AND HERE I THOUGHT IT WAS ALL ABOUT EGGS!
From the Washington Post courtesy of the Huffington Post news wire:
USDA announces recall of ground beef suspect of E. coli contamination
About 8,500 pounds of ground beef that might be contaminated with a type of E. coli bacteria are being recalled by a company in Pennsylvania, the Department of Agriculture announced Saturday.
The department said its Food Safety and Inspection Service found a link between the recalled ground beef and three instances of illness in New York and Maine.
The service said Cargill Meat Solutions of Wyalusing, Pa., shipped the beef in question in cases of 14-pound packages, called chubs, to distribution centers in Connecticut and Maryland for further distribution in smaller packages for consumers. They were sold under different retail brand names, the department said.
And from AboutLawsuits.com, also courtesy of the Huffington Post news wire:
Ground Beef Recall: 1M Pounds Pulled After E. Coli Outbreak in California
At least seven people in California have fallen ill due to E. coli food poisoning after eating ground beef, leading to the recall of one million pounds of ground beef sold in California, Texas, Oregon and Arizona.
The ground beef recall was announced on August 6 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) after it was notified by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) of a cluster of E. coli food poisoning victims who all had the exact same strain of E. coli O157:H7. So far, seven people have been confirmed as sick due to the ground beef E. coli food poisoning outbreak; six of them fell ill between April 8 and June 18, 2010, and there was one other case involving the same strain in February.
This is the 12th meat recall this year, and more than doubles the amount of meat that’s been pulled from stores in 2010, to a total of 1,786,859 pounds. There have been about 1,650 cases of E. coli illness to date, which puts 2010 on track to have significantly fewer E. coli sickness cases than 2009, which had 4,253 in total.
Right. This happens all the time, and is apparently getting worse. Our "liberal" president, who is quite clearly a good friend to the corporations who own and operate the country, has introduced some mild reform in the area of food safety regulation, but obviously not enough to put the fear of god into gigantic agri-business. All this shit, as I've written before repeatedly whenever one of these food scares happens, is the result of three decades worth of Washington deregulation fever.
I'm beginning to think that "good for business" means caveat emptor in Latin. That is, deregulation, in plain English, means "fuck you."
You know, this shouldn't be too hard to control, either, from a strictly pragmatic point of view. Eric Schlosser's groundbreaking and astonishing book Fast Food Nation details how Jack in the Box stopped the chronic E. coli scares of the late 80s and early 90s in their tracks: all they had to do was threaten to end massive contracts with beef vendors. Faced with crippling losses, meat producers, at least the ones doing business with Jack, changed their practices and started shipping untainted meat to their bigtime client.
All the feds have to do is hit the beef industry with something on the scale of losing huge contracts, you know, extraordinarily huge fines that existentially threaten these businesses. But as long as corporate friend Obama timidly sits in the Oval Office, continually looking for ways to please our corporate overlords, that ain't gonna happen.
As for me, I'm going to avoid hamburgers, and eggs, for the foreseeable future. You know, the reason there's E. coli in the meat is because of stomach spillage during processing, which happens so frequently these days because the meat industry long ago fired its trained and experienced butchers, replaced them with minimum wage unskilled workers, and sped up the packing process in order to make more money. That is, there's shit in the meat because the meat industry thinks it's just fine to increase its profit margin by putting people's lives in danger.
And cooking your burger to medium only kills the E. coli. The shit's still there. Yum, delicious shit-burger!
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
AND HERE I THOUGHT IT WAS ALL ABOUT EGGS!
Posted by Ron at 1:06 AM
Monday, August 30, 2010
"Fiscal Conservatives Really Cannot Be Taken Seriously"
From the New York Times blog Economix, courtesy of the Huffington Post news wire:
A vocal class of people — including some at the upper end of the income distribution – incessantly insist that entitlements must be cut while refusing to address the real causes of both our recent surge in government debt (the financial crisis, caused by perverse incentives in the financial system) and the genuine longer-term issues we face (which are about controlling the future increase in health care costs, not cutting the level of benefits today).
The self-described fiscal conservatives really cannot be taken seriously. In the financial reform debate, they either didn’t show up or preferred to keep the existing system in place, and they refuse to put serious health cost control measures on the table.
If the “conservatives” don’t really want to reduce the shocks that have caused government debt to explode recently — or to deal with the underlying, longstanding health care cost issues in a reasonable fashion — what exactly is going on?
The essay goes on to observe that such conservative behavior looks very much like the politically dishonest "starve the beast" strategy championed by Grover Norquist and countless others, and I have no doubt that a lot of these austerity people are on board with this scorched earth plan. I also have no doubt that a lot of support for massive benefit cuts coupled with massive tax cuts for the rich, while doing nothing else at all, comes from people who honestly believe that this is the high road to economic prosperity.
But how can they believe such nonsense in the face of real world issues like a totally fucked up financial system and health care costs that continually outpace inflation? I mean, conservatives don't appear to think that these issues are problems--they don't even talk about them.
Since the financial crisis hit a few years ago I've written a lot about Keynesian economics and its real world success in reviving consumer demand with massive stimuli, but the fiscal conservatives act as though they've never read any history--they mockingly dismiss such ideas as "socialism" without really engaging in any debate about them. More recently, taking cues from economist Paul Krugman, I've written about the stupidity of the deficit panic and inflation fears, even though Treasury securities continue to be highly valued, and inflation isn't even on the radar screen. That is, these issues aren't that complicated. I've got a pretty good layman's handle on them with nothing beyond a macro-economics 101 course on my transcript. I mean, you can disagree if you want, but conservatives aren't even doing that. They're just ignoring anything and anyone outside their intellectually constructed reality.
This makes sense if you're Grover Norquist, but is utterly senseless if you're an otherwise rational human being who is truly concerned with creating a good economy. Nearly a month ago I asserted that rank-and-file conservatives act this way more for reasons of identity than for reasons of intellectual inquisitiveness--despite all the evidence, they believe the way they do because it makes them feel good. That's one way to put it. Here's an impolite, but probably more accurate, way to put it: conservatives are fucking stupid.
I mean, lots of liberals are stupid, too, but this particular kind of stupidity, continuing to believe in magic economy fairies well after they have been proven to be the stuff of mythology, belongs exclusively these days to the right wing. It's time to end the presumption that conservatives, being greedy bastards by nature, instinctively understand economics better than liberals. Because, you know, you just can't take them seriously anymore.
Posted by Ron at 12:35 AM
Saturday, August 28, 2010
HUMBLE ISD: STILL SUCKING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
From the Houston Chronicle:
Authors' walkout closes the book on Lit Fest
When bestselling author Ellen Hopkins was yanked from the list of writers to appear at a teen book festival in Humble, cries of censorship burst from the blogosphere.
And when other authors backed out of the event to support Hopkins, the Humble Independent School district canceled Teen Lit Fest altogether.
Now, no one is happy.
"My books are in libraries and bookstores in Humble," said Hopkins, who writes graphic, young adult novels about meth addiction, teen prostitution and suicide. "They're not pulling the plug on my books, but on me. It's censorship when you don't let somebody give voice to their ideas."
The same librarian who invited Hopkins to the event sent her an e-mail a few weeks ago indicating that the district had a change of heart, Hopkins said.
"A middle school librarian had issue with the content in the books," the author said. "She got some parents involved, and they went to the school board and superintendent. He chose to remove me from the festival."
Full disclosure: I am a product of the Humble Independent School District, having spent grades k-12 there. And it looks like things haven't changed too much since back in the day. Indeed, I recall an incident involving my elementary school library during the late 70s, when I was in fourth or fifth grade. One of the daughters of a couple that were friends with my parents brought home one day a book about an interracial family. You know, positive vibe 70s stuff, "my mommy is black, but my daddy is white," that kind of thing. The father saw the book, flipped through it, and went ballistic. The next day, he marched up to the school, freaked out on the principal, and insisted that she remove such "trash" from the school library. It was gone that day. Meanwhile, the television show Roots had either recently finished its run, or was soon to air. Such an irony was no doubt lost to the principle players in this racist book drama.
It would be easy to assert that the banning of this book about an interracial family three decades ago was just another instance of post civil rights era racism. Indeed, it was an instance of racism. But to me today, years later, as an adult, I marvel at how quickly my school's principal moved to ban the book. The woman may have been a secret member of the Klan or something, but I doubt it. Educators are usually liberal, after all, and while my school was mostly white by virtue of geography, it was integrated to some extent--we did have a few black students. My bet is that Foster Elementary's principal rushed to suppress this book in order to put out a potential public relations fire. Like I said, my neighborhood was almost all white, and even though Jim Crow had been defunct for over a decade at this point, interracial marriage might still be something that could make whitey angry.
I've asserted many times that education's true function in the United States is to indoctrinate children into a culture of obedience and authority, which is true, but that's not the only unwritten governing rule which the schools must obey. Another important maxim for education is that institutional concerns always trump educational concerns. Really, you see this rule being executed all the time, like when studies about adolescent sleep patterns are ignored by school boards in favor of status quo busing schedules, or how so much importance is assigned to educationally dubious standardized tests. The efficient functioning and preservation of the institution is always more important than student learning.
Of course, avoidance of both bad press and parental anger are part of that institutional preservation mandate, and that's what this latest Humble ISD misstep is about. Humorously, in their attempt to quell a possible uprising of Puritanical parents, the district has failed wildly in this mission on both counts: parents are angry, and news reports are making HISD look like the dysfunctional organization it has always been. If the district had taken the high road, that is, valued learning over institutional inconvenience, they would have stuck with this now-banned author, inviting some parental flack, yes, but also creating some good PR in terms of weathering an attack by pro-censorship forces--I mean, that's what true educators are supposed to do, champion the concepts of knowledge and free inquiry. Instead, they took the low road, and everybody's pissed off.
Serves them right, trying to play it safe. Education, real education, is necessarily dangerous business. Thought is, after all, subversive.
Posted by Ron at 11:14 PM
Friday, August 27, 2010
Spectre of the Gun
"Spectre of the Gun" (originally 'The Last Gunfight') is an episode from the third season of Star Trek: The Original Series that was first broadcast on October 25, 1968. It was repeated on April 4, 1969. This show was the last episode to air on NBC at 10 P.M. on Fridays. It is episode #61, production #56, and was written by former producer Gene Coon (under the pen name of Lee Cronin) and directed by Vincent McEveety.
Overview: For having trespassed on an alien world, Captain Kirk and his companions are forced to re-enact the shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Third season. NBC had tried to cancel the show after the second season, but a fan write-in campaign saved it--at this point, in 1968, such a thing was unprecedented in television history. Roddenberry pulls back a bit from day-to-day operations, becoming executive producer, and brings in Fred Freiberger as producer. So with a slashed budget and a slightly different look, Star Trek begins its final year of production.
First, go watch the episode.
Notes and pics:
* Good tense and tight teaser.
* Good fog scene on planet surface.
* Totally fab alien head.
* Very quotable Kirk line: "We come in peace, but we'll defend ourselves if necessary." I've heard this one misquoted as "We come in peace, but shoot to kill." Same difference. He is, after all, aiming his phaser as he says it. Anyway, the line nicely encapsulates the chronic tension between Star Fleet's ostensible mission of exploration and diplomacy and the fact that the Enterprise is also a war ship.
* Okay, it's a western. Nice. I mean, why not? We've had a Nazi episode, a couple of sword-and-sandal episodes, a gangster episode, a post-apocalypse episode...a western was only a matter of time. But this one's so weird. More like a spaghetti western, with bizarre characters, intense stoicism, and very strange moments--after all, spaghetti westerns were in their heyday at this point; the genre fits in very nicely with science fiction.
* Speaking of weird, the semi-constructed sets were a manifestation of the aforementioned massive budget cuts, but they work into the overall high strangeness of the episode quite well.
* This is a reworking of the famous O.K. Corral gunfight, of which I have virtually no knowledge. I've never seen any of the many movies about it. Indeed, all I know about the shootout comes from this episode. Given my lack of knowledge, I wonder if there's any commentary here that I'm missing. I really ought to watch one of these movies someday.
* There is a really cool and weird disconnect between our heroes and the residents of Tombstone, who just go on doing their thing, playing their part in the legendary story, no matter what Kirk and crew say or do. Like when this strange woman just runs up to Chekov and starts making out with him.
* More weird cinematic shit. Kirk and company enter the saloon and we start to hear appropriate piano playing, slightly off-key, jangling with the tin pan alley sound, totally inappropriate for Star Trek. It is, at first notice, totally diegetic, that is, coming from within the story itself. But then one of the villains, Morgan Earp, is introduced, and the piano makes a spooky trill. Then we see the piano, but nobody is playing it: what at first seemed to be diegetic sound turns out to be non-diegetic, that is, soundtrack music for dramatic purposes, heard by the audience but not the characters. They're fucking with narrative convention for television in this one, which is entirely welcome.
* What is it with all the Chekov makeout scenes?
* Scotty orders "a half a gallon of Scotch," but gets bourbon, instead.
* The bartender is fucking great.
* Are the Earps purposely imitating Clint Eastwood? Whatever, their weird cardboard caricature-as-acting fits the whole spaghetti western motif well.
* McCoy to Kirk, gleefully, on the bourbon Scotty received: "Try some. In small amounts it was considered medicinal." Nice touch reinforcing McCoy's Southern roots.
* Scotty also endorses the bourbon.
* The series of quick scenes when they're gathering the materials for the gas grenade is just plain weird.
* No, seriously, what is it with all the Chekov makeout sessions?
* A couple of fantastic tableau shots leading into the commercial break after Chekov's death.
* Nice reprise of the scene from the first season's "Galileo Seven" when everybody gangs up on Spock for not having enough compassion for a fallen comrade.
* The sheriff is a total nut case.
* Scotty takes a shot of bourbon "to kill the pain," even though Spock asserts that there will be no pain.
* Mr. Scott breathing in the tranquilizer gas is wonderfully weird.
* Thought provoking discussion on the nature of belief and reality--this is the kind of shit that makes science fiction worthwhile.
* Best Vulcan mind meld ever!
* The futile barrage of bullets is marvelous, and goes on forever.
* Kirk's fight with Wyatt Earp is quick, but very cool. It's also very cool that Kirk, as he did with the Gorn in "Arena," decides not to kill his opponent, despite the blood frenzy he's worked himself into--this is always a good move if you want to impress a powerful alien species.
* Fabulously disorienting cut to the bridge once it's all over.
* Five stars. Totally great. I really didn't remember this one being so marvelous, but it kind of blew me away when I watched it again last night. Maybe it's because I'm older and wiser, or maybe it's because I watched it with the full force of my Radio-Television-Film degree. I don't know. But this one is weird and sophisticated and holds my attention all the way through. And it proves a maxim about art in which I've long believed: a shitty budget forces creativity and imagination.
Posted by Ron at 1:56 AM
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman: I'm Gay
From the Atlantic, courtesy of AlterNet:
Privately, in off-the-record conversations with this reporter over the years, Mehlman voiced support for civil unions and told of how, in private discussions with senior Republican officials, he beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage. He insisted, too, that President Bush "was no homophobe." He often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called "the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now."
Mehlman's leadership positions in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities -- such as the distribution in West Virginia in 2006 of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party's platform ("Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country..."). Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush's chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.
Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.
Chad Griffin, the California-based political strategist who organized opposition to Proposition 8, said that Mehlman's quiet contributions to the American Foundation for Equal Rights are "tremendous," adding that "when we achieve equal equality, he will be one of the people to thank for it." Mehlman has become a de facto strategist for the group, and he has opened up his rolodex -- recruiting, as co-hosts for the AFER fundraiser: Paul Singer, a major Republican donor, hedge fund executive, and the president of the Manhattan Institute; Benjamin Ginsberg, one of the GOP's top lawyers; Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission; and two former GOP governors, William Weld of Massachusetts and Christie Todd Whitman of New Jersey.
Okay, classy guy.
Seriously. He, apparently, wasn't one of those family values assholes caught with his hand in the cookie jar, or tapping his toes in the men's room, or vacationing with a pay-for-stud. Indeed, if we can take Mehlman at his word, he delicately worked inside the GOP to soften its harsh anti-gay stance. I mean, I guess I could criticize him for not being more stridently pro-gay, but the guy's a Republican, for chrissakes, and feels that his party, for the most part, represents his political views. What are you supposed to do, change all your political beliefs simply because you fancy boys instead of girls?
I'm also impressed that he's putting his money where his mouth is, and I don't mean the way guys like Ted Haggard did: now that he's out of the closet, he's using his skills as a political organizer to further the cause of gay rights. Despite his association with some pretty harsh right-wing political policy, Mehlman is an honorable man, as both a closeted and now out gay American--I've gotta give credit where it's due.
But this latest conservative man-on-man revelation leaves me with a major unanswered question: are all Republicans secretly gay? I mean, of course not, but just how many GOPers crave the taste of such forbidden fruit on the down low? I'm starting to believe that the actual numbers might be astounding.
Guess we'll have to wait and see.
Posted by Ron at 1:24 AM
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
OUR LEADERS ARE ARROGANT ASSHOLES
From the Huffington Post news wire:
New York Rep. Charles Rangel has shot back at President Barack Obama's recent comment that he "end his career with dignity."
Speaking at a candidate's forum Monday night in New York City, Rangel said the president hasn't "been around long enough to determine what my dignity is."
The 80-year-old congressman said it was more likely he would protect Obama's dignity over the next two years.
If Rangel's guilty of ethics violations, I want him tossed out of Congress; if he's innocent, I want his name cleared. But that's beside the point here. Whether he's guilty or not, he's definitely an arrogant asshole. I mean, what a cheap shot. It would be one thing to refute the President's comment, you know, "my career's not ending anytime soon" or "I've got as much dignity as ever," that sort of thing. But why fire a shot across Obama's bow? Why go for the low blow with that bullshit age comment?
I'm a bit younger than the President, myself, but my forty two years is plenty of time to gauge asshole Rangel's dignity: it was always pretty low, what with how he runs his asshole mouth all the time, but it is currently non-existent, drained away with his Blagojevich styled narcissistic and pompous self-defense that threatens to make the House Democratic majority less popular than it already is.
That is, fuck you Rangel, you're a big huge arrogant asshole, the kind of Congressman that has made me vow to never vote for a Democrat again. You and Barbara Boxer. Most of the Democratic caucus, actually, in both houses. You people are so into yourselves, your power, your status, your ability to appear on television like the trashy celebrities you are, that you don't really have the time or inclination to actually run this country for its people.
You took Congress away from the GOP because the people wanted us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And what have you done in those last four years as far as ending the wars go? Nothing. Instead, you bloviate on TV, and hold out your greedy hands for millions in corporate donations, and look in the mirror, and comb your hair.
I'm all for robust debate, and even some name-calling from time to time. But only when it serves the people's interests! This is the kind of Democratic arrogance that gave the White House, and the future of the United States, to Ronald Reagan and his psychopathic ilk back in 1980. And you're making it happen again, but the stakes are far higher now. You're destroying the country for your vanity.
You are the peoples' servant. Not their better.
I've really come to hate the Democrats.
Posted by Ron at 3:05 AM
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
THE POOR GIVE MORE THAN THE RICH
That is, in terms of income percentage. No surprise, really.
From the New York Times courtesy of the Huffington Post news wire:
The Charitable Giving Divide
His study, written with Michael W. Kraus and published online last month by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.
“Upper class” people, on the other hand, clung to values that “prioritized their own need.” And, he told me this week, “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.” Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum.
This compassion deficit — the inability to empathetically relate to others’ needs — is perhaps not so surprising in a society that for decades has seen the experiential gap between the well-off and the poor (and even the middle class) significantly widen. The economist Frank Levy diagnosed such a split in his book “The New Dollars and Dreams: American Incomes and Economic Change,” published in the midst of the late-1990s tech boom. “The welfare state,” Levy wrote, “rests on enlightened self-interest in which people can look at beneficiaries and reasonably say, ‘There but for the grace of God. . . .’ As income differences widen, this statement rings less true.” A lack of identification with those in need may explain in part why a 2007 report from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that only a small percentage of charitable giving by the wealthy was actually going to the needs of the poor; instead it was mostly directed to other causes — cultural institutions, for example, or their alma maters — which often came with the not-inconsequential payoff of enhancing the donor’s status among his or her peers.
I have an alternate theory, or rather, one that's complimentary.
If you're going to live a life of great privilege, with full knowledge that the vast majority of humanity doesn't share that privilege, and with full knowledge that many of those people, perhaps a majority, suffer greatly, and your wealth could easily alleviate a great deal of such suffering, you're going to need a really good philosophical rationale, or just some good bullshit, that makes everything okay. In the United States, at least, that philosophical rationale can be easily summed up with a statement along the lines of "we deserve to be rich because we're better people; they deserve to be poor because they're not as good as we are."
Actually, this is some very old bullshit, going way back to the concept of divine right, and probably even earlier. But it's alive and well, dominant even, today. Simply put, the rich think they're better than we are. I mean okay, everyone's an individual, and I'm sure that a few among the wealthy really don't think they're better, but as a class, this is the prevailing attitude. As the political arm of the wealth class, the Republican Party has worked tirelessly for decades to get poor redneck idiots to buy into this "philosophy"; thus, we see large numbers of Americans continually voting with the elite in large numbers.
At any rate, when you think you're superior, it's really easy to not give a shit about the fortunes of others. And when the Wall Street Journal and casual cocktail conversation at the country club always reinforce your holier-than-thou attitude, charitable donations become nothing more than symbolic. When you look at it that way, it's surprising that the wealthy donate at all.
But really, the problem is the concept of charity itself. I mean, charity alleviates some misery, but it doesn't solve any problems. Conservatives love to spout the "teach a man to fish" adage, but if you throw in some ideas about restructuring the economy such that a fisherman is able to compete fairly with big business, it's actually a pretty liberal concept: empower individuals to take charge of their own economic situation.
In the end, all that charity does is make people who give feel good about themselves. And that's nice. But if we're really interested in ending poverty, we're going to have to fuck up the wealthy's gravy train. I seriously doubt that's possible in the current political climate.
Posted by Ron at 12:15 AM
Monday, August 23, 2010
11 1/2 YEARS IN THE ECONOMIC WILDERNESS
From the Houston Chronicle's Texas on the Potomac blog:
Here's some bad news from DC: the Hamilton Project has released a study that says it will probably take more than a decade for the nation to get back to full employment.
"If future job creation reaches about 208,000 jobs per month, the average monthly job creation for the best year for job creation in the 2000s, it will take almost 140 months (about 11.5 years) to reach pre-recession employment levels."
Of course, the economy could take off like a rocket as it did in the 80s and 90s, in which case it might take "only" five years.
The projection is right in line with warnings by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff about the aftermath of financial crises in their groundbreaking "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly."
At this point, I think it's safe to say that the economy, in all probability, will not "take off like a rocket." This shit's structural. That is, we've been having a neoliberal orgy for thirty years, which has resulted in all manner of weird imbalances, in terms of international trade, wealth disparity, and the very formulation of economic policy itself. The whole notion of letting the rich run everything, upon which most of neoliberalism is based, has turned out to be a very bad idea, not unlike the notion of letting the fox guard the hen house. Nonetheless, the American power elite continue to look at the economy in these terms, essentially dooming us to scratch and crawl our way out of chronic recession.
I'll meet you at the top, sometime in the 2020s, when I'm in my mid fifties.
This is, indeed, bad news. But what really pisses me off is that we knew what needed to be done to jump start the economy: abandon the Reaganomics bullshit and return to Keynisanism, pouring hundreds of billions into the economy, on the scale of spending during WWII. That's what pulled us out of the Great Depression, and it would have in all likelihood kept us out of this economic wilderness we're in now. But no. Neoliberalism continues to be very fashionable among our elected leaders who don't know much more about economics than the average high school freshman.
Maybe God will send us manna to eat while we wonder around the desert. If He exists.
Posted by Ron at 1:13 AM
Saturday, August 21, 2010
AMERICA'S DARK AND DISGUSTING UNDERSIDE
Fallout of Hate Is Spreading Across America from 9/11 Site
One thing is clear: the feverish discourse about Muslims’ role in American society is not about the proposal to build an Islamic community center a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center site. Park 51, as it’s being called, merely let an ugly genie out of the bottle. The dark stain of Islamophobia had spread far and wide long before the controversy erupted.
In May, a man walked into the Jacksonville Islamic Center in Northeast Florida during evening prayers and detonated a pipebomb. Fortunately, there were no injuries. (If the man had been Muslim and the House of worship a Christian church, the incident would have garnered wall-to-wall coverage, but while the story got plenty of local press it was ignored by CBS News, Fox, CNN and MSNBC.)
It was the most serious of a series of incidents in which mosques far from the supposedly hallowed earth of Ground Zero have been targeted. A mosque in Miami, Florida, was sprayed with gunfire last year. Mosques have been vandalized or set aflame in Brownstown, Michigan; Nashville, Tennessee; Arlington, Texas (where the mosque was first vandalized and then later targeted by arsonists); Taylor, South Carolina; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Eugene, Oregon; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Tempe, Arizona; and in both Northern and Southern California. A mosque in a suburb of Chicago has been vandalized four times in recent years.
My level of disgust on this has been slowly rising.
For starters, I was beginning to think that we had managed to get past the vile anti-Muslim sentiment that reared its ugly head in the weeks and months after 9/11. I guess I was wrong. This whole Ground Zero/mosque controversy, created by right-wing bloggers, and then dutifully amplified into the corporate media by "respectable" mainstream conservative pundits, is nothing but straight-up racism, xenophobia, and old fashioned religious intolerance, the likes of which this country was founded in order to eliminate. That is, if you oppose the construction of this Islamic cultural center a couple of blocks away from where the WTC once stood, you're not a very good American. But don't worry too much about it because you're in good company: no less than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and former Democratic Party Chairman "liberal" Howard Dean have joined the ranks of anti-first amendment asshole Americans in condemning Park 51.
All that's bad enough.
But this wave of Islamophobia from coast to coast is just too much. I've read a few essays here and there this past week speculating that Republican loss of power combined with the unbearable knowledge that a black man occupies the Oval Office is driving the right wing to previously unthinkable rhetoric and action, and I agree with such an analysis. But it is also becoming increasingly clear to me that there's just something sick about American culture, more generally speaking. I mean, I guess I've known this for years: Michael Moore, in his documentary Bowling for Columbine talks about America's culture of fear, a sort of residual effect born of centuries of hysteria over possible slave uprisings and Indian attacks--indeed, writer Susan Faludi, in her book The Terror Dream, directly connects post 9/11 fear mongering to eighteenth and nineteenth century anti-Indian narratives.
But you don't need Michael Moore and Susan Faludi to know this. Just look at your general knowledge of US history. Remember the Japanese internment camps during WWII. Rember the horrid McCarthyism of the late forties and early fifties. Remember the anti-German hysteria of WWI, well dramatized in the film based on John Steinbeck's East of Eden:
This isn't new. This is simply the latest manifestation of who we are as Americans. This country's culture has a dark and disgusting underside, one which we've never confronted, one which is bound to keep coming back again and again.
I'm afraid this is how we will behave long after I'm just a name on a tombstone.
Posted by Ron at 11:16 PM
Friday, August 20, 2010
"Assignment: Earth" is a second season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It was first broadcast on March 29, 1968, as the last original episode in the second season. It was repeated on August 9, 1968. It is episode #55, production #55, written by Art Wallace, based on a story by Wallace and Gene Roddenberry, and directed by Marc Daniels.
There is no stardate given in this episode.
Overview: Time traveling to 1968 Earth, the Enterprise encounters an interstellar agent who intervenes in 20th Century events.
This episode served double duty, not only as an episode of Star Trek, but as a pilot for a proposed spin-off television series, that would have been produced by Roddenberry, under the same name, Assignment: Earth. The show would have featured actor Robert Lansing as Gary Seven, a futuristic "James Bond", as the lead character. The episode stars Teri Garr as Roberta Lincoln, who would have been a co-star in the series, had it continued on its own.
It is very important to keep that last paragraph in mind when watching the episode because, well, that's how it comes off, as a failed television pilot.
Anyway, go watch.
Notes and pics:
* Gary Seven is almost immediately in control of the episode, offering a much more rational argument than Kirk.
* Cats on Star Trek are always very cool, and Seven's cat Isis is no exception, essentially serving as his assistant, even successfully taking down a red-shirt at one point.
* The ship-wide conference call is quite cool, and I wonder if Star Trek actually invented the concept, which is commonplace today.
* Nice shot of Manhattan. Is this a matte painting or is it real? Hard to tell.
* Groovy office Mr. Seven has!
* And yeah, Seven really is James Bond.
* No, really, some of this shit could have come directly from You Only Live Twice, which was released only a year earlier.
* I've had a crush on Miss Lincoln, played by the always excellent Teri Garr, since I was a kid. She's still extraordinarily cute to me, and I just fucking looove that groovy dress!
* As usual, when Spock is trying to blend in with humans, he covers his ears with some kind of hat. This is a cool one.
* This one's good, too.
* We've got some funny cops.
* We've got some cool stock footage of 1960s NASA stuff.
* But ho hum. Really, in the end, all that Assignment: Earth's got going for it is a bunch of individual interesting things, cops, the space program, the 60s. That is, it's boring, and you kind of don't really care about the story, so you start to amuse yourself with the sets and costumes. Indeed, at one point in the episode, there is a voice over of Kirk's log while he and Spock are held prisoner by NASA security and Seven works his scheme on his own: "I have never felt so helpless." Right. Kirk is helpless because this isn't really his show today. It's Gary Seven's show with Star Trek sort of pasted on. I mean, I actually kind of like this character played by Robert Lansing. He really is the James Bond type and all. But this just doesn't have the oomph of James Bond; it's weak stuff.
In other words Assignment: Earth comes off as a failed pilot because that's exactly what it is. It does pick up a bit during the climax, when Kirk and Spock are more involved, but too little, too late.
* What is it with the Star Trek cats that are also hot babes? I wish my cats could turn into former Playboy Playmates. No really, Isis' human alter ego is played by Victoria Vetri, who, using the name Angela Dorian, was Playboy's 1968 Playmate of the Year.
Actually, that's very James Bond.
* Really, Isis, even if she wasn't a hot babe, is a pretty cool cat, one of the more interesting aspects of the episode--guess that says a lot when one of the best things going for you is the cat.
Posted by Ron at 1:27 AM
Thursday, August 19, 2010
FAIR AND BALANCED
From the Huffington Post:
Dozens of media outlets ran stories on Tuesday about the fact that industry titan News Corp -- the parent company of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, among many other media properties -- had donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.
Notably, though, Fox News itself apparently chose not to run a single story on the contribution. "While many news organizations reported Tuesday on the $1 million gift, a late-afternoon search of Fox News' Web site produced no mention of it," the New York Times reported. Media Matters also noted, "Fox News has not mentioned the contribution, according to searches of the TVEyes and Nexis databases."
That FOX News is a not-so-thinly-veiled right-wing propaganda machine has been well established by now--check out, for instance, this fabulous documentary, Outfoxed, or read this Wikipedia page on FOX News controversies. Nonetheless, the heavily biased "news" network continues to assert publicly that it is "fair and balanced," the most objective of all news sources. Of course, that claim is pretty much a joke these days, and their silence on this political donation business, when pretty much everybody else in news land was all over it, makes the joke a little bit funnier.
I mean, News Corp is a business, after all, and businesses, especially big businesses, make political donations. I'm quite certain, for example, that NBC's former parent corporation, GE, which is a major defense contractor, has made donations to the Republican Party, so why on earth would FOX be so shy about reporting its contribution? Maybe they're worried about tarnishing that wonderful "fair and balanced" reputation they've worked so hard to attain over the years.
Really, they've got nothing to worry about. Their loyal viewers don't care if FOX gives money to the Republicans, and everybody else thinks the "fair and balanced" thing is bullshit. Sometimes I just don't understand conservatives.
Posted by Ron at 2:18 AM
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
DR. LAURA IS A SLEAZY RACIST BITCH (PART II)
Part I can be found here.
From Media Matters for America courtesy of Eschaton:
Schlessinger ending her radio show
KING: So, what are you here to tell us tonight?
SCHLESSINGER: Well, I'm here to say that my contract is up for my radio show at the end of the year and I have made the decision not to do radio anymore. The reason is: I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what's on my mind, and in my heart, what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent, and attack affiliates and attack sponsors.
I'm sort of done with that. I'm not retiring. I'm not quitting. I feel energized actually, stronger and freer to say the things that I believe need to be said for people in this country.
KING: Why is your freedom of speech denied on radio?
KING: Because people can criticize what you say.
SCHLESSINGER: You know, when I started in radio, if you said something somebody didn't agree with and they didn't like, they argued with you. Now, they try to silence you. They try to wipe out your ability to earn a living and to have your job. They go after affiliates. They send threats to sponsors.
KING: That's their right, too.
SCHLESSINGER: Yes, but I don't hatch the right to say what I need to say. My First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don't want to debate. They want to eliminate.
More here, with video.
I get the feeling that this is less of a momentous decision on Schlessinger's part and more of a "we're not renewing your contract because you used the n-word ten times live on the air" sort of thing. But whatever. This is how the good doctor is presenting her departure from radio, and whoever syndicates her show doesn't seem to be contradicting her, so I won't quibble over her assertion that she's walking away from a lucrative contract allowing her a great deal of self-aggrandizement simply because people are criticizing her.
Ride off into the sunset, cowboy. That's what good guy racists do. I guess.
Of course, what's worth mentioning about her earthshaking pronouncement is that she thinks her first amendment free speech rights have been violated. If the freedom of speech includes a syndicated radio show, then sign me up for her crusade: I'm getting fucked over, too. Where the hell's my government guaranteed syndicated radio show? Fucking liberals, always fucking up my lawn.
I did some thinking about this during the Don Imus "nappy-headed ho's" scandal a few years back. A buddy of mine, who I daresay is just as liberal as me, was outraged that the asshole shock jock lost his job, even while condemning the statements that resulted in the dismissal. For my pal, it was a free speech issue; you know, I hate what you say, but I defend your right to say it. Of course, I hate Imus, and was glad to see him go, and was later angry at his reinstatement. Personally, I had no problem at all with his sacking: as an unemployed radio personality, Imus' free speech rights continued to be exactly the same as mine. He had the freedom to say anything he likes, just as I do. What he lost was not free speech, but the corporate sized megaphone handed to him by a big business for the purpose of making shitloads of money. The Constitution doesn't guarantee this kind of commercial speech, speech-as-consumer-product; the Constitution does not compel business entities, or any other kind of organization, to provide resources to private individuals in order to amplify their voices. Thus, Imus' rights were in no way violated. During his period of unemployment, his freedom of speech continued to be exactly what it has always been, free.
Same thing with Imus' fellow racist radio bitch, Dr. Laura. Her show is a commercial venture, and if its content becomes so offensive that her bankrollers fear for the bottom line, then she gets the ax. Simple as that. No first amendment violation at all.
Of course, I have to admit that when MSNBC sacked Phil Donahue for his anti-war views back in 2003, the same principles were in play. It was stupid on the part of parent company NBC, given that his was the cable network's highest rated program at the time, and it bummed me to no end because I love Donahue, but it was most definitely not a violation of his first amendment rights. Television and radio are businesses. They exist to make money, not to provide soapboxes for concerned citizens. I mean, maybe they should, but that's not currently the case.
In short, in addition to being a lying racist bitch, Dr. Laura is a whiny cunt who is apparently unable to live by the right-wing libertarian pro-business ideas she champions so callously. My favorite kind of justice is the poetic kind.
Posted by Ron at 1:40 AM
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The Big Things That Matter
From CounterPunch, former Reagan economic advisor Paul Craig Roberts meditates on the failure of deregulation:
Consider air travel. Admit it, if you are my age you hate it. The deterioration in service over my lifetime is phenomenal. Studies in favor of airline deregulation focused on short flights between A and B and concluded that small airlines serving high density areas were more efficient because they were not regulated. What was left out of the analysis is that regulated airlines served low density areas and permitted free stopovers. For example, if one was flying from the US to Athens, Greece, the traveler could stopover in London, Paris, and Rome without additional charges. Moreover, passengers were fed hot meals even in tourist class. In those halcyon days, it was even possible to travel more comfortably in tourist class than in first class, because flights were not scheduled in keeping with full capacity. Several rows of seats might be unoccupied. It was possible to push up the arm rests on three or four center aisle seats, lay down and go to sleep.
Perhaps the best benefit of regulated air travel for passengers was that airlines had spare airliners. If one airplane had mechanical problems that could not be fixed within a reasonable time, a standby airliner was rolled out to enable passengers to meet their connections and designations. With deregulation, customer service is not important. The bottom line has eliminated spare airliners.
With deregulated airlines, Wall Street calls the tune. If your flight has a mechanical problem, you are stuck where you are unless you have some sort of privileged status that can bump passengers from later fully booked flights. “Studies” that focus only on discounted ticket price omit major costs of deregulation and thereby wrongly conclude that deregulation has benefited the consumer.
Conservatives and especially libertarians romanticize “free market unregulated capitalism.” They regard it as the best of all economic orders. However, with deregulated capitalism, every decision is a bottom-line decision that screws everyone except the shareholders and management.
In America today there is no longer a connection between profits and the welfare of the people. Unregulated greed has destroyed the capitalist system, which now distributes excessive rewards to the few at the expense of the many.
Good essay, go read it. I don't really have much to add to its specifics--after all, I've pounded away at the folly of unfettered deregulation for years now. But reading Roberts' examples of the seemingly unrecognized adverse effects of deregulation again reminds me of the limitations of the entire field of economics, both in serious academia, and in public discourse.
That is, human existence is extraordinarily sophisticated. It is beyond our current ability to somehow distill its essence. I mean okay, we can distill its essence, and have been doing so for centuries: just go read some Shakespeare. But that simply drives the point home. Taking the human condition and putting it into a form that we can actually get our hands around is something that only poets and artists can do. Scientists, psychologists, economists, sociologists, all these fields can only understand a small fraction of what the human experience is all about. Scientists, real scientists, are quite honest with themselves, and the world at large, about this, generally limiting themselves to making only conclusions that are supported by real physical evidence, and going no further.
Psychologists and economists, who approach their fields in a manner that might be described as "scientific," on the other hand, usually start their thinking with assumptions about human behavior, or about society, or about how the world works, whatever, and then pile on observations which seem to be true or workable within the models they develop. Sometimes they get it right. Other times, it turns out that their starting assumptions were flawed, which wrecks the whole chain of thought, or they missed some phenomena or aspect of human behavior that renders real world application of their work problematic or impossible.
Really, this happens almost all the time. Back in the early 1960s, famed linguist Noam Chomsky, for instance, helped to destroy behaviorism as the dominant paradigm in American psychology simply by bringing up a lot of information that the behaviorists simply hadn't considered. A more recent example is how the deregulated finance industry, which should not have failed as dramatically as it did according to neoliberal pop philosophy, nearly took down the global economy.
I've said many times that these fields, psychology and economics, have great value, and have helped humanity enormously. But to say that they are inexact sciences is a massive understatement. Indeed, I wouldn't even call them sciences. They take on too much to be absolutely certain about anything. This isn't necessarily such a bad thing, mind you. It's good to have a thumbnail sketch, as it were, to guide us in trying to understand human behavior. But there are generally so many holes in such work as to give me, a guy who's only had a decent high school economics course and a college level macro-econ 101 class, a seat at the table when it comes to discussing the big issues, whether most people think that's legitimate or not.
When Roberts looks at specific unintended consequences of particular economic policies such as deregulation, he's exposing the stuff the economists missed when formulating such policy. And that's the attitude we should all take when discussing economics: maybe this is wrong; what have we forgotten to consider? Because right now economics is treated as though it came down from the mountain on stone tablets. And that's fucked up.
Posted by Ron at 2:41 AM
Monday, August 16, 2010
WHAT REAL EDUCATION MIGHT LOOK LIKE
Fighting to Restore a Sense of Civic Duty in School Kids
Nancy Gannon is not an ideologue, an America hater, or an activist determined to recruit revolutionaries to her cause. She's just a high school principal.
She's a principal in one of the toughest places to be a principal: the New York City public school system. Yet, despite the enormous challenges of educating children in a city where only slightly more than half of all ninth graders graduate high school, Nancy's mission goes beyond securing as many diplomas as possible. She told me she wants to help prepare citizens who are equipped with "voice, power, and responsibility."
This is probably why the very first schoolwide activity Gannon oversaw as principal at the School for Democracy and Leadership was the registering of eligible students to vote, instilling in them the value of this most fundamental responsibility of American citizenship.
The Crown Heights-based school was motivated by "change" even before it became the motif of the 2008 presidential campaign. Although the focus of the teachers and staff at SDL is to prepare their students for college, they are also, in Gannon's words, "incredibly steeped in activism. We encourage the students to pick something in the world or the community they want to change and then act on it together."
Like the children of Hampton, Virginia, participating in Project Citizen as part of their civics curriculum, the students of SDL are encouraged to put their citizenship into action on a local level. They are required to complete a "change project" of their own choosing each year. These change projects have included writing a proposal for a school library where there was none, working with junior high school students on a project to teach safe-sex education, and building more community through joint poetry readings among the schools that share SDL's campus.
So I've written at great length about what's wrong with the American model for public education--in short, our system serves, in reality, to indoctrinate children into a culture of authority and obedience, rather than training our youth for participation in American democracy. But I've written very little about what ought to replace it. By and large, that's because I'm not a pedagogist. That is, I don't think I have to have a perfect solution to all our educational woes when there are thousands of experts out there who only need to be pointed in the right direction in order to flesh out a workable system for the creation of good small "d" democrats. And there are, in fact, a few pedagogists out there who are already deep into experimental phases for putting together such a system.
The School for Democracy and Leadership in New York appears to be one such experiment, and from what I've read, it looks to be successful across the board, in terms of graduation rates, college attendance, civic engagement, and critical thinking. Go check out the essay, and pay specific attention to the lame right-wing criticisms aimed at SDL. When you get into a real discussion of American schooling as it is currently philosophically constructed, it's hard not to ask, "Why are we doing it this way?"
Posted by Ron at 1:45 AM
Sunday, August 15, 2010
DR. LAURA IS A SLEAZY RACIST BITCH
From Media Matters for America:
Schlessinger's N-word rant
CALLER: OK. Last night -- good example -- we had a neighbor come over, and this neighbor -- when every time he comes over, it's always a black comment. It's, "Oh, well, how do you black people like doing this?" And, "Do black people really like doing that?" And for a long time, I would ignore it. But last night, I got to the point where it --
SCHLESSINGER: I don't think that's racist.
CALLER: Well, the stereotype --
SCHLESSINGER: I don't think that's racist. No, I think that --
SCHLESSINGER: No, no, no. I think that's -- well, listen, without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply 'cause he was half-black. Didn't matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That's not a surprise. Not everything that somebody says -- we had friends over the other day; we got about 35 people here -- the guys who were gonna start playing basketball. I was going to go out and play basketball. My bodyguard and my dear friend is a black man. And I said, "White men can't jump; I want you on my team." That was racist? That was funny.
CALLER: How about the N-word? So, the N-word's been thrown around --
SCHLESSINGER: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger.
CALLER: That isn't --
SCHLESSINGER: I don't get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it's affectionate. It's very confusing. Don't hang up, I want to talk to you some more. Don't go away.
I'm Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I'll be right back.
Much more here, with audio.
And it just gets worse. Really, go check it out. You thought Michael Richard's n-word tirade was shocking? This is far, far worse. Schlessinger, unlike Richards, was in full control of her wits. She wasn't angry. She wasn't being heckled in front of a seemingly hostile audience. She was simply stating her views honestly.
And those views are unambiguously racist.
Her "apology" drives the point home. To her, it was all about "(articulating) the 'n' word all the way out." And that's definitely a problem, to be sure. Especially because she does it, like, ten times. But she appears to be blissfully unaware of how she:
1. reduced African-Americans to nothing but a herd who voted for President Obama simply because he's black
2. used an example of her relationship with her black servant, a bodyguard, to show what she believes proper black behavior ought to be when addressing white people
3. displayed utter contempt for the subtle and nuanced black usage of the n-word for purposes of solidarity and self-liberation
4. derisively asserts that electing a black man as President ended all racism
5. accuses the African-American caller of having "a chip on (her) shoulder" for simply making reasonable observations about Schlessinger's gratuitous usage of the n-word
6. slams the NAACP for no apparent reason
7. asserts that any racism the caller faces is her own fault for marrying a white man
8. repeatedly cuts off and talks over the caller, disallowing her from making any real points of her own
9. dismisses all black complaints about racism as "black-think"
10. insists that blacks would be just fine if they had a sense of humor.
Yeah, the n-word is bad. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Schlessinger is a part of that huge percentage of the US white population who really really really resent black people for believing racism is still a big problem. I mean, if you think racism no longer exists you're either stupid or ignorant. If you're really pissed off at black people for thinking racism still exists, you're a racist. Dr. Laura is clearly part of the latter group. Unapologetic, in-your-face, and fuck you.
I've known for years that Schlessinger is a right-wing cunt who is not only cruel and vicious to her callers, but is also willing to allow people to think that she knows what she's talking about, when, in fact, she doesn't: her doctorate isn't in psychology--it's in physiology. That is, she's a liar, too. Now we know that she, like many other mainstream conservative personalities, is a straight-up racist.
I hope this destroys her career.
Posted by Ron at 2:41 AM