FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING
Reine and Dash
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Friday, April 30, 2010
FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING
Posted by Ron at 1:11 PM
WORSE THAN THE EXXON VALDEZ
From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
To understand the gravity of the danger facing Louisiana's coast from the oil that began washing ashore Thursday, pollution clean-up veterans offered this starting point: Forget the word "spill."
"This isn't a spill," said Kerry St. Pe, who headed Louisiana's oil spill response team for 23 years. "This isn't a storage tank or a ship with a finite amount of oil that has boundaries. This is much, much worse."
It's a river of oil flowing from the bottom of the Gulf at the rate of 210,000 gallons a day that officials say could be running for two months or more. If that prediction holds, much of the state's southeastern coast will become a world-watched environmental battleground that hasn't been seen in the United States since the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska 21 years ago.
For residents of coastal communities and the vast fleet of commercial and sports fishers that call those wetlands home, that fight will become part of the daily scene. Coastal scientists and clean-up experts say the source and volume of the pollution combined with seasonal wind directions and tides have the potential to push oil deep into local estuaries, bringing the army fighting the oil and its miles of containment booms to much of the marsh. And, it has the potential to spread to every state along the Gulf Coast.
This is really starting to piss me off.
A massive river of crude oil is coming to Louisiana. It will devastate the fishing industry here, a bedrock of the local economy. Lots of people are going to lose their jobs; lots of businesses will go under. And that's just one of the obvious effects on the economy. The wetlands will also be devastated. In addition to what will likely be millions of dead fish, birds, and other animals, the vegetation that keeps the Gulf of Mexico from swallowing the marshes and swamps that serve as hurricane buffer for South Louisiana will also take a major hit. Louisiana's coastline may literally disappear as a result of this "spill." I have no idea what the economic effect of losing hundreds of square miles of coastline will be, but it can't be good.
And who's going to pay for the cleanup? I'm betting that BP, which leased and ran the destroyed rig responsible for the "spill," and which, as observed on NPR Thursday afternoon, had no "plan B" for when their anti-explosion equipment failed, will fight against liability in the courts, tooth and nail. If they lose, which probably won't happen, they'll just declare bankruptcy, default on their debts, reorganize, and start doing business again. If they win, the most likely scenario, we'll pay. More public money paying for private profit. Another shitty bailout of robber barons who have nothing but contempt for humanity.
I am particularly disgusted with all that "drill, baby, drill" rhetoric so casually uttered by politicians and pundits who have no idea what they're talking about. I am especially disgusted with President Obama, who recently gave the go-ahead for lots more offshore drilling, even though it won't really do much to help us with energy shortages.
But it's not just about economics and politics. This is fucked up. A major oil corporation goes "oops" and suddenly people's lives are upended. Permanently.
There's a damned good reason environmentalists have been working their asses off for decades to limit offshore drilling to the level it's at now: when offshore drilling fucks up, it fucks up bad. Same with nuclear energy, too. Why don't our leaders understand that there's literally no margin for error with this shit? Why aren't we aggressively pursuing clean energy? I mean, for god's sake, we put a fucking man on the moon. Answer: greed, shitloads of cash, and politicians who take payoffs euphemized as "campaign donations." That is, our corrupt political system simply doesn't give a shit what happens to you and me.
South Louisiana's going to be scrubbing tar out of its life for a decade or more. Fucking assholes.
Posted by Ron at 12:28 AM
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
"I, Mudd" is a second season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series first broadcast November 3, 1967 and repeated April 5, 1968. It is episode #37, production #41, and was written by Stephen Kandel, based on a story by Gene Roddenberry and directed by Marc Daniels. David Gerrold performed an uncredited rewrite, but little of his material was used.
Overview: Captain Kirk has a second run-in with the conman, Harry Mudd. Harry is now the supreme ruler of a planet of androids who cater to his every whim.
Okay, back to some second season greatness.
"I, Mudd" is straight up Star Trek comedy, and it is extraordinarily well executed. It is also the only original Star Trek episode, to the best of my knowledge, that sees the return of a character who is not in the regular cast. Harcourt Fenton Mudd was interesting and amusingly weird when he originally appeared in the first season's "Mudd's Women," mostly due to the fabulous character work of 1960s TV stalwart Roger C. Carmel, but in this one it is as though the writing team tailored the role specifically for his comedic talent. That is, Harry Mudd is unleashed to be, well, Harry Mudd. And that's one of the better moves in Trek history.
As usual, a good teaser means a good episode, and this one is no different. Indeed, we get a nice and light hearted installment of the ongoing Spock and McCoy argument about logic and humanity, this time focusing on the new crewman Norman, who is soon to be revealed as an android--Spock, of course, likes Norman's rational no-nonsense approach to his work on the Enterprise; McCoy is vaguely disturbed by the same thing. Soon enough, however, the Doctor's human intuition wins the argument when Norman takes over the ship. And it's a good take-over. We get a pretty fun moment when the android takes out six or seven guys, including Scotty, in engineering. We get a pretty cool shot of Kirk and Sulu, standing behind the navigator's tactical computer, realizing that the Enterprise is changing course*.
Even though this is a fairly serious moment, an intruder running around making unauthorized course changes, the dialogue just keeps getting funnier:
(Spock enters bridge.)Norman then enters and informs them that he has taken over the ship. And all this before the opening credits. The opening sequence may not establish the breakneck speed set up by the teasers for other great Trek episodes, but it does move along at a nice clip, more timed for comedy than for drama, and it packs a lot of expository info, kind of long for what it is, but you don't notice at all. That is, you're hooked and smiling before you hear "Space, the final frontier..."
Kirk: Mr. Spock, we appear to be taking an unscheduled ride.
Spock: (very dryly as he passes by) Interesting.
The Enterprise travels for "four solar days" before they reach their destination; in the meantime, Norman just goes to sleep, standing up, in the middle of the bridge. In a bit of weirdness, Chekov and Uhura are still checking out the sleeping interloper while the Enterprise arrives at Mudd's world, even though, one assumes, they've been walking past him for four days. I don't think this was intentional comedy, but it's still pretty funny. Indeed, there aren't too many of these clunky moments in "I, Mudd," but when they appear, they work well--I mean, it is comedy, after all.
And then we finally see Mudd, sitting on a throne, flanked by twin babes, decked out like a fun house mirror version of Paul Robeson playing The Emperor Jones. A little more menacing talk to help set up the plot, and then the episode finally gets down to the serious business of being funny without having to worry about dramatics. Indeed, the drama is now played for humor, as Harry declares at the end of the first act:
You're all going to be here for the rest of your lives!He then belts out a long and evil Batman villain laugh, which is appropriate enough because Carmel also played Colonel Gumm on the Batman TV comedy series running at the same time as Trek. I mean, Carmel is just fucking great. He goes on and on about how he's the emperor, the lord, Mudd the First, all that shit. And he just looks like a total Bozo all the while. He even arranges an impromptu fashion show of his favorite babe androids, while he sits in the middle of it all admiring their 1960s sexuality. We also see an android shrine to his estranged battle axe wife, Stella, who could have come directly from The Flintstones or The Honeymooners.
By the time the landing party is alone and considering its fate, an Abbott and Costello style routine anchored by Chekov signals that the gloves are off, and we are now bombarded with Vaudeville and 1950s Vegas comedy sketches for the rest of the episode. Scotty takes a moment to become as much of a Scottish stereotype as Willy on The Simpsons:
Harry Mudd, ah, ya borgas frat, ya!!!I have no fucking idea what that means, but it's pretty damned funny. There's a running sight gag about Harry's throne--both Chekov and Kirk manage to find moments in the chair, not as cool as Kirk's throne on the Enterprise, but good enough for the funny. Bones gets in another gleeful hypo-knockout. Kirk plays proud acting coach to Uhura, perhaps, in a moment of meta-comedy, parodying Nichelle Nichols' successful Broadway career. McCoy and Spock have another one of those friction moments when the science officer reveals his knowledge of the androids' plans:
McCoy: How do you know so much?And then, the crowning achievement of "I, Mudd." Kirk and crew "take the Alices on a trip through Wonderland." That is, for the third time in Trek, the Captain destroys a computer-like being by using flourishes of paradox and illogic. But this one is the absolute best. I mean, it's a show, theater of the absurd, both elaborate and flamboyant. McCoy mimes playing a violin while Scotty plays the flute. Chekov and Uhura dance a waltz to the imaginary music. Chekov engages in Russian folk dance, while the others pretend they're at a hoedown. Spock irrationally applies the Vulcan neck pinch to an android it could not possibly affect. (This moment is reprised for even more comedy nearly a decade later when Chevy Chase playing Spock in that classic SNL skit attempts the same thing on Elliot Gould as the NBC executive cancelling the show.) Kirk laments Scotty's death-by-happiness. Spock pitches an imaginary explosive baseball to Harry.
Spock: I asked them.
Predictably, but oh-so-worth-it, Norman's brain fries.
This is one damned fine episode of Star Trek. Go see.
Harry begs Kirk for mercy.
*I have a continuity problem here. In "Friday's Child," we see the tactical computer emerging from Sulu's helm console, suggesting that it is usually used only in battle. But in this episode, they are not in battle, and the tactical computer seems to be always in its up-mode. Am I right in assuming that this device is some sort of battle computer thingy? Or is it just some ambiguous tech? I don't know. Maybe they're doing a battle simulation, which is why the thing is up and being used. On the other hand, it's not really that big of a deal, and I'm a big nerd for worrying about it.
Posted by Ron at 7:16 PM
CHUCK D CALLS FOR BOYCOTT OF ARIZONA
From the Huffington Post:
"By the Time I Get to Arizona" -- This Discrimination Must Stop
The Arizona immigration bill -- which Governor Jan Brewer has decided to sign into law -- is racist, deceitful, and reflects some of the most mean-spirited politics against immigrants that the country has ever seen. The power that this law gives to police to detain people that they suspect to be undocumented brings racial profiling to a new low.
In 1991 Public Enemy wrote a song criticizing Arizona officials (including John McCain and Fife Symington) for rejecting the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The same politics written about in "By the Time I Get to Arizona" are alive and well in Arizona today, but this time the target is Brown people.
These actions must stop. We are issuing a call to action, urging fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, academics and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants.
You know, it's not a bad thing to be concerned with illegal immigration. My take is that the jobs taken by people who are in this country illegally ought to go to actual citizens. At a fair wage. That is, the presence of illegal workers tends to depress wages, which is exactly why we have an illegal immigration problem: businesses love to exploit workers who can't go to the authorities when they're being fucked around. Penalize employers who hire illegal immigrants, and you effectively end the problem of illegal immigration.
But that's not going to happen because our leaders' sympathies lie with exploitative businessmen, rather than with working class Americans. Instead, policy is crafted in such a way as to punish people who risk life and limb to come here just to make a living. That is, the United States both exploits and oppresses the most vulnerable of workers in the land. Usually, those workers are not white.
I don't see how a law that mandates police detaining people they "suspect" as being illegal can possibly be enforced in a way that is not racist. I'm from Texas, and have interacted with countless Latinos throughout my life, most of them citizens, or here legally, but some of them definitely here illegally: at a glance, I cannot tell the difference between a legal Latino and an illegal Latino. So I ask, what the hell constitutes reasonable "suspicion" of illegal status? Is it clothing? Is it speaking in Spanish? Is it skin color? Is it the kind of work one does?
This is waaaay fucked up. They're going to bust people for not speaking the right language, for wearing second hand clothing, for doing physical labor. For not being white. It was super lame when Arizona held out against the federal MLK Day law back in the 90s, but this is beyond shocking.
I have virtually no connections with Arizona, myself, but I lend my rhetorical support to anybody who joins this boycott, which is very likely to happen--Chuck D is but one of many prominent voices calling for it. And if history repeats, such a boycott stands a good chance of succeeding. After all, Arizona may have elected a racist and xenophobic majority to its legislature, but it doesn't want to be a pariah state. I mean, they did eventually approve the MLK holiday.
Anyway, here's Public Enemy's "By the Time I get to Arizona":
Posted by Ron at 1:35 AM
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
ECONOMICS: CHANGING THE CONVERSATION
Last Monday, I posted on a Mother Jones essay blasting Exxon for managing to avoid paying any income taxes for 2009--the substance of my own commentary was essentially that massive corporations are undertaxed, if anything, and that we ought to amend the tax code in order to get more corporate money into government coffers. My old pal Matt, who is an open minded moderate, gave me a link in comments to a CNN piece on what the top five US corporations paid for last year in taxes and why--it included a brief explanation, which was also included in the Mother Jones essay, of Exxon's rationale for why it was just fine that they paid the IRS nothing.
I think the point Matt was making is that it is a far more complicated picture than simply observing whether a corporation pays federal income taxes for a given year. That is, it's not necessarily a smoking gun when Exxon or GE gets away with a zero IRS bill. And he gets no argument from me on that. Generally speaking, tax laws are like a foreign language, from outer space or another galaxy, which an individual can study for years and still only have a partial understanding. And such corporations might not even be taking advantage of bad law, you know, loopholes, or foreign tax havens, and still end up not owing a cent. It could all be on the up and up, for all I know.
On the other hand, I'm not really so interested in these specifics as I am in trying to change the national conversation about economics. That is, for many years the ruling elite, their corporate counterparts, the talking sock puppets on television news gab shows, and their quietly pompous print brethren in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, have all assumed that if the business sector claims that it is overtaxed, or unduly burdened in any way by government action, then it must necessarily be true. I mean, an individual has always been able to argue against that assumption, but in this four decade era of go-go capitalism, he is the one making the argument, not the pro-capitalists who run the country.
In other words, the burden of proof has been, and continues to be, on the people making criticisms of capitalism. Generally, that burden has been so heavy that such criticisms are dismissed almost immediately, if they even make it into the conversation in the first place.
It's time for that to change. The pro-capitalists have got to start arguing their case again.
Events since the financial meltdown of 2008 have literally destroyed several of the foundational assumptions on which pro-capitalist apologists have been resting their petards for decades. The marvelous self-discipline of the free market, for instance, is now exposed as a sham. With it is gone the notion that government interference in the economy is virtually always counterproductive. And I'm not simply talking about the yammering class, and what they puke out for general public consumption. The field of economics, as an academic and scholarly discipline, is seemingly just as mired in its own mythology.
From last week's Bill Moyers Journal, a conversation about the massive fraud necessarily involved in the sub-prime mortgage crisis:
BILL MOYERS: So is this administration, which still has some Bush holdovers in it, and now has a lot of Goldman people in it, is this administration going to be able to pass judgment on Goldman Sachs?Watch or read the rest here.
WILLIAM K. BLACK Well, so far, they haven't been able to do it. They can't even get themselves to use the word fraud.
There's a huge part that is economic ideology. And neoclassical economists don't believe that fraud can exist. I mean, they just flat out -- the leading textbook in corporate law from law and economics perspective by Easterbrook and Fischel, says -- I'll get pretty close to exact quotation. "A rule against fraud is neither necessary nor particularly important." Right?
Notice how extreme that statement is. We don't need laws. We don't need an FBI. We don't need a justice department. We don't even need rules like the SEC. The markets cleanse themselves automatically and prevent all frauds. This is a spectacularly naïve thing. There is enormous ideological content. And it fits with class. And it fits with political contributions.
And don't even get me started on how fucked up economists' assumption of "the rational consumer" is, especially when seen in light of the billions of dollars companies spend every year on advertising to ensure that consumers are not rational.
The point here is that, even though a lot, maybe even most, of the conventional wisdom on economics may very well be true, a lot of it is now obviously false, but pro-capitalist apologists insist on using the same rhetoric, and oftentimes the same discredited ideas, as usual. The conversation must change. It needs to reflect reality. Pro-capitalists have got to start making actual arguments again. They didn't win the day when Reagan came into office. Capitalism and neoliberalism are not triumphant. Criticisms of capitalism can no longer be summarily dismissed.
In short, it's time for a new national debate on the nature of economics, and, sadly, that doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon. Sadder still, if we don't have that new debate, we are very likely to end up in an even worse position than we are in now years down the road.
Anyway, back to Exxon and its zero tax bill. Like I said, it may be entirely legitimate. But given reality, they must explain why that's the case. And it needs to be a convincing explanation. It can no longer be assumed that they're playing fairly, or even that they know what they're doing, simply because they're smart businessmen. I mean, that worked well enough back in the Enron era, businessman-as-superhero and all that shit, but not today.
Today we must assume that if a business looks, smells, and tastes like dog shit, then it's probably dog shit. The business needs to show us why it's actually chocolate. Or something to that effect.
Posted by Ron at 1:14 AM
Monday, April 26, 2010
Where are the Pitchforks?
Things were supposed to be different by 2010, and not just in the mining industry. The economic crisis had everyone convinced that banks and corporate honchos had too much power; their greed-is-good bubble had popped. Our 30-year love affair with deregulation was over. The swashbuckling executives who spent the last generation fattening corporate bottom lines—and their own bank accounts—would be put on a short leash, especially with a new Democratic administration in D.C.
Business Week spoke of “a fundamental rethink of the proper boundaries between the public and private sectors” and said “once-cherished assumptions about the superiority of the U.S. economic model are now in doubt.”
A year and a half later, it looks like nobody told Washington or Wall Street. The rich are still cruising down easy street while the rest of us are stuck in a ditch.
With millions still unemployed and millions more losing their homes, politicians are now talking about the biggest economic crisis in our lifetimes in the past tense.
The essay goes on to assert that the key to changing things for the better is revitalizing the unions, expanding their mission to include all workers, instead of simply their membership, educating the general public, and taking direct action, that is, going on strike, much more often. I'm all in favor of that, of course, but I'm not going to hold my breath. The unions have long settled into an establishment position, their leaders far more comfortable with captains of industry and donation hungry politicians than they are with regular ordinary people just trying to pay their rent and survive.
But if the unions don't take the lead on this, who will?
The excerpt above makes an extraordinarily good point. The financial crisis alone, in one fell swoop, laid waste many of the assumptions on which free market ideology is based. The harsh discipline of the unfettered market was supposed to ensure that the heavily deregulated banking and shadow banking sectors would not collapse the way they did. But that didn't happen, which obviously means that we need to go back to the drawing board. But that didn't happen, either. The now pending Congressional banking legislation notwithstanding, free market extremism, by and large, continues to be the conventional economic wisdom in both Washington and on Wall Street. They're much more interested in finding ways to preserve the now discredited economic establishment of the last four decades than they are in figuring out where to go next, now that their ideas are obvious failures.
Meanwhile, on Main Street, the wildly misguided radical conservatives known collectively as Tea Partiers angrily protest mild reform intended to keep capitalism itself from collapsing. At the same time, Obama supporters tell me to shut the fuck up. That is, in the general population, nobody, neither liberal nor conservative, appears to understand what's actually going on: corporations and the super-wealthy are successfully riding out an economic crisis that ought to be their Waterloo.
Placing our hope in the unions may very well be a non-starter, but such a notion contains an important nucleus of truth. It is increasingly clear that big institutions are too embedded in the system that has caused this mess to even consider doing anything about it. That's why our only hope is the people of the United States. But there can be no collective resistance without organization and education, which is what the unions are supposed to be doing, but aren't.
Who's going to step up to the plate and take a few swings on behalf of democracy and economic justice?
Posted by Ron at 1:02 AM
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Fight On, Goldman Sachs!
While reading the New York Times' culture critic Frank Rich on the continuing and perverted love affair between Washington and Wall Street, this little observation stood out:
That “financial alchemy,” as Zuckerman calls it, explains why the finance sector’s share of domestic corporate profits, never higher than 16 percent until 1986, hit 41 percent in the last decade.
As many have said — though not many politicians in either party — something is fundamentally amiss in a financial culture that thrives on “products” that create nothing and produce nothing except new ways to make bigger bets and stack the deck in favor of the house.
In 1963, President Kennedy defended a federal dam project that had been criticized as pork barrel spending by saying that "a rising tide lifts all the boats." That is, Kennedy was asserting that general economic improvement is good for everybody in the economy. According to Wikipedia, the phrase was co-opted years later by both Democrats and Republicans alike who champion free market policies which obviously benefit the rich, but do not so clearly help everybody else. Indeed, this phrase about boats and tides describes well US conventional wisdom on economics, you know, "Wall Street is Main Street" and other such claptrap.
In other words, everybody who matters, as far as managing the economy goes, believes that helping the big boys is the same as helping the entire country. I mean, Democrats aren't quite as dogmatic about it as Republicans, who never saw a tax cut for the rich they didn't like, but this kind of thinking is widespread and common in Washington. The rhetoric is big on Wall Street, too, but I don't think anybody there gives a shit one way or the other whether their fortunes translate into general prosperity--that is, they give lip service to the idea, but probably don't believe it.
Whatever. The point here is that the financial sector, a bunch of middlemen who perform a very valuable service for the overall economy, have used their unique position as guardians of the nation's wealth to bleed the country dry. I'm not sure how "41 percent of domestic corporate profits" translates into percentage of GDP, but you can be sure it's a large number. If you subscribe to the conventional wisdom, soaring corporate profits can do nothing but boost the economy. As the excerpt above observes, however, the financial sector doesn't really produce anything. I mean, yeah sure, financing business ventures, brokering loans and other deals that allow companies that actually create things to expand and hire more people, that's actually a worthwhile service, one that has profoundly important ramifications for millions of real Americans. But in the end, they're just a bunch of middlemen. And they've used their place in the middle of the business world to suck much more money out of the system than they're actually worth, and that money does nothing but build mansions and buy yachts.
Economists talk about how, in developing nations, bribery, of petty officials, cops, and others with power, sucks money out of local economies, which would be much better spent for legitimate business purposes. They call it "corruption," and it is believed to be one of the main reasons that poor countries remain poor. It's why organized crime taking payoffs from businesses they intimidate can slow economic development to a standstill. But when the financial sector does the same thing in the US, it's somehow supposed to be good for the economy. Go figure. Personally, I can't see the difference.
Finance in the US has gone far, far beyond its actual usefulness and is now a counterproductive drain on the overall economy. The financial sector sucks in buttloads of money which is then not used for any productive purpose. Sure, they deserve to be paid for their services, but this is nothing short of a shakedown. Clearly, a rising tide does not lift all the boats. Indeed, in this case, a rising tide actually lowers the tide. And our leaders in Washington are on the take.
We really are looking more and more like The Godfather or Goodfellas everyday.
Posted by Ron at 1:04 AM
Friday, April 23, 2010
Legal Skirmish Colors National Day Of Prayer
From the Religion News Service via the Huffington Post:
As Rep. Randy Forbes sees it, the decision by a Wisconsin federal judge that the law creating a National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional is little more than one person's opinion.
Millions of Americans, Forbes said, think otherwise.
"That's not what the Constitution says," the Virginia Republican declared Wednesday (April 21), surrounded by other members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus. "That's what one unelected judge says the Constitution says."
On Thursday (April 22), the Justice Department said it would appeal the decision, capping a week of political uproar from conservatives after Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison, Wis., issued her April 15 ruling.
Jews on First and the Interfaith Alliance, two groups that have accused the National Day of Prayer Task Force of hosting exclusionary Christian events, sent a joint letter to Obama asking him to issue a proclamation that promotes inclusive observances.
"We're certainly going to encourage people to have interfaith, inclusive events but the line that we're going to take now is it's important for there to be a healthy separation as well as a healthy respect for religion," said Rabbi Haim Beliak, one of the co-directors of Jews on First.
You know, I've always loved church/state controversy. It's a fun and interesting issue that drives people insane on both sides. For the record, I'm one of those Americans who strongly support keeping the government out of religion, and vice versa. I'm in good company: it was founding father Thomas Jefferson who coined the phrase "wall of separation between church and state." In spite of all the bullshit we hear about how we were founded as a "Christian nation," and how all the founders were men of faith, the reality is that many, if not most, of them were deists, that is, not at all Christians in the way we understand the term today. And as rational Enlightenment era men of conscience, they were strongly disturbed by centuries of sectarian strife in Europe, cynically used by nation states for their own benefit. Thus, they included in the first amendment guarantees for religious freedom, as well as prohibitions against government establishing its own official religion.
Separation between church and state, right? Pretty easy. But what, exactly, does it mean to "establish" an official religion? There's the rub. If you're Pat Robertson, or any other fundamentalist thinker, it means there cannot be a Congressionally created organization, funded by tax dollars, known as the Church of America or somesuch. And that's it. For these types, establishing an official religion does not mean funnelling tax dollars into religious coffers, or requiring prayer in school, or keeping religious symbols away from government properties and offices. That is, to Christian fundamentalists, the government can favor religion all it wants. As long as there isn't an official organization called the Church of America, it is in compliance with the first amendment.
Of course, that's total bullshit. If you use the fundamentalist interpretation, you might as well just throw the whole "establishment" clause out of the window because it essentially has no meaning. That is, from their point of view, the government can indeed establish an official religion, preferably one that is fundamentalist Christian in nature, as long as they don't actually call it a religion. Unfortunately for them, this interpretation is utterly out of line with some fifty years of Supreme Court rulings on the subject. Generally, these decisions have interpreted the word "establish" to mean the government showing any sort of favoritism to any sort of religion. Which is a good thing because, really, it's all a slippery slope. It may not be creating an organization called the Church of America when we require students to pray in school, but it sure as hell constitutes the state ramming religion down the throats of American citizens, and that's close enough.
Anyway, to the point. The National Day of Prayer, a government sanctioned activity, clearly violates the first amendment. The government has no business encouraging people to pray, just as it has no business discouraging prayer. But I, personally, don't get so worked up about it. It strikes me as a rather meaningless gesture, a bone thrown to the faithful among us, with minimal tax dollars involved. Beyond making the observation that it violates the Constitution, I have no plans to fight the good fight on the issue.
But prayer in school, which just keeps coming back like Nixon or a zombie, is something that infuriates me. Ditto for "intelligent design" as a stealth vehicle for creationism inserted into biology classes. Same thing with "faith based" initiatives, or, more correctly, handing over tax dollars to religious organizations for their "charitable," which means "proselytizing," activities. That is, there are numerous real threats, with teeth, to our sacred wall of separation between church and state.
Taking down that shit, that's the good fight.
Posted by Ron at 12:37 AM
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
"Friday's Child" is a second season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It is episode #40, production #32, and was broadcast December 1, 1967. It was written by D.C. Fontana, and directed by Joseph Pevney.
Overview: The crew of the Enterprise become entangled in a planet's tribal power struggle.
(Because I screwed up, this one falls out of order. More here on that.)
Memory is a weird thing. I recall "Friday's Child" as mediocre. But when I watched it again last week, probably for the first time in ten years, I really enjoyed it. Maybe it's just me; I have aged a decade in the meantime, and, I'm sure, changed my tastes to some extent, as well. No matter. This is where I'm at right now.
"Friday's Child" isn't a classic or anything, but it's as good as Star Trek gets without being brilliant. That is, if you want to expose Trek somebody who's never seen it before, this one can safely be called representative.
The episode, like most other good episodes, is set up well in the teaser, a nice, quick, efficient delivery of exposition in the form of one of those increasingly common briefing room scenes. Kirk and crew spend only a moment discussing the MacGuffin, the negotiation of a mining treaty, but very quickly we learn what the episode's really going to be about, interacting with a relatively primitive race which fights at the drop of a hat, or any other violation of about a billion of their essentially unlearnable taboos. In moments, we're down on the planet, seeing a red shirt die meaninglessly to illustrate the point. Quick, efficient, simple storytelling, that's usually the key to good Trek, and that's what we get with "Friday's Child."
The episode's alien race, the Capellans, appear at first glance to be yet another goofy throwaway. But they grow on you. Indeed, in addition to their cool stature, generally over six feet, they have weird and cool clothing, with bizarre cowls and feather boas. They don't talk much, I mean, sure, they talk, but their dialogue is sparse, which means there is much less of a chance for them to say something stupid. The sets, mostly tent interiors, are minimal, too, but they work well.
Okay, the lone Klingon in the mix kind of sucks. Really, he's just a lame actor who doesn't seem to understand what the Klingons are about, even for such an early era as 1960s Star Trek. But at least he's there, unlike the unseen Romulans in "The Deadly Years."
Actually, that's an interesting compare and contrast exercise. That is, "The Deadly Years" and "Friday's Child" have a similar story structure in that both have subplots where major recurring foes threaten the Enterprise. In the former, the Romulan story appears to be simply pasted on, slipshod, not having much to do with the main plot. In the latter, however, there is a meaningful dynamic between the events taking place on the planet's surface, and the events taking place back on the ship--while the Klingons play cat and mouse with the Enterprise out in space, their agent on Capella IV works his own subterfuge against Kirk and his landing party; each story line has consequences for the other.
And it's not simply that the subplot is so well woven into the overall episode: it's pretty darned good in itself. It's fairly cliche by this point in the series' run to have the Captain leading an away team while a subordinate officer takes charge back on the ship. That is, it's something of a Star Trek formula. But this time is particularly strong, and Mr. Scott continues to cement his reputation as a Kirk-level command officer when he gets his chance in the chair. Of course, Scotty's got some good quotable quotes, all in that marvelous Scottish accent of his:
We'll go right down their throat if necessary. Let's see if they have the belly for it.It is important, for me, to note that Mr. Scott gets right what President Bush got wrong years later:
Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.At any rate, the story on the ship comes together, in cavalry rescue form, with the story on the planet by episode's end. The image of red shirted Scotty leading a team of security red shirts to save the day is something embedded in some of my earliest memories; it's as good a moment as in any TV western ever produced, better actually.
And Scotty doesn't have a monopoly on good lines in this one. Spock's "I would rather, I would rather not" when offered the newborn baby to hold is classic, as is his "'Oochi woochi coochi coo?'" question uttered after Bones and Kirk repeat the phrase in rapid succession. And the Science officer's exclamation of non-Vulcan indignation, "I think you're both going to be insufferably pleased with yourselves," when he learns that the baby has been named after both Kirk and McCoy, "Leonard James," is an important lesson for all actors playing Vulcans today: that is, it's not that Vulcans don't have emotions; it's that they suppress those emotions, and sometimes not too terribly well.
Indeed, Spock is the king of witticism here, at his best with Kirk, his personal Dean Martin or Bob Hope:
Spock: Fortunately this bark has suitable tensile cohesion.And then repeated but with a reversal of roles:
Kirk: You mean it makes a good bow string.
Spock: I believe I just said that.
Kirk: The cavalry doesn't come over the hill in the nick of time anymore.Not funny at all, but, like the image of Scotty with his own Federation cavalry, also embedded in my brain at a very early age:
Spock: If by that you mean we can't expect help from the Enterprise, I must agree.
Spock: Revenge Captain?But beyond what I've already mentioned, there's simply a treasure chest of fun stuff. A bunch of the episode's scenes are shot in that quarry space used in several other episodes like "Arena" or "Shore Leave." It's also tech heavy, with communicators used to create an avalanche by sonic disruption (who ever knew your cell phone could do such a thing?), something from the Doctor's medicine bag, a "magnosite tablet," used to start a camp fire, and, as far as I know, the only time we get to see Sulu's tactical computer emerging from his helm console, something that still gets me giddy. And there are fights. Lots and lots of fights. Good stuff, actually, especially because this is something for which the aliens are known, no bullshit about working it all into a script where it doesn't belong. This one needs a lot of fighting, and it delivers.
Kirk: Why not?
In the end, with all its cliche and formula, all its aliens who like to mix it up with blades and fists, all of Kirk's pompous blustering, "Friday's Child" ought to be lame and mediocre. After all, there are more than a few other Trek episodes offering the same TV staples, but they fail, and this one succeeds extraordinarily well, and it includes lots of fun little surprises. Actually, after writing about it, I think I really really dig this one. Something of a box office sleeper?
Whatever. Go see for yourself.
Kirk and Spock go native.
Posted by Ron at 6:43 PM
INTRO TO NOAM CHOMSKY
“I don’t bother writing about Fox News,” Chomsky said. “It is too easy. What I talk about are the liberal intellectuals, the ones who portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice. They are basically the guardians of the faith. They set the limits. They tell us how far we can go. They say, ‘Look how courageous I am.’ But do not go one millimeter beyond that. At least for the educated sectors, they are the most dangerous in supporting power.”
“I try to encourage people to think for themselves, to question standard assumptions,” Chomsky said when asked about his goals. “Don’t take assumptions for granted. Begin by taking a skeptical attitude toward anything that is conventional wisdom. Make it justify itself. It usually can’t. Be willing to ask questions about what is taken for granted. Try to think things through for yourself. There is plenty of information. You have got to learn how to judge, evaluate and compare it with other things. You have to take some things on trust or you can’t survive. But if there is something significant and important don’t take it on trust. As soon as you read anything that is anonymous you should immediately distrust it. If you read in the newspapers that Iran is defying the international community, ask who is the international community? India is opposed to sanctions. China is opposed to sanctions. Brazil is opposed to sanctions. The Non-Aligned Movement is vigorously opposed to sanctions and has been for years. Who is the international community? It is Washington and anyone who happens to agree with it. You can figure that out, but you have to do work. It is the same on issue after issue.”
It's not so much that something is right because Chomsky says so, as it is that reading his stuff puts you in an intellectual place where you're much more able to see the contradictions and inconsistencies within the rhetoric on a given issue.
Many people, for instance, take what they read or hear in the news at face value, or, at least, have a vague sense that some kind of liberal or conservative bias exists within the reporting, and clumsily try to filter for it. Chomsky, on the other hand, reminds us continually that the news business is, in fact, a business, motivated by the sole desire to deliver audiences to the advertisers who provide the industry's income, rather than being motivated by some pure desire to inform citizens for the sake of better democracy. Such a motivation shapes and selects the information we call news in surprising and weird ways, but the net effect is to continually misinform the population, often hurting democracy, rather than improving it.
But once you have a handle on how the news is actually constructed, you're much better equipped to see what's being avoided, what's being distorted, and why. That is, you're no longer much of a slave to "conventional wisdom," whatever that might mean.
And that's just one example. Chomsky uses this approach for all kinds of issues, digging deeply, assuming that what people in power assert is usually motivated by more than a simple desire to tell the truth. Reading Chomsky is indispensable intellectual training in our era of mass communication and public relations.
The above linked article is a very good start. Go check it out.
Posted by Ron at 1:41 AM
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Don't Just Smoke a Joint on 4/20
The movement to end marijuana prohibition is very broad, composed of people who love marijuana, people who hate marijuana, and people who don’t have strong feelings about marijuana use one way or the other. We all agree on one thing though – marijuana prohibition is doing more harm than good. It’s wasting taxpayer dollars and police resources, filling our jails and prisons with hundreds of thousands of nonviolent people, and increasing crime and violence in the same way alcohol Prohibition did. Police made more than 750,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2008 alone. Those arrested were separated from their loved ones, branded criminals, denied jobs, and in many cases prohibited from accessing student loans, public housing and other public assistance.
Since its inception in the late 1930s, marijuana prohibition has been fucking stupid. There are no good arguments for it. The arguments that sound good are dishonest. That is, relative to alcohol, tobacco, Ambien, Ritalin, Xanax, Prozac, Viagra, and even McDonald's french fries, marijuana is rather benign. Marijuana does not cause crime. Marijuana is not a "gateway drug." Nonetheless, for reasons about which I can only speculate, we spend billions keeping the devil weed a contraband substance. That, alone, is a damned fine reason to end this chronic folly. But there's much more. Pot prohibition illegitimately makes criminals of millions. We lose millions of dollars in tax revenue because the entire ganja market is underground. We violate the spirit, if not the letter, of our Constitutional right to privacy when the government, without cause, prohibits a relatively harmless activity.
I mean, there are some pretty stupid arguments in favor of legalization, too, like the dubious hemp based green economy thing, or how taxing pot would pay the national debt. But the stupid arguments don't invalidate the good arguments: marijuana prohibition is stupid bullshit that costs our nation dearly. Fortunately, as the above linked article asserts, attitudes appear to be changing. Indeed, come November, California may very well be the first state in seventy years to make marijuana use and possession legal. What will happen then?
Anyway, I'm very seriously considering writing my legislators on this issue. The time finally seems right. Maybe our society's pompous and fat politicians are now capable of considering the issue on its merits, rather than through a drug war induced haze of incompetence.
Here's Reefer Madness:
Posted by Ron at 2:25 AM
Monday, April 19, 2010
Exxon's Income Tax: $0
From Mother Jones:
The most hilarious part is ExxonMobil still finds a way to bitch about its lot in life. The corporation's website includes an issues page on "industry taxes," which threatens that energy innovation is already on the ropes because of excessive taxes, and it will be forever consigned to the dustbin by any new taxes on windfall profits (or, we'd assume, plans like President Obama's to close the offshore earnings loopholes that saved ExxonMobil from the IRS this year). "While our worldwide profits have grown, our worldwide income taxes have grown even more. From 2004 to 2008 our earnings grew by 79 percent, but our income taxes grew by 130 percent," ExxonMobil's flacks wrote, presumably while playing the world's smallest—and most expensive—violin.
Not that this should shock anybody. In 2008, the New York Times discovered that one in four of the US's largest corporations regularly pay no income tax to the IRS, and billions are lost.
With all the corporate news media's hoo-hawing this past week about a recent study showing that forty seven percent of Americans had no income tax liability for last year, without mentioning that these lower income bracket citizens fork over a sizable percentage of their earnings in payroll taxes and sales taxes, it seems like a little context is in order. That is, when I and people who make what I make as a waiter in a corporate chain restaurant, or less, are not paying any income taxes, the feds lose out on, at most, some chump change, even when multiplied by forty seven percent of the population. But when a quarter of America's massive corporations welsh on their tax obligations, the feds are out hundreds of billions.
Which is the bigger problem, losing some spare change to allow people living paycheck to paycheck to relax a bit, or losing serious money because the massive aggregations of wealth known as corporations employ armies of accountants and lobbyists to ensure that they pay nothing? Your answer probably has a lot to do with how wedded you are to reality.
Look, corporations and the super-rich are always going to whine about taxes. To be fair, there is definitely a threshold beyond which higher taxes for the rich will begin to affect the economy in bad ways, but trust me, the extravagantly wealthy Exxon, and other corporations of its ilk, are nowhere near that threshold. That is, we can, if we wanted, tax the fuck out of them, all of them, and they would still be profitable. Right now, however, we're not taxing them at all, but they still whine about how taxes are going to fuck them up. That's what they do: make money at all costs, whether it is legal or illegal, whether people live or die, whether it is right or wrong. Of course they're going to whine about taxes when it is unreasonable to do so.
Personally, I think it's great that nearly half the country got out of paying income taxes this time around. It's for people who actually need the money, as opposed to people who are strangely and sickly obsessed with acquiring more wealth than they can ever possibly spend. And it may very well be good for the economy in terms of old fashioned Keynesian economic stimulus. I've already bought a new computer with my return money, which helps software and hardware manufacturers, suppliers, the store where I bought it, and on and on. Exxon most likely dumps it into offshore accounts, or raises executive bonus checks, helping god-knows-who, but not most Americans.
Bottom line: corporations fucking owe us. Time to pay their fair share.
Posted by Ron at 1:28 AM
Sunday, April 18, 2010
School district in Temple revives paddling
From the Houston Chronicle:
One school district in central Texas has brought back the paddle as a way to restore respect and discipline in the classroom.
Although most American school districts have banned corporal punishment, Texas doesn't seem to believe in sparing the rod. Of the estimated 225,000 students spanked in schools in 2006, the latest available figures, nearly one-fourth were from Texas.
But Temple is unusual in that after banning the practice, the school district revived it last May at the request of parents who were nostalgic for the orderly schools of yesteryear. Without it, there weren't any consequences for students, according to Steve Wright, Temple's school board president.
So most of my radical critique of American education concerns the dramatic effectiveness of the unrecognized curriculum. The recognized curriculum deals with reading, writing, math, history, and various other traditional school subjects. The unrecognized curriculum deals with everything else. Taking roll, being seated in your desk when the bell rings, speaking only after you've been called on, wearing the proper clothing, busy work, all the many punishments endured when deviating from desired norms, and a whole lot more, all these things comprise the authority and obedience curriculum that nearly all American schools, public and private alike, rigorously pursue.
Students may, or may not, master the recognized curriculum. Indeed, many students graduate from high school as functional illiterates. But almost all students master the unrecognized curriculum. That is, you may not, after completing school, understand the difference between, say, democracy and capitalism, but you will most certainly understand that there are rewards for doing what you're told, and punishments for disobedience.
Teachers complain that students these days are disrespectful, or unruly, or out of control, whatever. Never mind the fact that teachers have always said this. After spending six years in front of a high school classroom, myself, my own take is that teachers aren't willing to use the disciplinary apparatus available to them. That is, they're not working hard enough to maintain order, and blame the kids for teachers' unwillingness to be the fascists that the job requires them to be.
In other words, beating children isn't really necessary.
But consider how corporal punishment figures in the unrecognized curriculum. What does it teach? Corporal punishment teaches children that it's perfectly acceptable for the strong to brutalize the weak. That violence isn't simply acceptable: violence is desirable. That it is better to be an oppressor than a victim. Indeed, that the world is divided into two groups, those who oppress, and those who are oppressed. That hitting is better than discussion. And on and on. I'm sure you get the point.
In the end, all that corporal punishment does is create a population that is very comfortable with the notion of torture. And that an individual ought to be tortured if he doesn't do as he's told. Given the deplorable state of our prisons, and the collective yawn offered by the US public in the face of widespread military torture scandals, it seems we already have such a population. A revival of corporal punishment stands to make things much worse.
Posted by Ron at 2:39 AM
Friday, April 16, 2010
Metairie tea party supporters call for less government, more freedom
From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
About 500 flag-waving activists gathered on the Veterans Boulevard neutral ground in Metairie Thursday to protest big government and voice support for less government, lower taxes and more freedom.
Sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Tea Party, the "We the People" gathering was held in conjunction with Thursday's federal tax deadline.
Gisela Chevalier recalled her childhood in Cuba, saying that the socialism she lived under for so many years is making its way to America under the leadership of President Obama and the Democratic Congress.
Many waved American flags and carried signs that said "Save Our Constitution," "Repeal Obamacare" and "Just Say No to Big Spending." Some lined up to sign a recall petition against Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana.
I live in Metairie, and today's protest took place about a block from the restaurant where I work. It strikes me as no accident that the "Greater New Orleans Tea Party" chose to stage its demonstration here, just over the parish line, rather than in New Orleans proper: Metairie, a classic white flight community, which launched Klan leader David Duke to state prominence by sending him to the legislature back in 1989, is by far the most conservative community in which I have lived. And I'm from Texas. Metairie is just perfect for both misguided and psychopathic right-wingers alike.
When a lot of the demonstrators came in for some spaghetti and chicken parmesan after their political action had ended, a liberal friend of mine with whom I work was like, "Ron, are you going to talk to the Tea Baggers?"
I told her that I wouldn't even know what to say. For starters, I'm not even sure what these people believe. All I know is what I've heard second hand, on FOX News, and those shock stories on liberal web sites. But beyond that, I'm pretty sure that the conversation would get pretty absurd within seconds. I mean, they think Obama is a socialist. What am I supposed to do, lecture them on Karl Marx? They want to recall Mary Landrieu from the Senate for being too liberal, even though she's a staunch anti-abortion Democrat, absolutely pro-war, and is totally on the take with Big Pharma; that is, she's pretty fucking conservative. These people don't understand what liberalism or conservatism actually mean. Or so it seems. So I avoided any discussion about politics with them.
Besides, who the fuck wants their waiter talking politics with them?
At any rate, strictly for my own personal financial reasons, I was happy to see them. It's been slow lately, and I was looking at not making much money tonight. Instead, the Tea Baggers came in and gave me some business. And for that, I'm thankful. Not bad tippers, either.
Posted by Ron at 12:06 AM
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
NO POST TONIGHT AND STAR TREK NOTE
I'm busy tonight, so no post with any real substance. Star Trek, of course, will resume next Wednesday, but I'm going to be stepping back a few episodes to post one that I've apparently missed, "Friday's Child," which I should have placed between "Metamorphosis" and "Who Mourns for Adonais." I've been following the original production order, which is, I believe, the order in which they all aired for syndication, and is consequently the episode order with which I grew up. But for the last decade or so, it seems that everybody, on the internet, and in terms of DVD season releases, has been all about the original broadcast order, which wildly deviates from the production order. So I'm usually looking at two numbers when figuring out which one comes next, and I guess I got confused.
Sorry 'bout that, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm the only one who really gives a shit about such arcane trivia.
Anyway, back with more incoherent political babble tomorrow night.
Posted by Ron at 10:19 PM
Get Ready for a More Conservative Supreme Court
From the Washington Post courtesy of TruthDig:
Nonetheless, it’s entirely possible that a more conservative court could be Obama’s paradoxical legacy—particularly if he serves only a single term. The likelihood of the court shifting to the right is greater than that of its moving leftward.
In part, this could have been predicted even before Obama took office. It reflects less about him than it does the identity of the departing justices, one liberal followed by another. The next oldest justice is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 77. Conservatives are reaping the benefits of Bush father and son having selected justices who were relatively young. Justice Clarence Thomas was 43 when tapped, Chief Justice John Roberts was 50, and Justice Samuel Alito was 55.
This is a classic example of how establishment wisdom functions: bend over backward to avoid referencing the elephant in the middle of the living room. That is, this Washington Post op-ed totally makes the right conclusion, that Obama is certain to pick a nominee who is more conservative than Stevens, but for reasons that are virtually insignificant when compared to the real reason.
It is impossible for Obama to nominate, and for the Senate to approve, a liberal for the Supreme Court. For starters, the President, in spite of the endless assertions of right-wing nut cases, is simply not a liberal, and is in no way inclined to pick one for this Presidential legacy position. Even if he was a liberal, the Democrats who control the Senate are not. They don't want a liberal, either. And even if Senate Democrats leaned left, Senate Republicans, who are already threatening to filibuster the nomination, even though they have no idea who it will be, would never let it happen. They'd blow up Washington first.
This is the real reason the Court will move to the right with whoever takes Stevens' place: liberals are essentially powerless in our nation's capitol. I mean sure, the issues brought up in the WaPo essay, relative age and ideology of sitting Justices, historical trends, Obama's damnable urge to find "the middle" of any and all controversies, all that shit, will no doubt play some sort of role in the final decision. But by far the biggest factor is that nobody in Washington wants a liberal to sit on the Supreme Court. Why can't the power establishment just admit it?
You know, this is particularly disturbing because Stevens isn't even a liberal. He's a moderate, nominated by Gerald Ford, a Republican President. It's simply that thirty years of right-wing ideological terrorism has redefined what we think of as liberal and conservative. That is, these days "liberal" means right-moderate, and "conservative" means far-right reactionary extremist. I mean, shit, if we hadn't been suffering this awful realignment of the political spectrum for so long, I'd be considered a moderate, myself, maybe even having fun taking pot shots at real liberals, communists, anarchists, socialists, that sort of thing.
Everything is so fucked up. This isn't the world I thought I'd be inheriting.
Posted by Ron at 2:04 AM
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Texas Prisons Top Rape List: DOJ Drafts Reform
The number of rapes being committed annually in the U.S. prison system is just deplorable. And what’s even more shocking is that the majority of these crimes are reportedly being perpetrated by corrections officers. Who are the vast majority of victims? Women, gay men, juvenile offenders, the mentally disabled and the physically weak.
What’s even more gruesome is that five of the worst offending prisons are in Texas, which to me, suggests there is an atmosphere of abuse happening in the Lone Star State. At present, there is no automatic auditing of certain prisons where these rapes seem to be happening at a greater frequency. There currently is no uniformed process in which prison administrators are assessing the risk to certain inmates. In most of these prisons, there is not even a written mandate for prison officials to report any suspicions of sexual assault.
Consequently, we have prisons like the Estelle Unit in Huntsville, Texas—which topped the Bureau of Justice’s report— where 15.8 percent of its inmates report being raped annually. That means 470 people are raped in that prison each year, and the majority of those victims say they were raped multiple times.
This is exactly why I had so much trouble the last time I was on a jury panel back in Houston.
Well, it was more than that, actually: in addition to widespread rape, US prisons are also places where gang violence and racism among inmates are strongly encouraged by prison staff; health care is problematic, to say the least--prisoners with AIDS and cancer have very low prospects for survival. That is, if you're on a jury, and you convict somebody, there is a very good chance that you will be sentencing them to be raped, or to have the shit beaten out of them, or to death, even though the court simply calls it "ten to twenty years."
I, for one, refuse to take part in such vicious euphemizing. The next time I'm up for a jury, I will declare to the judge that my knowledge of the deplorable state of our prisons will definitely be a factor for me in determining the defendant's guilt or innocence. I will not be responsible for anyone being brutalized or murdered. I mean, I'll be dismissed from the panel, for sure, which is a drag because we need more people of conscience to serve in this capacity, but I have to be honest, too.
At any rate, the essay excerpted above goes on to report that Attorney General Eric Holder is taking a few baby steps toward some prison accountability. It's not much, but it is the first time I've ever heard of any government official doing anything about this national embarrassment.
Maybe in twenty or thirty years I'll be able to serve on a jury where the only drama is the crime itself.
Posted by Ron at 1:53 AM
Monday, April 12, 2010
Republicans convene in New Orleans, with no mention of Katrina
From Politico courtesy of TAPPED:
Five years after President Bush's failed response to a natural disaster in New Orleans deeply damaged his party's credibility and helped sweep them from power, top Republicans speaking to supporters in New Orleans tonight made no mention of Hurricane Katrina.
The series of speakers to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference at a Hilton conference center on the Mississippi River paid passing tribute to New Orleans' food, its culture, and its championship football team, but made no reference to the disaster still shadowing what Mary Matalin called a "vibrant city."
Actually, I think it would have been surprising if the Republicans did mention Hurricane Katrina. After all, the anemic federal response to what was essentially a man made disaster, in that the levees failed due to Army Corps of Engineers design flaws and lax maintenance, was the coup de grâce for Republican dominance of the US political system. Out of sight, out of mind. On the other hand, it is bizarre, indeed, that Republicans would put themselves in a position such that they have to ignore the elephant in the middle of the room.
Why on Earth would they return to the scene of the crime and pretend as though it never happened?
Obviously, the GOP continues to be utterly clueless. I mean, so are the Democrats, but much less so. Just more evidence that, even though they are still quite capable of causing all kinds of trouble, the Republicans are effectively on the outside. The real game is now internal to the Democratic Party. Yeah, that's not necessarily good news, but at least a liberal such as myself can rejoice in the fact that Republicans are essentially irrelevant on the national scene, and doing all they can to keep it that way.
Yeah, I'll take these victories where I can imagine them...
Posted by Ron at 1:10 AM
Sunday, April 11, 2010
DA's Sex Ed Warning Befuddles Wis. Teachers, Kids
From the AP via the New York Times courtesy of Eschaton:
Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth last month sent a letter to area school districts warning that health teachers who tell students how to put on a condom or take birth-control pills could face criminal charges. The warning has left many teachers, school administrators and parents flabbergasted.
''Seems like a step back in time,'' Taake said of Southworth's logic.
Southworth, a Republican and a Christian evangelical, took issue with a law Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle signed in February requiring schools that teach sexual education to adopt a comprehensive approach.
Southworth warned that teaching a student how to properly use contraceptives would be contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor punishable by up to nine months behind bars and a $10,000 fine. He said it would be promoting sex among minors, who are not legally allowed to have sex in Wisconsin.
Janine Geske, a Marquette University law professor and former state Supreme Court justice, said she didn't understand Southworth's legal logic. She said that if he tried to prosecute a teacher for adhering to guidelines approved by the Legislature and governor, the case would likely be dismissed.
Yeah, I heard about this a few days ago and have been avoiding posting about it because it just seems so incredibly stupid. But stupid is one of the main problems facing our great nation today, so I figure I might as well make a few totally obvious points, you know, just to combat rampant American stupidity:
1. Clinical discussions about sex led by bored, tired, middle aged, asexual high school teachers cannot in any way be construed as "promoting sex among minors." If you're really curious about what actually can be construed as "promoting sex among minors," turn on your television.
2. Teenagers really will have sex whether or not adults talk about condoms, not only because we live in a sexually obsessed mass media drenched environment, but also because teenage bodies are so soaked in sexual hormones that it is often difficult for them to think about anything but sex--ah, those were the days! Given this reality, it is insanity to teach abstinence instead of birth control.
3. It is also insanity, given this reality, to criminalize sex among minors. What the fuck is up with Wisconsin?
4. It is also insanity, as observed in the excerpt above, to believe that following state law constitutes breaking state law.
5. Evangelicals, fundamentalists, "Bible believing" Christians, whatever you want to call them, are stupider than dog shit festering on the sidewalk on a hot day in July. Yeah, it's funny, but I'm not kidding. I'm really sick of this shit. I'm really sick of hearing fundamentalists talk total bullshit and having everybody take them seriously. It's like when you're "born again" they take an icepick to your nose. What happened to all the cool stuff about love and forgiveness and compassion for the poor? Nowadays it's all about teen sex and gay sex and "the End Times." How can anybody be attracted to such views?
Posted by Ron at 1:51 AM