Friday, July 31, 2009

The problem

Bill Maher on the Birthers sez:
But we live in America, and in America, if you don't immediately kill arrant nonsense, no matter how ridiculous, it can grow and thrive and eventually take over, like crab grass or reality shows about fat people.
But, before that he sez...
And there's nothing anyone can do to convince these folks. You could hand them, in person, the original birth certificate and have a video of Obama emerging from the womb with Don Ho singing in the background ... and they still wouldn't believe it.
And therein lies the problem. You're never going to convince the Birthers of anything. I suspect what Maher is hoping will happen is that the mass media (news channels, newspapers and websites, etc.) will do their job much better than they have and make it abundantly clear what has already been made clear long before. After all, the rational thing to do once one's pet hypothesis has been thoroughly decimated (see also Factcheck.org) is to abandon the hypothesis. If that is the hope, good luck. What the Birthers will most likely do is claim such contrary evidence presented via mass media is merely more "proof" that there is a "conspiracy" to install a non-citizen as President and that "the media" are in on it.

As for the folks responding "unsure" mentioned in the recent Research 2000 poll, I suspect that many of these fine folks are merely being coy about their actual beliefs - they're probably the ones who would have been found at McCain-Palin rallies last year saying things like, "I don't know who Obama is" or are among the dead-enders who showed up at those legendary "tea parties" earlier this year. Maybe there's some value in reminding the vast majority (i.e., the sentient beings to which Maher refers) that the claims made by the Birthers are not only completely out to lunch, but are being accepted primarily by a rather marginalized demographic in a culturally backward part of the US. As for those who are genuinely vulnerable to the influence of the Birthers, as I've probably said before, there is some value in vigorously countering the Birthers' patently false claims with the facts. In doing so, I would also strongly recommend sites like snopes.com and factcheck.org as useful resources for checking out suspicious claims. As for actually taking the Birthers seriously, I would say "take a hike": their claims are nothing more than a pathetic sideshow.

Where are the birthers?

The answer, as the graph illustrates, is in the former Confederate states. I would have loved to have seen these results broken down by ethnicity. I will bet my entire life's savings (that's right, I'll wager the only nickel I have to my name) that the overwhelming percentage of those Southerners who answered the question regarding Obama's citizenship with a "no" or "unsure" where white, nonhispanic; and that if one looked at the percentages for African Americans and Hispanics living in the Southern US, for example, the results for these ethnic groups would largely mirror the results obtained for the rest of the US. Apparently the surveyors did get a national breakdown by political party (Dems, GOP, and the catchall "Independents"), and the results for those affiliated with the GOP look, unsurprisingly, highly similar to those in the South.

None of these results really surprised me that much. I come from a Southern background and my ethnicity is pretty similar to most Southern whites (in my case it's mostly English, with Irish and Scottish Protestant thrown in for good measure). I have just enough relatives who still identify themselves as Southerners or who live in the South to know what the general mindset is for those of my ethnicity in the region. Let's just say it's a demographic that has always struck me as very tribal and more than a bit resentful and paranoid since the worst of the segregationist laws in the region were struck down back in the 1960s.

Musical Interlude:



Some lyrics:
The world is my expense
The cost of my desire
Jesus blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire
So raise your fists
And march around
Just don't take what you need
I'll jail and bury those committed
And smother the rest in greed
Crawl with me into tomorrow
Or I'll drag you to your grave
I'm deep inside your children
They'll betray you in my name

Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire

Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire

The lie is my expense
The scope of my desire
The party blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire
I am the Nina The Pinta The Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist
The fields overseer
The agent of orange
The priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
Sleep now in the fire

Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire

Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire

For it's the end of history
It's caged and frozen still
There is no other pill to take
So swallow the one
That made you ill
The Nina The Pinta The Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist
The fields overseer
The agent of orange
The priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
To Sleep now in the fire

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A poet and she didn't even know it

I'll acknowledge upfront that I try not to pay much attention to Sarah Palin these days. Of course it was hard to miss the rather odd announcement that she would quit her post as governor of Alaska after serving barely over half a term (which probably is the best thing that could happen for Alaskans), and there were the occasional rumblings over the weekend and early this week that her farewell speech was, in a word, strange. Then I came across a video that has been circulating throughout blogtopia (h/t skippy for the link and the term blogtopia), in which William Shatner reads part of Palin's speech as one might read a poem:

Of course I keep thinking that surely this is some sort of joke, and that Conan O'Brien and William Shatner are taking some comedic and/or poetic license. Then I just decided I might as well read the danged speech, and sure enough there it is in black and white. Wow. Just wow. Maybe she should find an open mic night somewhere or try her hand at a poetry slam. But damn, she really needs to do some proofreading, and work on staying focused if she's going to keep trying to run for prez, or even if she's planning on hosting a radio talk show.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Learn something new...

or more accurately, you might learn something new, or not. The basic upshot is this: if you succeed at something, brain cells appear to change. If you fuck up, however, brain cells don't change, nor does behavior change. If one ever asks the proverbial question, "are we doomed to repeat our mistakes?", we have an idea of the answer.

Whenever I see a sentence begin

"I'm not a racist, but..." I know exactly what to expect.

IOZ sez

The reason that the 9/11 Truth Movement, specifically, is ignored as thoroughly as possible is that in order actually to debunk its various absurd conclusions, you must engage in a whole troubling, complex, and hidden (if in plain sight) history of post-war American neocolonial policy throughout the Middle East and Islamic world, so that while one one hand one can ultimately conclude that shape-shiftying-Annunaki-stargod-reptilian-alien Dick "Dick" Cheney did not actually fly holographic planes into buildings rigged for controlled demolition in a Reichstag-fire moment preceding the round-up of citizens and their mass relocation to FEMA-run concentration camps, on the other hand your Ward Churchills were basically right when they said that 9/11 represented "chickens coming home to roost." I mean, let's just put it right out there. If we are going to pretend that there is such a thing as just war, legitimate violence in self-defense, etc., then the attacks of 9/11 were more morally defensible than the American invasion of Iraq. Needless to say, these are not the sorts of propositions that nice liberals want to talk about in WaPo online chats.
IOZ sums it up quite succinctly. Personally, I've always favored the "chickens coming home to roost" explanation as the more accurate one. American Exceptionalists (including many avowed "progressives") will have none of that, of course.

Story time

Gather 'round the campfire. Here's a tale from back in early 1989. A friend of mine (we'll call her L) had suggested we catch a movie. Apparently there was a Pedro Almodovar flick (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) playing out in Hollywood, and she'd been wanting to catch it while it was still showing. I figured what the hell. L was a fun person to hang with, and the film had garnered some good reviews. So one Friday night we set out (with plenty of classic Lou Reed piping through the car's stereo speakers), first to pick up another friend of hers from Long Beach (I forget his name, but he was a lot of fun to be with as I recall) and then went up to the Los Angeles area and cruised along Sunset Boulevard.

All along Sunset Boulevard we kept noticing these posters that depicted some guy posed like Marlon Brando on a motorcycle, with the caption "Dennis Woodruff, Actor". None of us thought much of it at the time. Since we had tons of time on our hands and next to no money, we decided to find a Denny's. As L parked, we noticed that there were more of those Dennis Woodruff posters plastered all over the place. L's friend and I were becoming increasingly amused. So, we go into the Denny's, and with the spare cash between us share a plate of fries and each order a cup of coffee (at the time Denny's was known for being generous with refills). Since we were seated at a booth by a window, we had quite a view of that portion of Sunset, which in that part of Hollywood was pretty run-down. The view is important for my story only because it wasn't long - while the three of us were enjoying the fries, coffee, cigarrettes and conversation - before a late 1970s Olds Delta 88, plastered with Dennis Woodruff posters and what I can only guess was his personal phone number appeared. We watched the driver park that heap nearby, and sure enough that driver was none other than Dennis Woodruff himself. At this point L's friend and I were dying laughing. To her credit, L tried to get us to behave, but even she was having a hard time maintaining her composure. So, Woodruff walks in, sees the three of us and (if you were expecting an altercation here, you'll be disappointed) walked up to us and said, rather low-key-like, "I guess it is kind of funny." As he turned around and walked to where he would be seated. I couldn't help but notice his jacket had both a Screen Actors Guild logo as well as (of course) the words "Dennis Woodruff, Actor" emblazoned on it for all to see. I'd later learn that he was pretty notorious for his efforts at self-promotion around Hollywood, and I'm guessing that he was pretty well used to (or even welcoming of) the amused reactions of whatever bystanders he managed to encounter. I'll give the dude credit for sheer chutzpah.

Well, we finished up our meal (if you can call it that), saw the film (it lived up to its reputation), and then cruised around LA and The OC until the wee hours, listening to Lou Reed and shooting the breeze - which was pretty much what bored college students with minimal disposable income would do. The only other excitement was when we noticed what looked like a pretty huge fire out in what we figured was the Westminster or Garden Grove area - so we drove as near as we could get to the scene and watched this building that apparently was still under construction burn as firefighters tried to put the fire out. After that, with the effects of the caffeine and nicotine wearing off (and additional nicotine doing absolutely no good), we called it a night.

Surprise, surprise, surprise

Speculators caused 2008 oil price crisis (h/t naked capitalism). I recall last year some folks were trying to tell us that the oil prices (and by association gasoline, diesel, and heating oil prices) we were experiencing were not based on what they referred to as market fundamentals. In other words, given the available supply, and given the demand, there was no justification for $147 per barrel oil costs (depending on the analyst, it seemed the consensus was around $70-$100 as more reality-based). In other words, something was not quite adding up, and part of the problem was with the speculators looking for a new playground after their fun with the real estate market ended. The temptation for speculators to jack up the cost of oil is still quite present, as we've seen in recent weeks and months. Demand pretty much peaked last summer, and even with the major oil producers reducing their supplies, there's still more oil out on the market than there are buyers. As to whether any of this indicates that we've reached or passed the point at which oil producing capacity has peaked (i.e., what we mean with the term "peak oil") I'm pretty skeptical - I'm no optimist (i.e., the folks who think everything will be rosy through about 2030 or later), but I don't quite yet share the views of the pessimists who think we passed the peak last year or as early as 2005. We're way behind the curve on alternative energy research, and are quite vulnerable to oil price spikes that would actually be based upon fundamentals.

The human consequences of the oil bubble were profound, as the inflated prices led to a partial breakdown of the systems that distribute such goods as food, leading to food riots in parts of the world, shortages elsewhere (I've written about the ones I noticed in my neck of the woods), and for those of us in rural areas in the US, more impoverishment as travel costs began to eat up 10%-15% of household income (by travel costs, I'm thinking primarily in terms of commuting to and from work, the grocery store, etc.). Regulation of futures markets would appear to prevent a repeat performance of last year's energy cost spike, as would of course seriously funding and promoting research on alternative sources of energy.

An almost one-hit wonder

Here's one from the Daily Titan's Back Pages (see pages 3&4):
Disarray searching for niche

Consider the old desert island dilemma: one desolate island and - just three albums of your choice.

Depending upon circumstances and tastes, the choice possibly would include popular favorites like the Police or U2, or maybe a pop sound like Prince.

It would be hard to imagine ever choosing a local band like Disarray.

But on second look and listen, a group like Disarray would only seem natural.

The band's sound crosses over from hard rock to pop to rock n' roll with even a taste of funk. The wide array of styles would be perfect, considering the forced lack of selection.

There is only one problem: the band would have to find its own way to the island, because the members have yet to release an album.

Disarray has been together for five years, playing the local club circuit and creating a loyal following. It might just be a matter of time, however, before the quintet, which will headline June 10 at the Roxy, gets that elusive break.

"What we are doing, we feel, is ahead of what is happening right now," said guitarist Dan Warren. "Right now they are having a problem catagorizing us. That's business.

"We are certainly a crossover band. We can be played on KROQ, KLOS, KMPC, and even KIIS with some of our tunes.

"That pleases us that we are diverse. We've opened for just about every style that exists."

Disarray opened for such acts as Dramarama (at a CSUF show). The Unforgiven and Fishbone. Lately, they have been headlining, while a demo tape has received airplay on KLOS-FM and many college stations. It's the same way most bands get their start.

"It all comes down to someone in the industry taking a chance," said vocalist Phil Flores. 'That's what happened to U2. No one would have thought a band like U2 would make it to be the No. 1 band in the world.

"The music business is all money. It's all lawyers. It's a drag.

"We know we're going to get signed sooner or later. But it's going to be a long road when we first get in there because we are going to have to fight a lot as far as creativity goes and as far as what we want and what the label wants."

With more than 30 original songs, Disarray has enough material to put out at least one album. The band also has experience in the studio after recording the demo tape.

Disarray also has a quality sound, based on strong lead electric and acoustic guitar, bass, drums and keyboards — a sound that might one day bring commercial success.

"Private Paradise- probably their best song - would be well-suited" for play "on KROQ-FM, KllS-FM, or even KYMS-FM. "Fire", more of a rock-based tune, has already been played on KLOS-FM. "Walk That Talk" moves more toward funk than rock.

No matter what style of music the band is playing, Disarray always seems to get across its message.

"There is no order to this world. We are a product of it and all of our songs deal with life in general," Flores said.

The band says they like to preach peace.

"So many Los Angeles-based bands preach gloom and doom," Warren said. "They are obsessed with death. We are obsessed with life."

"We are not in array with everything else that is out there. We are in disarray."
I have recalled a time around the late 1980s (I'd been guessing 1989, but apparently it really was 1988) when the song "Private Paradise" could be hear on just about any radio station I happened to tune in on my way to school or work. One of the things I had liked about that song was that it really didn't quite fit into any particular rock category - it had a sort of "classic rock" vibe, but in an "alternative rock" (a label that was already badly outdated by the late 1980s) sort of way (which explains why both KLOS and KROQ were picking it up at the time). The hook was sufficiently catchy, the instrumentation kept one's attention, the lyrics were perhaps not the most profound in the world but were better than much of what was out there. It was basically a nice laid back party song.

That was pretty much where it ended for Disarray (not to be confused with a more recent metal band that uses the same name). Their 15 minutes was up, and they'd been long forgotten when I first encountered guitarist Dan Warren performing on the coffee house circuit in the early 1990s. At that point, Dan was playing in a folk-rock duo called War n' Cocoa, and part of their act included an acoustic version of "Private Paradise". I recall asking Dan about that song - mostly just trying to figure out if that was the tune I'd been hearing on the radio a few years earlier, and if he'd been involved with the band who performed it. Of course my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I got the lowdown on his days with Disarray. The band managed to gain some minor notoriety in the western half of the US, but never quite landed a recording deal.

Dan Warren was viewing musical performing as a hobby by the time I got to know him (as a member of a folk-rock duo called War n' Cocoa). He had a day job, mortgage, wife and kids, and the usual trappings of middle class existence, and seemed content with the cards life had dealt him. He simply was one of a number of reasonably talented singer/songwriters who probably deserved some commercial success, but was not quite in the right place at the right time. Dan's post-Disarray material for War n' Cocoa was consistently excellent, and the guy had quite a vocal range.

Somewhere I think my wife still has an old demo tape of War n' Cocoa that reprises "Private Paradise" - that version has a "recorded in the garage" feel to it, that although not quite as smooth as the old radio version still evokes pleasant memories. War n' Cocoa developed a bit of a local following during their run in the early to mid 1990s (their gigs almost always packed whatever venue they played in Orange County and Chino), before life simply got in the way - well, that and the fact that the coffee house scene was starting to die out by then. My wife and I moved to the midwest, and eventually lost touch with War n' Cocoa. For a while they had a mailing list going to keep friends and fans updated on gigs and demo tapes before they called it a day.

Sidebar: At some point perhaps I'll write a bit more about that coffee house scene during the early 1990s. It was a scene that a girlfriend (and now wife) introduced me to in 1992, and for which I have tons of good memories. In terms of music, there was quite a bit of talent to be found on any given night. The atmosphere of these places was what I really dug. At the time, most coffee houses in So.Cal. were mom & pop operations (this was before Starbucks and Seattle's Best drove out or bought out nearly every independent coffee house still in existence). These places were built for their patrons to relax, to hang out, to socialize. They added some much-needed character to the strip malls that dominated so much of the region. For a while, one of the more successful venues was located in Brea (Regency) - it was in a good, highly visible spot, had plenty patio space for those wanting to enjoy the coffee outdoors (which in So.Cal. you can do most of the year), offered up a damn good cup of coffee, and weren't overpriced. My wife's memory of the various venues on the coffee house circuit is a bit better than my own, so I'll have to quiz her I suspect to get the details straight. But I digress. These venues offered one viable outlet for the under-21 set to hear live music. Not surprisingly, depending on the performer on a given night, one could find quite a mix of people in the audience ranging from the teens to middle age (usually those jonesing for a Cat Stevens cover or two) to the elderly. Good times. Good times.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My fellow human beings never cease to amaze



I did see The Room on a cable station late at night a few months ago. It is indeed every bit as badly written, acted, and filmed as described in the above video clip. The Room did offer up its share of apparently unintended humorous moments. I don't think I'd wait in a long line to see it though. That said, it is one of those films that I would probably tell friends with just a perverse enough sense of humor, "you gotta see this."

The heat is on

After a few years of relative climate stability, get ready for temperatures to ramp up once more over the next few years (h/t naked capitalism):
The world faces record-breaking temperatures as the sun's activity increases, leading the planet to heat up significantly faster than scientists had predicted for the next five years, according to a study.

The hottest year on record was 1998, and the relatively cool years since have led to some global warming sceptics claiming that temperatures have levelled off or started to decline. But new research firmly rejects that argument.

The research, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, was carried out by Judith Lean, of the US Naval Research Laboratory, and David Rind, of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The work is the first to assess the combined impact on global temperature of four factors: human influences such as CO2 and aerosol emissions; heating from the sun; volcanic activity and the El Niño southern oscillation, the phenomenon by which the Pacific Ocean flips between warmer and cooler states every few years.

The analysis shows the relative stability in global temperatures in the last seven years is explained primarily by the decline in incoming sunlight associated with the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle, together with a lack of strong El Niño events. These trends have masked the warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

As solar activity picks up again in the coming years, the research suggests, temperatures will shoot up at 150% of the rate predicted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Lean and Rind's research also sheds light on the extreme average temperature in 1998. The paper confirms that the temperature spike that year was caused primarily by a very strong El Niño episode. A future episode could be expected to create a spike of equivalent magnitude on top of an even higher baseline, thus shattering the 1998 record.

The study comes within days of announcements from climatologists that the world is entering a new El Niño warm spell. This suggests that temperature rises in the next year could be even more marked than Lean and Rind's paper suggests. A particularly hot autumn and winter could add to the pressure on policy makers to reach a meaningful deal at December's climate-change negotiations in Copenhagen.

Bob Henson, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, said: "To claim that global temperatures have cooled since 1998 and therefore that man-made climate change isn't happening is a bit like saying spring has gone away when you have a mild week after a scorching Easter."
The article includes a nifty graph that illustrates quite aptly the trends in global temperatures, which should make abundantly clear something that some of us have noted for a while: even with the fluctuation in temperatures from year to year, the trend has been unmistakably warmer.

I hate to see good blogs go fallow

Ted Barlow's Syndrome has claimed quite a few blogs in recent months. Mike of Okiedoke offered his penultimate post last month; we await only his finale. Some fairly consistent liberal blogs went silent earlier this year: Nattering Nabob, 'Twas Him, Pressing the Flesh, and No Capital come to mind. Jon Swift, who no doubt would have had much to say about Birthers and all other manner of right-wing wisdom, stopped without warning this spring. One of my favorite lefties (the real deal, not the faux prog variety), Scary ShIt made an announced hiatus in the dead of winter. One blog's updates ended when its author passed away (The Fourth World's archives still remain for what I hope will be posterity). Even community blogs aren't immune to Ted Barlow's Syndrome: Never In Our Names seems to have vanished without a trace (Alexa, if you are reading this, you and that wonderful blog you helped to fire up are both very much missed).

Sometimes life just gets in the way (I know that feeling all too painfully well this summer). Hopefully a few of these folks resurface.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Separate fact from fiction

When making sense of the current state of US health "care" it is advisable to get as many perspectives as possible, including those of American expatriates. Their stories should provide ample ammunition to put to rest the claims made by status quo proponents and propagandists. I've mentioned a bit of my own dealings with the current US system. I probably haven't mentioned that some surgeries my wife required earlier this decade did actually force us into bankruptcy. That was an experience I never want to repeat, but fear I probably will if our current system continues on its present course.

Just remember that there is absolutely no reason for an industrialized nation to have the sort of system that makes Venezuelans look at us with pity.

Odds and ends

Malalai Joya & Lance Corporal Joe Glenton Speak Out

The Century of the Self (Part 1 of a 4-part series)

More French Revolution

So what have we learned today children, if nothing else?

What would Ralph do?

Artisanal Retro-Futurism and Team-Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism (h/t)

Churchill juror slams judge’s ruling on reinstatement

Feral Cats Reduce House Values

The consequences of embracing the status quo

Here's the punchline at Newshoggers:
In a report at American Progress today titled Health Care Premiums Run Amok, David Cutler writes (emphasis added):
Health care costs are expected to grow 71 percent over the next decade, which will in turn drive premium increases for health insurance. … average family premiums will grow to more than $22,000 by 2019, up from $13,100 today. In some states with higher-than-average premiums, family premiums will exceed $25,000 in 10 years. Of course, a family's total health care costs will be even higher once co-payments and other out-of-pocket expenses are calculated into the total.
For all except a lucky few whose companies pick up the bulk of their premiums, our premiums are already -- as I'm wont to repeat -- like a second rent (or mortgage, as the case may be). Who can pay a third?
If we're lucky, under that scenario, we might still have the same lifespan (which is currently comparable to that of Portugal, but below many other industrialized nations) and other quality of life indicators will be at their sorry status quo levels. More realistically, we'll probably see a further decline in those quality of life indicators, while paying more for our health "care" than ever before. Said it before and will say it again - someone obviously profits from the status quo. The problem is that unless we're of the privileged class we don't reap any benefits.

Footnote: Lisa at Punkass Blog has a good illustration of what a lack of health insurance coverage means.