"FREE MARKET" CONTRADICTIONS
Advocates of ?globalization? usually claim that economic advancement is the expected byproduct of international competition. This is why they want upcoming WTO negotiations to include ?competition policy?, which could force governments? to open up all public contracts to multi national corporations. Similarly, they call for a reduction in government spending, arguing that corporations provide services more ?efficiently? and, even if that were not the case, government involvement in the economy is burdensome.
Even opponents of ?globalization? (myself included) commonly summarize the ideology underpinning it: neoliberalism - as free trade and investment, privatizations, deregulation and a reduction in social spending. Basically, ?globalization? is survival of the fittest in the global marketplace.
While this understanding has some truth to it, a recent patent granted to the bio engineering company, Monsanto in Europe highlight its limitations. According to Seth Shulman in the September issue of Technology Review Magazine, Monsanto won sole legal control over all forms of genetically modified Soya within the European Union! This is only the latest example of the increase in corporate monopolies through strengthened patent laws and a broadening definition of patents. Corporations don't lobby for ?free? markets; instead they lobby for patent controls to drive up their profits, which ads to the ubiquitous process of ?privatizing the commons?.
For more on neo-liberal hypocrisy, click here. (By the way, I think that all the weird question marks are supposed to by quotation marks--a consistent typo problem, I suppose. Just ignore them.)
Neo-liberal philosophy is a lie. It is not at all about improving the economy. Rather, it secretly aims to strengthen the powerful and weaken the powerless. Like lascivious TV evangelists, corporations zealously preach the religion of neo-liberalism while quietly performing heresy. Noam Chomsky sums it up well: "Free markets are fine for you, but not for me. In other words, you have to learn responsibility and be subjected to market discipline... but me, I need the nanny state to protect me from market discipline." Indeed, corporations now gain so many benefits from government that laissez-faire is pretty much a relic these days. Those who truly support the concept simply have their heads in the sand, devoted to an idea that no one actually practices.
It's time to call a spade a spade: it is impossible to take government out of the economy; instead of intervening on behalf of private wealth, government should affect the economy in ways that actually help its citizens. Neo-liberalism must die.
Sunday, August 31, 2003
"FREE MARKET" CONTRADICTIONS
Posted by Ron at 1:33 AM
Consumers and Labor are, in reality, the same thing
From Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne via the Houston Chronicle:
The lesson of the Depression was that if ordinary workers lacked jobs and adequate incomes, the economy would crash because too few people could afford to buy what businesses hoped to sell. This was demand-side economics and it laid heavy stress on spreading incomes and job opportunities broadly.
The supply-siders insisted that supply created its own demand. In plain English, this meant we should think less about labor and more about capital -- specifically, investors who created the means to produce the goods. If the New Dealers glorified the role of the worker, the supply-siders glorified the entrepreneur.
The supply-siders are, of course, my favorite intellectuals and all around evil bastards, the neo-liberals. For more, click here.
Posted by Ron at 1:32 AM
CHOMSKY ON INTELLECTUAL RESPONSIBILITY
An interview from ZNet:
C: If people get something out of it, it's OK! What I understand seems to be pretty simple, and this is not a criticism. I don't see any need to say in a complicated way what you can say in an easier way. You can make things look complicated, that's part of the game that intellectuals play; things must look complicated. You might not be conscious about that, but it's a way of gaining prestige, power and influence.
D: Do you look at Foucault's work in this prospective?
C: Foucault is an interesting case because I'm sure he honestly wants to undermine power but I think with his writings he reinforced it. The only way to understand Foucault is if you are a graduate student or you are attending a university and have been trained in this particular style of discourse. That's a way of guaranteeing, it might not be his purpose, but that's a way of guaranteeing that intellectuals will have power, prestige and influence. If something can be said simply say it simply, so that the carpenter next door can understand you.
D: When you talk about the role of intellectuals you say that the first duty is to concentrate on your own country. Could you explain this assertion?
C: One of the most elementary moral truisms is that you are responsible for the anticipated consequences of your own actions. It is fine to talk about the crimes of Genghis Khan, but there isn't much that you can do about them. If Soviet intellectuals chose to devote their energies to crimes of the US, which they could do nothing about, that is their business. We honor those who recognized "that the first duty is to concentrate on your own country." And it is interesting that no one ever asks for an explanation, because in the case of official enemies, truisms are indeed truisms. It is when truisms are applied to ourselves that they become contentious, or even outrageous. But they remain truisms...Naturally, truisms are hated when applied to oneself. You can see it dramatically in the case of terrorism. In fact one of the reasons why I am considered public enemy number one among a large sector of intellectuals in the US is that I mention that the U.S. is one of the major terrorist states in the world and this assertion though plainly true, is unacceptable for many intellectuals, including left-liberal intellectuals, because if we faced such truths we could do something about the terrorist acts for which we are responsible, accepting elementary moral responsibilities instead of lauding ourselves for denouncing the crimes official enemies, about which we can often do very little.
For more, click here.
Posted by Ron at 1:30 AM
Saturday, August 30, 2003
TWENTY FIRST CENTURY SKANK
Madonna and Britney's Lesbo Liplock
Anybody who was reading Real Art regularly back in May knows that I've been disillusioned with Madonna for many years now--in fact, I posted two statements to that effect, here and here. Time for a third.
I'm not quite sure where the line is drawn between eroticism and trashiness. I am sure, however, that the Gap's latest sales whore crossed that line over a decade ago. Indeed, the blonde bombshell of the 1980s clearly abandoned her initially innovative style of sexiness in order to embrace a nouveau brand of corporate skank around the time of the release of her flaccid crap-book, Sex, in the early 1990s. Pushing the envelope is one thing: spreading your legs and calling it art, however, is entirely another.
Sadly, Madonna is perceived somehow as a pop culture genius. Her incessant public genitalia-handling and other boring forays into exhibitionism-as-creativity paved the way for the current crop of talentless pop-singer-cum-porn-stars. Enter Britney and Christina. Does anybody even know what their music sounds like? I've seen a billion pictures of those two in various stages of undress, but I can't say that I can remember a single one of their songs. I'm probably better off that way.
I'm really glad that I haven't watched the Video Music Awards since I was in high school--I fear that seeing Madonna and Britney's skanky kiss might have forever turned off my inner twelve-year-old's lust for hot bi babes.
However, I did read a great review by somebody who did see Thursday's televised descent into base trailer park prurience. Here is an excerpt from the Chicago Sun-Times' pop music critic Jim DeRogatis' account of the VMAs:
You know that an awards show is in serious trouble when the most emotional moment of the night is when Kelly Osbourne and Avril Lavigne give a surprise achievement award to reunited '80s fluff-popsters Duran Duran, and when the big attempt at controversy comes from Madonna slipping Britney Spears the tongue.
Is there anyone with whom Madonna hasn't sucked face? And as for Britney, given her dirty dancing with a live python a few years back, making out with Madonna seems like a step backwards.
The rest of the review is just as mean, and rightfully so, I'm sure. Go read it. Click here.
Posted by Ron at 1:24 AM
REVISED ESTIMATE MORE THAN TRIPLES FIRST FIGURES:
French heat wave blamed for 11,435 deaths
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
The number far exceeded the government's initial estimates of the death toll from the blistering heat and was 4,200 more deaths than France suffered in road accidents in the whole of 2002.
From Aug. 1-15, when much of Europe baked in record temperatures, nearly 800 more people died each day in France than usual, according to the figures from the Health Ministry.
"These figures were calculated in an extremely precise manner," said Gilles Brucker, director of the Health Surveillance Institute that put the death toll together.
Brucker told France-2 television "today's is a totally precise figure of deaths linked to the heat between Aug. 1 and 15."
The toll embroiled the center-right government in fresh accusations that it reacted too slowly to the crisis. Many victims were elderly, dying alone at home or in overwhelmed hospitals and nursing homes.
Click here for more.
Even though these deaths have resulted in a political crisis regarding how the French government has reacted to the heat wave, the real issue here is global warming. That is, it's time to start getting scared.
For any of you weird holdouts out there, listen to this:
GLOBAL WARMING IS HAPPENING! NOW! HUMANITY IS CAUSING IT! IT IS GETTING WORSE!
THIS IS A FACT! THERE IS NO DEBATE ABOUT THIS!
STRONG ACTION MUST BE TAKEN RIGHT NOW OR WE WILL ALL DIE!
Forgive me for shouting, but...never mind, I think shouting is called for here.
Posted by Ron at 12:28 AM
LEST WE FORGET
Bush really did steal the 2000 election
Last May, I wrote about good guy journalist Greg Palast's investigation of the illegal purge of African-Americans from Florida's voter roles that resulted in the installation of a chimpanzee in the Oval Office. This really happened (okay, Bush isn't really a chimp, but the rest is absolutely true). Now, Palast's website offers a link to a cool flash animation that gives all the important details of the scam in a quick and entertaining digest format. Check it out. Amaze your friends.
Posted by Ron at 12:03 AM
Thursday, August 28, 2003
TWO FROM ZNET
War Is A Racket
More soldiers have died since Bush staged his aircraft carrier photo op than died during the so-called war itself. What this demonstrates is that the anti-war protestors were right. Iraqis did not welcome Americans with open arms. The war did provoke more anti-Western terror. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were never the issue and might not even exist. The U.S. military is stuck in the proverbial quagmire. Bush-friendly corporations are getting richer on taxpayer-funded contracts. War is a racket for sure.
But, as Marine Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler wrote in the 1930s, war has been a racket for a long, long time (go back and check the date on his opening quote). Writing mostly about World War I in "War is a Racket," Butler explains that war is "possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, sure the most vicious" racket of all. "It is the only [racket] in which profits are reckoned in dollars and losses in lives," he declares.
Non-Random Material Falsification
And The White House Agenda
Bush's defenders will argue that the president's false statements are not technically illegal he did not "knowingly and willfully" make his false claims. The president of theUnited States, we are informed by the White House, cannot be expected to be a "fact-checker." He relies on the information his "experts" dig up and some of that data is inevitably and unfortunately bad. At the same time, some of his supporters admit, the president himself is, well, not the sharpest person to ever hold the nation's highest office. He is especially prone to "regular guy" confusion when it comes to handling the countless facts that cross his desk. This is part of his appeal and popularity.
But do we really want a man of such apparent limitations at the head of the most powerful assemblage of military force in history? And why, moreover, do the president's supposed "mistakes," "exaggerations," and "overstatements" always serve empire abroad and inequality at home? And how bad is the intelligence these days? Why, for example, did the White House never seem to "err" in the direction of the considerable number of respectable intelligence experts who - taking seriously their professional responsibility to discover and report on what's actually going on in the world, without primary consideration to political concerns - questioned the claims made by the War Hawks like Rumsfeld, Perle, and Wolfowitz, for whom facts are little more than Orwellian playthings.
As Noam Chomsky noted more than thirty years ago in a book that dissected the delusional mindset of the people who brought us the Vietnam War, "mere ignorance or foolishness" on the part of US policymakers "would lead to random error, not to a regular and systematic distortion" that always favors military action. Now, as during the Vietnam era, reports illustrating the truth beneath official deceptions go essentially unchallenged by the White House because the government "does not really hope to convince anyone by its arguments, but only to sow confusion, relying on the natural tendency to trust authority and avoid complicated and disturbing issues. The confused citizen turns to other pursuits, and gradually, as government lies are reiterated day after day, year after year, falsehood becomes truth." The citizen is "whipped into line by fear that we will be overwhelmed by an external enemy if we let down our guard."
Posted by Ron at 11:55 PM
ONE FROM ALTERNET
Labor Day 2003: Nothing to Celebrate
If ever there was a Labor Day for American workers to celebrate, this sure isn't the one. It's now 30 years since the end of the "golden era" for American labor, which by most accounting ended in 1973. Over the past 30 years the productivity of the people whose brain and muscle creates the wealth of the world's richest nation has grown by 66 percent. But the wage of the typical employee – the median wage – has grown by only 7 percent.
This one statistic says more than the volumes of hype and tripe that will fill the papers and the air waves on Labor Day. It encapsulates the most massive redistribution of income in American history, from the poor, from workers, from former middle classes – to the rich and the super-rich. As billionaire Warren Buffett said to ABC's Ted Koppel last month, "If it's class warfare, my class is winning."
Good essay. Click here.
Posted by Ron at 11:51 PM
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
TOM DELAY OUTRANKS THE PRESIDENT
The American Prospect's weblog, Tapped, looks at compassionate conservatism's record and concludes that the butthole bugman forces our chimp-in-chief into the role of beta male:
"After three years, he's failed the test," said one prominent early supporter, the Rev. Jim Wallis, leader of Call to Renewal, a network of churches that fights poverty.
Mr. Wallis said Mr. Bush had told him as president-elect that "I don't understand how poor people think," and appealed to him for help by calling himself "a white Republican guy who doesn't get it, but I'd like to." Now, Mr. Wallis said, "his policy has not come even close to matching his words."
Joshua B. Bolten, White House budget director and formerly Mr. Bush's chief domestic policy adviser, responded in an interview last week by saying that "I think that is one of the most unfair criticisms that has been leveled against the president."
At issue is Mr. Bush's willingness to demand financing from Congress on his signature "compassionate conservative" issues, like education reform and AIDS, with the same energy he has spent to fight for tax cuts and the Iraq war.
Critics say the pattern has been consistent: The president, in eloquent speeches that make headlines, calls for millions or even billions of dollars for new initiatives, then fails to follow through and push hard for the programs on Capitol Hill. [emphasis added]
It would actually be funny if it weren't so sad. The same president who smirkingly invites terrorists to "bring 'em on" is afraid of Tom DeLay. Which shows either that Bolten is spinning shamelessly or that DeLay is the true power in the Republican Party -- Tapped isn't sure which would be worse.
For more, click here.
You know, a few weeks back, I wrote this about Tom DeLay's maneuverings to replace Washington's legions of corporate lobbyists with Republican loyalists only halfway jokingly:
Much of this shift in Republican strategy has been unreported by most of the mainstream news media so far. It is frighteningly reminiscent of Senator Palpatine's behind the scenes political maneuverings and secret invokings of the dark side of the Force in the new crop of Star Wars films--life imitates art.
Now I wonder if I'm more right about that than I thought. "Stupid former exterminator" makes a really great cover, don't you think?
"These aren't the droids you're looking for..."
Link to Tapped courtesy of Eschaton.
Posted by Ron at 10:56 PM
MORE ON THE TEN COMMANDMENT CONTROVERSY:
From Seattle-based columnist Geov Parrish:
(Alabama Chief Justice) Moore sure seems to want the attention, fame, and power. What was that about “Thou shalt not covet”?
Of course, that’s only one of the Ten Commandments, and the problem isn’t just that Judeo-Christianity’s core Old Testament moral code has no place in a secular government, nor in the courtroom, offices, or building lobby of a man sworn -- on a Bible, no less -- to uphold that country’s decidedly secular laws. No, the problem is that most of us these days, including many self-identified conservative Christians, continue to cheat, steal, and make out with their neighbor’s spouse. The whole thing reeks of self-righteous hypocrisy.
Moore and his brethren, in failing to observe the legally required separation of church and state that is part of Moore’s sworn duty, invariably claim that they answer to a higher law. Therein lies the rub: which higher law, and what happens when they don’t?
For more, click here.
Given that fundamentalist theological positions usually seem to run counter to what much of the Bible actually says, it's very tempting for me to think that they never read the Scriptures. Having once been among their number, however, I know that most dedicated Jesus Nazis pore obsessively over the Bible as if it were an addictive drug. I have my own theories about how their doublethink functions, but I continue to be amazed by their weird logic that makes love tantamount to hate.
If Jesus were alive today, he'd be in the streets, arguing with these self-righteous bullies. They'd probably kill him for it, too.
Posted by Ron at 10:54 PM
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
GOING AGAINST THE EDUCATIONAL GRAIN
Michigan High School Class Angers Some Parents
Some parents in Farmington, Mich., are crying "anti-Americanism" over a high school international affairs class.
The course is offered to juniors and seniors in the Farmington School District and focuses on America's role in the Middle East.
But it's not the topic that's angered some students' parents. It's the class readings, many of which come from left-wing Web sites like Alternet.org, Indymedia.org, Progressive.org and War-times.org, that vigorously attack the Bush administration.
"This belief that we have to show that every concept out of that society can be understood and excused is really a problem across the country," said Farmington father Don Cohen. "We are bending over backwards and by doing so, we're misrepresenting and misinforming our children and our society."
Cohen and other parents banded together to press the school board to hold off on the new elective. But the school year has officially begun and the class is on the roster. The board approved it by a narrow four-to-three vote.
I'd be lynched if I tried to teach this course in my district. It's nice to hear that someone's getting away with some real education.
For more, click here.
Thanks to my old buddy, Matt, for the link.
Posted by Ron at 11:39 PM
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM
Iraqi weapons data slipped through U.S. hands
Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter on Iraqi records that the US Army mysteriously lost:
Still, even if one was to discount the entire archive as simply a collection of Iraqi falsifications, it would still be a sound foundation on which the Iraq Survey Group could have started investigations. After all, some of my most fruitful efforts as a U.N. inspector were initiated using false claims by the Iraqi government as the starting point.
Rather, these staff members have told me, after occupying the facility for two weeks, the American soldiers simply withdrew. Soon after, looters entered the facility and ransacked it. Overnight, every computer was stolen, disks and video records were destroyed, and the carefully organized documents were ripped from their binders and either burned or scattered about. According to the ex-brigadier general, who went back to the building after the mob had gone, some Iraqi scientists did their best to recover and reconstitute what they could, but for most of the archive the damage was irreversible.
For more, click here.
Thanks to Fatnoise Farms for the link.
Posted by Ron at 11:38 PM
THE DIRT ON THE FUNDAMENTALIST
PROTESTERS IN ALABAMA
Behind the tablets
Seattle freelance journalist and blogger, David Neiwert, digs up some dirt on the pro-church and state crowd protesting the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse in Alabama:
Last Saturday, the rally for the 10 Commandments included as speakers Howard Phillips of the Constitution Party (formerly USTP), along with Jerry Falwell and Alan Keyes and a number of lesser lights. The crowd was about 50 percent neo-Confederate, with flags and such, even though organizers were supposedly turning Confederate flags away. The crowd was working class and overwhelmingly white -- a careful count by me concluded that out of a maximum 2,000 present (it may have been closer to 1,500), there were at most 20 black faces.
A funny moment came when a clueless Falwell invoked Martin Luther King, saying that Roy Moore was just like King. The entire crowd skipped a beat ... silence ... and then the most tepid applause you ever heard.
Later, Falwell compounded the error by referring to America as a land of immigrants, and actually quoted Emma Lazarus. This time, the crowd's answer was deafening silence.
For more, click here.
Courtesy of Eschaton.
Posted by Ron at 11:37 PM
Monday, August 25, 2003
Suspect planned ex-priest's killing for weeks
AP via the Houston Chronicle:
"No question he had been planning (the attack) for well over a month," Conte said of Druce, who he said has been very cooperative with investigators.
Gov. Mitt Romney today appointed a panel to conduct an independent investigation into the death.
"We cannot escape the fact that an inmate died while in the care of the Department of Correction," state Public Safety Secretary Ed Flynn said.
Druce, 37, a reputed member of the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nation, was convicted in the June 1988 murder of George Rollo, 51, a gay bus driver who had picked Druce up hitchhiking.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and assert that this murder was allowed to happen.
Our prisons are horrible, violent, despicable places. Murder is commonplace in prison and seemingly most Americans have little sympathy for the victims. Rape is commonplace in prison and Americans joke about it. Racial hatred is encouraged by guards and wardens as a way to keep order. Health care behind bars is a joke. Most convicts leave the penal system as worse criminals than they were when first incarcerated. Our prisons are a clear example of cruel and unusual punishment. In the long term, they harm our society more than they help it.
I know that Geoghan's crimes were appalling, but he was not sentenced to death. This really pisses me off.
Posted by Ron at 11:30 PM
CORPORATE BULLY BACKS DOWN
Fox News drops lawsuit against Al Franken
Fox News dropped its lawsuit against Al Franken today, three days after a federal judge refused to block the liberal humorist from using the Fox slogan "Fair and Balanced" on the cover of his book.
The lawsuit had sought unspecified damages from Franken and Penguin Group, publisher of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
For more, click here.
As far as I can tell, all the lawsuit did was increase the book's sales. Ha ha.
Posted by Ron at 11:08 PM
KICKASS MUCKRAKER GREG PALAST BLASTS
NY TIMES VERSION OF BIG BLACKOUT CAUSE
From Palast's weblog:
Over 20-some column inches, we are told that "experts say" that the reason the lights went out over one fourth our continent ten days ago was that the electric industry, most particularly, transmission lines, "remained regulated." The answer to our woes, the Times informs us, is more deregulation -- except for the visionary rules contained in the President's energy bill. In the editorial posing as a news story, the Times lectures us that the president's proposals would have been law, and saved us from the power outage, "but politics have stymied their progress."
Later in the article, the stymiers of progress are named: those evil small-minded "consumer groups."
For more, click here.
Also, Palast gives energy industry deregulation background info in this speech transcript from Pacifica's Democracy Now.
Posted by Ron at 10:57 PM
Sunday, August 24, 2003
SURVIVING THE RE-EDUCATION CAMPS III
You may recall that I mentioned in an earlier post how I was subjected to a motivational speaker for hours on end about a week and a half ago during a teacher in-service seminar. I really despise motivational speakers. Their typical “you can do it” message ideologically tends to take the individual out of all social contexts. They add rhetorical support to the notion that if you don’t succeed, it’s your fault. Don’t get me wrong here; often, individual failure is, in fact, due to lack of individual effort. More often, however, individual failure and success are the result of social forces that are not so easy to see: despite the so-called “American Dream,” the vast majority of people rarely move out of their economic class—if you’re born poor, you probably die poor. I agree with the concept of “personal responsibility” and all that, but, at this point in American history, neo-liberal demagoguery has taken the concept to a wild and harmful extreme. Motivational speakers are, ultimately, apologists for “personal responsibility” mania. The speaker who I endured was no different.
Her topic was “character.” She related her theme to education with this simple thesis: teach students to value character and they will be motivated to work harder. She said, “Character is the root of success…and achievement is the fruit of character.” Whatever. Like most of her peers, she enjoyed reducing the complexities of what is for many Americans a harsh existence in our take-no-prisoners, money-first society to simple slogans. Even though her presentation consisted mostly of inspiring stories about morals and values delivered in a fundamentalist Christian oratorical style, her rhetoric was steeped in pro-capitalist ideology, propaganda disguised as pedagogy.
She told us that the “greatness of American business is trust and honesty.” She related character emphasis in education to business profits. Hello? Isn’t there some irony here? Afraid not. She made a joke about Enron at one point, but never even came close to discussing the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room: America’s devotion to greed and how that devotion erodes all other values. There was no discussion about how her message might be problematic.
Indeed, “character,” as a concept, has contributed to the general confusion surrounding quite a few of our national messes. The profit-at-all-costs imperative is the social context wherein failure of “character” has resulted in the ongoing wave of corporate and accounting scandals still rocking the US economy: “character” cannot be considered without delving into some truths that are uncomfortable to American capitalism; the “few bad apples” approach just doesn’t cut it. Perhaps worse, the corporate news media has replaced political analysis with “character” analysis. The Iraq war, based on blatant nationalistic lies (believed by all “good” Americans), and the needless Clinton impeachment are but the two biggest examples of newsrooms’ obsession with “character” to the exclusion of any real political content.
Again, I’m all for individual virtue, character, and responsibility. However, without considering social context, “character” becomes simply dogma that ultimately supports the powerful and justifies their position. Of course, that’s one of the main functions of public school, so why am I complaining?
Posted by Ron at 11:57 PM
Internet group raises funds for 11 Texas Dems
The grass-roots Internet group MoveOn.org said today it expected to raise $1 million to support 11 Texas Democratic senators who fled to New Mexico over a redistricting fight.
The liberal, Web-based group, which has helped raise millions of dollars for Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean, launched the campaign earlier this week that will produce television ads and radio spots to criticize a White House-backed plan to redraw Texas congressional districts.
Talk about shining knights! Click here.
Posted by Ron at 11:55 PM
THE NEW REAL ART THEME SONG
and this time it's a keeper...
There's nothing like a man in a gorilla suit. Perhaps that's why I'm so fond of the song, "Solfeggio," which is now the permanent Real Art theme song. "Solfeggio" was originally the theme song of the Nairobi Trio, the fictional silly band often appearing on the old Ernie Kovaks TV show in the 1950s. They wore gorilla suits.
Somehow that seems appropriate here.
So I now offer a link to "Solfeggio" by Dick Hyman and Robert Maxwell. This is the music that I want to be mentally and emotionally associated with my weblog.
Posted by Ron at 4:22 AM
CONSERVATISM AS NEUROSIS
More on the controversial psychological study, courtesy of ZNet:
Sociologists and psychologists have long studied the social and psychological needs, personality styles, and ramifications of conservatives and fundamentalists. Numerous empirical studies link conservatism and fundamentalism to an authoritarian personality style, and in turn, to many other unfavorable characteristics. This is visible not only in Islamic fundamentalist societies where Muslim states wield oft unreasonable and oppressive authority over human thought, behavior, and being, but in conservative or fundamentalist Catholic and Christian homes and churches in America.
When a recent analysis by scholars John T. Jost, et al. was published in Psychological Bulletin, a publication of the American Psychological Association on the findings of several decades of studies, conservative political columnist George Will attempted in mid-August, rather unsuccessfully, to counter the well-substantiated findings in a sarcastic rebuttal.
Sorry George, despite your understandably desirous effort, the facts remain: conservatives do score higher in authoritarianism and ultimately, prejudice, punitiveness, rigidity, dogmatism, ethnocentrism, sexual repression, and tendencies of both submissiveness to authority figures and aggressiveness toward the subjugated. So the study of these correlations is justifiable if the rest of us desire to understand you and your cohorts and, more importantly, to alleviate the very real problems that result.
Posted by Ron at 4:04 AM
Heat wave may have killed 5,000 in France
The death toll estimate increases:
PARIS -- A senior French health official resigned today after the health minister acknowledged that as many as 5,000 people might have died in a blistering heat wave.
Lucien Abenhaim, director general of health, said he was leaving his post because of the criticism leveled at the government over its handling of the heat wave earlier this month. He sent his resignation letter to embattled Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei.
Mattei, who also is facing calls for his resignation, said earlier that it is "plausible" that up to 5,000 people could have died but the final death toll would not be known for several weeks.
Global warming caused by greenhouse gasses which are emitted by both industry and the burning of fossil fuels seems to be the likely culprit. Meanwhile, back in America, President Bush is desperately trying to find ways to create even more pollution (see my post below). That'll teach those frogs to oppose our plans for world domination...
Posted by Ron at 3:59 AM
Saturday, August 23, 2003
BUSH'S REIGN OF TERROR CONTINUES
Rule would let plants emit more air pollution
From Reuters via the Houston Chronicle:
The Environmental Protection Agency is set to issue a final rule that would make it easier for industrial facilities to upgrade their plants without having to install expensive equipment to fight air pollution, the activist group said.
The new rule would allow facilities to avoid installing pollution controls when they replace equipment -- even if the upgrade increases pollution -- as long as the cost of the replacement equipment did not exceed 20 percent of the cost of what the EPA broadly defines as a "process unit," according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Corporate polluters will now be able to spew even more harmful chemicals into our air, regardless of the fact that it will harm millions of Americans," said the NRDC, which obtained a leaked copy of the EPA's final rule.
Emissions from coal-fired plants can aggravate asthma, chronic bronchitis and pneumonia.
For more, click here.
Posted by Ron at 3:15 AM
FUNDAMENTALIST POLITICAL THEATER
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle on the controversy surrounding the illegal Ten Commandments monument inside the Alabama State Courthouse:
(Chief Justice) Moore said he told the commission that he upheld his oath of office by acknowledging God. Moore has said Thompson has no authority to tell the state's chief justice to remove the monument.
On Friday, about 100 protesters moved from the steps of the judicial building to a sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse, where Thompson works. Some ripped to pieces and burned a copy of Thompson's ruling. Demonstrators also held a mock trial, in which Thompson was charged with breaking the law of God.
"We hold you, Judge Thompson, and the United States Supreme Court in contempt of God's law," said Flip Benham, director of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.
Click here for more.
They know they can't win this one, but that's not really the point. When Moore secretly moved the unconstitutional Christian monument onto state property in the dead of night, he was opening the curtain for a political play that casts lunatic fundamentalists as underdogs, and protectors of the First Amendment as oppressors. This kind of cheap melodrama plays well in the South.
Moore and his Christian brownshirt ilk now present themselves as martyrs. Most fundamentalists will support their cause, which spawns more news coverage and meaningless debate. Consequently, the public discourse is pushed, ever so slightly, in a sympathetic direction. This is not good news. At stake are potential negative long-term ramifications for democracy: remember, this is but a single battle in a sustained, fairly well organized, multi-front war on what Thomas Jefferson called the "wall of separation between church and state."
Sometimes a loss, if it is theatrical enough, is much more valuable than a quiet victory.
Posted by Ron at 3:08 AM
Thursday, August 21, 2003
MORE TEXAS FUNDAMENTALIST LUNACY
Police cover Eve's breasts in North Texas mural
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
A mural of a nude Eve is at the center of a controversy in this North Texas town, where the work's owner has answered police complaints by draping a bright yellow strip of canvas with the words "crime scene" across Eve's bare breasts.
Wes Miller avoided being charged with distributing "harmful material" but has vowed that the fight is not over to keep the work intact.
Next to the mock crime scene tape was a black banner saying: "Temporarily censored."
"We decided that an arrest, knowing how this town works, would not do us as good as the threat of arrest we're currently under," Miller said.
Well, at least the artist has a good sense of humor about it all. I'm reminded of US Attorney General John Ashcroft's squeamishness about the bare-breasted statue in a Justice Department building that he had covered. These people are seemingly unable to tell the difference between pornography and art--I think I understand (but disagree with) the condemnation of the NEA's funding of Robert Mapplethorpe's art some years ago, but this Eve business is just plain crazy. They're sick! Sick, I tell you!
Posted by Ron at 11:35 PM
FUNDAMENTALISTS BATTLE WITH SCIENCE
Texas Morons Flex Muscles Against Evolution
From the Houston Chronicle:
Today is the deadline to sign up to testify on new biology textbooks for public schools, and supporters and critics of how the books present evolution are gearing up for a heated battle.
The State Board of Education will hold its second and final hearing on the textbooks Sept. 10. Already, more than 80 people have registered to testify.
David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas, said he thinks the publishers have done a good job discussing evolution, but he is worried that the text will be diluted or that misleading information will be added. If science really is the issue, he asked, why are there no similar controversies at scientific meetings or in scientific journals?
"This argument is being waged over high school textbooks because that is where the final decisions are not made by scientists but rather by politicians," said Hillis.
Leaders of groups advocating changes to the textbooks said they just want a full discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.
Ike Trotter, a spokesman for Texans for Better Science Education, said 400 people have signed the group's Internet petition supporting the inclusion of the weaknesses of the theory of evolution.
Trotter said the books contain factual errors, a contention disputed by Hillis.
Make no mistake about it. These throwbacks to the Scopes Monkey Trial believe that evolution, which is considered by reputable scientists to be fact, is simply an unproven "theory." Their attack on what they call "factual errors" is a thinly veiled attempt to insert fundamentalist Christianity into Texas schools. It is truly amazing that their position is even taken seriously. This is not only dangerous for Texas, a haven for fundamentalist lunatics, but also for all of America: Texas is among the top two or three high school textbook markets in the country and, therefore, exercises disproportionate influence over what publishers are willing to print. In other words, if Texas decides that its biology textbooks must discuss so-called "weaknesses" in the concept of evolution, there is a very good chance that almost all biology textbooks will do so--somehow this makes good business sense to publishing houses.
More and more, it seems that the similarities between the Taliban and the various brands of American Bible Nazis outweigh the differences...
Posted by Ron at 11:16 PM
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
WHINE, WHINE, WHINE
about the state of Hollywood
My buddy Alan puts my comments in my recent post about today's movies, "Corporations Corrupt Democracy CORPORATIONS CORRUPT ART," to the test in the Real Art comments section:
Whine, whine, whine. Ooh, the evil corporations are coming to get me! Okay, so I grant you corporations are generally evil; but in this instance, you're complaining about the quality of movie fare, which I think has far more to do with lowest common denominator viewership. Joe & Joeline Sixpack do not want to visit a Multiplex filled with artistic variations on Easy Rider, Amadeus, The Seventh Seal, and Eraserhead. They want to see American Strudel XV, Tomb Violator XXVII, and Gigli III: The Divorce. Or, is your stance that if only the studios would release nothing but "quality" work, the scales would fall from Joe & Joeline's eyes, & the world would be intellectually & artistically utopian. Ha! Real likely. Look, no one forces you to see major stdio releases. Have you sought out alternatives? They're there. If nothing else, get off your ass, grab a digital recorder & some editing software, and make your own masterpiece. Making a movie has never been easier.
Okay, these are some good points that need a response.
Alan, I think that you are falling into the trap of accepting the standard corporate defense of "we're just giving the people what they want." While I agree that average Americans don't always flock to see sophistated film fare in droves, you've got to admit that marketing plays a huge role in helping filmgoers to decide exactly what it is that "they want." In other words, I don't think it's fair to say that Americans aren't interested in better films; in this era of corporate controlled movie production, Americans don't really have much of a choice besides the endless stream of big budget craptaculars. I believe that people watch a lot of these films simply because that's what's showing. Even I am occasionally amused by some of the schlock coming from the Left Coast--I really liked the new Terminator flick, for instance, and I have a film degree.
The truth is that there have been countless great films that have entertained huge American audiences: Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Fantasia, Casablanca, A Streetcar Named Desire, most of the Alfred Hitchcock catalogue, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?, The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The list goes on, but kind of peters out the closer you get to today. I believe that truly great art speaks to both the sophisticated and the simple, to the elite and the common. Great art is universal; Shakespeare proved it in the 1590s, and the Beatles proved it in the 1960s.
Hollywood has always released bad films, and many of them have made money. My point here is that the corporate mentality has resulted in a situation where we are now subjected to more bad films than ever, while the release rate of good films seems to be at an all time low. I don't really believe that more good films would create a utopia, but I do believe that movies play a very important role in our culture: film makes ideas come to life, makes them more persuasive--films make people think, for better or worse. It is my position that a corporate Hollywood tends to make American thinking worse, tends to make our lives more drab. I know that they're just trying to make money, but that does not place them above criticism: this is our culture that they're pissing on.
And maybe I will make my own masterpiece someday...
By the way, there is a documentary showing on the Independent Film Channel right now (to which, alas, I don't have access) that deals with some of these topics. Here is an excerpt from a Houston Chronicle review:
Filmmakers Richard LaGravenese and the late Ted Demme, and the prodigious talent they assemble, persuasively portray 1967-1977 as a golden age for American cinema.
Why that decade? Because not only was it a period of social unrest -- civil rights, Vietnam, Watergate -- but it also was a period of disconnect between the movie industry and the public. Artists surveyed the landscape around them and wanted to to speak out about it.
"Audiences started to say, 'I want to recognize my life in film. I want to see film reflect what's going on,'" said LaGravenese, screenwriter for such movies as The Bridges of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer.
Coincidentally, the model on which the movie business was built had gone kablooey. The "studio system," in which a mogul oversaw a company intent on controlling all facets of the movie-making process, had played out. Moguls were replaced by bankers who didn't know how to make a movie, who were willing to leave the creative portion of filmmaking to the artists.
This dovetailing of conditions created a "perfect storm" scenario for budding film auteurs wishing to make a difference in society. Taking a cue from their European counterparts -- Godard, Visconti, Rossellini, Truffaut, Bertolucci, Bergman, Fellini -- pioneers such as Robert Altman, John Cassavetes and Paul Schrader made movies about small human events in a fresh style (using handheld cameras, for example). They made films that "said something."
For the entire review, click here.
It's really not simply a situation of "what the people want:" business practices play an enormous role in what we get to see at the movies.
Posted by Ron at 10:38 PM
GULF WAR II "MYSTERY ILLNESS"
RAISES TROUBLING QUESTIONS part two
Here is the promised link to some streaming audio of the Flashpoints interview to which I refer in the post below. The interview begins about twenty six minutes into the broadcast. A blurb from the Flashpoints website:
Dennis Bernstein talks with Gulf War Vet and RN, Joyce Riley about the mysterious illness among US troops in Iraq. Ever since the US invaded Iraq, we have slowly been getting reports of soldiers coming down with mysterious illnesses and mysterious flu-like symptoms. Strangely enough, very few people are really trying to figure what is so mysterious about this - what is the illness, is there some connection between now and what happened in Gulf War I? One person who should be counted among the few who's looking into this is Joyce Riley. Joyce Riley is a Gulf War Vet and an RN. She talks with Dennis from Missouri.
This is well worth listening to.
(If you want, you can download the interview here, instead.)
Posted by Ron at 9:38 PM
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
GULF WAR II "MYSTERY ILLNESS"
RAISES TROUBLING QUESTIONS
I heard a really interesting interview earlier this evening on Pacifica's Flashpoints show. Instead of trying to explain, I'll just cut to the chase. This is an excerpt from a press release issued by the American Gulf War Veterans Association, an advocacy group:
Contrary to the “pneumonia” and “mystery illness” labels, enlightening information surfaced today on “THE POWER HOUR” radio show (www.thepowerhour.com) in an interview with Mark Neusche, father of Josh Neusche, one of the GW II troops to lose his life from the “mystery illness” while serving in Iraq. The father stated that his 20-year-old healthy son, a former track star and non-smoker, had written home on June 26th explaining that he would be going on a 30-hour “hauling” mission, but that he could not disclose what they would be hauling. The son had stated that he had been to the Palace of Sadaam Hussein, and it was later learned that he was “hauling” at the Baghdad Airport.
Marsha Paxson also appeared on the show, as she is the journalist who broke the U.S. story for the Lake Sun Leader (www.lakesunleader.com). Although the “facts” behind this story are continually changing, Ms. Paxson is one of the few journalists who is remaining true to the facts of the original story. Ms. Paxson revealed in her articles that the father reported that his son was not the only ill soldier. Neusche stated that while his son was in a coma at Landstuhl Hospital, the father overheard the nurses say that they were expecting numerous sick troops to be brought in all at one time. In fact, the father actually witnessed approximately 55 other troops being received by the hospital after they were transported by a military ambulance (bus). According to the father, the transported troops were exhibiting varying degrees of the illness. Some walked, some were in wheelchairs and others were on respirators. In the commotion, a doctor reported to the father that his son was suffering from a “toxin.” No mention of pneumonia was ever made to him, nor was it ever reported in the medical record.
Paxson and the AGWVA now question the diagnosis, the actual number of troops that were reported ill, and when the DOD first became aware of this incident.
One of the most surprising statements to come from The Power Hour interview conducted on “The Genesis Network” was that while the son, Josh Neusche, was a healthy young soldier on June 26, 2003, when he reported that he was going to serve on the secret hauling mission, by July 1, 2003, he was in a coma, and that day was suddenly classified by the military, as medically retired from the Army without Josh or his family’s consent. Josh did not die until July 12, 2003. Among other problems that this new classification created was that the DOD was no longer obligated to assist the family in getting to Germany to be with their son as he lay in a coma. Because the DOD would not provide even so much as plane or taxi fare for the Neusche family, all 650 members of the 203 Engineer Battalion each contributed $10.00 to make the family’s final visit possible.
For the entire press release, click here.
1. What were these soldiers hauling?
2. Were they hauling chemical weapons?
3. If so, are these the missing WMDs?
4. If so, why hasn't Bush paraded them before the press in order to prove his case for the war?
5. Why was this hauling operation at the Baghdad Airport?
6. Why does the Department of Defense seem to be covering up the whole thing?
The interview that I heard on Flashpoints pretty much asserted that this incident may very well have been a botched attempt by the Pentagon to fabricate evidence of the missing weapons of mass destruction riffing on the old "throw down gun" technique employed by the LAPD anti-gang unit in the 90s. That's pretty big, and, if true, terrible. I'm going to keep my ears open on this one.
I'll try to post a link to the Flashpoints interview that I heard when they get the streaming audio online tomorrow.
Posted by Ron at 10:45 PM
The American Prosperity Myth
This article from the Nation compares and contrasts the self-destructive nature of American capitalism with the more successful, socially oriented, and sustainable aspects of European capitalism:
Philosophically, culturally and practically, the social contract has been attacked head-on and undermined at every turn; its destruction has been one of the great objectives of the renaissance of American conservatism. As a result, its supports have been increasingly eroded. If there is to be what political philosopher John Rawls calls an infrastructure of justice--one insuring that everyone, despite any accident of birth, gets a chance to develop his or her talents, participate in the life of society, exercise liberties and enjoy basic living standards--then a system must be in place to maintain it. And that system is of necessity the state, with its ability to tax and spend. In this conception, the state is not a coercive interloper but a trustee of social fairness, providing the foundation for any society's long-term social health and wealth.
Yet since the mid-1970s taxation has been depicted by the right as a coercive intrusion upon individual liberty imposed by an oppressive government. Grants to poor students, for example, are seen as wasteful subsidies that undercut self-reliance and the robust qualities of independence that the early settlers possessed and upon which America was built. Yet America's social contract, hewn out of searing experiences like the Depression and bolstered by respect for the Constitution's claim that citizens should have equal opportunity, requires that the state act as its trustee--with the tax revenue to pay for it. To attack taxation as a moral evil and economic drag, and the state as oppressive and inefficient, is to knock away the key underpinnings of the social contract.
There is no need to recite details of the consequences: lower life expectancy than in Europe, vicious inequality and desperate lack of social mobility. Yes, it is true that the European social contract can produce perverse incentives, so that, say, excessively generous unemployment benefits in Germany undermine individuals' desire to look for and accept work. But the solution is to reform the excessive generosity, as German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der is doing, rather than abandon the social contract altogether. The impact of America's approach on individual lives shows up in international surveys of happiness and sense of well-being, where Americans score so badly. An obsessive individualism in a society in which so many are harmed eats away at the capacity to empathize, and the very stuff of human association is undermined. A Hobbesian society, a war of all against all, is not an environment in which human beings can flower.
This is quite a good essay that goes a long way toward explaining why, even though many American capitalists are as evil as can be, I'm not quite ready to give up on capitalism: Europe shows us that the much ballyhooed economic system is not totally unredeemable.
Posted by Ron at 10:09 PM
PAUL NEWMAN, INSPIRED BY FOX SUING AL FRANKEN,
SUES DEPT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
From the New York Times Op-Ed section:
In the 1963 film "HUD," for which Mr. Newman was nominated for an Academy Award, the ad campaign was based on the slogan, "Paul Newman is HUD." Mr. Newman claims that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, called HUD, is a fair and balanced institution and that some of its decency and respectability has unfairly rubbed off on his movie character, diluting the rotten, self-important, free-trade, corrupt conservative image that Mr. Newman worked so hard to project in the film. His suit claims that this "innocence by association" has hurt his feelings plus residuals.
I'm sure it's just a joke...I'm sure. For more on the story, click here (you may have to register to get access to the article, but, trust me, it's no big deal).
Thanks to my old buddy, Matt, for the link.
Posted by Ron at 9:54 PM
Monday, August 18, 2003
Blah blah blog from the political class
Well, what do you know? Maureen Dowd of the New York Times has something intelligent to say. Kind of. Read this:
The most telling sign that the Internet is no longer the cool American frontier? Blogs, which sprang up to sass the establishment, have been overrun by the establishment.
In a lame attempt to be hip, pols are posting soggy, foggy, bloggy musings on the Internet. Inspired by Howard Dean's success in fund-raising and mobilizing on the Web, candidates are crowding into the blogosphere -- spewing out canned meanderings in a genre invented by unstructured exhibitionists.
It could be amusing if the pols posted unblushing, unedited diaries of what they were really thinking, as real bloggers do. John Kerry would mutter about that hot-dog Dean stealing his New England base, and Dean would growl about that wimp Kerry aping all his Internet gimmicks. But no such luck.
Blogging about politics strikes me as an important contribution to the American marketplace of ideas; blogging by politicians, however, is, ultimately, so much fluff. That is, in this era when politicians generally take positions that either poll well or are paid for by their contributors, straightforward language seems to no longer play much of a role in what they have to say. I think that's the main reason that blogs have become so popular among both the left and the right. A lot of Americans are sick of the bullshit and crave some honesty.
Personally, I don't think that the so-called blogosphere is in much danger from being "overrun by the establishment" as Dowd says. On the other hand, it is worth noting that some politicians are starting to believe that blogs might very well wield some new form of political power. That’s good news for democracy.
Thanks to my old friend, Kevin, for the link.
Posted by Ron at 11:07 PM
MORE ON COMPELLING TEXAS STUDENTS
TO RECITE THE PLEDGE
From the Houston Chronicle:
A new law requires students to recite the pledge to the Texas flag and observe a moment of silence. Supporters say it helps promote patriotism and build character, but some critics argue that the new state measure violates the First Amendment. They also note the requirement will stretch already thin budgets because a Texas flag must be present in every classroom.
Those who bring a note from home can be excused from the pledges. But Pam Parker, an attorney with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, is concerned about how school districts will implement the rules.
She said a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Parker said, states that pupils have First Amendment rights, meaning they have a right not to participate even without a note from parents.
I would argue that the people behind this pledge law simply don't understand what it means to be an American. I love to say the pledge, when I want to. When I am coerced, as I now feel by this law, the pledge makes me feel less free, less American. If the words are not from the heart, they do not become simply meaningless: they become the antithesis of what they supposedly represent.
Children cannot learn the concept of "liberty and justice for all" if it is forced on them.
Posted by Ron at 11:05 PM
FORMER EXTERMINATOR AND CURRENT U.S.
HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER TOM DELAY ON "HONOR"
From the Houston Chronicle:
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is pushing congressional redistricting in Texas, said Sunday that Democratic state senators who fled to New Mexico to prevent a redistricting vote are violating the U.S. Constitution.
"We're supposed to, by Constitution, apportion or redistrict every 10 years," DeLay, R-Sugar Land, said on Fox News Sunday. "We in Texas have prided ourselves on honor, duty and responsibility. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the state Legislature don't understand honor because they're violating their oath of office to support the United States Constitution."
The best comparison I can think of here is to imagine Hitler calling someone evil. Jeez, Tom DeLay giving lectures on honor...that's just too rich!
Posted by Ron at 11:03 PM
Sunday, August 17, 2003
SURVIVING THE RE-EDUCATION CAMPS II
Because school is not really about learning, ongoing teacher training, like the school system itself, often presents wild absurdities: this was my experience last Wednesday. Secondary teachers in my district spent the day in seminars that supposedly are designed to make us better teachers. My content area, fine arts (theater to be more precise), was grouped with two other content areas, public speaking and foreign language, that, fortunately, are not subject to George W. Bush’s “accountability” oriented standardized tests. The entire public school system in Texas is geared now toward this “accountability.” Teachers working in the tested content areas get some very specific and somewhat useful in-service training. Generally, teachers in the untested areas do not get such training. In short, after five years of teaching, it is now clear to me that my district simply does not know what to do with us on these state mandated in-service days.
Perhaps that’s why I again had to endure a folksy motivational speaker who both bored me and insulted my intelligence last year. She gave us the EXACT same presentation as before, the same PowerPoint show, the same handouts, and the same stupid inspirational stories. This lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. minus an hour for lunch. It really sucked.
If I had more belief in the educational system, I would call this a waste of tax dollars, but because the system is so devoted to mindless routine, I would assert that everything’s working like it’s supposed to. The only glitch here is that the charade is usually not so obvious. That is to say, content, for both students and teachers, is largely irrelevant; school seeks to further a national agenda focused on the giving and receiving of orders. Sitting quietly and listening to (or ignoring) a droning voice for hours on end is the preferred indoctrinational exercise—punishing teachers in the same way that they punish their students seems to legitimize the whole thing. What’s good for the gander is good for the goose. I guess. Most of the time, however, these seminars have just enough valuable content so as to give the appearance of being educational; generally, there is about an hour’s worth of useful information for every five or six hours’ worth of seminar. Last Wednesday’s repeater, with NO new useful information, is one of those rare instances when the Emperor’s bare bottom is visible for all to see.
Strangely, most of my fellow teachers were very forgiving of the presumed foul up. Many of them didn’t have a problem with it at all, and loved the whole thing, even though it was a complete repetition of last year’s in-service day—I’ll never understand why people don’t see motivational speakers for the hucksters they are.
The human capacity for self-delusion is truly amazing.
Posted by Ron at 10:23 PM
FROM THE TEACHER'S MAILBOX
Here is a memo I found in my box on Friday:
RE: Pledge of Allegiance
Attached are the words to the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Texas state flag. Please post the yellow flyer in your room. Be sure that your students know the words and the procedure for showing appropriate respect.
If you have a student in your class who objects to saying the pledge, please acknowledge their concerns and write a pass for them to see their Grade Level Principal. If a parent objects to their child saying the pledge, please also refer them to the Grade Level Principal.
If you do not have a United States flag in your classroom, please let me know.
In other words, be patriotic...OR ELSE! This whole compelled pledge thing really stinks: we will force you to love freedom. Doesn't anybody get the irony?
I really hate my job.
Posted by Ron at 10:20 PM
TWO FROM THE GUARDIAN
A couple of good stories from the London Guardian via J. Orlin Grabbe:
GIs flood US with war-weary emails
Schuman's views are part of a growing unease back home at the rising casualty rate in Iraq, a concern coupled with deep anger at President George W. Bush's plans to cut army benefits for many soldiers. Criticism is also coming directly from soldiers risking their lives under the guns of Saddam Hussein's fighters, and they are using a weapon not available to troops in previous wars: the internet.
Through emails and chatrooms a picture is emerging of day-to-day gripes, coupled with ferocious criticism of the way the war has been handled. They paint a vivid picture of US army life that is a world away from the sanitised official version.
THE ABSOLUTISM OF CONSERVATIVE PSYCHOLOGY
A study funded by the US government has concluded that conservatism can be explained psychologically as a set of neuroses rooted in "fear and aggression, dogmatism and the intolerance of ambiguity".
As if that was not enough to get Republican blood boiling, the report's four authors linked Hitler, Mussolini, Ronald Reagan and the rightwing talkshow host, Rush Limbaugh, arguing they all suffered from the same affliction.
All of them "preached a return to an idealised past and condoned inequality".
This would probably explain why Christian fundamentalists are so extremely conservative despite Jesus' radical leftism.
Posted by Ron at 3:16 AM
STRANGE & OFFENSIVE ADS FROM YESTERYEAR
Another funny one from retroCRUSH:
Back in the early 1900s, cocaine was a common ingredient in many products, including Coca Cola. But no product was preferred by kids to treat their toothaches, than Cocaine Toothache Drops. The boy in this ad is tweaking so hard, he's going to build a whole city out of sticks before he crashes.
Posted by Ron at 3:08 AM
Saturday, August 16, 2003
GREG PALAST GETS CAUGHT IN THE BIG BLACKOUT
And he's got a theory about how the power outage happened (even though, as pointed out by a reader in the Eschaton comments section, he doesn't actually show a direct causal link):
Of particular significance as I write here in the dark, regulators told utilities exactly how much they had to spend to insure the system stayed in repair and the lights stayed on. Bureaucrats crawled along the wire and, like me, crawled through the account books, to make sure the power execs spent customers' money on parts and labor. If they didn't, we'd whack'm over the head with our thick rule books. Did we get in the way of these businessmen's entrepreneurial spirit? Damn right we did.
Most important, FDR banned political contributions from utility companies -- no 'soft' money, no 'hard' money, no money PERIOD.
But then came George the First. In 1992, just prior to his departure from the White House, President Bush Senior gave the power industry one long deep-through-the-teeth kiss good-bye: federal deregulation of electricity. It was a legacy he wanted to leave for his son, the gratitude of power companies which ponied up $16 million for the Republican campaign of 2000, seven times the sum they gave Democrats.
And the Pataki-Bush Axis of Weasels permitted something that must have former New York governor Roosevelt spinning in his wheelchair in Heaven: They allowed a foreign company, the notoriously incompetent National Grid of England, to buy up NiMo, get rid of 800 workers and pocket most of their wages - producing a bonus for NiMo stockholders approaching $90 million.
Is tonight's black-out a surprise? Heck, no, not to us in the field who've watched Bush's buddies flick the switches across the globe. In Brazil, Houston Industries seized ownership of Rio de Janeiro's electric company. The Texans (aided by their French partners) fired workers, raised prices, cut maintenance expenditures and, CLICK! the juice went out so often the locals now call it, "Rio Dark."
To read the entire essay, click here.
Posted by Ron at 2:12 AM
ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE IS STILL DEAD
But Eschaton takes the trouble to officially pronounce the once hip magazine deceased, anyway, and with very, very good reason. Click here to see why.
Personally, I much prefer this cover (or half cover, anyway).
Finally, for your listening pleasure, here is an audio download lifted from an old 8-track of actor Ted Knight performing, for some unknown reason, the classic Shel Silverstein and Dr. Hook song, "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," courtesy of Bill Jerome.
Posted by Ron at 1:51 AM
QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES
2 former lawmen accused of extortion
From the Houston Chronicle:
After a three-year investigation, federal officials Friday arrested a former Kendleton police commissioner and a former captain on charges of pocketing traffic fines and misusing about $200,000 in federal funds.
Former Commissioner Sam Jimmie Mann Jr., 63, of Missouri City and former Capt. Gerald Davis, 55, of Houston were indicted Wednesday on 52 counts of conspiracy to commit extortion, lying to a federal agency, wire fraud and money laundering.
Remember, this is only one of hundreds of instances of police misconduct that are reported every year; one wonders exactly how many more instances go unreported. For more on the latest bad cop story, click here.
Posted by Ron at 1:16 AM
Thursday, August 14, 2003
Corporations Corrupt Democracy
CORPORATIONS CORRUPT ART
From veteran Hollywood screenwriter and director Frank Pierson's commencement address to the 2003 USC film school graduating class (via AlterNet):
Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia, was a legendary bully, who admired Mussolini and had his office designed to resemble Mussolini's – with a long approach into blinding lights, and himself behind a desk, raised a foot above the floor, ranks of Oscars his studio had won behind him.
He said he made only pictures that he wanted to see, and once the public stopped wanting to see what he liked, he'd quit. Not for him delegating decisions to demographers, pollsters and marketing experts. Nobody knew what a demographer was in those days.
In the '60s, when the old glove salesmen and carnival touts who built the studios began to grow old and retire to play golf or try to gamble away their fortunes, their grip on the business loosened. For a while independent producers flourished. New companies, new writers and directors burst the bonds of studio imposed style and discarded the habits of the stage.
In this fluid and diversified atmosphere there was freedom and creativity, and a minimum of bureaucratic control. The '60s and the '70s produced movies now looked upon as a Golden Age: The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dr. Strangelove, The Taxi Driver, Chinatown, Clockwork Orange, Annie Hall, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Midnight Cowboy, Mash, All the Presidents' Men, Network, Bonnie & Clyde, and a couple I like, Dog Day Afternoon and Cool Hand Luck. Even Easy Rider a wild card that symbolized the anarchistic spirit of that drug ridden time was a Columbia Studio release.
Then, on Wall Street, it began to be noticed that a single blockbuster movie could make in a weekend what a substantial business made in a year.
Warner Brothers was bought by Seven Arts, Seven Arts was bought by Kinney Services, which consisted of a chain of mortuaries and liveries, and the whole mess now is owned by America Online/Time/Warner along with HBO, Warner Books, Turner networks and CNN. Viacom owns Paramount, CBS, Showtime Cable and the Blockbuster chain of video stores. Of the 100-odd primetime shows that will premiere on the four networks this fall and winter, more than 30 – including CBS newsmagazines – will be made by one or another company owned by Viacom. Another 25 or so will be made by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which owns Fox network. That is almost 50 percent of the new shows controlled by two companies, one owned by a man notorious for his micro management, narrow right-wing political philosophy, and his willingness to use his ideological power.
As I've said before, the same people who have seized our government, who are ravaging our environment, who are devastating our economy while further enriching the wealthy, who have compelled us to wage bloody, endless wars in order to protect their investments abroad, are also the very same people who are destroying our culture, our art, our national identity with their plastic, trashy mass media products. Film has always been a business in the United States, but it has only been in the neo-liberal era that the corporate imperative has decimated the vast majority of Hollywood's traditional excellence while, at the same time, warping American values with both materialist propaganda and endless diversion that downplays important political realities. Corporations, as a force, are the enemy of the American people.
Posted by Ron at 11:47 PM
ROGER EBERT: PROGRESSIVE FILM CRITIC
From an interview in the Progressive:
Ebert: There's an interesting pattern going on. When I write a political column for the Chicago Sun-Times, when liberals disagree with me, they send in long, logical e-mails explaining all my errors. I hardly ever get well-reasoned articles from the right. People just tell me to shut up. That's the message: "Shut up. Don't write anymore about this. Who do you think you are?"
Q: It's the Dixie Chicks impulse. One of the members of the group said she was ashamed to be from Texas where the President is from. And so, in what I consider a brownshirt tactic, some rightwing DJs organized gatherings where people literally stomped on Dixie Chick albums.
Ebert: It wasn't just some rightwing DJs. The New York Times reported that it was also organized by a radio conglomerate that had received a lot of favors from the Bush Administration in deregulation. So that was not a spontaneous outpouring. It's a shame. It's a shame. The right really wants to punish you for having an opinion. And I think both the left and the right should celebrate people who have different opinions, and disagree with them, and argue with them, and differ with them, but don't just try to shut them up. The right really dominates radio, and it's amazing how much energy the right spends telling us that the press is slanted to the left when it really isn't. They want to shut other people up. They really don't understand the First Amendment.
Even though Ebert spends the first part of the interview bashing Michael Moore for how he handled his Oscar night speech (actually, Ebert doesn't disagree with what Moore said as much as how he said it), the longtime film critic shares several poignant views about both politics and cinema. It's a darn good interview.
(By the way, the above mentioned "radio conglomerate" is Clear Channel, which also banned John Lennon's "Imagine," among other songs, a few days after 9/11.)
Posted by Ron at 10:39 PM
STILL DON'T BELIEVE IN GLOBAL WARMING?
Heat Wave Kills Up to 3,000 in France
From the AP via the Orlando Sentinel:
France's worst heat wave on record has killed as many as 3,000 people across the nation, the Health Ministry said Thursday, as the government faced accusations that it failed to respond to a major health crisis.
Deaths accelerated in the past week, with up to 180 people dying in one day in Paris due to the abnormally high temperatures that have smothered France and other parts of Europe, the ministry said. The August heat also has devastated livestock and fanned wildfires that have blackened tens of thousands of acres of territory.
It was the government's first official death toll estimate. After days of complaints about the slow government response, the government on Wednesday launched crisis management measures usually reserved for epidemics, terror attacks and catastrophes.
Another good reason to join the Green Party. Click here for the whole story.
Posted by Ron at 3:27 PM
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU AT SCHOOL
School district installs Web cams in hallways, classrooms
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Biloxi started installing the cameras two years ago, and now that the project is complete, there are more than 500 cameras in district schools, said Deputy Superintendent Robert Voles.
The cameras, which don't record sound, are contained in circular domes on the ceiling, giving a sweeping view of the classroom. Administrators can view the images on the Internet by entering a password.
Voles said the camera installation is a precaution, and that students and teachers have said they feel safer. The cameras were paid for with casino revenue received by the district, which has 6,500 students.
"They've been well received in the community," he said. "We have not had any problems or complaints whatsoever."
I don't really know how this is going to make things more secure than simply having, say, a telephone in the classroom. Columbine type incidents of violence are still extremely rare, but the public schools' obsession with security continues unabated. Trust me, as a teacher, I believe in sensible safety measures, but this web cam thing is pretty extreme. These cameras aren't even being monitored in real time. How the hell are they going to prevent violence? Deterrence? It strikes me that such an intrusion can only add to the boiler room environment in schools that causes disaffected kids to freak out in the first place.
What these cameras amount to is yet another step in the direction of what schools are really about: authority and obedience.
If we truly want a safer school environment, what we need to do is actually address the problems that face America's children, rather than subjecting them to enforced conformity within an extremely confrontational climate. Of course, given the hidden agenda of schooling, such a suggestion is ludicrous. Schools exist to breed anger and fear, rather than hope and love.
It's all a pathetic racket.
Posted by Ron at 11:22 PM
FOX GOES MAD, SUES AL FRANKEN
Is it fair? You decide...
From the Nation:
Lawyers for Fox argue that the network has trademarked "Fair and Balanced" to describe its news coverage and that Franken's use of that phrase in the title of his forthcoming book ("Lies and Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced look at the Right," due in stores next month--and now, thanks to Fox, certain to be a bestseller) would "blur and tarnish" those words.
Oh, for crying out loud. Click here.
Posted by Ron at 11:20 PM
AT THE FUNDAMENTALIST YOUTH RALLY
From a New York Press essay via Eschaton:
Christians sure know who they’re going to vote for. What people on the so-called left have never figured out is that the strength of the Christian movement is that its people have had enough sense to openly reject the popular culture.
They’re just too stupid to do it effectively. They drop out, but they drop out into shopping malls and, in the case of Darien Lake, amusement park concert venues run by Clear Channel. Then they let a bunch of shysters preach self-annihilation and obedience to them before they are let loose with their debit cards into the Six Flags gift shops. What a joke: You see these people walking around with $17 glitter wigs, stuffing their faces with Coke and Tostitos, and they actually think their G.A.P. shirts (God Answers Prayers) identify them, not as suckers, but as cultural rebels.
For more, click here.
From Monty Python's Life of Brian:
Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't need to follow me! You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!
Crowd: Yes, we're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different!
Crowd: Yes, we are all different!
Homogenous Man: I'm not.
Posted by Ron at 11:19 PM
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
BUSH: Neither a Christian nor a Republican?
First and above all, George Bush II is not a Christian, born-again or otherwise. I was born a Roman Catholic. Today, I am a visceral agnostic and perhaps a Buddhist. I know for empirical fact there is a spiritual (not necessarily higher) reality: How else, to name a trite example, to explain love and empathy? Not to mention mysticism at the core of all religion. I am convinced, however, that monotheism is a sickness of mind homo homo sapiens will outgrow if - if! -- it survives as a species. Yet I appreciate and love true Christians - Mother Theresa is a personal hero -, true Muslims, true Hindus and so on. And the truly true Christians I know are doing humanitarian development work in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the United States. I met a number of them when I traveled in Africa, first as a tourist in 1993, then as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana over 27 months, 1995-1997. Compassion, charity, Christian love, agape - call it what you will, it involves an active engagement with those most in need. Nor do they wage war. Never in his life has George Bush II indicated interest for the neediest of the needy, the downtrodden. (His trip to Africa was a PR op in a neutral area of non-strategic importance to the current regime. It pandered to the African-American vote and to Europe; his handlers also very clearly wished to show the diplomat reaching out to other nations in fine words. Yet when it came to the tipping point in Liberia, when more than fine words were required, he failed to deliver.) He is also guilty of waging pre-emptive war - an act entirely incommensurate with the teachings of Christ. I Corinthians 13, you Bible-thumpers.
For more on Bush's bogus conservative credentials, click here.
As I've said before, Jesus was more like a leftist progressive.
Posted by Ron at 9:05 PM
OH MY GOD
GOP votes to fine absent Democrats
From today's Houston Chronicle:
AUSTIN -- Republican senators remaining in Texas voted today to fine the 11 self-exiled Democrats who are holed up in a New Mexico hotel for each day they are absent from a second special session on redistricting.
Without objection, the Republicans and one Democratic senator approved a resolution to fine the lawmakers starting at $1,000 a day, and the fine would double for each day they miss the session. The fine is not to exceed $5,000 a day.
Senators took the vote as the Democrats mark their 16th day in Albuquerque in protest over congressional redistricting.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called the proposed fine a poll tax.
"I won't pay it," he said.
So the Republicans failed to get the Texas Supreme Court to force the Democrats to come back to Austin, so they're... fining them?!?!? Man, oh, man, what an enormous sense of entitlement the GOP has.
click here, for more.
Posted by Ron at 8:51 PM
SURVIVING THE RE-EDUCATION CAMPS
I've gotta hand it to my school district: for the first time in five years, we did not open the semi-annual district wide faculty meeting with a Christian prayer. Instead, we had a "moment of silence," with which I can deal, I guess. Everything else today went just about as I predicted minus the "accountablility" statistics--I guess I should count myself lucky on that score. I did get the usual verification of what public schools are actually about: there were many stern advisements about obeying the bureaucratic routine and enforcing strong discipline on students--as always, school is about authority and obedience.
One thing did unnerve me: there was discussion of how to implement the new Texas pledge law. Come to find out, in addition to having to compel students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a (Christian inspired) "moment of silence" on a daily basis, we must also compel students to recite a pledge to the Texas flag. My job becomes ever more creepy. I didn't even know there was a pledge to the Texas flag. It's not that I have a huge problem with saying the pledge, myself, it's just that it's pretty hardcore to insist that all students must say it; it strikes me as anti-freedom and hypocritical. After all, the state law was adopted amid all the pro-war hysteria back in April and it reeks of McCarthyism. It's more like pledging "allegiance to the war" as Jello Biafra has observed.
I just keep saying to myself, "this is my last year; this is my last year."
Posted by Ron at 8:17 PM
Monday, August 11, 2003
BACK TO SCHOOL
Back to Hell
I start four days of mind-numbing in-service work tomorrow at the high school where I teach. First, there will be what amounts to a district wide three hour pep rally for our decidedly authoritarian brand of "education," complete with cheering and clapping, cheap business seminar styled videos scored with crappy inspirational pop music of teachers in the act of indoctrinating children, displays of numbers and statistics that show us how "accountable" we have been, and lots of other crap, including a Christian prayer that always makes me nervous and uncomfortable.
Later, I will try to stay awake during meetings, meetings, meetings--I will probably be the only one who realizes how futile it all is. Thank god, this is my last year. The mayhem of students next week will be a relief compared to the "professional" side of the business of "education."
I'm so sick of this silly dance. I'm soooooooo burned out...
Anyway, expect my furious pace of summer blogging to slow down somewhat for a while. I'm going to try to post everyday, but my commentary may not be as insightful or lengthy as it has been for the last couple of months. Or maybe it will. I guess I'm just saying that I'm going to be more busy than I have been, so here's a disclaimer.
Maybe I'll try to write more tales from the trenches of the indoctrinational system that we call "school:" something like "A LEFTIST SUBVERSIVELY SURVIVES CONTEMPORARY CONCENTRATION CAMPS" or some such....
Time for bed. It's a school night.
Posted by Ron at 11:46 PM
NOAM CHOMSKY PUTS IT TOGETHER
In a new essay, Chomsky does a fantastic job of cracking the puzzle of how US foreign and domestic policy under Bush interact:
For the political leadership, mostly recycled from the more reactionary sectors of the Reagan-Bush Senior administrations, the global wave of hatred is not a particular problem. They want to be feared, not loved. It is natural for the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, to quote the words of Chicago gangster Al Capone: "You will get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone." They understand just as well as their establishment critics that their actions increase the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and terror. But that too is not a major problem. Far higher in the scale of their priorities are the goals of establishing global hegemony and implementing their domestic agenda, which is to dismantle the progressive achievements that have been won by popular struggle over the past century, and to institutionalise their radical changes so that recovering the achievements will be no easy task.
The Wall Street Journal recognised that Bush's carefully staged aircraft carrier extravaganza "marks the beginning of his 2004 re-election campaign" which the White House hopes "will be built as much as possible around national-security themes". The electoral campaign will focus on "the battle of Iraq, not the war", chief Republican political strategist Karl Rove explained : the war must continue, if only to control the population at home.
Before the 2002 elections Rove had instructed party activists to stress security issues, diverting attention from unpopular Republican domestic policies. All of this is second-nature to the recycled Reaganites now in office. That is how they held on to political power during their first tenure in office. They regularly pushed the panic button to avoid public opposition to the policies that had left Reagan as the most disliked living president by 1992, by which time he may have ranked even lower than Richard Nixon.
(Emphasis added by me.)
For more, click here.
It's all like a bad dream, a nightmare from which there is no waking. They knowingly stole the White House. They may very well have allowed 9/11 to happen in order to create a pretext for their insane agenda. They lied repeatedly to the nation in order to justify their criminal invasion of a relatively defenseless country: now, our soldiers are dying, day by day; now, the risk of radical Islamic terrorism is much greater than it was before; now, our diplomatic relations with the world are at their lowest point in history. Meanwhile, their absurd and evil neo-liberal economic philosophy is slowly turning the US into a third world country. Somehow, they still have a great deal of popular support.
We're in big, big, big trouble. At what point do we pronounce the United States of America dead?
Posted by Ron at 11:30 PM