Sunday, September 30, 2012

Means "Who Polices the Police?"

From CounterPunch:

The Big Lie About Police Brutality

Police brutality is in the news, thanks to the widespread availability of amateur video and the omnipresence of security cameras.

We’ve seen scene after scene of police beating the crap out of, and even shooting and killing unarmed or minimally dangerous students, women, old men and crazy people, many of them after they have been handcuffed and checked for weapons.

The police brass, and leading politicians who oversee the departments involved, nearly always have the same answer: This is not the norm, these are isolated incidents, police violence is not on the rise. Rarely is an abusive or murderous officer punished or even administratively disciplined for documented crimes.


The thing we need to all recognize is that these videos are just the incidents that have been captured on video. They clearly reflect something that is going on all the time, usually without any video to record it, or often even without any eye witnesses.


There are plenty of good cops who take their work seriously, and do their job properly, but as some of those cops have told me themselves, there are also way too many who are just thugs in uniforms, and there are precious few chiefs of police, few district attorneys, and few mayors who have the political courage (exhibited by Chief Simmons in the Florida case above) to take them on, to punish abusive behavior and to demand that policing be about “protecting and serving,” and not about brutalizing those who are being confronted for alleged law-breaking.

More here.

Hey!  This guy sounds just like me!

So much so, in fact, right down to the usual caveat about how "there are plenty of good cops," that I'd be wondering if he'd been reading my stuff here at Real Art over the years, if the phenomenon wasn't so damned obvious.  That is, the writer excerpted above is simply verifying independently what I've been saying for a very long time: we have a crises of police brutality, corruption, and general misbehavior all across the United States, and nobody in power really appears to give a shit about it.

For that matter, the public doesn't seem to give a shit about it either--okay, white people don't give a shit; people of color, I think, especially African-Americans, who receive the lion's share of police misbehavior, do give a shit, but it's a sort of "it is what it is" kind of thing.  So it's the status quo, and there's just no momentum toward cleaning it all up.

Here's some of the reason why.  A friend of mine on facebook, a socialist with whom I attended high school, posted something about cop misbehavior last week, and I chimed in with a comment in agreement.  But I stopped for a moment to wonder what the reaction might be from other facebook friends reading it.  Damn the torpedoes, of course, I'll say what I want if it's the truth.  The fact that we are so conditioned to think of cops as always being the "good guys," however, is a very strong social imperative: people are immediately skeptical when one calls into question one of the bedrock institutions of society.

We need more movies like Serpico.


Friday, September 28, 2012



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


Texas AG offers to help school district in battle over religious banners 

From the Houston Chronicle:

A Southeast Texas school district criticized when cheerleaders put Bible verses on high school football game banners will get help from the state, if they want it, should a civil suit be filed.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Thursday sent a letter to the Kountze Independent School District, offering to help the district and the cheerleaders and said that the banners do not violate First Amendment rights, as opponents contend.

In a letter sent to district Superintendant Kevin Weldon, Abbott said that a communication the district received last week from the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the banners was "menacing and misleading." He said based on news reports he has read, the signs were student-initiated and used no school funds, and therefore should be protected under free exercise of religion.

More here.

As always, I'm very dubious about the concept of religious proselytizing in public schools being "student initiated": I strongly recall the "student initiated" prayer at my high school graduation, for which I was privy to the planning meetings; "student initiated" meant an administrator saying, "and this is the point at which Andrea gives the invocation."  That is, there's often some kind of district employee behind it all, especially for really big events like football games and graduations, and that's a clear cut violation of the first amendment's establishment clause.  Having said that, there is, indeed, such a thing as student initiated religious expression, and that should not be suppressed.  Indeed, to do so would be a clear cut violation of the first amendment's free exercise clause.

Yeah, I know, it gets a bit confusing, but only when you tune out and stop paying attention.  That is, this stuff isn't rocket science.  Citizens have the right to freely exercise their religion, but the government cannot do anything that is tantamount to establishing an official religion.  That's why teachers can't lead students in prayer, but also why students must be allowed to pray independently.  See?  Not so complicated, after all.

But this thing about "student initiated" religious cheerleader banners at school football games pushes the envelope.  Even if students came up with the idea totally on their own, it's in a weird realm that, to all appearances, says to all in attendance that the school supports a particular religious point of view.  Everybody involved, the cheerleaders, and the football players who run through the banners as they enter the field of play, are wearing official school uniforms.  The usage of the banners is during an official school function, in front of an audience.  Indeed, the conventional wisdom for high school football games is that, when you wear your school's colors and present yourself in front of the public, you are representing your school, and want to give the best impression possible.  In that light, the "best impression" must necessarily be that such a school is religious, officially religious, and that Christianity is the official religion.

If it looks, sounds, and walks like a duck, it very likely is a duck.  I guess a good test would be to ask how "student initiated" messages of atheism or Islam on these banners would be accepted: I think everybody with half a brain already knows the answer to such a question, but it would be fun to see how district administrators squirm while they spin their response.

At any rate, this is probably dead on arrival as far as the law is concerned, given, as the article observes, precedent that has already outlawed prayers over the loudspeakers at public high school football games.  That means the Texas AG wants to waste taxpayer money chasing a wild goose.  And that's all par for the course in my home state.


Thursday, September 27, 2012


From CounterPunch:

Upward Redistribution

Almost all of this discussion has focused narrowly on what the government actually takes from people in tax revenue and what it pays out in Social Security, unemployment insurance, and other benefits. This is unfortunate, because tax and transfer policy is the less important way in which the government helps or harms people.


We have also strengthened patent and copyright laws to make the monopolies granted stronger and longer. Currently we spend $300 billion a year on prescription drugs. If drugs were sold in a competitive market, we would save around $270 billion annually. This transfer from consumers to drug companies is about five times as large as the size of the Bush tax cuts to the richest 2 percent.

Labor-management policy is another important area through which the government redistributes income. In the last three decades this policy has been much more friendly to management and hostile to workers. For example, in the Chicago teacher strike, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had gone to court and threatened strike leaders with fines and imprisonment if they did not end their strike.

More here.

Quite right.  It's not just the taxes.  Indeed, it's a full court press on working Americans, all to the benefit of that now controversial group that owns and operates the nation, that one percent of the top one percent, the filthy, filthy rich.  When the government is literally your plaything, you can rig almost the entire economy so as to fill your already full pockets.  Without the enforcement of already existing labor law, businesses can play the so-called "labor market" in countless ways, including pulling up stakes and moving to greener pastures when it looks like workers are thinking about unionizing, which is totally illegal, and on and on.  For that matter, increasing the minimum wage, which is now paying an adjusted for inflation rate equivalent to what workers were getting in 1960s, is dead on arrival when the plutocracy owns Congress.  It's taken decades since this started when Reagan took office, but we now live in an economy that has been structured of, by, and for the fabulously wealthy.

Of course, the justification has always been that "a rising tide lifts all the boats."  But I think it's now safe to say, beyond any doubt at all, that the rich have figured out how to make it such that only their boats rise.  Meanwhile, everybody else's boats just sink.  Why don't people understand this?


Wednesday, September 26, 2012


From AlterNet:

Life Expectancy Decreases by 4 Years Among Poor Whites in U.S.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported on an alarming new study: researchers have documented that the least educated white Americans are experiencing sharp declines in life expectancy. Between 1990 and 2008, white women without a high school diploma lost a full five years of their lives, while their male counterparts lost three years. Experts say that declines in life expectancy in developed countries are exceedingly rare, and that in the U.S., decreases on this scale "have not been seen in the U.S. since the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918." Even during the Great Depression, which wrought economic devastation and severe psychic trauma for millions of Americans, average life expectancy was on the increase.

More here.  

Again from AlterNet:

Suicide Overtakes Car Accidents As Leading Cause of Death

But there is strong evidence elsewhere that our disastrous economy may be playing a significant role. Last year, a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that “[s]uicide rates in the U.S. tend to rise during recessions and fall amid economic booms.” 

In Europe, a recent wave of “suicides by economic crisis” has been well-documented, as these shocking statistics attest:

In Greece, the suicide rate among men increased more than 24 percent from 2007 to 2009, government statistics show. In Ireland during the same period, suicides among men rose more than 16 percent. In Italy, suicides motivated by economic difficulties have increased 52 percent, to 187 in 2010 — the most recent year for which statistics were available — from 123 in 2005.
More here.

You know, I've argued a lot against libertarianism, Ann Rand's objectivist swill, neoliberalism, and the like.  I've written extensively over the years in order to illustrate how, exactly, these points of view ultimately hurt most of the people who think these ideas are the path to prosperity.  But, in the end, it all comes down to the horrifying world that must necessarily result from every-man-for-himself attitudes.  Lonely, brutish, backstabbing, hateful, grief-stricken, painful.  That's the civilization, if you want to call it that, the Ann Rand cultists would have us embrace.  We're well on the way down that road right now.  Every fiber of my very being screams out against this.  And if you have an ounce of human soul within you, you're screaming, too.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I've taken to putting some of what I consider to be my better posts onto facebook for people to read.  It took awhile for me to get around to this, but longer posts from guys like science fiction writer David Gerrold and others I admire gave me the courage to do so.  And I've had some very good results so far, lots of discussion, lots of opportunity for me and others to refine and articulate our views.  I'm also very slowly learning how to talk to conservatives, and be heard, about controversial topics.  Not an easy task, but I think it can be done.

So I posted last night's Real Art entry on the social network right after I posted it here, and a fabulous discussion ensued.  But there was one comment that forced me to think for a while before responding:

Susan You have a lot of free time.
My initial reaction was to return snark for snark, to say something like, "No, it's just that I don't waste a lot of time watching television," or "You think reading and writing about the important issues of the day is a pastime?"  But I went to high school with Susan.  She is, or at least was back in the day, not much of a debater, and it was significant, I think, that she took the time to comment at all.  So I waited a few hours and thought about it.

Here's what ensued:
Ronald @Susan: Oh, come now, Susan, you should join the discussion! This is an important topic!

Susan OK Ron.. My only comment is this: I hate to see anyone criticize religion and reject it because of what someone else is doing in the name of religion. Maybe that isn't as profound as some of the other debaters, but to me, it just sounds like a reason to not be religious and not go to church. It is hard not to judge fellow Christians (I think I do it every day in some form or fashion), but we should all try to be true to ourselves while trying to please God. This is what I believe.

Ronald @Susan: Thank you for participating in the conversation. Of course, I have a response:

"Maybe that isn't as profound as some of the other debaters"

Your thoughts are legitimate simply because they're your thoughts, and I welcome your articulating them. After all, our democracy cannot exist without citizens participating in the "marketplace of ideas." So whether you think you can hang with people who argue all the time is irrelevant; you're doing your patriotic duty by joining the talk.

That is, discussing the important issues of the day isn't simply something an American does when he has "too much time on his hands;" rather, it's something Americans must do every day, or the country just doesn't function the way it ought to. I think the mediocre field of candidates with which we all have to contend year after year is testament to the fact that we, as a people, no longer fulfill this duty of citizenship.

And that kind of leads me into my second point.

"I hate to see anyone criticize religion and reject it because of what someone else is doing in the name of religion."

The old adage is that one should never talk politics or religion. But I think that's more about cocktail parties than it is about civic life. That is, politics and religion are two of the most important topics with which we need to wrangle. Who are we as a people? What does it mean to be an American? What is the proper role of government? And each of those questions heavily overlaps the notion of religion. Indeed, we also, as a nation, must continually be asking what role religion ought to play in public life.

And that's where it gets dicey. Religion, to the faithful, is extraordinarily important, rising to the level of personal identity. Insult a man's religion and you might as well be insulting the man himself--for believers, it is hard to say where religion ends and the individual begins. And religion is also culture, which must be respected simply because it is culture.

Conversely, however, religion is also a set of principles, ideas, and attitudes about how we ought to live our lives. And when those principles, ideas, and attitudes are taken out of the religious sphere and inserted into the public discourse, they then become part of the marketplace of ideas, where they must contend with the ideas of others who do not share the same kind of faith.

So what do we do? Do religious ideas get a fee pass simply because people believe them so strongly? Or, from the other way around, should religious people keep their mouths shut because those ideas are meaningless to people who believe differently?

Personally, I think both of those questions miss the mark. We can debate religion in the public sphere, easily. Participants just need to respect each other as individuals and fellow Americans. It's kind of like hating the sin but loving the sinner: I disagree with your ideas, but I respect that you have chosen a way of life that is deeply meaningful to you; OR, I understand that you are criticizing my views, but I see that you are not condemning my religion, not condemning me. This requires sensitivity and patience from all involved, to be sure, but it's not impossible.

Besides, if religious ideas aren't important enough to assert or defend, then they must not be really important. And this works both ways, for both liberals and conservatives. Remember that many leaders in the Civil Rights Movement were Christian ministers; remember that one of the great progressives in American history was William Jennings Bryan, a fundamentalist Christian. Everybody's got money in this game, whether you're a believer or not.
Of course, if you're a regular Real Art reader, you're already familiar with my ideas about discussing religion in the public discourse, but I've never stated them in quite this context.  That is, my words here are meant to be heard and understood, and perhaps even embraced, by a conservative Christian.  And I think I did a pretty nice job as far as that goes--indeed, another fellow commenting from a fundamentalist perspective clicked "like" on the comment.  So at least I got him to listen.

And that's all in a good day's work!


Monday, September 24, 2012

Joel Osteen Says Being Straight Is 'Not A Choice,' But Maintains Being Gay Is A Sin

From the Huffington Post:

Conservative televangelist Joel Osteen went on national television this morning and admitted that his own sexual orientation is not a choice -- despite maintaining consistently in previous interviews that being gay is a sin, albeit one that "God gives us the grace to change." 

The bestselling author and Texas megachurch leader went on CNN's "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien" as part of a segment featuring both Osteen and New Yorker writer and former Bill Clinton adviser Richard Socarides. 

Osteen has repeatedly tried to tip toe around his stance on homosexuality, telling Piers Morgan in October of 2011 that he's not "mad at anybody" and doesn't "dislike anybody," while reiterating his belief that the scripture says homosexuality is a sin," and "two hundred years from now, the Scripture is still going to say that."

More here.

I still don't get it. 

I used to think I got it, but that was a long time ago, while I was, and for the first few years after I quit being, a Southern Baptist.  That is, having grown up in a fundamentalist Christian home, I felt like I had a handle on why fundamentalists hold up homosexuality as a sort of special sin that needs lots and lots of admonishment relative to other sins.  I mean, it kind of made sense.  Several verses in the Bible seem to clearly establish that gay sex is a sin: embracing a personal identity that has, at its foundation, an activity that the Bible calls a sin seems worth some extra rhetoric.

But the further in time I got away from the identity I once embraced, fundamentalist Christian, the more blurry the whole argument became.

Why this particular sin, instead of, say, piling on extra rhetoric for violating what Jesus described as "liken unto" the greatest commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself?  There are way, way, way more people who clearly do not love their neighbors as themselves, and they wear it like a badge on their sleeves.  If loving your neighbor as yourself really is tantamount to loving "the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," then shouldn't fundamentalists be making much more effort here instead of pounding the pulpit on the relatively obscure Biblical passages about homosexuality?

For that matter, why didn't Jesus Himself say anything about homosexuality?  This is actually a pretty key point: Jesus lived in what historians call Hellenistic civilization, the geographic areas conquered by Alexander the Great.  Consequently, Greek culture deeply influenced thinking and behavior throughout the Mediterranean basin, and this continued, even after Roman conquests, well into and after the time of Christ.  Indeed, the cultural influence of Greek civilization was so pervasive in the Holy Land, that there was something of a cultural crisis when prominent Jewish men were having cosmetic surgery in order to look as though they had not been circumcised so as to participate in Greek-style athletic events, which were always done in the nude.  Needless to say, homosexuality was prominent in Greek culture, and, therefore, prominent in Palestine during the time of Christ.  But Jesus didn't say one word about it, not a single word, almost as though he accepted it as a sort of fact of life.

Jesus did, however, say lots of other stuff, again and again, in fact, that just doesn't seem to bear the same sort of weight with modern fundamentalists as the sin of homosexuality.  Jesus essentially said that if you're rich it is almost impossible to go to Heaven, but for fundamentalists, that's nothing compared to being gay.  Jesus told the adulteress, who he had just saved from the local volunteer execution squad, simply to go and sin no more.  He didn't go on and on about it.  Indeed, he rescued her by observing to the mob that only "he who is without sin" is qualified to make such an ultimate judgment.  But fundamentalists ignore all this stuff from the Gospels and rhetorically go for the jugular on teh gay.

So like I said, I just don't get it.  The more I've broken this down over the years, the more I've analyzed it, the less sense it makes.  Okay, fine, it's a sin, if that's what you think, but it just makes no sense the way it's been elevated to THE SIN.

But here's what I do understand.  Gay people make some straight people nervous.  Indeed, there's a word for that, "homophobia," which, in common usage, is interchangeable with "bigot," but I'm talking about its dictionary definition, a fear of homosexuals and homosexuality, manifest as anxiety or nervousness.  You don't find much homophobia among straight people who know gay people, who work with them, who live with them, who have gay family members, but you do find it among straight people who don't know any gay people simply because their experience hasn't yet shown them that there's really nothing to be afraid of.

Without better explanation of the theology behind making gayness THE SIN, the only conclusion I can make is that fundamentalists are nervous about gay people, or, at least, some fundamentalists are nervous about gay people, and they turn to the Bible to justify their fears.  And, in the religious context, when one is quoting Scripture, for whatever reason, it's not terribly easy to dissent.  So the anti-gay thing has taken on a life of its own.

And that's why prominent fundamentalist Christians like Osteen continue to paint themselves into an absurdist corner when talking about teh gay in a secular context.  I think.  I mean, I could be wrong.  Like I said, I still don't really get it.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Star Trek's 'warp drives' may not only be possible - but practical

From the Daily Mail courtesy, once again, of a friend on facebook:

As we take our virgin steps into space, there is one thing that could always put a cap on our ambitions.

Despite our desire to explore the stars, we are limited by travelling at less than light speed - and even if we managed to match that pace, we would still be listing our voyages from star to star in years, centuries or millenia.

But, in what could be a huge breakthrough, theorists from Nasa say there is 'hope' that we can achieve faster-than-light travel, after physicists found a theoretical possibility for warp speed travel.

 More here.

But...warp drives are impossible, total fantasy, a gimmick dreamed up by science fiction writers to justify fun stories, but not part of reality.  Or, at least, that's what I've believed since, say, 1987, when my astronomy in science fiction professor at the University of Texas verified in class that of which I had already been pretty sure, anyway.  And that's the assumption I've been operating on since then.

But not anymore.  If this is for real, the universe just opened up in unimaginable ways.  And mankind, after seemingly going backward for many years, in spite of wondrous technological achievements, on its fits and starts through history, may very well now be poised to inherit the stars.  The promise of humanism just became real.

This is quite extraordinary, on a sort of Biblical level.  Let's not f' it up.


Friday, September 21, 2012



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


Disdain for Workers

New Krugman:  

But here’s the question: Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no. 

For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn’t have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party’s affection is reserved for “job creators,” a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families — who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.


Where does this disdain for workers come from? Some of it, obviously, reflects the influence of money in politics: big-money donors, like the ones Mr. Romney was speaking to when he went off on half the nation, don’t live paycheck to paycheck. But it also reflects the extent to which the G.O.P. has been taken over by an Ayn Rand-type vision of society, in which a handful of heroic businessmen are responsible for all economic good, while the rest of us are just along for the ride. 

In the eyes of those who share this vision, the wealthy deserve special treatment, and not just in the form of low taxes. They must also receive respect, indeed deference, at all times. That’s why even the slightest hint from the president that the rich might not be all that — that, say, some bankers may have behaved badly, or that even “job creators” depend on government-built infrastructure — elicits frantic cries that Mr. Obama is a socialist.

More here.

It is, indeed, very troubling that the Republicans are now letting it all hang out, as it were, with their utter contempt for Americans who work for a living.  I mean, honest observers have known for a very long time that this is what establishment Republicans think about the working class, but the GOP has traditionally reined itself in, as far as the rhetoric goes, and their actions, in terms of policy, have to some extent reflected this rhetorical caution.  That is, in years past, in order to justify their favorite kind of policy action, tax cuts for the rich, Republicans usually include tax cuts for the middle class.  Cutting social programs is always about "the deficit," rather than about disdain for workers.  And so on.  But this new willingness to just come out and say that large groups of Americans are lazy parasites who refuse to take responsibility for themselves is unprecedented, at least in the last sixty or seventy years.  If history is any indicator, the opening up of honest rhetoric will continue to be reflected in policy positions--look for tax cuts for the rich to be decoupled from tax cuts for everybody else; look for animosity toward social programs to be unmasked as animosity toward people who aren't rich.

When you get down to it, the fundamental problem here is one that is so embedded in American culture that we don't even know how to talk about it: the vast majority of American workers aren't paid nearly enough for the value they provide the businesses that employ them.  My current job is an excellent example.  I'm a restaurant waiter.  Leaving aside for now the unholy sub-minimum wage compensation scheme that leaves servers to grovel for the handouts sinisterly euphemized as "tips," consider for a moment the product provided by the dine-in business.  It's not the food.  I mean, sure, food is a part of it, but you can go to the grocery store for food.  What restaurants provide is hot, well cooked food served to you at your table.  Restaurants provide an experience.  And you just couldn't have that experience without cooks and waiters.  Take out the cooks and waiters, and the restaurant business vanishes.  Given that labor is not only essential, but also a fundamental factor in the product restaurants sell - indeed, the labor itself is pretty much the largest component of that product - minimum wage is a sick joke in as much as how workers are paid for the value they create.  Restaurant workers deserve a much bigger piece of the pie as far as profits go.  But that's not how the "labor market" works.  Instead, it works this way: "It's my business, and if you want to work here, this is what I'm going to pay you."  This example can be generalized, more or less, to all fields that employ workers.  That is, there is a friction embedded in the employer/employee relationship from the get-go.  Workers are never paid what they're worth; owners pocket the difference.

Now, in the US, we've dealt with this unmentionable friction in various ways over the years.  Unions, for one, have collectively bargained for better pay, benefits, and working conditions to which employers would never agree outside of the framework of organized labor.  That's why corporate America has always been so hostile to unions; owners don't get to pocket so much of that differential between wages and worker value when unions are involved.  Another way is with progressive taxation.  Conservatives rail about "redistribution," but always without admitting that the real redistribution happens at the point of hire when a worker is told how much he will be paid--you're going to create this much value for us, but we're only going to pay you for a fraction of that.  So the "redistribution" of progressive taxation simply seeks to rectify the value imbalance that is part and parcel of American capitalism, especially when taxes go into social programs that benefit everybody.

And these two remedies, unions and taxation, have worked well enough over the years, to keep everybody from freaking out, if not keeping us all happy.  Progressive taxation is especially good for helping redress the value imbalance for small business owners, the kinds of people who get their hands dirty alongside their workers, situations where the profit margin is very low, and paying low wages is the difference between business survival and death: tax the rich and hand over the money to workers in the form of social programs and workers get a much fairer deal for their labor.  And now the Republicans are hell bent on destroying what is admittedly an imperfect and fragile relationship between workers and business, but it's one that has been historically effective.

It is becoming achingly clear that the Republicans, who for decades have brandished their undeserved reputation for economic responsibility like a sword, have no idea what they're doing.  If they succeed in eradicating our patch-work fixes for the embedded friction between workers and capital, all hell will necessarily break loose.  Imagine the massive slums of the late nineteenth century during the Robber Baron era.  Imagine the riots in the movie Gangs of New York.  Imagine your grandmother lying in the gutter and how much that would piss you off.  Imagine social unrest on a scale that's, well, unimaginable.  Imagine the economy coming to a standstill because society has become utterly dysfunctional.

In their arrogance, the Republicans refuse to understand that the ability to do business absolutely depends on a stable and equitable social context.  That is, business needs workers.  Better not screw them over.


Thursday, September 20, 2012


...Doctor McCoy and Captain Kirk! In dress uniforms! 


Wednesday, September 19, 2012


From USA Today:

Viva Social Security

For decades, the burden of retirement saving and planning has been shifted onto individuals, having them accumulate money in 401(k) plans and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), instead of the defined benefit programs which were common only a couple decades ago. The results have not been good. People fail to save enough, and one crisis, such as spell of unemployment or bad health, can lead them to empty out their retirement accounts, despite the significant penalties for doing so.

This reality has inspired proposals for new forms of retirement accounts, with various means of funding and varying degrees to which the programs are mandatory, but we're missing the simple answer.

We already have an excellent, if not especially generous, program in place. Workers contribute during their working lives in exchange for a promised benefit level during their retirement years. This program is called Social Security.

Instead of considering some exciting new program to try to encourage workers into saving more, another Rube Goldberg incentive contraption designed to nudge individual behavior in the right direction, we should increase the level of retirement benefits in the existing Social Security program.

More here.

The column's byline is "Duncan Black," but I've known him by his internet pseudonym for a decade now: I read Atrios' words every single day over at his blog Eschaton. And this column he's got for a while seems to be fairly representative of what he's about. I mean, it's cleaned up a bit for the newspaper crowd, and more extended in terms of train-of-thought than he usually gets for his blog, but otherwise it's the same old Atrios, the former economics professor who's been ripping apart conservative views for ten years.

Like this one excerpted above. He doesn't even take time to argue with conservatives on their own terms. He sets up his terms, and digs up right-wing thought like the rotting mulch and manure it is. I love it! No, we don't need to cut Social Security benefits; we need to raise them.

Anyway, check it out. It's a solid argument that's very difficult to refute, I think. Good stuff.


Monday, September 17, 2012


From Mother Jones, courtesy of some five or six friends on facebook:

During a private fundraiser earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a small group of wealthy contributors what he truly thinks of all the voters who support President Barack Obama. He dismissed these Americans as freeloaders who pay no taxes, who don't assume responsibility for their lives, and who think government should take care of them. Fielding a question from a donor about how he could triumph in November, Romney replied:

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax."

Romney went on: "[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."


Here was Romney raw and unplugged—sort of unscripted. With this crowd of fellow millionaires, he apparently felt free to utter what he really believes and would never dare say out in the open. He displayed a high degree of disgust for nearly half of his fellow citizens, lumping all Obama voters into a mass of shiftless moochers who don't contribute much, if anything, to society, and he indicated that he viewed the election as a battle between strivers (such as himself and the donors before him) and parasitic free-riders who lack character, fortitude, and initiative. Yet Romney explained to his patrons that he could not speak such harsh words about Obama in public, lest he insult those independent voters who sided with Obama in 2008 and whom he desperately needs in this election. These were sentiments not to be shared with the voters; it was inside information, available only to the select few who had paid for the privilege of experiencing the real Romney.

More here, with video.


I guess I shouldn't be surprised because I already assume this is what Romney and his ilk think. But I am surprised: indeed, I'm personally offended. The head of the Republican Party just called me, and tens of millions of other Americans just like me, a parasite. And it's got me wondering if this is what all Republicans think of me, and, if they don't, why on earth are they supporting human scum like Romney?

Opinion-types in the press have been saying for several days now, after his notable gaffes at the Republican National Convention and the crass political opportunism he displayed after the embassy attack in Libya, that the Romney campaign is in total disarray. But today, some mainstream media pundits have even gone so far as to say that this video leak heralds the absolute end of his presidential run. I certainly hope so. It remains to be seen how much media play these damning words are going to get. If voters don't understand just how utterly depraved this man is, he might still have a chance. And then what happens when a hateful, clueless, piece of human excrement who hates half of the American people becomes their leader?

Romney was using exactly the kind of language the French aristocracy was using right before the revolution. If there were any justice in the universe, he would share their fate. Sadly, that's probably not going to happen.


Sunday, September 16, 2012


From the AP via the Huffington Post:

Don't Ask Don't Tell: Furor Fades A Year After Military's Gay Ban Lifted

The Pentagon says repeal has gone smoothly, with no adverse effect on morale, recruitment or readiness. President Barack Obama cites it as a signature achievement of his first term, and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, says he would not push to reverse the change if elected in place of Obama.

Some critics persist with complaints that repeal has infringed on service members whose religious faiths condemn homosexuality. Instances of anti-gay harassment have not ended. And activists are frustrated that gay and lesbian military families don't yet enjoy the benefits and services extended to other military families.

Yet the clear consensus is that repeal has produced far more joy and relief than dismay and indignation.


The reasons, said Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez, include comprehensive pre-repeal training, vigorous monitoring and enforcement of standards, and service members' "adherence to core values that include discipline and respect."

More here.

Clearly, allowing gays to serve openly in the military did not cause the world to end. It did not in any way lower the effectiveness of our troops--indeed, as the article observes, quite the opposite, morale seems to have improved. And it all comes as no surprise to me. When this debate first began, back in 1993 when President Clinton first tried to end the ban on gays in the military, it was clear that the military could pull this off, even if society wasn't ready for it, whatever that meant.

The military is hierarchical and authoritarian, the perfect organizational and cultural situation for rapid and efficient change. President Truman, doing what Clinton should have done but didn't, totally bypassed Congress with an executive order ending racial segregation in the military back in 1948, several years before the Civil Rights movement really got going. That is, the Commander-in-Chief simply dictated that the military will integrate, even though society wasn't "ready," and the military integrated. Just like that. Because they were ordered to do so--I mean, it's a bit more complicated than I'm saying here, but that's essentially the gist.

So gays-in-the-military has always been simply a command issue, nothing more. "Unit cohesion" was always a bullshit argument. "Gay panic," discomfort in the showers, "religious freedom," and on and on, all of it just stupid bullshit. Gays and lesbians have now been serving openly in the military for a year. And all of the disaster fantasy scenarios used by homophobic conservatives for a couple of decades to keep it from happening have remained in the realm of fantasy, as expected.

This is all a good thing.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

A massive crime against this nation by the 1%

From Hullabaloo:

The fact that the Dow is at over 13,500 but unemployment remains above 8% is proof of a massive crime against this nation by the 1%. It may be "legal" crime, but it's a crime nonetheless.

A bit more here.

It is a crime that the wealthy ruling elite has figured out how to keep the vast majority of American prosperity for itself, a moral crime, as the excerpt above suggests, because this same elite has also transmuted its massive economic power into massive political power in order to literally rewrite the law for its own benefit.

But what's really fascinating to me about this comparison of economic measurements is that it makes pretty obvious that the whole notion of "trickle down" or "rising tides lifting all the boats," whatever you want to call it, is fatally flawed. That is, the entire rationale undergirding pretty much all conservative economic arguments is that if government helps the rich to get richer, the rich then use that help, in the form of tax cuts and deregulation, to expand their businesses, hire more people, and raise wages: maybe it used to work this way, back when I was a kid, but definitely not anymore.

The rich now get richer and keep it all for themselves.

The statistics at the moment make it achingly obvious, but this is a longstanding trend. Wages have been stagnating since the late 1970s. Middle class families have been maintaining their lifestyles with credit. The single earner family became the two earner family not because of feminism, but because of necessity. This stark contrast between the go-go stock market and dismal employment prospects is hopefully the low point for all this--it could very well get worse. But this is not new; we've been in big trouble for years.

The numbers, after all, don't lie.


Friday, September 14, 2012


Sammy and Frankie

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



New Krugman:

The iPhone Stimulus

What I’m interested in, instead, are suggestions that the unveiling of the iPhone 5 might provide a significant boost to the U.S. economy, adding measurably to economic growth over the next quarter or two.

Do you find this plausible? If so, I have news for you: you are, whether you know it or not, a Keynesian — and you have implicitly accepted the case that the government should spend more, not less, in a depressed economy.


Instead, the reason JPMorgan believes that the iPhone 5 will boost the economy right away is simply that it will induce people to spend more.

And to believe that more spending will provide an economic boost, you have to believe — as you should — that demand, not supply, is what’s holding the economy back. We don’t have high unemployment because Americans don’t want to work, and we don’t have high unemployment because workers lack the right skills. Instead, willing and able workers can’t find jobs because employers can’t sell enough to justify hiring them. And the solution is to find some way to increase overall spending so that the nation can get back to work.


Yet far from using public spending to support the economy in its time of trouble, our political system — driven by a combination of ideology, exaggerated deficit fears and Republican obstructionism — has moved to make the depression worse. Yes, unemployment benefits and food stamps are up, because so many more people are in need; but government employment has plunged, as has public investment.

More here.

Many years ago, I read Noam Chomsky asserting that the Wall Street Journal is probably the best paper in the United States, in spite of its psychotic editorial section. The Journal can print the truth, he observed, because businessmen need facts in order to do business, and they don't need any spin because, being businessmen, they already agree with capitalism and pro-business values. That is, the propagandizing is in the op-ed section; the news, real, hard news, however, is in the rest of the paper.

This has always fascinated me because the easy conclusion to make from Chomsky's observation is that businessmen have split personalities. On the one hand, they buy all the bullshit political neoliberal "trickle down" rhetoric in terms of who they support for elected office; on the other hand, they also have their feet in the real world because to deny reality is to lose money. And that's exactly what this analysis from JP Morgan economists seems to be about. You have leaders from the finance industry, indeed, JP Morgan leaders, continually supporting Republican economic positions, continually insisting the economy is weak because of taxes, or regulation, or lazy workers, whatever, all the bullshit. But their actual economists are saying the exact opposite: weak consumer spending is keeping the economy down. So they have a political position, and they have an economic position, and they're just not the same thing.

Richard Nixon once said, "We're all Keynesians now." And, of course, in terms of tribal self-identification, he ended up being wrong--his entire party became entranced by Milton Friedman, the anti-Keynes. But in terms of how actual businessmen work within the actual economy, he may very well have been right.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

15 Photos Of Libyans Apologizing To Americans

Got this from a friend on facebook. Here's one of the pictures:

Click here to see the rest.

So, of course, I reposted the link on facebook; it's a nice gut-level response to the attack. I included this statement:

As far as I can tell, this is typical of the vast majority of Muslims worldwide. That means all these right-wing extremists who love to piss off Muslims should STFU. Like immediately.

That got an immediate response from an old school chum of mine who now has his own sort of center-right late night talk show on Houston radio:

Chris So right wing extremists are causing Muslims to kill people? I guess facts are pesky things...
And he included a link to an anti-Muslim site. This, of course, gave me the opportunity to expand my own thought:
Ron You're misquoting me, Chris. Look at it this way. I'm an agnostic, and have my issues with Christian theology, and there are certainly Christian terrorists out there, namely abortion clinic bombers and the like, but, as a theater artist, I would NEVER seek to enrage all of Christianity by, say, showing Jesus in gay sexual relationships or somesuch. That's just mean-spirited and accomplishes nothing positive while alienating the very people I might seek to persuade about my own views. Most Christians, I mean the vast majority, are good people just trying to live their lives in a tough world, even though I disagree with how they see the world. No reason to poke them with a stick. So, too, with all these extremist Muslim haters. What's the point in pissing off Muslims just because you can? No, they didn't cause the violence, but they certainly affected the already explosive cultural atmosphere. To sort of quote Spiderman, with the great power of free speech comes great responsibility. Clearly, these Muslim haters are, at the very least, irresponsible.
Facebook has really been inspiring me lately.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012


From the AP via ESPN:

Longhorns use long TDs to rout New Mexico

Texas quarterback David Ash continues to do a couple of things very well.

He can run to the end zone and throw the short passes that set up his teammates to get the glory.

Ash scored on a 49-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and flipped the ball to Daje Johnson for a 45-yard TD pass in the third, and the No. 17 Longhorns cruised to a 45-0 win over New Mexico on Saturday night.

The running TD was all Ash, who rolled to his right, cut back to his left and scampered past three defenders to break into the clear. The throw to Johnson was a shovel pass behind the line of scrimmage and Johnson zipped around the end to break for the touchdown.

More here.

And from the same source:

No. 3 LSU piles up 242 rushing yards in rout of Washington

When Alfred Blue wasn't running away from the Washington Huskies, Kenny Hilliard and Spencer Ware were running over them.

That left quarterback Zach Mettenberger with little more to do than pivot and hand off, letting third-ranked LSU's stable of running backs pound the overmatched Huskies for a 41-3 victory Saturday night.

"Those dudes are beasts back there," Mettenberger said of LSU's running backs. "They just really pounded (Washington's) defensive line. That just makes them really tired. The key there is that makes it easier to pass because they are tired and can't rush as hard as they would like. I know I saw that tonight. That's just LSU football and how we want to play each and every week."

More here.

I didn't get to see Texas play, thank you very much stupid Longhorn Network, but the article excerpted above tells us a few things. They're good enough to beat the shit out of a shitty team. But it might look like a better win than it actually was. Apparently, New Mexico was moving the ball at will during the first half. Granted, the Longhorn defense kept them out of the end zone, but the Lobos chewed time off the clock, and it wasn't really until they lost their QB to injury that the Texas D started to dominate. Can Texas stop the run? Another question is about our QB: apparently he's only deft with short passes and running. Okay, that's good, but can we score points on Oklahoma without airing it out downfield? I'm not expecting a national championship this year, for sure, but a Big 12 title would be nice, and the only way to do that is by beating OU. Then there's Tech, TCU, Oklahoma State...this is still a tough conference. Do we have our shit together this year?

LSU, in contrast, beat the shit out of a better inferior team. I got to watch this one, and the Tigers looked damned good, almost as if they hadn't skipped a beat since last season, that awful loss to 'Bama notwithstanding. That is, LSU, once again, looks like a pro team, and a lot of that happens down in the trenches: both the defensive and offensive lines are incredible, which makes the running and passing games easy. I mean, they're not easy, and our backfield is fucking great. But really, the big difference between this year and last year is that LSU seems to now have a dependable quarterback. He might not be flash and dash, but when the guy throws the ball it lands on target. And that's fine. Let the running backs run. You throw the ball. It should all work out.

It would not be crazy at all to bet on LSU winning the big one in January. And fuck Alabama.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I'm pretty sure I was in no way out of line; actually I think I pissed this girl off simply because I did such a good job of advancing my position. Ah well, you decide. Here's the status update to which I had to reply, posted by former facebook friend Esther:

Ok, here is my opinion on the teachers strike in Chicago. Let them strike. Replace them with people who want to work and make a difference. Asking for a 30% pay raise in a time when your district is running at a deficit of over 600 million dollars is just ludacris!!!! I am sure there are plenty of unemployed people out there in the city of Chicago who are capable and willing to work.

And here's the debate, totally unedited:

Ronald My understanding is that it's a lot more about class size than it is about pay. Indeed, this is why so many Chicago parents support the strike. It's also about having quality teachers in the classroom, and about making sure they actually have careers that will keep them in the business for years to come, unlike the charter school solution that pays crap wages and burns people out quickly. The money's out there for this. The problem is that we see quality education as a luxury to cut rather than the vital necessity it actually is.

Donelle Ronald my mom was a teacher for 25+ years. When she saw the news tonight, she said "I would never have walked out of a classroom to strike because it's the kids that lose."

Ronald I taught, myself, for six years, and will probably return to it when I'm done trying to be a professional actor: the kids also lose when you go higher than a teacher/student ratio of fourteen to one. They also lose when you charter-ize schools, which drop stringent teacher qualifications, and which overwork their teachers and drive them out of the field resulting in the loss of experienced veterans and institutional memory. Right now the public discourse on education is being driven by psychopaths who want to turn the whole thing over to the private sector in order to cash in on the "schooling" business. They offer fake "solutions" that result only in taking taxpayer money to line their corrupt pockets, and children be damned. If the teachers don't stand up to this corporate stealth campaign, who will?

Rick Watch waiting for superman. Nuff Said

Esther I've watched waiting for supean several times

Gerri "The money's out there for this." What part of $600MM deficit is unclear? Whether higher pay or smaller class size, they both cost money. And if the money isn't there then it isn't there. And in this economy, in a district that is already in a massive deficit position, you've got to have rocks in your head to be striking. That will only damage the students' education and the district's financial position further. In a perfect world we would pay teachers a higher salary so we could attract better people to the profession and classes would be smaller. But we don't live in a perfect world. If you really want to improve the classroom put teachers back in control of the classroom, give principals the ability to discipline and even expel students if necessary, and expect parents to actually take responsibility for the kids' education and behavior. On a side note,on the news this morning they talked about some of the complaints being large class size and a lack of air conditioning in some of the schools. But you know what? I don't recall ever taking a class with less than 25 or 30 students in it and the elementary school I went to (before moving to Texas) didn't have air conditioning. And yet, neither of those things preventing me from getting a decent education.

Rick We've steadily increased education spending every year for the last 40 years and we are still falling behind other nations. We don't need more money. We need a better system.

Ronald Gerri, businesses are positively awash in capital right now. Indeed, profits, overall, are way, way up--this is why tax cuts for the rich as a job creation measure are stupid; they're sitting on piles of money at the moment, so more money for them won't expand business. What part of tax the people who actually have the money don't you get? The money is definitely there. There's not a magic shield around concentrations of wealth that makes taxing them impossible. It's only the attitude that says "oh, well it's THEIR money, so we can't do that." What a silly joke. If there's no money it's only because the ruling establishment refuses to go get it.

Also, it's been known for many years that there is a direct correlation between class size and learning. Your own personal education experience isn't really much of a factor as far as this goes. And your suggestion that we "put teachers back in control of the classroom" puzzles me. What does this mean? Are you telling me that all Chicago's educational problems are due to unruly students? Where have you heard that Chicago teachers have lost "control of the classroom"? I'm assuming this is just a slogan without any real meaning because you don't explain.

"expect parents to actually take responsibility for the kids' education and behavior."

Why don't we just have home schooling for everybody, the ultimate parental responsibility? You've got a point here in that teachers are expected to deal with all the issues associated with poverty, issues that make education far more than problematic, issues that teachers at cushy suburban schools like KHS never have to confront. So yeah, we should change society so that teachers are no longer blamed for poverty issues beyond their control. But you probably think there's not any money for this, either.

Ronald Also, Rick, Waiting for Superman is simply a pro-corporate schooling propaganda hit piece:

"When I first watched this movie, I was overcome by the blatant and categorical blame placed on the teachers. I kept wondering, when will they talk about other explanations for 'failing schools?' When will they talk about students with special needs or with IEPs, English language learners, students living in poverty, students from broken homes, students whose parents are uninvolved with their education, overcrowded classrooms, and excessively high student absentee rates? When will they talk about the cultural shift that this country has seen in recent decades through which the value placed on education has seemingly diminished? When will they talk about these other widespread, systemic issues that undoubtedly impact how students perform on a multitude of levels?

I kept wondering, when will they talk about the good teachers?"

Stefanie Ronald, you state that "business are positively awash in capital right now. Indeed, profits, overall, are way up." You blast Gerri for not explaining a comment but yet you don't back up yours either. Where is this information that profits are way up. Speaking from a business owners stand point I can tell you that profits are NOT up, I fact are WAY down, across the board. I have rental properties that are only getting 70% of what they did just 2years ago. And Please, define "rich" for me. Because if you took the income of everyone that made over a million dollars it would run the government for about 29 days. If you take out the amount they are already paying in taxes then you reduce that number to a mere 18 days since they average about 24.4% in annual taxes. You can google that information easily. How much did your pay in taxes last year? Or were you on the receiving end of my taxes?

Now let's talk about class size. I agree smaller classes are better. That is why my oldest goes to a, oh dare I say it for fear of your tongue lashing, CHARTER SCHOOL! For whatever reason, you have had a bad experience with Charter Schools and think they are all are created equal, but in fact, that is the beauty of them, they are not cookie cutter copies of each other. Class size is a HUGH issue and it would be nice if we lived in a perfect world where every child had one on one instruction. But alas, we do not. You would like class sizes of 14. Have you ever looked at a school budget? It takes an average of 14 students, just to pay the teacher. NO building, NO books, NO A/C, NO computers JUST THE TEACHER! And they don't get paid near enough! So I'm afraid you ideal class size is doomed from the start. You told one person their experience did not count, because it did not support your argument for 14 students, well add mine to the mix and I'm sure many others that received a very good education with 20 or more in the class.

Ronald Profits up, wages down, from a pro-business source two months ago:


Also, if I sounded like I was blasting Gerri, forgive me. I was simply taking on the tone she seemed to be using: "What part of $600MM deficit is unclear?" Such a question could be perceived as patronizing, but it doesn't really bother me. I just figured that's how we're talking to each other.
Just as I was typing one more comment, I was "unfriended." I found out when I clicked the button to post it. Here's my last comment, which, unfortunately, is only being seen here:
Ronald "it would be nice if we lived in a perfect world where every child had one on one instruction." Why does any progressive or liberal suggestion always have to be tantamount to utopia? No, this isn't a "perfect world" thing. The money exists to lower class sizes and raise teacher pay. Easily. Your business may be down, but corporate America, as per the Business Insider article, is filthy rich. Tax them. Easy. Actually, economists estimate that we can go as high as 70 or 80 percent in taxing the filthy rich before it has a malevolent effect on the economy. We're currently down in the twenties or thirties, for the actual rate, and much lower when you factor in loopholes and shelters. No magic shield, just a government system that is beholden to corporate campaign money, which means a legal shield. Just do away with the legal shield and everything's paid for.

Unable to post comment. Try Again.
"Unable to post comment. Try again." Hmph. I asked Esther via private messaging why she did this. Her response was something to the effect of "You're wrong; I'm a teacher; people didn't like your tone." I asked her what was wrong with my tone, but she hasn't responded. This talk-to-conservatives experiment is frustrating sometimes.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Hubble has spotted an ancient galaxy that shouldn’t exist

From io9 courtesy of a facebook friend:

This galaxy is so large, so fully-formed, astronomers say it shouldn't exist at all. It's called a "grand-design" spiral galaxy, and unlike most galaxies of its kind, this one is old. Like, really, really old. According to a new study conducted by researchers using NASA's Hubble Telescope, it dates back roughly 10.7-billion years — and that makes it the most ancient spiral galaxy we've ever discovered.


The reason Stephen Hawking bet against the Higgs Boson is the same reason BX442 is the best kind of discovery; not only does this galaxy set a new benchmark by way of its cosmic seniority, it's also super weird — weirder than what anyone thought was possible. In science, these are the finds that help us rework our understanding of nature, the discoveries that force us to step back from what we thought we knew, re-assess our preconceived notions, and bring forth a newer, more fully formed view of our Universe.

More here.

Click through if you want to read some of the speculation as to why this galaxy exists when it shouldn't. It's fascinating. But what grabbed me about the article is that second paragraph I excerpted. It's also why I read the article in the first place.

I absolutely adore and celebrate the science attitude that has all scientists ready to completely reevaluate everything they think they know when confronted with new evidence. Actually, it's not so much an attitude as it is the underlying philosophy that has driven science forward for centuries, the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, experimentation, ad nauseam. A friend of mine has suggested that it may very well be mankind's greatest invention, and I'm inclined to agree. Now, contrast the scientific method with the lawyer's approach, one used heavily in politics, and by lots of human beings in how they simply run their lives: hypothesis comes first, followed by a gathering of every idea one encounters that supports that hypothesis. That is, scientists start with evidence from which they reach a conclusion. Lawyers and politicians, however, start with a conclusion, and then seek evidence to support it. The latter is very prone to error; the former much, much less so.

We really could learn a lot from these scientists, and I'm not just talking about DNA and cosmology. It's their intellectual methodology, more than anything else, that has made them great. Can you imagine what society would look like if we approached running it without preconceived conclusions? Probably pretty good.


Saturday, September 08, 2012

After 50 years, some still misunderstand high court school prayer decision

From Secular News Daily, courtesy of a facebook friend:

Let’s dissect this a bit. First off, Ryan’s claim that school prayer is “a constitutional issue of the states” is inaccurate. State legislators can, of course, pass school prayer laws if they want, but it’s a waste of time. If a law mandates or compels young people to take part in prayer or religious worship, the courts will strike it down.

It’s not like this is some recent development. The first school prayer case to reach the Supreme Court, Engel v. Vitale, was decided in June of 1962 – 50 years ago. (Read more about the Engel case here.) The high court made it clear – and subsequent decisions have affirmed – that a religious majority cannot compel the minority to take part in worship activities.

So, this is not an issue of “state’s rights.” Ever since the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, states have had no power to infringe upon the liberties guaranteed us by the First Amendment.

More here.

Of course, this is not surprising at all in that conservatives have been whining about how the liberals took prayer out of the schools pretty much the entire fifty years it's been the law of the land. But it's extraordinarily surprising when you think about it for, like, two seconds.

For starters, the Court never actually took prayer out of the schools: rather, the decision clarified what the first amendment's "establishment clause" means in the real world. That is, the schools, being part of the government, cannot mandate that students pray because doing so is tantamount to the state establishing an official religion, namely Christianity. So students can still pray on their own. Students have always been able to pray on their own. Prayer was never removed from the schools. Ever.

But compounding the surprise here, as the article observes, is how conservatives don't understand that keeping teachers and administrators out of their children's spiritual understanding is in reality a good thing. I mean, can you imagine agnostic, liberal me leading a prayer? Never mind that this would be an abridgement of my own first amendment rights, being forced by my employer, the government, to lead what amounts to a mini-worship service. My heart would certainly not be involved with such an act, and there's no way to keep that from showing. Imagine a Muslim teacher leading the prayer, or a Mormon, or a Pagan. It gets weirder the more you think about it.

Conservatives just don't think things through. And really, that's their biggest problem.


Friday, September 07, 2012



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


Welcome To Charlotte, Where Everyone Wants To Talk Social Issues

From Talking Points Memo:

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: A major political party, trying to rekindle the flame of enthusiasm that died down to the embers after a presidential term that didn’t live up to expectations is turning to social issues — and fear of radical social change — to rally its base back to the polls.

No, it’s not the Republican Party of 2004. It’s the Democrats in 2012. With the establishment GOP and its nominee, Mitt Romney, trying to keep a lid on its social views, Democrats see a window of opportunity on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. And on the first night of their convention here, they hammered away at social messaging in a way that the conservative right could only dream about last week in Tampa.

More here.

This continues to fascinate me.

It's not that the Democrats are apparently now brave enough to rhetorically support stuff that they've always ostensibly supported as much as it's how the cultural wedge issues, used for decades now by the right, are now working in reverse, apparently. That is, issues like gay rights, abortion, race, and the like, have been go-to weapons for the GOP: the idea is to break apart Democratic coalitions on progressive economics by freaking out groups who would ordinarily be voting against the Republicans.


It seems like such alarmism no longer packs the punch it did back in the day. Not only that, but it also seems like embracing these social issues is having the effect on Republican coalitions that it used to have on the Democrats. Lots of Republicans now support gay rights, abortion rights, and are totally cool on race and immigration. They now have to think twice if they really want to support a party that seems batshit crazy as far as culture goes.

Pass the popcorn; this is getting fun!


Thursday, September 06, 2012


Usual disclaimer: no, I'm not trying to go all facebook all the time, but occasionally a nice little discussion pops up when I'm not expecting it, and, yet again, that happened in the last twenty four hours. And I
have to bring it here because it is one of the rare posts that does justice to my blog's title.

So, first my status update that prompted the discussion:

"It's curious that we live at a time when 'art' is often described as literally anything the artist or the critic says it is...except when the art's political." Rob Shetterly

To finish out the thought: politics, for the establishment art world, is, quite simply, an inappropriate subject. Political art is not taken seriously, and is seen as having no artistic legitimacy. This is extraordinarily bad for society, for various reasons, and is probably why I'm kind of grossed out by the field I've spent my life studying. You can cover yourself with feces from head to toe and scream obscenities at the top of your lungs and it's legitimate art, but if you try to expose corporate control over society, you're a rube who wants to emulate mall-artist Thomas Kinkade.

Post-modernism is for suckers. Unfortunately, suckers run the arts in this country.

And now the discussion with an old high school buddy of mine, a kind and gentle artist who I remember very fondly:

Scott I just don't think that is true. I'm not sure what is the state of the art world at this very moment, but 5 years ago anything political was considered to be the height of culture. If it's out of fashion right now, it's just a part of the ebb and flow of culture. Give it a few years.

Ronald I'm talking about the high art world, centered in New York, worshiped at non-profits, museums, colleges and universities throughout the land.

Scott Especially in New York. Not too long ago, no work was taken seriously if it didn't directly engage social location, which is necessarily political. Then there was whining that art had become too specific and not universal enough. What about Jenny Holzer's redaction series? What about Kara Walker's ruminations on race? I just think you're wrong on this.

Ronald Identity politics, reflections on self as ethnicity or as sexual orientation, are definitely a niche, but that's not the politics I"m talking about: when I said "corporate control" I meant that specifically. The arts, going back to the 20s and 30s were once very active in terms of power relationships between concentrations of wealth and everybody else. McCarthyism radically changed this forever. Generally, identity politics is something that doesn't affect the corporate state, but old school stuff drives it nuts, which means they withhold donations to non-profits, and their boards of directors know it, and choose work to promote accordingly. This is also reflected in the work of critics, curators, and artistic directors of regional theaters.

Ronald I imagine my feces example falls under identity politics somehow.

Scott I'm not that up on theater. What you're saying is not true of visual art. A significant portion of contemporary art thumbs its nose at its own audience.

Ronald Cue me in, Scott. I'm riffing on ideas in Chris Hedges' book "Death of the Liberal Class" (2010) which paints a scathing indictment of how the traditional institutions of the left, the Democrats, unions, arts establishments, mainline protestant churches, were essentially emasculated in exchange for the ability to function in a corporate dominated nation. I'll admit that I haven't been up on the New York art scene for some years, but this analysis matches my recent experience in grad school, and experience as an artist for many years overall. That is, I agree with your observation about identity politics, which are economically neutral, but I just know of nothing in the serious art world that matches, say, the likes of Diego Rivera, or pre-McCarthy Clifford Odets. Lots of opaque self contemplation, but nothing about the plutocracy. Am I out of the loop? Has NYC's MOMA become a hotbed of radical activity?​wiki/​Death_of_the_Liberal_Class

Ronald Just looked at some of Holzer's Redaction stuff. It is definitely political, in that it is obviously some sort of anti-war-on-terror something or other. But it also doesn't appear to cross any lines in terms of critiquing the corporate imposed economic system, parts of which were big movers in terms of getting us into the war in the first place. That is, I think the system doesn't really have much of a problem with vague pro-peace statements, as long as they don't question, as did Rivera, Odets, and others, the fundamentals of how our society is organized economically and politically. Indeed, there is even conflict within the plutocracy on our Middle Eastern wars: some industries, definitely the defense contractors, but also the oil barons and bizarre companies like Halliburton, see it all as good for business; others see it as bad for business, running up deficits, hurting the overall economy, souring trade relationships with more civilized nations. Simply taking a stance against the "War on Terror" is, in itself, something that won't get you thrown out into the artistic swamps; calling into question the American power structure, however, is a one-way ticket to Thomas Kinkade land, without all the millions he's made.

Ronald Adding: Holzer is one example that kind of gets near the ballpark of what I'm talking about even though it doesn't really enter the parking lot. But the high art world pumps out hundreds of works every year. Are there more I don't know about? Is Holzer an exception? Actually, I don't even think Redaction is an exception, but do you know of more that's not about gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation? And really, when you get down to it, you can see Holzer's Redaction as part of the sort of counterculture movement from the 60s, which also gave birth to identity politics, but was definitely more about the individual than society. In that sense, Redaction is well within the acceptable boundaries of the establishment art world. You know, hippie stuff.

Scott First, I think it is a mistake to discount identity issues as not pertinent to a critique of the overall system. Critique of normativity by non-normative stakeholders is inherently a critique of the means by which we determine normativity. It is a critique of the whole enterprise. Part of its power is that it hits economic, political, social, and religious targets.

Second, you seem to be really concerned that your particular politics are not represented rather than political art is not offered. Bear in mind that there is a certain chauvinism in assuming that your particular political critique is more valid than critiques based on identities other than yours.

As for Holzer, her redaction series is a critique of the war on terror. It is also a critique of the romanticization and universalization of Ab-Ex art, which is essentially a feminist, possibly Marxist, critique. It is a critique of power systems, generally. It works on many levels, especially when viewed in person. The show I saw it in also contained a lot of her LED work, which leverages the tools of consumerism and media to undermine those tendencies. And, no, Holzer is not a unique instance. Even those who appear to be enmeshed in a capitalist, consumerist model of contemporary art, such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, could easily be viewed as a veiled critique.

Ronald I'm not discounting identity politics, but generally, they are politics of inclusion. Inclusion within the existing system of power, NOT a call for a change to that system of power. There's a difference between these two ideas, a huge difference, but the language for making such a distinction, once common not only among artists, but among the entire population, has long since been banished from the public discourse. Including a higher percentage of women in the workforce, for instance, or acceptance of gay or transgendered people in positions of power, doesn't in any way change how that power is used or what it is used for. Really, the best example here is that decades after the glory days of the civil rights movement blacks continue to suffer high poverty and incarceration rates. So we see more faces of color on television, and even in state legislatures and Congress, but it's the same old story when you get down to the nitty gritty aspect of day-to-day existence. So too with the arts. Identity politics, as long as it is ultimately about inclusion, but not about power structures, is very much a part of the high art world. Not a bad thing. But not good enough, especially when you consider how American artists before the anti-communist hysteria thought they could change the world. Indeed, to some extent, they did change the world, or at least the nation. But not anymore.

Ronald "Bear in mind that there is a certain chauvinism in assuming that your particular political critique is more valid than critiques based on identities other than yours."

Scott, forgive me if I'm wrong, but this statement sounds like you're telling me that I'm making this argument because I just want everybody else to embrace my politics. To some extent that's true, of course, but I wouldn't be making the argument at all if I didn't think I was arguing in favor of justice, fairness, and upholding the dignity of all human beings. That is, sure, I want everybody to embrace my politics because I think I'm right. This is obvious. The idea here is to advance an argument so as to persuade, or, at least, get people thinking about stuff they don't usually think about. I believe artists should make our lives better, and they should do it in a concrete way, not a sort of abstract, academic, artsy-fartsy kind of way. Sequestered in the museums, dealing with post-modernism that is very much alien to the lives of most Americans, and pontificating on subjects that may or may not have value to people who actually have a background in the arts enough to kind of get what is being said just doesn't cut it.

That is, I totally reject that somebody's identity discourse somehow invalidates my participation in the marketplace of ideas. Indeed, such a post-modern notion, that one's discourse is of equal value to another's discourse, meaning that criticizing another's discourse is somehow uncool, is the kind of academic BS that the corporate state absolutely adores. If there no truth with a capital "T," then capitalist exploitation is just fine, just another discourse.

In the end, however, I'm not arguing for an end to identity politics in art. I actually kind of like it all. I'm just saying that it is ultimately limited, very limited, in terms of actual social change. But social change and self-contemplation are not mutually exclusive.

Ronald "Even those who appear to be enmeshed in a capitalist, consumerist model of contemporary art, such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, could easily be viewed as a veiled critique."

Hmmm. That's the problem. It's a veiled critique. So veiled, in the case of Koons, as to be meaningless.

We could go on about Koons, who I know enough about to hate, but suffice it to say that I need to study what's going on in New York more, at the very least, to check this stuff out to see what's what. But I am certain that we see nothing today like what was going on in the 1930s. And it's not that political art of that type simply fell out of fashion: it was stopped in its tracks by a massive capitalist onslaught, at all levels of government, and even in private business and non-profits. The art world has never been the same.

Ronald Also, thanks, Scott, for jumping in on this. I know at least a few people who have the background to be able to participate in this discussion, but only you came out to play. We disagree on this, of course, but I'm definitely getting some value out of your challenge.

Ronald One more thing: find and read Hedges' book "Death of the Liberal Class." You might not agree with his thesis, but you'll probably very much enjoy how he makes his points. You might also appreciate that he holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard, and was going into the ministry when he decided to become a journalist. Consequently, his writing comes from a very religious perspective, even though he wouldn't at this point describe himself as being particularly religious. I like how he is able to appeal to both my politics, as well as my own vestiges of Christian righteousness.
And there you have it. Scott's superior knowledge of the art world makes it difficult for me to hang with him in this kind of debate. I mean, I think I'm probably right on this, but just can't go point for point on works of art I don't know anything about. We'll see what else he has to say, but I'm thinking I need to get a new overview of high art, just to make sure I've got it right. Hedges' book was published only a couple of years ago, and his argument on this, like I said, fits my own personal experience very nicely--it's hard to imagine that the NYC art scene has been suddenly seized by economic radicals. But then Occupy Wall Street did, in fact, cause some lasting changes in how Americans talk about economics. Perhaps the events of downtown Manhattan had an effect on midtown and uptown. I don't think so, at least, not on what I'm talking about, but I could be wrong.