Sunday, April 30, 2006

Dems accuse Republicans of helping oil companies

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Democrats today accused the Republican-led Congress of providing tax cuts to oil companies at a time when the industry enjoys record profits and many motorists struggle to deal with rising gasoline prices.

In his party's weekly radio address, Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan said "gas prices keep skyrocketing, and in Washington, Republicans continue to turn a blind eye to the oil industry's activities."

"From this Republican-controlled Congress, we hear more of the same: 'Let's just drill our way to energy independence, sacrifice our environment and provide big tax breaks to Big Oil,'" Stupak said.

Click here for the rest.

All true except for the headline and lead sentence: this is no accusation; it's a fact. The GOP Congress has, indeed, been very generous to big oil in the way of tax cuts. Problem is, there is simply no justification for this kind of corporate welfare. I think it's safe to say that the oil industry faces no threat from falling apart due to the government being all over its back. The old neo-liberal point of view, that tax cuts are needed to stimulate the economy, just doesn't come into play here. After all, these guys are raking in billions, setting profit record after profit record as each quarter rolls by. So why the hell does the media refer to the Democrats blasting this pork barrel "tax relief" as an accusation?



From the LA Times via the Houston Chronicle:

Galbraith, economist, teacher and diplomat, dead at 97

Galbraith's fame was cemented with the 1958 publication of The Affluent Society, a phrase that soon worked its way into our language, and The New Industrial State, a follow-up work published in 1967. His books appeared at a time when America was without peer as an economic power.

Galbraith, an esteemed Harvard University professor, argued that the free-market economy was a myth. Giant corporations essentially operated free of competition, he said, often turning out frivolous goods for an ever increasingly consumer-minded society, while the capitalistic economy ignored more pressing social needs.

"Americans still have an extraordinary capacity to ignore poverty," Galbraith told an interviewer in 1983.

Click here for the rest.

I think that last sentence explains why I respected him.

As far as I can tell, the free market hasn't become any less of a myth
, but corporate power has evolved, going beyond simple influence of government into outright control. And ignoring poverty continues to be an enormous issue. Hurricane Katrina showed everybody how bad things are, but not much seems to be changing in the aftermath. What we need today, more than ever, are more outspoken economists who factor social issues into their number crunching--Paul Krugman isn't enough.

Farewell John Kenneth Galbraith.



From NPR:

A Spanish-language version of the U.S. National Anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," is getting huge airplay on Spanish-language radio stations across the nation ahead of pro-immigration rallies slated for Monday, May 1.

But the great-great grandson of the original songwriter, Francis Scott Key, is not pleased with the interpretation of the song, which features artists such as Wyclef Jean, hip-hop star Pitbull and Carlos Ponce and Olga Tanon from Puerto Rico.

Click here to listen to the rest of the story, as well as this new version of "The Star Spangled Banner."

And President Dumbshit isn't pleased, either. On Friday he made about as clear of a rejection as can be made: "the National Anthem should be sung in English." I wonder what his Hispanic sister-in-law thinks about that? Well, fuck him. There is no reasonable argument that can be made justifying such a stance. Spanish was spoken in North America long before English was--the language is a part of our national culture and heritage. Period. To be honest, I don't understand why so many people feel so threatened by Spanish. Down in Texas, it's part of the ambient, no big deal. Frankly, I kind of miss it since I've moved to Louisiana, and I'm not just talking about not being able to find good Tex-Mex food here. Spanish has a beautiful sound, and many, many Americans speak it as their first language; it's very pleasant to hear. Furthermore, how on earth could the fucking national anthem be a threat? It strikes me as obvious that this Spanish version makes a very pro-American statement. It's downright patriotic. There's just no pleasing the xenophobes, I guess.

Instead, I'll try to piss them off. Here are the lyrics to "The Star Spangled Banner" Spanish!

Nuestro Himno

Amanece, lo veis?, a la luz de la aurora?

lo que tanto aclamamos la noche caer?

sus estrellas sus franjas

flotaban ayer

en el fiero combate

en señal de victoria,

fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada.

Por la noche decían:

"Se va defendiendo!"

Oh decid! Despliega aún

Voz a su hermosura estrellada,

sobre tierra de libres,

la bandera sagrada?

Sus estrellas, sus franjas,

la libertad, somos iguales.

Somos hermanos, en nuestro himno.

En el fiero combate en señal de victoria,

Fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada.

Mi gente sigue luchando.

Ya es tiempo de romper las cadenas.

Por la noche decían: "!Se va defendiendo!"

Oh decid! Despliega aún su hermosura estrellada

sobre tierra de libres,

la bandera sagrada?

Ha! Muy bueno!

Just for good measure, I fully support this Monday's general strike. Go get 'em guys.


Kleenex Workers

From the Progressive via ZNet, Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and several other left-leaning books, on what young French workers are fighting for:

Was it only three years ago that some of our puffed up patriots were denouncing the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” too fattened on Camembert to stub out their Gaulois and get down with the war on Iraq? Well, take another look at the folks who invented the word liberté. Throughout the month of March and beyond, they were demonstrating, rioting, and burning up cars to preserve a right Americans can only dream of: the right not to be fired at an employer’s whim.

The French government’s rationale for its new labor law was impeccable from an economist’s standpoint: Make it easier for employers to fire people and they will be more willing to hire people. So why was Paris burning?

What corporations call “flexibility”—the right to dispose of workers at will—is what workers experience as disposability, not to mention insecurity and poverty. The French students who were tossing Molotov cocktails didn’t want to become what they call “a Kleenex generation”—used and tossed away when the employer decides he needs a fresh one.

Click here for the rest.

If French youth fear becoming "a Kleenex generation," then Americans ought to be lamenting the fact that we are now, and have been for quite some time, a Kleenex nation. That is, as workers, we are completely disposable, simply pieces of of the overall capital picture for any employer, no better or worse than machinery, land, natural resources, and funding. Of course, there is a justifying rationale used by pro-capitalists to explain why it's okay to treat Americans as things: the idea is that the ability to discard workers at will allows companies to be more profitable, which expands the economy, which, in turn, creates more jobs and raises wages. The problem is that the conventional wisdom breaks down after the expanding economy part. It is now utterly clear that an expanding economy need not create many new jobs, at least here in the US, now that we are in the era of "outsourcing." And most of the jobs that are created these days are in the shitty service sector, with no hope of advancement, pay raises, or benefits. As for an expanding economy raising wages, well, I think Alan Greenspan put it best in the late 90s when he was talking about how inflation was, amazingly, not a problem with the boom: workers feared losing their jobs and were therefore afraid of asking for raises, and simply accepting the fact that growth was not something from which they would benefit--no rise in wages equaled no rise in inflation. In short, the conventional wisdom that workers have to put up with bullshit from employers so everyone can enjoy greater gains from overall economic growth is a total lie. It just doesn't work that way.

I wish we had big balls like the French.


Saturday, April 29, 2006


Okay, I'm listening to it right now myself, and I have to say that it's pretty F'ing great. Full disclosure: I'm a big Neil Young fan from way back. I've always loved his garage band sound, dirty and grinding, coupled with heartfelt lyrics belted out in his weird squeaky voice. He's been a big influence on my own songwriting. One of my arena-rock highlights was seeing him play with his sometimes backing band Crazy Horse in Austin back in 1986. Great Show. It was wild hearing "Out of the Blue and into the Black," one of the greatest rock songs of all time, in person. So, obviously, you'll have to filter my critical claims with an understanding of my predisposition toward liking it.

I'm also biased in that I hate Bush and this stinking war in Iraq.

Anyway, this album, like I said, is great. It's in his classic style, a couple of heavily distorted electric guitars, bass, drums, and the occasional addition of harmonica and blaring trumpet. A blazing trail of anger weaves through the entire record, elevating Young's simple but catchy compositions to artistic heights rarely achieved in today's overly commercial and emotionally dishonest pop music market. The lyrics are straight-up, no playing around with metaphor. Young simply trusts that his message is enough, and it is.

In fact, I've found the lyrics, via Fox News of all places, for the album's standout cut "Let's Impeach the President." Check 'em out:


Let’s impeach the president for lying
And leading our country into war
Abusing all the power that we gave him
And shipping all our money out the door

He’s the man who hired all the criminals
The White House shadows who hide behind closed doors
And bend the facts to fit with their new stories
Of why we have to send our men to war

Let’s impeach the president for spying
On citizens inside their own homes
Breaking every law in the country
By tapping our computers and telephones

What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees
Would New Orleans have been safer that way
Sheltered by our government’s protection
Or was someone just not home that day?

Let’s impeach the president
For hijacking our religion and using it to get elected
Dividing our country into colors
And still leaving black people neglected

Thank god he’s cracking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There’s lot of people looking at big trouble
But of course the president is clean

Thank God

Just for good measure, the album ends with a rousing a capella rendition of "America the Beautiful" sung by a gospel choir. It brought a tear to my eye. Because that's what the record is about. Young's new songs don't bash America. Rather, it's just the opposite: he rages about how a great nation continues to be run through the sewers by insane evil men. You don't cut a record like this unless you love this country.

This is easily the best and most relevant rock music in a decade. I'm glad the genre still has some life left in it.

Listen to it here, courtesy of Eschaton.


Friday, April 28, 2006




Phil and Frankie


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Why Leftists Mistrust Liberals

From CounterPunch, my favorite University of Texas journalism professor, Robert Jensen tries to get at why liberals always seem to dump on the left:

Some of my best friends are liberals. Really. But I have found it is best not to rely on them politically.

Bashing the left to burnish credibility in mainstream circles is a time-honored liberal move, a way of saying “I’m critical of the excesses of the powerful, but not like those crazy lefties.” For example, during a discussion of post-9/11 politics, I once heard then-New York University professor (he has since moved to Columbia University) Todd Gitlin position himself between the “hard right” (such as people associated with the Bush administration) and the “hard left” (such as Noam Chomsky and other radical critics), implying an equivalence in the coherence or value of analysis of each side. The only conclusion I could reach was that Gitlin -- who is both a prolific writer and a former president of Students for a Democratic Society -- either believed such a claim about equivalence or said it for self-interested political purposes. Neither interpretation is terribly flattering for Gitlin.

Perhaps more important than such cases are the ways in which liberals can undermine the left even when claiming to be supportive in a common cause.

Click here for the rest.

Malcolm X once said something to the effect that he preferred the straight-up racism of conservatives because liberals will say all the right things while at the same time plotting to screw over black people--at least conservatives are honest about what they are. How right he was. The reality is that liberals, now utterly demonized by the right wing, serve the establishment in a very important way: they are apologists. That is, the liberal point of view is essentially that the basic power structure in the US is both sound and just; it simply has problems from time to time that need to be fixed. Consequently, liberals keep the body politic, really the entire population, from ever considering any real systemic changes in the United States. Conservatives owe liberals a great debt for that. They don't ever have to debate against a really different point of view--liberals do that for them.

My arguments with liberal Democrats about Nader and the Greens have made, for me, this theory into frustrating reality. Unfortunately, it's virtually impossible to simply explain to a liberal that he's playing directly into corporate hands by opposing the left. They, like their conservative counterparts, just can't hear it. When you get right down to it, there's not much difference: both liberals and conservatives support the establishment and lambast anybody who doesn't.


Scholars Discover 23 Blank Pages That
May As Well Be Lost Samuel Beckett Play

From the Onion courtesy of This is not a compliment:

Just weeks after the centennial of the birth of pioneering minimalist playwright Samuel Beckett, archivists analyzing papers from his Paris estate uncovered a small stack of blank paper that scholars are calling "the latest example of the late Irish-born writer's genius."

The 23 blank pages, which literary experts presume is a two-act play composed sometime between 1973 and 1975, are already being heralded as one of the most ambitious works by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Waiting For Godot, and a natural progression from his earlier works, including 1969's Breath, a 30-second play with no characters, and 1972's Not I, in which the only illuminated part of the stage is a floating mouth.

"In what was surely a conscious decision by Mr. Beckett, the white, uniform, non-ruled pages, which symbolize the starkness and emptiness of life, were left unbound, unmarked, and untouched," said Trinity College professor of Irish literature Fintan O'Donoghue. "And, as if to further exemplify the anonymity and facelessness of 20th-century man, they were found, of all places, between other sheets of paper."

Click here for the rest.

In order to understand why this is funny, if you're not laughing already, check out this Wikipedia bio of Beckett. I've spent many years kind of hating the much-worshipped playwright for pretty much the same reason that the Onion decided to satire him. From the Wikipedia bio:

Beckett's new-found fame—coupled with the Nobel Prize in Literature that he won in 1969 and which he and his wife considered to be a 'catastrophe'—meant that academic interest in his life and work grew, creating eventually something of a 'Beckett industry'. Other writers also started to seek out Beckett, with the result that a steady stream of students, poets, novelists and playwrights passed through Paris over the years, hoping to meet the master.

That is, Beckett is virtually a literary god, but damned if I've ever been able to understand why. It could be that I'm just stupid, but when I first came across him, as an undergraduate at the Univeristy of Texas majoring in theater back in the late 80s, there was this wild sense of reverence for him, and no professor seemed to be able to really explain why this was the case. Sure, they told me that he somehow embodied the heart of existential absurdism, that he fully explored "the condition of man" and all that, but my own subjective reading saw his work as excruciatingly silly. And I'm usually drawn toward the absurd. Beckett, however, was to me like listening to AM radio static: you might hear a hint of a voice or song here and there, with the expectation that something was going to happen, but, ultimately nothing ever happened. I just didn't get it.

I'm still frustrated by Beckett, but I've recently come to learn that frustration is probably the point. In other words, to Beckett, life was frustration, an absurdity. Last year a couple of my MFA acting classmates did a scene in class from Waiting for Godot. I enjoyed it. With the guidance of our brilliant teacher, John Dennis, my buddies portrayed a couple of characters desperately trying to figure out their own missing backstories, to make sense of their senseless lives, being very silly all the while. Their performance made me feel like I'm starting to get it.

Maybe I've finally reached the point in life where I've figured out that there's no point to life.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Another busy night. Read these two essays from the great liberal Texans Jim Hightower and Molly Ivins, both from AlterNet:

Bush's Imperial Presidency

A fellow from a town just outside of Austin wrote a four-sentence letter to the editor of our local daily that astonished me: "I want the government to please, please listen in on my phone calls. I have nothing to hide. It is also welcome to check my emails and give me a national identification card, which I will be proud to show when asked by people in authority. What's with all you people who need so much privacy?"

Well, gee where to start? How about with the founders? Many of the colonists who rose in support of the rebellion of '76 did so because their government kept snooping on them and invading their privacy. Especially offensive was the widespread use of "writs of assistance," which were sweeping warrants authorizing government agents to enter and search people's homes and businesses -- including those of people who had nothing to hide. The founders had a strong sense of the old English maxim "A man's house is his castle." They hated the government's "knock at the door," the forced intrusion into their private spheres, the arrogant abrogation of their personal liberty. So they fought a war to stop it. Once free of that government, they created a new one based on laws to protect liberty -- and this time they were determined to put a short, tight leash on government's inherently abusive search powers.

Click here for the rest.

Israel Lobby Nutjobs on the Loose

One of the consistent deformities in American policy debate has been challenged by a couple of professors, and the reaction proves their point so neatly it's almost funny.

A working paper by John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, called "The Israel Lobby" was printed in the London Review of Books earlier this month. And all hell broke loose in the more excitable reaches of journalism and academe.

For having the sheer effrontery to point out the painfully obvious -- that there is an Israel lobby in the United States -- Mearsheimer and Walt have been accused of being anti-Semitic, nutty and guilty of "kooky academic work." Alan Dershowitz, who seems to be easily upset, went totally ballistic over the mild, academic, not to suggest pretty boring article by Mearsheimer and Walt, calling them "liars" and "bigots."

Of course there is an Israeli lobby in America -- its leading working group is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). It calls itself "America's Pro-Israel Lobby," and it attempts to influence U.S. legislation and policy.

Click here for the rest.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006


From the Daily Kos, a missive on Federal plans to not allow the jobless back into the projects in New Orleans:

Only "Best Residents" to be Allowed in NOLA Public Housing

But the definition of "desirables" in Jackson's is disturbing: Those who paid rent on time, those who held a job and those who worked. By those lights, tens of thousands of Michigan workers went in one day from some of the state's "best residents" to "undesirables," not based on their own behavior, but on the ruthless realities spawned by globalization. Our value as citizens and residents under this categorization is based solely on the economics of big business, as corporations do their periodic employee bloodletting to bolster the bottom line.

Talk about not being in control of your own fate. Talk about reinforcing the absolute worthlessness of showing up for work on time, doing your job, playing by the rules.

It seems to me that any discussion about dealing with the effects of downsizing and restructuring needs to begin with the premise that human beings are more than their job. Ignoring other aspects of a person - contributions as community volunteer, parent, neighbor - is not only going to breed sterility, it's ultimately going to create an undercurrent of populist resentment that may well come back to bite the masters in the ass as this country struggles with a shifting economy.

Click here for the rest.

Yeah, this business about the NOLA projects is total bullshit--everyone, except for maybe convicted violent criminals, should be allowed back. But the commentary on the issue, which is what caught my eye, stabs a knife right through a traditional American belief, that a responsible and hard working American ought to be able to make it on his own. It amazes me that people still believe such lunacy so strongly. I could understand if there was some sort of residual clinging to such a concept; after all, it's a very pro-work idea, which isn't such a bad thing. But in this day and age of corporate dominance, where individuals have no personal economic clout or power whatsoever, believing that there is no such thing as a social and economic context is like believing in Santa Claus. That is, people can't make it on their own. Everybody must have help, whether it's from well-to-do family and position, or from the government. Long gone are the days when a citizen could head west, get free land, and establish a farm for self-subsistence and maybe a little profit. We sure do love those old Little House books, but that reality exists no more. Today, people have very little control over their own economic reality. If your job is outsourced, too bad, go find another. But what do you do if the only jobs available are at Wal-Mart for minimum wage and no benefits? You can't raise a family on that, and you can't start planting wheat or corn on private property, even if competing with giant agri-business was even feasible. We all live in a socio-economic context; we may very well be individual people, but we do not control our individual circumstances in the way that many Americans believe is possible. Nine times out of ten, if you're poor, you have almost no control over that fact at all.

Now when the hell is this country going to grow up and stop believing in Santa Claus?



From Real Art comments, a couple of thoughts on Haggard's perceived retreat from the pro-establishment attitudes of his classic song "Okie from Muskogee" toward the anti-Bush attitudes of his new release "Rebuild America First":

That Merle Haggard is a hard guy to pin down...despite the jingoistic lyrics of "Okie..", he's pretty liberal about some other things.

He was one of the few artists in country music to come to the defense of The Dixie Chicks after their scandal, yet he also records and performs with Toby Keith. And he's good friends with Ultra-hippie-liberal Willie Nelson. And he's made anti-Bush comments about George Sr., too. Like most people, his politics don't fall on the right or the left...he's also a great songwriter and a damn soulful singer! I dig him....

Paul Drake
So Haggard is far more sophisticated than his down-home image might suggest. That's good to hear, and it makes sense because his music, as far as I can tell, is generally a cut above the average drunken adultery songs with which he competed on the record charts during his heyday. Why, the gentle tragedy of wasted youth, murder, and motherly love, juxtaposed against the uplifting melody of "Mamma Tried," covered by the Grateful Dead in concert for years, is one of the greatest C&W songs of all time, if only for its ironic complexities. But, wait, there's still more to this guy:
"Okie" and "Fightin' Side of Me" are both characters songs written in the voice of Merle's father and his father's friends...

Willie will often perform "Okie" during his encores and the line, "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee, and we don't take our trips on L.S.D." always gets the biggest cheer from the hippies...

they are great songs...

Mike G. Switzer
They are great songs. And the concept of the "characters" tunes, where Haggard takes on the persona of people with whom he disagrees puts him on a level with Bob Dylan in terms of lyrical sophistication. I had heard this about Haggard, that "Okie" was something of a satire tune, once before, but didn't really believe it, if only because it was some guy I didn't know on a comment board somewhere, and because the song is utterly compelling in its sincerity. But Mike, I trust, for all things musical, at least: Haggard's one of us, someone from a red state with more to him than Bush family values.

God bless America--it spawned Merle Haggard.


Monday, April 24, 2006


And I don't mean the usual accusations about Congress' obvious attempt to help out the President regarding the lies he used to justify the invasion. No, this is a smoking gun.

From Talking Points Memo, courtesy of Eschaton:

Drumheller's account is pretty probative evidence on the question of whether the White House politicized and cherry-picked the Iraq intelligence.

So why didn't we hear about any of this in the reports of those Iraq intel commissions that have given the White House a clean bill of health on distorting the intel and misleading the country about what we knew about Iraq's alleged WMD programs?

Think about it. It's devastating evidence against their credibility on a slew of levels.

Did you read in any of those reports -- even in a way that would protect sources and methods -- that the CIA had turned a key member of the Iraqi regime, that that guy had said there weren't any active weapons programs, and that the White House lost interest in what he was saying as soon as they realized it didn't help the case for war? What about what he said about the Niger story?

Did the Robb-Silbermann Commission not hear about what Drumheller had to say? What about the Roberts Committee?

I asked Drumheller just those questions when I spoke to him early this evening. He was quite clear. He was interviewed by the Robb-Silbermann Commission. Three times apparently.

Did he tell them everything he revealed on tonight's 60 Minutes segment. Absolutely.

Click here for the rest.

You can see video of the 60 Minutes interview here.

The long and short of this is that a former high ranking CIA officer is sick of the lies and joining the ever expanding chorus of people-who-know speaking out. In the interview, Drumheller relates the tale of how, well before the invasion, the CIA managed to get one of Iraq's people-who-know to switch sides and start talking. Of course, the Iraqi official explained that Iraq had no WMDs. Of course, the White House ignored him. That's no surprise. And really this next bit is no surprise, either: Drumheller told the Congressional committees investigating the Iraq "intelligence failure" the exact same story, and they compeletely ignored him, too. Just to connect the dots a bit, this is a devastating indictment of the investigation. That is, we now know, beyond a doubt, that these so-called investigations were a joke. They didn't clear the President, and can no longer be relied on as narrative for anything at all. The investigation was a coverup, and everybody involved should be under indictment.



That's right. The man who wrote and performed the ultimate anti-hippy song, "Okie from Muskogee," Merle Haggard, has a new anti-war, anti-Bush song.

Here's a link to the song's video courtesy of his website, courtesy of Crooks and Liars.

Here are the lyrics:

Written by Merle Haggard

Why don't we liberate these United States
We're the ones who need it the worst
Let the rest of the world help us for a change
And let's rebuild America first

Our highways and bridges are falling apart
Who's blessed and who has been cursed
There's things to be done all over the world
But let's rebuild America first

Who's on the hill and who's watching the valley
Who's in charge of it all
God bless the Army and God bless our liberty
Dadgum the rest of it all

Yea, men in position but backing away
Freedom is stuck in reverse
Let's get out of Iraq and get back on the track
And let's rebuild America first

Why don't we liberate these United States
We're the ones who need it the most
You think I'm blowing smoke
Boys it ain't no joke
I make twenty trips a year from coast to coast

What with the new Neil Young tune it's getting to be more and more like the 60s every day. Cool.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

GOP doesn't mean 'God's Own Party'

From the Houston Chronicle op-ed page, another shot of old school GOP genius Kevin Phillips:

Now that the GOP has been transformed by the rise of the South, the trauma of terrorism and George W. Bush's conviction that God wanted him to be president, a deeper conclusion can be drawn: The Republican Party has become the first religious party in U.S. history.

We have had small-scale theocracies in North America before — in Puritan New England and later in Mormon Utah. Today, a leading power such as the United States approaches theocracy when it meets the conditions currently on display: an elected leader who believes himself to speak for the Almighty, a ruling political party that represents religious true believers, the certainty of many Republican voters that government should be guided by religion and, on top of it all, a White House that adopts agendas seemingly animated by biblical worldviews.

Indeed, there is a potent change taking place in this country's domestic and foreign policy, driven by religion's new political prowess and its role in projecting military power in the Mideast.

Click here for the rest.

The essay goes on to explain some of the concepts found in Phillips' new book, American Theocracy, which I've posted about a couple of times before, but he makes a really cool observation in the piece's introduction above. Just as American fascist elements are unrecognizable today to many Americans because because they do not manifest obviously in the way that German fascism did--that is, German fascism deeply reflected German culture and history, while American fascism is much more about God and apple pie--modern theocracy is not as easily seen because it doesn't look exactly like historical theocracies. The old Puritan and Scarlet Letter style of theocracy is simply not possible outside of small communities in the industrialized west. Consequently, religious influence and control must take different forms: it is unlikely that fundamentalist control will ever truly extend into an individual's bedroom in the form of some kind of sexual policeman or security video system, but their influence is felt in terms of misleading and inaccurate "abstinence based" sex education, draconian abortion laws in South Dakota with other states joining soon, and decreased funding for the availibility of AIDS drugs and research. That is, I'm sure the fundamentalists would just love to be in your bedroom telling you how to have sex, but since they can't, they'll do the next best thing.

Just because the forces of religious government in America don't wear turbans doesn't mean they're not exactly like the Taliban.


The politics Jesus wouldn't do

From the Houston Chronicle op-ed page:

There is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, "Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him" (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.


The Romans did not believe Jesus when he said he had no political ambitions. That is why the soldiers mocked him as a failed king, giving him a robe and scepter and bowing in fake obedience (John 19:1-3). Those who today say that they are creating or following a "Christian politics" continue the work of those soldiers, disregarding the words of Jesus that his reign is not of this order.

Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion — imposing a reign of Jesus in this order — they are worshipping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord's name in vain.

Click here for the rest.

While I do think that Democrats should do everything they can rhetorically to expose Republican hypocrisy on the Jesus issue, this essay is right on: Christianity should play no role in American politics. Never mind, for a moment, the great pains taken by our Founding Fathers to ensure that this would be a secular nation; Christianity is obviously an apolitical point of view, dealing with a spiritual kingdom instead of an earthly one. Granted, much of what Jesus asserted about morality is easily translated into politics, but the United States should pass legislation because it is right, and because it is the will of its citizens, not because the Lord commanded it--to the best of my knowledge, the Constitution bestows no power on the Nazarene carpenter, only on the Federal Government. The bottom line here is that it makes no sense to use the government to force a version of Christian morality on Americans. "Do not boast of works, lest ye be judged," said Jesus. In other words, following Christian law doesn't do anybody any good spiritually. For Christians, it is only the relationship with Jesus that gets people into heaven, only the relationship with Jesus that makes people want to follow Christian rules. From a Christian standpoint, a Christian government is inherently a spiritually bankrupt concept. Pointless.


New Orleans Is Our Gettysburg

From the Black Commentator:

This Saturday’s elections in New Orleans represent yet another element of the vast crime committed against Black America. With as many as 300,000 residents, overwhelmingly African American, strewn about the country in government-engineered exile, the elections are an insult to the very idea of democracy, and to the dignity of all Black people.

This farcical exercise in faux democracy will no doubt be followed by corporate media declarations that New Orleans is returning to “normalcy” – the same term that the media bandied about when the city held a shrunken Mardi Gras, in February.

Behind that bland word, “normalcy,” lies a wish list and narrative that sees white rule as normative in America – the way things should be – and Black electoral power as an aberration, a kind of organized pathology in which people are assumed to be up to no good. Despite Katrina’s vast damage to Louisiana infrastructure and commerce, there is a current of elation among white elites and common folk alike, at the winds and waters that cleansed New Orleans of its two-thirds Black majority, which was seen as a sore on the body politic, a den of Otherness and iniquity.

Click here for the rest.

When it became clear, after Hurricane Katrina, that most the Big Easy's black population had been strewn across the nation, I would hear, here and there, rumors of white whisperings: "it'll be better now." Saturday's mayoral elections in New Orleans make it utterly obvious that the city's and Louisiana's respective white power structures are taking the first steps toward formalizing the "better" Crescent City.

It's now looking like
Mayor Nagin has made it into a runoff with his white opponent Mitch Landrieu. Good for Nagin; he's not perfect, but I was greatly impressed with his Giuliani-like performance during the reign of chaos after the hurricane. But, I think, if this election had been handled more democratically, in such a way that would have allowed New Orleans' far-flung black population to vote as easily as the city's white population, the result would be quite different: Nagin would have won an outright victory.

It sickens me that remote polling locations were not allowed in Houston, Atlanta, and other cities hosting large concentrations of evacuees. For god's sake, Iraqis in the US got to vote here in their elections. Why couldn't we do the same thing for our own? Answer: there is no reason. African-Americans were consciously screwed in order to make New Orleans "better." This is the largest and most overt act of American racism in my lifetime, an absolute return to Louisiana's old Jim Crow laws, all dressed up in procedural and administrative clothing.

I hope to god they don't get away with this shit.


How Safe is Your Job?

From CounterPunch:

For a number of years the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly payroll jobs reports have been sending US policymakers dire warnings, only to be ignored. The March report repeats the message. Ninety-five percent of the new jobs created are in domestic services. The US economy no longer creates jobs in export or export-competitive sectors.

Wholesale and retail trade, waitresses and bartenders account for 46% of the new jobs. Education and health services, administrative and waste services, and financial activities account for another 46%. (Wholesale and retail trade jobs for March were 40,000. These jobs would be sales clerks ringing up sales on registers, people stocking the aisles at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc.

Leisure and hospitality (primarily waitresses and bartenders) accounted for 42,000 March jobs.) In contrast, computer system services accounted for 3,600 jobs.

The biggest item (half) in education and health services is "ambulatory health care services."

This has been the profile of US employment growth for a number of years, along with some construction jobs filled by legal and illegal immigrants. It is the job profile of a third world economy.

Click here for the rest.

Years ago, when I was home from college for a summer break, I expressed frustration to my father about how difficult it seemed to find a summer job. He pulled out a newspaper classified section and opened up the want ads. "Look. There are hundreds of jobs here. What's your problem?" My problem, back then, was that all those jobs sucked. I wanted something interesting, something that wouldn't suck the soul out of my chest. Everything listed that didn't require specialized education or skills was in the service sector, burger flipping, waiting tables, telemarketing, convenience store clerk--you get the idea.

Of course, my real problem, back then, was that I was a lazy and spoiled child of a bourgeois neighborhood. I didn't really want to work; I wanted to have fun. Since then my attitudes about working have changed a great deal: in order for society to function, we all must work. Those crap jobs that I wanted nothing to do with when I was nineteen serve an important function, excepting, of course, telemarketing, which is a pox on the economy. There is dignity, whether people admit it or not, in shit work. My problem today, on the other hand, is that these jobs are increasingly the only ones available for most people, let alone for people who are just beginning to enter the work force.

Never mind, for a moment, that such a development signals grave problems with our economy, which increasingly produces less while consuming more: Americans cannot live on wages from shit work. Well, I guess we can live, if you want to call a paycheck-to-paycheck existence, without healthcare, without the ability to raise a family, without any real prospects for economic advancement, "living." But then, that's not the America I've been told to believe in. The America I'm supposed to believe in is one where the people who work hard and are responsible citizens will do well, have a better life, and have an inheritance for their children. It's really starting to look like the old myth of the "American Dream" will soon be unable to fool people. Reality is just becoming too hardcore.

It seems to me that if service sector work for most Americans is what the economic geniuses belive will make America economically stronger, there ought to be some kind of legislation that guarantees that workers will be able to make ends meet, that is, a massive hike in the minimum wage, universal health care, lower tuition at colleges and universities, you know, a welfare state to make up for the fact that the economic reality, apparently, is such that individuals and families cannot make it on their own. Of course, I'm laughing while I write this because that's never going to happen, at least as long as the current political dynamic is reality.

But if the US really is descending into a third world existence, that dynamic may change: history has shown us that there's nothing more dangerous to a ruling class than masses of starving desperate people. If we're lucky, America's economic and political elite may someday suffer the same fate as Czar Nicholas II and his family. If we're lucky.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Good Review

From the Baton Rouge Advocate:

‘Stoops’ stands tall
Swine Palace succeeds with adaptation of classic English comedy

Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer,” first performed in 1773, ranks among English literature’s best comedies. The action is driven to a large extent by a bad-boy character named Tony Lumpkin.

Swine Palace’s production does the play justice, with a twist, and introduces many in the Baton Rouge audience to a fine student actor named Derek Mudd who plays Lumpkin.

Set originally in an English countryside, Swine Palace’s “She Stoops to Conquer” has been moved by director Jane Page to an unnamed Louisiana parish that looks a lot like one of the Felicianas.

Click here for the rest.

Even though I have only a small part, eight lines in one scene, and even though Restoration comedy isn't really my thing, this is a good show, and it has clearly amused and engaged our two preview audiences on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and utterly delighted our opening audience earlier this evening. And the Advocate is right to single out my classmate Derek for his fantastic work. Derek beat me out for the part, and, I think, has done much more with the role than I could have. He's really kicking ass, the best thing in the show in my humble opinion. Beyond Derek, the rest of my class is also turning in fine work. As usual. And don't get me wrong when I say that my part is small: I'm playing a bartender with a Cajun accent and really having a fun time with it--I sound like Gambit of the X-Men, who, strangely, speaks thick Cajun English, even though he is from the Big Easy, where the folk speak quite differently from those born on the bayou; I guess I can chalk that up to New York based writers who know nothing of the ways of Louisiana. Anyway, it's a good show. If you're in Baton Rouge in the next couple of weeks check it out.

Robert Rutland, who plays Mr. Hardcastle, and Tara MacMullen, who plays Kate Hardcastle (photo by James Chance)








Thursday, April 20, 2006

Tipping in America

From AlterNet:

What is surprising is that, among the factors that determine how much money a server makes, quality of service is fairly insignificant. The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University, where Lynn works, found in a 20-year study that level of service explained only a miniscule two percent of the variation between tips. "Literally how sunny it is outside has the same impact on a tip as good service does," says Lynn. "The relationship between tips and service is weak enough that you have to really question the incentive for servers to give good service."

The Center for Hospitality Research lists a number of other factors that affect your tip, many of which are completely out of a server's control. Good weather, good moods and a piece of candy with the check are all important tip boosters. For the server, being attractive improves your tip, being a woman improves your tip, and being an attractive woman exponentially increases it.

In fact, Lynn goes so far as to question the legality of tipping in America. According to Lynn, there is conclusive evidence that being white and/or female has a positive effect on a tip. "Tipping as it is currently practiced is probably unlawful. It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sex and skin color. The Civil Rights Act states that any time race, sex or age has a dispirited impact on the employee, the job is unlawful. If I was the owner of a large restaurant, I would be afraid of a class action suit."

Click here for the rest.

I've waited tables before, and, odds are, I'm going to be doing it again when I get out of grad school. And one big thing I learned when I was toiling away for chump change is that the whole tipping system is fucking bogus. Sure, some waiters at some restaurants do exceedingly well--the article mentions one New York restaurant whose servers make 100k plus a year. However, that's a complete rarity. Most waiters barely make enough to cover rent, while business-friendly state legislatures responding to the restaurant lobby long ago passed laws exempting the industry from minimum wage requirements: waiters pretty much make their living from tips alone, which most customers don't realize. In other words, it's a big fucking scam, and labor loses. In a just society, things wouldn't be this way. Of course, I'm not really seeing that utopia on the horizon, so, in the meantime, just make sure to give your server at least 20%, after tax. Unless, of course, he's a big dick, in which case, I wholeheartedly approve of stiffing.


The Worst President in History?

From Rolling Stone courtesy of Eschaton:

How does any president's reputation sink so low? The reasons are best understood as the reverse of those that produce presidential greatness. In almost every survey of historians dating back to the 1940s, three presidents have emerged as supreme successes: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. These were the men who guided the nation through what historians consider its greatest crises: the founding era after the ratification of the Constitution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression and Second World War. Presented with arduous, at times seemingly impossible circumstances, they rallied the nation, governed brilliantly and left the republic more secure than when they entered office.

Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties -- Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush -- have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures -- an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities. Repeatedly, Bush has undone himself, a failing revealed in each major area of presidential performance.

Click here for the rest.

Of course, prominent historians were calling Bush the worst President ever as early as 2003, but it sounds like there's a consensus forming, and, if you ask me, it's about time. Speaking of time, given the fact that we are now living under the most corrupt, most warlike, and most incompetent leadership in US history, I think it's fair to say that we are also living in extraordinary times. I've long felt like I missed the ride during the 60s, and admired the social activism of the 30s, but it's pretty clear that not only are things as fucked up now as they were then, but that there are countless exciting opportunities to affect this nation's future. Yeah, the time in which we now live is awful, but that's when great things happen. Indeed, now, more than ever perhaps, is the time for Americans to take their citizenship seriously. Our leaders have failed us: it's time for the people to take over.

One further thought: this is the second kickass article from Rolling Stone I've linked here at Real Art. I gave up on that magazine as corporate crap long ago. Maybe I should start checking it out again.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Yes, my busy, hectic, crazy week continues. In fact, I'm posting this meager excerpt and "click here" post in the
Reilly Theatre's business office during intermission for our pay-what-you-can preview of She Stoops to Conquer. I've got work to do later tonight. So, anyway, here's a couple of essays, both via WorkingForChange, both by the Washington Post's liberal columnist EJ Dionne. Check it out:

Rumsfeld the scapegoat

But that's also the point: For all his mistakes, Rumsfeld is not some alien creature operating as a loner sabotaging the otherwise reasonable policies of his bosses. President Bush is the commander-in-chief. Vice President Cheney is on record as having made outlandishly optimistic predictions before the war started about how swimmingly everything would go.

Rumsfeld is Bush's guy, which is why the president resists firing him. Letting Rumsfeld go would amount to acknowledging how badly the administration has botched Iraq.

Indeed, the rebellious generals have not confined their criticism to the secretary of defense. In his powerful article last week in Time magazine, Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold was sweeping in saying that “the zealots' rationale for war made no sense.” That was zealots, plural. He also said that our forces were committed to this fight “with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions — or bury the results.” Does anyone doubt to whom those words “casualness” and “swagger” refer?

here for more.

The comeback of Judas

The buzz surrounding the Gospel of Judas is that it will threaten the faith. Much the same has been said of “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, but the Judas Gospel has the additional benefit of being a genuine historical document. It is the product of the Gnostic movement, a wing of early Christianity, eventually condemned as heretical -- that claims salvation not by faith or works, but by special knowledge.

As Marvin Meyer, a biblical scholar at Chapman University, points out in a helpful essay in the National Geographic volume that includes the Judas Gospel, the “knowledge claimed by these people is not worldly knowledge but mystical knowledge, knowledge of God and self and relationship between God and self.”

Judging by the Gospel of Judas, the “knowledge” claim of the book's author or authors is to a rather bizarre cosmology. The detailed description of a divine realm of assorted angels and an emphasis on the stars -- “stop struggling with me,” the Jesus of the story says, “each of you has his own star” -- reads like a rejected screenplay for a Spielberg movie.

here for the rest.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006


In addition to working on a big scene analysis, which I turned in this afternoon, thank god, and the marathon technical rehearsals for the show we open tomorrow, Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, my blogging time this week is also being eaten up by an assignment due Thursday in my acting class. We're currently delving into Commedia dell'arte stuff.

From Wikipedia:

Commedia dell'arte (Italian: "comedy of professional artists" also interpreted as "comedy of humors"), also known as Extemporal Comedy, was a form of improvisational theater which began in the 16th century and was popular until the 18th century, although it is still performed today.


Traveling teams of players would set up an outdoor stage and provide amusement in the form of juggling, acrobatics, and, more typically, humorous semi-improvised plays based on a repertoire of established characters and a rough storyline called Canovaccio. Troupes would occasionally perform directly from the back of their traveling wagon, but this is more typical of Carro di Tespi, a kind of travelling theatre that can be traced back to antiquity.

The performances were improvised around a repertory of stock conventional situations, adultery, jealousy, old age, love, some of which can be traced in Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence. These characters included the ancestors of the modern clown. The dialogue and action could easily be made topical and adjusted to satirize local scandals, current events, or regional tastes, mixed with ancient jokes and punchlines. Characters were identified by costume, masks, and even props, such as the slapstick.

here for more.

And trust me: this ain't no RenFest bullshit, either; this is some pretty great stuff, on which the majority, perhaps, of all American narrative comedy is based today. Think of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, but with real people, and just as effective. Really, this stuff just pervades the sitcom world, but, unfortunately, it's watered down usually.

Our assignment is to create a compelling 2-3 minute lazzo to be performed in class Thursday. Ah, but what the hell is a lazzo, you ask?

Again from Wikipedia:


Lazzi (from the Italian lazzo, a joke or witticism) is a bit of well-rehearsed comic action used in the Commedia dell'arte. Most English-speaking troupes use the Italian plural "lazzi" as the singular and "lazzis" for the plural.

here for the rest.

So we're supposed to play one of the stock Commedia characters, and, using some sort of simple prop, work through several comic bits that ultimately add up to a zany story. I'll be playing Arlecchino, from whom we get the word harlequin (see the Wikipedia article above for more info on him). Here's an old engraving to give you an idea of what he might look like:

Of course, for classroom purposes, I won't be wearing the goofy suit, although I wish I was simply because it's so bizarre, but we will be wearing masks, which always mean good theater fun. I don't want to say much about what I'm going to be doing with my lazzo because I want it to surprise my classmates, who occasionally honor Real Art with their presence, but I will say that it will involve this...

...that's right, a rubber chicken, the most humorous of all objects. I'm really looking forward to this one. I've always wanted to work with a rubber chicken.



Sorry, no post tonight. I did finish my paper, fortunately, but now it's way late and I've got class in the morning. Ack! I hate missing a day at Real Art! Well, I'll be back tomorrow.


Monday, April 17, 2006


And I'll be doing another twofer tomorrow: I've got a big scene analysis due on Tuesday, and we're in tech rehearsals for the show I'm in right now, so I'm really short on time. I might even be lazy on Tuesday and Wednesday, too. Hope not. Anyway, here are a couple of cool essays from AlterNet:

Three's Company

Honestly, I think a lot of people are in polyamorous relationships. It's just that one member of the group doesn't know about it yet -- they're called "affairs."

I mentioned this theory to Janet Kira Lessin, president and CEO of the World Polyamory Association, and she thinks it's just about right. "Our society suffers from pluralistic ignorance. We're doing one thing while professing another," she says."Polyamory is just another offshoot of people who are sick and tired of having to lie."

Janet and her husband, Sasha, a psychotherapist, both do relationship and polyamory counseling and teach tantra in Maui. Married since 1997, Janet says, "[Sasha] and I are primaries," meaning they have priority among whoever else they bring into the relationship. "We dated this other couple for four years and that was just incredible," she says. The other pair had to leave Maui for reasons not related to the relationship. "It was like breaking up," Janet says, a little wistful at the thought. But life goes on. "We have another single fellow that we're starting to date right now."

I've never tried polyamory myself, but have always been curious about it for lots of reasons. Maybe it's because I'm an American, and I think more is better. Second, I've far too often been plagued by this quandary: Do I date the one who is safe, comfortable and good? Or the one who's so hot my jeans catch fire? Polyamory seems like it would eliminate that conundrum.

Click here for the rest.

Permission to Speak Freely, Sir

It was a genuine, deeply ingrained belief that permeated the highest ranks of the military for civilian control. We were repeatedly told that the lowest civilian we met on the street outranked the highest grade military officer. And that was not show. They believed it, not just as a principle, but a sacred trust.

Those who never served will likely see that as corny, empty rhetoric, window dressing, quaint -- at best. But those who did serve know of what I speak. We get it. That's one reason I bemoan that two generations of kids have since been spared a stint in uniform. It changed my life in ways I now understand and appreciate in ways I could not back then.

This is not a column about reinstituting the draft. I just want to make the case that you pay close and respectful attention to the recent statements by retired top Pentagon brass. Because never in my life did I ever expect to hear these kinds of things coming out of the mouths of such men. Never.

Click here for the rest.


Saturday, April 15, 2006


Hoppy Easter!

Of course, I don't really celebrate Easter myself, but it's probably the most important celebration of the year for faithful Christians because it commemorates the most important philosophical element of Jesus-worship, the resurrection of the Christ. And I really dislike that. For Real Art's first Easter back in 2003, I posted a little essay, "EASTER GRINCH," explaining why I don't like the holiday. The long and short of it is that good and evil, when describing people rather than their actions, are very problematic concepts for me, which means that Hell, as an ultimate punishment for evil humans, becomes equally problematic, which means that the need for salvation from eternal punishment is problematic, too. In short, Easter represents to me a philosophical attempt to squeeze a round peg, the subtleties and nuances of human existence, into a square hole, the absolutist, black and white worldview of Bible-thumpers. I have great difficulty finding any excitement in that.

But, what the hell, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. But by "join" I mean simply to take notice, in blog form, that it's Easter. So here you go.

First, some music:

Written by Beatrix Potter

(to sing along, click here)

Here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hoppin' down the bunny trail,
Hippity, hoppity,
Easter's on its way.

Bringin' every girl and boy
Baskets full of Easter joy,
Things to make your Easter
bright and gay.
He's got jelly beans for Tommy,
Colored eggs for sister Sue,
There's an orchid for your Mommy
And an Easter bonnet, too.

Oh! here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hoppin' down the bunny trail,
Hippity hoppity,
Happy Easter day.

Here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hoppin' down the bunny trail,
Look at him stop,
and listen to him say:
"Try to do the things you should."
Maybe if you're extra good,
He'll roll lots of Easter eggs your way.

You'll wake up on Easter morning
And you'll know that he was there
When you find those choc'late bunnies
That he's hiding ev'rywhere.

Oh! here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hoppin' down the bunny trail,
Hippity hoppity,
Happy Easter day.

(Thanks to infostarbase for the lyrics and music.)

Next, a more academic approach to the concept of Jesus-worship:

Historicity of Jesus

From Wikipedia:

Some scholars, notably Martin A. Larson, believe that Jesus existed, but that Christianity is based on the soteriology of Osiris and the ethics and eschatology of other beliefs, while the Messianic concept is a uniquely Jewish addition to the development of Christianity. More recently, writer Timothy Freke and scholar of mystery religions Peter Gandy, who wrote The Jesus Mysteries, think that Jesus did not exist as a historical figure but was in fact one of the forms of Osiris-Dionysus. CNN's David Dodson, in a review of their book, however, noted that "while the authors discuss many examples of elements of Osiris/Dionysus in the Jesus story, they virtually ignore the more direct ties to Jewish tradition and prophecy. This oversight undermines the credibility of many of their arguments, and could have the tendency to mislead the novice reader in this subject". On the other hand, the Canberra Times said

"The theory is not new. For two centuries at least, scholars have been aware of the intriguing parallels between the accounts of Jesus' life and that of preceding and contemporaneous figures such as Osiris, Dionysus, and Mithras. What is new is the powerful scholarship brought to the issue by authors Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy in The Jesus Mysteries, just published in Australia. The result, which draws strongly on the Gnostic gospels discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945, is so persuasive that it is doubtful whether theological scholarship will ever be the same."

Click here for the rest.

So where do I stand on the issue of whether Jesus actually existed? I think it's probable that there was some sort of rebel-rouser in occupied Judea who served as a template for everyone's hopes and dreams, onto which everybody eventually projected their hopes and dreams. There's a good chance that he told people to love one another, but who can be certain? At any rate, I feel pretty certain that he did not come back to life after he was executed at the behest of fundamentalist religious leaders--after all, people don't come back to life once they've died.

Ultimately, none of that really matters to me. What I like about Jesus, whether he actually existed or not, is his philosophy of brotherly love and compassion for the poor and marginalized. I wish that Christians emphasized that over the magic stuff; it would certainly make the world a better place.

Finally, a festive picture courtesy of Star Costumes:

Hoppy Easter!


Friday, April 14, 2006


Very cool. And somebody was telling me recently that they had heard old Neil Young had turned toward the right. Sounds like they heard wrong. From DownWithTyranny courtesy of

Just after debuting his new film at SxSW Neil shocked the music world by announcing, kind of off-the-cuff, that he had recorded a brand new album and that it's all ready to go. (The guy introducing him, SxSW director Roland Swenson, had referred to how important Neil's song "Ohio," about the National Guard shooting down college students at Kent State, was to another generation then gearing up to end an earlier unpopular war, and how we needed something like that now. Neil took it seriously.) The new album is called LIFE IN WAR.

One of Neil's collaborators, filmmaker, Jonathan Demme, describes it as "a brilliant electric assault on Bush and the war in Iraq.” The linchpin track, "Impeach the President," features an edited-together Bush rap set to a 100-voice chorus chanting "flip/flop." The album, with Young on Old Black, Rick Rosas on bass and Chad Cromwell on drums, took three days to finish. Yep; that's Neil. No release date is set yet but... hopefully it'll be before November.

here for the rest.

The way I understand music history in this country, all the political rock bands of the 60s were something of an aberration. That is, the conventional wisdom in the music industry has been and still is something to the effect of politics is bad for sales. What happened in the 60s is that the youth culture and its anti-authoritarian attitudes became so popular, so quickly, that the music industry essentially lost control of its product: if they didn't sell anti-war and political stuff, they would be losing money. Kind of like what happened in the early 90s with the rise of grunge--record companies were going to Seattle and signing everyone they could for fear of losing a ride on the train. Of course, by the 70s record executives were able to successfully move artists in a more introspective, and therefore apolitical, direction. Anti-authoritarianism was retained, but in a rather pointless sex-drug-rock and roll manifestation. Hard politics in popular music was thrown out on the trash heap. There are, of course, exceptions, Rage Against the Machine being one, but they generally operate outside of the musical establishment, finding popularity on their own. Anyway, it's nice to see that some of the old guard from the 60s still have some bite about them; you'd never see any of the boy bands or shrill divas of today being allowed to take such a risk. Go Neil!








Thursday, April 13, 2006

Twenty-three minutes,
58 seconds over America

From Attytood courtesy of Eschaton, a missive inspired by the release of the transcript of Flight 93's black box recording:

You can board a SEPTA R5 express train at Suburban Station during rush hour and get all the way to Villanova in that amount of time. Or make it nearly to the end of an episode of "Seinfeld," a show about nothing. But even though 23 minutes and 58 seconds is a long time, it apparently wasn't long enough for the American air defense system to intercept an unambiguously hijacked jetliner, even as the White House had been aware that the U.S. had already been under attack for upwards of an hour.

People said that America would never be the same again after 9/11, and it was true, although not in the way that many of us were thinking in those first few hours as the World Trade Center smoldered. The cockpit recording and transcript from the doomed United Flight 93 -- released today in the trial of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui -- shows what most of us knew all along, the courage and nobility of everyday Americans.

For a good chunk of the 31-minute recording, the passengers are locked in a death match with the hijackers -- fighting for their lives and the lives of those on the ground, with no help from the government that had boasted since the start of the Cold War that America has the best air defenses in the world. Later, it would be rank-and-file soldiers thrown into harm's way in Iraq without proper body armor, and then the good people of New Orleans, left to fend for themselves.

On 9/11, where was NORAD, the jet fighter squadron tasked with defending America's skies?

Click here for the rest.

The essay, after firmly reestablishing that there continue to be numerous unanswered questions about the official 9/11 narrative, goes on to observe that the left side of the blogosphere has been severely delinquent in demanding answers. Atrios' take is that everybody got caught up in Iraq, and I think that's probably true to an extent. As for myself, however, I must admit that I've stayed away from 9/11 in recent months simply because I've been afraid of destroying any small amount of credibility I might have by engaging in what many would surely take as conspiracy theory.

I think I kind of weirded myself out back in the summer of '03 when I posted "MY DAWNING 9/11 REALIZATION." In that essay I strung together some of what was then known about 9/11 and concluded that Bush had to know it was going to happen--the conventional wisdom was and still is that a series of intelligence and communications failures amounted to a perfect storm. I don't know if I still think that Bush actually knew the attack was coming, but the we-just-fucked-up explanation is too damned pat. There was certainly a whole lot going on about which we know nothing.

Of course, there's probably some truth to the we-fucked-up point of view: when I concluded that Bush knew, I was assuming that he was a fairly competent individual; this was well before it became painfully clear how badly the Iraq invasion had been handled, well before New Orleans was left to rot after Katrina. The President is extraordinarily incompetent. We know that for sure now.

But there are still so many questions that incompetence does not answer:

*Why did Bush end Clinton's policy of leaning on the Saudis about their funding of Al Qaeda?

*Why did Bush end Clinton's investigation of the bin Laden family?

*Why did then Attorney General Ashcroft greatly diminish counter-terrorism as a Justice Department priority?

*Why did National Security Advisor Rice ignore explicit warnings about Al Qaeda flying jets into buildings?

*Why did Bush sit for seven excruciating minutes listening to a class of first graders read a goat story after he learned that we were under attack?

These are questions lifted from my 2003 post. Obviously, there are many more, and they will not be answered until millions of Americans demand it. That's not going to happen without the media getting involved. The Attytood guy is right: the blogosphere really needs to pound away at this topic, left too long idle, especially the big guys. Unless this happens, we'll probably never know what was really going on.