Monday, May 31, 2010

Hopelessness in the Workplace

From
CounterPunch:

But the steep decline in worker satisfaction is traceable to more than hard work and long hours. It derives from a lack of a sense of empowerment. It’s no coincidence that the dramatic increase in dissatisfaction corresponds directly to a drop in union membership. Whether or not people realize it, belonging to a labor union provides a great deal more than the higher wages and generous benefits typically associated with union affiliation.

In addition to better wages and bennies, a labor union offers a built-in and reliable means of problem-solving. You have a bad boss? You’re tired of being harassed or held to arbitrary standards? You’re getting all the crappy assignments? A union rep can help. He can file a grievance; he can go over the boss’s head; he can go over the boss’s boss’s head; he can yell and scream with total immunity; in short, he can wage a Holy War on your behalf.


And

And even in those cases when the union rep can’t “remedy” the situation—even when, in truth, it’s the employee himself who’s contributing to the problem—having the union as a Father Confessor or shoulder to cry on is a critical safety valve, a way of blowing off steam and, hence, minimizing on-the-job stress. With a union representing you, you’re never alone.

Conversely, when you have no union, it’s every man for himself. Being stuck with a bad boss in a non-union setting means you’re at the boss’s mercy. Dr. Samuel Culbert, a UCLA psychology professor cited in the Conference Board’s finding, maintains that too many Americans work in “toxic” environments. Consider: other than quitting or internalizing the problem until he grows a tumor, what can he do? Without a union, he has no lobby, no support group, no safety net.


More
here.

Yeah, I'm working in one of those toxic environments right now.

I mean, it's almost nothing compared to the rank toxicity of the public school environment where I used to work as a teacher, but definitely toxic, and it's a real drag because it doesn't have to be that way. Without going into a long diatribe, the long and short of my situation as a waiter at a corporate chain restaurant in the New Orleans area is that certain managers are extraordinarily petty, spiteful, and unreasonably punitive. Demeaning dress-downs are common, for the slightest transgression. These same managers also tend to play favorites, using different standards for workers they like, who take full advantage of the situation, which is noticed by other workers, increasing the overall level of demoralization.

For the most part, I'm treated well by management. I work hard and intelligently, and know whose asses to kiss. But it's depressing, at best, simply to be in such an environment. I stay there because the money is good, and I like the work itself, but I'm not excited to be there, which definitely affects the quality of my service.

If we had a union, we could fix this, making a better work environment, thereby increasing the restaurant's overall profitability. But like most American workers, we have no union. So the situation will remain as it is until these crazy asshole managers move on to greener pastures.

That is, unions, contrary to what has become the conventional wisdom in the US, can increase productivity, and therefore the bottom line, simply by getting management and workers all on the same page. I know, I know: union corruption, union greediness, union overreach forcing companies into bankruptcy, all these things happen from time to time. But let's not forget that whatever transgressions for which unions are responsible are nothing compared to the transgressions of business. Economics is messy. If we're willing to put up with Enron, WorldCom, subprime mortgage fraud, millions of gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, and on and on, then surely we can put up with some relatively insignificant union corruption.

You know, I've never understood the free-marketers point of view on unions. Okay, I get that businesses don't want anything or anyone interfering in any way with how they make money. That part makes sense. I'm talking about how, on the one hand, they insist that it is a violation of various rights and freedoms for business to suffer any and all regulation, while, on the other, they believe it is just fine to use government to violate freedom of association as expressed in the collective bargaining that is the union's meat and potatoes. It makes no sense. If you're free to use your money to establish a business, then you must also necessarily be free to organize with other workers in order to improve the terms under which you are employed.

Markets are for goods and services, not people. That is, the entire notion of labor as a market, which is the conventional view of both economists and businessmen, where people are literally bought and sold as employees, runs counter to the very notion of freedom itself. People are not products. People are human beings. Free men. And from that perspective, unions are as American as apple pie.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

‘Top Kill’ Fails to Plug Leak; BP Readies Next Approach

From the New York Times:

In another serious setback in the effort to stem the flow of oil gushing from a well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers said Saturday that the “top kill” technique had failed and, after consultation with government officials, they had decided to move on to another strategy.

Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said at a news conference that the engineers would try once again to solve the problem with a containment cap and that it could take four to seven days for the device to be in place.

“After three full days of attempting top kill, we now believe it is time to move on to the next of our options,” Mr. Suttles said.

The abandonment of the top kill technique, the most ambitious effort yet to plug the well, was the latest in a series of failures. First, BP failed in efforts to repair a blowout preventer with submarine robots. Then its initial efforts to cap the well with a containment dome failed when it became clogged with a frothy mix of frigid water and gas. Efforts to use a hose to gather escaping oil have managed to catch only a fraction of the spill.


More
here.

They really have no idea what they're doing, do they?

Never mind, for the moment, anyway, that BP obviously had no pre-existing plan for dealing with such a disaster, or that the federal government, under both Bush and Obama, allowed them to proceed drilling this failed well without such a plan, which is required by law: the argument that BP ought to be in charge of the disaster response is based on the notion that BP, and not the government, is much more familiar with the science and technology of deep water drilling.

Well okay. But that doesn't in any way alter the fact that they really have no idea what they're doing. That is, the argument that puts BP in charge doesn't hold up. It's way past time for Obama to federalize this, and I'm really starting to think that the reason he doesn't has more to do with his pro-establishment deference to corporate power and authority than it does with who best understands the science.

Obama is well aware that his real bosses are not the American people.

But even from that perspective, this is totally fucked. Obama was allowed to rise to power by a corporate establishment that tapped him to clean up the mess made by the Bush administration. It was implicitly understood that part of the job was reining in some of the grosser examples of corporate power run amok, which is bad for business. But Obama isn't doing his job. This is way out of hand. And the same forces that got him into the Oval Office will just as surely kick him out if he doesn't get his shit together ASA fucking P. And then we'll have yet another psychotic demagogue Republican calling the shots.

I don't know if this country could survive another four years of that.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Roi




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

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House Votes to Allow Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Law

From the New York Times:

The House voted Thursday to let the Defense Department repeal the ban on gay and bisexual people from serving openly in the military, a major step toward dismantling the 1993 law widely known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

And

Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the No. 3 Republican in the House, accused Democrats of trying to use the military “to advance a liberal social agenda” and demanded that Congress “put its priorities in order.”

More
here.

A few random observations:

This has been a long time in coming. I remember being shocked back in '93 when arrogant Senate Democrats went off on President Clinton for trying to lift the ban on gays in the military resulting in the fucked up compromise "don't ask; don't tell" policy, which actually increased the number of homosexual military personnel drummed out of the service.

The homophobes' reasoning back then was all that bullshit about "unit cohesion." As if the most formidable fighting force in the world was going to be creeped out by a few fairies in the ranks. Before that, it was the whole blackmail thing: Soviet spies would find out who was gay and threaten to out them if they didn't turn over vital state secrets. I suppose the new "unit cohesion" argument needed to be crafted in the early 90s because being outed wasn't quite the big deal it was back in the 1950s. Whatever. "Unit cohesion" was as bogus an argument in 1993 as it is today. The troops are not frightened of homosexuals.

Anti-gay Republicans, and like minded Democrats, talk about this as though it will turn the military on its head. "Social experiments" they call it, or a "liberal social agenda." The reality is that gays have always served in the military. It's just that they've always had to be wary of weirdos finding out and reporting them--most comrades didn't and don't care one way or the other; what soldiers really care about is if you're dependable, if you're a good soldier, gay or straight. It's only the true homophobes you've got to look out for.

In many ways, this isn't even much of a civil rights issue. I mean, sure, it's a civil rights issue, but since 9/11, the military has trounced out dozens of Arabic translators because they were gay. That's just fucking stupid, and it makes gays in the military into a national security issue. That is, in order to keep the world safe for democracy we need gays in the military.

I hope everybody realizes that the most badass fighters in the history of Western Civilization, the Spartans, were also some of the biggest fags in the history of Western Civilization. For them, homosexuality and "unit cohesion" were one and the same. I mean, literally. Now who's going to tell me that gays made the Spartan military less effective? Huh? Who?

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

STAR TREK
A Private Little War


From Wikipedia:

"A Private Little War" is a second-season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, first broadcast February 2, 1968 and repeated on August 23, 1968. It is episode #48, production #45, with the screenplay written by Gene Roddenberry, based on a story by Jud Crucis, and directed by Marc Daniels.

Overview: The crew of the Enterprise discovers Klingon interference in the development of a formerly peaceful planet and joins them in what becomes an arms race.


More
here.

Lamely executed lame story pushing a lame philosophy. But it is pretty funny.


"A Private Little War" was produced at the height of the Vietnam War: this is apparently Star Trek's endorsement of what may have been one of the worst foreign policy failures in US history. Always nice to be on the wrong side of history, I guess, but given the way things turned out for us over in Southeast Asia, it's kind of difficult to get on board with the point of view Roddenberry's pushing here.

The setting for this one is a pre-industrial planet of pacifists, a sort of analogy to the third world nations used like so many chess pieces by the United States and the Soviet Union during the 60s. The Klingons, or should I say the Soviets, are secretly arming the planet's urbanites, urging them to make war on their rural nomadic counterparts, using the promise of power to break their taboo against violence--the clandestine nature of the Klingons' activities is because both they and the Federation are treaty bound to not directly interfere with planets in this particular sector. Kirk, or should I say President Johnson, will have none of this, and finally decides, after much agonizing over the Federation's non-interference Prime Directive, that the best course of action is to emulate the Klingon approach, arming the rural nomads in order to fight their city cousins.

Ordinarily, I would greatly enjoy the politics here. But it is impossible, at this point, to forget that such diplomatic philosophy failed us utterly in the real world, killing millions by the Cold War's end. That is, as a piece of patriotic propaganda, "A Private Little War" is sad at best, and sick and twisted at worst. Anybody who knows history simply can't get behind the story.

On the other hand, the infamous Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will is engaging and interesting, in spite of, you know, all the pro-Nazi shit. "A Private Little War" had the opportunity, at least, to make for some interesting Trek. Unfortunately, it is poorly executed, in many ways as bad as "The Apple."

For starters, a creature called a mugato figures prominently for several plot points. That's all fine and dandy, of course, except for the fact that this is one of the funniest aliens in all of Star Trek, not much more than a guy in a bleached white gorilla suit with pointed horns glued onto his back, running around menacingly, screeching and growling.

Ironically, for this episode, screeching and growling isn't such bad acting. The two main guest characters, country dweller and Kirk's old friend Tyree, and his wife, the Kahn-ut-tu, or witch woman, Nona, are just awful. Tyree is as boring as dishwater, and Nona, while being one of the hotter babes of the second season, goes after it like a high school sophomore in a one act play contest. That is, she's laughably bad. And this stuff is funny. The scene where she uses her mystical knowledge to sexually enthrall her husband moves into Fantasy Island or Love Boat territory.

But Tyree and Nona aren't the only awful guest characters. The Klingon comes off like a History Channel narrator, while the leader of the villagers with whom he deals, Apella, also boring, looks like a cross between Edward James Olmos and Carlos Santana, and not in a good way.

But special scorn should be heaped on Kirk for this episode. In addition to just looking stupid for seriously embracing failed twentieth century diplomatic philosophy, Kirk is played badly. I mean, Shatner is at his least honest as an actor here, inauthenticity oozing from his pores. He's laugh-out-loud funny when poisoned by the mugato. He's as romantically awkward as ever when Nona turns her sex magic on him. And his longstanding friendship with Tyree is so fake, he might as well be a sorority girl figuring out how to get rid of the fat chick who shows up for rush. Classic bad Shatner.

Put him together with both Tyree and Nona, however, and we hit the trifecta. The healing ceremony, utterly hilarious, is just the warmup. The rape scene, seemingly drawn directly from Reefer Madness, is the main attraction. I mean, you know, it's not a bad fight, but Tyree's bloodlust is just funny. Actually, it's all funny.

On the other hand, there are a few good elements in "A Private Little War," and they deserve mention. First and foremost is the unexplained appearance of Doctor M'Benga, a member of Doctor McCoy's staff who we've never seen for what is at this point nearly two years of the show's run, apparently, or perhaps a visiting physician. Whatever. His inclusion is welcome. Especially because he's an expert in Vulcan biology. There's a nice moment reminding us that Nurse Chapel is still in love with Spock. Doctor McCoy shoots his phaser at some cave rocks, which is always fun to see, in order to warm the poisoned Kirk. Scotty's always good when he runs the bridge.

In the end, however, the good stuff is strongly overshadowed by all the bad. In short, "A Private Little War" sucks. But like I said, it is pretty funny; perhaps that's the attitude with which you should watch it.


Look at me! I'm acting!

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Klan film project puts Georgia teacher's job on line

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle

A North Georgia teacher is on administrative leave and could lose her job after she allowed four students to don mock Ku Klux Klan outfits for a final project in a high school class Thursday, administrators said.

The sight of people in Klan-like outfits upset some black students at the school and led at least one parent to complain.


And

She told The Associated Press Monday that students were covering an important and sensitive topic — but one that she might handle differently in the future.

"It was poor judgment on my part in allowing them to film at school," Ariemma said. "... That was a hard lesson learned."

The incident happened at Lumpkin County High School. Ariemma said her students spend the year viewing films and later create their own films to watch in class. She said the students brainstorm and pick topics to cover. This particular class decided to trace the history of racism in America.


Click
here for the rest.

The year after I graduated, my high school produced a play called The Foreigner; years later, when I was teaching theater at another school, I helped direct a production of the same script. The play, a very funny comedy, takes place in the South, and uses, to hilarious effect, the KKK as comedic villains. So when I read the above excerpted article, I did not automatically assume that something racist was afoot--from time to time, believe it or not, there are legitimate reasons for dressing up high school students in white sheets and hoods.

And if everything related in the article is true, this is one of those rare occasions. Indeed, if I understand correctly, these students were engaged in an anti-racist film project. Film is a visual medium: if you are taking on racism as a subject, visually depicting actual racists is necessary and desirable. In concept, this teacher did nothing wrong, and I hope she isn't sacrificed on the alter of political expediency like so many copies of Huckleberry Finn.

On the other hand, we live in a culture where some white students are willing to hang nooses from trees in order to intimidate and oppress their black peers. That is, people dressed in Klan garb is an inflammatory image, which can work extraordinarily well for anti-racist artistic purposes, but, when haphazardly flung about, such an image can be extraordinarily dangerous. That's where this teacher fucked up. She should have been waaaay more careful. Shooting this scene at school, where the rest of the student body would see these Klan suits out of their filmic context, was fucking stupid.

She wasn't teaching racism. Far from it, she was teaching the reverse. But her lack of care in doing so sent out inadvertent racist messages. Slap her on the wrist for her foolishness, but for god's sake don't fire her--I mean, she was trying to do the right thing, after all.

Then cancel all regular classes school wide for about a week in order to discuss the issue. This is definitely, as the President likes to say, a "teachable moment."

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Galena Park cheating scandal brings five resignations

From the Houston Chronicle:

Two administrators and three teachers resigned Monday from Galena Park ISD after district officials found evidence of staff-led cheating on the high-stakes TAKS test.

And

The district's investigation found evidence that staff changed fifth-graders' answers on the TAKS in April and helped students correct wrong answers.

More
here.

Full disclosure: both of my parents are from Galena Park, and my grandmother lived there for many years, so I know the area well. But that doesn't really have anything to do with cheating on the TAKS, or any other kind of high stakes, all-in-one-basket test.

That is, standardized testing should play an important role in assessing a student's academic progress, along with portfolios of student work, special projects, writing samples, and various other forms of evaluation. Using standardized tests as the sole means by which we determine whether a student is or is not learning, however, not only gives a woefully inadequate picture of individual academic progress, but it also creates an institutional context wherein cheating is inevitable. Students are compelled to cheat because they will not advance to the next grade, or graduate, if they fail; teachers and administrators are compelled to cheat because their performance evaluation is directly tied to student test scores: we have created a system where so much is on the line with these tests that oftentimes people must cheat.

So why do we have everything riding on these must-pass tests? Politicians and journalists like them because they provide what appears to be solid data for political fodder. It doesn't matter that education experts are in lockstep with the assertion that such data isn't really as solid as it appears to be; our political structure demands that something as intangible as knowledge and thinking be numerically quantified. So we have a flawed system of academic evaluation that necessarily sets people up for engaging in unethical behavior. The worst part is that this system is generally bad for the students themselves. That is, the politics of education is more important than education itself.

Really, that's not surprising at all, par for the course, for both society and education. What a fucked up country we have.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

ROBERT HEINLEIN'S BRILLIANT CULTURAL ANALYSIS

From a 1953 essay called "Concerning Stories Never Written" included at the end of Heinlein's short story collection Revolt in 2100:

As for the second notion, the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past. It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.

Nevertheless this business of legislating religious beliefs into law has never been more than sporadically successful in this country--Sunday closing laws here and there, birth control legislation in spots, the Prohibition experiment, temporary enclaves of theocracy such as
Voliva's Zion, Smith's Nauvoo, a few others. The country is split up into such a variety of faiths and sects that a degree of uneasy tolerance now exists from expedient compromise; the minorities constitute a majority of opposition against each other.

Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not--but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make
Billy Sunday's efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck. Throw in a depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negroism, and a good large dose of anti "furriners" in general and anti-intellectuals here at home and the result might be something quite frightening--particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington...

...Impossible? Remember the Klan in the 'Twenties--and how far it got without even a dynamic leader. Remember
Karl Marx and note how close that unscientific piece of nonsense called Das Kapital has come to smothering out all freedom of thought on half a planet, without--mind you--the emotional advantage of calling it a religion. The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed.
No commentary from me needed. This speaks for itself.

Well, okay, maybe a little commentary.


First, I was obsessed with Robert Heinlein when I was in high school and read nearly everything he wrote that I could lay my hands on. I've recently jumped back into some of his stuff lately--I just finished his opus Stranger in a Strange Land, and it's been great fun realizing that a lot of the beliefs and attitudes about human existence I have today had their genesis with him. One Heinlein piece I didn't read when I was a teenager was the above excerpted essay, which I came across years later when I bought Revolt in 2100 at a used book store in New Orleans, but some years before I finally moved here. I re-read the essay last night, and decided it would fit in well with the themes I push here at Real Art, which is entirely appropriate given Heinlein's aforementioned role in my intellectual development.

Second, this essay excerpt is downright chilling when you think about the Tea Party movement. With its telegenic and charismatic leaders such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, with its tinges of racism and xenophobia, with its anti-science and anti-intellectual attitudes, all against the backdrop of this Great Recession we continue to experience, it is almost as though the Tea Baggers come straight out of a Heinlein story. But they didn't. This is real life. And, just by honestly observing the cultural currents in which he lived, the Grandmaster of Science Fiction predicted it nearly fifty years ago.

Pretty fucking amazing, no? At any rate, one thing we can learn from such a prophetic essay read in hindsight is that the writing is always on the wall. All we have to do is read it.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

OREWELLIAN CORPORATE NEWSPEAK

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune courtesy of
Eschaton:

BP is sticking with its dispersant choice

BP has told the Environmental Protection Agency that it cannot find a safe, effective and available dispersant to use instead of Corexit, and will continue to use that chemical application to help break up the growing spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP was responding to an EPA directive Thursday that gave BP 24 hours to identify a less toxic alternative to Corexit -- and 72 hours to start using it -- or provide the Coast Guard and EPA with a "detailed description of the alternative dispersants investigated, and the reason they believe those products did not meet the required standards."

BP spokesman Scott Dean said Friday that BP had replied with a letter "that outlines our findings that none of the alternative products on the EPA's National Contingency Plan Product Schedule list meets all three criteria specified in yesterday's directive for availability, toxicity and effectiveness."

Dean noted that "Corexit is an EPA pre-approved, effective, low-toxicity dispersant that is readily available, and we continue to use it."

He did not directly address widely broadcast news reports that more than 100,000 gallons of an alternative dispersant chemical call Sea-Brat 4 was stockpiled near Houston and available for application.

EPA issued its directive amid complaints from some environmentalists and members of Congress that, as Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., put it, "BP had chosen one of the most toxic and least effective chemicals that were approved for use."


More
here.

So, of course, I just don't have the scientific background to know who's in the right about this. Perhaps BP, which knows all about oil because, after all, it is an oil company, knows best. Perhaps the EPA, which is the federal agency charged with protecting the environment from toxic waste and pollution, knows better because, after all, this is their beat. I'd have to do some research to get even a layman's handle on this dispersant controversy. Knowing for sure is very likely entirely out of the question. I'd have to become a fucking chemist. And an environmental biologist. And an oceanologist. And maybe a geologist, too.

But here's something I do know right now.

When I first heard a BP spokesman on NPR a couple of weeks ago talking about how they were using dispersants in an attempt to break up the now massive oil patches in the Gulf of Mexico, I was very disturbed by how he used the phrase "just like the dish detergent you use at home" multiple times over the span of about a minute or so. It's like he was trying a bit too hard. Really, it brought to mind
the kind of odd corporate propaganda that The Simpsons has satirized repeatedly over years. And now, it seems, the notion of weird-chemical-as-dish-soap has been picked up by lots of journalists. If this kind of language is, in fact, a sort of PR damage control thing, it appears to be having some success.

Here's something else I know. Corporations are motivated solely by profit, and nothing else. And that's not some liberal conspiracy theory: such legal entities are required by law to maximize their shareholders' profits. If corporate leaders behave in any other way, they are breaking the law. Unfortunately, when profit is your only motivation, morals and ethics are meaningful only in terms of how they help the bottom line. Consequently, if a corporation stands to lose less money by settling lawsuits over a dangerous product than they would if they recalled such a product, they'll take the litigation road, and too fucking bad for everybody else.

That is, concerning this environmental disaster, by law, BP's only concern is maximizing their shareholders' profits, not cleaning up their mess, or making restitution for it: we have absolutely no way of knowing if these dispersants are relatively safe, or if they even have a snowball's chance of doing what BP says they will. Indeed, for all we know, this is just an enormous PR scheme, or an attempt to get some leverage when it's all being figured out in court over the next twenty years.

Given this context, even though I'm not a scientist, I'm very inclined to be extraordinarily skeptical of everything BP says. And even though the ostensibly disinterested EPA has long been infiltrated by the influence of various polluting industries, or perhaps because the EPA is under such influence, I'm far more inclined to believe what they have to say.

That is, BP caused this fucking disaster; why do they have so much control over the response to it?

Anyway, here's some
mid 20th century pro-nuke propaganda:



Not too terribly far from "Bovine University," huh?

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Friday, May 21, 2010

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Frankie



Sammy




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

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Holding Hypocrite Congressman Souder's Feet
to the Fire on Dangerous Abstinence Education

From
AlterNet:

Yesterday, news broke that Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) is resigning in the wake of an affair with a female aide. A “family values” conservative who’s sold himself as a proponent of “traditional marriage,” Souder repeatedly advocated federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs even after the programs were exposed as ineffectual and harmful to young people.

Shortly after the news of his resignation broke, a video surfaced of Souder being interviewed by the staffer with whom he was reportedly having an affair. In it, he attacks a 2008 hearing, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, on the efficacy of abstinence programs...


And

It remains the policy of the American government to treat youth sexuality as in itself bad, including holding young people to different standards than adults and assuming we’re unable to make responsible decisions about sex when our elected officials can’t manage the task. Almost unbelievably, funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs still remains under President Obama, slipped into health care reform. As long as the administration continues to view sex education as a method of avoiding a public health crisis – instead of an opportunity to teach young people the skills to be healthy sexual beings throughout their lives – the rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections will continue to rise

More
here.

As for the rank hypocrisy displayed by Souder...well...these family values assholes are self-destructing so quickly these days, I'm almost getting tired of mentioning it. But that doesn't matter. It is extraordinarily important to call these people out for their self-righteous bullshit, not as some sort of fun "gotcha" exercise, even though it is fun, but because these Nazi sex-cops push a Puritanical sexual ideology that, in addition to simply oppressing people, causes real life physical and psychological damage.

Anti-abortion rhetoric causes the women who are drowning it no end of anguish when they suddenly find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy--some of them may eventually decide to get an abortion, but much too late for it to be a simple procedure, forced by their social setting, usually in the Bible Belt, to wait until all that's available to them is invasive surgery, and all the potential complications that come with it. Abstinence-based "sex ed," and I use quotes because such an ideological monstrosity isn't really sex education, is supposed to prevent such unwanted pregnancies, but doesn't because, you know, abstinence-based "sex ed" is so much stupid ass wishful thinking. And all the anti-gay shit? At best it results in self-loathing and risky sexual behavior; at worst it encourages violent homophobes to commit murder.

The worst thing of all is that the Puritanical Movement's leaders increasingly appear to not believe their own assertions. I mean, if not the "moral" leaders, who really does believe this shit? Suckers, that's who, and because the Puritans drape themselves in the American flag and pages from the Bible, politicians line up to suck their dicks. In the men's room at the airport, of course, where they won't be caught.

Fuck these people. They're trash. Time to throw them in the dumpster with the puke and soiled diapers. That's where they belong.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

STAR TREK
Journey to Babel


From Wikipedia:

"Journey to Babel" is an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It is episode #39, production #44 and was first broadcast on November 17, 1967 during the second season. It was repeated on July 5, 1968. It was written by D. C. Fontana and directed by Joseph Pevney.

It features the first appearance of Sarek and Amanda, the parents of Mr. Spock.

Overview: The Enterprise must transport dignitaries to a peace conference, with an assassin on the loose.


More
here.

Excellent, solid episode.

"Journey to Babel," as yet another tight, well crafted Star Trek tale, succeeds across the board. I mean, it's a lot of fun simply because of the kind of story it is, a diplomatic mission
spiced with intrigue. You've got a lot of Star Fleet pomp, dress uniforms out the wazoo, a red shirt honor guard, and the biggest array of weird aliens seen on the American screen until George Lucas gives us the cantina scene in the first Star Wars film a decade later. You've got what I think is probably the absolute best Kirk fight in all of Star Trek, one that he wins, but not without suffering a near-deadly knife wound, resulting in a marvelous moment as he calls for security while passing out.

There's definitely some good shit here. But it is the acting that really makes this episode shine, anchored, as it is, by some fabulous guest stars.

For starters, there's the return of Mark Lenard, who played the Romulan commander in the first season's "
Balance of Terror," this time playing Spock's estranged father, Ambassador Sarek. He is the only other actor besides Leonard Nimoy, out of all the various incarnations of Star Trek, who understands playing Vulcans. And he makes it count here, especially in one scene with Spock's mother, Amanda, played by Father Knows Best's Jane Wyatt, where Leonard makes it clear that Sarek deeply loves his son, all the while keeping up the traditional Vulcan facade of stoicism. And Leonard's chemistry with Wyatt is fantastic. He dryly teases her from behind his emotionless front, and then shows tender affection by simply touching his fingers to hers. Wyatt betters Leonard in a marvelous and gut wrenching moment begging Spock to save his father's life.

The featured alien dignitaries are pretty good, too. John Wheeler as
the bellicose Tellarite Gav serves as a nice foil to the cool Sarek, but it's the fantastic Austrian actor Reggie Nalder, who plays the Andorian ambassador Shras, stealing the show with his intensity and weird accent. Indeed, he outshines Spock during a conversation about the unmasked faux Andorian spy, pointing out the limitations of Vulcan philosophy when it comes to understanding crime:

Perhaps you should forget logic. Devote yourself to motivations of passion or gain. Those are reasons for murder.
All with that fabulous Eastern European dialect. The perfect Hitchcockian touch of exoticism for a suspense thriller such as this.

The regular cast is, as usual during the second season, solid, too. Kirk is flawless in this one, especially when he takes command of the bridge in spite of the knife wound in his lung. Spock is great, as well, playing out, in subdued Vulcan form,
the Oedipus family romance with Amanda and Sarek. Given the centrality of Spock and his parents to the overall plot, I'm tempted to call this a Spock episode, but Dr. McCoy's utter glee at seeing his Vulcan friend/nemesis so vulnerable within the family context, coupled with all his over-the-top medical work, kind of pushes me toward giving "Journey to Babel" to the good Doctor. After all, the episode ends with Sarek, Spock, and Kirk all laid up in sickbay, shushed into silence by their physician, which makes him so excited that he can't help but exclaim, "Well, what do you know? I finally got the last word!"

Go decide who this one belongs to for yourself.
It's good stuff.


A teddy bear?

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RACISM: IT'S IN YOUR HEAD

From CNN:

A 5-year-old girl in Georgia is being asked a series of questions in her school library. The girl, who is white, is looking at pictures of five cartoons of girls, all identical except for skin color ranging from light to dark.

When asked who the smart child is, she points to a light-skinned doll. When asked who the mean child is she points to a dark-skinned doll. She says a white child is good because "I think she looks like me", and says the black child is ugly because "she's a lot darker."

As she answers her mother watches, and gently weeps.

Her daughter is taking part in a new CNN pilot study on children's attitudes on race and her answers actually reflect one of the major findings of the study, that white children have an overwhelming bias toward white, and that black children also have a bias toward white but not nearly as strong as the bias shown by the white children.


And

Research and discussions with parents of the children who participated in this study, indicate that white parents as a whole do not talk to their kids about race as much as black parents.

More
here.

Post racial society, indeed.

For me, this is as much about Michael Richards as it is about children. That is, when the Seinfeld actor went into a racist tirade against some African American hecklers at a comedy club a few years ago, many Americans automatically assumed he was a closet racist. Not so, he later said, insisting that he is not a racist, calling his gratuitous usage of the n-word a terrible mistake. He was trying to be outrageous, he asserted, but failed miserably. In a video-feed appearance on Letterman after the story broke, Richards seemed to be in near shock as he apologized repeatedly. It was almost as though he couldn't believe what he had done.

Is Richards a racist? Well, yes and no. It depends on how we're defining "racism." Based on what I know of his reaction after the comedy club incident, I have no doubt that at some point in his life, Richards made a conscious decision to reject racism, and has probably thought of himself as anti-racist ever since. But how can this be possibly be reconciled with his obviously racist behavior? The CNN study on children and racial attitudes holds the answer.

We live in a society that is utterly overflowing with racial imagery and concepts so commonplace that we don't even notice most of them--by "we" I mean white people for the most part, who I feel safe enough to characterize because I am white; in contrast, my sense is that black Americans are far more attuned to racial imagery than whites are, for obvious reasons, but I'm pretty sure that some of those racial messages even fly under the radar of the people they oppress.

Now try to imagine, if you can, what this environment must be like from a child's perspective. What does it mean to see black kids at school getting into trouble more often than white kids? What does it mean to see black kids not performing as well as whites at school, due to racial bias, or poverty, or other issues that aren't readily understood by children, in terms of academic achievement? What does it mean to see your parents behave differently with black people than they do with white people? What do countless other examples along these lines mean to children, especially when there is no pre-existing intellectual context in which to understand them?

The results of this study do not surprise me at all. These racial messages get into kids' heads, whether we like it or not. It is the necessary result of existing within a racially charged environment. The real question here is how this affects us later in life. That is, it strikes me as very probable that the deeply embedded racial assumptions within our culture lay down an unshakable structure of knowledge within children's minds. We can consciously reject these concepts once we are enlightened as to the black/white power differential present in our society, but can we actually erase that earlier knowledge structure, the one that makes white kids smart and black kids mean?

My assertion is that we cannot eradicate childhood racist conceptualizations any more than we can forget how to ride a bicycle. We can reject them. We can repress them. We can infuse our very identities with the idea that racism is awful. But we cannot wipe the slate clean. Once you learn that the n-word is something that oppresses black people, you cannot unlearn the concept. It's there. Always. Forever.

And that takes me back to Michael Richards. I don't think he's a racist any more than I am. But am I a racist? There's the rub. I consciously oppose racism as a crime against humanity. Sometimes, however, when I'm angry with a black person, the n-word pops into my head. No, of course, I don't say it. But, in this specific circumstance, I think it, even though I don't want to think it. There's obviously something frightening going on with my subconsciousness. It would take more than an act of Congress to convince me that most white Americans aren't in the same boat. African Americans, too, to some extent, although I have no doubt that the dynamic is played out differently, with self-loathing taking the place of smug racial superiority.

The bottom line here is that we desperately need to rethink the notion of racism. For generations, we have all assumed that being racist is a conscious decision, and that ending racism is as simple as persuading racists that they've got it wrong. But it is beginning to appear that the problem is far, far more complicated than that. Racism may be less of a horrible idea than it is a biological condition: malevolent images and concepts warping the synapses and electrochemical reactions of the childhood brain, forever imprinting themselves onto the human mind, causing untold social damage later in life, perhaps the ultimate mental illness.

Very depressing, I know, but there is some good news coming out of this study. Black parents taking the time to talk with their kids about race seems to minimize the psychic damage. I strongly suggest that white parents start doing the same thing with their kids immediately.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Robin Hood a fading figure?

From the Houston Chronicle blog MeMo:

But I have it on very limited anecdotal evidence (my favorite kind) that the under-18 crowd is pretty puzzled by the movie, because they have barely heard of Robin Hood and the very limited geopolitics involved (the Crusades, mostly) are beyond their ken.

This is kind of sad. I'm crazy old fogey enough to believe that legends and mythologies and rhymes that have stood up century after century have some kind of right to exist...


And

The Crowe-Scott movie seems vaguely Tea Party-ish -- maybe decaffeinated Tea Party -- with a moment that comes uncomfortably close to making Robin responsible for the Magna Carta, and lots of talk about the importance of fending for oneself.

More
here.

Call me crazy, but it seems to me that undercutting the entire concept on which the Robin Hood legend is based by infusing it with pro-capitalist messages of self-reliance and competition has far more to do with possible teen ambivalence about the film than do the old standby whipping boys of youthful narcissism or bad education. That is, the whole point to Robin Hood is that he's the guy who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Inherent in that concept is the notion that it is evil and wrong for a few to live in opulence while the rest live in squalor. That's an idea that just doesn't mix well with capitalist pop philosophy--remember, if you're poor, it's because you're too fucking lazy to get a job, and whatever ills befall you are your own fault.

In other words, if you mix capitalism with stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, you're creating an incomprehensible monstrosity that pisses off both capitalist and communist alike, and simply confuses everybody else. No wonder teens don't get it.

On the other hand, I'm probably reading too much into this blogger's observations. And, because I have absolutely no plans to see what, from all appearances, looks to be yet another piece of expensive Hollywood shit, I'll probably never know for sure that ideological incoherence is this film's fatal flaw. But I do know that most of these craptacular blockbusters make little sense, anyway, generally tending to value explosions, bad actors with scowling faces, and car crashes over tight storytelling with interesting ideas. If teens are giving this new Robin Hood a big thumbs down, it's probably because the movie sucks.

On the third hand, Ridley Scott, who directed both Alien and Blade Runner, is a good director. Maybe I should check this thing out. You never know.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

JUST HOW STUPID IS SARAH PALIN?

From
Matt Taibbi's blog:

Palin has figured out that this is really all you have to do to win elections in this country — flatter middle Americans’ moronic fantasies about themselves. The great thing about flattery is a) you can’t overdo it as hard as you try, and b) it doesn’t pin you down to messy political positions, controversies, things you can be harassed about by Chris Matthews and other press weasels.

It’s basically a risk-free strategy. You get up on stage and you say, “I’m just like all you idiots. And you idiots rock!” People will fall for this stuff. The ingenious part in Sarah Palin’s case is that she probably genuinely believes it.


And

Sarah Palin on the other hand really is the kind of person who you can picture eating egg salad off a ping-pong table. That and her utterly genuine stupidity and meanness can take her a long way — all by themselves, I think these things can win the White House for her — and it seems like she senses this on an animal/reptilian level.

More
here.

From a mostly real conversation I had a week or two ago with a thirtysomething female co-worker, right after someone observed that she kind of looks like Sarah Palin:

Her: Oh, good, I like Sarah Palin!

Me: You like Sarah Palin?

Her: Sure! I think she's great.

Me (deciding to avoid an absurd discussion): Well, to each his own.

Her: What's wrong with Sarah Palin?

Me (still trying not to get hooked): Where do I start? I think she's stupid...

Her: Really? I don't think she's stupid at all.

Me: Well, a lot of people don't think she's stupid. Excuse me.

That's when I ran off to do...something else. The moment my friend said, without any irony at all, that she thinks Sarah Palin is great, I knew the rest of the conversation would be worthless.

I mean, I like Sarah Palin, too, but I like her because she's a big joke. A hot MILF with that bespectacled librarian look. Or, if you prefer, the hot trailer trash babe who tries to look bourgeois, but can't quite pull it off. The dumbshit redneck who stumbled into political success on the backs of her dumbshit constituents. The
Speak & Spell who Father Gepetto turned into a girl. One of those "classy" Jerry Springer guests. You get the idea. Sarah Palin is great because she's a fucked-up trashy media icon.

Sarah Palin is not great because of her political insight. I mean, her political insight, or, more precisely, lack of political insight, is a big part of the joke. She gets up in front of sympathetic audiences and babbles semi-incoherent versions of whatever right-wing talking points are big that week, smiles and winks, and treats every challenge to her folksy bullshit as though it were a personal offense. So she understands foreign policy because Russia is across the
Bering Strait from Alaska. Like I'm Cajun because I'm a twenty minute drive from the Atchafalaya Basin. She reads serious journals and news magazines, "all of them," but refuses to say which ones, and gets pissed off when people press the issue. She drones on about Obama's awful "death panels," even though they never existed, not even in wild theory. Conservatives take her seriously as a political figure, even though she isn't too terribly far from that old Warner Brothers cartoon where Yosemite Sam runs for mayor. What a total hoot this woman is!

I mean, she's stupid.

But how the hell do you respond to people who don't think she's stupid? To be fair, in a very real sense, Sarah Palin isn't stupid: as Noam Chomsky likes to observe, the simple act of learning to speak is an incredible intellectual accomplishment. Most people aren't stupid; on the contrary, most people, short of those who are brain damaged or mentally retarded, have great intelligence. The real issue is how people use that intelligence, and, lemme tell ya, Sarah Palin devotes the vast majority of her god given brain power to moose meat and drool. But her supporters don't see that primarily because they're stupider than she is, which is something of an answer to the question I posed at the top of this paragraph. That is, one simply should not engage in discourse with Sarah Palin supporters because no good can come from it, short of hilarious entertainment value.

On the other hand, the fact that she may very well end up being a serious presidential contender means that avoiding civic engagement with her supporters may not be an option in the near future. Yeah, it'll be funny, but funny like a Terry Gilliam movie. That is, fucking scary. I guess that's the spirit of the times: Horrifyingly Funny. In that sense, Sarah Palin is the embodiment of our era.


God, those legs!


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Sunday, May 16, 2010

What If BP Were A Human Being?

From AlterNet:

In a century of doing business, BP has been implicated in bribery of public officials, grand theft, fomenting unjust wars, of murder, torture, plunder, environmental destruction, and money laundering in and between scores of countries on every continent except Antarctica. If BP were a person it would be a career criminal, a pathological liar and an international serial killer with a rap sheet several times the size of the Chicago Yellow Pages.

More
here.

I've posted on this before, albeit not specifically about BP: even though corporations, a.k.a. "legal persons," have wildly different incentives and motivations from real people, US laws and courts treat corporations in many ways as though they were actually human beings. And I'm not just talking about corporate first amendment "rights." That is, as the above linked article well illustrates, corporations often behave in ways that would horrify us if such actions were performed by individual, living, breathing people.

I mean, if I was personally responsible for BP's latest crime against humanity, I'd be in prison for the rest of my life. I'd lose everything I own. People would try to kill me. But not BP. I'm betting pretty heavily that their executives will see no jail time at all over this. By federal law, their liability is capped at $75 million dollars; relative to their yearly earnings, it might as well be fifty bucks. And, if I were inclined, which I'm not, not really, anyway, to kill somebody over this spill, who do I shoot at? In the end, a corporation is simply an organization. How do you murder an organization?

BP is on everybody's minds right now because the oil giant's crime is leading off the evening news every night. But as a specific case study, it's a damned fine example of the lunacy of allowing "legal persons" nearly the full array of rights that real persons have. Go read the essay. It is, at the very least, eye opening.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING
Special Canine Edition

Cuzco




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

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Report: Drug war a failure

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

After 40 years, the United States' war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn't worked.

"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."


And

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, archival records, federal budgets and dozens of interviews with leaders and analysts, the AP tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs. In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:

_ $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.

_ $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

_ $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.

_ $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.

_ $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.


More
here.

Well, if the winning the War on Drugs is defined by eliminating or greatly reducing the usage of illegal drugs in the US, yeah, it's an enormous failure. But if you define winning in terms of incarcerating and controlling the majority of African American men, and other Americans of color, the Drug War has been a resounding success. Indeed, the War on Drugs has been such a massive failure as far as its ostensible purpose is concerned, that it is easy to wonder if the powerful elites who push this "war" are really all that interested in ending drug use.

To be fair, I have no doubt that millions of people involved in the "war" over the years, the rank and file drug warriors, have been genuinely concerned with eradicating illegal drug use. Teachers, cops, parents, recovering addicts who have turned to activism, all these types, no doubt, sincerely want to get people off drugs.

But what are the actual political forces fueling the "war"? And why are they still going strong years after it has been clear to anybody with half a brain that prohibition is an abject failure?

Certainly, the drug war has created its own incentives. Police departments get huge federal and state grants aimed at fighting drug use. Schools, too. The anti-addiction industry has grown wildly in direct proportion to the growth of the drug war. So, too, have the private prison contractors who own and operate jail facilities for dealing with the inevitable overflow of drug convicts from federal and state facilities. Boot camp operators, too. I mean, people have gotten rich off of fighting drugs, so you can bet your bong that they don't want drug peace.

But the one thing that the "War on Drugs" has been really effective at doing is putting black and brown men behind bars, and then on parole, often taking away their voting rights and ability to get a job that would pay their bills. I don't know for a fact that the people who keep the "War on Drugs" going in perpetuity consciously believe that the whole thing is about marginalizing non-white populations, but I'm pretty certain that race plays a major factor.

After all, the first anti-marijuana laws on the books were adopted in the Southwest early in the twentieth century, directly and consciously aimed at Mexicans and Mexican Americans, the only people at the time who were using it. Some years later, during the 1930s, the political campaign to adopt national anti-drug laws was deeply infused with the notion that black men do drugs and then want to have sex with white women. Years later, in the 1980s, severe sentences were federally mandated for users of crack cocaine, who were by and large black, while sentences for powder cocaine, used mainly by whites, remained the same, relatively lax. And that happened while the CIA was literally funnelling cocaine from South America into black ghettos in the US.

Like I said, I can't stare into the souls of politicians in order to fathom their true motives in perpetuating the "War on Drugs," but the only thing such policy has succeeded in doing over the decades is devastating American communities of color. Indeed, the "War on Drugs" has been so successful in oppressing minorities, that it really doesn't matter what these anti-drug politicians feel in their hearts. Vile racism is the necessary effect of their approach.

So who says the "War on Drugs" is a failure? It's one of the most successful racist policies in world history, rivaling Hitler's holocaust, slavery, South African Apartheid, Jim Crow, and the genocide of Native Americans.

USA! USA! USA!

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

STAR TREK
Bread and Circuses


From Wikipedia:

"Bread and Circuses" is a second season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, broadcast on March 15, 1968. It is episode #54, production #43, written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon and directed by Ralph Senensky. Its name is a reference to the phrase "bread and circuses".

Overview: Captain Kirk and his companions are forced to fight in gladiatorial games on a planet resembling the Roman Empire mixed with the 1960s.


And

This story was intended to be a not-too-subtle satire of Gene Roddenberry's displeasure with NBC's handling of the show. The network insisted that Star Trek ratings were too low (which, technically, they were), while Roddenberry believed (correctly) that the show was more popular than NBC had realized...and would have been a huge hit, if only it were in the right time slot. This dispute was summed up by a line spoken by the "director" of the Gladiator contest: "I'm warning you, Flavius! You bring this station's rating's down, and we'll do a SPECIAL on you!"

More
here.

That second paragraph from Wikipedia tells you pretty much everything you need to know in order to understand this episode. I mean, yeah sure, it's a Star Trek episode and all, and definitely works on that level, but as an allegorical attack on the television business, "Bread and Circuses" is cynical and mean. That's a good thing: despite the occasional gem like Trek, television, as big business, generally panders to the lowest common denominator, is never concerned with quality, and always values the simple short term buck over all other considerations, even larger profits in the longer term. Watching this episode one realizes that things haven't changed so much since the 1960s. It's all still the same, only much more so, as the TV business has become much more corporate and impersonal.


"Bread and Circuses" is also an example of Real Art, which makes it all the more endearing to me. But like I said, in addition to providing some serious social commentary, this is also yet another episode of Star Trek, and, on that level alone, it's pretty good.

For starters, this is a pretty blatant example of one of those "parallel Earth" episodes. That is, it offers an alien culture which is almost exactly like ours, with a critical exception or two. It's blatant because, having already established the concept in the first season's "Miri," the narrative takes almost no time setting up the idea. Indeed, exposition on the matter consists of only a few lines. Kirk describes Magna Roma as "an amazing example of Hodgkin's law of parallel planet development," while Spock marvels about the "complete Earth parallel" and that "the language here is English." They seem uninterested in why the planet's inhabitants don't speak Latin, instead, but, like I said, the writers don't seem terribly interested in exploring the how's and why's of parallel Earths.

Nonetheless, it's such a weird concept, ancient Rome in 1960s America, that it's worth it even if it makes little sense.

It's also a very solid episode. The guest stars are pretty good, with the two principal runaway slave characters, elder-of-the-tribe Septimus, and born-again gladiator Flavius, jumping right into the stiff and wooden, but entirely appropriate, "sword and sandal" style of acting. The two principal Roman characters, the pathetic Star Fleet Academy washout Merikus, and the Machiavellian proconsul Claudius, are understated but effective. Indeed, Claudius, in all his low key swishy and sensuous glory, is a lot of fun.

As usual during the second season, the regular cast has some good moments. Spock and McCoy fiercely continue their traditional human/Vulcan friction, climaxing in a fabulous confrontation when they share a jail cell together. Bones hits a nerve, for once, with his friend/nemesis, leading one to wonder what Spock is really all about. Scotty, once again, spearheads the subplot on the ship, and Kirk makes it, without any of his traditional acting awkwardness, with a hot slave girl.

There are lots of cool gladiator fights, heavily focusing on television as a business. There are lots of shots with weird angles. There are bizarre 1960s neo-fascist Roman cops.

But then there's Jesus. And it's more than a bit weird. Throughout the episode, the runaway slaves keep referring to their god, "The Sun," perplexing various crewmen because, as they say, Rome had no sun worshippers. But in the final scene, the denouement as it were, Uhura clears up the mystery by asserting that the slaves mean "Son of God," rather than "The Sun." Okay, so far, so good: Christians were, indeed, persecuted strongly during a particular period of Roman history. Makes sense to me. But then the whole fucking bridge crew, excepting Spock, of course, gets all mushy and starry eyed contemplating the rise of Christianity on Magna Roma. It's like, WTF? This most humanist of television shows, trashing, again and again, various gods and the supernatural like they're so much bat guano, gets choked up over Jesus?

Go figure. Fortunately, this moment lasts only about twenty seconds, and is really just a coda to the episode, so its discomforting bizarreness is minimized.

Really, this is yet another second season great. Go see.


American Gladiators.

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THE STAR TREK CALENDAR PICTURE OF THE MONTH IS...



...Mr. Sulu!

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

HOW CAN ANYBODY POSSIBLY THINK HE'S A LIBERAL?

From
Hullabaloo, blogger digby opines on all the "teachable moments" blown off by our liberal-in-chief:

At this point there's no longer any reason to assume that Obama doesn't get it or is just trying to get his legislation through and doesn't want to alienate Republicans. He is what he appears to be, which is a dry, pragmatic, status quo, technocrat who makes symbolic leftward gestures while offering center right policies. The power of his iconic status is enough to create the illusion of idealism, which keeps him interesting. The Right is freaky enough to keep the left wary of going too far in challenging him.

But the right smells that he prefers to avoid fights, whether for psychological or ideological reasons, and they are successfully pushing him ever rightward while portraying him as a radical socialist. It's very clever. But then they are far more clever at macro-politics than anyone on the left*.


And

*They have a different set of problems right now, which are evening up the score for the moment. But they have many years of brand identity to get them through this momentary blip --- especially with the Dems failing to take the opportunity to damage their project.

More
here.

Right. Well, I've been saying this all along, and, to be fair to digby, she has, too, to some extent: Obama is no liberal. Indeed, he's actually something of a conservative. Not what passes for conservative these days, the frothing-at-the-mouth far-right lunatic fringe, but, by historic standards, definitely to the right of center, a Clinton-style Democrat, chock full of good vibes and groovy talk, but, when it comes right down to it, pro-big business, pro-war, pro-establishment. Capitalist exploitation and government oppression with a puff of marijuana smoke and a smile. His coddling of the petroleum industry, even as crude oil starts to coat the Gulf coast, his backroom deals with the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, his expansion of the meaningless war in Afghanistan, his embracing of Bush era police-state executive powers, and on and on, all make it absolutely clear that Obama cannot possibly viewed as a liberal.

So why the hell do people still think he's liberal?

Conservative attitudes on the matter I can dismiss immediately. To them, anyone not conservative enough is a liberal, and that means lots of hardcore right-wingers. I'm not so concerned with moderates, either. I know I've bashed them before for not believing in anything, but, in this case, that's a plus; moderates, being non-ideological by definition, don't seem to concern themselves with such labels, unless they're falling prey to right-wing fear-mongering, which definitely happens from time to time, but doesn't appear to be much of a factor with Obama.

No, it's the liberals themselves that confound me. It's completely obvious now that the President isn't one of them. But he continues to get the lion's share of their support. I'm assuming that Obama hooked liberals during the campaign with all his copacetic speechifying, all that "hope" and "change" rhetoric, but juxtaposed against his actual deeds while in the Oval Office, his hippie talk has got to be wearing thin. I've heard a lot of liberals argue that, no matter what, he's a billion times better than Bush, and therefore deserves our loyalty and support. No argument from me on the first part, but my take is that he's really only keeping the seat warm for the real conservative nazi freaks when they manage to get back into power. And I don't understand why American liberals don't see it the same way.

This makes me nervous. It says to me that to liberals, and maybe even to the entire US population in general, politics has way less to do with action than it does with image and rhetoric. And in this era of public relations, advertising, and mass media, that's dangerous. Really dangerous. It means that reality is far less important than how people feel about reality.

Democracy is ill suited to such a population.

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