Monday, April 30, 2007

BUYING THE WAR

From PBS's Bill Moyers Journal:

Four years ago on May 1, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln wearing a flight suit and delivered a speech in front of a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner. He was hailed by media stars as a "breathtaking" example of presidential leadership in toppling Saddam Hussein. Despite profound questions over the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction and the increasing violence in Baghdad, many in the press confirmed the White House's claim that the war was won. MSNBC's Chris Matthews declared, "We're all neo-cons now;" NPR's Bob Edwards said, "The war in Iraq is essentially over;" and Fortune magazine's Jeff Birnbaum said, "It is amazing how thorough the victory in Iraq really was in the broadest context."

How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported? "What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President — no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored," says Moyers. "How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?"


Click here to watch the show.

Fantastic show. I mean, it didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, but it's the first and best comprehensive study of the total meltdown suffered by an already fucked up corporate press in the days before and immediately after our invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, unlike the leftwing essayists I usually riff on here at Real Art, Moyers takes his role as journalist very seriously. He has a point of view, yes, but he takes great pains to be as objective as possible while advancing his argument. This is really good, solid stuff, especially if you want to arm yourself for arguing with that weird thirty percent of the country that are still "loyal Bushies."

Go check it out right now.

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Blacks, Hispanics fare worse in traffic stops

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Black, Hispanic and white drivers are equally likely to be pulled over by police, but blacks and Hispanics are much more likely to be searched and arrested, a federal study found.

Police were much more likely to threaten or use force against blacks and Hispanics than against whites in any encounter, whether at a traffic stop or elsewhere, according to the Justice Department.

The study, released today by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, covered police contacts with the public during 2005 and was based on interviews by the Census Bureau with nearly 64,000 people age 16 or over.


And

Like the 2002 report, this one contained a warning that the racial disparities uncovered "do not constitute proof that police treat people differently along demographic lines" because the differences could be explained by circumstances not analyzed by the survey. The 2002 report said such circumstances might include driver conduct or whether drugs were in plain view.

Click here for more.

"Do not constitute proof that police treat people differently."

Okay, that's just plain false. This is indeed proof that cops deal with various racial and ethnic groups differently: the qualifiers offered serve only to explain what cop motivation might be for such differences, rather than to nullify hard statistical data. You can't wish this away. Cops search and arrest black and hispanic drivers at a much higher rate than they do whites.

I wonder what the phrase "driver conduct" means. A few racist commenters on the story over at the Chronicle asserted that blacks and hispanics "all hate authority" and get an "attitude" when dealing with cops. While it's definitely racist to paint entire racial groups with such broad strokes, there may be some truth to such assertions, but, unlike the biggoted nutters in the Bayou City, I don't see that as such a bad thing. You have to look at the historical relationship between non-white Americans and law enforcement to understand that "attitude" is probably a justified response to being hassled by cops. For instance, according to Wikipedia, "In 1995, one-third of African American men between the ages of 20 and 29 were under some form of criminal justice control (in prison, on parole or probation)." And the same situation continues today. Indeed, law enforcement has been accused countless times of engaging in racial profiling, that is, targeting people of color in ways that they don't target whites--the entire OJ Simpson debacle made very clear that this definitely happens; the real question is how frequently. Non-whites are well aware of all this, and necessarily, don't always see cops as acting in society's best interest.

If you read Real Art regularly, you know that's my point of view as well, and frankly, I find it utterly humiliating to kiss cops' dicks whenever I'm so unfortunate as to interact with them. Of course, as a white man, I'm also aware that if I just bow down for a few minutes, my white privilege almost always means that I'm walking away as a free man, so I'm willing to take such humiliation as simply something with which I must deal. Obviously, blacks and hispanics don't have white privilege and understand that all the ass-kissing in the world isn't necessarily going to do jack shit. To be honest, I have immense respect for people of color who mouth off to cops. They're resisting an unjust social system, which is the right thing to do.

On the other hand, I have no idea if such "attitude" has anything at all to do with this search and arrest disparity. My money's on racial profiling, as part of cop culture, being the culprit here. At any rate, it is clear that there is deep, deep distrust between cops and non-white Americans, and I don't see the criminal justice system or politicians doing a damned thing to redress the situation. This is a good place to start dealing with the problem.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

EDUCATION ESTABLISHMENT INSANITY
School sued over MySpace photo response


From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The photo, taken at a 2005 Halloween party, shows Snyder wearing a pirate hat while drinking from a plastic "Mr. Goodbar" cup. It was posted on her own MySpace site.

Although Snyder apologized, she learned the day before graduation that she would not be awarded an education degree or teaching certificate.

Jane S. Bray, dean of the School of Education, accused Snyder of promoting underage drinking, the suit states.


Click here for the rest.

What the fuck? My experience when I was being certified in Texas was that, while there is definitely some connection between university hosted teacher training programs and the public education system, there is enough distance between the two that this kind of monkey business is unthinkable. I mean, it wouldn't at all be surprising if she got hit like this once she was in the field; like I said yesterday, teachers are pretty heavily indoctrinated into the authoritarian culture of public schools, which means challengers are punished. But this thing took place with a certification program. Very disturbing. I wonder if the psychotic attitudes of the public education establishment are filtering up into its higher education counterpart. I hope not. I found my certification program at U of H Downtown to be fairly enlightening.

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After Katrina, U.S. Did Not Accept Most Offers of Aid

From the Washington Post via AlterNet:

Administration officials acknowledged in February 2006 that they were ill prepared to coordinate and distribute foreign aid and that only about half the $126 million received had been put to use. Now, 20 months after Katrina, newly released documents and interviews make clear the magnitude of the troubles.

More than 10,000 pages of cables, telegraphs and e-mails from U.S. diplomats around the globe -- released piecemeal since last fall under the Freedom of Information Act -- provide a fuller account of problems that, at times, mystified generous allies and left U.S. representatives at a loss for an explanation. The documents were obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a public interest group, which provided them to The Washington Post.

In one exchange, State Department officials anguished over whether to tell Italy that its shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina's landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and were destroyed. "Tell them we blew it," one disgusted official wrote. But she hedged: "The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean. I could be persuaded."

In another instance, the Department of Homeland Security accepted an offer from Greece on Sept. 3, 2005, to dispatch two cruise ships that could be used free as hotels or hospitals for displaced residents. The deal was rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct. 10. The U.S. eventually paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines vessels.

And while television sets worldwide showed images of New Orleans residents begging to be rescued from rooftops as floodwaters rose, U.S. officials turned down countless offers of allied troops and search-and-rescue teams. The most common responses: "sent letter of thanks" and "will keep offer on hand," the new documents show.

Overall, the United States declined 54 of 77 recorded aid offers from three of its staunchest allies: Canada, Britain and Israel, according to a 40-page State Department table of the offers that had been received as of January 2006.


More here.

Unbelievable. It's still going on. I mean, the total amount of aid offered here is about 800 and a half million out of some 125 billion spent so far, so it's not like it's going to fix everything, but the fact that Bush has been and still is unable to take advantage of free money is really disturbing. Is this incompetence? Stupidity? Is it intentional? Either way, it's utterly incomprehensible. Actually, I'm pretty speechless. Sure, it's awful, but what the fuck is going on here? Haven't these assholes learned anything?

Meanwhile, I'm involved in a low-key flame war over at the Houston Chronicle, which now allows commenting on its online stories: the article is about another protest in New Orleans over the slower than snail's pace recovery in the poorest of devastated neighborhoods. Callous right-wing comments range from the straight-up racist to stupid-ass "pull yourself up" platitudes. Go check it out; you'll need to scroll down to the comment section at the bottom of the story. Maybe you should join in the fun--for the moment, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

CHANGE CAN ONLY COME FROM THE OUTSIDE
Teacher Leads Protest Claiming Kids Over-Tested


From WAFB TV in Baton Rouge:

Samori Camara says this protest is the best lesson plan he's ever come up with. The only problem is he can't teach a chant inside the school because he may be on the verge of being fired. Camara says last week, he told his students to boycott an experimental version of the high-stakes test. That's part of the reason school officials put him on administrative leave. Camara says, "You come in, you make a point, you don't take the test at all, you have to show the people that you will not be used as a guinea pig, as a lab rat." And they listened. There are feelings he encouraged students to start their own protest.

Samara Thomas, a former student of Camara, says, "How to be an individual, taught me to stand up for what I believe in which no other teacher would ever teach you." Thomas says students have carried on their protest inside the school for the past three days. She says, "Stand up and fight for what you believe in, bring back brother Camara. Other students suspended for wearing logos on their shirts with peace symbols and brother Camara we miss you." She even snuck out of the school to join his protest outside.


Click here for the rest, as well as some video.

Okay, so Camara is absolutely doing the right thing here. He's totally correct in his assertion that kids are over-tested, and such a statement only scratches the surface of the multi-faceted problem of how standardized tests are used in public education--for one, most of these high-stakes tests exist only for political, rather than educational, reasons; for another, standardized tests, which have educational value, but only as one small part of the overall assessment process, are given waaay too much importance in terms of measuring educational success. Furthermore, Camara is absolutely right to teach his students the value of collective political action, and absolutely right to make his first lesson on the subject a challenge to the anti-democratic and anti-American authoritarian public education system.

But being right doesn't matter: Camara will definitely lose his job, which he only started last January, and will probably have an extraordinarily hard time getting another one. He's an educational pariah now.

That's the thing about education. It's impossible to change it from the inside. Even slight, vague, or perceived challenges from teachers are dealt with harshly. If you want to keep on working, and enjoying a decent salary with benefits and retirement, you do what you're told. Lord knows, I tried to balance my own ideological issues about education with workplace survival for six years when I was teaching in Baytown, but in the end, I just couldn't do it. I had to quit, for my own sanity. Indeed, a majority of people entering the field quit after four years, probably thinking that it's simply too much stress, without ever realizing that their souls are actually hurting because they were part of an authoritarian indoctrination system. Indeed, the teachers who manage to find a way to make a life's career out of it are probably themselves some of the most indoctrinated individuals in the whole country. They have to be in order to not hate themselves.

Anyway, while I thoroughly applaud Camara's actions, he's a flash in the pan. A momentary blip on the radar screen. He will probably have inspired a handful of students in the long run when it's all over and done, but the system will easily survive this low-budget attack. He'll be just a memory next year, and nothing the year after that.

The only way to change our heinous educational system is from the outside. After all, it wasn't the Germans who overthrew Hitler; they were much too deluded and/or afraid to ever seriously attempt it.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Phil



Frankie



Sammy



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

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BILL O'REILLY BRINGS BACK IRONY

So I've mentioned quite a few times over the last few years how the seemingly endless stream of utterly absurd conservative bullshit, taken so seriously by the corporate news media and political elite, has essentially served to destroy the concept of irony. Amazingly, one of the main irony destroyers, pundit-idiot and enormous butthole Bill O'Reilly, recently decided it was time to bring it back in a big way.

From Crooks and Liars:

George Soros rules the world! Bill O’Reilly loses it…

It's all Soros all the time for O'Reilly. Didn't Soros push Bush to invade Iraq? Wasn't it Soros that funded Gitmo? And I believe Soros coached Alberto Gonzales before he testified last week…George wants to buy AMERICA! Poor Joe Lieberman...

He doubled up on his production values by adding a nifty little chart…John Edwards is under his spell too…Move On, CAP, Media Matters, The NY Times, Jonathan Alter and NBC news...There's too many...I'm getting dizzy...


Click here for the video.

This is some truly amazing footage. O'Reilly's really gone into UFO and Bigfoot territory on this one. According to him, the recent surge in liberal activism and power has nothing to do with how shitty the GOP has ruled the country for the last six years and everything to do with the strange underground control of one eccentric and liberal billionaire. What's particularly amazing is that the old butthole doesn't seem to understand that the kind of coordination and control he's talking about is impossible with liberals, who'll argue with each other about almost anything.

I mean, O'Reilly, who'll argue with a stump, ought to get at least that.


Liberalism according to O'Reilly

Welcome back irony!

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White House letter: U.S. cocaine prices drop despite billions spent on drug war

From the AP via the Huffington Post courtesy of AlterNet:

The street price of cocaine fell in the United States last year as purity rose, the White House drug czar said in a private letter to a key senator, indicating increasing supply and seemingly contradicting U.S. claims that US$4 billion (euro2.9 billion) in aid to Colombia is stemming the flow.

The drug czar, John Walters, wrote that retail cocaine prices fell by 11 percent from February 2005 to October 2006, to about US$135 (euro99) per gram of pure cocaine. That's way below the US$600 a gram pure cocaine fetched in 1981, when the U.S. government began collecting data, and near the level it has been at since the early 1990s.

During the same period, analysis of data collected by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration showed that after a drop in 2005, levels of purity "have trended somewhat toward former levels," Walters said.

Price and purity estimates are a key barometer of cocaine availability. Dropping prices are an indication of robust supply or weakening demand, as is rising purity.


Click here for more.

Well, it's obvious to anybody who honestly looks at the issue, but well worth repeating: the "War on Drugs" has always been a failure for the same reasons that prohibition of alcohol was a failure--lots of people want illegal drugs and are willing to pay for them, which strongly encourages organized crime to meet the economic demand. You just can't stop the flow of illegal drugs in a free society. The only real way to deal with drug addiction, short of becoming a police state, is to treat it as a public health problem, the same way we did with AIDS, using public awareness campaigns combined with medical treatment--drug use and sales should be legal, but regulated and taxed, like alcohol.

Like I said, it's obvious to people who are honest with themselves.

One wonders, then, why the "War on Drugs," still failing after nearly three decades, continues to foster organized crime, turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals, and waste billions of dollars year after year. For one thing, politicians like it. It allows them to appear to be "tough on crime" and attract traditionalist voters. For another, cops and school teachers like it, probably because their ranks are mostly composed of those aforementioned traditionalist voters. But the biggest motivation for the drug war, at this late stage in the game, is that those billions of wasted dollars are a veritable gravy train for numerous industries and government entities associated with anti-drug efforts: prison contractors, drug testing firms, weapons manufacturers, police departments, lawyers, prosecutors, bail bondsmen, rehab facilities and services, and the list just goes on and on.

In short, the "War on Drugs" really has nothing to do with eradicating illegal drug use and sales. It serves its own purposes now, and millions of innocent Americans are caught in the crossfire.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES

Continuing my ongoing attempts to illustrate that cops are not your best friends.

HPD suspends 2 after 21 guns missing

From the Houston Chronicle:

Two Houston Police Department evidence supervisors were suspended Tuesday after an audit revealed 21 guns were missing from the property room, Chief Harold Hurtt said Wednesday.

The missing guns are not "needed for an impending criminal trial or court proceedings," Hurtt said. But the chief said he's troubled by how so many of them ended up back on the streets. Two of the guns since have surfaced in the hands of two suspects stopped by police in separate incidents — one during a traffic stop and another in a narcotics case.

R.N. Cobb, who oversaw the gun property room, and A.G. Baquet both were suspended with pay at the end of their shifts Tuesday, pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation, Hurtt said. The men, both long-term civilian employees with HPD, have not been charged with crimes.


And

"The problem with the Houston Police Department and with the Department of Public Safety is they have to hire employees out of the human race. You are going to get some good ones, and you get some bad ones," Rosenthal said. "I don't know of any way a person can be screened to be sure they are not going to be a criminal."

More here.

2 Hollywood, Fla.. cops plead guilty

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Two former police officers arrested in an FBI corruption sting pleaded guilty Wednesday to drug conspiracy charges.

Kevin Companion, 41, Stephen Harrison, 46, and two other officers in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Hollywood were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute heroin. The other two have pleaded not guilty.


More here.

So, the top story deals with civilian employees, rather than actual cops, but to me it's the same difference: it's all about the organization, and the culture that permeates it. That is, these missing guns take place in an overall context that includes the second story, about cops dealing drugs, and countless other incidents of police corruption and abuse.

Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal dismisses the gravity of these possible black market gun sales from inside the HPD by chalking it up to human nature, but that's what the authorities always say when the police get into trouble. I mean, they've got a point. There are millions of cops out there, and by virtue of numbers alone it's very likely that some bad guys are going to make it through whatever screening processes are in place and end up with badges.

But to leave the discussion there is downright irresponsible. There definitely exists a police culture, steeped in authoritarianism and us-versus-them attitudes, and drunk on power and self-righteousness. Sure, there are bad apples out there, but it's pretty clear that the way that police think, from coast to coast, does nothing but egg those bad cops on. As Rosenthal asserts, we can't screen out all the bad apples. We can, however, change organizational cultures. And my bet is that such change would go a long way toward reducing the kind of bad cop stories we see virtually everyday in every newspaper.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Supreme Court's ruling upholding ban on
abortion technique is poor medicine and weak law.


From the Houston Chronical editorial board:

Though the ruling does nothing to reduce late-term abortion, it certainly corrodes doctors' ability to choose treatments according to medical need. Last week marked the first time the Supreme Court has upheld a ban on an abortion technique. Now specialists must make their surgical decisions based not on the medical situation at hand, but on the authority of the court.

The court's ruling assaults the autonomy not only of women's physicians, but of women, themselves. The ban, Justice Kennedy wrote, would protect a woman from "grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she did not know" about the procedure. It is hard to envision a court ban of a procedure because of men's presumed ignorance of its details.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rightly protested the sexism in Kennedy's words. The modern U.S. legal system long ago rejected such beliefs about women's frailty, she wrote.

In the absence of better reasoning, it seems, the Supreme Court is reviving those myths. It has also shown willingness to ignore medical evidence when ruling on a highly politicized topic.


Click here for more.

Wow, the more I read about this decision the more outraged and/or frightened I become. I mean, of course I don't like it because I'm liberal and pro-abortion rights and all that, but this is one stinker of a ruling. Not only does it signal a shift away from the concept of judicial review, the two hundred year old precedent on which the ability for the Court to strike down unconstitutional laws is based, but it also ignored boatloads of medical evidence, and threw in some weird ideas about women's emotional weakness, that is, straight-up sexism, to boot. It's almost as though the Court's right wing, since their psychotic ruling in Gore v. Bush, has simply given up on any attempt to even appear to be rational.

And these guys are relatively young. We may get past Bush, but we've got some hard times ahead.

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FDA Asks if Pet Food Tainted on Purpose

From the AP via the Huffington Post courtesy of AlterNet:

Imported ingredients used in recalled pet food may have been intentionally spiked with an industrial chemical to boost their apparent protein content, federal officials said Thursday.

That's one theory being pursued by the Food and Drug Administration as it investigates how the chemical, melamine, contaminated at least two ingredients used to make more than 100 brands of dog and cat foods.

So far, melamine's been found in both wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China. Media reports from South Africa suggest a third pet food ingredient, corn gluten, used in that country also was contaminated with melamine. That tainted ingredient has not been found in the United States, the FDA said.


Click here for more.

As anyone who reads Real Art regularly knows, I am deeply suspicious of unregulated business because, you know, the profit motive can really inspire some twisted and amoral thinking and behavior. Trusting business owners to simply "do the right thing" is just not enough. We need to regulate business. This situation in China with the melamine may very well be one of those amoral behaviors inspired by profit-seeking. I mean, we don't really know yet, but there's definitely a prima facie case here: we have motive, means, and opportunity, the three legs on which all criminal cases are based.

Bet ya twenty bucks the poisonings were intentional.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

TWO FROM ALTERNET

Busy tonight. So go read these two cool essays from AlterNet.

A Challenger to the Church of Free Trade

The church of global free trade, which rules American politics with infallible pretensions, may have finally met its Martin Luther. An unlikely dissenter has come forward with a revised understanding of globalization that argues for thorough reformation. This man knows the global trading system from the inside because he is a respected veteran of multinational business. His ideas contain an explosive message: that what established authorities teach Americans about global trade is simply wrong -- disastrously wrong for the United States.

Martin Luther was a rebellious priest challenging the dictates of a corrupt church hierarchy. Ralph Gomory, on the other hand, is a gentle-spoken technologist, trained as a mathematician and largely apolitical. He does not set out to overthrow the establishment but to correct its deeper fallacies. For many years Gomory was a senior vice president at IBM. He helped manage IBM's expanding global presence as jobs and high-tech production were being dispersed around the world.


More here.

Controversial Michael Moore Flick "Sicko"
Will Compare U.S. Health Care with Cuba's


Sicko, which will be premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is a comic broadside against the state of American health care, including the mental health system. The film targets drug companies and the HMOS in the richest country in the world -- where the most money is spent on health care, but where the U.S. ranks 21st in life expectancy among the 30 most developed nations, obviously in part due to the fact that 47 million people are without health insurance.

The timing of Moore's film is propitious. Twenty-two percent of Americans say that health care is the most pressing issue in America. Health care will clearly be a major issue in the upcoming presidential campaign, as the problems with America's health care system have mushroomed during the Bush administration. For example, between 2001 and 2005 the number of people without health insurance rose 16.6 percent. The average health insurance premiums for a family of four are $10,880, which exceeds the annual gross income of $10,712 for a full-time, minimum-wage worker. In addition, the lack of insurance causes 18,000 excess deaths a year while people without health insurance have 25 percent higher mortality rates. Fifty-nine percent of uninsured people with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes skip medicine or go without care.


More here.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness

A book review from Z Magazine:

Shenk’s attributing the current American intolerance of some cognitive styles to a “quirk of culture” is generous to psychiatry. In the early 20th century, much of American psychiatry embraced the eugenics movement. Eugenics declared those cognitive styles and temperaments that are monkey wrenches for industrial society to be diseases that should be weeded out from the gene pool. In the early 1930s the Nazis were actually concerned that American psychiatry might be ahead of them in the race to eliminate mental defectives. After the word eugenics became associated with the Nazis, American psychiatry dropped the word, but not the goal of identifying biochemical and genetic markers for defective cognitive styles and temperaments. Nowadays, psychiatrists who seek these biochemical and genetic markers are called biopsychiatrists.

And

Today in the U.S., Native Americans have the highest suicide rate among all ethnic groups and suicide is the second leading cause of death among Native American adolescents. Prior to the subjugation of Native Americans, suicide was a rare event, restricted to the sick or elderly who felt they could no longer contribute. In a similar vein, during the years of intensive removal of German Jews to concentration camps, their rate of suicide is estimated to have been at least 50 times higher than the rate for non-Jewish Germans who were not forced into concentration camps. Does anyone seriously believe that the epidemic of depression and suicide among modern-era Native Americans or Hitler-era Jews is genetically caused?

More here.

When I was getting my secondary teaching certificate, I remember a discussion on AD/HD in my educational psychology class. It occurred to me that such a "disorder" had probably been around since the dawn of man, but it is only in the in the so-called "information economy," which requires human beings to sit still and mentally focus for extended periods at both work and school, that AD/HD becomes problematic. My professor readily agreed with me. I then asked how a phenomenon which is most likely natural, and maybe even beneficial in certain settings, can be redefined as a pathology simply because of changes in the economy. She seemed to have no problem with what I was saying. Happens all the time, she asserted, no big deal, that's psychology.

I walked away from class with an increasing level of disrespect for the field of psychology. "AD/HD," as a mental illness, strikes me as simply another way that capitalism oppresses workers. Don't get me wrong, I think psychology has great value as a field of study, and has helped countless individuals deal with their demons, but in the end, psychology, and psychiatry to some extent as well, are, like economics, something of a pseudo-science. That is, even though it is a legitimate area of inquiry, our culture treats psychological pronouncements as though they have the authoritative weight of, say, physics or chemistry. And power structures tend to take full advantage of such authority.

Currently, Big Pharma is pushing expensive drugs as the cure-all for depression, anxiety, and a whole host of common mental illnesses. While they're getting rich, the whole depression-as-disease meme quashes virtually all discussion about the kind of role society plays in what appears to be a depression epidemic. That is, I think our vacant consumerist and capitalist culture is what's got people sad and scared, and as long as we dope people up so they can participate as good little worker-bees and shopaholics, mass depression and anxiety are here to stay.

It's pretty sick when you get right down to it.

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After Tillman Death, Army Clamped Down

From the AP via the Huffington Post courtesy of AlterNet:

Within hours of Pat Tillman's death, the Army went into information-lockdown mode, cutting off phone and Internet connections at a base in Afghanistan, posting guards on a wounded platoon mate, and ordering a sergeant to burn Tillman's uniform.

New Army investigative documents reviewed by The Associated Press describe how the military sealed off information about Tillman's death from all but a small ring of soldiers. Officers quietly passed their suspicion of friendly fire up the chain to the highest ranks of the military, but the truth did not reach Tillman's family for five weeks.

The clampdown, and the misinformation issued by the military, lie at the heart of a burgeoning congressional investigation.


Click here for more.

For the moment, this sounds like it came from some very high brass indeed: four generals are among the nine officers implicated in the investigation, but we do not yet know if the coverup originated in the White House. My money's on the scandal not coming from the Oval Office; after all, "military intelligence" isn't the best known English language oxymoron for no good reason. But I will venture to speculate that Pentagon officials, when making their decision to turn Tillman's death into a propaganda effort, understood well how their Commander-in-Chief plays the game, and simply tried to emulate their boss' tactics. That is, the Bush people have obviously expanded greatly the already existing culture of lies within the White House such that it is simply business as usual. For everybody.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Ideological Animal

From Psychology Today courtesy of Crooks and Liars:

If we are so suggestible that thoughts of death make us uncomfortable defaming the American flag and cause us to sit farther away from foreigners, is there any way we can overcome our easily manipulated fears and become the informed and rational thinkers democracy demands?

To test this, Solomon and his colleagues prompted two groups to think about death and then give opinions about a pro-American author and an anti-American one. As expected, the group that thought about death was more pro-American than the other. But the second time, one group was asked to make gut-level decisions about the two authors, while the other group was asked to consider carefully and be as rational as possible. The results were astonishing. In the rational group, the effects of mortality salience were entirely eliminated. Asking people to be rational was enough to neutralize the effects of reminders of death. Preliminary research shows that reminding people that as human beings, the things we have in common eclipse our differences—what psychologists call a "common humanity prime"—has the same effect.


Click here for the rest.

Okay, this is the assumption I've been operating under for some years now, and one of the reasons that I have a blog--it's also the direction I want to take as a theater artist. It's nice to have some legitimate study to support what I'm trying to do. That is, contrary to popular opinion, I'm very much of the belief that most human beings are pretty smart, if only they apply themselves. When I was teaching high school, I was suprised to find myself, time after time, in some fairly sophisticated intellectual discussions with kids written off by the educational establishment as being stupid. Ultimately, it became utterly clear to me that when people, all people, put their minds to it, they can be deep thinkers--Noam Chomsky has observed that acquiring language skills alone puts human beings into a pretty intense and distinctively high level of intelletuality. Unfortunately for us all, we live within a culture that successfully encourages people to not use their minds. My task, then, and yours too, is to try to encourage people to think, providing them with more information than they usually have available, challenging the conventional wisdom that so dominates our social interactions.

This is definitely do-able. I mean, it's a monumental task, but if you focus on the people around you, one person at a time, it's not so impossible.

Man, what am I, an idealist or a cynic? It's often hard to tell. Today, I guess, I'm an idealist.

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In a reversal, U.S. reliance on Iraqi army is fading

From McClatchy via the Kansas City Star:

Military planners have abandoned the idea that shaping up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to soon start coming home.

They now think that U.S. troops will have to defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces.

Training Iraqi troops, which had been the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy since 2005, has dropped in priority, officials in Baghdad and Washington said.


And

But U.S. forces complained that the Iraqi forces weren’t getting the support from their government and that Iraqi military commanders, many of whom worked under Saddam Hussein, weren’t as willing to embrace their tactics. Among everyday Iraqis, some said they didn’t trust their forces, saying they were sectarian and easily susceptible to corruption.

Most important, insurgents and militiamen had infiltrated the forces, using their power to carry out sectarian attacks.


Click here for more.

Right, well, the left has been pointing out for many months to anyone who would listen that the whole "train the Iraqis" thing was no more than wishful thinking. I mean, I've known about insurgent infiltration of the Iraqi military for like a couple of years now; it has long been obvious that there wasn't a chance in hell that relying on the Iraqis was going to work. Of course, relying on US forces isn't going to work, either: short of genocide, there is simply no way to militarily defeat a determined insurgency. We're fucked over there, and I'm pretty sure that the Pentagon knows it, too. So there are a couple of questions here. Does Bush know that there is no military solution in Iraq, and if so, why does he persist? If he's too stupid to know, which administration insiders are pushing for our continued presence? And do these hypothetical insiders honestly believe in what they're doing? Whichever White House scenario turns out to be the truth, we're all being fucked over bigtime. They're either lying for cynical political purposes or straight-up incompetent.

Why the hell won't the Democrats impeach the hell out of these people?

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Virginia Tech: Is the Scene of the Crime the Cause of the Crime?

From AlterNet:

Like their rage counterparts in the adult world, school shooters could be literally any kid except perhaps those who belonged to the popular crowd, the school's version of the executive/shareholding class. That is to say, about 90 percent of each suburban school's student body is a possible suspect.

And once again, I believe this at the very least suggests that the source of these rampages must be the environment that creates them, not the killers themselves. And by environment I don't mean something as vague as society but rather the schools and the people they shoot and bomb.

It isn't the schoolyard shooters who need to be profiled -- they can't be. It is the schools that need to be profiled.

A list should be drawn up of the characteristics and warning signs of a school ripe for massacre:

* complaints about bullying go unpunished by an administration that supports the cruel social structure;

* antiseptic corridors and overhead fluorescent lights reminiscent of mid-sized city airport;

* rampant moral hypocrisy that promotes the most two-faced, mean, and shallow students to the top of the pecking order; and

* maximally stressed parents who push their kids to achieve higher and higher scores.

Click here for the rest.

While I strongly believe that the authoritarian nature of our public schools creates untold amounts of psychic damage to both our culture and the individuals living within it, when I make out-on-a-limb statements like "public schools bear some responsibility for the Virginia Tech massacre," I sometimes wonder if people don't dismiss such thoughts as being unbelievably outrageous. I mean, school is such a pervasive, everyday concept, and something through which virtually all Americans pass seemingly unscathed, that for many, perhaps most, the schools are above suspicion.

The above excerpted essay, which very much echoes my own thoughts on the matter, gives me some relief: at least one other person independently arrived at the same conclusion I did. Of course, it's really not such an original thought. Jello Biafra, for one, relentlessly railed on suburban schools in the wake of Columbine, and both Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn have very matter-of-factly referred to American high schools as being totalitarian.


Anyway, go check this essay out. It's much more fleshed out than my meager post from yesterday, and does a marvelous job of illustrating the similarities between the hopeless high school life and the working world of adults. Good stuff.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Frankie



Sammy



Phil



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

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Va. Tech gunman reportedly bullied in high school

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Long before he snapped, Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui was picked on, pushed around and laughed at over his shyness and the strange way he talked when he was a schoolboy in the Washington suburbs, former classmates say.

Chris Davids, a Virginia Tech senior who graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., with Cho in 2003, recalled that the South Korean immigrant almost never opened his mouth and would ignore attempts to strike up a conversation.

Once, in English class, the teacher had the students read aloud, and when it was Cho's turn, he just looked down in silence, Davids recalled. Finally, after the teacher threatened him with an F for participation, Cho started to read in a strange, deep voice that sounded "like he had something in his mouth," Davids said.

"As soon as he started reading, the whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, 'Go back to China,'" Davids said.

Click here for the rest.

Yes, the person responsible for the killings was an individual. Yes, countless individuals are bullied in our public schools everyday, and they don't commit murder as a result. But it's impossible for me to not go back to Columbine on this one. Numerous reports have asserted that the shooters for that tragedy were also bullied mercilessly in the pressure cooker atmosphere we call "school." Again, I'm not at all trying to suggest that anybody besides Cho is directly responsible for the Virginia Tech murders, but society definitely bears some indirect responsibility, just as it does for Columbine.

I've written repeatedly about how our public schools primarily serve to indoctrinate children into the culture of obedience and authority: a not insignificant part of that is encouraging social elitism among groups of students, and turning a blind eye when bullying inevitibly results. Invariably, our fucked up schools do more than socialize kids into a sick socio-economic system; we actually fuck up a large number of kids' heads. Mass murder is simply the most extreme manifestation.

And, really, because our society strongly reflects the twisted authoritarian schooling system that trains people for participating in it, we've got lots of fucked up adults, too. How many people do you know who have anxiety or depression? Who are taking meds of some kind to simply cope with day-to-day existence? We're drowing in consumer goods, but our souls are dying. That this happened isn't amazing. What's amazing is that it doesn't happen every fucking day.

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VIDEO TRAILER FOR THE SHOW I'M IN

A video production company called Artworx here in Baton Rouge puts together, for reasons of their own, promotional video montages of local performing arts events which air on the local cable access channel. After being in this town for nearly three years, I finally made the cut. The piece they did on the show I'm currently doing, Cocktail, was posted on Youtube today, so I'm submitting it for your perusal here at Real Art. I got a nice little moment, but you'd better keep your eyes peeled or you'll miss it--it's quick.

Ah, heck, here's a screen capture:



I'm the guy on the right. The guy standing next to me is Yohance, an extraordinarily talented first year MFA acting student here at LSU.

Here's the video:



The footage of the play is intercut with interview segments with the director, New York's avant-garde theater artist Ping Chong, so it's pretty interesting as well as cool. Enjoy.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

U.S. MAJORITY STILL SUPPORTS ABORTION RIGHTS

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

U.S. public opinion on abortion has remained stable

Although most Americans favor some restrictions on abortion, an AP-Ipsos poll released from early March 2006 found 52 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Just 19 percent said abortion should be legal in all cases. By contrast, 43 percent said it should be illegal in most or all cases.

More here.

After decades of intense propagandizing and legal maneuvering, the religious right has been unable to create an anti-abortion majority in this country. That's because, even though many Americans engage in acts of rank stupidity every day, most of us aren't all that stupid. Abortion, and the right to keep the government out of one's own body, are pretty simple issues. Americans get it.

It's damned sad, however, that people don't seem to get the connection between voting for Republicans and erosion of civil rights. Clearly we've all got much more work to do.

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Supreme Court Upholds Late Abortion Ban:
Right-wing Judicial Activism Run Amok


From AlterNet:

What's remarkable about the bill upheld by the Supremes today is that about 50 percent of the text is devoted to explaining why Congress is justified in ignoring the court's findings in Stenberg. The essence of the argument is that Congress has different standards of evidence and needn't consider the same data that the courts looked at. The argument was supported with case law from challenges to the Voting Rights Act and a telecommunications law, neither of which were questions of scientific fact. In overturning Stenberg, the court effectively affirmed the idea -- long popular among the Christian-right -- that the judiciary in general should and can be 'restrained' by legislative bodies.

Click here for more.

I'm totally unsurprised and totally outraged. Unsurprised because our moron-in-chief months ago managed to tilt the Court rightward by finding justices even more conservative than the ones he replaced, and the dokney-brained Democrats did slim to nothing to stop it. Totally outraged not only because this is the first major step in laying the legal groundwork for overturning Roe, but also because in order to get the ruling they wanted, the Court's conservative majority had to essentially abandon Marbury v. Madison, the foundation for virtually all power held by the judiciary branch. This is bad, bad news. It's not just about abortion, and, believe me, even if it was it would still be pretty dire: it's about totally reworking a system that for two centuries has made sure that Congress doesn't violate the Constitution.

Really, the potential now exists to render the Constitution completely irrelevant. Bye-bye USA.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dark writing led to a referral for counseling for Va. Tech gunman

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The gunman suspected of carrying out the Virginia Tech killings that left 32 people and the shooter dead was an English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service.

His classmates knew him only as "the question mark kid." On the first day of British literature class last year, he signed the class roster "?".

Dazed and stricken, the Virginia Tech community struggled Tuesday to come to grips with the killings, as thousands of people gathered in the basketball arena for a memorial service for the victims. Emotions were raw for an overflow crowd of thousands who watched the commemorative service on a jumbo television screen in the football stadium.


More here.

And what he wrote were plays. Sigh. I'll just put that in the Claude Caux and John Wilkes Booth file.

A few observations.

First, as many have already observed, this brings back memories of Columbine, and it's been somewhat painful for me. Dylan and Klebold went on their killing spree at a Colorado high school the first year I was teaching, and for a while there, some of the news accounts were just too much to bear. I remember breaking down and crying when I heard a list of murdered students along with a few personal facts about their lives read on NPR. I guess my being in the high school environment made my sensitivity to the tragedy all too acute.

I find myself in a similar circumstance today. I'm now at a big state university, and it's really hard not to imagine the same thing happening here. I mean, I'm not scared or anything like that. It's just really sad to look at the faces of the young people walking around campus and think about their lives being snuffed out so violently, so pointlessly. My classmate Anna, who is from Virgina, told us today that she knew one of the victims. She was visibly disturbed while doing so. Once again, my sensitivity to this is acute.

Second, I fear that there's going to be a blame-fest, which usually accompanies these events. I suppose that's natural, but what good will it do? Short of squashing American gun culture, these days a seemingly impossible task, I can't imagine what could have been done differently to avoid this. As Atrios over at Eschaton says:

Large residential college campuses are like small cities, places where people live, work, and study. Calling for absurd things like random bag checks and metal detectors in such an environment is like calling for such things on city streets.

Hopefully, sane heads will prevail this time. I mean, colleges are generally much more civilized and liberal than high schools, so it's unlikely that the extreme and militaristic security crackdown that came nationwide in the wake of Columbine will repeat itself. But then, the LSU PD was out in heavy force today. Who knows? These are psychotic times.

Third, I heard a guy on Air America today pointing out that this is how it is every day in Baghdad. Every fucking day. Massacre after massacre. Why are human beings so violent? Why do we kill all the fucking time?

Okay, I've got to stop writing now. This is just too much.

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JIM CARREY SINGS THE BEATLES' "I AM THE WALRUS"

Okay, before you vomit, just hear me out. For his farewell album in 1998, acclaimed Beatles producer George Martin put together a CD of Fab Four covers featuring a mix of singers and non-singers called In My Life. That's how Carrey got involved. I have to say that I'm not at all the weird one's fan, but he does turn in some decent acting performances now and then when there's somebody around to calm him down a bit, and that's exactly what Martin managed to do--indeed, before he worked with the Beatles, Martin was successful producing novelty hits with, among others, Brit comedian Peter Sellers. Clearly, Martin knew exactly what he was doing when he signed Carrey up.

And it turned out to be a pretty good version of the classic "I Am the Walrus." Believe it or not, with Martin literally conducting Carrey's performance, the strange comic manages to capture the spirit of John Lennon's absurdist, Lewis Carroll inspired words. Obviously, Carrey has great reverence for the song, and gives it his best.

From Wikipedia (article linked above):

A performance of the song by actor and comedian Jim Carrey appears on George Martin's album In My Life. At the end of his version, he cries, "There, I did it! I've defiled a timeless piece of art! For my next trick I'll paint a clown face on the Mona Lisa using the Shroud of Turin as a drop cloth!"

Go check out the video on Youtube; it's well worth it. I promise.


Jim and George in the studio.

And just for fun, here's a live video of the Frank Zappa version.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Are American Films Primarily Marketing Tools for the
Global Spread of American Political and Economic Power?


Another position paper for my performance theory class:

No, they’re not. Not “primarily,” anyway. “Primarily,” they are exactly what they appear to be, entertainment products manufactured by big businesses for the purpose of making money. However, that doesn’t mean that they do not also serve, secondarily, as “marketing tools for the global spread of American political and economic power.”

In order to get a handle on this it is important to observe that all cultural products are inherently ideological in nature, especially films. In 1995, essayist Michael Ventura wrote a column in the Austin Chronicle called “Forrest Gump, Why?” In it, Ventura deftly illustrates that the greatly loved film operates as a thinly veiled propaganda piece. The fact that Gump is mildly mentally retarded, but also held up as a sort of wise sage, strongly reinforces American anti-intellectual attitudes. That is, his continual quoting, while accomplishing amazing and celebrated feats, of his mother’s bland platitudes about how one ought to live, very loudly asserts that authority, rather than inquiry, is the most desirable way to understand existence. Ventura also illuminates how the film’s narrative itself reinforces traditional and conservative American values: Gump’s free-love practicing hippie girlfriend dies of AIDS; Gump works hard and ends up owning a successful business; Gump is a patriotic soldier and becomes a hero on the battlefield. All in all, Forrest Gump is shown to be something of a right-wing treatise. This essay outraged many Chronicle readers, and Ventura wrote a second column responding to his hate mail. In “Forrest Gump, Why Not?” he explains that “there’s no such thing as just a movie.” Indeed, such an analysis can be made of pretty much any Hollywood movie, and it’s safe to say that most of them tend toward the Gump end of the spectrum.

This conservative, pro-American ideology obviously comes from the hands-on film creators themselves, but it isn’t as clear that this outlook is also spurred on, perhaps more so, by the business system that makes Hollywood possible, and the government which allows it to exist. In 1988, Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermann wrote their seminal news media critique Manufacturing Consent. In it, the two authors convincingly establish what they call “the propaganda model” for understanding mainstream US news. They show that various business practices, economic and cultural pressures, and careerism strongly tend to skew the information product called news in a pro-business and pro-government direction. That is, the news really is propaganda, but it is not consciously or intentionally so. News skews rightward because it is good business for it to do so. Critics of Chomsky and Hermann have complained that they are engaging in conspiracy theorizing, but they miss the point: “the propaganda model” is an institutional analysis, which is not concerned with individual behavior. Hollywood, also a major media industry, behaves in a similar fashion. That is, movies are ideologically pro-capitalism and pro-government because it’s good business.

The De Zoysa and Newman essay downplays, in its final two pages, the detrimental cultural effects of Hollywood films around the world. Of course, they spend previously some thirty pages up-playing them. It’s hard to say how, exactly, American entertainment influences other cultures, but it is clear that the Hollywood film industry is so big, so good in terms of production values, and so heavily marketed, that American movies swamp all global competition—imagine trying to enter, from the ground up, the auto manufacturing industry, and competing directly with the big guys, without any market share, and with only a fraction of your competition’s capital, in order to get an idea of how difficult it is to compete with Hollywood. Throw in the fact that Euro Disney, deep in the heart of France, the great bastion of cultural resistance, is a thriving business. My guess is that Hollywood’s propaganda effects are underrated if anything.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Swine Palace to premiere Cocktail

Tech week(see post below) continues, and my blogging time is necessarily being squeezed, so as with last night, no chatty-chat from me. But I do present some more info on the show.

From the Baton Rouge Advocate:

International AIDS/HIV rights activist Krisana Kraisintu will speak at 2 p.m. Monday, April 30, in the Reilly Theatre at LSU, with a reception to follow in the lobby of the theater.

LSU Chancellor Sean O’Keefe will present the celebrated visitor with a medal in recognition of her successful work.

All three events are free and open to the public.

A play about Kraisintu’s life, Cocktail, co-authored by Vince LiCata, professor of biological sciences, and Ping Chong, world-famous playwright and performance artist, will have its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 20, at the Reilly Theatre. The production runs through May 6.

“This is a new play, a collaboration with LiCata. He’s a science playwright. He had been a student of mine at the University of Minnesota about 10 years ago. He contacted me to see if I was interested in a science play. I had never done anything like that, so I said yes, of course,” said Chong, who is in Baton Rouge for the production of his play by Swine Palace Productions.

“He (LiCata) put me in a lab coat and showed me how to make pills. I will do that on stage in the play Cocktail.”

Chong said the name of the play has nothing to do with margaritas or Southern Comfort.

“Cocktail means the pill regimen you take,” he explained.


More here.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

TECH WEEK

From Wikipedia:

Technical week (also called tech week, production week or hell week) refers to the week prior to the opening night of a play or musical in which all of the technical elements (such as costumes, lights, sound, and makeup) are added.

At this point in the rehearsal process, it is expected that the creative aspects of the production are ready. Actors have their lines memorized; lights, sound, scenery, and costumes have been designed and completely constructed. If the production is a musical, then the orchestra has rehearsed the music completely, and any dancers are prepared with their choreography memorized.


And

Rehearsals during technical week can go very long, hence the nickname "hell week."

More here.

Yeah, so that's what I'm up to this weekend. And even though the vast majority of acting work during tech week is sitting around and waiting, I've been at it for hours and hours today and I'm pretty tired. So, not much chatty-chat from me tonight: we hit the ground running again tomorrow at noon, and won't be finished until midnight.

But before I go, here's a bit about the show from an online science journal called Research published by LSU:

Writing a science-based play is aim of interdisciplinary research team

The basis for Cocktail may sound like creative fiction at first, but the subject matter is based on the actual work of Thai pharmaceutical scientist Krisana Kraisintu.

"We are not talking about science in science fiction. We are talking about fiction concerned with, or portrayed within, the context of real science," says LiCata, an expert on protein-DNA interactions.

Kraisintu is largely responsible for the production of a generic version of zidovudine, commonly known as AZT, originally without the approval of the Thai government. Her work greatly reduced the cost of the drug, which is often used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. She continued her work to better the treatment of HIV/AIDS despite years of dispute with Bristol-Myers Squibb, and eventually created a "cocktail" that combines three different treatment drugs into one pill that needs to be taken twice per day. This is a drastic change from the usual pill intake of between six and twenty-two pills per day that many HIV patients take.


More here.

Here's some more about technical rehearsals.

Here's a bit about our distinguished director, Ping Chong.

Actually, this play is shaping up to be pretty darned fantastic. I'll let you know more when the reviews are in.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

FAREWELL KURT VONNEGUT

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, died Wednesday. He was 84.

Vonnegut, who often marveled that he had lived so long despite his lifelong smoking habit, had suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks ago, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

The author of at least 19 novels, many of them best-sellers, as well as dozens of short stories, essays and plays, Vonnegut relished the role of a social critic. He lectured regularly, exhorting audiences to think for themselves and delighting in barbed commentary against the institutions he felt were dehumanizing people.

"I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations," Vonnegut, whose watery, heavy-lidded eyes and unruly hair made him seem to be in existential pain, once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater as transparent vehicles for his points of view.


Click here for more.

When I was a teenager, I somehow ended up with an old paperback copy of Vonnegut's book Slapstick. It's his only novel that I've ever read. People have told me that it's nowhere near his best, but I remember really liking it. One of these days I'll get around to reading Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions. Maybe this summer. I have read, however, several of his essays, and seen or heard several interviews with him, which is how I know that he was brilliant. I feel an enormous personal connection with him in that he was a social critic, genuinely befuddled by fucked up human beings can be, who used humor like a sword. I'll never, ever, ever come anywhere close to being even half the writer that he was, especially because I have absolutely no gift for narrative, but I do look to him for spiritual guidance.

I am truly saddened by his passing.

Hi ho.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Phil



Frankie and Sammy



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

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Spirit-Crushing 'McJobs' Are Putting an End to Upward Mobility

From
AlterNet:

Under this definition, a low-wage job is one that pays substantially less than the job held by a typical male worker -- that's any job paying less than $11.11. How many are like that? Forty-four million.

That's worse than most people realize. Especially since most low-wage jobs don't offer benefits like paid sick days, health insurance or retirement accounts, tend to have inflexible or unpredictable scheduling requirements, and provide little opportunity for career advancement.

And these jobs have been getting worse relative to others. Over the last quarter-century, the typical low-wage worker has seen an increase of a mere 6 cents an hour -- to just $8.53 an hour. Meanwhile, higher wage workers got a raise of 22 percent.

While low-wage workers haven't seen much of a raise since 1979, the economy and productivity have grown substantially. For several decades before 1980, productivity growth and wages rose together -- in other words, workers shared in the gains. But over recent decades, workers continued to be increasingly productive, yet they haven't seen any payoff in wages.


Click here for the rest.

This is the main reason why the old GOP pro-business all-the-time philosophy no longer holds any water for the majority of Americans--it's not just about low-wage workers, either. For decades, Republicans have justified these views by asserting that favoring business is virtually the same thing as favoring average people: "a rising tide raises all the boats" or "what's good for Wall Street is good for Main Street" and other bland platitudes along those lines. Decades ago, this was probably true to some extent, especially after WWII. Since then, however, businesses, especially large corporations, have become very adept at keeping profits to themselves--billions of dollars spent on lobbying and campaign contributions have served to warp the legal and political establishment in this direction, as well.

Since the Reagan era, we've been on a downward slide toward third world status, and I don't see that trend reversing anytime soon.

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Dinosaur research backs link to birds

From the AP via Yahoo courtesy of
AlterNet:

So, when she was able to recover soft tissue from a T. rex bone found in Montana in 2003 she was surprised, Schweitzer said.

And now, researchers led by John M. Asara of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have been able to analyze proteins from that bone.

The genetic code that directs the development of living things is the DNA, but that is more fragile and they didn't find that.

"But proteins are coded from the DNA, they're kind of like first cousins," Schweitzer said

What Asara's team found was collagen, a type of fibrous connective tissue that is a major component of bone. And the closest match in creatures alive today was collagen from chicken bones.

Click
here for the rest.

Usually missing from mainstream coverage of the seemingly endless evolution-creation "controversy" is that scientists continue to do their jobs. That is, while lame-brained creationists continue to assert the most wild absurdities, the scientific evidence for evolution, long ago established as unassailable fact, continues to mount, year after year. Just last December, scientists announced that they had found very strong evidence about groups of human beings developing lactose tolerance in Africa somewhere between three and seven thousand years ago, yet another smoking gun in favor of evolution. And now we've come close to confirming that dinosaurs evolved into birds. Really, the big news isn't that we're drowning in hard proof of evolution as an important biological principal: it's that there is no such thing as a controversy over evolution.

No controversy. Just a bunch of religious assholes insisting that the earth is flat. Fuckers.


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