Tuesday, January 31, 2006


From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Coretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights leader, dies

Coretta Scott King, who turned a life shattered by her husband's assassination into one devoted to enshrining his legacy of human rights and equality, has died at the age of 78.

Flags at the King Center were lowered to half-staff this morning.

"We appreciate the prayers and condolences from people across the country," the King family said in a statement. The family said she died during the night. The widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. suffered a serious stroke and heart attack last August.

"It's a bleak morning for me and for many people and yet it's a great morning because we have a chance to look at her and see what she did and who she was," poet Maya Angelou said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"It's bleak because I can't — many of us can't hear her sweet voice — but it's great because she did live, and she was ours. I mean African-Americans and white Americans and Asians, Spanish-speaking — she belonged to us and that's a great thing."

here for the rest.

She kept the militants from holding up her husband as a symbol of violent change and kept the establishment from erasing his strong stance against poverty and war. She made sure that we remember MLK every January. She was an effective activist in her own right, doing everything she could to keep the values of the civil rights era alive in today's more materialistic and self-serving climate. The left is definitely weaker for her loss.

Farewell Coretta King.


Alito sworn in as Supreme Court justice

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The swearing-in came only hours after the Senate voted 58-42 to confirm Alito — a former federal appellate judge, U.S. attorney, and conservative lawyer for the Reagan administration from New Jersey — as the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been a moderate swing vote on the court.

All but one of the Senate's majority Republicans voted for his confirmation, while all but four of the Democrats voted against Alito.

That is the smallest number of senators in the president's opposing party to support a Supreme Court justice in modern history. Chief Justice John Roberts got 22 Democratic votes last year, and Justice Clarence Thomas — who was confirmed in 1991 on a 52-48 vote — got 11 Democratic votes.

here for the rest.

I already knew it, but now I'm more sure than ever: the Democratic Party is absolutely useless. This kind of thing is supposed to be the entire point as far as progressives voting for Democrats goes. "Vote Democrat or we'll lose abortion rights." Well, I've been supporting Democrats, and it pretty much looks as though they've failed. I'm pretty convinced that with a little more arm twisting they could have gotten a filibuster together. But they didn't. And now we're fucked. Things won't change overnight, but, trust me, they will change. I'm disgusted. Not by the Republicans; they're simply being true to who they've been for decades. No, I'm disgusted with the Democrats. Sure, they may be liberal, but so what? They're clearly not willing take any risks when push comes to shove. Liberals and progressives have been played for suckers. The Democrats do not represent them. And now we're all totally screwed.


Monday, January 30, 2006


From the Houston Chronicle editorial board:

A state commission to curb homebuilder
abuses proves to be a deck stacked in favor
of the industry it is supposed to regulate

When Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn issued a report last week criticizing the Texas Residential Construction Commission as a shield for politically-connected homebuilders, she could have been reading from a column the Chronicle's Clay Robison wrote last March.

Headlined "No place like home for this cuddly Austin lapdog," Robison's piece characterized the creation of the TRCC as a boon for homebuilders who had contributed millions of dollars to state lawmakers. In return, the law creating the commission required aggrieved homeowners to go through a costly, time-consuming arbitration before they could take legal action against contractors. It also limited damages that plaintiffs could receive.

The commission itself has no enforcement powers to discipline industry violators. Law requires the nine-member body to include four industry representatives and two "public" gubernatorial appointees. Gov. Rick Perry chose to appoint as a public member an executive of Perry Homes, owned by Houston megabuilder Bob Perry. He's not related to Gov. Perry by blood but linked through a $100,000 campaign contribution he gave the state's top executive less than a month before the TRCC appointment.

here for the rest.

And from the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Millions in Iraq aid squandered

Iraqi money gambled away in the Philippines. Thousands spent on a swimming pool that was never used. An elevator repaired so poorly that it crashed, killing people.

A U.S. government audit found American-led occupation authorities squandered tens of millions of dollars that were supposed to be used to rebuild Iraq through undocumented spending and outright fraud.

In some cases, auditors recommend criminal charges be filed against the perpetrators. In others, it asks the U.S. ambassador to Iraq to recoup the money.

here for the rest.

From the local level, to the state level, to national and international issues, our political leaders are wildly corrupt. That is, the nation's business is now such an enormous criminal enterprise that it would make Vito Corleone blush. The homebuilder regulatory board in Texas is par for the course. Across the board, across the country. For the last thirty years or so, businesses have made it their business to buy their way into the agencies that are supposed to watch over them, not only making them useless from a regulatory standpoint, but turning them into cash bonanzas for the very industries they are supposed to regulate. Insurance, health care and pharmaceuticals, music, film, cars, oil, you name it, all of them have more governmental power over what they do than voters, and, lest I offend any libertarians with such a statement, I'm talking about the power to rip people off, to sell them unsafe products, to pollute the environment. The wasted millions in Iraq is no surprise either. From the moment the Pentagon started handing out no-bid contracts immediately after the illegal invasion of Iraq to White House friends and cronies, it was utterly clear that the US had no intention of actually rebuilding the war devastated nation. No, this was all about the spoils of war. Unfortunately, innocent Iraqis weren't the only victims; the American taxpayer has also been conquered, raped and pillaged. Just think about how many billions have gone to well connected interests when you're doing your taxes next month. That's your money. Our vaunted "democracy" is a total joke, and we're all the punchline.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tests show political thinking is emotional

From the New York Times via the Houston Chronicle:

Liberals and conservatives can become equally bug-eyed and irrational when talking politics, especially when they are on the defensive.

Using MRI scanners, neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the politically partisan brain when it tries to digest damning facts about favored candidates or criticisms of them.

The process is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, the researchers report, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected.

Click here for the rest.

Of course, anybody with half a brain already knows this, but it's nice that there is now some solid scientific evidence to prove it. As the article observes, it doesn't absolutely have to be this way, but it takes a truly intellectually disciplined individual to overcome emotional bias. Lord knows, I try, but I'm quite certain that I'm very much at the mercy of my own physical nature, that is, my brain, just as everybody else is--I feel like I'm maybe a step ahead of most people if only because I've had some really fun conversations about politics with the polite conservatives I've known over the years; maybe my high school debate days sent me down a path that affords me a bit more cold rationality when considering political questions. Or maybe I'm just fooling myself. I don't know.

I do know that the schools could do far more in the way of training people to rationally deal with controversial issues. But then that's not what the schools are really about, after all.

But this knowledge, that people are extraordinarly emotional about politics, brings me back to a question I've asked here a few times before: given the loud and abusive rhetoric coming down from the right wing these past couple of decades, given that such rhetoric seems to be wildly effective when it comes to results, shouldn't the left attempt to emulate this approach? Shouldn't the left abandon the "moral high ground" of civilized debate just as the right has done? This study shows that anybody who tries to be fair, who tries to persuade with facts and calm argumentation, is at a distinct competitive disadvantage when debating those who rely heavily on emotional appeals in order to win. In other words, it seems to me that the left, although this is changing to some extent, continues to brings knives to the proverbial gun fight. Now that we know for sure how utterly devastating emotionally based arguments can be, I'm very tempted to give into this approach to politics.

Hell, I give into it here at Real Art at least once a week already. Should I go further?


Documents show US military in Iraq detain wives

From Reuters via ABC News courtesy of
Crooks and Liars:

U.S. forces in Iraq, in two instances described in military documents, took custody of the wives of men believed to be insurgents in an apparent attempt to pressure the suspects into giving themselves up.

Both incidents occurred in 2004. In one, members of a shadowy military task force seized a mother who had three young children, still nursing the youngest, "in order to leverage" her husband's surrender, according to an account by a civilian Defense Intelligence Agency intelligence officer.

In the other, an e-mail exchange includes a U.S. military officer asking "have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?"

here for the rest.

Interesting headline: "detain wives." I have a better word for this than "detain." It's kidnapping. It doesn't matter that these are our soldiers doing the kidnapping. It doesn't matter that this is the "war on terror." Kidnapping is wrong. Really wrong. Of course, this comes as absolutely no surprise. Continual revelations, from widespread torture to spying on American citizens, have already shown that our leaders are truly horrible, awful people. If we don't, as a people, stop this shit now, it's all over. America is ending before our eyes. And it's our fault if we let it happen.


Teacher Awaits Day in Court

the Progressive:

At the end of the meeting, Hahn insisted that the principal, Victoria Rogers, make Mayer refrain from talking about peace again in the classroom. “I think she can do that,” Principal Rogers responded, according to Mayer’s deposition. “I think she can not mention peace in her class again.”

“I was just floored,” Mayer says, “but I said OK because we had a parent out of control, and I didn’t want to be insubordinate. I thought that would be the end of it.”

It wasn’t.

At the end of that day, Principal Rogers circulated a memo, entitled “Peace at Clear Creek,” that said: “We absolutely do not, as a school, promote any particular view on foreign policy related to the situation in Iraq.” And she cancelled the annual “peace month” that the school had been holding.

On February 7, 2003, Rogers also sent Mayer a letter telling her to “refrain from presenting your political views.”

Mayer and her lawyer, Michael Schultz, contend that this illegally infringed on Mayer’s First Amendment rights.

At the end of the spring semester, the school district did not renew Mayer’s contract, and she and Schultz allege that this was in retaliation for her political expression.

here for the rest.

You know, after my two posts bashing Baytown, I have to slightly contradict myself and admit that I feel like I was afforded a great deal of latitude when it came to discussing political issues as a teacher in my classroom at Sterling High School. When the Bush administration started beating the drums of war about Iraq, I was pretty scared to talk about it on the job--post 9/11 hyperpatriotism was in full swing at that point, and I really did fear losing my job if I advocated peace, which is one of the reasons I started this blog. But after a while, I realized that pretty much every other teacher was talking about the war and offering their opinions about it to their classes. So, very carefully, I started talking about it, too. For me, the key was to allow dissenting voices, and to give legitimacy to opinions that differed from mine. Heh. High school students are told to shut up so often that it's usually a breath of fresh air when a teacher allows a student with whom he disagrees to speak freely. Many of my kids thought I was crazy for opposing the invasion, but were thankful for the unbridled atmosphere of free speech that I tried to facilitate when I taught. We had some rousing discussions.

But the teacher in the article excerpt above, apparently, didn't go nearly as far as I did in voicing her opposition to the war. If I had been judged by the same standard, I would have been tarred and feathered, and run out of town. Pretty outrageous, if you ask me. I hope she wins her case.


Polls Show Many Americans
are Simply Dumber Than Bush


Despite the media's failure, about half the population has managed to discern that the US invasion of Iraq has not made them safer and that the Bush administration's assault on civil liberties is not a necessary component of the war on terror. The problem, thus, lies with the absence of due diligence on the part of the other half of the population.

Consider the New York Times/CBS poll. Sixty-four percent of the respondents have concerns about losing civil liberties as a result of anti-terrorism measures put in place by President Bush. Yet, 53 percent approve of spying without obtaining court warrants "in order to reduce the threat of terrorism."

Why does any American think that spying without a warrant has any more effect in reducing the threat of terrorism than spying with a warrant? The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Bush is disobeying, requires the executive to obtain from a secret panel of federal judges a warrant for spying on Americans. The purpose of the law is to prevent a president from spying for partisan political reasons. The law permits the president to spy first (for 72 hours) and then come to the court for permission. As the court meets in secret, spying without a warrant is no more effective in reducing the threat of terrorism than spying with a warrant.

here for the rest.

Really, the ignorance of the general US population is only a symptom of the overall problem: Americans, for whatever reasons, simply have no understanding of their responsibilities as citizens. Ideally, all Americans would, by their own initiative, already fully understand the problems of media bias and the astounding misdirection of political debate, and factor all that into their overall analysis of important issues. Ideally, all Americans would see the concept of seeking out the truth as a patriotic imperative, and would fully realize that they cannot simply sit on their couches watching CNN to get an honest picture of the world: ideal Americans would devote a significant portion of their lives to studying politics and the ins and outs of how information is created and shaped by forces that have a stake in how voters perceive them and what they do.

Obviously, we don't live in the ideal America. Being an ideal American isn't easy, and most people don't even understand what an ideal citizen is, anyway. Most people don't understand that democracy is much more difficult for the average citizen than, say, dictatorship. Democracy means individual responsibility for the nation's direction. Democracy means work. Democracy means that the people rule, and you can't do that by ceding your leadership responsibilty to guys in suits who may or may not have your best interests at heart. Democracy is waaay more than simply voting. Of course, most people don't do that, either.


Friday, January 27, 2006


Well, I've finally figured out how to get people to comment more here at Real Art: trash their hometown. I got some pretty good comments after
my scathing attack on Baytown yesterday, and it only seems fair to bump the responses up from Haloscan, where they are eventually erased after a couple of months, to the main page, especially because they raise some good points that deserve my response. So without any further ado, let's look at those comments.

I was amazed and honored for my blog to be visited by someone at the center of the controversy about which I wrote in the post mentioned above. No, not the Exxon emission controversy; I'm sure those oil lords don't even know I exist. I'm talking about the woman who pastors Baytown's one-and-only gay-friendly congregation, Eklektos, which, by using the worship space of the Southern Baptist church Faith Harbour, roused the ire of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention enough to revoke the membership of Eklektos' generous host:

Not all of Baytown supports the disaffiliation of Faith Harbour from the SBTC. Read today's editorial in the Baytown Sun:


and the letter to the editor titled "Heroic People" on Jan 23.


and "WWJD" on Jan 22.


BTW, I found your site by doing a blog search on Faith Harbour and Eklektos. Some of us are doing our best to help Baytown see itself for what it is.

Wendy Bailey
I responded to Wendy earlier today:

Sorry, Wendy, I mean no offense. No doubt, you are among the intelligent and enlightened subpopulation that I mentioned. That's actually a weird thing: on an individual level, Baytown really isn't such a bad place; it's the group dynamic that seems so bizarre. Keep up the good work. Changing culture and conventional wisdom is not an easy thing to do.

Of course, when I wrote that this afternoon, I had no idea who she is--I only figured that out after clicking through the links she posted. Now that I know what kind of trouble she's causing in Baytown, I want to add this: Wendy, you totally rock!!!! I have a pretty good idea of what you're up against in Baytown, and I think that you're a true hero. It's not easy, I imagine, to establish a gay-friendly church anywhere in the state of Texas, including areas like Montrose. But to fight the good fight in Baytown...like I said, you rock. If there were more Christians like you in the world, maybe I would still count myself as a believer. Well, probably not, but it's absolutely wonderful to see somebody who not only swims against the current by taking Christ's words seriously, but who also is willing to do so publicly. I'm sure there are quite a few people there who think you're doing Satan's work, so watch your back. But then, didn't Jesus say something to the extent that those who are persecuted in his name are blessed?
Anyway, thanks for dropping by.

The next comment is from my successor at the high school where I used to teach, Kyle, who writes
Great Blogs of Fire:

Okay. Wow. That's pretty harsh, I would say, but not surprising. For people who didn't grow up in a town like Baytown it can seem like a very strange place. I never thought of it as anything other than a working class suburb of Houston. It wasn't until I moved back here almost 3 years ago that I realized that it is less of a suburb and more of a nearby city, like you said. I spent the 4 years I was in HS (at the school you taught at and I teach at) wanting to leave. The first song I ever wrote when I learned to play guitar was about the pollution and filth of Baytown. Since moving back I've adopted a slogan for my hometown: "Big City Filth, Big City Crime, Small Town Boredom." My wife is from a very conservative town in west Texas where I attended college. The first year we lived here she probably cried a couple times a month about having to live here. While I have to disagree with the racism claim (I don't think that racial tension is any better or worse here than other towns this size) I think that you paint a fairly acurate, however blunt, picture of our fair city.

Then, why, if I felt this way when I left, did I come back? The short answer is because I had contacts that lead to jobs that didn't exist in the D/FW area where I was living. The long answer is more complex to an extent I don't even think I can answer satisfactorily. People like Wendy above (whom I know very well from the
BLT and her daughter being in the theatre program here at Sterling, among other things) exist here. People like my dad and grandparents and people at the Baytown Little Theatre and the Harbour exist here. We have our fair share of town neglect and issues that get swept under the rug, but like Wendy said, some people want to change that. Why? I don't know. I grew up here, I guess. I want to see it thrive as a more intellectual and diverse city, instead of the town that it is now, whatever that is. I won't live here forever, that's for sure. My wife wouldn't have it. But, my parents will always be here and so will many people I love and respect. Baytown is like an annoying brother. I can talk bad about it all day long, but it really hurts when someone else does.

And Did you know?

The Baytown Sun endorsed John Kerry for President, and caught some flack about it, to boot?

Ah, Kyle, I apologize for the kick in the gut. You're right; I was blunt, and perhaps I should have tempered my criticism by emphasizing more all the cool people I got to know while I was working there. All communities are complex, and it is unfair for me to paint any community with such broad strokes. You seem to understand where I'm coming from, but just to make sure, let me emphasize that I'm talking far more about prevailing cultural attitudes than about any particular individuals. And just so you know, I've been far more harsh on the community where I grew up--I'll say this about Baytown: the people there are far more interesting and individualistic than the bland cookie-cutter yuppies among whom I came of age in Kingwood; there are some bizarre folk in your hometown, and that's worth a few points in my book.

As for the issue of racism, you may be right; it's hard to gauge exactly how racist an area actually is. My sense of that probably comes more from my associations with African-Americans there, many of whom, both adults and teenagers, in my opinion, seem to firmly believe that there is definitely a racial heirarchy of some sort in Baytown, and, by and large, don't talk much to white people about it, if only to avoid arguments that they feel they couldn't win anyway. As far as what I observed in the way of white people's behavior, well, I heard students talk, and can only assume that their attitudes reflect their famlies' attitudes: at Sterling, at least, there is certainly a segment of the white student population that harbors racist tendencies.

But, then, it is fair to ask if that makes Baytown any more racist than any other east Texas town. I don't know. Maybe I'm still pissed at the white girl who tried to get me fired for trying to explain to a class why it is socially acceptable for black comedians to make fun of whites but not the reverse. "You're acting like you're not white!" she said. Next thing I knew I was in the principal's office trying to explain that I did not, in fact, give students recommendations on what drugs they should take.

Ah, good times.

Of course, now I'm in Louisiana, and Texas seems to have nothing on this state in terms of race relations. That is, the racism here is much more visible; I've encountered much more of what I consider to be racist behavior and language in Baton Rouge than I ever did in the Houston area. Then there's New Orleans' Ninth Ward neighborhood...

And Kyle, I don't think it's so strange that you've returned to Baytown for the time being. I returned to Kingwood when I was in my twenties for pretty much the same reasons. It is my home, after all, and, despite my loathing for the place, I also have to admit my love for it. Like you said, hometowns are like family. It may suck, but it's mine.

Nonetheless, I, myself, feel a great need to be consistent with my criticism. That is, I see, in both Baytown and Kingwood, the same kinds of issues taking place nationally against which I rail away on my blog every day, played out on the local level, and because of my personal connection with these two communities, I feel more responsibility to criticize them than, say, Jasper or Vidor.

By the way, that's pretty damned cool about the Sun. I didn't know they had it in them.

Kyle also noted that he's written at length about the Eklektos/Faith Harbour controversy on his blog. We're in tech rehearsals for the show I'm in right now, so I haven't had a chance to check it out, but Kyle's a good blogger, so I'm planning on making my way over there soon. And you should too.

Finally, my young friend Adam, also from Baytown, and who writes the blog Shattered Soapbox, comments:

The WEIRDEST thing, I'll say this again, is that I haven't heard ANYONE talking about either of those things ANYWHERE.

There are some kids here that actually want to work at Exxon for the rest of their lives...
You know, the fact that so few people seem to be discussing extraordinary events there is as good an explanation as any for why such extreme attitudes dominate Baytown's overall culture. That is, apathy rules. Of course, I could say the same thing about the whole country, too. And, given the bleakness of job prospects overall, I can't say that I blame these Exxon kids. I mean, they are pretty good jobs when you get right down to it. But what a sad option: work for Wal-Mart for crap wages and no benefits, or sell your soul and have an evil multi-national oil giant take care of you for life.








Thursday, January 26, 2006


I worked for six years in Baytown, from 1998-2004, as a high school theater teacher, and got to know the place and it's people pretty well. And let me tell you, it's one weird town. For starters, it's in complete denial about what it is: the working class community thirty minutes east of Houston on I-10 is a large town, around 75,000 or so in population, that seems to think it's still a small town. That is, they have real urban issues with which to contend, like poverty, racial divisions, and gang violence, and they do deal with that stuff, but it's as though people there want to pretend they're all on Leave It to Beaver. It's a conservative place politically, which is no surprise given that it fringes on east Texas, but it is surprising given it's working class majority demographic and the huge non-white populations there--there are sizable African-American, Hispanic, and Pakistani communities in Baytown. All of this weirdness takes place under the shadow of Exxon, which essentially built the place decades ago to house their plant workers. If I understand correctly, nothing happens there politically that hasn't been blessed by the multi-national oil giant. Really, the place belongs to Exxon; it's just that nobody wants to admit it.

And people there are happy with the arrangement because it provides them with good, life long union jobs with benefits and retirement--very few places in America have such a good deal as far as jobs go these days. But the proximity of the plants brings problems along with the good jobs.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Delay in oil-spill notification probed

Residents, who were told in a letter from the company delivered to their homes Tuesday morning that the appropriate agencies had been contacted, expressed shock Wednesday that authorities had not been informed initially.

"Oh, my god. I am really scared," said Patricia Robinson, 55, who has lived in Archia Courts for 40 years, and watched Wednesday as Exxon Mobil contractors continued to wash cars and dig up the complex's playground.

The excavation, according to the company, had nothing to do with the spill, but, rather, was to improve the playground, which was missing seats on swingsets and was too close to power lines.

"Exxon must be hiding something," Robinson said. "They are trying to get it cleaned up so fast."

The delay, according to state officials who arrived on scene Wednesday, resulted in little evidence being available to reconstruct what happened. Investigators as of Wednesday afternoon still were having trouble deciding whether to classify it as an air pollution event or an oil spill.

"When we got there today, everything was clean," said Indest. "They had more than 24 hours to do their work. There was nowhere ... to take a sample.

here for the rest.

Crap like this happens all the time in Baytown. There was more than one occasion where we had to "shelter in place" for a while at the school where I taught, while the latest emission scare was being sorted out. I haven't seen any studies on the topic, but, from personal experience with the people there, it strikes me that the town has more than its fair share of weird cancers, birth defects, and other strange health maladies--pollution in Baytown, toxins in their environment, have got to be off the scale.

But everyone seems to be cool with the risk. I guess they feel like that's the price they have to pay to live in their fantasy 1950s world with such good jobs.

Of course, reality can never be completely swept under the carpet. I said above that Baytown deals with some heavy urban issues. Gay churches, for instance.

From the BP News, courtesy of my buddy Adam, who still attends the high school where I taught, and who writes the blog
Shattered Soapbox:

SBTC removes church over homosexuality controversy

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s executive board has acted unanimously to disaffiliate a church for violating the convention’s constitutional provision concerning churches that “affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”

The SBTC credentials committee and two SBTC staff members met Dec. 20 for one hour and 45 minutes with the pastor of Faith Harbour -- previously an SBTC congregation in Baytown -- with a redemptive aim, SBTC minister-church relations director Deron Biles wrote in a summary of the meeting.

Biles recounted that the committee hoped to clarify Faith Harbour’s stance toward a church it is helping sponsor and allowing to meet in its facilities, which bills itself on its website as welcoming and affirming of homosexual, bisexual and trangendered people.

Additionally, the new church, Eklektos, has a female senior pastor. Biles said the committee and Faith Harbour pastor Randy Haney were unable to resolve their differences over Faith Harbour’s involvement with Eklektos.

Click here for the rest.

Heh. It wasn't simply the gayness of this congregation; it was also that they had a female pastor! God, I love Texas. Even though this excommunication is coming down from a state organization, I have no doubt that the overall attitude in Baytown is in wholehearted agreement--Baytown, like everywhere else in the world, has plenty of gay people, but is, I would assert, more homophobic than other towns its size. Did I mention the racism boiling beneath Baytown's 1950s facade? While I met more than a few there who I consider to be wonderful, enlightened, and intelligent people, I have to say that if I lived there, I would be doing everything I could to get out. And if I had children, I wouldn't let them within fifty miles of the place. The prevailing culture there is simply insane, much more fit as a setting for a David Lynch movie than as a place to spend your life. It's really not even worth visiting.

The best thing I've ever done for myself was to quit my job there. Because if you stay there long enough, the insanity creeps into your brain, and you start to see the world through Baytown's weird lenses, which is just no good.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Nasty cold. Busy, busy, busy. Late. Read these two essays on the Supreme Court.

Roberts Court's first split decision
shows politics trumping principle

One decision doesn't make a career, but an alarm should have sounded when Chief Justice Roberts joined Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in overriding the will of Oregon voters and attempting to overrule Oregon's Death With Dignity law. Although the Court's current majority sustained the law, this was the first major split decision of the Roberts court. And by contradicting all his fine-sounding phrases about Federalist principles (much as the five justices did in Bush v. Gore) Roberts made clear that his political beliefs will guide his interpretations. If there are doubts about his agenda, and where his loyalties lie, I'd suggest that this should bury them.

here for the rest.

Judicial activism coming from the right

I believe that legalizing physician-assisted suicide is a mistake. I also believe that having federal courts and bureaucrats decide the issue is a mistake. This is a question that should be debated by the people and their representatives.
That's why the Supreme Court was right this week to uphold Oregon's assisted-suicide law — a law I would have voted against had I been an Oregon citizen, and would vote to repeal.

Oregon passed the law in a referendum. Six justices on the Supreme Court rejected sweeping claims by the Bush administration (originally put forward by former Attorney General John Ashcroft) that it could interpret federal laws in a novel way to usurp Oregon's power to regulate the practice of medicine. This, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared, represented a “radical shift of authority from the states to the federal government.”

In this case, I found myself in the odd position of agreeing with the sentiments expressed by Justice Antonin Scalia on the underlying issue, but bewildered by his willingness to impose his view (and mine) by judicial fiat.

Click here for the rest.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006


From the Baton Rouge Advocate:

Swine Palace gets rare opportunity to present
unique show, Tennessee Williams in Quarter Time

The show, written and directed by John Dennis, will play Feb. 1-18 at the Reilly Theatre on the LSU campus. It will incorporate performances of excerpts from about a dozen plays.

“It was one thing to have the idea, and quite another to get permission,” laughed Tick. “The agent said ‘absolutely no. You’ve got to produce a full-length play or nothing.’

“I called the literary agent in New York and was turned down. The Tennessee Williams estate is controlled by a British literary agent. I called the literary agent in London and he said no way.

“That’s when I wrote that long letter.”

The letter turned the trick and gave LSU the go-ahead to stage a once-in-a-lifetime production.

“I described the devastation of the hurricanes and wrote about how important New Orleans was to Williams, and how important it is to do everything we can to bring the city back,” Tick said.

“I reminded them about all the regional theater companies that closed after 9-11, and I went through all we suffered during Katrina and how it was to go through Katrina and told them we needed to do everything we could to preserve New Orleans. They wrote back and gave us permission to do the show.”

here for the rest.

And I'm having a lot of fun with this. On the other hand, I fear that I'm starting to be typecast: I'm playing a gay crossdresser for the second show in a row. Ah well. It takes a real man to wear a dress, and it's a fabulous role. The director, John Dennis, head of LSU's MFA acting program, is giving me a new love for Williams.
Like Chekhov before him, Tennessee Williams has gotten a bad rap for being boring and/or melodramatic; the reality is that much of his writing was meant to be funny--Blanche from Streetcar, for instance, made Williams giggle numerous times while he was writing the play. The scene I'm in, from the little known Kingdom of Earth, is hysterically funny; I'm having to bite my lip to keep from laughing during rehearsals.

At any rate, if you're in the Red Stick during February, try to check it out.

(Advocate staff photo by KERRY MALONEY) From left, Shawn Halliday, Andrea Frankle and Anna Richardson perform a key moment in Quarter Time.



From the New York Times courtesy of
This Modern World:

Iraq Rebuilding Badly Hobbled, U.S. Report Finds

The first official history of the $25 billion American reconstruction effort in Iraq depicts a program hobbled from the outset by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting, secrecy and constantly increasing security costs, according to a preliminary draft.

The document, which begins with the secret prewar planning for reconstruction and touches on nearly every phase of the program through 2005, was assembled by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and debated last month in a closed forum by roughly two dozen experts from outside the office.

A person at the forum provided a copy of the document, dated December 2005, to The New York Times. The inspector general's office, whose agents and auditors have been examining and reporting on various aspects of the rebuilding since early 2004, declined to comment on the report other than to say it was highly preliminary.

"It's incomplete," said a spokesman for the inspector general's office, Jim Mitchell. "It could change significantly before it is finally published."

In the document, the paralyzing effect of staffing shortfalls and contracting battles between the State Department and the Pentagon, creating delays of months at a stretch, are described for the first time from inside the program.

here for the rest.

You know, I've been reading some fairly recent interviews with Noam Chomsky, and one theme that keeps coming up is how puzzled he is by how badly US forces did during the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. He, too, thought it was going to be a "cake walk," that Iraq was weak, which is why he pretty much assumes that it was all a case of gross incompetence on a historic level. Turns out that he's absolutely right. If we had all known this before Katrina hit, nobody would have been surprised by the "heckuva job" Brownie did leading FEMA. At this point, I think it's pretty clear that opposition to the White House has nothing to do with ideology or the conservative/liberal dichotomy: Bush and his cronies should be opposed by all Americans because they simply don't know how to do anything in the way of running the nation's business. In short, the White House is occupied by major losers no matter how you look at it.

Is anyone serious about impeachment yet?


Monday, January 23, 2006


From TAPPED courtesy of

The idea here is simple. Conservatives believe Americans have too much health insurance, that they spend heedlessly and wastefully on care, procedures, and medications they would simply forego if insurance plans didn't pick up the tab. Ergo, HSA's, which end risk pooling, forcing care to come directly from pockets. Newly responsible for their medical bills, consumers will be spurred by the Magic of the Market to make smarter decisions, show more prudence, lead healthier lifestyles, smile more often, and smell springtime fresh. It's gonna be awesome.

At least if you're healthy. Because what HSA's really do is separate the young from the old, the well from the sick. Currently, insurance operates off of the concept of risk pooling. Since health costs tend to be unpredictable and illness isn't thought a moral failing, we all pay a bit more than we expect to use in order to subsidize those who end up needing much more than they ever thought possible. The well subsidize the sick, the young subsidize the old, and we all accept the arrangement because one day we will be old, and one day we will be sick, and no one wants to shoulder that alone.

But HSA's slice right through this intergenerational, redistributionist arrangement: they're a great deal for young, healthy folks because they don't force subsidization. Just don't get sick. And if you're already sick, don't think you can hide by remaining in traditional insurance plans: when the healthy rush towards HSA's, older plans will hold only the ill, and insurance companies will send premiums skyrocketing to recoup the difference.

here for the rest.

This nutty idea, the health savings account, has been floating around for a decade or so, but nobody's really taken it seriously until now--apparently, Bush is going to be pushing it pretty heavily during his upcoming state of the union address. As far as I've been able to tell, the idea is something of a right-wing think tank reaction to the very real issue of exploding health care costs and decreasing access. The problem is that health care saving accounts won't work, or, at least, they're not going they won't do what they're supposed to do. Actually, HSAs will make things much worse. There about a billion reasons why this is the case, but probably the most obvious is that Americans currently have a negative savings rate--that is, nobody's saving any money now, so why does anybody seriously believe that they're going to participate in this ill-conceived plan? The biggest problem is that HSAs just won't do any good for anybody with serious health problems, like cancer or HIV, or chronic issues like lupus or arthritis. In short, HSAs are just so much rhetoric. There's nothing to them, just some more smoke and mirrors to cover the rich while they fuck everyone else.

And for the next few months we're going to have to listen to reporters, pundits, and politicians on TV talk about HSAs as though they had some kind of legitimacy. It'll be as though people are suddenly like "hey, maybe the world really is flat!" Why are our leaders so fucking stupid?



From POVonline courtesy of my buddy Mike over at this is not a compliment:

National Gorilla Suit Day, which mysteriously falls on January 31 of each year, is perhaps the important holiday of the year. Every National Gorilla Suit Day, people of all shapes and colors around the world get their gorilla suits out of the closet, put them on and go door-to-door.

That's really all there is to it. You don't have to buy gifts. You don't have to fast, although some Orthodox Gorilla Suiters do. If you want to have a parade, fine. Just make sure all the marchers are wearing gorilla suits and that all the balloons are giant, inflatable gorillas.

Click here for the rest.

People who really know me know that I totally dig gorilla suits. Actually, I'm into pretty much all kinds of animal suits, especially gigantic chickens. But the gorilla suit is my favorite. Indeed, I was totally tickled back when Becky and I were married in 2001 by our old pal Jim showing up to be the maid of honor...in a gorilla suit!!! We had the best wedding. Also, I must observe, the Real Art theme song, "Solfeggio," comes from the old Ernie Kovacs TV show where it was performed by the Nairobi Trio, three guys in gorilla suits.

Yep, I just love gorilla suits. I really need to get one someday.

By the way, if you're into this sort of thing, POVonline, the site with the skinny on National Gorilla Suit Day, belongs to a non-superstar comic book writer named Mark Evanier: he had a pretty good run on a mid 80s incarnation of Jack Kirby's New Gods that I really enjoyed back in the day; the site's packed with all kinds of comic info and general geek stuff, well worth checking out. If you're into that sort of thing.

One final note, according to the article, NGSD was the brainchild of my favorite Mad Magazine artist, Don Martin.


Sunday, January 22, 2006


I noticed a comment today that I had missed, for
this post I made last week on Martin Luther King's seething indictment of American capitalism and consumerism, which he believed is directly related to poverty, racism, and aggressive war. It's worth noting the short statement here on the main page if only because it gives me an opportunity to articulate something that's been bothering me for years about our economic system.

So here it is, from reader A.B. Dada who writes the gold-investment blog
Dada Says...:

I just wanted to correct a misconception I noticed in some quotes and in the general post.

The definition of capitalism it its true sense is "The voluntary cooperation of two parties for the mutual profit of both."

Capitalism is not being followed in NYC or in the US or in any country that forces mandates, regulations, taxes, tariffs and/or subsidies. I prefer to call those economies "cartel mercantilism" not capitalism.

Capitalism is voluntary without force and offers every party a profit during a trade. Capitalism is not class warfare or the abuse of the poor by the wealthy.
And my response:

Okay, good point, but I think you're describing an ideal conceptualization of the "free market" rather than capitalism, which strikes me as being more about using economic power to squeeze the "free" part of "free market."

Here's a definition of capitalism from Merriam-Webster Online:

an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

Owners of capital are able to use that ownership to create an economic advantage that skews wildly the "competition" part of capitalism in their favor--generally, the only real competition taking place under a capitalistic system is between various owners of capital, and not between capitalists and labor and consumers. Because this unfair advantage is built into capitalism, it really is class warfare--workers and consumers do not meet capitalists on an equal playing field. And big capitalists are able to do the same thing, to a lesser extent, in competition with little capitalists.

Furthermore, the inherent power of capital ownership doesn't simply disrupt the "free market" in terms of rigging competition: the power of capital transmutes itself into political power, as the recent Jack Abramoff scandal has clearly illustrated, which means, especially under the current White House administration, that the "mandates, regulations, taxes, tariffs and/or subsidies" you mention are often written by the capitalists themselves, for their own benefit, further destroying the "free market."

In short, capitalism, as actually practiced, makes free trade problematic at best.
Just as a final note, don't think I'm necessarily suggesting that we totally do away with capitalism: rather, my belief is that government should do what it can in the way of regulation in order to level the playing field as much as possible. Of course, the first step in that direction is acknowledging the problem in the first place. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening anytime soon.



Since it became clear that evil lobbyist Jack Abramoff was going to flip and testify against lawmakers about his bribery-for-legislation scam, the Republican Party has been working overtime to limit the political damage by trying to brand the scandal as "bipartisan" in the media--that is, the GOP continues to assert that Democrats, too, were on the take. Even though not a single Democrat took money from Abramoff himself, some did take campaign contributions from his clients, principally the three Indian tribes he bilked out of millions of dollars. Does that really make the scandal "bipartisan?"

From Bloomberg courtesy of
the Daily Kos:

Abramoff's 'Equal Money' Went Mostly to Republicans

Mostly Republicans

Between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff joined with his former partner, Michael Scanlon, and tribal clients to give money to a third of the members of Congress, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, according to records of the Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service. At least 171 lawmakers got $1.4 million in campaign donations from the group. Republicans took in most of the money, with 110 lawmakers getting $942,275, or 66 percent of the total.

Of the top 10 political donors among Indian tribes in that period, three are former clients of Abramoff and Scanlon: the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of California. All three gave most of their donations to Republicans -- by margins of 30 percentage points or more -- while the rest favored Democrats.

Abramoff faces allegations that he bilked the casino-owning tribes out of millions of dollars and attempted to corrupt public officials. E-mails released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee during a year of hearings offer evidence that he directed the tribes to donate funds to specific lawmakers.

Continued to Give

Abramoff's tribal clients continued to give money to Democrats even after he began representing them, although in smaller percentages than in the past.

The Saginaw Chippewas gave $500,500 to Republicans between 2001 and 2004 and $277,210 to Democrats, according to a review of data compiled by Dwight L. Morris & Associates, a Bristow, Virginia-based company that tracks campaign-finance reports. Between 1997 and 2000, the tribe gave just $158,000 to Republicans and $279,000 to Democrats.

here for the rest.

Well, that's a lot of words, but Kos contributor Armando puts it all into perspective:

Abramoff pushed his Indian tribe clients AWAY from Dems and TO Republicans. That is, Abramoff DIRECTED his Indian tribe clients to give LESS or NOT AT ALL to Democrats and to give MORE OR ALL of their contributions to Republicans.
There you have it. Couple what Armando says with the fact that these three tribes were already contributing heavily to Democrats, and that the seven other top contributing Indian Tribes favored Democrats as well, and it appears that there's nothing amiss. In other words, it sure does seem that Indians, like most other non-white ethnicities in the US, tend to favor Democrats because the party, a traditional supporter of civil rights, tends to support their interests.

Of course Indians give money to Democrats. What's surprising is that some tribes ended up giving more money to Republicans, as if they were the party of good ethnic vibes, which is almost funny. Obviously, the factor that blows the curve here is indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff; he's the one who directed these three tribes to donate to Congressmen from a Party that really couldn't care less about Indian affairs.

Clearly, the right wing is having some success in capitalizing on the confusion. But confusion is all it is: make no mistake; this is a Republican scandal, and no amount of rhetorical obfuscation is going to change that.


Saturday, January 21, 2006


Am I the only person in this country who thinks that this image...

...bears an uncanny resemblance to this image?

The first picture is, of course, part of the
bullshit controversy about New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin telling an audience of mostly African-Americans that he is determined to do what it takes to ensure that their city will regain its majority black status. If you haven't heard by now, Nagin referred to the Big Easy as being "chocolate," which has gotten a lot of white people pissed off. The picture is, apparently, some sort of protest.

Ha ha. I get it. Nagin talks about chocolate, so he must be like Willy Wonka. Very funny and clever. Gotta love those socially concerned cyber-pranksters.

The second picture is a 1906 postcard advertising a minstrel show. And minstrel shows, at one point the overwhelmingly dominant form of American popular entertainment, were extraorinarily racist.

From Wikipedia:

However, in the 1850s minstrelsy became decidedly mean-spirited and pro-slavery as race replaced class as its main focus. Most minstrels projected a greatly romanticized and exaggerated image of black life with cheerful, simple slaves always ready to sing and dance and to please their masters. (Less frequently, the masters cruelly split up black lovers or sexually assaulted black women.) The lyrics and dialogue were generally racist, satiric, and of largely white origin. Songs about slaves yearning to return to their masters were plentiful, and some of these are still popular today, such as "Dixie", "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny", and "My Old Kentucky Home". The message was clear: do not worry about the slaves; they are happy with their lot in life. Moreover, figures like the Northern dandy and the homesick ex-slave reinforced the idea that African Americans did not belong, nor want to belong, in Northern society.

Minstrelsy's reaction to Uncle Tom's Cabin is indicative of plantation content at the time. "Tom acts" largely came to replace other plantation narratives, particularly in the third act. These sketches sometimes supported Stowe's novel, but just as often they turned it on its head or attacked the author. Whatever the intended message, it was usually lost in the joyous, slapstick atmosphere of the piece. Characters such as Simon Legree sometimes disappeared, and the title was frequently changed to something more cheerful like "Happy Uncle Tom" or "Uncle Dad's Cabin". Uncle Tom himself was frequently portrayed as a harmless bootlicker to be ridiculed. Some troupes, known as "Tommer" companies, came to specialize in such burlesques, and theatrical "Tom shows" integrated elements of the minstrel show and competed with it for at time.

Minstrelsy's racism (and misogyny) could be rather vicious. There were "comic" songs in which blacks were "roasted, fished for, smoked like tobacco, peeled like potatoes, planted in the soil, or dried up and hung as advertisements", and there were multiple songs in which a black man accidentally put out a black woman's eyes.

Click here for the rest.

Perhaps the makers of the "Willy Nagin" images circulating around the internet these past few days meant no racist harm. After all, Wonka, featuring the bland but beautiful superstar Johnny Depp in the lead role, was remade only last year--it's on people's minds, and an easy connection to make. Indeed, it's probably a stretch to assert that these guys were thinking about the minstrel shows of the 19th century at all when they booted up their Photoshop programs and got to work; I especially doubt that they were intentionally trying to create a racist caricature of Nagin because the ostensible purpose of these images is to protest what they deem to be some kind of bigotry towards white people.

On the other hand, cultural memory is powerful, and the racist stereotypes created during the minstrel era persist to this day. The stupid and inarticulate black "dandy," personified today by Hollywood's over-the-top portrayals of flamboyant pimps, bling-laden rappers, and flashy African-American leaders, is a stock character that goes straight back to minstrelsy. The "Willy Nagin" pictures make pretty much the same racist point: a black man gets some power but he's too stupid to wield it correctly.

I must again state that I don't believe that this was the conscious intention of these cyber-pranksters. But the unconscious usually finds a way to break through to the surface, especially in art. And because the whole "chocolate" controversy totally reeks of being yet another manifestation of white resentment of diversity, or multiculturalism, or the concept known as being "politically correct," whatever you want to call it, I feel pretty safe asserting that these "Willy Nagin" artists are, indeed, racists.

You know, the more I think about this whole thing, the more my stomach hurts.



AMERICAblog courtesy of Eschaton:

The NYT article below provides a lot of evidence that the religious right got "Welcome to the Neighborhood," a reality TV show, killed before it even aired a single episode because ABC/Disney thought the religious right would pull its support for the movie Narnia if the gays were shown to win the reality show (the gay couple did win).

What's worse, a bit part of the religious right's problem with the reality show is that many of the neighbors of the gay couple in the show were quite homophobic Christians and by the end of the show they ended up loving their gay neighbors. The religious right objected especially to the fact that real Christians embraced their gay neighbors.

Click here for the rest.

I guess it's been a while since the evangelical nuts were howling in outrage about "Gay Day" at Disney World. Indeed, it strikes me that their boycott of Disney, which only ended last year, may very well have been the event that ultimately led to what's described in the excerpt above. The Jesus freaks apparently have Mickey Mouse on the run.

I expect more of this BS in the future. One thing that makes media companies quake in their boots is organized flak like the Baptist boycott, and it seems like the fundamentalist flak machine is running full speed ahead. Consequently, look to see the increasing posivitive portrayals of gays and lesbians in the media over the last few years reverse itself to some extent. From the corporate end, it's all about business. Will and Grace, for instance, may be a big money maker by itself for NBC, but if the military-industrial giant that owns the network, General Electric, decides that it stands to lose more money overall if the Christian right chooses to target the silly gay themed show, you can bet your Judy Garland record collection that they wouldn't hesitate to cancel it.

Noam Chomsky has been saying for forty years that the only way change happens in this country is when people are organized. But he's talking about the left: it's a damned shame that the right-wing religious nuts understand this concept waaay better than we do.


Friday, January 20, 2006

"I think my record, the level of taint is
dramatically different than either of them."

Above quote from an interview on Fox News with the Republican House Policy Chairman John Shadegg, who is running for Tom DeLay's majority leader position, in reference to the fact that he and his two competitors also have ethics problems. It's an amusing comment by itself, in a sort of Bevis and Butthead way. However, in the hands of the Daily Show, it becomes one of the funniest television moments I've ever encountered. I'm sure you can guess what kind of jokes such a statement evokes, but, believe me, John Stewart and Ed Helms take it to a sublime level. Really it's all Helms, while Stewart plays Harvey Korman to his Tim Conway, holding on for dear life trying not to crack up himself.

Really, I haven't laughed this hard since I first saw the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles when I was in the fourth grade.

Go check the clip out over at Crooks and Liars.








Thursday, January 19, 2006


From CNN:

Nagin apologizes for 'chocolate' city comments

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Mayor Ray Nagin on Tuesday apologized for urging residents to rebuild a "chocolate New Orleans" and saying, "You can't have New Orleans no other way."

"I'm really sorry that some people took that they way they did, and that was not my intention," the mayor said. "I say everybody's welcome."

Nagin added that he never should have used the term "chocolate."

Across the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged city, many voiced their displeasure with the mayor's Monday remarks at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech. One Web site even began peddling T-shirts showing Nagin with a top hat along with the caption "Willy Nagin and the Chocolate Factory."

Resident Alex Gerhold called Nagin's remarks "stupid" and "pitiful."

"He used the wrong dairy product to describe us. We're more Neapolitan, not chocolate," Gerhold said. "It doesn't do the city any kind of justice."

here for the rest.

You know, this controversy is just plain nuts. There's nothing offensive about Nagin's use of the term "Chocolate City," a term that has been around for at least twenty five years, used by African-Americans to describe majority black US cities, principally Washington, D.C., especially given the context that there is a well substantiated fear that many people of color may not be able to return to the Big Easy, and may not have homes there if they do. New Orleans' vital cultural heritage is overwhelmingly black and there can be nothing wrong in wanting to maintain that cultural heritage in the post-Katrina era.

But I think this essay below from
CounterPunch makes the point much more clearly than I do, as well as offer an explanation of what's really behind the hysteria:

DC, New Orleans and the Phony Outrage Over Ray Nagin

When either ethnic progress or progress in ethnic relations are stymied, arguing over words becomes a substitute. It's the upper class bias towards civility over activity as transferred to the media and politics.

Thus it's not surprising, in the midst of America's second post-reconstruction era, that Howard Dean gets attacked in the white media for saying that he wants the votes of southern whites who drive around in pickups with Confederate flag stickers even though he got applause when he said the same thing to a heavily black audience in the south. It's not surprising that Hillary Clinton is excoriated for using the word 'plantation' in front of black audience even though Newt Gingrich once said the same thing of the House of Representatives and no one said a mumblin' word. And it's not surprising that Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans should get in trouble for aspiring to keep New Orleans - formerly a two-thirds black town - "chocolate" even though he stole the term from DC where it was applied with love and honor for quite a few years.

here for the rest.

You know, as far as I can tell, the only people who have a problem with this "Chocolate City" thing are pussified whites. What could possibly be threatening about a desire to keep New Orleans' status as a thriving center of black life and culture? I applaud Mayor Nagin's statement and intent: as a white American who has visited New Orleans many times, I have never felt unwelcome there; indeed, one of the great things about the city is it's "chocolate" status.

For god's sake, doesn't anybody remember that jazz was born there? That the blues has a strong presence there? That incredible Creole food has been prepared there for nearly two hundred years by people of color? That countless fantastic and wonderful stories come out of the city's black neighborhoods? That there are all these weird and cool African-American people hanging out on the streets?

Fuck these "We Are the World," p.c., bullshit, crocodile tears.

The only mistake Nagin made was in saying that God wants the Crescent City to be majority black--how could he possibly know that? But I'm willing to cut the man some slack. Becky says to chalk it up to post-traumatic stress disorder, which is currently a very real phenomenon in the Big Easy. He's been through a lot, so I'm personally willing to forgive some kooky talk about "God's will." But then, it seems that disgruntled whites are waaay more concerned with the "Chocolate City" remark, anyway.

Man, what's really amazing is that I'm still amazed by how stupid some people are.



Lyrics to the Parliament song "Chocolate City" (G. Clinton, W. Collins, B. Worrell) 1975:

Uh, what's happening CC?
They still call it the White House
But that's a temporary condition, too.
Can you dig it, CC?

To each his reach
And if I don't cop, it ain't mine to have
But I'll be reachin' for ya
'Cause I love ya, CC.
Right on.

There's a lot of chocolate cities, around
We've got Newark, we've got Gary
Somebody told me we got L.A.
And we're working on Atlanta
But you're the capital, CC

Gainin' on ya!
Get down
Gainin' on ya!
Movin' in and on ya
Gainin' on ya!
Can't you feel my breath, heh
Gainin' on ya!
All up around your neck, heh heh

Hey, CC!
They say your jivin' game, it can't be changed
But on the positive side,
You're my piece of the rock
And I love you, CC.
Can you dig it?

Hey, uh, we didn't get our forty acres and a mule
But we did get you, CC, heh, yeah
Gainin' on ya
Movin' in and around ya
God bless CC and its vanilla suburbs

Gainin' on ya!
Gainin' on ya!
Gainin' on ya! (heh!)
Gainin' on ya!
Gainin' on ya!
What's happening, blood?
Gainin' on ya!
Gainin' on ya!
Gainin' on ya!

What's happening, black?
Brother black, blood even
Yeah-ahh, just funnin'

Gettin' down

Ah, blood to blood
Ah, players to ladies
The last percentage count was eighty
You don't need the bullet when you got the ballot
Are you up for the downstroke, CC?
Chocolate city
Are you with me out there?

And when they come to march on ya
Tell 'em to make sure they got their James Brown pass
And don't be surprised if Ali is in the White House
Reverend Ike, Secretary of the Treasure
Richard Pryor, Minister of Education
Stevie Wonder, Secretary of FINE arts
And Miss Aretha Franklin, the First Lady
Are you out there, CC?
A chocolate city is no dream
It's my piece of the rock and I dig you, CC
God bless Chocolate City and its (gainin' on ya!) vanilla suburbs
Can y'all get to that?
Gainin' on ya!
Gainin' on ya!
Easin' in
Gainin' on ya!
In yo' stuff
Gainin' on ya!
Huh, can't get enough
Gainin' on ya!
Gainin' on ya!
Be mo' funk, be mo' funk
Gainin' on ya!
Can we funk you too
Gainin' on ya!
Right on, chocolate city!

Yeah, get deep
Real deep
Be mo' funk
Mmmph, heh
Get deep
Unh, heh
Just got New York, I'm told


Wednesday, January 18, 2006


From the New York Times courtesy of

Preaching a Gospel of Wealth in a Glittery Market, New York

"Remember," said Mr. Dollar, a familiar figure across the country because of his "Changing Your World" television show and best-selling books, "if you sow a seed on a good ground, you can expect a harvest."

Mr. Dollar, whose Rolls-Royces, private jets, million-dollar Atlanta home and $2.5 million Manhattan apartment, furnish proof to his followers of the validity of his teachings, is a leading apostle of what is known as the "prosperity gospel."

It is a theology that is excoriated in many Christian circles but is becoming increasingly visible in this country, according to religious scholars. Now, it is beginning to establish a foothold in New York City, where capitalism has long been religion.

Mr. Dollar - his real name - is the most prominent among a host of prosperity preachers that have put down roots in the city. He is quick to insist that he warns Christians to "love God, not money" and teaches "total life prosperity," meaning prosperity not only in finances but in everything from health to family life.

here for the rest.

I don't think I need to spend any time or energy arguing that this kind of thing is completely antithetical to everything Jesus stood for. In short, from a Christian perspective,
this is blasphemy. However, I'm not at all surprised by this crackpot "Gospel of Prosperity." It's simply another sign of the times in which we live. The wealthy elites, who have owned and run this nation from its founding, have spent, for over a century, a great deal of effort in seducing American culture into abandoning it's traditional, anti-materialistic, Protestant work ethic, all in order to justify their own bacchanalian and brutal pursuit of mammon. Their efforts have succeeded wildly. Now, everybody thinks they're going to get rich; everybody thinks that's their right. Now, the most important of morals for Americans is the acquisition of wealth, which is so important that it generally trumps all that old fashioned stuff about compassion for the poor and the suffering.

Of course, the great irony here is that the vast majority of Americans will never be rich. (Hell, figuring that out about myself was probably the biggest factor in my political turn toward the left; it's way more difficult to support tax cuts for the wealthy when you're pretty certain that you will never be among their number.) They've been conned, dazzled by dollar signs and easy credit, into thinking that when push comes to shove, they're just like Bill Gates or Michael Eisner.

Which is just so not true.

From the Houston Chronicle:

CEO salaries now 400 times
of an average worker's check

While SEC officials stressed the proposed rule does not limit how much companies can pay their top executives, commission members made clear they are mindful of the heights reached by executive compensation packages.

Commissioner Roel Campos of Houston pointed to studies that suggest chief executive officers now make about 400 times the salary of the average worker, up from 40 times a few decades ago.

"Are executives today 10 times better?" Campos asked.

Some compensation experts have warned that forcing companies to disclose such details will actually drive executive salaries higher, as top managers point to their rivals' compensation packages and demand similar deals.

But others predict the investor outrage when these totals are released will put the brakes on executive and director pay. That's not to say executive pay will decline.

here for the rest.

It's almost amusing that the above excerpted article is written in terms of "investor outrage," rather than in terms of "that ain't right;" that is, it's all about wealthy people's problems instead of everybody else's. Like I said before, from any serious Christian perspective, this 400 to 1 ratio is simply obscene. But then, I'm not a Christian myself, and I suspect that most of these wealthy people aren't either--after all, Jesus told the rich man that the only way he could go to Heaven was to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor; I don't see that happening anytime soon. So why do I think personal wealth is immoral? Simple: one only needs so much money, so many things, before one gets to a point of absurd redundancy; meanwhile, so many millions in the world go without. That's immoral. "But wait!" you might say, "people worked for that money! Don't they deserve compensation?" Well, yes, people deserve to be compensated for their time and energy, otherwise they're being ripped off. But why should one get so much compensation that it starves masses of people? Or makes them die because they didn't have access to medicine? Etc., etc., etc.

Look, I'm not saying that we do away with the profit-motive, which seems ultimately to be the engine that runs the economy. But the drive for profit has become an all-consuming cultural imperative which now overrides all other cultural imperatives. Profit ought not to be our religion. Do we really want to be like Star Trek's capitalist race, the Ferengi?

A real American