different and symbolic.  It is also his intellectual cosmopolitanism.  He is a symbol of the privilege that is replacing whiteness – the educated professional/managerial class.  And there is a significant amount of animosity directed towards those people who justify their privilege by virtue of their intellect.

And so these people who have lost their foundational myths are out in the streets.  They are using all the synonyms for “bad” that our pathetic school system and media have taught them – communist, fascist, totalitarian, socialist, nazi.  All the words are interchangeable.  They all mean not American.  They all mean not them.
That I believe is the key to understanding something about the psychological makeup of a large portion of the American population, and to understanding their dog whistles. Structurally, we're still a highly racist and classist nation, and it's no surprise that our national myths reflect and support the structure. For those who've found some comfort in our mythology, the recent election of a leader who doesn't quite fit the mold has caused a near meltdown - not only among the obvious hard right, but also among some elements of the PUMA crowd from the 2008 silly season.

Now of course I might have some quibbles. However, whatever quibbles I might have aside, there is no doubt that the Pope of Hope symbolically represents a different demographic than our aging and shrinking WASP population. It is against that backdrop that we might best understand what is really being said by those who shout about "taking back their America" from "socialists", "Nazis", "Islamists", or whatever flavor of the month label one might use (a sizable proportion of the Tea Party crowd), or who make endless demands for the current prez to produce a birth certificate (i.e., the birthers, whom I might add could be transported back in time to the very delivery room where Obama would have been born in Hawaii, and witness the appropriate paperwork being signed and submitted, and still remain unsatisfied).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Due process is dead. Long live due process.

What was already on life support thanks to Bu$hCo is now officially dead:
If the president or one of his subordinates declares someone to be an “enemy combatant” (the 21st century version of “enemy of the state”) he is denied any protection of the law. So any trouble-maker (which means anyone) can be whisked away, incarcerated, tortured, “disappeared,” you name it. Floyd’s commentary:
After hearing passionate arguments from the Obama Administration, the Supreme Court acquiesced to the president’s fervent request and, in a one-line ruling, let stand a lower court decision that declared torture an ordinary, expected consequence of military detention, while introducing a shocking new precedent for all future courts to follow: anyone who is arbitrarily declared a “suspected enemy combatant” by the president or his designated minions is no longer a “person.” They will simply cease to exist as a legal entity. They will have no inherent rights, no human rights, no legal standing whatsoever — save whatever modicum of process the government arbitrarily deigns to grant them from time to time, with its ever-shifting tribunals and show trials.
It is hard to overstate the significance of this horrid decision. The fact that the Supreme Court authorized this land grab says we no longer have an independent judiciary, that the Supreme Court itself is gutting the protections supposedly provided by the legal system. Per Floyd:
In fact, our most august defenders of the Constitution did not have to exert themselves in the slightest to eviscerate not merely 220 years of Constitutional jurisprudence but also centuries of agonizing effort to lift civilization a few inches out of the blood-soaked mire that is our common human legacy. They just had to write a single sentence.
Now Floyd saw this mainly as an issue of the treatment of enemy combatants and Obama hypocrisy about torture, which is bad enough:
The Constitution is clear: no person can be held without due process; no person can be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. And the U.S. law on torture of any kind is crystal clear: it is forbidden, categorically, even in time of “national emergency.” And the instigation of torture is, under U.S. law, a capital crime. No person can be tortured, at any time, for any reason, and there are no immunities whatsoever for torture offered anywhere in the law.
And yet this is what Barack Obama — who, we are told incessantly, is a super-brilliant Constitutional lawyer — has been arguing in case after case since becoming president: Torturers are immune from prosecution; those who ordered torture are immune from prosecution….let’s be absolutely clear: Barack Obama has taken the freely chosen, public, formal stand — in court — that there is nothing wrong with any of these activities.
Yves here. The implications are FAR worse. Anyone can be stripped, with NO RECOURSE, of all their legal rights on a Presidential say so. Readers in the US no longer have any security under the law.

Some new links

The Copenhagen climate summit is something I've had to follow from the sidelines. Well, we know that it ended with very underwhelming results. In fact, if we look at the possible scenarios that face our planet over the remainder of this century, the scenario (h/t The Oil Drum) currently considered most probable (where our planet's average temperature goes up 3 degrees Celsius) is downright awful. Well, knowing that this is a pressing concern that will not go away, I've added a new section  called "Climate Action and Info" (go to the right sidebar and scroll down). For now, all I have are, The Climateers, It's Getting Hot in Here, The Climate Community, and Climate Indymedia.


A political system based on force, oppression, changing people’s votes, killing, closure, arresting and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons, and forcing them to make false confessions in jail, is condemned and illegitimate.
Those words come from dissident Iranian Ayatollah Montazeri, who died today at 87. The egalitarian in me would probably split hairs about condemning only the jailing of the "enlightened and elite of society for false reasons" - jailing anyone regardless of their education or societal prominence is sufficient to make a government's legitimacy suspect. Beyond that, though, those are words to live by.

Bigotry rears its ugly head

This comment grabbed me:
A professor I studied with when I was in grad school was murdered in his office a few weeks ago. I went to his hometown newspaper to read his obituary, expecting to find anecdotes and memories of a kind and gentle academic.

Unfortunately, the grad student who stabbed him to death was an Arab (as was Professor Antoun, who was an Arab-American and a Unitarian).

I was shocked by what I found. The comments were past inappropriate, exploiting a tragedy to spew vile accusations against Arabs and Muslims. These geniuses also assumed that the victim was Jewish or a tall blond, blue eyed Scandinavian (!). When I googled his name I was directed to Michele Malkin’s blog where some of the postings were word for word identical with the comments from the obituary comments.

As I get older, I’ve become convinced that in the end civility is the only thing that maintains our humanity. God help the Republic.
Really I don't think I could add much more here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mixed emotions

At this point, the health bill is so watered down that it really amounts more to an insurance reform bill than an actual health care reform bill. Nate Silver did some number crunching a few days ago that suggests that even in its currently mediocre form, it would end up leading to lower health care costs on average - significantly so over the status quo which is obviously unacceptable and unsustainable as I've pointed out before. Passing this bill would be a very small step in a better direction, but small steps is about as good as it will get with the current Congress.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Musical interlude

"Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba. I became a fan of this crew back in the 1980s when they were basically known as a first-rate anarchopunk band (Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records and Never Mind the Ballots from the mid-to-late 1980s are both well-worth seeking out). They've since been a fairly eclectic outfit. Whether this particular single marks their finest hour I'll leave to others to sort out. All I'll say is that a revolution without dancing and partying is not a revolution worth having. And the lyric "I get knocked down, but I get up again/ You're never gonna keep me down" is something of a personal theme - got me through the last years of grad school, and so far numerous years of borderline poverty.

Note in the margin: For my non-Anglophile readers, the phrase "pissing the night away" translates to "drinking the night away" or if one wants a broader definition, simply wasting time. Which reminds me...time to piss the night away.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


This Friday and Saturday mark the birthdays of two giants in contemporary jazz - pianist McCoy Tyner, who turned 71; and drummer Tony Williams, who today would have turned 64. Tyner is probably best known for his stint in John Coltrane's bands at the end of the 1950s through 1965 (including of course Coltrane's classic quartet that produced such incredible works as "A Love Supreme"). After Trane died, Tyner recorded a number of excellent albums for Blue Note and later Milestone Records. Tyner seemed to favor the piano trio setting, but also seems quite at home with larger ensembles (see, for instance, "Asante") as well as solo settings. Regardless of the setting, and regardless of style (during the early 1970s there were tons of African influences, but otherwise seems to be more of a straight-ahead hardbop cat), there is a majestic quality to his sound that has to be heard to be truly appreciated.

Tony Williams is best known for his stint with Miles Davis during much of the 1960s before leading his own fusion group during the late 1960s and 1970s, Lifetime. Needless to say, the albums with Davis' quintet of the 1960s, right before Davis went electric, are considered classics and Williams is one of the cats who drove Davis to modernize his sound. Williams was also a much-sought after sideman, who appeared in both straight-ahead and avant-garde recordings (he played on notable recording sessions led by Sam Rivers, and Eric Dolphy, for example), as well as led his first recording date while still in his teens.

Corporal punishment and voting behavior

In a way I am really not at all surprised to find the two linked. And when I followed Ezra Klein's link to TPM, the basic explanation seems to be apt enough. One thing I've learned from years of social science research is that one's attitude toward corporal punishment makes for a good marker of one's authoritarianism. Individuals who are highly authoritarian also tend to favor the use of corporal punishment. It's also not too surprising that the GOP is populated primarily if not outright exclusively with highly authoritarian leaders and members. So, yeah, when you present me with data showing a fairly strong positive correlation between percentage of states' voters who cast a vote for McCain/Palin and percentage of individuals within each state who favor corporal punishment, I'm not the least bit surprised. I'm not the least bit psychoanalytically oriented, but I would wager that the authoritarian attitudes exhibited by the GOP base (including of course birthers, deathers, and a large proportion of tea party participants) were forged very early in life through a combination of experiencing physical and psychological abuse as kids (and I consider any form of corporal punishment to be abusive - somewhat along the lines of Alice Miller) and basic observational learning.

Note, the above has nothing to do with how the Dems actually govern. A good case can be made that the White House, for example, under Obama has largely continued the authoritarian policies of the previous Bush II White House. What the data do tell us is a little something about the worldviews of those who participate in elections, and give us an idea of just how distinct the probably GOP party's base is from the rest of us - whether Dem, independent (in my case), or whatever.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Saul Alinsky sez:
Liberals like people with their heads, radicals like people with both their heads and their hearts.

Oh, and remember the Great American Swindle?

Since TARP worked so well for the swindlers, they're now coming back to finish the job. If they get their way, you can say bye-bye to Medicare and Social Security. (h/t naked capitalism)

On the contrary, Matt: Obama never sold out

There was no big sellout. Truth is, there was never any reason to believe that the Pope of Hope was anything more or less than a corporatist candidate, who once in office would continue to pursue the same path as all the others since Raygun.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Making a (negative) difference

Uganda's Draconian Anti-Gay Bill: Inspired by the U.S. Yup, once more the US, in both words and deeds, has inspired other nations to enact or threaten to enact oppressive legislation. In particular, the role of right-wing US pastors deserves highlighting:
The bill has an American genesis of sorts, inspired to a large extent by the visits of U.S. evangelicals who are involved with a movement that promotes Christianity's role in getting homosexuals to become "ex-gays" through prayer and faith. Ugandan supporters of the bill appear to be particularly impressed by the ideas of Scott Lively, a California conservative preacher who has written a book, The Pink Swastika, about what he calls the links between Nazism and a gay agenda for world domination, which, by itself, would have raised the anti-colonial sensitivities of Ugandan society. Says the Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Episcopalian priest from Zambia who authored a recent report on anti-gay politics in Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya: "The U.S. culture wars have been exported to Africa."

One of the bill's loudest supporters is a charismatic pastor, Martin Ssempa, who heads a Ugandan campus AIDS eradication organization that is funded in part by the U.S. and who was associated with the global outreach of Southern California's Saddleback Church, run by Rick Warren, author of best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life. Ssempa has a penchant for burning condoms. In 2007, he organized a rally against homosexuality to protest "homosexual agents and activists" who were "infiltrating Uganda." Asked how the anti-homosexuality bill might affect the fight against HIV and AIDS, Ssempa seemed bemused. "I don't see what this bill has to do with HIV," he told TIME. Warren, who has called Uganda a "purpose-driven nation," cut ties with Ssempa in October as controversy over the bill grew.

Somehow, I'm not the least bit surprised to see Rick Warren's name pop up. And although the deaths that Uganda's proposed new law would cause should permanently weigh on Warren's conscience - as well as those who support his ministry - it probably won't. Although religions can often inspire, the down side is that religions are often at the center of some of the worst structural violence ever perpetrated by humanity. Uganda's law is merely one shining example.

Happy birthday Donald Byrd

This is a remix of "Kofi". This appeared on The New Groove a number of years ago when Blue Note tried to capitalize on the acid jazz trend. MC Mystic's rap is quite nice to my ears. Peace, y'all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

29 years ago

John Lennon was murdered.

More reason for pessimism

You can't have a recovery without people who can buy goods and services.

When asked to choose between the scientists and the crackpots

I find it a safe bet to go along with the scientists. The decade now ending appears likely to be the warmest decade on record. This year will probably be the 5th warmest, with only the US and Canada bucking the trend. While we're at it, please note that two of the most prominent US newspapers have treated the tempest in a teapot called "climategate" considerably differently, with WaPo going for a "he said, she said" style of reporting, while NYT actually has the audacity to refer to flap as one between "decades of peer-review science" and "politically motivated opposition." That seems to sum it up. Now, of course what all this ends up meaning while the nations' leaders gather for a climate summit is anyone's guess. I'm not especially optimistic about what will emerge beyond a lot of talk and half measures.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A decade concisely summarized

Did this first decade of the new century suck or what? Check out Eugene Linden's The Decade in One Page (h/t naked capitalism). My prediction for next decade? Expect more suckage.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Say hello to

Reclusive Leftist (h/t Arthur Silber). Check out the content. Regulars here will find much to like. Her proposal for a Justice Party is itself well worthy of a look. Hell, I'm game for alternatives to the Democratic Party, which has for ages merely offered up a form of corporatism with a "happy face."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Opposition to Bernanke Mounts

Here's a story naked capitalism ran on Wednesday:
The efforts to block Bernanke’s confirmation are getting some traction.

First, Bernie Sanders of Vermont said he is putting a hold on Bernanke’s confirmation. A hold (in lay terms) is a threat to filibuster. This is actually pretty serious and seldom done. It takes 60 votes to beat one back, and there are enough procedural roadblocks that a filibustering Senator can throw so that it holds up Senate business for a few days, even if it is ultimately unsuccessful. And by current tallies, there are a few Senators on the right who are also vehemently opposed to Bernanke and would support this move.

Now so far, this is merely an obstacle to reappointment, but this is still much more serious opposition than anyone would have expected even a week ago.

Second, a Rasmussen poll (hat tip reader Andrew) released today found that only 21% of Americans favor Bernanke’s reappointment. This is significant not simply due to the lousy results, but that Rasmussen bothered to run the poll at all. This was not a client sponsored poll; Rasmussen thought this was newsworthy enough to run this on its own. Admittedly, a large proportion are undecided, but twice as many oppose a Bernanke reappointment as support it.

This says that the calls to Senators are making a difference. Remember, hardly anyone ever bothers voice opposition to this sort of confirmation. And it’s important to recognize that the symbolism extends beyond the question of Bernanke’s continued tenure. This is a shot across the bow as far as Wall Street friendly policies are concerned. It puts the Congress and Administration on notice that the public is aware of how badly they have been had and are continuing to be bled on the financial front and sees the conduct of economic policy as important.

Now, flash forward to today and we get the news that Sanders is being joined by Senate Republicans, with DeMint the latest. The bedfellows are strange, but these are not ordinary times. Bernanke's actions as chair of the Federal Reserve were underwhelming at best, and his testimony today simply provides more ammunition to any of us, regardless of political persuasion, who want to stick the proverbial fork in Bernanke and tell him he's done. I"ll add that if Bernanke is the best this country can find to lead the Fed, we're in deep doo-doo (well, with the exception of the banksters who've managed to profit quite handsomely while the rest of us suffer).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Full of surprises

Whatever differences of opinion I might have with Andrew Sullivan and Charles Johnson, we do share (albeit from different angles) a very similar disdain for what passes for "conservatism" in the US.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

To my regular readers

Hope you all have a great day today. Hopefully I'll end my hiatus soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Unclear on the concept

If your goal is to prevent domestic violence, which is of course a worthy goal, creating a website in which its visitors spend several minutes essentially rehearsing domestic violence is not the way to do it. I think Jill at Feministe puts it aptly:

I was curious as to what the end message was going to be, so I kept “hitting the bitch” thinking after one or two times there would be some sort of lesson in all of this. But… no. You have to hit the woman like 15 times as she cries and touches her face and staggers backward and is bruised and bloody. It’s horrific. When you finally reach “100% Gangsta,” she falls over.

And that’s where the big lesson comes in. A message flashes on the screen: “100% GANGSTA.” Then “gangsta” is taken out and replaced with “idiot” — so you’re “100% IDIOT!”

…and that’s it. You’re then taken to a graphic of the woman laying on the floor sobbing, and some words in Danish which I assume are domestic violence statistics and resources. But in order to get there, you have to spend ten minutes “hitting the bitch” and being told you’re a total pussy if you’re not hitting her hard enough or often enough. But then – gotcha! – you’re actually an idiot! This, somehow, is supposed to convey to everyone that hitting women is bad. After you’ve played a game that rewards you for hitting a woman.

Color me unconvinced.
As for the efficacy of the website, color me equally unconvinced.What I am convinced of is twofold. One, the target audience will spend several minutes practicing being batterers for several minutes, and there is plenty of social cognition research that would suggest that in doing so, any violent behavioral patterns already stored in memory would only be strengthened, when the real goal should be to weaken such behavioral patterns. Second, the website appears to give its target audience a mixed message. Until the game is completed, those playing it are being reinforced for violent behavior. It isn't until the end of the game that the players receive any negative feedback. By that point, I can't help but think that whatever message the website's designers intended to convey is weakened or lost altogether. The combination of rehearsing violent behavior (whether directly or via fantasy) with positive reinforcement for doing so is a dangerous one, and unfortunately that combination is present in Hit the Bitch.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Well, I'm feeling more optimistic now

Nouriel Roubini warns that the worst is yet to come. Forget all the happy talk about green shoots and recovery. Oh, and Roubini has a message for the White House and Congress: make a bold statement and pass another stimulus package, asap. Unfortunately, with the vast majority of both major US parties' members having drunk so much of that neoliberal kool-aid that they can't see straight, extra stimulus might be a hard sell. Instead, we'll just repeat the mistakes of the Hoover years. Happy days are here again, folks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Afghanistan is about a pipeline"

If there is one benefit to being single-income (and there are very few of those to be had in this day and age) it is when my wife calls or emails about something amusing she's seen on one of the shows she watches. This time around, I guess Woody Harrelson was on The View to plug his latest movie. Since his character in that film is a soldier, and since Harrelson is an outspoken war critic, the conversation got briefly political. It didn't stay that way for long. One of the ladies on the show asks him about his thoughts on Afghanistan, and he puts it about as bluntly as I have:
"Afghanistan is about a pipeline."

Let's just say there was an uncomfortable silence for a couple seconds, before the topic got changed. The moral of the story, I suppose, if that if you don't want frightening answers, don't ask frightening questions.

Here's the video clip:

The relevant soundbite can be found around 2:25-2:32 into the video clip. The moment can be summed up in a word: awkward. And yet, we should remind ourselves that it doesn't take an actor to point out the obvious:
The commitment to invade Afghanistan was made long before 9/11.

The Bush Administration wanted to secure for American energy companies-notably the Enron and Unocal Corporations-the strategic pipeline route across Afghanistan to the Caspian Basin. But the Taliban had signed a contract in 1996 with the Bridas Corporation of Argentina, preempting the route.

Scarcely settled in Washington in early 2001, the Bush Administration immediately pressed the Taliban to rescind the Bridas contract, and undertook planning for military intervention should negotiations fail. Administration officials and the Taliban met for talks three times throughout the spring and summer, in Washington D.C., Berlin, and Islamabad-but to no avail.

At the last session, in August, 2001 the Administration threatened a "carpet of bombs" if the Taliban did not comply. The Taliban would not. Soon thereafter-still weeks before September 11-President Bush notified Pakistan and India he would attack Afghanistan "before the end of October."

Then 9/11. Then two more refusals of Osama bin Laden's head. Then, on October 7, the Bush Administration looses the carpet of bombs.

Since then Afghanistan has been supplied with a puppet government, the Bridas contract is history, and the country is dotted today with permanent U.S. military bases in close proximity to the pipeline route. It was a war of conquest and occupation.
It's about a pipeline - and one way or another we're going to see more blood spilled in the not-too-distant future over a pipeline. Even better yet, this isn't exactly breaking news - folks were calling the opening salvo in the "War on Terror" what it really was - a raw power play - right from the beginning.


Blackwater/Xe is in the news again:
Senior executives at Blackwater Worldwide, the US security company, approved secret payments of $1m (£600,000) to buy the silence of Iraqi officials after its guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007, it was alleged today.

Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe in February, approved the cash in December 2007, the New York Times reported, following an outcry in Iraq over the killings. The paper said that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater's president, approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company had an office, to a top manager in Iraq.


In the shooting at Nisour square in September 2007, 17 Iraqis were killed when guards protecting a convoy of US diplomats opened fire a crowded at a crowded crossing. The guards were accused of acting like trigger-happy cowboys, who shot with no fear of consequences. The killings shone a harsh light on the role of private contractors in war zones and hardened Iraqi sentiment against the company, which had already been criticised for its mistreatment of Iraqi civilians.

The attempt to bribe Iraqi government officials – which would be illegal under American law – created friction within the company, the Times reported.


The SmackDog Chronicles on Carrie Prejean's sex video "controversy"
I’d rather respect women who make masturbation videos who don’t feel shame or disgust for loving sex. Whether they be conservative, liberal, radical or not.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paranoia, The Destroyer

Here's what paranoia gets you:
Marine reservist Jasen Bruce was getting clothes out of the trunk of his car Monday evening when a bearded man in a robe approached him.

That man, a Greek Orthodox priest named Father Alexios Marakis, speaks little English and was lost, police said. He wanted directions.

What the priest got instead, police say, was a tire iron to the head. Then he was chased for three blocks and pinned to the ground — as the Marine kept a 911 operator on the phone, saying he had captured a terrorist.

Police say Bruce offered several reasons to explain his actions:

The man tried to rob him.

The man grabbed Bruce's crotch and made an overt sexual advance in perfect English.

The man yelled "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great," the same words some witnesses said the Fort Hood shooting suspect uttered last week.

"That's what they tell you right before they blow you up," police say Bruce told them.

Bruce ended up in jail, accused of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He was released Tuesday on $7,500 bail. Marakis ended up at the hospital with stitches. He told the police he didn't want to press charges, espousing biblical forgiveness.

But Tuesday, Bruce wasn't saying sorry.
It's quite a society we have, eh? Thankfully the priest wasn't killed by this goon. Unfortunately, this is what you get when you shove eliminationist propaganda down our throats for years on end.

One a lighter note, here's the Kinks, playing "Destroyer" from a 1979 television appearance:

Just in case, here's the lyrics.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hypocrisy watch

Big Bankers (such as Goldman Sachs) claim to be doing God's work. Alas, our pious banksters forget that Jesus was quite famous for turning over the tables of the money changers in the Jerusalem temple - a rather radical action at the time. Something tells me there are a lot of tables needing turning over.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

American Exceptionalism: Epidemic Edition

As Eli, notes, the US is certainly exceptional, but not in any way we would consider positive:
Epidemic one - People going bankrupt and killing themselves, their families, or, as in yesterday's case, their ex-coworkers.
Epidemic two - People with medical expenses they can't possible pay, having to resort to inviting their friends to fund-raising events to help them pay. To quote a variant of the old bumper sticker, "What if the government funded health care and the military had to hold bake sales?"
With regard to the second epidemic, what can I say other than I see too much of it for comfort. I'll chip in a buck or two if I can (my paycheck is already spoken for the moment it reaches my bank account, so that's usually a pretty big if), but I can't help but view such efforts - valiant though they may be - as doomed to failure. Those who put on the fundraisers or who manage to chip in a few nickels feel momentarily all warm and fuzzy inside, but they barely make a dent in terms of paying all those damned medical bills nor do they address the fundamental flaws of our health "care" system. That system will only be effectively addressed on a structural level rather than at an individual level.

As far as the first epidemic, I mentioned a year ago about losing an acquaintance to suicide, whose living was made in real estate. Here was my reaction at the time:
A few weeks ago, a neighbor of my in-laws killed himself. He was a real estate agent. I'm guessing that given the market in SoCal, he was no longer making the commissions that had enabled him to live a suburban middle class existence, and perhaps saw no hope in that changing for the foreseeable future. We'd chatted during my last visit to the area, just weeks before his suicide. Seemed like a nice person. When I got the news, even though he was at most a casual acquaintance, I silently mourned his loss.

I thought of the spike in suicides in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, or of the drastic increase in suicide rate in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed and Yeltsin's regime imposed neoliberal "shock therapy" on the nation's economy, leading to a massive influx of displaced, unemployed workers who could not find a way to make a living. I also thought of the increase in suicides among subsistence farmers in India, who have become increasingly displaced as corporate conglomerates have driven them off their land. What these folks have in common is the rather profound stress of no longer being able to live productively, to the extent that identities tend to get tied at least partially to our vocations. Even for those of us who have steady, and likely stable, work situations, there has been a confluence of factors that have squeezed us financially. Although nominally a professional person, my salary on a good month barely pays for basics, and when energy costs spiked over the last year, even that ability was stretched to and finally beyond the breaking point. Let's just say that I'm facing the prospect of making difficult decisions between paying for food and paying utilities. Given my own cultural makeup, no matter how radical I may be, I have never been able to shake off the basic southern white mindset of the male as provider, and the inability to be able to provide on an increasingly regular basis quite frankly gets to me. I can easily empathize with those who've taken their lives in the wake of lost income, foreclosures, and the like (in research on stress, those tend to fall under the rubric of "major life events" - the more profound of the stressors), if for no other reason than I've stared into the same abyss. My saving grace is the knowledge that next year's tax refund will provide some breathing room, so if we can just ride out the winter somehow.
In discussing another murder-suicide early this year, I tried to put together a few puzzle pieces that I considered (and still consider) highly relevant:
...some sort of hyper-individualism, an illusion of freedom, and depersonalization. I'd add a hierarchical social structure that thrives on competition, violence at all levels (from interpersonal to structural), and which instructs its residents to attach personal meaning to the attainment of ephemeral "wealth". Somehow, the way the pieces of this particular society fit together to invite a sort of narcisissm (a fancy way of saying extremely high but extremely unstable self-esteem), which itself is a marker of aggressive and violent behavior (I'd add not only at the individual interpersonal and intrapersonal levels, where most social psychologists seem to leave it, but also at the organizational and structural levels as exemplified by certain policies adopted by ruling elites). The stressors inherent in our current economic and political climate are those that would invite behaviors that would be arguably unthinkable in another context.

The kids who committed the murder-suicide in Littleton about a decade ago were written off as pathological, as have those belonging to religious cults - e.g., The People's Temple, and I'm sure the couple in the story that began this particular dispatch, but I would offer that those exemplars rather than being "bad apples" are actually merely visible symptoms of a society that lives and potentially dies by the threat of murder-suicide: US foreign policy since WWII has been predicated on the concept of murder-suicide from the "good old days" of Mutually Assured Destruction to the present "War on Terra"; economic policy is based on the exploitation and depletion of nonrenewable resources with no consideration for the future (If we can't have it now, we'll make sure that NO ONE will have it later).
The last sentence captures part of the essence of our society: nihilism. It is so pervasive that it practically oozes out of our pores and yet few notice. Yes, there is an epidemic or two going on right now. The flu epidemic is in some fundamental way the lesser of our worries (though please, do not read into that a lack of concern about the flu - H1N1 has already hit my household). I'm not sure what cure or cures would even be available at this late date. However, if the US is to survive in some more or less meaningful fashion, or if what rises from the ashes is to be relatively nontoxic, here are a couple core principles that should guide those wishing to shape or reshape the society:
1. Children should not be [separated] from their limbs on purpose.
2. Profit should not be made on human suffering.

Start with those, and work from there. Oh, and as the writer expressing those principles admonishes, don't get tangled up in debates over impossible occurrences.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Silver is thinly plated around thick dark clouds

Alexander Cockburn sez:
Increasingly, young Americans are getting too fat to fight, which is just as well – because the antiwar movement is in terrible shape, probably because yesterday’s peace marchers are all too busy on weekends jogging, careening along on their bikes or going to yoga classes.
Alexander Cockburn gets a bit snarky for his own good, but there is little doubt that the state of the antiwar movement has been dire for some time. Still give some credit to yesterday's peace marchers - there are still a number of them who give a damn enough to act. As for obesity in the US - the phenomenon is getting more and more disturbing. Just looking around when I go to my kids' school events, I am struck by what was once an anomaly (the fat kid) has increasingly become the norm.

Friday, November 6, 2009

RIP Art D'Lugoff

The former proprietor of The Village Gate died Wednesday at age 85. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during that club's heyday. Many a heavyweight of jazz played there back in the day. Needless to say, I have a few albums that were recorded live by Albert Ayler (Live in Greenwich Village), Alice Coltrane (a track from the album Journey in Satchidananda), etc. A bit from the obituary:
D'Lugoff opened the Greenwich Village club in 1958. He hired blacklisted singers Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger and fired Dustin Hoffman as a waiter. Hoffman, then a struggling actor, later said he was so distracted by the performers that he neglected customers.

Other performers included jazz greats John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.
The Village Gate closed in 1994.

A small step in the right direction

Check out Healthy Families Act Would Offer Paid Leave to Workers Hit By Swine Flu. As Susie Madrak notes, the bill's a bit flawed, but the idea is a good one. Although right now I am a salaried employee with more paid sick leave hours than I know what to do with (salary may be crappy, but I am very thankful for this particular benefit!), I've also been an hourly employee, which meant that if I got sick and I stayed home from work, I simply didn't get payed. Plus, there was always that lingering concern that if I was gone for too long, there would be no job to come back to. Although there are plenty of profit purists who would howl at the mere thought of hourly workers taking a few days off for the flu with pay, think of it from a more collective perspective: someone showing up to work sick because they have good reason to believe they have no other choice puts everyone else around him or her of getting sick as well. Do you really want someone with H1N1 sneezing on your hamburger, or a daycare employee with H1N1 sneezing on the toys your kid is going to play with? I know I wouldn't, and I know that I don't appreciate employers who exploit their staffs to the point to where they put the rest of us at risk.

Things to read in the aftermath of the Ft. Hood shooting

As I already mentioned previously, Jonathan Schwarz made a valid point with regard to white privilege.

Dennis Perrin tackles religious intolerance, which has become endemic in the US military, in Last God Standing.

Chris Floyd's article Dark Glass: Hateful Echoes and Hidden Costs is an absolute must-read.

All three are worth looking at within the context of the upsurge of paranoia and hatred aimed at those who practice the Muslim religious faith and those of Arab or Central Asian ethnicity (just look at Memeorandum for a hint of what I'm talking about). The US has been at war for practically its entire history. In a book called On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, former professor Ward Churchill outlined in stark relief the wars - great and small - that the US had involved itself in, concluding that there had never been a year in which the nation had been at peace. He's far from the only dissident scholar or activist to ever make such observations (Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and William Blum have offered similar observations from their various perspectives), and it suffices to say that a nation that is in a constant state of siege is going to have some serious problems - not the least of which is a propensity for a paranoid style of politics, and a tendency to go looking for scapegoats every time something goes wrong.

Really, at this point, the only responsible thing that one can say about the Ft. Hood shootings was uttered by the Iraq Veterans Against the War on Thursday (cited in the Christopher Floyd article mentioned above):
The shootings that happened today are a tragic reminder of the hidden costs of war.
Until the dust settles, that's really all that needs to be said. Then, it's long past time for us as a society to take a good long hard look in the mirror.

Saying the obvious

Jonathan Schwarz sez:
There are many great things about being part of the white majority, but one of my favorites is that I don't have to release a statement condemning it every time some white guy somewhere shoots people.
Sad but true.

Who will fare best as the climate continues to warm?

That's the topic in the article Coping With Climate Change. The article is filled with information worth reading, but one point in particular toward the end of the article jumped right out at me: societies that are relatively egalitarian are going to fare better than those in which there are gross inequalities. Here's the quote:
Another key component of climate fitness is the equality and empowerment of women and minority groups. Natalie Curtis, a senior press spokesman at Oxfam, said that sea level rise and an increase in extreme weather events in Bangladesh has been a “double-edged sword.” The impacts have been “horrific”, she said, but they have led to the creation of councils of women in every village “who are leading the efforts for community survival.”

Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans was also a stark example of climate weakness, as social inequality – and poor governance – led to tens of thousands of the city’s poorest residents being stranded for days.
There's a reason why I've tended to advocate here and elsewhere in favor of eliminating social inequalities - in the long run, such societies are ill-suited to handle climate-related catastrophes (and ours is going to have to do it with declining non-renewable resources available). I'd also suggest ditching the hyper-individualism that has characterized Euro-American society for the past generation. The "everyone's an island" approach to life might by merely dysfunctional under ideal circumstances, but won't leave its practitioners capable of pulling together when it's most needed. New Orleans and the surrounding region during the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina and the immediate (and long-term) aftermath should have served as the much-needed wake-up call that the status quo in the US is destined to failure, to unnecessary human suffering. To me it's no accident that there has been a resurgence of Marxist and various anarchist-collectivist social models since the 1990s, to the extent that such forms of social organization tend towards egalitarianism and a reduction hyper-individualism.
h/t The Oil Drum.

Signs of the times

Unemployment was at 10.2% for October - the highest since 1983. I'm not really surprised, given the scope of this recession. It does beg the question though of why a stronger stimulus wasn't tried out earlier this year, which could have made a bigger difference. Paul Krugman referred to the stimulus bill passed earlier this year as too little of a good thing, which sounds about right. If nothing else, it kept a lot of educators from winding up unemployed and little else.

Another way to look at it, via Bernard Chazelle:
Nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood.
"The current recession is likely to generate for children in the United States the greatest level of material deprivation that we will see in our professional lifetimes," Stanford pediatrician Dr. Paul Wise wrote.
The analysis is in line with other recent research suggesting that more than 40 percent of U.S. children will live in poverty or near-poverty by age 17.
Not exactly happy and uplifting news is it? Thirty years of neoliberalism has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster for the majority of us, and yet it is quite obvious that in spite of all the tangible pain that has been expressed by constituents to congresional "leaders", they by and large do not listen.

A warning

Sez Justin Raimondo:
There is no democracy in America. Our government is controlled by two "major" parties that have a monopoly on ballot status: try getting on the ballot as a "third party" – especially in New York state! It’s next to impossible. And if you should manage to get on the ballot, in spite of all the legal and logistical obstacles, then you faced the moneyed interests which have bought the Congress and the executive branch, and have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo – not only when it comes to foreign policy, but when it comes to anything and everything.

Our ruling elite is on a collision course with the citizenry. There is, at present, no way for disenfranchised voters to register their protest, and have their voices heard, and the pressure is building – slowly but surely – as Americans begin to ask where it will all end. We are headed for an era of unprecedented political and social turmoil, as the economy tanks and the wages of intervention are paid in the form of more "blowback" such as we experienced on 9/11. The America we know and love is rapidly sliding down into the abyss of national bankruptcy and international opprobrium – and our "leaders" are not only helpless to stop it, they are actively pushing us toward the edge.
There's a good deal of truth to these words, in more ways than Justin intended. One observation I can make right off the top of my head is that many of those who feel disenfranchised to one degree or another are vulnerable to the siren song of "leaders" who are more than happy to push them toward the edge for their own political gain. The corporate interests behind what has been called the Tea Party movement this past year is certainly one of those forces.

A tad warm in the Arctic this past October

Warm winds slow autumn ice growth:
Sea ice extent grew throughout October, as the temperature dropped and darkness returned to the Arctic. However, a period of relatively slow ice growth early in the month kept the average ice extent low—October 2009 had the second-lowest ice extent for the month over the 1979 to 2009 period.
The rest of the article is worth a read. Certainly, the report and the graphics are sobering (h/t The Oil Drum).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Time to break out the torches and pitchforks yet?

Look, I'm already hacked off enough about there being shortages of flu vaccines this year. To get the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines for my daughters, I had to wait in line for the bulk of an afternoon a few weeks ago, and then of course while waiting had to contend with the possibility that we'd be turned away (luckily we weren't). My son had already had H1N1 (thankfully a fairly mild case of it). I'm dealing with H1N1 now - I don't quite fall into any of the priority groups (fortunately my case seems pretty mild as well as flu goes). So now I read that a bunch of privileged execs on Wall Street are, not surprisingly, getting privileged access to the same vaccine that the rest of us have dealt with shortages and unnecessary exposure to the feckin' virus. As one blogger puts it:
It should come as no surprise that those at the top of the food chain get preferential treatment on all levels. But this still stinks to high heaven. Employees of the Goldman, the Fed, Citigroup, and other banks are getting H1N1 vaccine allotments out of proportion to what can be justified from a public health standpoint. In particular, Goldman has gotten more than Lenox HIll hospital, which needs it not just for the sick but more important, for workers (not only does the public need to keep front-line health care workers in as good shape as possible, but if they get the infection, they become disease vectors fast, given the number of people they see).
Then again, banks have become parasitic, so why should we expect anything different?


Yves here. Welcome to the class system in action. If you don’t work for a big, influential company, go to the back of the queue. Why should companies be the nexus of distribution for vaccines? I guarantee no Goldman MD gets much of his routine medical treatment from the GS health workers on staff (emergencies or a fast diagnostic like a strep test are different). But if you work for a less privileged employer or are self-employed or between jobs, tough luck, go to the back of the queue, you have to try to get yours (assuming you can) from vaccination centers in New York City. How easy do you think that will be? The difficulty and queuing are certain to be much worse than for any of the big financial players.

And please, it strains credulity to think that someone on the payroll at these companies won’t bend to pressure to make allotments at the margin according to who is most powerful. Do you think if Lloyd Blankfein or another member of the management committee was in a risk category that he would be denied it, assuming the firm did not have enough to go around? (and that is likely). Now given the brouhaha, Goldman may bend over backwards not to abuse this overmuch now that there is media pushback. But this serves to illustrate how the system has been suborned on just about every front. To wit, Goldman is getting 200 doses of the vaccine, the same number as Lenox Hill Hospital.
As if there weren't enough reasons already to be pissed off at Wall Street.

Here's a birthday worth remembering

Eugene Debs, who was born on this day, 1855. Check the quote:
Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.
Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.

While you're at it, check out the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive (h/t Green Left Global News & Info).

Some late week science

This was cool - Rare whale gathering sighted (h/t naked capitalism). I thought it made a nice change of pace from the usual bad news:
A large group of a rarely sighted, mysterious species of whale has been seen off the coast of Antarctica.

Approximately 60 Arnoux's beaked whales were seen and photographed frolicking on the surface in the Gerlache Strait.

Few sightings of this enigmatic species are made in the wild, and even less in waters near to shore.

The sighting, of the largest group ever recorded, is also the first time this species of whale has been seen socialising at the water surface.
Read the rest.

Still going after "bad apples"

The problem with the recent Italian trial and conviction of CIA operatives on the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Italy (leading to his being tortured) is that, while holding the low-level CIA workers accountable it fails hold responsible those in DC who made the decisions in the first place. From the first few paragraphs:

One of the 23 Americans convicted today by an Italian court says the United States "broke the law" in the CIA kidnapping of a Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan in 2003.

"And we are paying for the mistakes right now, whoever authorized and approved this," said former CIA officer Sabrina DeSousa in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson.
DeSousa says the U.S. "abandoned and betrayed" her and the others who were put on trial for the kidnapping. She was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.
 It's refreshing to read that De Sousa acknowledges that the US broke the law - something that more bloggers, activists, and advocates than I could ever hope to count have been saying for ages with regard to the practice or rendition and torture. Clearly she bears some responsibility for whatever role she did play (I'm not a big fan of the "we were just following orders" defense). On the other hand, shouldn't it be Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Bybee and Rumsfeld on trial for approving these practices in the first place?

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot."

Rick B at Ten Percent remindeds us that last year that November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day. This year I'll return the favor.

Here's what I wrote last year in 2008. See also, Three Lessons from Guy Fawkes Day. Of course, as tradition warrants, I do at least one subversive thing today (which I suppose really isn't all that remarkably different from the rest of the days of the year, come to think of it!).

And here's a clip from the classic film V for Vendetta that bears repeating:

See also: