Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I'm going to take a few days off from blogging so I can focus on my beautiful girlfriend who's going to visit me for a few days. I should be back on Sunday or Monday. In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving! 



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Wampanoag Side of the Tale

From Indian Country, courtesy of a friend on Facebook:

When you hear about the Pilgrims and “the Indians” harmoniously sharing the “first Thanksgiving” meal in 1621, the Indians referred to so generically are the ancestors of the contemporary members of the Wampanoag Nation. As the story commonly goes, the Pilgrims who sailed from England on the Mayflower and landed at what became Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 had a good harvest the next year. So Plymouth Gov. William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate the harvest and invited a group of “Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit” to the party. The feast lasted three days and, according to chronicler Edward Winslow, Bradford send four men on a “fowling mission” to prepare for the feast and the Wampanoag guests brought five deer to the party. And ever since then, the story goes, Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Not exactly, Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer told Indian Country Today Media Network in a conversation on the day before Thanksgiving 2012—391 years since that mythological “first Thanksgiving.”

More here.

The friend who posted this did so with a request for commenters "to please view the day we call 'Thanksgiving' either in the traditional fashion, or as reported by a Wampanoag representative in the link below."  But, of course, the p.c. identity politics happened, anyway, so I just had to weigh in:

For the record, I HATE the Puritans. I mean, there's a reason we use the word "Puritanical" as a pejorative. They were awful people. Indeed, when they won the English Civil War in the seventeenth century, one of the first things they did was to shut down the theaters, and this was only a few decades after the time of Shakespeare. And I'm an actor. I take that personally.

And I'm well aware that the Thanksgiving mythology is exactly that, nationalistic mythology. And the reality is that the US government committed genocide against numerous North American indigenous peoples. And if I wanted, or so my Choctaw uncle tells me, I could be recognized by the Choctaw nation as a member. Having been raised a white guy, however, has made this a problematic identity issue for me for many years, and I've never gotten around to it. But the reality is that the destruction of Native Americans was so complete that I have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of my cultural roots and blood.

So yes, I take these issues VERY SERIOUSLY.

But I don't understand why any of this means we cant give thanks as a nation every November. The world is far more sophisticated and nuanced than the evil-or-good construction offered by Shannon. Men are both good and bad. It is as absurd and self-destructive to negate the good as it is to negate the bad.
I later added this:
Look, I agree that we, as a nation, need much more awareness of our real history, and much less prevalence of the mythology--for instance, all this self-aggrandizing without admission of guilt leads to folly like invading Iraq on false pretenses, etc. But I am very wary of wallowing in guilt, too. And, for that matter, it will never fly. People need to be proud of who they are, which they can do while acknowledging their national sins, but it's impossible to have any self-respect if it's all about guilt.

Personally, I like how Toni introduced the link. You know, sort of "hey check this out, but let's not go to town on America for this." A really good balance. Information and understanding without castigation.
Anyway, stuff to think about this Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 25, 2013



Listen to This Chilling Audio as Crowd at Boston Symphony Learns President Kennedy Is Dead

But there are times, of collective crisis or celebration, when music can remind us what a society is. And on Friday November 22, 1963, in a concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra that happened to also be a WGBH radio broadcast and so was captured for posterity, the BSO’s revered music director Erich Leinsdorf broke some unimaginable news to a crowded symphony hall. What was to have been a routine concert became a memorial to the 35th President of the United States, reduced audience members to tears and in some ways redefined what music could be for those present. It is also, surely, one of the most emotional pieces of radio ever recorded.

More here

I first encountered this moment last Friday on Maddow.  I was doing chores around the house and kind of listening to her as she explained the situation.  Erich Leinsdorf, conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra the night Kennedy was killed, had to announce the news, which broke right before curtain, to his audience.  Here's how my simple mind worked through it while Maddow spoke:  I probably would have made the announcement and cancelled the show.  I was even thinking about how the orchestra would take a financial hit from offering refunds, and what a drag it would be, a forgotten ripple-casualty of the JFK assassination.  

But that's not how it happened.   Leinsdorf, in the ten or so minutes he had before making his announcement, pulled from his company's archives and distributed to his musicians the funeral march from Beethoven's Third Symphony.  He spoke a few words, the audience reacted, and then the orchestra played.  The result is one of the most profound, staggering, and beautiful moments I have ever heard.  

My gut reaction would have been to withdraw.  This is no time for frivolity.  The President is dead.  Leinsdorf's reaction, in stark contrast to my own, puts me to shame.  This was a man who deeply and fully understood the role that the arts must necessarily play in human society, and in a time of absolute crisis, he calmly and deliberately put that understanding to work.  This is why the arts exist, to make aesthetic and emotional sense out of a totally senseless reality, to find and share the humanity in all situations, especially situations that are utterly inhumane.  The day our President was brutally gunned down on the streets of Dallas, Leinsdorf, and his orchestra, gave their audience the great gift of catharsis, immediately, without hesitation.  And whether the people in attendance that day were aware of it or not, they were in a much better position to accept and understand what had happened than people who weren't there.

In this age of rampant consumerism, mass media distraction, and widespread social disaffection, it is easy for me to forget why I chose to identify myself as an artist over two decades ago.  It is easy to lose sight of the fact that the arts don't simply have meaning and relevance, but that they are absolutely necessary to human existence.  We are nothing without art.  It is the expression of the human soul, for better or worse.

I must always remember that.


Sunday, November 24, 2013


One of my education posts last week generated some debate fun on a facebook comment thread.  Because I was asserting that the whole "unions protect bad teachers" thing is a false education "problem" in light of the fact that it's really poverty, more than anything else, that creates the appearance of "failing" schools, an old buddy, very anti-union, pressed me on this with a segment from a John Stossel hit piece on teacher unions. 

As much as serial liar Stossel makes my skin crawl, I promised to watch it, which I did earlier this evening.  Of course, I took a few notes on the experience:

1. Oh, look!  A whole bunch of rules presented as "evidence" that unions run the school.  Of course, we don't really get to see what those rules are, but there sure are a bunch of 'em!  It's got to be just horrific!  All those rules!  This is akin to when angry Republicans in Congress brandish a big bill at the podium to show how awful a law it is just because it's a big bill.  This isn't an argument.  It's a joke, totally without meaning, except that the person using the tactic is willing to lie in order to make a point.  And that's exactly what Stossel is doing here, lying.

2. And now we have a corporate CEO commenting on education.  WTF?  Corporations are about making money by selling a product or service.  Education is about creating citizens.  It is beyond absurd to compare these two missions.  The former has a clear bottom line, profit.  The latter is over-the-top intangible, without seeing any real payoff for years or even decades after the fact.  Applying capitalistic principles to education is beyond stupid.  Children are not products on an assembly line; they're human beings.  Really, this is just insulting.

3. Now he's going after the contract length.  Just because going after all those rules was so much fun a few minutes ago.  See point 1 above.

4. And now we get a horror story!  Some kind of sexual offender!  Well sure.  Lots of teachers out there.  It only stands to reason that there will be a few bad apples.  I mean, we don't propose to completely change the way we approach policing, even though the corruption and abuse of power among American police forces easily dwarfs what we see among teachers.  One horror story isn't data.  It's a scare tactic.  And really bad journalism.  Actually, it's not even journalism.  It's demagoguery. 

5. So this district had a "rubber room" where they send teachers they want to fire but can't because of bad unions.  And does Stossel even attempt to look at the individual cases involved here?  No.  Of course not.  Because a lot of these teachers may very well have some good points to make.  But that would undermine Stossel's cheap-shot rhetoric.  This is some sleazeball shit.  Totally intellectually dishonest.  That is, lying.

6. A six hour and forty minute day.  Oh my.  Awful, awful, awful, isn't it?  Stossel pretends to be completely unaware of how much off-the-clock work teachers, all teachers, do all year long, every freaking day.  But he's just pretending.  He has to know.  How could he not?  Anybody who knows any teacher knows this.  There's another word for "pretending."  It's "lying."  What a disgusting insult.  Stossel is a total scum sucking pig.

7. And now, after a commercial break, Stossel presents the charter scam as some sort of school system salvation.  Oh please.  Charter schools, as a concept, aren't a solution to anything.  They're a collection of educational experiments.  A few of them, in fact, outperform public schools, as would be expected.  But most of them either equal public school performance or do worse.  And that's with some advantages the public schools don't have, like accepting only the students they want, or kicking out whoever they don't like.  Public schools, in contrast, have to educate whoever comes in the door.  And Stossel presents charter schools uncritically, and irrationally, as a panacea for all that ails the schools.  This is a rigged game he's playing, aimed at making the public schools look bad without making any attempt at all to actually solve problems.  That is, Stossel is a lying piece of dog excrement.

8. Oh god.  And now come the vouchers.  Same smoke and mirror game as with charter schools.  Teach the students you want, claim victory, and discard the students you don't want.  Some solution.

This piece of "journalism," if you want to call it that, is truly a load of horse crap.  Nonetheless, ABC presented it as "news."  I fear for people who consume this kind of BS without really knowing what's going on, but that's probably most Americans who are genuinely concerned with the issue of education.  Indeed, the public discourse on education, which is totally misguided, reflects this.  The whole national conversation is irreparably flawed and wrong, and that's because demagogues like Stossel have the megaphone, which is denied to the people who know the reality.  It's just totally tragic.  We will pay a steep price for this.

As for me, after watching Stossel's act of explosive video defecation, I feel all the more justified in my absolute contempt for education "reformers."  They're TOTALLY full of shit.  Not a single legitimate point from any of them.  And they are steadily destroying American schools.  Hanging's too good for 'em.


Friday, November 22, 2013



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


Reid, Democrats trigger ‘nuclear’ option; eliminate most filibusters on nominees

From the Washington Post:

Even if Republicans want to do away with the filibuster someday, Reid said, Thursday’s move was worth it because the current climate had become too hostile to get anything significant done. Reid said he faced a choice: “Continue like we are or have democracy?”

The rule change does not apply to Supreme Court nominations or to legislation.

More here.

Oh, the moaning, wailing, and gnashing of teeth!  I'm loving it.

In the abstract, sure, this is probably a bad idea.  I mean, I like the minority party having the ability to stop really bad legislation from becoming law, really bad nominees from becoming officials.  Checks and balances and all that.  But Washington does not live in the abstract.  Washington lives in reality.  And, in reality, the filibuster is no longer used by the minority party to stop really bad legislation and nominees.  They use it to stop EVERYTHING.

Seriously, Senate Republicans have filibustered almost everything since the Democrats took over a couple of years before Obama took office.  What's been particularly annoying is that the press barely even comments on this.  It's all about hitting that "sixty vote" line, with absolutely no explanation that the only reason that's the case is because the Republicans filibuster everything!  And the Democrats have been total wussies about it, too.  All "hey guys" and "couldn't you just, you know, do it like we've always done it?"  Pathetic.  Everyone who's anyone in the political establishment has treated all this like it's business as usual.

Well, it's NOT business as usual.  Somewhere along the line the GOP decided it was going to play hardball.  And I don't mean that they're simply hanging tough.  I mean break-your-kneecaps hardball.  Bring a gun to the knife fight hardball.  Crack your skull with the bat hardball.  All these anti-abortion laws.  All these voter ID laws.  Rejecting the Medicare expansion for sheer spite.  Shutting down the government as an exercise in power for its own sake and no other reason.  And on and on.  No different in the Senate.  Screw the majority.  We do what we want.  

Until now the Democrats have, for the most part, simply rolled over, timidly requesting the Republicans to play fairly.  But it's been obvious for years that the Republicans have absolutely no desire to play fairly.  Indeed, they're playing a death match these days, and damn the republic.  So the gloves are off.  The Democrats have grown a pair.  It's about time.  

Yeah, I'm a bit nervous about this.  But it's the only game the GOP will play.  They caused this.  The blood is on their hands.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fact Check: Social Security Does Not Increase the Deficit

From AlterNet:

Taking money out of people's pockets, which is what cutting Social Security would do, actually could have the perverse effect of increasing the deficit because it means that people can’t buy the stuff they would normally buy with this money, like food and healthcare. What that happens, the businesses trying to sell those items have to scale back and lay off employees, which means less tax revenue for the government. And so on. Not exactly a recipe for a booming economy.

More here.

Yeah, simple stuff, and I've known it for a long, long time.  Social Security is on a completely different accounting system from the one that covers the federal budget.  I mean, it even has a separate tax system that funnels tax dollars straight into the SS trust fund.  In no way can Social Security be considered part of the deficit, or the debt, or any of those other words that strike fear in the hearts of people who are very serious about the way the world works.

This is why it continues to weird me out when I hear what seem to be perfectly rational grownups, including the freaking "liberal" President of the USA, talk about the need to cut SS benefits during deficit discussions.  This is beyond apples and oranges.  It's like telling me I should quit listening to jazz because Robin Thicke is so sexist.  Huh?  Yeah, it's that stupid.  But this is the conversation our leaders, on both sides of the aisle, are having.

I continue to be terrified by the fact that I, a lowly restaurant server, understand this stuff better than the people who get paid to understand this stuff.  It's amazing this country still exists at all.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


New Krugman:

A Permanent Slump?

But what if the world we’ve been living in for the past five years is the new normal? What if depression-like conditions are on track to persist, not for another year or two, but for decades? 

You might imagine that speculations along these lines are the province of a radical fringe. And they are indeed radical; but fringe, not so much. A number of economists have been flirting with such thoughts for a while. And now they’ve moved into the mainstream. In fact, the case for “secular stagnation” — a persistent state in which a depressed economy is the norm, with episodes of full employment few and far between — was made forcefully recently at the most ultrarespectable of venues, the I.M.F.’s big annual research conference. And the person making that case was none other than Larry Summers. Yes, that Larry Summers.

And if Mr. Summers is right, everything respectable people have been saying about economic policy is wrong, and will keep being wrong for a long time.

More here.

So, of course, in concluding that the establishment's conventional wisdom on economics, that is, conservative economics, is just wrong, Krugman offers the solution: good old fashioned Keynesianism, getting money into consumer hands in order to boost demand to a level such that it becomes self-sustaining.  And I fully agree with him.  But what interests me is how the political establishment seems just fine with keeping things the way they are, with what now appears to be permanent high unemployment, and anxiety, long hours, low pay, and absolutely no prospects for a better life for everybody else lucky enough to have a job, or two, or three, as the case may be.

This necessarily prompts a question.  What good is capitalism, anyway?  I mean, if this is the best the system can do, why on earth do we think it's the GREATEST THING EVER?

Having grown up during the Cold War, the point always made to me is that, while noble in intent, socialism, and its militant version communism, simply cannot increase material prosperity for a society the way that capitalism does.  Well, okay.  It's impossible not to note that the Dow just hit 16,000.  And the rich just keep getting richer.  So sure.  Capitalism creates wealth like no other economic system ever devised by man.  I mean, in some respects, we're just booming.  Why, then, do most Americans continue on their long, sad path toward third world status?  Shouldn't capitalism be doing its magic thing making us the GREATEST COUNTRY EVER?

Well, according to orthodoxy, that's exactly what capitalism ought to be doing.  Except it's not.  And I'm pretty certain at this point, after years and years of doing so, that deregulating business, cutting taxes for the rich, and scaling back, yet again, on spending for social programs is NOT going to make things any better.  Indeed, as Krugman observes, it's the same old bullshit that's gotten us into this fine mess we're in now.

And that's what gives me the answer to my question about capitalism.  In short, we can have winner-take-all capitalism, with corporate control of government, and all the cronyism that comes with it, or we can get back to what once seemed to work pretty well during the period between WWII and the Carter Administration: highly taxed well regulated capitalism, a capitalism that continues to act as an economic engine, but one much less likely to destroy the country, one that spreads around society the value that workers create.  I mean, that's the deal when you get right down to it.  Today's capitalists have perfected their ability to pocket virtually ALL the prosperity that capitalism creates, and they use that wealth to lock in their control of everything.  Yesterday's capitalists, in stark contrast, were kept on the straight and narrow by a ruling establishment much wiser than the one we have today, or, at least, an establishment that wasn't bought off by corporate campaign cash and other favors.  Obviously, I'm much more fond of yesterday's capitalism.

So, then, what good is capitalism?  Clearly, it depends on how you do it.  One way, the way we're doing it right now, isn't good for much at all.  In fact, it's pretty bad.  The other way, the way we used to do it before we let the inmates start running the asylum, actually did quite a bit of good.  Somehow, some way, we need to rein capitalism in again, such that, instead of making all of us serve the system, we make the system serve all of us.

We've got a lot of work to do.


Saturday, November 16, 2013


I'm in Houston to see my girlfriend's show (info here).  I'll be back to regular blogging on Tuesday night.


Friday, November 15, 2013



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



One of my facebook friends commented on my cross-posting of yesterday's Real Art entry on that piece of legislation that would outlaw state abortion clinic hindrance laws.  While he describes himself as pro-choice, he cautioned me to be more sympathetic to the pro-life movement because "They genuinely believe that abortion is murder."

Yeah, well, I disagree.

I don't know, Dee. Self-righteousness is a very curious thing.

It's really easy to get all weepy about the millions of "dead babies" when you never actually have to talk to them or deal with their having a real existence. That is, these are the same people, generally, who also want to cut food stamps, education funding, etc.--a lot of them don't even believe in birth control. I would be more inclined to believe all the weeping and gnashing of teeth if such attitudes extended to fetuses which actually become real live human beings. But, for the most part, it's all about these abstract entities, the fetus-as-human construct, instead of actual people.

Do you realize that this wasn't even a Protestant thing until the late 70s? The Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, supported Roe v Wade at first. It was only after Francis Schaeffer and a few other misguided fundamentalist theologians worked tirelessly to tie abortion to euthanasia, free love, civic unrest, and lots of other shit freaking out American Christians, that Protestants in the US came over to what had previously been thought of as only a Catholic issue. That is, the rise of anti-abortion attitudes coincided very neatly, a little too neatly, with the rise of the so-called New Right, which was, and continues to be, a massive cultural reaction to the social changes and movements of the 60s.

You simply cannot separate the anti-abortion movement from pissed-off conservative attitudes about everything else they hate. So abortion is just a whipping boy. An intangible, abstract concept that "proves" they're right and liberals are wrong. I mean, OF COURSE they're going to latch onto it. They've got the perfect victims to defend, "people" who can never comment on the situation themselves, "people" who liberals "murder." I kind of used to see it from the point of view you're asserting here, that, well okay, they think it's murder, so I should cut them some slack, even though they're wrong.

Not anymore. It's all bullshit. Just a way to brand liberals as evil. They really don't care about life, or they'd put their money where their mouth is. I mean, in their minds, they may very well believe their own bullshit, but that's well within the scope of normal human psychology. And it doesn't make it any less bullshit.

I don't take the pro-life movement, nor any of its ideas, seriously at all.

UPDATE: Dee lost his mind in response to my comment, and defriended me because of my know-it-all tone.  Oh well, you lose a few.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sen. Blumenthal introducing bill to combat Republican state-based attacks on abortion access

From Daily Kos:

"The bill would prohibit states from passing so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which impose strict and cost-prohibitive building standards on abortion clinics, require women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds, and create other barriers to abortion access. [...] 

Blumenthal's bill wouldn't automatically overturn states' existing anti-abortion laws, but because federal law trumps state law, it would provide a means to challenge them in court."

More here.

Flash back to the early 1990s.  Anti-abortion activists were doing essentially the same thing they're doing now, shutting down abortion clinics in a Roe v Wade end run, but using very different tactics: in those days, the pro-life movement employed massive demonstrations, at multiple sites, again and again, ostensibly as an exercise of free speech rights, but by design intended to cut off women's access to clinics.  And it was working incredibly well.  I mean, how can you get into an abortion clinic when thousands of angry anti-abortion protesters are in your way?  You can't, so this was a crisis.  And nobody seemed to know what to do about it.

That's when Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, and the entire thing was shut down virtually overnight.  Anti-abortion activists continued to have a right to demonstrate, of course, but they could no longer misuse their free speech rights to keep women out of abortion clinics.  Really, this was the end of Operation Rescue and several other "free speech" front organizations. 

And I feasted on the crocodile tears of the anti-abortion movement.

Flash forward to today.  The tactic of choice is passing legislation, ostensibly for the protection of women's health, or other such nonsense, which by design serves to make getting an abortion impossible, even while the right to an abortion continues to exist in theory, yet another end run around Roe.  And, just as it was in the early 90s, nobody appears to know what to do about it.  Well, okay, I don't know what to do about it.

Until now.

I didn't even realize this was an option, but apparently it is.  I mean, of course it's an option, especially in light of the freedom of access law, but it just didn't occur to me.  And, I must say, it's a brilliant idea.  It would stop these oppressors in their tracks, and I would again be able to feast on the crocodile tears of these sex-obsessed, concern trolling, vagina maniacs.  Well, okay, what's more important is that such legislation would ensure that women are able to actually exercise their constitutional rights, instead of simply appreciating that they exist in theory.  But these state laws are just so mean-spirited and awful that I would LOVE to see the forces behind them being forced to eat their own shit.  At the moment, I can't imagine anything more satisfying.

There is something standing in the way of Congress passing such legislation, though: we need the Democrats to take back the House next year.  And that's a big task.  But after their recent government shutdown antics, the GOP is about as popular as herpes, and there's definitely a chance.

If the Democrats were smart, they'd focus every single House race on the issue, and force the Republicans to show their misogynistic hand for one and all to see.  This needs to be an abortion rights election, and it needs to be balls-to-the-walls.  The real question, of course, is whether the national party has any balls left.

I guess we'll see.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Poverty Is America's #1 Education Problem

From AlterNet:

As I've reported before, we know that American public school students from wealthy districts generate some of the best test scores in the world. This proves that the education system's problems are not universal — the crisis is isolated primarily in the parts of the system that operate in high poverty areas. It also proves that while the structure of the traditional public school system is hardly perfect, it is not the big problem in America's K-12 education system. If it was the problem, then traditional public schools in rich neighborhoods would not perform as well as they do. 

More here.

We don't have an education problem.  We've got a poverty problem.  

It's as simple as that, and I've been saying so for a while.  Of course, nobody cares what I say--I'm just some dude on the internet.  So the "education debate" continues apace, despite most of its assumptions being wildly unfounded and misguided.  That is, we don't need charter schools.  We don't need more standardized testing; in fact, we need less standardized testing.  And we don't need to get rid of teachers unions.  Indeed, we need more unionization of our educators, and more bargaining strength for their unions, in order to assure that some of the most important people in our nation, the people who teach our young, don't have to wait tables in order to send their own kids to college.  It's all wrong.  The entire "education debate" is self-destructive and foolish.

Anyone who engages in that "discussion" on its own terms is an enemy to knowledge and inquiry, and an enemy to a strong and thriving America.  Yeah, that's right.  If you're a charter advocate, one of those voucher people, someone who wants to unleash the power of "competition," someone who thinks the "market" can "save" our schools, I'm calling you a traitor.  All those ideas are about destroying the public school system and replacing it with stuff that just doesn't do what its defenders say it will.  Destroy America's schools, and you destroy America.  That makes you a traitor.  And I'm not joking.  You're the enemy, as sure as Al Qaeda is the enemy.

As the linked article observes, well-to-do schools have test scores that are similar to what we see in some of the best public school systems around the world.  All the so-called "failing" schools in this country, all of them, are in poverty stricken areas.  End poverty, and all the pathologies that go with it, and you fix the schools.  It's that simple.  Because the schools aren't really broken.  Rather, they are absurdly expected to cure deeply entrenched economic, social, and cultural problems all by themselves, without the resources or organizational depth to do so.  It's a big sick joke.  Because it's an impossible task.

Indeed, this shouldn't even be the schools' responsibility in the first place.  It's only a problem because the fabulously wealthy elite who own and operate our nation have so successfully pushed their "job creator" nonsense for so long that we can't even imagine such a thing as LBJ's "War on Poverty" anymore.  But that's what we need.  I mean, for its own sake, but also if we're serious about education, equal opportunity, a thriving economy, and everything else associated with it.

In the meantime, we are condemning millions to a dim life of totally unrealized potential, which is nothing short of obscene.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

4 Creeping Ways Capitalism Is Killing Us

From AlterNet:

The process is gradual, insidious, lethal. It starts with financial stress in various forms, and then, according to growing evidence, leads to health problems and shorter lives.

Financial stress is brought upon us by the profit motive of capitalism, which offers little incentive to feed hungry children, to treat the sick, to secure us in retirement, to provide job opportunities for middle-class Americans. Some of the steps in the process are becoming more and more familiar to us.

More here.

Okay, this is a good and short piece illuminating, with lots of facts, some of the ways our economic system does its damage.  The deal is that our economy, and our society, too, for that matter, has become so incredibly complicated and huge that it's not easy to really get a handle on how easy it is to rip us all off.  People want simplicity.  They want to see stuff happening right in front of their faces.  And I don't blame them because that's essentially what we've evolved into as biological creatures, beings of the immediate environment.  It takes effort to grasp that which cannot be seen readily or understood easily.  

Instead, we have what I call "folk economics," down-home ideas that seem like the truth, that we can quickly and easily wrap our minds around, even though when you dig a bit and assemble some facts, these "folk economics" are definitely NOT the truth.  It's kind of like Colbert's "truthiness," but I really think there's a biological component to it: evolution has made us necessarily fear the lion who's about to eat us, not the long-term and relatively invisible and abstract concept of global warming.  Of course, both lions and global warming are deadly, sure as shooting, and we are, by now, as a species, fully capable of appreciating that.

But it takes some effort for us as individuals.

So here's a good start.  Four ways our American variety of unrestrained capitalism is killing us.  In black and white.  Check it out.


Monday, November 11, 2013


From Open Culture, courtesy of one of my favorite college professors, on facebook:

Frank Zappa bringing his own brand of offbeat music to the American airwaves in 1963. Only 22 years old and not yet famous, Zappa appeared on The Steve Allen Show and made music with some drumsticks, a bass bow, and two garden-variety bicycles — and nothing more.

Click here for more, and to see the videos.

Here's the comment I left.

Okay, I haven't watched this for a while, but viewing it again just now drives home a few ideas that hadn't occurred to me before.

As goofy and pedantic as Steve Allen could be in those days, he was no idiot. As an accomplished jazz pianist, in the era when the free jazz experiments of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were starting to challenge the critics' concept of what music is, Allen had to have known exactly what Zappa was doing--I mean, it's quite possible that he hated the stuff, but he definitely understood it. He, and his house orchestra, also had to have been completely at home with the improvisational nature of Zappa's performance--at this point in television history, all these in-studio bands were coming out of a jazz tradition, which is all about improvisation.

So if this was all to be taken as something of a joke by the audience, it's a joke that everybody there was in on.

It's also really interesting to me that, as young as Zappa was at that point, the creative template for the rest of his career had already been set. One of the reasons FZ was always so weird is that he was very much about fusing his three major musical influences, doo-wop music, early 60s California surf music, and hardcore twentieth century avant-garde composition. That is, he put stuff together well that doesn't really go well together. He must have been an extraordinarily interesting kid--he begged his mother on his fifteenth birthday for the opportunity to make a long distance phone call to composer Edgard Varese.

We don't get to see the surf or doo-wop influences in these clips, but we definitely see the influence of Varese, and we also get to see where FZ would be heading with his own efforts in only a few short years. The improv concerto here could have come straight off of We're Only in It for the Money, released in 1968.

We also get to see how comfortable FZ already was in his capacity as a bandleader, even in the face of the totally overbearing Steve Allen, who a few years earlier had Elvis on the show singing "Hound Dog" to an actual hound dog, one of the more infamous moments in rock and roll history. That is, Allen could be a majorly condescending dick, but Zappa, while managing to keep his dignity intact, was able to take over the studio for a few minutes, and get everybody to create music the way he wanted it done.

So while his appearance on the show, at first glance, comes off as a schlocky and weird manifestation of early 60s junk television, you really can kind of see it all there when you dig into it a bit. Zappa was Zappa from almost the very beginning, it seems. And this artifact video is something of a treasure because of that. Thanks for posting.


Sunday, November 10, 2013


From AlterNet:

America's center is to the left, and even Tea Partyers 
are liberals when they turn off Rush and learn real facts

The researchers also found broad agreement across party lines. Their first report noted, “Among a total of 31 areas, on average Republicans, Democrats and independents agreed on 22 areas — that is, all three groups agreed on whether to cut, increase or maintain funding. In 9 other areas there was dissensus.”  That’s not to say there weren’t differences. Republicans cut much less from defense — $55.6 billion for core defense (versus $109.4 billion) — and much less overall — $100.7 billion (versus $146 billion) — than Americans as a whole. But even so, the position of Republican respondents overall was still dramatically to the left of the political conservation in Washington.

More here.

Conclusions I have drawn from reading about this study:

1. The word "democratic" should no longer be paired with the word "republic" to describe our form of government.  Clearly, we're still a republic.  But just as clearly, representatives no longer represent the citizens.  Instead, they represent big business, the fabulously wealthy, and the organizations and institutions that carry out their will.

2. The political spectrum, that line of political beliefs ranging from far-left to far-right, with all kinds of variations in between, liberal, moderate, conservative, has been artificially redrawn by the establishment, which consists of politicians, mainstream news organizations, the fabulously wealthy, and big business.  The American people, however, have played no role in this reworking of the basic ideological menu, and their place, for the most part, is not within this false political spectrum.  That is, what the people want doesn't matter.

3. The terms "liberal" and "conservative" effectively no longer describe ideology.  Instead, they describe tribal affiliation.  Conservatives, a majority of them, believe in many ideas that are easily understood as liberal, but if and only if those ideas are stripped of the word "liberal."  Meanwhile, liberals vote for faux "liberals" in the faux "liberal" party, the Democrats, which offers "liberal" policy, such as Obamacare, created by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

4. America is not a "center-right" nation, and "center-right" doesn't even mean center-right anymore--it means simply "right."  Instead, we're a center-left nation.  A real center-left, a place on the political spectrum that no longer officially exists, even though it continues to exist in reality among some three fifths of the population.

5. While the fun house mirror nature of US politics continues to be both depressing and alarming, we can also have a great deal of hope about the future.  Most of the so-called division in this country has been entirely manufactured by the ruling elite, and "liberals" and "conservatives" have WAY more in common than they think they do.  Also, I already have faith in my fellow countrymen to know what's best for the country, but this study strongly bolsters that faith.


Friday, November 08, 2013


Sammy and Frankie

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


'60 Minutes' Says It Is 'Reviewing' Benghazi Piece After New Reports Contradict Key Witness Story

From HuffPo:

In the possible first sign of a major climbdown, "60 Minutes" announced Thursday night that it is "reviewing" its controversial report on the Benghazi attacks after finding further evidence that one of its main sources changed his account of events repeatedly.

The CBS program came under repeated criticism after it was revealed that the source—a security officer named Dylan Davies who provided correspondent Lara Logan with an eye-popping, made-for-TV account of the tragic events in Benghazi—had previously lied about his whereabouts on the night of the attack, throwing into question whether the story he told to "60 Minutes" could be trusted.

More here

I gave up on 60 Minutes around the time CBS fired Dan Rather for the so-called "Memogate" scandal.  I mean, for many years I used to think the show was just about as good as it gets with broadcast journalism, lots of good investigation, a willingness to take on corporations and entrenched power, essentially what TV news ought to be but usually isn't.  Firing Rather, however, made me realize what kind of an organization CBS is.  Okay, I already knew that they're a big business media company, with all the biases that come with the territory, but the Rather report on President Bush's AWOL status with the National Guard back in the early 70s was absolutely correct, and the bizarre but, in the end, extraordinarily effective Breitbart style of right-wing blogger smear campaign was so obviously a stunt that CBS backing down just left such a bad taste in my mouth that it's still there years later.

So the show's been off my radar for a long time.  60 Minutes sucks.

Flash forward to Monday of last week.  A lot of my conservative friends triumphantly posted links on facebook to this 60 Minutes Benghazi piece supposedly resurrecting the "scandal" that the right just never could seem to get going.  You know, because Benghazi WASN'T a scandal.  A tragedy, yes.  A massive screw up, for sure.  But a weird scandal with some sort of hidden truth that would make Obama look horrible all being hushed up by the White House for political reasons?  No, it was never that, and it never became that no matter how hard the conservatives tried.  I mean, you can't squeeze blood from a stone, no matter how tight your grip.  But here was this new story on 60 Minutes.

So I was, like, well, I guess I'd better check that out.  Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe the conservatives have got something here.  But before I could even watch the video, I was seeing articles elsewhere asserting that the central guy being interviewed, who claimed to be at the attack, scaling a sixty foot wall, and knocking an Al Qaeda guy around with his rifle butt, had already proclaimed in a written report that he was nowhere near the place at the time.  Of course, that doesn't make him wrong, but it does mean that he's given two wildly different accounts of the event, which means they both can't be right, and that he's a liar one way or the other.  So there's a problem right there.

So much of a problem, in fact, that 60 Minutes, which, at first, defended the report, has now pulled the video from its website.  Again, it is important to state that this dude may very well be telling the truth, and that the conservatives will be able to finally get their scandal on.  But, at the moment, it's not looking too terribly good as far as that goes.  I guess we'll soon find out.

In any case, 60 Minutes still sucks.


Thursday, November 07, 2013


So, as I've mentioned a few times, I have for many months now been cross-posting my Real Art stuff on facebook, which is what I did with yesterday's post on the link between racism and gun ownership in the US.  A nice discussion ensued, but an old high school friend of mine asked me a great question about my interest in race issues.

I'm wondering, what is it for you, personally, that has made you interested in this topic? I know you and I were raised in the same town/similarly.
She means we went to high school and church together, more specifically, a white suburban high school in Texas, and a Southern Baptist church.  My answer:
Lorena, for me, this started years ago when I was a Republican in my first few years at the University of Texas. That's where I encountered actual liberals who made actual arguments I had never heard before, and, being unprepared, I lost these debates, which I hated. I vowed that I was never going to be taken by surprise like that ever again, and started studying liberal views, as well as hanging out with lots of liberals--this was, after all, in Austin. Eventually, after getting what amounted to a fair hearing of both liberal and conservative views, I decided that, while not always right, liberals had the better arguments overall, often stuff that the right wing wasn't even trying respond to.

So studying politics became a life long passion. Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that race is almost always in the mix for virtually every political, economic, or cultural issue I've considered. I mean, it's just always there, again and again and again. So race isn't simply a subset of American politics, economics, and culture. Rather, it is always a dominant factor. Always. So we're never going to solve some of our most basic and chronic problems until we've got race figured out. That is, in order to consider America, you have to consider race, or you're not really considering America.

There's also the fact that, I, too, am sick of America grappling with the race issue. But instead of burying my head in the sand and pretending all is well, as many white people do, I want to freaking solve the damned problem. But because so many white people are in denial, the first step, as they say, is admitting that we have a problem. So I've decided to talk on facebook about race. A lot.


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Study finds racism, gun ownership linked in U.S.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Specifically, for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism (on a scale from one to five), there was a 50% greater chance of having a gun in the home and a 28% increase in the odds of supporting permits to carry concealed handguns.

The authors describe symbolic racism as a belief structure underpinned by an anti-black feeling established in younger years through exposure to negative stereotypes such as "blacks are dangerous."

"This anti-black affect is not necessarily conscious or deliberate but may be felt as fear, anger, unease and hostility towards blacks," according to the researchers.

"The symbolic component reflects the abstract view of blacks as a collective rather than as individuals, as well as its basis in abstract white moralistic reasoning and traditions," the authors state.

More here.

I can almost hear it now.  "Oh, so we're RACISTS now, are we?  That is SO weak and lame.  Race-baiting at its absolute WORST."  Okay, hold your horses and take a chill pill here for a minute.  As far as I can tell from the article, the study deals with subconscious racial attitudes, not with conscious intellectual choices about the issue of race.  And subconscious attitudes, that is, ideas which are out of your control, are nothing with which to be ashamed.  Indeed, upon years of self-reflection, I've come to realize that I have some subconscious racial attitudes, myself; I don't like it, and try my best to be wary of them when I can, but they are there, just because I grew up in white Texan culture only a brief few years after the end of Jim Crow.

So just relax about this.  Nobody's calling gun owners racist.  At least, not the kind of racist who wears a hood and burns crosses.

Having said that, this finding is absolutely fascinating in that it fits very neatly the thesis Michael Moore advances in his film Bowling for Columbine: white America lives within a culture of fear.  The idea is that historically the ever present threat of Indian attacks and slave rebellions profoundly affected the genome of American culture.  We white people have been taught, for so long that nobody even remembers why these days, that we are to fear the other because he may very well slit our throats while we're sleeping.  I definitely got this self-destructive education while I was growing up; I even remember a clear instance or two of this happening when I was little.  And I definitely felt it affecting my thoughts and behavior well into adult life.

Fortunately, I eventually embraced liberalism, which forced me to take a long hard look at myself to truly understand what was going on within me.  So, while I never had any desire to own a gun, fortunately, I certainly understand the emotional dynamic that would make somebody want to do so, fear of the other, fear that the other is going to kill me and my family.  And I know that this is a real thing, something that cannot simply be banished overnight through sheer force of will.

So what the anti-gun left has to consider, now that we have some hard evidence on this, is that simple appeals to logic and reason are not enough when it comes to gun regulation.  We're dealing with some very real fear, found deeply within the human psyche, instilled starting with infancy, and ultimately hardwired into that psyche, for good.  Somehow those fears must be addressed within our rhetoric, or we're just going to go back and forth on this for eternity while shooters continue to shoot up schools, airports, shopping malls, abortion clinics, sporting events, day care centers, churches, and on and on.  

This is beyond logic.  We need to take that to heart.


Monday, November 04, 2013

Surviving the post-employment economy

From Al Jazeera courtesy of someone on facebook:

Individuals internalise the economy’s failure, as a media chorus excoriates them over what they should have done differently. They jump to meet shifting goalposts; they express gratitude for their own mistreatment: their unpaid labour, their debt-backed devotion, their investment in a future that never arrives. 

And when it does not arrive, and they wonder why, they are told they were stupid to expect it. They stop talking, because humiliation is not a bargaining chip. Humiliation is a price you pay in silence - and with silence.

People can always make choices. But the choices of today’s workers are increasingly limited. Survival is not only a matter of money, it is a matter of mentality - of not mistaking bad luck for bad character, of not mistaking lost opportunities for opportunities that were never really there.

You are not your job. But you are how you treat people.

More here

This is what thirty years of conservative economics have brought us: the end of a way of life, and all the expectations and assumptions that go with it.  I mean, when you get these high levels of unemployment in the STEM fields, you can just throw out everything you think you know about having a successful life.  While a simple bachelor's degree long ago stopped being any guarantee of a career, this is now happening with all degrees, in all fields.  So you can do everything right, everything everybody's told you your entire life is what you need to do, study hard, get good grades, work your ass off, pay your dues, all that stuff, and still end up on the street.

While this is bad enough, horrible really, the fact that many Americans haven't yet figured it out is possibly worse.  That is, the bourgeois, the white suburbanites who overwhelmingly vote Republican in most states, for the most part, continue to retain cultural attitudes that they are somehow better than the working class and the poor, that they are more like the rich than they are like people who get their hands dirty for a living or who have no living at all, that they are heirs to the "American Dream," and that because they're such good people, doing all the right things, they deserve it.  So they continue to side with political and economic forces that that couldn't care less about their "American Dream," and which behave accordingly.

So get this through your head, white suburbanites.  You don't matter anymore.  The so-called "one percent" you have foolishly embraced all these years has sold you out, and you helped them do it.  And now you're dirt, pond scum, just like everybody else.  All your hard work, all your education, all your misplaced beliefs mean nothing.  You're not one of them and you never have been.  And now you're just like the rest of us.  The sooner you take this to heart, the sooner we can all start doing something about it.

These bastards can't thrive without your support.  It's long past time to cut them off.



...the Guardian of Forever (and Kirk and Spock)!


Sunday, November 03, 2013


I never can tell what's going to turn into an interesting discussion on facebook.  Here's the original post:

Happy Halloween.

This is my greatest terror. Not the rats, but rather authority stripping away all my dignity and humanity, reducing me to an object, an animal, a thing, being deprived of all my hopes and dreams, being forced to be someone I'm not, and having my nose rubbed into my insignificance for the rest of my hopefully short life. This is the most horrifying thing I can imagine. Total and complete insignificance as a human being.

All it would take is another 9/11 and we're there.
 And I added this ghastly video to go with the thought.

Of course, it wasn't long before somebody thought they'd caught me in a contradiction.
Scott Interestingly you share a greatest fear with the Tea Party. 1984 is a little hard on big government as I recall.

Ronald Governments, corporations, at this point it's all the same.
And that was that, I thought.  No contradiction.  It's not big government.  It's who's controlling it.  But I declared the discussion over before it really even got started.  Another old high school pal made essentially the same point.
Mike I do find it interesting that your greatest terror is also the vision of the future that you embrace. The bigger the government, the smaller the individual!

Ronald Mike, see my comment to Scott, who made the same point, above. But I do have this to add. Milton Friedman's Chicago Boys made clear to one and all back in Chile during the 70s that police states and neoliberalism go together like love and marriage, in spite of the central premise of Friedman's ironically named book "Capitalism and Freedom."
Actually, I think Hitler might have made the same point back during the thirties, too.

But Mike wasn't gong to be dismissed as easily as Scott.
Mike Corporations cannot compel citizens into action without the force of the government. Only the government has that power. Hence the reason that the Constitution was written to limit the power of the government.

Ronald Mike, that's not how it works in the real world. I mean, that's how it's supposed to work, but it's just a civics lesson having very little to do with the actual functioning of the government. Corporations are all over the place in government. Regulatory agencies, lobbyists, massive campaign donations, and the class of people who are elected in MANY cases leave government and go to work directly for corporations. In many cases, corporations literally write the bills that they get their representatives to sponsor and pass. And this goes from big time Washington politics down to state and local politics.

Surely you've read about the "kids for cash" scandal. Well, that's totally minor, chump change compared to what happens inside the beltway.

Ronald Corporations have nothing to do with the government imprisoning and killing people.

Ronald Just nothing to do with anything at all.

Ronald No, corporations are like your friendly neighborhood banker, or the guy who owns the hardware store down the block, just nice regular people who are members of the local chamber of commerce, like mom and dad, and apple pie. Corporations are a Norman Rockwell painting. All is well in the USA.

Yes, yes, I'm being sarcastic, but corporate ownership of the US government is undeniable. Indeed, all this "big government" the conservatives love to bash historically came about with the rise of big business. From trust-busting TR, through FDR's New Deal, and into the 60s, "big government" was the only force in society keeping the corporations from running roughshod all over our republic. Then came Reagan, who, with like minded others, started dismantling social protections against the raw power of corporations, while at the same time shifting the emphasis of "big government" to something enabling big business control over America. So our protector, "big government," was essentially bought by big business, and they now use it at will.

Needless to say, taking away "big government" would simply mean direct corporate rule. What we need instead is getting big business out of "big government" entirely.
And that's when my old pal Bill, a right wing Army chaplain, chimed in.
Bill Ron, then why don't you run for President. You have all of the answers!!!

Ronald Well, certainly not all of them. I do, however, understand well that what we want to be the reality, so much so that many of us confuse desire with truth, is definitely NOT reality.

But running for president in order to dismantle the corporate state is utterly futile. The way elections and campaigns are structured absolutely requires butt loads of corporate cash in order to succeed. That is, no anti-corporate candidate can possibly be elected. You think I like Obama? No way. He's right in the middle of all this.

I'm totally serious, and correct, when I assert that corporations own the government.

Bill Whatever, Ron...I might even vote for you...and I'm conservative, white, a devout Christian, and SO ready for change. I pray for our President, but don't trust him. I might trust you. Go for it!

Ronald Bill, you are a true gentleman.

Also, you shouldn't trust ANY politician. What drives them is not what drives us.


Friday, November 01, 2013



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



From the Houston Chronicle:

UN takeover of the Alamo 'horse hockey'

A decision on the missions' nomination by a committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is expected in 2015. One report criticizing the nomination said leaders of other countries such as China or France could oversee and influence Alamo operations. It also said a blue United Nations flag would fly over the Alamo.

A release by the Texas General Land Office, Alamo custodian, called the rumors “spectacular and erroneous.”

“The people of Texas own the Alamo now and in the future. Nothing is going to change that,” Patterson said.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, a leading proponent of the nomination, dismissed the rumors as “scare tactics” driven by politics. The Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore are among the 21 World Heritage sites nationwide that have met UNESCO standards for integrity, completeness and other criteria of the designation, Wolff said.

“These are scare tactics that I think are political and playing out in some places,” he said.

More here.

This is how this shit starts.  I mean, all of it.  Sharia law imposed on the US, the Ground Zero Mosque, FEMA camps, death panels, world government, and on and on and on ad infinitum.  Some conservative gets hold of a piece of information, usually something pretty obscure, and either consciously twists it unethically to serve political goals, or genuinely misinterprets it due to ignorance or laziness or deeply held bias, resulting in severe freak out, which is contagious to other conservatives.  

This business about the UN taking over the Alamo is simply the latest in a long, long, long list of the right wing jumping at their own shadows.  Or successfully convincing the right wing to do so.  Whatever.  Same difference.  We end up with a percentage of the population going into hysterics over something stupid.

Fortunately, this one doesn't seem to have gained much traction.  I guess it hasn't made it onto Alex Jones, which is apparently a pipeline to Glenn Beck, which continues to be a pipeline to mainstream conservatism.  That's a good thing because I have absolutely no desire to find myself in conversations where my first sentence is "No, the UN is not going to take over the Alamo."  I feel a bit humiliated even contemplating it.

But really, that's what the conservatives these days would have us all do, humiliate ourselves as a nation by engaging in psychotic claptrap.  As if there weren't enough legitimate differences between the left and the right.  These liars and/or nuts feel like they need to invent shit just to up the confrontation.  So they fiddle while Rome burns.  And there's hell to pay when we don't dance to the tune they're playing.

But yeah, that's all now a major aspect of American public discourse.  Wrangling with total bullshit instead of tending to our national responsibilities.  Damned shame.