Thursday, July 31, 2008


From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Phoenix spacecraft confirms Martian soil contains ice

The Phoenix spacecraft has tasted Martian water for the first time.

The robot heated up ice in one of its instruments earlier this week. Scientists say the chemical test confirms the presence of ice near the Martian north pole.

A bit more here.

From Houston's KHOU TV:

Houston doctors say they may have found a way to destroy HIV

There is real hope that what’s happening in a Houston lab might lead to a cure for HIV.

“We have found an innovative way to kill the virus by finding this small region of HIV that is unchangeable,” said Dr. Sudhir Paul of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Dr. Paul and Dr. Miguel Escobar aren’t talking about just suppressing HIV – they’re talking about destroying it permanently by arming the immune system with a new weapon lab tests have shown to be effective.

Click here for the rest.

And from ABC News courtesy of the Huffington Post, courtesy of AlterNet:

Personalized Stem Cells One Step Closer to Reality

For the first time, scientists have proven that embryonic-like stem cells that are specific to both a person and to a disease can be manufactured using adult human cells.

Personalized stem cells may be the holy grail of science because of their potential to treat and allow the study of a myriad of diseases and conditions. And while there are still a number of hurdles to clear before this advance can be applied to humans, in the clinical setting this latest step, some say, shows promise of eventual human therapies.

Researchers from Harvard and Columbia Universities used skin cells from two patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, to create stem cells and then reprogrammed them to morph into replacement motor neurons.

Click here for the rest.

The only sure fire way of getting a handle on physical reality that the human race has is science, which is based on this simple philosophical maxim: observation, hypothesis, experimentation, repeat. Using this approach, scientists over the centuries have discovered the tools and physical laws that have created the building blocks for the marvelous civilization in which we now live. Without science, there would be far fewer human beings, and the relative few who would be around would live a short, miserable, painful, and fearful existence.

Yeah, I'm a nerd.

But this stuff really blows me away. Water on Mars dramatically ups the chances that evidence of non-terrestrial life will be found there. A very possible cure for HIV has its own obvious benefits, as does the ability to tailor make stem cells. This shit is incredible!

What's really wild is that the science community is making breakthroughs along these lines every fucking day of the week. I mean, it's a massive army of thinkers all trying to figure out how the universe functions, all for the purpose of making human life a bit better, increment by increment.

What's really disgusting is that science's main social competition for figuring out reality, religion, has some severe problems with all three of these milestones noted above. For instance, the fundamentalists, in keeping with their literal interpretation of Genesis, insist that god created life only on Earth: what will happen when science finds absolute evidence on Mars that the Bible is wrong? Another example, these same fundamentalists, along with other more moderate religious homophobes, pressured Congress for years in the 80s to block funding for AIDS research. Would this non-mutating part of HIV, this AIDS Achilles' heel, have been discovered five or ten years ago if gay-hating god-believers had kept their fucking mouths shut? Yet another example, these same people greatly slowed down stem cell research by banning federal funding for experimentation on embryonic stem cells because, according to their anti-abortion philosophy, embryos are human beings, and not to be used for experimentation, even if they are slated to be discarded by scores at fertility clinics. Would we already have a cure for Parkinson's or ALS if the religious loons of America did not try to impose their holy book knowledge on rational society?

And then there's the evolution versus creationism "debate."

Really, this whole fight between science and religion is simple. Religionists insist that truth comes from "holy" documents, handed down to man by some sort of paternal and invisible god figure; scientists insist that truth comes from observation, hypothesis, and experimentation. Call me an old-fashioned modernist, I put my faith in science.

It's a goddamned shame that so many Americans put their faith in bullshit.



From AlterNet:

Right-Wing TN Church Shooter Is Fan of O’Reilly, Hannity, Savage

"I’ll tell you who should be tortured and killed at Guantanamo — every filthy Democrat in the U.S. Congress." — Sean Hannity

"To fight only the al-Qaeda scum is to miss the terrorist network operating within our own borders... Who are these traitors? Every rotten radical left-winger in this country, that's who." — Michael Savage

"Liberalism is the greatest threat this country faces." — Rush Limbaugh

"It is not a stretch to say that MoveOn is the new Klan." — Bill O’Reilly

"I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could." — Glenn Beck

"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too." — Ann Coulter

"I don’t see any difference between [Arianna] Huffington and the Nazis." — Bill O’Reilly

"The Islamofascists are actually campaigning for the election of Democrats. Islamofascists from Ahmadinejad to al-Zawahiri, Oba -- Osama bin Laden, whoever, are constantly issuing Democrat talking points." — Rush Limbaugh

"There are things in life worth fighting and dying for and one of ‘em is making sure Nancy Pelosi doesn’t become the [House] speaker." — Sean Hannity


Let’s just call this what it is: the right wing openly, proudly, loudly, and repeatedly advocates violence against liberals and Democrats. In fact, they are paid millions to do it and are given national platforms to spread their message. You cannot say that liberals and Democrats actively and purposefully want to destroy the United States and equate them with Nazis, Al-Qaeda, and the Ku Klux Klan, then claim that you don’t want them to get hurt. You can probably guess how Hannity, O’Reilly and their ilk feel terrorists should be dealt with, and it isn’t a fair trial with the full protection of the law and the Geneva Convention.

Click here for the rest.

So, according to the above linked essay, this shooter in Tennessee actually had in his possession books written by the murder advocates quoted above. Again, I'm in no way asserting that these right-wing hate-mongers are directly responsible for Adkisson's killing spree. But the fact that this guy was an avid follower of these people simply makes my point all the more compelling: by continuously insisting, for years, again and again, that liberals must die, the most famous and influential conservative opinion leaders in the country have unilaterally created a dangerous and poisonous social atmosphere for Americans, and damaging the democracy they claim to defend is the least of that atmosphere's effects.

The worst effects are corpses in Tennessee.

I have no idea what to do about the problem. I mean, this is America. The biggest idiots, racists, and scumbags have a perfect right to preach whatever absurdities and slanders they want. It is very tempting to insist that this kind of hate speech be censored, but what good is freedom of speech if it's not for everybody? Really, the problem is one of amplification.

These right-wing pro-murder assholes would be just like me, a humdrum blogger shouting at the universe in obscurity, if they weren't heavily marketed and distributed by Big Media. It's probably safe to say that, even more than these demagogues themselves, Big Media bears responsibility for creating this poisonous atmosphere.

I wonder if the law makes any distinction between commercial speech, that is, speech designed to make a lot of money for capitalist enterprises, and an individual's freedom of speech. If it doesn't, it ought to. At any rate, I think that the key to shutting up these neo-fascists - and they are neo-fascists, no different from the Nazi propagandists of the 1930s, vilifying Jews, communists, and homosexuals - is going after the media corporations. A coordinated flak campaign against CBS got Imus yanked from the air for a time for his racially tinged bullshit. Maybe the same thing could work against these bastards who foment civil war over the airwaves every fucking day.

You know, I'm pretty sure that inciting others to commit violent acts is not covered by the first amendment.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bombers and Ethnic Clashes Kill 61 in Iraq

From the New York Times:

Three women wrapped in explosives killed dozens in Iraq on Monday, shaking the country as chaos and ethnic violence erupted in the volatile northern city of Kirkuk, where tensions had already run high between majority Kurds and ethnic Turkmens.

All told, at least 61 people were killed and 238 wounded, nearly all of them Kurdish political protesters in Kirkuk and Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad. It was one of the bloodiest days in a year in which violence has dropped strikingly.

The violence in Kirkuk, with its delicate ethnic and sectarian makeup perched atop great oil reserves, deeply unnerved government and security officials, who instituted curfews there and in Baghdad. Leaders of the Turkmen ethnic group, in competition for land and political power with the Kurds, called for protection by United Nations security forces.

The attacks also underscored that the raw passions and anger fed by Iraq’s deep ethnic, regional and sectarian divides can still instantly ignite. Concerns about stability ran so high that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered a battalion of Iraqi troops to reinforce Kirkuk and put other unspecified “emergency reserve” troops on alert in case the violence spread, state-run television reported late Monday.

Click here for the rest.

John McCain should shut the fuck up.

The "surge" has not worked. Iraq continues to be an extraordinarily unstable nation. The relative decrease in sectarian violence in the desert nation has little to do with the moderate increase in the US troop presence over this past year: rather, violence is down, somewhat, because it has been wildly effective; the ethnic cleansing practiced by Sunni and Shiite extremists has eliminated mixed ethnicity neighborhoods. They're not killing each other quite as much because they no longer live next door to each other.

But make no mistake about it. These sectarian divisions continue, and will continue to erupt for the foreseeable future into the kind of mass murder described in the excerpt above. This is the problem that the "surge" could never even hope to solve. Indeed, the main component to the "surge" was always hope. That is, as the thinking went, try to crack down on the killings a bit and then hope the Iraqis can use the breather to get it together. That's not a strategy; it's wishful thinking. The US has done absolutely nothing to heal Iraq's sectarian divisions.

Here's a dirty secret: the US simply does not have the ability to heal Iraq's sectarian divisions.

And as long as the US remains in Iraq, propping up a government supported only by some factions, played by others, and outright dismissed as illegitimate by others, it is unlikely that Iraq will be able to heal itself. Yes, violence is down, but it continues to be extraordinarily high. We cannot do anything about it.

We need to get the hell out, as soon as possible.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Gunman disliked church's liberal views, Tenn. police say

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal social policies, police said today.

Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen IV said a letter had been been recovered from the SUV of Jim D. Adkisson, 58, by investigators seeking clues about the motive behind the attack. Authorities said he was an apparent stranger to the Tennessee church where gunfire punctuated a children's performance based on the musical "Annie." Two people were killed and seven wounded Sunday.

"It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that and his stated hatred of the liberal movement," Owen said at a news conference.

No children were hurt, but five people remained in serious or critical condition today. A burly usher who died is being hailed as a hero for shielding others from gunfire Sunday at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.


Unitarians have roots in a movement that rejected Puritan orthodoxy in New England. Although the outlook and beliefs of individual Unitarian churches can vary dramatically, most congregations retain a deep commitment to social justice, which has led them to embrace liberal positions over the years. Unitarians were among the first to ordain women, support the civil rights movement and back gay rights.

Click here for the rest.

Despite my agnosticism, I've intended for years to check out the Unitarians--only my Sunday morning laziness has kept me from going.

Obviously, the shooter is a nut job, taking out on these people whatever torment his personal demons have inflicted on him over the years. But his madness has a focus: he thinks liberals need to die violently, by his own hand. And this particular tragedy didn't take place in a vacuum. It happened in a greater cultural context.

Now, I'm not about to sit here and say that some other person's words or actions caused Adkisson to freak out and start shooting liberals. Clearly, there is ultimately only one man responsible for this murderous rampage. But I do feel pretty safe asserting that other people shaped the focus of Adkisson's hatred, shaped it and encouraged it.

For over a decade now, the demagogues of the right wing, on both talk radio and from the pulpit, have spewed violent, venomous, vitriolic hate toward American liberals. Often, when coming from the likes of Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, these rhetorical daggers have been haphazardly disguised as "jokes." Ha ha, no, it's funny, get it? Dead liberals are funny!!! Others, such as the despicable Michael Savage simply use straight-up Nazi imagery, like the word "vermin," to describe liberals--say what you want about him; at least he's honest about what he is. Right-wing preachers, such as Pat Robertson, or the recently passed Jerry Falwell, on the other hand, tend to couch their murderous rhetoric in spiritual language, strongly asserting again and again, that it is "God's will" that liberals die, such as their statements that Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans, and the deaths associated with it, was a manifestation of their angry Lord's wrath for the city's support of homosexuality.

The gatekeepers of public discourse, politicians and the mainstream news media, have, by and large, behaved as though this was no big deal, often handing over their megaphone to these people, amplifying their messages of murder and death. Years and years of this psychotic rhetorical dynamic have created a cultural atmosphere wherein numerous Americans are unfazed by this kind of talk.

Again, I assert no direct causation of Adkisson's rampage in Tennessee. But I think it is undeniably obvious that this right-wing atmosphere of deep and violent hatred toward liberals both directed his aim and gave him the moral certainty he needed to walk into a church and start shooting. Indeed, for some years now, reacting to the right wing's hate, the left has been predicting such an event--this isn't so far fetched, either: over the years, the left has helplessly watched while self-righteous and violent anti-abortion rhetoric inspired clinic bombings and shootings of doctors. And if Obama is elected, and Congress becomes more solidly Democratic, I have no doubt that there will be still more hate crimes like this one as rank-and-file conservatives become more desperate and disillusioned.

One of my deeper fears is that this horrid ideological tribalism will one day descend into an actual shooting war between the left and right, a virtual civil war of the variety we recently unleashed in Iraq. We're nowhere near that now, thank god, especially because the left appears to have long ago shed its violent extremist elements, but if the right decides to take its own rhetoric more seriously, and we all know how they love their guns, it might not be just the nuts out there shooting up liberal churches. And if it gets bad enough, the left will eventually start shooting back.

Then we're all fucked.


Composer Introduces A 'Dead' Symphony

From NPR's Weekend Edition:

Next Friday, Aug. 1, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will feature the music of — or, at any rate, the music derived from — the Grateful Dead. On what would have been Jerry Garcia's 66th birthday, the BSO will perform an orchestral tribute by composer Lee Johnson. With each movement based on a Grateful Dead song, the work is titled Dead Symphony No. 6.


It was a 10-year process from the original commission to the recording session in Moscow with the Russian National Orchestra, as well as another two years before the premiere.

Much of that time, Johnson says, was spent combing through the Dead's massive repertoire of songs and recordings. "The list was hard to even begin with," Johnson says. "It had to be something that would be flattered by the use of the orchestra, or just fit for further exploration by a composer who had to become a Deadhead through the process of meeting the music first."

Click here to listen to the interview, as well as to hear three movements from the symphony.

Almost always when I hear about some orchestra somewhere playing pop songs for their blue haired subscriber base, I roll my eyes. It's pandering, for one thing, but what really riles me is that it sucks. Orchestral renditions of popular music give you the worst of both worlds: all grass-roots hipster sensibility associated with source material is wiped out, while at the same time, any serious highbrow cultural meat associated with the serious music world is reduced to so much baby vomit. There ought to be a restraining order keeping these two realms a thousand yards away from each other at all times.

If I'm lucky, I'll never hear an orchestra playing "Hey Jude" ever again.

But this Grateful Dead stuff is something entirely different. As mentioned in the interview, the composer takes a sort of Aaron Copeland approach, treating the Dead as a source of American folk music, taking themes and musical ideas from their songs, expanding on them, and making them entirely at home in the symphonic context. That is, these aren't orchestrated versions of Grateful Dead songs: they're orchestral works in their own right, and very American, too, culturally speaking. Some of it's also very weird, which only makes sense when you go to the Dead for your source material.

Anyway, it's good shit; go check it out.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Means "Who Polices the Police?"

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

NYC officer pleads guilty in teen prostitute case

Prosecutors say a New York City police detective accused of forcing a 13-year-old runaway into prostitution has resigned from the force and pleaded guilty to attempted kidnapping.

Wayne Taylor initially said he was "100 percent innocent" of keeping the teen as a captive and compelling her to sell herself at parties last winter.

More here.


N.O. officer to face sex count

Prosecutors plan to file a sexual assault charge against a New Orleans police officer next week after the officer declined a plea deal, said Robert White, chief of the New Orleans district attorney's public corruption unit.

The officer, Carlos Peralta, reneged during a July 11 Criminal District Court hearing on an agreement to plead guilty to a lesser crime, second-degree battery, White said Friday.

Prosecutors will refile charges as soon as next week, with possible allegations including sexual battery, rape or forcible rape, a crime that carries up to 40 years in prison, White said.

More here.

Well, that's dirty filthy New York, dirty filthy New Orleans.

No, it's not. That's everywhere. Cop misbehavior happens all the time, all over the United States. It's not in just a few cities with a public perception of chronic problems. It's in your city, too. Like I keep saying, these stories just fall into my lap, all the time, and these are just the cops who get caught--one assumes that the traditional "code of silence," cops' unwillingness to rat out other cops, keeps most of these cases from ever reaching the light of day. It can't possibly be just "a few bad apples." It's too pervasive.

Why is it that the supposed good guys are so often actually the bad guys?

A traditional cop-loving explanation is something to the effect of numbers and human nature. That is, as the excuse goes, there are so many police officers out there, a certain percentage of them are bound to commit crimes, just like in the general population. Of course, the major flaw in that line of reasoning is that cops are not the general population. They're cops. There are supposed to be screening processes that weed these types out. There is supposed to be training and a pro-law culture inside police departments that should make such behavior unlikely. I mean, the whole reason for these people's existence is to enforce the law, not break it. By all rights, cops ought to be far less likely to break the law than, say, lawyers or investment bankers or garbage men. Or career criminals.

Alas, that doesn't seem to be the case.

If you read Real Art regularly, you already know what I think: police culture, from coast to coast, is the culprit. Hypermasculinity, elitism, us-versus-them attitudes, violence-as-best-solution thinking, and on and on. All this makes cop law breaking inevitable, from running red lights to running cocaine to sex trafficking. The good news is that organizational culture can be changed. The bad news is that nobody seems to be looking at police culture in these terms.

Until somebody does, expect the endless parade of news stories about spectacular cop corruption to continue. I'm gonna go watch Serpico now.


Friday, July 25, 2008




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



A brief post from economist/blogger Duncan Black, a.k.a. Atrios, over at Eschaton:

Unconditional Withdrawal

The local Fox outlet just showed me clips of McCain saying (roughly) "Obama won't acknowledge that we've succeeded [in Iraq]" and "He's in favor of unconditional withdrawal."

If we've succeeded why can't we leave? Just who are we at war with and what conditions should we demand before we withdraw? Does any of this make any fucking sense at all?

That's the whole post. Click here to see it in overall bloggy context.

Right. Obviously, it makes no sense.

For one thing, Obama clearly doesn't want "unconditional withdrawal," whatever that means. The presidential front runner has been very clear on this. Depending on what speech you're listening to, Obama wants to leave anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 troops in Iraq. Indefinitely. Call it what you want, but that's just not "unconditional." Nor is it "withdrawal," which is one of the big reasons I've been having a hard time getting on the Obama bandwagon: he says he wants out, but uses a rather Clintonian definition of the word; that is, "out" means "in," and, call me old school, I prefer my politicians to use more precise language, and by "precise language" I mean "tell the truth."

But beyond that, I'm really wowed by how McCain keeps claiming success in Iraq. Yes, sectarian violence is indeed down, but as far as I can tell, that has much more to do with Sunni/Shiite success with ethnic cleansing than it does with the "surge." And, make no mistake, sectarian violence hasn't ended. Further, spectacular attacks against US troops are also down, but my understanding is that Sunni disgust with al Qaeda collateral violence against Iraqis has dried up the terrorist organization's well of support there to a great extent. Beyond calming down Baghdad a bit, what, exactly, has the "surge" done beyond improve appearances?

The press doesn't seem to be shedding any light on the subject because they don't seem to be actually reporting much. And all the Republicans are doing is claiming success. Well, okay, how did this minor escalation called "the surge" actually function? I caught a bit of an interview on NPR's Fresh Air a couple of days ago with an Army counterinsurgency expert who had put some of his ideas into practice effectively over there, but the GOP isn't talking about him, and as far as I know, his approach has not been adopted by the Pentagon on any large scale in Iraq.

What's really going on in Iraq? Is the country stabilizing? How? Why? Again, there are some signs of political reconciliation between factions, but that seems to me to be more about Iraqi knowledge that Bush is on his way out, and the kinder, gentler Obama is on the way in. Believe me, I want an end to this insanity, whether its credited to Bush, or the Iraqis themselves, or happenstance--after all, "winning" in Iraq, whatever that means, will do little to rehabilitate W's overall record, so why not give him credit if it's due?

But I want to know the truth, too. Is that too much to ask?


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

FEMA seeks immunity from suits over toxic trailer fumes

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked a federal judge today for immunity from lawsuits over potentially dangerous fumes in government-issued trailers that have housed tens of thousands of Gulf Coast hurricane victims.

Lawyers for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita accuse FEMA of negligence for sheltering them in trailers with elevated levels of formaldehyde, a preservative used in construction materials that can cause health problems.

But a government attorney told U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt that the FEMA's decisions in responding to a disaster, including its use of travel trailers after Katrina, are legally protected from "judicial second-guessing."

Click here for the rest. (And do avoid the comment section: it's full of idiot Houston rednecks engaging in one of their favorite pastimes, bashing hurricane victims. Fucking assholes.)

God, will this shit never end?

This wasn't simply a good faith mistake made in the heat of the moment; it was part of an overall pattern of White House negligence, incompetence, and general disdain. I mean, appointing Michael Brown, the horse lawyer, as head of FEMA was boneheaded from the get-go, but it was also part of a partisan spoils system played by the GOP on a scale that hasn't been seen since the early days of this nation's existence. That is, FEMA was treated as just another way to get some money to Republican loyalists. So, too, was the reconstruction effort, which has been in large part nothing but crony capitalism. Suspending the Davis-Bacon Act, which ensures that federal public works projects pay prevailing wages, and trucking in masses of immigrant workers to be paid at bargain basement rates was simply a gift to the no-bid pals of President Bush. Those jobs should have gone to displaced poor locals. Instead, much needed federal money has been siphoned off to well connected people like in some seedy banana republic.

The toxicity of these FEMA trailers is real, with real health consequences. And they were just another part of Bush's enormous effort to fleece the people of New Orleans and other devastated areas. A gigantic lawsuit is definitely in order, and granting FEMA immunity from it would be just another dick in the ass. I hope the judge here is a rational and moral person.



From a 2004 interview with Noam Chomsky recently rerun by the Progressive:

Q: Why do so many people in the United States just go along with U.S. policy?

Chomsky: What's striking is that this view is accepted without coercion. If you're living in a dictatorship or under kings and princes or in a place run by murderous bishops, you'd better take that view or you're in deep trouble. You get burned at the stake or thrown into the gulag or something.

In the West, you don't get in any trouble if you tell the truth, but you still can't do it. Not only can't you tell the truth, you can't think the truth. It's just so deeply embedded, deeply instilled, that without any meaningful coercion it comes out the same way it does in a totalitarian state.

Orwell had some words about this in his unpublished introduction to Animal Farm. He says straight, look, in England what comes out in a free country is not very different from this totalitarian monster that I'm describing in the book. It's more or less the same. How come in a free country? He has two sentences, which are pretty accurate. One, he says, the press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And second--and I think this is much more important--a good education instills in you the intuitive understanding that there are certain things it just wouldn't do to say.

I don't think he goes far enough. I'd say there are certain things it wouldn't do to think. A good education instills in you the intuitive comprehension--it becomes unconscious and reflexive--that you just don't think certain things, things that are threatening to power interests.

Not everyone accepts this. But most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, can look back at our own personal history. For those of us who got into good colleges or the professions, did we stand up to that high school history teacher who told us some ridiculous lie about American history and say, "That's a ridiculous lie. You're an idiot"? No. We said, "All right, I'll keep quiet, and I'll write it in the exam and I'll think, yes, he's an idiot." And it's easy to say and believe things that improve your self-image and your career and that are in other ways beneficial to yourselves.

It's very hard to look in the mirror. We all know this. It's much easier to have illusions about yourself. And in particular, when you think, well, I'm going to believe what I like, but I'll say what the powerful want, you do that over time, and you believe what you say.

More here.

The more I think about the way things are, the more difficult it becomes to have conversations with ordinary people about my conclusions. That is, it is extraordinarily difficult to buck "conventional wisdom," to criticize "truths" that "everybody knows."

My most personal example is the many conversations I've had with American adults about education--teenagers, on the other hand, are usually a sympathetic audience, for obvious reasons. When I say that the American education system is about indoctrinating children into a culture of obedience and authority, and that any actual learning in the schools is usually happenstance or accidental, I am almost always met with some heavy skepticism. To most Americans, especially so-called liberals, this is pure lunacy. Education is a sacred cow; its very existence is not to be questioned: it is one of our truly noble pursuits. Who could argue with bringing knowledge and insight to young Americans?

Well, that's the problem. Education does not bring knowledge and insight to young Americans. Generally, they pick that up all by themselves, sometimes with the help of the schools, but usually not. But because education, as a cultural concept, is supposed to be such a great and beautiful thing, people just don't question it. I mean, sure, everybody's always going on about how bad the schools are and all that, but nobody questions our basic assumptions about how we approach the concept of learning itself, which means that the authoritarian emphasis of education is also unquestioned. "Education" is a great and wonderful thing, and any coercion used in the process is just "common sense," something needed in order to execute the great and wonderful thing.

I've actually gotten some rather hostile reactions from teachers when I start talking this way. How could I possibly question the great and wonderful thing?

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea. It's the same thing when talking about American character, or whether teens should have sex, or taxation. Despite all our freedom, there are many places where Americans just won't allow their minds to go. And they'll get pissed off if you insist on taking them there. What?!? The New York Times is conservative?!? Obama isn't liberal?!? The Christian god is crazy and/or evil?!? How dare you?!?

I think the rest of my life is going to be fun.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Instead, I had to go rescue a friend who had gotten into a jam. And I've got to get up and work in the morning, so no all night blogging this time around. Back tomorrow. Go read AlterNet or something.


Monday, July 21, 2008


From the New York Times editorial board:

In recent years, however, a growing number of towns and counties have passed laws trying to ban residents from placing political signs on their lawns — signs promoting political candidates or, say, expressing opposition to the war in Iraq.

Some local officials say the bans stem from complaints that the signs are an eyesore, but what they really are is an infringement of free speech, and more and more angry citizens are going to court to defend their constitutional rights. Some civil libertarians hope that a recent lawsuit in the northern New Jersey town of Hawthorne will shift the momentum their way.

Click here for more.

Okay, that's cool. An ACLU lawsuit is just what I was looking for to clarify exactly what my rights are on this issue.

You see, while blogging is fun, and I have no doubt that a few people actually read what I have to say here from time to time, I often kick myself for not participating more effectively in our grand marketplace of ideas. Indeed, I believe it is the responsibility of every American citizen to shoot his mouth off about his civic beliefs. Blogging is one way to do that, but like I said, who's really reading Real Art? Of course, I'm involved with a left leaning theater group in New Orleans, but, as with blogging, who really goes to the theater? Same with my little politically oriented acoustic set I do for open mike nights.

I've become very fascinated lately with the idea of freeway blogging as a way to subversively reach a mass audience. And because my little apartment balcony is in full sight of the parking lot of Grace King High School here in Metairie, as well as the fact that one of my major pet issues is how American education serves to totally fuck up the American democratic spirit, I've been toying with the idea of putting up a poster saying something like "EDUCATION=THOUGHT CONTROL" just to see what happens.

But I don't want to get kicked out of my apartment for doing my civic duty.

That's why I'll know for sure what I can and cannot do legally once this lawsuit in New Jersey runs its course. I mean, I'm certain that I have the right to express myself this way, but rights and the law are often miles apart, and this disparity usually favors those in power. Like landlords.

Anyway, go, go, go ACLU!!!


Saturday, July 19, 2008


Yesterday, one shoe hit the floor. From the New York Times:

Bush, in a Shift, Accepts Concept of Iraq Timeline

President Bush agreed to “a general time horizon” for withdrawing American troops in Iraq, the White House announced Friday, in a concession that reflected both progress in stabilizing Iraq and the depth of political opposition to an open-ended military presence in Iraq and at home.

Mr. Bush, who has long derided timetables for troop withdrawals as dangerous, agreed to at least a notional one as part of the administration’s efforts to negotiate the terms for an American military presence in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.


The administration dropped a promise in that initial agreement to provide long-term security for Iraq, something that would require a treaty and Congressional approval. It has also backed off other demands for sweeping powers to continue military operations there indefinitely.

More here.

And now today, the other shoe hits the floor. From the AP via the Huffington Post courtesy of AlterNet:

Iraqi Sunnis End Boycott And Rejoin Government

Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political bloc ended a nearly yearlong boycott of the Shiite-led government Saturday in another step toward healing the sectarian rifts that once brought almost daily bloodshed.

The National Accordance Front agreed to return after parliament approved six Sunni officials to fill vacant seats in the Cabinet.

But the gesture had wider implications _ seen as a significant step toward political reconciliation and efforts to cement security cooperation between Shiite-led forces and armed Sunni groups that rose up against al-Qaida in Iraq.

Click here for the rest.

Of course, I'll be wildly surprised if we actually, you know, pull out of Iraq ever, but this confluence of events within a twenty four hour stretch well illustrates a point that the left has been making for quite a while now.

War supporters have been asserting that if the US exits Iraq, intense sectarian bloodshed is sure to follow, that the American troop presence is the only thing keeping the desert nation from descending into all-out chaos--such an argument has been very appealing to moderates, who are appalled by the loss of life and chaos happening now in Iraq, but are frightened that things could get much worse if we leave. The left, on the other hand, has been asserting that the US troop presence has actually created the conditions allowing the sectarian strife to continue. That is, by keeping this artificial, US created Iraqi government propped up, the actual politics of Iraq have been held in stasis; our presence has kept the cards from falling where they ought to, or where they would if they could if the Iraqis were left to their own devices.

So now we have Bush agreeing to discussion of a timetable for withdrawal, almost immediately followed by an end to the Sunni boycott of the Iraqi government. Now I'm not saying that Bush's remarks actually caused this break of impasse, but it sure does look like it. That is, it really does seem that Iraqi sight of an American exit on the horizon is causing the political ball to start rolling in a more stable direction.

Like I said, I'll be really surprised if we actually get out, under either McCain or Obama, but these two events do nothing but illustrate that leaving Iraq really is the right thing to do.

I guess we'll see how it all plays out.


Friday, July 18, 2008


Sammy and Frankie

Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark, currently celebrating its two hundredth edition, for more cat blogging pics!


Fox: Jackson also used N-word in criticizing Obama

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

In additional comments from that same conversation, first reported by TVNewser, Jackson is reported to have said Obama was "talking down to black people," and referred to blacks with the N-word when he said Obama was telling them "how to behave."

Though a Fox spokesman confirmed the TVNewer's account to The Associated Press, the network declined to release the full transcript of the July 6 show and did not air the comments.

Jackson — who is traveling in Spain — apologized in a statement Wednesday for "hurtful words" but didn't offer specifics.


Jackson has called on the entertainment industry, including rappers, actors and studios, to stop using the N-Word.

More here.

About the most that I'm willing to criticize Jackson for here is hypocrisy. That is, in calling for the entertainment industry, including presumably African-American rappers, to avoid the word, but using it himself privately, he is employing what appears to be a double standard.

But that's as far as I'm willing to go.

I mean, I feel fully justified in telling white people to avoid using the n-word. After all, white people invented it in order to oppress black people, and, when used by a white person to address a black person or people, it continues to carry that weight to this very day, invoking centuries of torture, despair, and domination. Culture has powerful memory.

But it's just not my place to tell black people how to use the word. Okay, I understand that there are many African-Americans, from the academic elite to the working class, who believe the n-word to be patently offensive when used by anybody, regardless of their color or ethnicity. But I have also heard the word used brilliantly by the likes of Richard Pryor and Chuck D. I've heard it used cleverly, in casual conversation, as a word of solidarity among African-Americans I've known over the years. I've heard it used to express righteous outrage. In short, I understand how many black Americans, from all walks of life, have taken an idea that was created to harm them and reshaped it as a concept of self-empowerment.

It's just not as simple as good word/bad word.

I mean, like I said, cultural context makes my usage of the n-word extraordinarily problematic at best, but I do my damnedest to avoid it: I'm talking about African-American usage of the n-word. And this is a debate, a cultural discussion within the black American community, that clearly has not yet come to its conclusion. It is also a debate in which I have no business taking part, for obvious reasons. So I neither condemn nor support Jackson for his usage of the word.

I'm just watching to see how it's all playing out.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Texas still plans to execute killer despite U.N. order

From the Houston Chronicle:

The petition sought to halt executions to allow for review of the killers' cases to determine whether denying them access to the Mexican Consulate after arrest harmed their trial defenses.

The Geneva Convention stipulates that, upon request, an alien offender's national consulate must be notified of an arrest.

In its order, the world court quotes the Mexican government's argument that "Texas has made clear that unless restrained, it will go forward with the execution without providing Mr. Medellin the mandated review and reconsideration," which will "irreparably" breach the U.S. government's obligations to the court's 2004 order.


Perry's office dismissed the argument.

"The world court has no standing in Texas and Texas is not bound by a ruling or edict from a foreign court," Perry spokesman Robert Black said.

"It is easy to get caught up in discussions of international law and justice and treaties. It's very important to remember that these individuals are on death row for killing our citizens."

Medellin, 33, was condemned for the 1993 killings of Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, who stumbled into a drunken midnight gang initiation rite at T.C. Jester Park in north Houston.


International law expert Sarah Cleveland, a professor of human and constitutional rights at New York City's Columbia Law School, said in an e-mail that if the U.S. fails to act on the world court order, other countries may follow suit.

"This can only come back to hurt U.S. citizens when they are detained abroad," she wrote.

" ... When a global leader like the U.S. refuses to comply with its clear international legal obligations (and everyone agrees that this is a clear legal obligation), it undermines the willingness of other states to comply with their own obligations and it inspires them not to trust us to obey ours."

Click here for the rest.

Never mind, for a moment, Medellin's crime, which is horrific, and screams for justice. Never mind also, for a moment, the fact that state sanctioned murder, a.k.a. "capital punishment," of anybody, is at the very least hypocritical, and at the very worst a much greater injustice than any street thug could ever perpetrate. Focus, for a moment, on that last little bit of the excerpt above: we don't sign treaties with other nations as some sort of abstract, intellectual exercise; compliance, or lack thereof, with international agreements has real world, physical consequences.

This absurd case out of my home state is nothing more than an expression of several strains of some very old school conservative bullshit. For starters, as observed in the article, there is the US Supreme Court decision nullifying President Bush's order that Texas hold off the execution until the consulate issue can be investigated--apparently, says the Supreme Court, Bush must have Congressional permission to do such a thing, which is weird because the treaty placing such issues under the jurisdiction of the World Court has already been approved, long ago, by Congress, and ratified treaties, according to the US Constitution, are the law of the land. But this is not surprising: Chief Justice John Roberts, conservative asshole extraordinaire, wrote the decision, and American asshole conservatives usually have very little respect for the World Court, or treaties, or international relationships in general that are not dominated by the US.

And nowhere is contempt for the United Nations and its affiliated Word Court stronger than in Texas. Did you notice how casually Governor Perry asserted that "Texas is not bound by a ruling or edict from a foreign court"? The World Court is not a "foreign court." And Perry knows that. The World Court is a body established by treaty, to which the US is a signatory, existing to arbitrate problematic issues arising from adherence to treaty dictates. That is, Texas, like all US states, is indeed bound by edicts from the World Court. Clearly, Perry's conservative disgust with the United Nations makes it okay for him to straight up lie about the legal issues here. And by that, I mean it is not okay for him to lie.

Throw in Texas' traditional blood lust for criminals, especially the non-white ones, and we have this absurdist fucked up situation.

In a very real sense, this isn't at all about foreign nationals committing crimes in the US. It's the exact opposite: it's about how US citizens abroad are treated by criminal justice systems in foreign nations. It would be an astoundingly bad idea to allow right-wing redneck xenophobic sentiment to determine whether we investigate Medellin's consular access. We are bound by a ratified treaty to investigate this. And we'd better fucking do it if we value our citizens' lives.

Ever seen Midnight Express?


Tuesday, July 15, 2008


...Doctor McCoy!


Monday, July 14, 2008

The Dead-End Inquiry on Tillman

From some blog at the New York Times courtesy of AlterNet:

A House committee today announced that it had hit a dead end after months of investigating the mishandling of the death of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the N.F.L. player-turned soldier.

According to the draft report, the inquiry was “frustrated by a near universal lack of recall” from senior officials. “Not a single one could recall when he learned about the fratricide or what he did in response,” the report said just before noting Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld’s testimony: “I don’t recall when I was told and I don’t recall who told me.”

Indeed, Mr. Rumsfeld and other military officials used some variation of “I don’t recall” at least 82 times in three hours, according to one count from the committee’s hearing on the subject last year.

More here.

This is infuriating, if only because the whole thing reeks of covering up one of those Pentagon faux hero propaganda efforts, like the one they pulled with Jessica Lynch during the Iraq invasion. But it becomes downright sinister and frightening when you consider that there is forensic evidence strongly suggesting that Tillman was murdered, deliberately, possibly because of the far-left anti-war views he had developed while serving--many have speculated that the former football star was planning on becoming heavily involved in the anti-war movement once he returned to the United States.

But as long as these generals and Defense Department officials are allowed to not "recall" anything pertinent to the case, we won't know what happened.

And that's some serious bullshit.



From the Bill Moyers Journal website:

What's happened to the conservative movement in America? Conservatives Mickey Edwards and Ross Douthat discuss why they believe their movement has gone off track during the last eight years and what it means for the Republican Party.

Watch part one, or read its transcript here. Part two here.

Okay, this is a fascinating discussion, well worth watching, if only because I find myself in agreement with much that these two conservatives have to say. I mean, don't get me wrong, they are conservatives, after all, so there's no way I'm on their side or anything like that, but their interior critiques of contemporary American conservatism, along with how my far-left self can find some common ground with them, brings into question the entire notion of ideology itself.

What is conservatism, anyway? Or, for that matter, what's liberalism?

A young conservative friend of mine, in response to my assertion that Obama is a conservative, pro-corporate Democrat, sent me a link to this National Journal article branding the Presidental nominee as the "most liberal Senator in 2007." Within hours of reading that one, this Media Matters article debunking the National Journal piece landed in my lap. However, the latter article quoted a study ranking Obama as the tenth most liberal Senator for '07. Either way, everybody but the far left appears to think the Senator from Illinois is liberal.

How could this be?

Here's how: both articles implicitly assert that "liberal" is defined as what most Democrats vote for, and "conservative" is defined as what most Republicans vote for. Call me old school, but I always kind of thought that political ideology existed conceptually outside the sphere of partisan politics. That is, "conservative" and "Republican," while related, are not at all the same thing, ditto for "liberal" and "Democrat." In other words, ideology is about ideas, while political parties are about policy, which may or may not conform to the traditional ideology with which a party is usually affiliated.

It appears that, increasingly, public discourse ignores this distinction, which is unfortunate because such a tendency does nothing but make an already confusing situation more confused.

Anyway, go watch the interview. It's cool.


Sunday, July 13, 2008


From Wikipedia:

The title track is a modal rendition of the Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein's seminal song My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. The melody is heard numerous times throughout the almost 14-minute version, and instead of soloing over the written chord changes, both Tyner and Coltrane taking extended solos over vamps of the two tonic chords, E minor and E major. Tyner's solo is famous for being extremely chordal and rhythmic, as opposed to developing melodies. In the documentary The World According to John Coltrane, narrator Ed Wheeler remarks:

"In 1960, Coltrane left Miles [Davis] and formed his own quartet to further explore modal playing, freer directions, and a growing Indian influence. They transformed "My Favorite Things", the cheerful populist song from 'The Sound of Music,' into a hypnotic eastern dervish dance. The recording was a hit and became Coltrane's most requested tune—an abridged broad public acceptance."
Click here for more.

The one and only time I've seen this John Coltrane video before today was back in 1987 when I was taking my jazz appreciation class at the University of Texas. It blew me away. In addition to turning a song from one of the few musicals I like into a groovy jazz odyssey, its haunting weirdness transported me to a weird and cool music-dimension. That is, like lots of Pink Floyd, it took me out of this world and into another. Of course, the famous and well known studio recording of the song does the same thing, but this 1961 German television version is something else, most notably due to the addition of dissonant flute player Eric Dolphy, who well understood what Coltrane was trying to do with the song. But hell, the whole band is great, with McCoy Tyner on piano and the greatest drummer of all time, Elvin Jones, on drums.

Check it out:

My Favorite Things


Again from Wikipedia:

"Take Five" is a classic jazz piece first recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet and released on its 1959 album Time Out. However, it would not become a hit on the Billboard Hot 100 charts until 1961. Composed by Paul Desmond, the group's saxophonist, it became famous for its distinctive, catchy saxophone melody and use of quintuple time, from which its name is derived. It is also known for the solo by drummer Joe Morello.

More here.

While not nearly as complex or chops-oriented as Coltrane's work above, "Take Five" is just as haunting, and almost as cool. This is the first jazz tune I ever loved, and it has been one of my favorites since I was nine or ten years old.

Dig it:

Take Five


Very hip, very groovy, very cool.


Friday, July 11, 2008




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



Okay, I'm exhausted tonight. All this work, rehearsal, line memorizing business is finally getting to me. Fortunately, I get to sleep in tomorrow, but I've just got no ability to think straight tonight.

Here, read this bit from Wikipedia:

Cartman runs a 'pest control' service to try and rid the town of hippies, people he feared and hated for most of the series, mainly because "they smoke pot, wear crap and smell bad." Having studied hippies in his quest to eradicate them, Cartman deduces that the hippies are about to start a music festival in South Park. His attempts to warn the town council are futile, and he is arrested soon afterwards for imprisoning 63 captured hippies in his basement.

The town of South Park is soon invaded by the largest population of hippies in the history of man, and the music festival threatens to destroy the town. They manage to convert Stan, Kyle and Kenny to their cause with talks of corporate evils, and the trio get caught up in the massive hippie crowd where they all listen to jam band music.

More here.

You know, for all my leftism and Beatle love, Cartman has really gone a long way toward turning me against hippies. I mean, they really are dirty, stinky, pushy, preachy, loud, parasitic, and generally pointless and lame. Fuck 'em. I've come to prefer the Beats, anyway.

Watch "Die, Hippie, Die!" here.

Filthy fucking hippies!


Thursday, July 10, 2008


Back in 1994, I had the incredible fortune to attend a clowning workshop taught by legendary clown Steve Smith, who was at that time director of the Ringling Brothers Clown College--I love sentences that use the word "clown" three times. I learned a great deal about physical comedy that day, but probably the most important bit of knowledge I got was that old Warner Brothers cartoons veritably perfected the concept, and are worthy of intense study by anybody who's serious about comedy. Indeed, Smith worked for years with famed animator Chuck Jones, right up until he died a few years back.

For instance, pay close attention to the various characters' use of body isolation for comedic effect. That is, at any given moment, Bugs or Daffy or Yosemite are completely still, except for one or two isolated body parts, say, a finger and an elbow. This keeps the humor clean and clear: you know exactly what's going on, and viewers get the joke immediately. Along with timing, precision is key to comedy; clutter ruins the funny.

But really, if you're not interested in performing yourself, you shouldn't try to think about it too much. Just sit back and enjoy some timeless humor.

Captain Hareblower


High Diving Hare


The Abominable Snow Rabbit


That's all folks!!!


Tuesday, July 08, 2008


From Wikipedia:

The film charts the development of the corporation as a legal entity from its origins as an institution chartered by governments to carry out specific public functions, to the rise of the vast modern institutions entitled to some of the legal rights of a person. One central theme of the documentary is an attempt to assess the "personality" of the corporate "person" by using diagnostic criteria from the DSM-IV; Robert Hare, a University of British Columbia Psychology Professor and FBI consultant, compares the profile of the modern, profit-driven corporation to that of a clinically-diagnosed psychopath. The film focuses mostly on corporations in North America, especially in the United States.

The film is composed of several vignettes examining and critiquing corporate practices, and drawing parallels between examples of corporate malfeasance and the DSM-IV's symptoms of psychopathy, i.e. callous unconcern for the feelings of others, incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, reckless disregard for the safety of others, deceitfulness (repeated lying to and deceiving of others for profit), incapacity to experience guilt, and failure to conform to the social norms with respect to lawful behaviors.

More here.

So I throw around the word "corporation" quite a bit here at Real Art, usually as a derogatory word. Clearly, I believe that corporate business entities cause a great deal of trouble for our democracy--indeed, I believe that corporations have essentially rendered our democracy irrelevant in terms of the people's political power. But how did corporations gain so much power? How, exactly, do they harm our nation? This film, clocking in at two and a half hours over its two parts, made by the people who put together the Noam Chomsky documentary I posted yesterday, answers those questions.

Check it out:


Watch part two here.



From Wikipedia:

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992) is a multi award-winning documentary film that explores the political life and ideas of Noam Chomsky, a linguist, intellectual, and political activist. Created by two Canadian independent filmmakers, Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick, it expands on the ideas of Chomsky's earlier book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, which he co-wrote with Edward S. Herman.

The film presents and illustrates Chomsky's and Herman's propaganda model, the thesis that corporate media, as profit-driven institutions, tend to serve and further the agendas of the interests of dominant, elite groups in the society. A centerpiece of the film is a long examination into the history of The New York Times's coverage of Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor, which Chomsky claims exemplifies the media's unwillingness to criticize an ally.

More here.

This film, along with the book A People's History of the United States, both of which I first encountered in the mid 90s, have probably done more than anything else to push me over to the far left. Chomsky is nothing short of amazing, using extraordinarily simple arguments to demolish vast swaths of mainstream thought and conventional wisdom. I have not yet found a satisfying critique of his political thinking--I mean, sure, I've run into lots of people who hate him, but usually their rebuttals are more along the lines of "fucking crazy, it can't possibly be true," rather than actually addressing what he has to say.

Anyway, check it out. Maybe this'll make you a radical, too. Watch part one at your own discretion:

Watch parts two through seventeen here.

(By the way, I'm well aware that Real Art Video Week has now gone longer than a week, but I'm still memorizing lines, and aren't these some cool videos I've dug up? Give me another week or so, and I'll be back to attacking/defending Barack Obama, which is apparently what I do best.)


Monday, July 07, 2008


From Wikipedia:

The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a 2006 documentary film about British musician John Lennon's transformation from a member of The Beatles to a rallying anti-war activist striving for world peace during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The film also details the attempts by the United States government under President Richard Nixon to silence him.

More here.

I've known about John's struggles with INS since I was a kid, but I always figured it as some kind of early "war on drugs" thing, rather than as something coming down from a very nervous Oval Office. I mean, for god's sake, how the hell could a Beatle end up on Nixon's enemies list? That's always struck me as mondo bizarre. But this film spells it out very clearly: John Lennon was on the verge of shepherding some very real political change here in America, which scared the fuck out of establishment elites.

God, I fucking love John Lennon.

Check it out:


Power to the people, right on!!!