HAPPY NEW YEAR'S!
Well, I'm partying tonight, so nothing more here than a simple "Happy New Year's" message from me. Ah, what the heck, watch this:
I had forgotten how much I like Bono--it's just so easy to be cynical these days. But he really was powerful back in the day, especially if you saw him on stage. And he continues to fight the good fight as he understands it. A Real Artist.
Anyway, happy New Year's!
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
HAPPY NEW YEAR'S!
Posted by Ron at 7:40 PM
Hundreds in Mich., NYC protest strikes on Gaza
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Close to 1,000 Arab-Americans and others marched through the Detroit suburb of Dearborn on Tuesday evening, waving Palestinian flags and shouting slogans to protest Israeli military strikes against the Gaza Strip.
Protesters braving 30-degree weather filled eight blocks of a major thoroughfare in Dearborn, widely seen as the heart of Arab America. Hundreds more gathered in New York City and Los Angeles outside the Israeli consulate, with rallies also reported in two cities in Florida.
Since Saturday, 374 Palestinians have died in the Israeli air onslaught against Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers. Most of the dead were members of Hamas security forces but the United Nations says at least 64 civilians have been killed.
The offensive came shortly after a rocky six-month truce expired. Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets and mortars at Israel before and during the Israeli offensive.
Whenever the blood frenzy flares up over there, it's always worth it to restate my take on Israel/Palestine.
When I was a kid, and for years earlier, Israel faced a genuine threat to its existence. The entire Arab world was united in calling for its destruction, and acted upon such declarations more than a few times. Meanwhile, during the time of Arab/Israeli wars, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and other groups launched multiple terror campaigns, which over the years killed hundreds of Israeli citizens.
This was some bad shit.
But Israel, with the help of hundreds of billions of dollars in US military aid, continually beat the shit out of the Arab nations attacking it. Actually, Egypt was poised to seriously fuck up Israel in the late 70s, but President Carter finally decided to take Egypt's longstanding offer to stop fighting and become a US client state seriously: the Camp David peace agreement permanently ended conflict between Israel and its most powerful enemy. Somewhere along the line, the US bought off the Saudi royal family, which made another one of Israel's enemies disappear. Jordan, too, finally mellowed out. Syria, Iraq, and Iran remained threats, but without their major allies in the region, no longer threatened Israel's very existence. Even the PLO mellowed out by the late 80s.
Despite what now amounts to a relatively minor threat from terrorists, Israel essentially won, and won big. They are THE regional super power in the Middle East. No other nation can beat them. And they don't simply have the bomb, they have many, many nuclear bombs. Israel is badass.
But there's still this Palestinian problem. Most Americans seem to believe that Palestinians are all crazy terrorists - a few of them certainly are - who are solely responsible for the fighting that continues. But what most Americans don't know, thanks to a completely irrational pro-Israel no-matter-what-it-does corporate press, is that Israel has treated the Palestinian people like utter shit for decades now. Palestinians live in what amounts to an Israel imposed police state, in utterly squalid fourth world conditions. This is by design: Israeli leaders in the early 70s, after recently taking the last Palestinian controlled territories in the region, said that the now dominated people would have to "live like dogs" until they figured out that they should leave forever. And that's how it's been since then. Palestinians "live like dogs" because it is Israel's policy that they do so.
And the really big irony here is that the Palestinians can't leave. Nobody will take them anymore. No place to even live in refugee camps. Abandoned by their Arab and Muslim brothers who long ago tired of the fight. Is it any wonder at all that some of them continue to take up arms to fight their oppressors? Is it any wonder that some still call for the destruction of Israel? Yes, the Palestinians, as a people, often behave absurdly, but, at least, they are in an absurd situation over which they have no control. What's Israel's excuse? Why do they follow a policy that can do nothing but cause the Palestinians to hate them all the more?
And why do we support it?
The only way out of this is for Israel to start treating Palestinians decently. To approach peace talks with actual intentions of being peaceful, rather than with an agenda designed to make Palestinians leave forever. And because the US essentially bankrolls Israel's military, we have a great deal of diplomatic leverage to make things happen--really, in many ways, we're just as responsible as Israel for all this.
I have a sad sense that this will all be going on long after I'm dead.
Posted by Ron at 12:05 AM
Monday, December 29, 2008
Study: Premarital abstinence pledges are ineffective.
Think Progress riffing on a Washington Post article, courtesy of Eschaton:
"The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a 'virginity pledge,' but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers."
Right. This is, of course, totally obvious to anybody who doesn't filter their thinking through a fundamentalist funnel--kids who have half-hearted plans to avoid sex until marriage are woefully unprepared when the heat of the premarital moment finally arrives; same with kids who get their sex education via the "abstinence only" route. That is, "abstinence only" sex ed, and its bizarre accompanying cultural trappings such as abstinence pledges and purity balls, are so much irrational wishful thinking: via the mass media, which figured out long ago that sex sells, we now live in a highly sexualized culture, and we're never going back to the Victorian era, no matter how much we wag our fingers at hormone driven teenagers.
Meanwhile, these ill fated attempts to roll back the clock are quite literally endangering the lives of an entire generation. It's crazy.
Atrios over at Eschaton believes this abstinence bullshit is about punishing "bad girls" for having sex, and I think that's definitely a part of the overall dynamic. But, having grown up Southern Baptist and knowing how these fundamentalists think, I can safely assert that these abstinence advocates actually believe their own bullshit. They really do think that comprehensive sex ed is understood by teens to be a go-ahead signal from authorities, that is, teachers, to have premarital sex; they don't understand that most teachers have absolutely no credibility with teens on the issue of sex, and that the overall culture carries much more weight. In short, fundamentalists are utterly deluded on this, and they're taking the nation with them down the nutty hole.
My bet is that this latest study debunking the value of "abstinence based" sex ed will, like other studies before it, be completely ignored by school districts everywhere. Drag.
Posted by Ron at 9:21 PM
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Texas woman's exorcism case may go to Supreme Court
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Lawyers for a former Colleyville woman who accused her fellow church members of abuse during a forced exorcism in 1996 when she was a teen have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case.
Laura Schubert alleged that members of the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God held her down, bruising her wrists and leaving carpet burns on her back when she was 17 and then known as Laura Pearson.
This summer, the Texas Supreme Court threw out a jury award Schubert received for her injuries, reasoning that it unconstitutionally drew the court into religious matters.
But Schubert's attorneys argue that the Texas Supreme Court's decision improperly tried to expand the First Amendment's religious protections. Schubert contends that someone's religious beliefs do not protect them from state laws prohibiting crimes such as assault and false imprisonment, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in Saturday's editions.
Right. I feel pretty certain that first amendment rights do not override an individual's right to not be assaulted. The US Supreme Court ought to throw out the lower court decision without much of a hearing. On the other hand, we live in a really fucked up and crazy country, and members of our highest court are in no way immune to this.
For instance, Christian Scientists, if I understand correctly, can legally withhold medical treatment for their children because they believe that doctors subvert the will of God. This means Christian Scientist kids with cancer have to fight for their lives on a wing and a prayer. Actually, it's only a prayer, no wings involved. Lots of prayer, in fact, which recent studies have shown to be about as effective in fighting disease as sugar pills, less even.
So the interesting question in this exorcism case, to me, is whether this woman's parents, back when she was a minor, were in on the ritual. If they were, the same reasoning used to allow Christian Scientist parents to kill their children comes into play. That is, it would be more about a fusion of parental rights with religious rights than about Laura Schubert's rights, in which case she would probably be shit out of luck.
Extraordinarily unjust, yes, but we do live in a fucked up crazy nation of superstitious primitives. Personally, I hope she bankrupts the fuckers.
Posted by Ron at 11:38 PM
Saturday, December 27, 2008
GOP split on Magic Negro song about Obama
From the Washington Post via the Houston Chronicle:
Republicans who are vying to lead the national party offered a mix of reactions Saturday to the decision by one candidate for the job to mail out a music CD with the song Barack the Magic Negro.
Chip Saltsman defended his actions, telling the Hill newspaper that the songs on the CD were simply light-hearted parodies. But his rivals in the contest to chair the Republican National Committee said it carried an inaccurate message about what the GOP stands for.
Not all of Saltsman's rivals criticized him. Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who would become the first black RNC chairman, defended Saltsman and attacked the media.
"Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-elect Obama being the first African-American elected president," Blackwell said in a statement.
A few observations.
Such a controversy is bread and butter for the Republicans, who have very consciously played to Southern racist sensibilities since the Nixon era. From time to time, they go beyond such code phrases as "state's rights" or "welfare queens" and are so blatant that they piss people off. I mean, really piss people off--after all, the GOP Southern Strategy, which in addition to being racist also purposely divides the nation, is outrageous in and of itself, but usually they're so coy about it that they can get away with a wink and nudge while denying their obvious racism.
Part of the problem here is the usage of the word "negro" to lampoon President elect Obama. While not offensive by itself, this other n-word is fraught with danger for white Americans. That is, even though this was once the preferred term for African-Americans, fifty years later it reeks of old-timer whites who refuse to pay any attention or credence to the notion that race relations in this country have changed for the better over the years. It insinuates objection to things improving for blacks, a cynical nostalgia for days when white was white and "negroes" were "negroes." Given this context, as well as the fact that it is an attack on a black man, it is impossible to take the song as "light hearted parod[y]."
The standard GOP rhetorical gymnastics toward that which is "politically correct," whining insessantly about how awful p.c. is, while at the same time trying to use it to advance bogus bigotry-toward-whites complaints, comes into play here with their observation that a black essayist used the term to criticize Obama first, which, to race-retards, makes it all okay. Of course, there appears to be no understanding that this previous usage comes out of an entirely different cultural context. That is, an African-American man criticizing another African-American man with a dicey racial term simply does not have the history of white oppression of blacks at its nucleus; I mean, it does, but historically oppressed to historically oppressed isn't the same as historic oppressor to historically oppressed, situationally speaking. Totally different thing. It is also interesting to note another Republican p.c. debate ploy: find a single black conservative to say that everything's okay. Blackwell is a scumbag who may very well have tampered with the Ohio presidential election back in 2004. While this doesn't necessarily disqualify him from having an authoritative opinion on whites using the word "negro," the point is that being black doesn't really qualify him to do that in the first place. You can go out there and find pretty much anybody to say anything you want; a single opinion does not a cultural consensus make.
But really, the bottom line here is that whites have no right to criticize anybody for how they manifest their ethnicity. Except other whites. Maybe. I haven't made up my mind on that yet. But certainly, whites have no business throwing in race when criticizing Obama. I mean, there are a billion things I don't like about our incoming President, but none of them have anything to do with the fact that he's black. The only reason these Republicans would needlessly play such a race card is because they're racist, plain and simple.
On the other hand, I'm loving this because it makes obvious how stupid the GOP is.
Posted by Ron at 11:59 PM
Friday, December 26, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Or do I mean X-Men?
You know, I remember when I was a kid that evangelical Christians were fighting against another earlier "war on Christmas," albeit with a great deal less venom than the one being waged by the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity today. "Put Christ back in Christmas" was a religious slogan attempting to beat down usage by retailers of the abbreviation "X-Mas," which seemed to literally remove the word "Christ" from the word "Christmas." That first war appeared to end in the early 80s when somebody from the fundamentalist ranks decided that the "X" in "X-Mas" is actually a reference to the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
If only this latest straw-man cultural war could end so easily. And really, this is all so silly. I mean, Christmas is actually a pagan winter solstice celebration that was co-opted by the Church centuries ago. I mean, c'mon. What the fuck do pine trees have to do with Jesus?
Anyway, I'm sneaking into Houston to celebrate the Yule with family, but for only a couple of nights. Real Art should be back up and running by Boxing Day.
But before I go, I've got a few gifts for you. You know how much I love Christmas, after all. First, a few photos of my Christmas decorations.
My crappy fiber optic tree.
A few stockings I've picked up over the years.
My ceramic Nutcracker scene.
Some of my many weird Santas.
More weird Santas, as well as my Puss in Boots Christmas nutcracker, which actually cracks nuts, which is what the season is all about.
Here's a cool animation of Ella Fitzgerald singing "Sleigh Ride;" apparently, this is a promo for Verve Records, an excellent and venerable jazz label:
And finally, have a gander at the classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," in three parts.
Okay, that just about does it. See ya'll Friday. Merry Christmas to all! Ho ho ho! I just love to say "ho."
Posted by Ron at 1:48 AM
Monday, December 22, 2008
Company says smoke that killed 3 was 'pollution'
From the Houston Chronicle:
An insurance company with a potential $25 million liability from a 2007 Houston office fire is claiming smoke that killed three people was "pollution" and surviving families shouldn't be compensated for their losses since the deaths were not caused directly by the actual flames.
Great American Insurance Company is arguing in a Houston federal court that the section of the insurance policy that excludes payments for pollution — like discharges or seepage that require cleanup — would also exclude payouts for damages, including deaths, caused by smoke, or pollution, that results from a fire.
"This is shocking. It's an extraordinary effort by an insurance company to avoid paying on a contract for insurance," said Randy Sorrels, who represents several family members in wrongful death lawsuits from the fire in a six-story atrium building on the North Loop.
Great American has asked U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal to find that the deaths caused by the smoke, fumes and soot from the March 2007 fire set by a nurse working in the building will not be covered by the policy because there is a specific exclusion for pollution and it mentions smoke, fumes and soot.
Pretty amazing, right? I mean, the total bullshit legal strategy Great American is using to wiggle out of what it owes. It's like, how could anyone be so obviously cruel? Of course, this makes complete sense from the perspective of the insurance industry. That is, ideally, insurance companies would never have to pay out claims at all. You don't get rich making handouts. That's why insurance contracts almost always favor the insurance company in virtually all situations. The idea is to get you to pay in with their never having to pay out.
What's cool is when you have insurance companies suing each other. But I digress.
This Great American gambit will most likely fail--after all, smoke inhalation is pretty much considered by everybody to be one of the main causes of death by fire; indeed, smoke is pretty much considered by everybody to be an actual part of fire. Bad argument. And bad press if they win. Generally these things work themselves out, and insurance ends up being something that benefits both buyer and seller.
Except in the case of health insurance.
With health insurance, you have the same kind of financial incentives as with other insurance. Health insurers want to take in as much as possible, while paying out as little as possible, only covering people who stand to actually do that. You know, healthy people, people who don't really need insurance. And that leaves the people who actually need insurance out in the cold. Fucked, even.
It's long past time to get rid of these crazy financial incentives that keep sick people from seeing doctors. That is, the insurance industry has absolutely no business dealing with health care. I bet you fifty bucks Obama doesn't have the balls to kick the bastards out.
Posted by Ron at 12:04 AM
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Katrina’s Hidden Race War: In Aftermath of Storm, White
Vigilante Groups Shot 11 African Americans in New Orleans
From Democracy Now:
JUAN GONZALEZ: Some of the white men involved in the vigilante group have publicly bragged about taking part in the violence, but none of them have been arrested. In 2005, several of the men talked about their activities in the Danish documentary Welcome to New Orleans.
INTERVIEWER: How did you protect yourself?Click here to watch, read, or listen to the rest.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: You had to do what you had to do. You know? If you had to shoot somebody, you had to shoot somebody. That simple.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: We had looters.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: It was great!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4: It was great!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: It was like pheasant season in South Dakota!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4: Right on!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: If it moved, you shot it!
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: No way! That’s not a pheasant, and we’re not in South Dakota. What’s wrong with this picture?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: We walked the streets. We had side arms. Yeah, you had no choice. It was that bad. At least, you said—police said, “Just put them on the side,” because they knew they were doing wrong, you know? Said, “Just put them to the side.” That’s all we could do.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: [inaudible] in Chicago.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: I am no longer a Yankee.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: I earned my wings.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: He understands the “n” word now.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: I learned my wings.
UNIDENTIFIED: …all the looters and stuff.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: What looters?
UNIDENTIFIED: You didn’t see all the looters?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: We had three. They left here, one without a t-shirt and the others full of buckshot.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Ha, ha, ha!
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: And we have the t-shirt to prove it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: What happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: We shot him! What happens in other parts of this state, I don’t know about. But over here—
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3: We don’t care about.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: —this is our neighborhood!
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: But in this neighborhood, we take care of our own.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: We sent them back in to wherever they came from and said, “Don’t come back.”
I want to say I'm unsurprised. I mean, I keep saying that racism is so much more widespread, so much more of an issue than mainstream America will admit. This ought not to surprise me. But I'm totally shocked. These aren't hillbillies. These aren't backwoods idiots with part time Klan memberships. These are city people. Yeah, I know it's everywhere. But this takes us back the lynching era. It's as though there has been no social progress at all.
Sure, New Orleans is a deep South city, but it's a city, which is supposedly a place of enlightened attitudes, generally speaking. And that one Chicago transplant, a Northerner, sure was happy to be taking shots at black people. Is it really that bad? I'm disgusted. Man, remove the civil authorities for less than a week and whites become as bloodthirsty toward blacks as ever. It really is that bad.
My best guess is that an enormous percentage of white Americans in a similar situation would do exactly the same thing. And if that's true, then things are much, much worse than I had imagined. I've got to think about this.
Posted by Ron at 7:34 PM
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Bakery denies cake request for 3-year-old Adolf Hitler
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
EASTON, Pa. — The father of 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell, denied a birthday cake with the child's full name on it by one New Jersey supermarket, is asking for a little tolerance.
Heath Campbell and his wife, Deborah, are upset not only with the decision made by the Greenwich ShopRite, but with an outpouring of angry Internet postings in response to a local newspaper article over the weekend on their flare-up over frosting.
Karen Meleta, a spokeswoman for ShopRite, said the Campbells had similar requests denied at the same store the last two years and said Heath Campbell previously had asked for a swastika to be included in the decoration.
"If we're so racist, then why would I have them come into my home?" he asked.
The Campbells' other two children also have unusual names: JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell turns 2 in a few months and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell will be 1 in April.
Click here for the rest.
Okay, this is an extreme example, but it well illustrates a point I've made here at Real Art on more than one occasion. Clearly, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell are racists. I mean, they named one of their children after Adolph Hitler, and another is named Aryan Nation. And they wanted a cake with a swastika on it. It's not likely that they're simply weird or joking, you know, like Frank Zappa naming his kids Moon Unit and Dweezil. The Campbells are definitely racists.
But they don't think they're racists.
I'm reminded of a bartender I had to endure years ago who had some strong opinions of Klansman-turned-Republican David Duke: "The man's not a racist, I'm telling you; he's just for white rights and common sense!" I don't think I even finished my beer before getting the hell out of there. And it's not like I was in the backwoods or anything; this was at a Bennigan's in Houston's Greenspoint area back in '91 or '92.
David Duke doesn't think he's a racist either.
Anyway, the point is that most white Americans don't think of themselves as racist, whether that's actually the case or not. Like I said, the Campbells are an extreme example--it's pretty obvious where they're coming from. But what about white Americans who oppose affirmative action on the grounds that it's somehow unfair to whites without ever considering the unfairness that people of color have to deal with day in and day out? What about white Americans who couldn't care less about our criminal justice system coming down way harder on black Americans than any other group? What about white Americans wagging their fingers at black single mothers while ignoring the higher percentage of single white mothers? Are these people racist?
Obviously, I think so.
Most of the problem here is that Americans, as a people, do not have a consensus understanding of exactly what racism is. It seems to me that many if not most whites think anti-racism is about being nice to people of color on an individual basis, which is a definition allowing racial oppression to continue while at the same time absolving whites of any sense of personal guilt or introspection. "Why, some of my best friends are black!" Yes, and many of those best friends have black friends and relatives who have been in prison, or are mired in poverty, and on and on.
We, as a nation, really really really need to have a serious dialogue about race, but as long as white people freak out if they're called racist, as long as white people can think of themselves as non-racist while harboring racialist attitudes, it'll never happen.
And just for the record, I freak out and get irrational whenever somebody thinks I'm racist, too. This isn't easy. But that's no excuse.
Posted by Ron at 11:30 PM
Unlikely force fighting sex crime's stigma
From the Houston Chronicle:
It's true that a decade ago, he was convicted of sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl who was half his age. But the registry doesn't divulge that his victim was his girlfriend who now is his wife, with whom he has three children.
Glancing at his profile, there's little to distinguish him from the repeat pedophiles and violent rapists who are among the 54,000-plus registered sex offenders in the state's database.
"I just can't equate my offense with the guy who sat next to me in my therapy sessions who raped his 5-year-old stepson," said Ezell, 42.
The military veteran, who lives with his family in a bedroom community south of Austin, is so angry about his lifetime registration requirement that he has joined forces with hundreds of other sex offenders similarly aggrieved about being on the registry.
This unlikely political force, which dubs itself Texas Voices, vows to fight the state's — and the nation's — sweeping registration laws.
The group believes community notification laws fail to protect the public, because they don't distinguish dangerous predators from otherwise harmless men and women who foolishly had sex with underage lovers, served their sentences and don't need a lifetime of public scrutiny.
Whatever your opinion about what journalist Judith Levine has described as "intergenerational sex," it is quite certain that people like Martin Ezell are not a danger to society. Clearly, the law needs to change to reflect differences between the pathological and the stupid. I say "stupid" only because Ezell's pursuit of a relationship with an underage girl broke the law, not because I necessarily disapprove of their now decade long romance. That is, older men coupling with younger women has been the norm throughout the entire history of human existence--remember the Nurse going on about how Juliet was nearly over-the-hill at the age of fourteen in Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet? Only in this sex paranoid era are we unable to have a rational discussion about the pros and cons of such relationships.
For the record, and it is evidence of my own sexual paranoia that I feel like I need to assert this, I personally have no interest in romance or sex with anyone under the age of eighteen. Or under thirty for that matter. But I do think that some of these relationships with teenagers, particularly when the above age partner is in his or her early twenties, are just fine, healthy and positive even, good for everybody involved, including the families.
But it is near heresy in our culture to even suggest such a thing.
Indeed, when the above mentioned writer Levine published her missive on underage sex and sexuality within our culture a few years back, Harmful to Minors: the Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, it was immediately controversial. As in almost didn't get published controversial. Levine was branded as a pedophile in some quarters for simply daring to philosophize on the subject. And that's a truly awful thing. If we can't even discuss the issue without being subject to witch hunts, then the existing discourse, for what it is, is automatically dishonest and misleading. This cannot possibly be healthy.
I'm glad this group, Texas Voices, is attempting to articulate a common sense message about sex and society, but we'll see how that works out. The cultural atmosphere around this issue is so poisonous that I wouldn't be surprised if the group was dismissed by many as some sort of neo-NAMBLA, and I'm not talking about the North American Marlon Brando Look Alike organization.
Posted by Ron at 12:28 AM
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Bernie Madoff's Shady Schemes Should Have Set off Alarms Long Ago
Ignoring warning after warning is an essential element of the "Who Could Have Known?" excuse, as are rewriting history and shamelessly disregarding the foresight shown by those who sounded the alarm bells.
We're seeing the same ingredients in the Madoff affair. "We have worked with Madoff for nearly 20 years," said Jeffrey Tucker, a former federal regulator and the head of an investment firm facing losses of $7.5 billion. "We had no indication that we…were the victims of such a highly sophisticated, massive fraudulent scheme." It's a sentiment echoed by Arthur Levitt, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission: "I've known [Madoff] for nearly 35 years, and I'm absolutely astonished."
Who Could Have Known?
Well, Harry Markopolos, for one. In 1999, after researching Madoff's methods, Markopolos wrote a letter to the SEC saying, "Madoff Securities is the world's largest Ponzi Scheme." He pursued his claims with the feds for the next nine years, with little result.
Yeah, the first I heard of this story was NPR's coverage of it: their tease at the top of the hour asked something to the effect of "how did Madoff get past the SEC?" And NPR is supposedly liberal. I'll tell you how Madoff got past the SEC. You can't bust what you're not looking for. That is, for years now, going back to the Clinton era but dramatically escalating during the Bush administration, White House regulatory agencies have been purposely staffed by people coming directly from the industries they are supposed to be policing, people who see their mission as helping out their old industry buddies rather than making sure they obey the law.
That Madoff's massive fraud now stands to bankrupt thousands of investors comes as no surprise. The only real question here is how many more "surprises" are lurking out there waiting to fuck up innocent Americans.
Okay, there's another real question: do federal regulators intentionally create situations that guarantee their failure or do they simply ignore the obvious because their belief system is so strong that they literally don't see what's in plain sight? In other words, does all this come from sinister capitalists in smoke-filled rooms plotting to rob the poor in order to give the rich or do they just believe their own bullshit? Increasingly, I'm coming to think that the latter scenario plays much more heavily than I would have imagined only a few years ago. Indeed, as the above linked essay asserts, it appears that the entire ruling establishment is thoroughly blinded by its own ideology. In this case with Madoff, regulators may very well have honestly believed that staying out of his business was good for the economy, you know, all that "get the government off the people's backs" bullshit we've been hearing for so long. I think a lot of people with power really do believe such simple crackpot economic maxims.
And it's not just with the economy. It's one great big groupthink. It's as though these people, bankers, regulators, elected officials, investors, journalists, all of them, are much more sensitive to what the herd feels in its heart than to the cold hard facts. And that's quite a depressing thought. Long ago, in my teens and twenties, I strongly believed that facts were enough, that if you could put together unassailable arguments backed by the truth, that you would always win. I don't really think that's the case anymore, if it ever actually was.
People are irrational. People are herd animals. And I'm really frightened that our pack leaders are taking us over a cliff.
Posted by Ron at 12:38 AM
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Report: Blame White House for detainee abuse
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
A new Senate report says the physical and mental abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay Naval Base was the direct result of Bush administration policies and should not be blamed on guards and interrogators.
Even though the American power establishment seems to be either in deep denial about the issue or thoroughly unwilling to grasp the enormity of its significance, I've for some time now taken this for granted. That is, since Abu Ghraib, it's been fucking obvious that all this torture couldn't possibly be blamed on a few bad apples.
For starters, it's been too widespread. From Guantanamo Bay to Iraq to Afghanistan, we're supposed to believe that low-level soldiers, completely independently of one another, suddenly decided to go totally against both longstanding military regulations and international treaties, as well as deeply embedded strains of American culture, in order to torture their prisoners. For another thing, the kinds of torture used, in every single instance, were just too similar. Forced nudity and sexual mind games, attack dogs, "stress positions," waterboarding, and more have been systematically employed by all these isolated bad apples. And finally, the White House's legal offices have written countless briefs justifying torture--I think it was former Attorney General Gonzalez who dismissed the Geneva Conventions as "quaint." Why on earth would the President's people spend so much time and energy on a legal defense against torture accusations if they didn't expect it to be an issue in the future?
In this context, it is impossible to believe that the new American torture regime wasn't directed and coordinated from the very top. It now appears that the Senate, if not the rest of the power structure, is waking up to the obvious.
Quick reminder. Torture is horrifying and barbaric. It is anti-civilization. It is anti-morality. It is perhaps the worst thing one human being can do to another. And it has become official policy of the United States of America. If you aren't disgusted by that, you aren't much of an American. Or a human being, for that matter.
Posted by Ron at 12:12 AM
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Clinton's Socks the Cat Near Death
From one of those corporate magazine blogs, at US News and World Report, courtesy of the Huffington Post news wire:
We have some bad news today on the presidential pet front. Socks the cat, probably the most photographed presidential kitty in history, has cancer and isn't expected to live. "His days are numbered," says Barry Landau, a friend of Socks' master, Betty Currie. Landau, a presidential historian and author of The President's Table, tells our Suzi Parker that the Currie family could have put Socks on feeding tubes, but decided against it. "They fear he is too old," adds Landau, who is writing a book on presidential inaugurations. And a second source told us that Socks is gravely ill.
Recall that Currie, who lives in Southern Maryland and was Bill Clinton's personal secretary, took Socks after the Democrats left office. At the time, Hillary Clinton had been elected to the Senate and Bubba was moving to New York to run his foundation.
Ordinarily I would bitch about people not being committed to their pets for the long haul, but it was cool having a cat in the White House, and with Chelsea headed off to Standford for university study, along with the above mentioned changes in her parents' respective lives, I suppose giving Socks to Ms. Currie was for the best. At least the former First Feline has had a good life since his Washington days.
You know, the lives and deaths of celebrity pets don't usually affect me one way or the other, but there's something about political pets onto which I latch emotionally from time to time. As with the death of the Bush family dog, this story about Socks' final days makes me think about losing my cats Alec and Giskard. I know Presidential pets are fodder for propaganda, like with Nixon's famous "Checkers Speech," but knowing that powerful political figures love little furry animals somehow humanizes them a bit.
That's one thing we should never forget. They're all bastards, our leaders, but they're all human beings just like you and me. That's worth some hope.
Good vibes to the Curries and Clintons. Losing a cat, even after a long life, is tough.
Credit: Barbara Kinney/The White House
Posted by Ron at 11:05 PM
Saturday, December 13, 2008
1950s pinup model Bettie Page dies in LA at 85
From the AP via Google:
Bettie Page, the 1950s secretary-turned-model whose controversial photographs in skimpy attire or none at all helped set the stage for the 1960s sexual revolution, died Thursday. She was 85.
Page was placed on life support last week after suffering a heart attack in Los Angeles and never regained consciousness, said her agent, Mark Roesler. He said he and Page's family agreed to remove life support. Before the heart attack, Page had been hospitalized for three weeks with pneumonia.
"She captured the imagination of a generation of men and women with her free spirit and unabashed sensuality," Roesler said. "She is the embodiment of beauty."
Page, who was also known as Betty, attracted national attention with magazine photographs of her sensuous figure in bikinis and see-through lingerie that were quickly tacked up on walls in military barracks, garages and elsewhere, where they remained for years.
Her photos included a centerfold in the January 1955 issue of then-fledgling Playboy magazine, as well as controversial sadomasochistic poses.
So Bettie Page first came to my attention at some point early in my college career, 1986 or '87. There was a lot of attention being paid to her in the comic book world at the time, lots of icons around the comic shop, lunchboxes and stickers and whatnot--I think there was even a retro comic of some sort where the artist straight-up copied her image for its leading lady. Her kitchy housewife mid-century sensuality combined with a sort of pre-goth dark sensibility adding up to a date with what one might imagine Doris Day's older slutty sister might have been like was necessarily something I would dig. How could I not immediately lust for Bettie Page?
But I think she was somehow etched into my psyche many years earlier, when I was a very little boy sneaking naughty glimpses of my Dad's 1960s era Playboy collection. I don't at all remember actually seeing Bettie on those pages, although it's possible--my father claims to have had issues dating back to the fifties at that point. But I suppose that whole pre-feminist, domestic, early sexual revolution vibe I saw in my pop's dirty mags somehow set the stage for what I would later in life understand as alluring. Or so I think. I mean, who really knows why they think something is sexually attractive?
After all, the goth kids claimed Bettie as a sex symbol, too. I think they were too young to be looking at the same Playboys I was looking at, so what's their deal? At any rate, when I was teaching, it was always an opportunity to bond with eyeliner-wearing dark-hearted students whenever they flashed a Bettie Page image or two in class--one of them gave me a Bettie in bondage Christmas card one year.
She was great. Here are some fully clothed pics:
God, I just love her bangs.
Posted by Ron at 11:00 PM
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Rare snow covers south Louisiana, Miss.
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
NEW ORLEANS — A rare snowfall blanketed south Louisiana and parts of Mississippi Thursday, closing schools, government offices and bridges, triggering crashes on major highways and leaving thousands of people without power.
Up to 8 inches of snow was reported in parts of Louisiana. Snow also covered a broad swath of Mississippi, including the Jackson area, and closed schools in more than a dozen districts.
A heavy band of snow coated windshields and grassy areas in New Orleans, where about an inch accumulated. A peak of 8 inches was reported in Amite, about 75 miles northwest of New Orleans, said meteorologist Danielle Manning of the National Weather Service in Slidell.
Office workers stepped out of high-rises to catch a snowflake, snap pictures with cell-phone cameras and swap snow stories.
At a park in New Orleans' Uptown neighborhood, Sara Echaniz, 41, took photos and dodged snowballs thrown by her son, 3-year-old Sam. "He didn't believe it was snow until it started sticking to the ground," said Ecahniz, a native of Rochester, N.Y., who was pregnant with the child the last time it snowed in New Orleans, in December 2004.
Steamy New Orleans, indeed.
Back in February of 1991, I was in Chicago with some University of Texas theater classmates auditioning for graduate schools. As you may know from reading Real Art, I would have to wait until 2004 before I actually got into a graduate acting program, but I did get a little something out that trip to Chi-Town: it snowed while I was there. We were walking around the vast urban setting in the early evening and snow started falling. I danced around and exclaimed, "Wow, it's snowing!" My comrades were both originally from Northern states, so they were a bit jaded on frozen precipitation; "you're crazy," they said, "snow sucks." Well okay, I imagine it does if you have to deal with it for months at a time, but I'm from Houston, where snow is regarded as one of nature's weird miracles. And New Orleans and my hometown share essentially the same climate. That is, snow is one of nature's weird miracles here, too.
Here's the winter wonderland I saw out the window when I got up. Actually, it's a daycare center, but, you know, today it was a winter wonderland.
Really, this is pretty amazing. I took these shots in the early afternoon; we never dropped below freezing, but somehow we got some lasting accumulation. I mean, okay, it was gone by three or so, but still, it's one of nature's weird miracles. Did you see the little melting snowman the kids built at the door?
Posted by Ron at 8:57 PM
The White Nationalist Behind Bill O'Reilly's War on Christmas
What would Christmas be without warnings of the secular crusade to destroy it? Thanks to the fulminations of cable news cranks and evangelical moralists, the War on Christmas has become an annual outrage. The story typically goes as follows: secular elements have intimidated stores into replacing the phrase “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays;” nativity scenes have been removed from public spaces under threat of ACLU lawsuits; a decadent culture is moving ever closer to eradicating Christian morality; and America slouches towards Gomorrah.
Back during the culture wars of the 1990s, Peter Brimelow, then a Fortune magazine editor, grew incensed with the increasing use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” by retailers like Amazon.com. “I just got real interested in the issue,” Brimelow told The Daily Beast, “because I noticed over the years there was this social shift taking place where people no longer said ‘Merry Christmas.’”
In his 1995 book, Alien Nation, Brimelow argued that the influx of “weird aliens with dubious habits” from developing nations was eroding America’s white Christian “ethnic core,” and in turn, sullying its cultural underpinnings. The War on Christmas was, in his view, a particularly pernicious iteration of the multicultural “struggle to abolish America.”
VDare’s 2005 War on Christmas winner, Steve Sailer, a Eugenics enthusiast and author of the new biography of Barack Obama, America’s Half-Blood Prince, picked up where Piatak left off. “American Jews,” Sailer wrote, “those exemplars of successful assimilation now seem to be de-assimilating emotionally, becoming increasingly resentful, at this late date, of their fellow Americans for celebrating Christmas.” Sailer went on to quote at length from a column by the purportedly Jewish writer, Bert Prelutsky, called “The Jewish Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
It's that time of year again.
As if another round of Yuletide absurdist FOX News attacks against straw-man liberal principles wasn't enough, we now see evidence that this bizarre "War on Christmas" tactic was hatched by white supremacists. That means that, in addition to being lying assholes, the people at FOX are xenophobic, racist, anti-diversity assholes, as well.
But that's no surprise; we already knew that. And the underwhelming news here is that the white supremacy angle in no way makes the "liberals hate Christmas" argument any more or less ridiculous. Because, as I've written before, there is no liberal war on Christmas. Liberals like Christmas just as much as anybody. Even the secular humanist liberals like me. I mean, you don't have to believe in the virgin birth, or that Jesus even actually existed, in order to dig ideas like "peace on Earth" or "goodwill toward men," or to love Christmas trees, carols, lights, Santa, and eggnog. For god's sake, the Beatles loved Christmas!
I, for one, will always love Christmas. There's no liberal agenda to eradicate the best holiday of the year. It's just not true, which always leaves me a bit speechless when I hear the likes of O'Reilly telling me how much I'm supposed to hate it. I'm beginning to suspect the FOX Newsers of not knowing a damned thing about liberals at all.
As far as I can tell, the phrase "happy holidays," which seems to be the main point of contention in this so-called war, was invented by retailers several decades ago who were, and still are, trying to get the relatively few Americans who celebrate other holidays in December to buy more worthless crap to give as gifts. That is, "happy holidays" is a business thing, not a liberal thing. That is, if there's a war on Christmas, it's coming from capitalists, you know, conservatives, which is deliciously ironic.
Of course, FOX News doesn't do irony, so I don't expect the rhetoric on this to lighten up anytime soon.
Posted by Ron at 12:33 AM
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Illinois governor accused in deal to name Obama successor
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested today on charges he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder in what a federal prosecutor called a "corruption crime spree."
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told a news conference prosecutors make "no allegations" Obama was aware of any alleged scheming.
Obama said today he is saddened by allegations that Blagojevich tried to trade favors for the Senate seat and said he had no contact with the governor or his office on the matter.
Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field, according to a federal criminal complaint. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper's editorial board who had been critical of him fired.
"We were in the middle of a corruption crime spree and we wanted to stop it," Fitzgerald said today, calling the corruption charges against Blagojevich "a truly new low."
Federal investigators bugged the governor's campaign offices and placed a tap on his home phone and Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant said even seasoned investigators were "stunned" by what they heard on the tapes.
My my my. And people call Louisiana corrupt.
Fitzgerald, who investigated the White House Valerie Plame scandal, is a hard-nosed straight arrow who doesn't fuck around. Like fellow corrupt Democrat William Jefferson, Blagojevich deserves his day in court, and has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but the smoking-gun wiretaps, along with Fitzgerald's proven sense of integrity, make Illinois' Democratic "anti-corruption" governor appear to be guilty as sin. I mean, I think he's guilty. With such a hardcore cloud hanging over him, Blagojevich should resign. Right now. Or the state legislature should throw him out of office. Whatever's faster.
First, Republicans are probably going to treat this the same way they treated Whitewater during the Clinton administration. Bill and Hillary, after seemingly endless investigations, were never accused of any wrongdoing, and even lost money in the failed real estate venture, to boot. According to Fitzgerald, Obama has even less to do with this Blagojevich bullshit than the Clintons had to do with any Whitewater chicanery--that is, the President Elect has nothing to do with this scandal at all. But if I know Republicans well, and at this point in my life I certainly do, Obama's innocence will not stop a hysterical, politically motivated, cash-rich witch hunt.
We'll see how that works out.
Second, and more importantly, the long train of shocking Republican scandals over the last eight years, coupled with this new spurt of Democratic scandals lately, reveals what's already obvious to anybody who's been watching. The American political culture itself, rather than a few bad apples, is deeply corrupt. That is, the priorities, values, and norms embraced by our leaders, Democrat and Republican alike, most decidedly do not favor the people of the United States; rather, our leaders favor themselves, their friends, and the wealthy individuals and corporations who fund their campaigns - and sometimes line their pockets with cold hard cash. Most politicians do this legally, I assume, while only a relative few cross the line. But that doesn't matter. Ripping off the people is wrong whether it's by the rules or not.
Blagojevich needs to have the book thrown at him, but this parade of hyper-corruption will continue until this favor-the-rich-and-get-rich philosophy is eradicated from the ruling class permanently.
Posted by Ron at 11:40 PM
Top Obama Adviser Hits "The Left Wing
Of Our Party" For Criticizing Cabinet Picks
From TPM Election Central courtesy of Eschaton:
Steve Hildebrand, the former deputy national campaign director for Barack Obama, has a new piece up at the Huffington Post, rebutting left-wing critics who say that Obama's cabinet choices have been too centrist or even conservative:
The point I'm making here is that our new president, the Congress and all Americans must come together to solve these problems. This is not a time for the left wing of our Party to draw conclusions about the Cabinet and White House appointments that President-Elect Obama is making. Some believe the appointments generally aren't progressive enough. Having worked with former Senator Obama for the last two years, I can tell you, that isn't the way he thinks and it's not likely the way he will lead. The problems I mentioned above and the many I didn't, suggest that our president surround himself with the most qualified people to address these challenges. After all, he was elected to be the president of all the people -- not just those on the left.More here.
I, for one, am a leftist who already believed Obama to be a conservative Democrat, and am not surprised at all by his conservative cabinet appointments. Obama's personnel trajectory isn't really news unless you've been projecting liberal fantasies on him for the last year or so. For the most part, I prefer to withold most of my criticism until the incoming administration makes some actual policy moves--okay, I was harsh on Obama for a few days there when it was sounding like he wasn't going to do anything about torture in terms of justice for the people who administered it, but that comes close enough to policy to meet my standard.
Nonetheless, it is fair and legitimate to criticize President Sunshine for his staff-picks right now.
That's why this rhetorical potshot is so disturbing. Very different context, but similar enough to make the point: Hildebrand's statement reminds me of similar statements coming from Bush officials in the wake of 9/11 and during the run up to the Iraq invasion. That is, all these Republican White House people were telling the left to shut up, that criticizing the President during a time of war is unpatriotic, unAmerican. By and large, such rhetoric has been very common until only quite recently. Now we've Obama people telling the left to shut up, too. Yes, it's much gentler language, and it doesn't stoop to questioning critics' patriotism, but it is telling the left to shut up. And if you go to the original essay, it strongly implies that criticizing our President Elect is bad for the country--I guess that's how faux liberals tell real liberals that they're being anti-American. It is important to note that Hildebrand doesn't even really engage any of Obama's critics' arguments; he just tells them that we've got work to do, so shut up.
So...when, if ever, is it okay for the left to criticize the White House? If you pay attention to the two corporate establishment parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, the answer is "never." Of course, that's a poppycock. The correct answer, in fact, is "always." Indeed, all Americans should always criticize the government if they feel moved to do so. After all, democracy would be nothing without the marketplace of ideas--I mean, okay, sometimes some criticisms are just so absurd that a simple "bullshit" is an appropriate response, but objections to cabinet appointments for legitimate political reasons doesn't even come close. The bottom line is that "shut up" does a disservice to our democracy and is much worse for our country than lively debate could ever be.
It continues to amaze me how our elected officials appear to either disdain or not understand many of the most foundational principles of our form of government.
Posted by Ron at 12:09 AM
Monday, December 08, 2008
FROM THE REAL ART SPORTS DESK
Fiesta pairs Texas against Ohio State
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Mack Brown believes his third-ranked Texas Longhorns deserved a shot at the national title. Now that they'll get a shot at No. 10 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, Brown looked on the bright side.
"It's time for us to put the past week behind us with all the BCS stuff and move forward and look forward to a great game,'' Brown said on a teleconference.
The question is, will Texas-Ohio State be a great game?
In each of the last two seasons, the Buckeyes have been outclassed in the Bowl Championship Series title game, losing to Southeastern Conference powers Florida and Louisiana State.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel called the Longhorns (11-1) "every bit as good as those teams we played the last two years.''
The Longhorns finished in a three-way tie atop the rugged Big 12 South and thought their 10-point victory over Oklahoma should have earned them the nod over the Sooners. But Oklahoma was declared the division winner on a BCS standings tiebreaker, and the Sooners ripped Missouri in the Big 12 title game to earn a trip to Miami for the national title game.
Interestingly, Tressel and Brown both ranked the Longhorns second in their final ballots in the coaches poll. But Tressel had Oklahoma No. 1 and Brown ranked Florida first.
I'm afraid I don't have much more to say, other than to observe that this is how the chips have fallen. It's almost adding insult to injury. I mean, the Fiesta Bowl is bigtime BCS and all that, but the Buckeyes just ain't the team they've been in the last few years. I would have greatly preferred a Texas/Alabama match up, but what can you do?
Like I said last time, I'm now a one hundred percent supporter of a playoff system.
As for the so-called National Championship game, I'm rooting for Oklahoma. For starters, one should always have conference loyalty in these situations; if OU wins, it only makes the Big 12 look better. But I also want the Longhorns to be able to say that they beat the national champion. And what kind of national champion is it that lost to a great team with the same record?
Not a very good one if you ask me. Well, okay, OU's pretty fucking great right now, but that's not the point. 45-35 is the point. This all has a very bad taste.
Posted by Ron at 12:12 AM
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Louisiana voters oust indicted congressman Jefferson
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
NEW ORLEANS — Voters in Louisiana ousted indicted Democratic Rep. William Jefferson on Saturday, instead electing a Republican attorney who will be the first Vietnamese-American in Congress.
Unofficial results showed Anh "Joseph" Cao denying Jefferson a 10th term. Republicans made an aggressive push to take the seat from the 61-year-old incumbent, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, laundering money and misusing his congressional office.
Cao, 41, won a predominantly black and heavily Democratic district that covers most of New Orleans.
A barrage of election-day automated telephone calls on Cao's behalf flooded the district, including a pitch from the national Republican Party.
New Orleans voters had long been loyal to Jefferson, re-electing him in 2006 even after news of the bribery scandal broke. Late-night TV comics made him the butt of jokes after federal agents said they found $90,000 in alleged bribe money hidden in his freezer.
"People are innocent until proven guilty," said Faye Leggins, 54, an educator and Democrat who moved back to the city six months ago and still has fresh memories of Hurricane Katrina. She voted for Jefferson on Saturday. "He has enough seniority, so he can do a lot to redevelop this city."
People are, indeed, innocent until proven guilty, which a certain former Senator from Alaska continues to say even after his conviction. But this isn't about Jefferson's innocence or guilt. It's about getting caught with a sack full of money in his freezer; it's about his lame-ass explanation that it has something to do with his working for an FBI sting operation. It's about his being indicted for bribery.
It's about how somebody in Jefferson's current position is a filthy stain on our democracy.
The now former Congressman will eventually have his day in court, and if he can somehow prove his innocence, if he can get the FBI agents he claimed to be working with to back up his absurd story, then I hope the jury votes him not guilty. But he has no business representing the people right now. He should have resigned until he can get this mess behind him. Instead, he's stuck around, making his city, his state, his party, and the entire House of Representatives look really, really, really bad.
Good riddance to him.
Posted by Ron at 12:50 AM
Friday, December 05, 2008
QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES
Means "Who Polices the Police?"
From the Boston Globe courtesy of the Huffington Post news wire:
In rush-hour labor, ticket delivered
Jennifer Davis was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Nov. 18, her contractions just 3 minutes apart. Her husband, John, was trying to appear calm for his wife's sake, driving in the breakdown lane of Route 2. They pulled up behind a state trooper to ask whether they could continue using the lane to reach the next exit, near Alewife Station.
Not only did the trooper say no, he gave them a $100 citation for driving in the breakdown lane, made them wait for their citation while he finished writing someone else's ticket, and even seemed to ask for proof of pregnancy, Jennifer Davis said.
"He said, 'What's under your jacket?' I said, 'My belly,' " Davis said. "He waited and gestured with his head like, 'OK, let's see it.' He waited for me to unzip my jacket. I mean, it was so clear that I was pregnant."
The Davises say the contretemps occurred after two other troopers they encountered had waved them along in the highway breakdown lane, allowing them to evade gridlock while advising them to be cautious and keep their hazard lights on.
Earlier today I wondered for a while if this story was appropriate for my "Quis Custodiet" posts. I mean, the idea is for me to show that cop misbehavior happens virtually all the time, everywhere, which it does, as the numerous stories on which I've posted strongly suggest. But these are always stories about graft, or brutality, or rape, or forced prostitution, serious crimes.
This Boston cop who needlessly delayed a pregnant woman in labor on her way to the hospital, however, was not committing a crime. Indeed, he was doing his duty, sticking to the letter of the law, going that extra mile, crossing his t's and dotting his i's, all that OCD shit. This is not a corrupt cop. But he is a big fucking asshole.
I would very much like to know why one trooper chose to bust a woman in labor when two other troopers did not. I mean, cops have a lot of lattitude when it comes to deciding who they're going after. Was he pissed off about something? Angry with his own pregnant wife maybe? Infertile and therefore possessing a grudge against expecting mothers? I find it hard to believe that any cop could be so by-the-book that he would do such a thing. Okay, in the grand scheme I suppose it's possible, but not likely--our culture totally worships women having babies, when they're married, at least, and this includes police.
What the fuck was up with this guy?
Posted by Ron at 12:45 AM
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
The Ideology of No Ideology
On Friday, columnist David Brooks informed readers that Barack Obama’s picks “are not ideological.” The incoming president’s key economic advisers “are moderate and thoughtful Democrats,” while Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy views “are hardheaded and pragmatic.”
On Saturday, the New York Times front page reported that the president-elect’s choices for secretaries of State and Treasury “suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.”
On Monday, hours before Obama’s formal announcement of his economic team, USA Today explained that he is forming a Cabinet with “records that display more pragmatism than ideology.”
The ideology of no ideology is nifty. No matter how tilted in favor of powerful interests, it can be a deft way to keep touting policy agendas as common-sense pragmatism -- virtuous enough to draw opposition only from ideologues.
Meanwhile, the end of ideology among policymakers is about as imminent as the end of history.
But -- in sync with the ideology of no ideology -- deference to corporate power isn’t ideological. And belief in the U.S. government’s prerogative to use military force anywhere in the world is a matter of credibility, not ideology.
From Merriam-Webster Online:
partisan 1: a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause, or person ; especially : one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegianceClearly, when they say "non-ideological," what all these talking heads and pundits mean is "non-partisan." That is, they're saying they like Obama's picks for White House duty because they're palatable to both Republicans and Democrats, and can work toward common goals with both parties--political pundits love it when everyone in Washington can get along; they hate all that "ideological" bickering. Talking heads just want our leaders to get on with doing the nation's work.
ideology 2 a: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture b: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture c: the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program
But I think it's no mistake that all these guys in suits, who think they understand politics better than average ordinary citizens, chose the wrong word to describe all these new Cabinet appointments. "Ideology" is a dirty word in American politics. I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with some of the more extremist ideological movements of the 20th century, communism and fascism--think of how so many liberals have been undone over the decades by charges of "Communist!" or how conservatives scream like babies when they're compared to Nazis. In the US, ideology is something to which anti-American freaks adhere; good normal Americans are "non-ideological."
But just because virtually all of the political establishment, which includes the corporate news media, ignores ideology in no way means it does not exist. Indeed, we are a deeply ideological nation whether we admit it or not. For instance, one ideological point of view shared by most people here is the concept of "American exceptionalism." That is, most Americans think that, for whatever reasons, we're somehow more enlightened than the rest of the world, that our democratic institutions, for what they're worth, represent the apogee of human relations. A close corollary of this point of view is that of social progress: yeah sure, we've done evil things, like exterminating almost all of America's native peoples, or enslaving Africans, but we've stopped doing that; we're always getting better.
As if avoiding slavery and genocide was the highest standard for judging a civilization.
Of course, Americans are not exceptional. We're all human beings just like Germans and Russians. We're all prone to being misled. We're all prone to pride, which, as they say, comes before a fall. And to be quite honest, our democratic institutions just ain't what they used to be. If they were ever worth much in the first place.
Anyway, it's pretty safe to say that, even though Obama's new team is non-partisan, they are deeply ideological. They are strong supporters of the US corporate/plutocratic establishment and want to repair the damage done to it by eight years of incompetent leadership. The "change" these appointments represent is only within an ideology stating that the wealthy should run this country and the entire world for their own benefit. Their radical departure from the Bush administration's views is that they believe such rule should be efficient and self-sustaining--that is, Bush has fucked everything up for the powerful; they want things back to normal, and "normal" means squeezing American citizens, and the whole planet, for all they can get, without fear of an entire system collapse.
That's ideological. But don't say it. Don't even think it. Or the talking heads will call you a Communist. Or a Nazi.
And really, from their point of view, that's the point: people can't criticize what they don't think about.
Posted by Ron at 11:37 PM