Monday, September 15, 2014

WATCH: John Oliver Exposes Sham of For-Profit Colleges

From AlterNet:

Oliver spends the bulk of the program exposing the misleading tactics of for-profit universities like DeVry University and ITT. These institutions account for 30% of national college loans, even though their students only make up 14% of the total higher education population. The schools prey on low-income and disenfranchised communities, offering them subpar educations at exorbitant prices.

More here, with video.

The for-profit university was disturbing to me from the moment I understood the concept. My original discomfort came from my knowledge, as an educator, that the "product" sold by these businesses is so esoteric and abstract that quantifying and assigning monetary value to it is extraordinarily difficult. So there had to be something wrong with it from the get go. It is a necessarily dishonest venture.
Apparently, however, as John Oliver so adeptly illustrates, that's all just the tip of the iceberg with how lame for-profit colleges are.

Really, the biggest problem, as I see it, is our culture's recently embraced confusion about the differences between university study and job training. That's the opening these predator institutions use to rip people off.


Sunday, September 14, 2014


OBAMA: "So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East — including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region — including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners — including Europeans and some Americans — have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks."

As with Saddam Hussein, the Islamic State are DEFINITELY bad guys. But I don't see a damned thing here suggesting that the US has any vital interest that would necessitate any sort of combat activity at all on our part. ISIL is a regional military force geared toward taking territory, not an Al Qaeda style global terrorism operation; the whole notion that they're going to send Americans and Europeans back to blow us all up is absurd. That is, Obama is making a really flimsy and, by his own admission, unsubstantiated argument, just about as bad as any of the crap offered by the Bush administration to get us into Iraq.

I mean, you know, unless dominating the Middle East, economically and politically, because of the oil, is a US vital interest. Personally, I don't think it is. We've gotten our oil from elsewhere since the oil shocks of the 1970s, so in any worst case scenarios we're still going to have access to the fossil fuels we use to power our economy. Yeah, yeah, global oil market, yadda, yadda. Is it really our responsibility to make the world safe for oil? And is killing more Muslims the best way to do that?
No, and no.

OBAMA: "That's why I've insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days. So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat."

Sigh. There is no inclusive Iraqi government. Iraq is now dominated by Shiites, and the Sunnis continue to be squeezed out. For that matter, Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq simply don't trust each other, and this will remain the case for the foreseeable future. Indeed, the Islamic State exists for this very reason. We can't just order Iraq to get its shit together and then declare that they're ready to be our ally. I mean, that's a stupid joke.

OBAMA: "Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy."

"Degrade" maybe. "Destroy" no way.

OBAMA: "Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we're hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense."

I'll believe this about "Iraqi forces" when I see it. Thus far, the "Iraqi government" hasn't instilled me with much confidence.

OBAMA: "Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition."

Wait a minute. I thought the Islamic State comprises a big chunk of Syrian opposition forces. This is just a big mess we're walking into, and, for me, these kinds of statements make Obama's speech near-incoherent at points.

The third and fourth points aren't so bad, the stuff about cutting funding for terrorists, improving intelligence, and upping humanitarian aid. So that's good stuff. But I'm also concerned about what, exactly, this "broadly based coalition" is going to be. Sure, I'm all about coalitions when it comes to world affairs. But there are coalitions like the joke one we bought for the Iraq invasion in 2003, and then there are coalitions like the UN. Needless to say, the UN is the far superior option.

But really, analyzing this speech on its own terms is something of an exercise in futility. The problems in the Middle East are pretty simple when you get right down to it:

1) All the industrialized nations want the region's oil. 2) The history of colonialism there has made the region inherently unstable, with artificially drawn borders, despots, and multiple ethnic/religious groups possessing legitimate grievances. And 3) The US decided long ago to embrace the region's instability, appointing Israel to be our local attack dog; it is, therefore, impossible to separate Israel's oppressive treatment of the indigenous Palestinian population from US policy in the Middle East.

And that's it. They're BIG problems, to be sure, but not nearly as complex as they appear to be when you listen to American establishment blathering about it, which is essentially what Obama's speech is, US establishment blathering.

The bottom line here is that, without addressing the root problems in the Middle East, instability will continue. Period. No way around it. And Obama isn't suggesting ANYTHING that would deal with those root problems. He's just trying to find a way to continue the long reign of Middle Eastern instability because the American establishment's perception is that this is beneficial to us. We want it to be unstable, but not so unstable as to hurt business. So US policy, from Nixon to Obama, has been all about finding the right level of instability, the one that makes us top dog.

Of course, that's totally insane.

For the full text of Obama's latest war speech, click here.


Saturday, September 13, 2014


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.  And, obviously, my computer problems are now fixed.  Well, actually, I had to buy a new one.  But that doesn't matter now.  Just enjoy the music.


Monday, September 08, 2014


...pretty bad ones, in fact.  So I'm going to be keeping a low profile for the next few days.  Hopefully, I'll be back soon.


Sunday, September 07, 2014

What Seeking an Abortion Was Like Before Roe v. Wade

From AlterNet:

The four years since 2010 have brought us a resurgence of antiabortion legislation, with hundreds of restrictions enacted at the state level. The guiding theory of this renewed anti-abortion activism is that abortion is the source of social ills, and that the way to end abortion is to make it illegal. Yet we know from long experience that criminalizing abortion neither ends the practice nor alleviates social ills. That, at any rate, is the timely and provocative lesson to be drawn from Nancy Howell Lee’s 1969 book, The Search for an Abortionist: The Classic Study of How American Women Coped With Unwanted Pregnancy, which was originally published by University of Chicago Press and was recently reissued by Forbidden Bookshelf, a division of Open Road Media.

More here.

In addition, of course, to the privacy rights on which the Roe v Wade decision was based, there's a damned good reason we made abortion legal back in 1972: keeping it illegal caused far more problems than it solved.  Actually, being pro-choice, I don't think criminalizing abortion solves any problems at all, but I'm sure you get my drift.  Making abortion illegal is beyond problematic.

For starters, the rate of abortions in this country appears to be fairly constant, whether it's legal or not.  As the article observes, before Roe, there were anywhere between 200,000 and 1.2 million abortions per year in this country--it's impossible to know for sure because, obviously, it's difficult to obtain accurate statistics for a practice taking place in the shadows, but this is a widely accepted estimate.  In contrast, there were 1.2 million abortions in 2008, and that's with a much larger population than the one we had in 1972.  So maybe keeping abortion illegal would stop a million abortions.  Maybe not.  Probably not.  But it's definitely fair to argue that it is entirely possible that it makes no difference at all whether abortion is legal or not.  Women get abortions.  We cannot stop it.  And we probably can't even reduce the numbers.

And that essentially puts us into a "War on Drugs" situation when it comes to contemplating the concept of illegal abortions.  We're talking about laws that people don't obey, laws designed to accomplish something which they cannot accomplish, laws that we pay lots of money to enforce, but fail to enforce.  Wasted money, wasted effort, wasted lives caught up in the criminal justice system, a mockery of rule-of-law because society is trying to do something of which it is incapable.  So anti-abortion laws are just a big huge fat joke.

Of course, the problems created by illegal abortion go much deeper than simply those of the "War on Drugs" variety.  When abortion is illegal, there is a very good chance that it's also unsafe.  Needless to say, unsafe, when we're talking about a surgical procedure, is SIGNIFICANT.  That is, when we criminalize abortion, we force frightened and desperate women to take their lives into their own hands.  All so we can say that abortion is illegal, and for no other reason.  Pro-lifers would harm and kill women just so these moralists can say that they're saving lives, which they aren't because anti-abortion laws don't stop abortions.  It's vain, fanciful, blood-soaked narcissism with a body count.  Some "pro-life" attitude.

And there are also profound civil rights issues, too.  Because only women can get pregnant, anti-abortion laws apply only to women.  It's the state getting inside women's bodies in order to control their behavior.  And their bodies.  They reduce women, and only women, to government property status.  It is impossible for women to be equal and full citizens when abortion is illegal.  That is, you can't be a person in the eyes of the law, or society, when you are also considered to be property.

And the list of ills associated with anti-abortion laws just goes on and on and on.  It's a hopeless quagmire of stupid social shit.  It's all just too damned problematic.  Sure, for a lot of pro-lifers, it seems like a fine idea.  Save the babies.  Stop the murder.  But I seriously doubt most pro-lifers have really thought through the ramifications of what it is they support: a fractured societal existence breeding hypocrisy, incarceration, physical injury, death, humiliation, and contempt.  That's what "pro-life" must ultimately mean.  A worse society.  A joke civilization.

Roe v Wade is one of the best things that ever happened in this country.


Saturday, September 06, 2014


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, September 05, 2014



Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Thursday, September 04, 2014


From Daily Kos, courtesy of Eschaton:

Incarcerated For Writing Science Fiction

"A Dorchester County, Maryland, teacher was taken in for an 'emergency medical evaluation,' suspended from his job, and barred from setting foot on another public school. Authorities searched his school, Mace's Lane Middle School in Cambridge, for weapons. As classes resumed, parents worried that their children were in danger, so police decided to remain on the premises to watch over them.

What happened? The teacher, Patrick McLaw, published a fiction novel. Under a pen name. About a made-up school shooting. Set in the year 2902."

More here.

My first year teaching was when Columbine happened.  It was emotionally tough; there was no way for me to avoid thinking about my own students, about just how horrible such an event must have been.  I listened to a spot on NPR shortly after the shooting when they named all those who were killed.  I cried.

That was bad enough.  The shooting itself was bad enough.  What took me by complete surprise, however, was the reaction of the school in which I worked.  Columbine, being in Colorado, is hundreds of miles away from Baytown, Texas, and, needless to say, the shooters themselves were dead very quickly after their massacre.  But that didn't stop district authorities from trying to protect us all from them.  For a few weeks, police presence on campus beefed up.  New emergency procedures were established.  Loitering in the hallway became a SERIOUS offense.  Trench coats were now forbidden.

Or, rather, I should say that trench coats were "officially" forbidden for everybody.  But really that only meant black trench coats.  Black trench coats worn by kids who listened to Marilyn Manson.  Who wore black eyeliner.  Who wore black t-shirts.  It was pretty amazing, really.  Amazing and almost as horrifying as the shooting in Columbine itself.  A tragic event across the country meant cracking down on non-conformists in the school where I worked.  Just because.

While I was surprised at the time, in deep hindsight, it makes complete sense.  Public schools in the US have been pursuing the concept of "zero tolerance" for many years now, turning standard student sass into a significant administrative disciplinary issue, turning administrative disciplinary issues into actual crimes.  That is, kids are often arrested now for stuff that would have gotten you d-hall thirty years ago.  And police are now a common presence on campus.  All it takes is for a shooting somewhere in the country to put everyone on lockdown.  As each year goes by, our schools are incrementally, baby step by baby step, becoming more like prisons.

To me, this is simply the logical conclusion of the institutional mania toward orderliness and obedience deeply embedded in our society's conceptualization of schooling--it was only a matter of time before this shit started happening.  But whether you think that's the case or not, it's pretty damned clear that there's something wrong with how we're approaching security in our schools.  I mean, for god's sake, the school security apparatus has turned on a freaking TEACHER.  For writing a scary story.  That's totally f'd up.

No, I don't care if you think this means your baby is in danger.  You're wrong.  Teachers OUGHT to do things like write stories.  I don't care if you think kids dressing in black are a menace to society.  You're an idiot.  You know nothing.  And you definitely have no business, as an idiot, telling the schools what they should be doing.  You should go back to school, yourself, because you're stupid.

You know, when you combine this awful "zero tolerance" mindset with all this standardized testing mania, all this "accountability" crap about "bad teachers," what chance do you think the schools have for teaching some real critical thinking skills?  None at all.  Just none.  This is pathetic.  


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ted Cruz's dad: African-Americans 'need to be educated' about minimum wage

From the San Antonio Express-News via the Houston Chronicle:

Black people "need to be educated" to stop supporting minimum wage laws, the father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told a gathering of Republicans in Central Texas in August.

The video, published by Buzzfeed, shows the Rev. Rafael Cruz encouraging members of the Western Williamson County Republican Club on Aug. 21 to purchase "Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed" authored by Jason Riley, an African-American member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

More here.

Leaving aside for the moment Rafael Cruz's utterly patronizing attitude toward blacks, I would say that somebody needs to educate HIM about the minimum wage.

When the only jobs available for an individual are minimum wage jobs, then it would be the height of lunacy for that individual not to support minimum wage hikes. And that's that. Abstract reasoning, pushed by businesses, and often bullshit, about "the economy" or "job makers" or "fewer jobs," has absolutely no meaning when you're trying to put food on the table for your family. You need better pay. You know the business employing you can afford it. You also know, in this now union free America, that they'll never give you a raise unless the government forces them to do it.

In short, you're freaking STUPID not supporting minimum wage increases when you work for minimum wage. Also, it stimulates the economy. Also, the only reason businesses are against it is because they're too short-sighted to understand that it benefits them, too, in the long run.

I'm so sick of this folk wisdom masquerading as serious thought.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Wages Dropped for Almost All American Workers in First Half of 2014

From AlterNet:

Think your money's not going very far this year? It's not your imagination. According to new research by the Economic Policy Institute, real hourly wages declined for almost everybody in the U.S. workforce in the first half of 2014. Thanks, so-called recovery.


This was true whether you had no high school degree, a high school diploma, some college, a college degree, or an advanced degree. In fact, people with advanced degrees saw the biggest drop (2.7 percent).

More here.

REPUBLICANS: Oh, well, of course wages have dropped.  We've got that socialist in the White House.  And tax-and-spend Democrats won't let us free business up enough to do its thing.

DEMOCRATS: Oh, well, of course wages have dropped.  The Republicans continue to control the House, which means Obama can't get anything done, and Bush really did leave a mess for the President to clean up, you know.

I'm so sick of hearing this shit.  Wages have dropped because nobody is doing anything to stop it.  For the Republicans, it's a fundamental misunderstanding of macroeconomics, originally based on the flawed assumptions of neoliberalism back during the Reagan era, but which has now devolved into bizarre folk wisdom, and I use the term "wisdom" very loosely here.  For Democrats, it's essentially the same thing, but without the devolution part--that is, with the Dems, it continues to be "morning in America," even though that sinister euphemism never did describe reality.

In short, both parties have embraced neoliberal thought, Reaganomics, corporatism, whatever you want to call it.  And it's total bullshit.  Kissing big business' ass does not grow the economy.  But that's what both parties have been doing, over and over, for decades, in spite of numerous demonstrable failures.  This is why I continue to say that there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties.

Well, okay, to be fair, maybe there's at least a dime's worth of difference.  But not much more than that.  The GOP, for instance, is very much into second amendment rights, while the Democrats prefer to protect the rights of people who don't want to die from gunshot wounds.  Republicans, in spite of their recent seeming love of "libertarianism," want the government inside all women's vaginas; Democrats, of course, oppose this.  And so on.  So yeah, there are some very important differences between the two parties.

But not when it comes to economics, which arguably affect our lives overall far more than any other issues.  On economics, Democrats and Republicans are in lockstep.  I mean, okay, yeah, the GOP establishment has to throw a few psychotic bones to their psychotic Tea Party base, you know, utterly irrational debt ceiling standoffs and the like, but philosophically, among Republicans who can pronounce the word "philosophically," there is something approaching full agreement with Democrats.  Low taxes, privatization, less regulation, anti-union attitudes, etc.  The stuff we've been doing in this country for three decades, always with shitty results.

I'd vote for somebody else, but I don't know who that would be.  And now Elizabeth Warren is all about terrorizing Gaza.  It just keeps getting worse.


Monday, September 01, 2014


From AlterNet:

What If Everything We Know About Treating Depression Is Wrong?

A subset of the mice who couldn’t produce serotonin were given antidepressant medications and they responded in a similar manner to the drugs as did normal mice. Altogether, the study found that serotonin is not a major player in depression, and science should look elsewhere to identify other factors that might be involved. These results could greatly reshape depression research, the authors say, and shift the focus of the search for depression treatments. 

The study joins others in directly challenging the notion that depression is related to lower levels of serotonin in the brain. One study has shown that some two-thirds of those who take SSRIs remain depressed, while another study has even found them clinically insignificant.

Critics of common antidepressants claim they’re not much better than a placebo, yet may still have unwanted side effects. 

More here.

This study, if replicated, goes a long way toward confirming a sense I've had for some years now: psychiatrists have no idea what they're doing.  At least, not with depression, and probably not with lots of other mental illnesses.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I've known a person or two over the years with some severe psychiatric disorders, and psychiatry has allowed them to live relatively normal lives.  So I'm not dismissing the field outright.  But the regulatory capture of the FDA some years back by Big Pharma insiders, with its accompanying rush-to-market of all kinds of pharmaceuticals which in previous eras would have been held off the market for a lot more testing, has shifted a great deal of psychiatry's treatment emphasis to drugs, rather than other forms of therapy.  Indeed, at some point around the turn of the twentieth century, I started realizing that a LOT of people within my social sphere were taking prescribed psychiatric drugs.  From Ritalin, to Prozac, to Paxil, it seemed, and continues to seem, that an ever increasing percentage of Americans are zooming on weird legal and establishment-recommended bizarro brain drugs.

Then I started encountering people with that Prozac stare.  I've long felt like something really disturbing is happening, and it is: the country is being medicated, for better or worse.  Somewhere along the line, I watched a really good Frontline documentary called "The Medicated Child."  Overall, it's about how psychiatrists are using drugs on children that have not been approved for use on children.  That's frightening enough, but the film explains how psychiatrists actually approach psychiatric drugs for all their patients: in short, they take guesses, prescribe drugs, and then make more guesses based on reactions and side-effects--a not insignificant number of patients end up taking four, five, or even six kinds of drugs, all of them attempting to treat each other's side effects, and one of them, presumably, treating the ailment that got the patient in the doctor's office in the first place.  They're so medicated it's like they're not even human beings anymore.

It's insanity, but it's being pushed by the sector of the establishment charged with making us less insane.
Now it turns out that the field may very well not understand the brain chemistry for depression AT ALL.  And it's kind of weird that we're just now figuring this out.  According to the linked article, antidepressants don't have a much better effect than placebos.  That is, we already know that these drugs might not even work.  But still they prescribe, prescribe, and prescribe.  And people zoom, zoom, zoom.

You know me.  I think profit has very likely driven the whole thing.  That the drug companies have a product they want to sell, and, by golly, they're going to use their economic muscle to make sure that product sells.  And sell it does.  But it might not even work!!!  I guess enduring a nation of drug-addled, and still depressed, zombies is simply the price we all have to pay so that corporate fat cats can make shitloads more money than most of us do.  But man.  This is some cold-hearted shit.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Florida County Unanimously Bans Atheists from Delivering Invocations at Public Meetings

From Raw Story via AlterNet:

The county commission in Brevard County, Florida, voted unanimously on Wednesday to prohibit atheists from offering invocations at public meetings, Hemant Mehta  reports.

The commissioners voted to send a letter to David Williamson, founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community, indicating that his group doesn’t qualify to deliver the invocation because it is defined as “an opening prayer, presented by members of our faith community.” 

More here.

If we're going to do this, if we believe that prayer before public meetings doesn't violate the first amendment, then we can't show favoritism, which would clearly be tantamount to the government "establish(ing) an official religion." So we've got to give everyone the chance to do their thing, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Satanists, Hindus, Scientologists and other UFO cults, pagans, Flying Spaghetti Monster worshipers, and yes, atheists.

That's why I think it's better just to do away with these kinds of government invocations and benedictions altogether. But the Supreme Court tells us that's not what the first amendment means. So let's bring on the atheists and other weird religions. It's the only way.


Saturday, August 30, 2014


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, August 29, 2014



Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Thursday, August 28, 2014


Saddam Hussein was an evil and brutal dictator. But Iraqi Christians were not persecuted by his secular regime. Indeed, his longtime foreign minister, deputy prime minister, and close advisor Tariq Aziz is, in fact, a Christian. So Hussein's reign was horrible, but Christians were allowed to worship there freely.

Of course, that all changed once the US toppled his government. And now we have ISIS persecuting Christians. While the US itself isn't doing the persecuting, our invasion and horribly botched occupation made it all possible. So it's our fault. If we had left Iraq alone, Christians there would have nothing to fear as far as religious freedom goes.

What's the lesson here? The denomination in which I grew up, the Southern Baptists, were by far the biggest religious group supporting the 2003 invasion, and they are now, I'm quite certain, absolutely horrified by what ISIS is doing over there. Here's the lesson: be very careful what you wish for because you can never be quite sure what you're going to get.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ferguson, gun control and Second Amendment hypocrisy

From Salon:

But 30 members of the open-carry group the Huey P. Newton gun club did march in the streets of Dallas earlier this week, armed with AR-15s, shotguns and rifles, chanting about Black Power. One of the marchers by the name of Drew X, with the New Black Panther Party, was quoted as saying, “If they don’t get these people under control with this police brutality and this abuse, this gonna be an international crisis.”

And this has the right wing very confused. A quick look around the Internet finds some perfunctory commentary supporting the group’s right to bear arms, but eventually people are pointing out the fact that one cannot be a “felon” and own guns. Finally they get down and dirty with assertions that the demonstrators must be bloods and crips and start whining that African-Americans are racist for mentioning that people of color are particularly at risk from police abuse. And then there are the hilarious jokes like this one: “If black people could get some marksmanship training it would really cut down on the number of innocents killed by stray bullets in certain neighborhoods.”

There’s a reason for this confusion and it goes to one of the fundamental reasons why these gun proliferation proponents are so passionate in their desire to be armed at all times. Let’s just say it isn’t fear of the federal government.

More here.

Who's the man with the master plan? This really cracks me up. The usual Second Amendment enthusiasts really don't know what to say about black militants embracing open carry. And their confusion is both funny and delightful. I guess they only mean open carry for people who share their politics. And skin color. But they can't really just come right out and say so, can they?

The Huey P. Newton Gun Club, indeed.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Anti-Abortion Tea Party Congressman Who Asked Mistress to Get Abortion Could Win Primary

From Mother Jones:

Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who pressured a woman—one of two patients he admitted having affairs with—to get an abortion in the 1990s, appears to have narrowly avoided becoming the fourth Republican incumbent to lose a primary this year. With 100 percent of precincts reporting on Thursday, he led state Sen. Jim Tracy by 35 votes—34,787 to 34,752. (The results are not official and a recount is possible, although the state has no law mandating one in such circumstances.) The abortion revelation emerged after DesJarlais' 2012 primary, when the only thing standing between him and reelection in the deeply Republican district was a token Democratic candidate in the general election.

More here.

This reminds me of the proverbial soccer mom who is staunchly pro-life...until her teenage daughter gets pregnant. I have absolutely no doubt that many, many Americans who identify as pro-life are quite sincere, but stories like the one linked above, and there seem to be a lot of them, when put together with anti-birth control attitudes, anti-sex ed attitudes, and opposition to giving assistance to poor single mothers, all make me kind of not take the pro-life movement too seriously these days. From where I sit, it seems to be a bunch of empty and contradictory rhetoric, more about scoring political points and scolding the sluts than it is about saving lives.

I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Lindsey Graham: If Obama Doesn't Go On Offense, Terrorists Are 'Coming Here'

From the Huffington Post:

"[Obama is] trying to avoid a bad news story on his watch," Graham said on Sunday. "This is not a replacement for a strategy to deal with an existential threat to the homeland. To every member of Congress, we've been told by every major intelligence leader in our nation that we're threatened. The homeland is threatened by the presence of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. To change that threat, we have to have a sustained air campaign in Syria and Iraq. We need to go on offense."

More here.

For anybody who hasn't realized that the Republicans jumped the shark on foreign policy a decade or so ago, here's their latest piece of 70s sitcom absurdity. These days, Republicans jump the shark several times a week.

The deal to me is that ISIS is CLEARLY a regional threat, with virtually no ability to project their force abroad, and I mean with suicide bombers and whatnot. Also, they seem to have their hands pretty full in Iraq at the moment. To even entertain the notion that they are a direct threat to the continental US is to engage in high absurdity. This is not a serious statement Graham is making.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ferguson Cops Busted? New Video Seems To Show Brown Paying For Cigarillos

From Crooks and Liars:

Ferguson police's attempts to demonize Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teen killed by Officer Darren Wilson, may have hit a small snag. The very video they released at the same time as they identified Wilson as the officer responsible for shooting Brown six times, including twice in the head, may show the opposite of what they intended.

More here, with video.

Not that this ultimately matters, because, you know, the police shouldn't perform summary executions of suspects in the street, but it appears Michael Brown did NOT, in fact, steal anything at all. Indeed, the tip off to law enforcement about the "robbery" didn't come from anyone working in the store; it was from some confused bystander.

What this means is that the Ferguson PD is DEFINITELY trying to get the public to think that killing Brown is okay because he was just your typical "black thug." A lot of people have fallen for it. And what that means is that we have a lot of stupid, ill informed, and possibly racist citizens in this country, who are all, like, oh, he stole cigars, so it's okay to shoot him in the street.

They did the same thing with Trayvon Martin, let loose the cry "BLACK THUG!!!!" I am thoroughly disgusted. As if killing Brown wasn't enough. They've got to turn him into a racist caricature worthy of death.


Saturday, August 23, 2014


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.



Friday, August 22, 2014



Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Who rules America?

From the Hill courtesy of Hullabaloo:  

"The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a 'non-significant, near-zero level.' The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups."

More here.

This became achingly obvious to me back in the 90s and I've been saying so since then. A lot of people over the years have either simply and assuredly disagreed or just sort of nodded and looked at me like I'm a bit crazy. But what's been obvious but denied for so long is now getting some solid quantifiable evidence behind it: our republic can no longer be described as democratic; we are ruled by the very rich, and the Democrats and Republicans alike do their bidding, not ours. The real question now isn't whether this has happened, but rather what are we going to do about it.

So...what are we going to do about it?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014


From the New Republic:

White St. Louis Has Some Awful Things to Say About Ferguson

"'It's bullshit,' said one woman, who declined to give her name. When I asked her to clarify what, specifically, was bullshit, she said, 'All of it. I don't even know what they're fighting for.'

'It's just a lot of misplaced anger,' said one teenage boy, echoing his parents. He wasn't sure where the anger should be, just that there should be no anger at all, and definitely no stealing.

'Our opinion,' said the talkative one in a group of six women in their sixties sitting outside the Starbucks, 'is the media should just stay out of it because they're riling themselves up even more.'

'The protesters like seeing themselves on TV,' her friend added.

'It's just a small group of people making trouble,' said another.

'The kid wasn't really innocent,' chimed in a woman at the other end of the table (they all declined to give their names). 'He was struggling with the cop, and he's got a rap sheet already, so he's not that innocent.' (While the first point is in dispute, the second isn't: The police have said that Michael Brown had no criminal record.)"

More here.

Let's not call it racism, okay? Because the moment that word is used, the brains inside the heads of the people I'm talking about suddenly lose access to all logical and rational ability. So I won't say "racist." I will, however, say "delusional." A lot of white people in America are COMPLETELY DELUSIONAL when it comes to issues of race and oppression. We will never solve the numerous longstanding problems with race in this country until these white Americans decide to stop living in their fantasies about the way the world works.

Unfortunately, I don't see that happening anytime soon.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"...with only a bare bones understanding of what it means to be alive..." THE COLLECTED SERIES

It's rambling and sprawling, yes, based on a massive facebook discussion, but it really gave me an opportunity to articulate my views about the crucial value of the humanities and critical thinking.  So I made a lot of effort to get it here on Real Art, and now I'm bundling it so it's all together and I can link the whole thing over in the Greatest Hits section to the left.

So go check it all out if you haven't yet done so.  It's a damned good discussion, if I do say so myself.

Part One.

Part Two.

Part Three.

Part Four.

Part Five.

Part Six.

Part Seven.



Monday, August 18, 2014

"...with only a bare bones understanding of what it means to be alive..." PART SEVEN

Here's the final part of the huge discussion which broke out on facebook after my post on the liberal arts (part two, part three, part four, part five, part six):

Matt Might be a problem with medium. You read the cartoon, processed it and then wrote an angry post in response. Your readers read an angry post, and then, maybe, read the cartoon. So I reacted to your words, not theirs. And I stand by my characterization of your words. Sorry. I think you overstate the wretched existence faced by someone who learns a trade and you overstate the blissful intellectual mental utopia enjoyed by anyone who studied the liberal arts. It might have been for contrast or it might have been because you were so torqued. Or both.

One assertion that I've made that you haven't addressed is that this is total troll bait. Somewhere Rush Limbaugh is sitting by the pool having his feet rubbed by pre-teen illegal immigrant girls and drinking baby blood chortling away at how made he made all the liberals this time. I don't think most people actually buy the premise here and this cartoon should be ignored.

I agree that the choice between college as job training and college as intellectual cultivation is important. Both are valid pursuits. Colleges seem to have embraced job training as a lucrative exercise and no one has done a good job of defining how the liberal part of the education should matter and in what measure. On the other hand, I think the academics in liberal arts sometimes do themselves a disservice by being isolated and out of touch. The value in a liberal education is to apply it to the world we live in not surround yourself with like-minds.

Your story of the moment when it came together for you is compelling. I'm not sure how broadly applicable it is. My story, likewise not necessarily common, is that my dad was a really rational guy and he read all the time. I grew up in a house full of books. Lots of history and science, lots of quality fiction. I like sci-fi and was exposed early to Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, etc. The 3 laws are a nice exercise in rationality. What I don't have that you got (despite having a Liberal Arts degree) was a hardcore, rigorous exercise in argument. I also feel my overall background is lacking. Probably should have traded in some sci-fi for some Plato or Aristotle or Pliny and son. But I like to think of myself as an open-minded rationalist.

So I see critical thinking first as a value - what I got from my Dad. And then a learned skill as you got in your film critique. I actually think most of my skill development in this area has come from my work. Frequent decision making, choice selection, value measurement done in the absence of complete information.

So, I guess what I'm asserting is there is a lot of critical thinking capability out there and it's acquired in lots of places. But people choose to not use it or to misuse it. For the WMD debate, there where lots who supported the argument simply as a convenient tool to get what they wanted. Critical thinking can also fail in the face of bad inputs - do you have wrong or flawed info? Have you REALLY looked for alternative viewpoints? It takes a lot of effort in time and in reading poorly constructed arguments from people you don't agree with! Which is no fun.

Alright, this self-trained critical thinker has constructed. Enough weak and poorly formed arguments for the moment. Have a nice Saturday, everyone!

Oh, one more - speaking of weak arguments, "I got more Likes"?!? Really. Mr. Critical Thinker? A popularity contest? Well, in that case, I delight in the fact that my argument was LESS popular proving that only the few enlightened Liberal Artists agreed with me, while your argument must have applied to all the dim existing proles!

Ron Or it might simply be that your comment was buried deeply down the thread and fewer people saw it and were unable to vote for it. But really, I was just trying to find a way to see how people were responding to the post.

And about that, I feel almost certain that most people's eyes look at pictures first and text second, which is what this all seems to come down to. But that's most people, not all people, which means that, in the end, if I ever encounter this situation again, I should think about that small percentage of the population looking at the text first.

Okay, this is just something I found on the internet to support my position, but the essay on web design I'm linking below seems to support my point of view:

"The image captures the eye’s initial gaze, and the caption is the next thing to be viewed, because of this fact, many journalists actively use this in their writing as well."

Actually, I bet if you dig enough you can find something that says the exact opposite.

Rush Limbaugh. Actually, I disagree on that. The notion that a liberal arts degree is useless predates his rise to prominence by at least ten or fifteen years. I know this because I remember the derisive references to studying "underwater basket weaving" when I was a kid in the 70s. That is, and I also know this because of the book I've just finished reading, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," this social bias against college study, or rather, study of something that is not perceived as having an immediate practical value, goes back centuries. It's embedded in the American cultural DNA. Limbaugh and his ilk may aggravate it, but they didn't invent it and only recently have contributed to sustaining it.

I mean, don't you recall our KHS lunch group referring to the brown-nosing types in our honors English classes as "liberal arts f**s"?

I don't think it was troll bait at all. I think it was expressing a very widely held bedrock view in this nation. One that I think needs to be decisively dismissed whenever it manifests. I mean, obviously.

Matt I certainly will not disagree that Rush Limbaugh is likely not the source for an original idea - but seems like the kind of thing he would offer to spin someone up. And I agree about the anti-intellectual trend - I would be interested what the book you just read said about the rise of this trend. Perhaps a brief synopsis is in order?

Ron What's great about the book, to me, is that it was published in 1962, but seems as though it is aimed at the current era.

Matt Well, that's interesting because it seems as if their are likely some legitimate roots of anti-intellectualism, hence the stereotypical scientist or liberal in movies, books, etc - remote, overconfident, overbearing. But since it became a political tool of the right, it's transformed into something else - it's moved from legitimate skepticism about experts (related to anti-authoritarianism) to derision of all things intellectual. Was '62 prior to mainstreaming of this trend by the politically minded?

Ron Actually, the Wikipedia blurb doesn't really answer your question directly. The two biggest factors affecting intellectualism in America were the frontier/pioneer rural nature for most Americans until the late nineteenth century or so, and the continuing hardcore nature of the Protestant Reformation, which was always trying to lessen the role of the church as an institution, with its emphasis on seminary and educated clergy, while increasing the role of the individual believer, which wedded with the American democratic spirit.

Actually, we see it in mainstream politics by the time Jefferson, an intellectual, was running for President. He was trashed as an elitist with all his book larnin'. We see the trend come to full fruition pretty quickly after that with the election of Jackson and his King Mob. Since then, politicians have routinely been criticized by opponents as being elitist snobs--there have been, of course, a few exceptions, Wilson, for one, FDR with his brain trust, and JFK with his best and brightest. But we've seen the same attacks recently, too, against John Kerry and Obama, in spite of the fact that most of these guys running for President are Harvard/Yale, anyway.

I mean, Bush, a Yalie, criticizing Kerry for going to Yale. We live in strange times. Romney did the same thing.

Matt Proves the point, doesn't it? Willful ignoring of pertinent facts. But we see lots of reasons for it as well - look at the terrible management of wars in our history - it's just one bad general after another killing men needlessly through incompetence. Neo-conservatism is an intellectual exercise - a bunch of college brainiacs explaining how this will all make our world better. Fail.

Ron Oh dude. You're so right. I do think that such knowledge in the hands of elites only, a class of intellectual "betters," is what leads to this kind of folly, which is why I would love seeing the population intellectually armed against manipulation by our "betters."

It's not simply the neo-cons, either. If you get some down time, I HIGHLY recommend this documentary about one of Kennedy's "best and brightest" Robert McNamara, who was unarguably brilliant, and who may have saved as many lives as he destroyed.

Also, it's got a Philip Glass soundtrack. Okay, now I've piqued your curiosity.

Okay, it definitely stings being called "arrogant and condescending," but I must admit that you inspired me to go all out in this discussion, and I think it has ended up being a pretty great one.

Matt Well, just to be clear, I was characterizing one thing you wrote. Sorry if it was overly strong or felt like a comment about you - I don't think that's you. Which is why it surprised me! But, yes, we ended up covering some interesting ground.

Ron Maybe you should call me arrogant more often.

Matt My pleasure!
'Nuff said.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

"...with only a bare bones understanding of what it means to be alive..." PART SIX

Here's the next part of the huge discussion which broke out on facebook after my post on the liberal arts (part two, part three, part four, part five):

Toni I'd like to say perhaps were not approaching this correctly? Sure we can pick on the lesbian gender studies major and his inability to get employment (there really is such a man, I met him), perhaps we should ask why employers shy away from those trained in critical thinking? I have found in my life that even when I have zero experience in an arena, I generally do alright, especially in the early stages. What we lack in experience we make up for in ingenuity.

Ron That's the thing, liberal arts majors do, indeed, know how to learn. That's the process. On the other hand, liberal arts majors, if they did it correctly, also ask questions. They point out what are perhaps better ways of doing things. They can be very threatening to their immediate superiors in this respect. At least that's my speculation.

I try not to ask too many questions at work, myself.

Matt Ok, I'm back at least for a few minutes. I'm at a conference and swamped so apologies if I have failed to generate sufficient word count and in a timely enough manner.

I stand by my assertion that YOUR OPENING LINE sounded arrogant and condescending. Why did I mention it? Because it is out of character for you to sound that way, unless it's for a laugh, and particularly directed at a working class individual. So I mentioned it to say, hey Ron, did you really mean to be this way or was it a miscommunication? Especially since the whole cartoon is a strawman argument that pits two stereotypes against each other so that a third stereotype, the right-wing elite who is using anti-intellectualism to divert attention from issues such as regulation, accumulation of wealth, environment, etc.

But, we managed to stumble on an interesting argument, which is the idea that a Liberal Arts education is necessary (not always but mostly) to be a critical thinker. And i don't agree. I think a Liberal Arts ed can do much to develop critical thinking by exposing you to the worker of other critical thinkers, to develop practices, etc. But, the critical thinkers I know had it before they got to college and you, Ron Reeder, are a great example of that. You have been a critical thinker since I met you in 6th grade. College was a great way for you to hone that but you picked it up earlier. So did I and many of the other wonderful folks we knew before college that we bonded with way back when. So from where does this come from, I don't know. And it's not just an academic questions for me - we're trying to figure out the best way to nurture what appears to be a capacity and thirst for this type of exploration in our 8 year old.

As for why Liberal arts grads don't get hired? I can't speak for retail, food service,etc. But having hired new college grads, they fall into two buckets - those who have an immediately applicable skill and those who do not. Degrees like Engineering, Finance have obvious applications. Some, like English actually do too - if I need a writer, this is a difference maker. All the rest (including both my degrees) fall into the "should go to grad school" category. If you want a white collar job and you don't have a skill degree, you're best bet is sales. I know, yuck. Sounds horrible. That was my first job and I did not love it. But it exposed me to the area I was interested in and good at and got me on my way. Once you have a couple years of work experience, college degrees mean nothing to me.

So if you didn't get a job because they are afraid of critical thinkers, be glad you got away - that place will suck to work. In my (admittedly unusual high-tech) world, critical thinking is a plus. Business is all about problem solving and innovation, especially in tech, so that style of thinking is appreciated.

Ok, got to go but rest assured I'm not abandoning the thread!

Wait, one more! I like your examples but I think the Obama thing is sort of counter to your assertion - wouldn't you think that many folks who voted for him were the liberal arts educated types?

Ron Okay, Matt, I'm gonna hit these comments quickly. I hope. Probably not quickly.

Anyway, no apologies necessary for a lower word count. As you know, I can get verbose, especially if I feel like I'm defending myself from an unfair accusation. So, I'm glad you're still hanging in there with this.

Okay, so I was right in my speculation that it was the opening line that you found to be "arrogant and condescending." Good to know. For starters, thank you for trying to help me out. I appreciate that. I've been blogging for twelve years now, and, even though I feel like over a decade's experience with struggling every day both to formulate and articulate my views on numerous issues has made me a decent essayist, I also know that I'm certainly nowhere near perfect, and it's highly probable that I'm going to write things that aren't crystal clear from time to time. Any help is appreciated, especially from a guy as intelligent and reflective as you. So thanks.

Now, having said that, I feel like we've gotten into some super ultra subjective territory here. That is, I think the only possible way to interpret that opening sentence as "arrogant and condescending" is to completely take it out of the context in which it is presented.

Let's take a look at that context, at least, as I see it.

First and foremost, the most eye-catching aspect of the post, is the cartoon, which presents an option between studying the liberal arts and going to trade school, with the liberal arts option clearly presented as something only for a "loser." Yes, yes, the liberal arts student is the one saying "loser," but the idea is to create a sense of judgmental irony; he's the real loser in this depiction, not the trade school student, who is presented as just a regular guy trying to live his life, not trying to lord it over others like the a-hole liberal arts student does. The message is completely clear: don't study the liberal arts because it's for losers; instead, learn a trade because you'll have a much better life.

And that's the crux with this. What makes the better life? Why, making good money, of course. Don't concern yourself with the great questions about existence. That stuff is for losers. Just make good money and you'll be fine.

Obviously, I TOTALLY disagree with that, which brings us to the next feature of the post, the text I included. There are a total of six sentences, which include "Hmmm" and "Screw them for eternity." Not a lot to digest, but clearly to be considered in light of the accompanying cartoon, presumably the first thing to which the reader's eye goes.

My opening line, or, at least, what I'm trying to do with the opening line, starkly portrays the false option offered by the cartoon below: dim reality with a good job versus life of the mind with a bad job. I mean, that's what I get out of the cartoon--don't worry about all that fancy book stuff; it's not nearly as important as good money. So I pull the subtext up and make it clear. This is what the cartoonist is telling us. And if that's the option, I'll take less money because having a really good understanding of the world is far more important to me.

In the second paragraph, I become more direct. I reject the false option: trade school and college are not the same thing. I then attack the cartoonist and his ilk pushing this non-equivalency--when you make college and job training the same thing, you're necessarily telling people not to concern themselves with a deep study of what it means to be a human being. So screw them.

So that's what I was trying to do, and that's how it continues to read to me. In order to assume that I'm attacking the guy who goes to trade school, it seems to me, you have to ignore everything else going on in the post, the cartoon and its message, the second paragraph, in which there actually is an attack, at the cartoonist, as well as the overall context of what I post most every day on facebook.

I think I should also add, even though it's ultimately hard to know for sure, that the post has gotten fifteen "likes" so far. So, if what I wrote reads as an attack on working people, then it's easy to assume that all fifteen of those people liking the post are totally down with that. I mean, like I said, it's hard to tell why anybody "likes" a particular post on facebook, but like I also said, we're in super ultra subjective territory with this exercise in parsing how the meaning of this post is perceived. Personally, I think those fifteen people fully understood my intended meaning.

On the other hand, you've got four "likes" on your comment first calling me arrogant and condescending, so who knows? Of course, I've been getting that here and there for my entire life, so maybe it was just time to call Ron out for his arrogance and condescension, regardless of the post's clarity.

Super ultra subjective territory, indeed.

But that's how I see it. I think you've seized upon one sentence, really only half of a sentence, and disregarded everything else going on with the post to arrive at your conclusion. So I think it's an unfair and totally subjective judgment. On the other hand, I don't think you're being insincere with this, and think of you as a deeply reflective person, so it's something for me to think about in future writing, for which I again thank you.

On critical thinking and a liberal arts education:

I think I'm defining critical thinking differently from how you are, Matt. I don't really date my ability as a critical thinker until some time during the early 90s when I was studying RTF at UT. I was writing essay after essay after essay, having to consider film and television from multiple perspectives, Marxist, feminist, Freudian, anthropological, art/auteur, semiotics, and on and on and on. It was in trying to reconcile what are sometimes profoundly different viewpoints into something coherent that it all clicked. Suddenly I was seeing arguments and underlying assumptions in ways I never had before. Suddenly I was questioning stuff, in a solidly academic way, about my entire life, about existence in America, as a man, as a white person, as a citizen, as an artist, and so on. That is, this is when I became able to generalize critical thinking to all areas of existence, and not just within limited subject areas.

I used to think I understood argumentation up until that point. But I didn't. I mean, sure, I think I approached life with a sort of critical spirit, a willingness to question everything, but it was unfocused, and usually coupled with an inability to look at assumptions and ideas that aren't explicitly stated.

I never would have come to that point if I hadn't studied the liberal arts. So sure, I think a person can do this on his own. It's not impossible and I'm sure it happens. But I, personally, would have never done it outside the context of college study. I'm kind of lazy unless I'm really into something, and at that point it was film.

I thought I was there to learn how to make movies. Instead, I opened my eyes for the first time. Kind of an accident, really.

Finally, Matt, you wrote "I like your examples but I think the Obama thing is sort of counter to your assertion - wouldn't you think that many folks who voted for him were the liberal arts educated types?"

Yes, one would think that.

Of course, critical thinking is something for which one must make an effort, even when trained in critical thinking. And advertising, which is essentially what modern presidential campaigning has become, is damnably effective in getting people to think irrationally. Not to mention the fact that the entire American political discourse rarely rises to the level of critical thinking.

This all adds up to a completely different, but related, discussion about what a society might look like if EVERYONE were trained in critical thinking. But for today, suffice it to say that liberals piss me off almost as much as conservatives.
Part seven, the final installment, tomorrow!


Saturday, August 16, 2014


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, August 15, 2014


Special Canine Edition: Little Lola's Death Stare

Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Thursday, August 14, 2014


Look, we need the police. As a social institution, they're vitally necessary. And the vast majority of them serve with bravery and distinction in one of the hardest and most dangerous jobs in which an individual can work. But there is brutal truth in the NWA classic song linked below. Brutal truth we're currently seeing played out in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

It's a damned shame this remains an ongoing aspect of American life twenty five years after the song was released.

And the point here for me isn't about any single event in Ferguson. It's the whole thing. It's the community's reaction. It's the police reaction. It's the socioeconomic situation. It's race. It's that we're seeing yet another one of these uprisings. We can point out small faults and blames all over the place all day long. But we're having another race riot, and, as usual, there's legitimate motivation driving many aspects of it. Why can't we get it together as a society such that this doesn't happen anymore?

Also, I hope everybody is able to make the connection between Gaza and Ferguson. Massive over-the-top military response against a legitimately aggrieved population with very little to lose. It's a national shame that the US supports what Israel is doing to Palestine, just as it is a national shame that we're having this retro Alabama shit in 2014.

Hopefully the arrival of Missouri state troopers will professionalize the situation.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"...with only a bare bones understanding of what it means to be alive..." PART FIVE

Here's the next part of the huge discussion which broke out on facebook after my post on the liberal arts (part two, part three,part four):

Matt Ron, just to be clear, I don't think you meant what i'm saying I heard, because it doesn't sound like you. My point is that I think you're attacking the wrong target. I'm not agreeing with the premise of the cartoon. Its excellent troll bait and it seems to have hit home on you. It plays to a stereotype and delights in it's anti-intellectualism. But I felt your original post took a shot, not at that troll, but towards a person who for whatever reason has pursued a trade degree. So I'm not saying don't be made, I'm just saying be mad at the actual bad guy here. And I also think that you are suggesting that college is the only place to learn the humanities, which I don't think is accurate. An appreciation for arts and the humanities is a mindset and it used to be much more well regarded in this country.

Ron Okay, sorry if I left you with that impression. I still feel like, at face value, I was clearly responding to the cartoon itself, and the anti-intellectual false option it offered. But also I feel like anybody who's read my stuff would take what I said in the overall context of what I usually write about, which is to say, I have an extraordinarily high regard for people who work for a living, but certainly not for people who tell us that working people should ONLY be working people, which is what I think the subtext for the cartoon is.

Indeed, I'm still confused as to how you ended up taking it that way, how you assumed I'm attacking a cartoon welder. I'm still confused about how you would call me arrogant based on even an isolated non-context reading of what I wrote. I mean, at which point was I attacking the welder guy? Where was the attack? I'm also confused as to how you would decide that I'm saying that one should only study the humanities in college. I certainly didn't say that, or even imply that. Personally, I think you're reading a great deal into what I wrote. You're attributing assertions to me that I never made or intended to make. That is, you're arguing with some guy who's not me, and who said things I didn't say.

Also, I continue to love you and think you're great. Please don't mistake the passion of my response for anything but passion. That cartoon is straight up offensive, to intellectuals and working people alike.

Tim Poking the bear...

Kim I went to a Career Services conference last week where a reoccurring theme was the need to track graduates and their employment rates/salary rate. There is a big push to qualify the cost of education against average first year salary (or at 5 yrs & 10 year.) Which is understandable with university costs going through the roof. However, here's where it gets scary. How is this data going to be used? Will it eventually be used to influence student loans? "You want a loan for an Engineering degree? Sure! 0% interest." "You want a loan for a philosophy degree? Ok, but 25 % interest." "Theater degree? Sorry. No loan."

Ron Roar!

Actually, Tim, I have no beef at all with making the observation that some degrees are much more employable than others. It's the commodification of the college degree that disturbs me. Three quarters of a century ago people went to college for its own sake. Tuition, at state supported universities, was either free or so dirt cheap as to not matter. But as states incrementally withdrew support from their colleges and universities, a trend which has been going on our entire lives and still continues, the cost of tuition skyrocketed. And that may very well be why people now look at higher education as an investment, rather than something with its own innate value.

And as society increasingly treats college as an investment, the innate value disappears. It truly saddens and horrifies me.

Ron Okay, it looks as though Matt  is done with this thread, but, after thinking about this for nearly twenty four hours, I feel like I need to address a bit more specifically his charges of condescension and arrogance.

Matt accused me of "attacking" the guy in the cartoon studying welding, and then, because I flat out reject this characterization of my words, I asked him what, exactly, the attack was. Without a response, I can only speculate about this: my assumption is that the "attack" was my description of an understanding of life without a study of the liberal arts as being "bare bones."

There are a lot of directions I could go with this, but I'm going to narrow it down to what I believe is probably the biggest payoff one receives from studying the humanities: critical thinking. If you don't study the liberal arts, it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that you will ever master critical thinking in a way that can be generalized to all areas of life.

I'm not saying it's impossible or that nobody does it on their own. But usually, one has to be trained to think in this way, and the humanities is essentially the only field that does this. I mean, high schools, god bless them, try really hard, and often give students a good start, albeit with specific subject areas, but as testing mania and "accountability" become more and more pervasive within the public schools, abstract thinking takes a back seat to objective tests. That is, we're heading away from this being a holy grail for high schools and towards something else entirely.

So the most likely people to master critical thinking skills are the students who study the liberal arts.

Here's the crux. If you don't have the ability to think critically about numerous subjects and areas of interest, then you are effectively out of the game. You don't really know what's going on in the world, and are greatly vulnerable to demagoguery, propaganda, and social manipulation. You're very likely not going to see what's going on outside the game board you're considering. You're very likely to accept what things appear to be, instead of digging deeply to see if "the way the world works" is actually the way the world works.

Or, worse, you may very well be in the game, but you're probably messing it up really badly.

In the last decade or so, two extraordinarily disturbing events illustrate this point very nicely. In 2003, we invaded Iraq, a nation ruled by a brutal dictator, yes, but also a relatively defenseless nation, one which could in no way be considered a threat to the United States. But Americans' post 9/11 fears were adroitly manipulated by the Bush administration and their propagandist-cheerleaders. What if Iraq hands over its weapons of mass destruction to the terrorists? The Bush people pounded away at this over and over. "We just don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice. And some ninety percent of the country was convinced that we had to invade Iraq.

But it was preposterous to suggest that Saddam Hussein, a secular leader, would arm Islamist extremists who wanted him dead almost as much as they wanted Americans dead. And this was obvious at the time to anybody who was unwilling to take what they're told at face value. Even more preposterous was the notion that Iraq had WMD. There was absolutely no evidence of their existence. Just none. And, again, this was achingly obvious to anybody willing to critically analyze White House press releases. So there was no need to go to war. It was all bullshit, but most Americans believed it, anyway. And now, hundreds of billions of dollars later, tens of thousands of deaths later, well, we just don't talk about it too much these days, do we?

This is what happens when you have a nation full of people who have not been trained in critical thinking. They are incapable of performing their vital role as citizens in a democracy. And disaster is the necessary result.

The second event is less earth-shaking, but no less disturbing to me because it deals with the failure of American liberals to think critically. In 2008, President Obama managed to hoodwink the American left into thinking he was one of them, using the inspirational but vacant rhetoric of "hope and change." Of course, all you had to do was go to his campaign website and look at his actual positions, and you'd know that he's conservative on most economic issues, and a hawk, not a dove, on foreign policy--I mean, not a hawk like Bush was, but certainly no peacenik. It's been amusing and satisfying these last six years watching disillusioned Obama liberals slowly come to the conclusion I did back in '08 when I simply read his platform online, but I would have greatly preferred my liberal comrades understood what was going on in the first place.

The bottom line here is that critical thinking MATTERS. It matters A LOT. It matters in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars. It matters in terms of loss of life, and pain, and suffering. It matters in terms of understanding the difference between right and wrong. And we now have so few Americans trained in critical thinking that we are seeing the consequences. Indeed, illusion is now our dominant national paradigm, whether we admit it or not.

All of this necessarily brings me back to Matt's accusation that I was attacking the welding student guy, that I was being "arrogant" and "condescending" because I described not studying the liberal arts as being the same as possessing a "bare bones" understanding of life. It might not be pretty, but it's definitely the truth. Especially these days.

And scolding someone for speaking the truth about this does nothing but perpetuate the pervasive American attitude which says that living in a state of diminished intellectual ability is good and acceptable. I just can't possibly sign up for that. Now, more than ever, we simply MUST have a national population with the ability to think critically.

And that's just ONE of the benefits one can gain from studying the liberal arts. It's a big one, to be sure, but there are many, many more.
Still more to come!!!