Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Noam Chomsky on George Orwell, the Suppression of Ideas and the Myth of American Exceptionalism

From Democracy Now:

In a Democracy Now! special, we spend the hour with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than half a century. Chomsky has written more than 100 books, including his latest, "Because We Say So," a collection of his monthly columns. On Saturday, Chomsky spoke before a sold-out audience of nearly 1,000 people at The New School’s John L. Tishman Auditorium in New York City. In a speech titled “On Power and Ideology,” he discussed the persistence of U.S. exceptionalism, Republican efforts to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal, and the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Click here to read, watch, or listen to the rest.

"American exceptionalism" essentially means "We're better than everybody else." Oh sure, there are definitely some mental gymnastics involved, namely the inclusion of the false notion that we actually adhere to our lip-service values of freedom and democracy, both domestically and in our foreign policy, making our "exceptionalism" disguised with good vibes and whatnot. Otherwise "American exceptionalism" is the exact same thing as old school European great power nationalism. You know, German "exceptionalism," French "exceptionalism," English "exceptionalism."

At least our forebears across the Atlantic had the decency to just be straight-up chauvinistic about themselves. I think we Americans are lacking in that kind of honesty.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Huckabee asks Frito Lay to drop pro-LGBT Rainbow Doritos partnership

From Fox News:

The controversy surrounding Rainbow Doritos, the special-edition snack released to build support for gay and lesbian youth-isn't letting up anytime soon.

After the rainbow-colored chips debuted last week-- in partnership with the pro-LBGT non-profit group It Gets Better--people have been taking to social media and the Doritos Facebook page to voice their displeasure and threaten Frito-Lay boycotts.

And now Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is adding a dissenting voice by asking Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of PepsiCo that produces Doritos, to end its relationship with the group and its outspoken co-founder, Dan Savage.

More here.

There's just something about teh gay that drives fundamentalists into crazed conniption fits. I'm reminded of the freakouts over Barney the dinosaur and Tinky Winky. The gays! The gays! They're EVERYWHERE. And they're recruiting our children with corn chips and lovable television characters.

Oy vey.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Scientists find flowing salt water on Mars, say it's a good place to look for life

From the Houston Chronicle:

Scientists say the water likely exists intermittently as thin layers of wet soil. It is very salty, far more so than oceans on Earth. This brine can therefore exist as a liquid on the surface during the warmer spring and summer months, when temperatures rise to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the search for life, evidence of flowing water is a game-changer. It strongly indicates that there are large glaciers and possibly flowing water just beneath the surface of Mars.

More here.

This is a game changer. We really ought to stop giving money to the rich and start giving more to NASA. Because finding life on other planets is far, far, far more important than pleasing our wealthy betters, who generally don't do much more with our lavish handouts to them than buy yachts. This is real. We, all of us, should be more real.


Sunday, September 27, 2015


From KPRC:

When the assailants attempted to take his truck, a witness parked at the gas pump started shooting at the men, according to authorities.

Police said he accidentally shot the victim in the head.

More here.

An armed society is NOT a polite society. I mean, that's just stupid, and it's amazing that anybody at all takes such a notion seriously. Of course, we've got a lot of stupid people out there, so I shouldn't be surprised. And a lot of those stupid people own guns.

No, not a polite society. Instead, an armed society is a downright dangerous society. Life isn't like television.


Saturday, September 26, 2015


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, September 25, 2015


Frankie and Sammy

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


Thursday, September 24, 2015


Yeah. I'm getting pretty sick of the bogus picking and choosing. I mean, by all means, pick and choose, and then we can have an honest discussion, but don't insult me by telling me you don't. It makes me take you far less seriously as a principled religious person.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The GOP’s bullsh*t campaign: Why they’re drowning the country in an ocean of lies

From Salon:

For those of you who can’t see embedded tweets and aren’t familiar with the BAP already, it goes like this: “The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of a magnitude bigger than to produce it.” And if you’ve ever been on the Internet before — or had a conversation with a 9/11 Truther — it’s likely that you don’t need me to explain the BAP to you, because its truth is utterly (and painfully) self-evident.

But if you want a more specific example, look no further than the grotesque and meaningless postmodern spectacle broadcast by CNN and the Republican Party earlier this week. Because with three hours and 11 candidates at its disposal, the former “most trusted name in news” unleashed a Pacific Ocean-size amount of bullshit. It was so voluminous, in fact, that even those in the media who wanted to refute it couldn’t.

More here.

Personally, having come to realize that it takes more effort to refute bullshit convincingly than to sling bullshit, I've taken just to saying "that's bullshit, total bullshit" when confronted with the equivalent of Rambo riding a fanged unicorn that I get from conservatives so often these days. I mean, it's probably not going to persuade the bullshitter, but it lets him know that it's not so easy to do the Goebbels big lie thing in America, and it lets anyone listening in know that things aren't so open and shut.

So yes, in political debate these days, it is perfectly acceptable to call bullshit often and loudly. Conservatives have brought us to this place. So that's what you've gotta do.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fantasies and Fictions at G.O.P. Debate


I’ve been going over what was said at Wednesday’s Republican debate, and I’m terrified. You should be, too. After all, given the vagaries of elections, there’s a pretty good chance that one of these people will end up in the White House.

Why is that scary? I would argue that all of the G.O.P. candidates are calling for policies that would be deeply destructive at home, abroad, or both. But even if you like the broad thrust of modern Republican policies, it should worry you that the men and woman on that stage are clearly living in a world of fantasies and fictions. And some seem willing to advance their ambitions with outright lies.

More here

Flash back to the 80s and 90s.

The Republicans had learned to use a new phrase with devastating effect: "the liberal media." They were, and still are to an extent, absolutely relentless with it. They complained and whined about "the liberal media" always. They shouted it, screamed it, even while Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman had pretty convincingly illustrated in their seminal work, "Manufacturing Consent," that the news media were NOT liberal, and, in fact, by and large, exist to play a subservient role toward centers of national power, regardless of party or ideology. But that didn't matter. Conservatives didn't care about the reality. They pushed it so intensely that it finally got into the media's heads.

Ultimately, as Krugman observes in this column, newspapers were running headlines that might as well have been along the lines of "Shape of the Earth: Views Differ." The media caved, and decided to favor a false sense of "balance" over accuracy. This opened things up widely for conservatives.

Flash forward to today. The right wing can now essentially say ANYTHING IT WANTS, no matter how wrong, unsupported, absurd, or dangerous, without any resistance from "the liberal media." Ever wonder how so many Americans are confused about the settled science of global warming and climate change? Ever wonder why "creationism" or "intelligent design" have managed to develop such a massive following, even making their way into the schools as "education"? Wonder why we invaded Iraq in order to find weapons of mass destruction when there were no weapons of mass destruction to find, which was KNOWN at the time? And on and on.

It's because conservatives worked their asses off a couple of decades ago to create the circumstances that would allow them to lie constantly, for their own political benefit. Only now, in its critical mass of malicious disinformation, is the nation starting to see how truly f'd up the situation has become. How can there be a useful public discourse, the "marketplace of ideas" so greatly valued by our founding fathers, when lies and bullshit are given the same value as the truth?

I don't know if we'll ever be able to dig ourselves out of this one. Things could actually get worse.


Monday, September 21, 2015


A brief exchange with a young friend of mine who has asked me for advice for the paper she's writing on social justice and human rights:

Ilse How would you tie in public goods to human rights and social justice?

Ron How are you using the term "public goods"?

Ilse Free market

Ron I would argue that capitalism, and its accompanying profit motive, are so widespread, so utterly dominant, in politics, in the culture, in the mass media, and on and on, that profit and money become a value unto themselves.  Indeed, for many, the SUPREME value.  Money, having it, and making even more, this is all a moral position.

Needless to say, such "morality" is in hopeless conflict with actual morality, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Did you know that the African slave trade, as an economic institution, started because English investors knew they could make a mint with sugar plantations in the Caribbean, but no self-respecting Englishman would work under such conditions?  Thus, slavery, completely born of the profit motive.  Racism, of the white supremacist variety, came only a bit later, in order to justify the obvious immorality at work with slavery. 

So it wasn't racism that started slavery.  It was money.  And the racism was just the rhetorical excuse.  The Bible really is right when it says that "the love of money is the root of all evil."  And we have crafted a society where loving money is the greatest moral principle of all. 

It's pretty disgusting.  And not many Americans appear to understand.


Sunday, September 20, 2015


An old buddy of mine was taking some shit on facebook from another old buddy of mine because the former compared Trump to Hitler.  Of course, I had to weigh in:

Personally, I think the exacting "has to have killed six million Jews" test for Hitler comparisons is just straight up unreasonable.

Hitler did LOTS of bad shit besides the Holocaust. Concentration camps, for instance, something very much like interning illegal immigrants today. Or making various non-Aryan ethnicities, like Jews and Gypsies, register with the government. Or torture. Or aggressive war. Or extreme nationalism. Stuff that is offered as serious policy in the twenty first century by Republicans.

And all these things we also identify with Hitler. But it's considered out-of-bounds by many to make the comparison unless the subject being compared killed six million Jews. I call bullshit on that.

The whole point to making the Hitler comparison is to show where the lesser transgressions necessarily lead. And extreme nationalism, singling out various minorities as the enemy, torturing, invading other nations without just cause, all these things lead ultimately to devaluing human life. And that's the fertile ground you need to plant a new holocaust.

Yeah, it's an overused comparison, especially by Republicans who live in WWII in their minds. But it's a good comparison. I'm afraid of these people. They are bad for the nation, for our national soul. And the "reasonable Republicans" are in bed with the Nazi Republicans: they refuse to call them out for their hate and evil.

For that matter, the Republicans aren't too terribly good on making right the horrible sins of our own American Holocausts, against American Indians, and against African Americans. I mean, the Democrats aren't great on this, but at least they acknowledge it as a great national sin. Republicans just get pissed off when you mention it.

Hitler is totally appropriate.
'Nuff said.  Well, okay, one more thing.  Godwin's Law is not always applicable.


Saturday, September 19, 2015


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, September 18, 2015



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


Thursday, September 17, 2015

9/11 responders bill defeated by Senate GOP filibuster

From CNN:

Senate Democrats failed Thursday to win a procedural vote to open debate on a bill that would provide medical benefits and compensation for emergency workers who were first on the scene of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The motion for cloture, or to begin debate, needed 60 votes to pass due to a Republican filibuster, but fell short at 57-42 in favor.

More here.

You know, I just don't take these people seriously anymore with their "patriotism" shit.  This happened five years ago, but it might as well have happened yesterday.  We need to be constantly reminded of the GOP's true stance on love-of-country because they keep rubbing our noses in this perversity--as if inviting a foreign head of state to address Congress in order to publicly trash the President's diplomacy was a patriotic act.

I mean, you, the individual, may very well love your nation a great deal.  But your party doesn't, and hasn't for a really long time.  Any asshole can drape himself in the flag and hit people over the head with a rolled up copy of the Constitution.  But that makes you an asshole, not a patriot.  To be a patriot, you've got to put your money where your mouth is.  You've got to really support the troops--simply sending them to die isn't good enough.  Same thing with first responders.  This is some sick, sick shit.

Henceforth, Republicans no longer have any business telling us all who's a patriot and who's not.  It seems to me you've got to be a patriot in the first place to have any perspective on that at all, and Republicans are not patriots.  They lie when they say they love this country.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015


From Salon:

This is what a political earthquake feels like: Why 
Bernie Sanders’s speech at Liberty University matters

I believe in a woman’s right to control her own body. I believe in gay rights and gay marriage. Those are my views, and it is no secret. But I came here today, because I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse.

Click here for more.

I posted this essay on facebook last night and almost immediately got a comment from a conservative Christian friend making a decades old right-wing argument: Jesus wasn't talking about the government; he was talking about churches.

Here's my response:

"That's the job of the body of Christ, not the government."

We live in a democracy, where the government and the people are the same thing. Consequently, the body of Christ is also part of the government. This strange schism between government and the people that I've heard pushed so often by conservative Christians makes no sense to me.

Certainly, it's not Scriptural. As far as I've ever been able to tell, the Bible doesn't talk about democracy at all. All the references to government are about despots, kings, and emperors. Rome, which dominated during the New Testament era was certainly no democracy, just as the various kings, judges, and oppressive enemy states that ruled the Israelites during the Old Testament were not democrats.

For that matter, the kind of personal charity you describe, while noble, is woefully inadequate when compared to government resources--remember that in America, government is of, by, and for the people, which includes the body of Christ. And, while both charity and welfare are helpful, and alleviate suffering, neither does anything to alter the social circumstances guaranteeing that people will be poor. Only the government can do such a thing.

So I hear your argument, and know it well because I've heard it so many times. But it still doesn't really come together for me for the reasons I've stated above. It seems to me that if one really is serious about helping the poor, one wouldn't tie his hands behind his back for reasons that are not entirely clear.


Monday, September 14, 2015


You and your conservative ilk refuse to take responsibility for anything at all, ever. Conservatives are today the most irresponsible political force we've ever seen in this country. From government shutdowns, to bringing the nation into illegal and immoral wars, to increasing the abortion rate by reducing access to birth control and sex education, to encouraging the policies that brought down Wall Street, to refusing to admit widespread racism exists, and on and on and on.

Conservatives are TOTALLY IRRESPONSIBLE, and cannot be trusted to run the country. A bunch of selfish, drug addled teenagers driving the car into a ditch.


Sunday, September 13, 2015


The phrase "illegal immigration" now serves essentially the same purpose that the phrase "Cadillac driving welfare queens" has served for many years. That is, it's now right-wing coded speech, allowing conservative whites to revel in racism while claiming with straight faces that they're concerned about a "real issue."

But it's getting pretty old and lame.


Saturday, September 12, 2015


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, September 11, 2015



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


Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Truth of ‘Black Lives Matter’

From the New York Times editorial board:

The Republican Party and its acolytes in the news media are trying to demonize the protest movement that has sprung up in response to the all-too-common police killings of unarmed African-Americans across the country. The intent of the campaign — evident in comments by politicians like Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky — is to cast the phrase “Black Lives Matter” as an inflammatory or even hateful anti-white expression that has no legitimate place in a civil rights campaign.

More here.

In twenty first century America, being "color blind" is good only for the racist white power structure. I mean, by all means, judge a man by the content of his character. But when white conservatives run around loudly proclaiming "all lives matter," the aim is not only to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement - as what? racist? - but also, more generally, to get other whites to ignore racism. After all, when you're "color blind" you can't see that someone is being oppressed because of his race. Must be some other reason. Maybe he had it coming. Maybe he smoked some marijuana or something, wore a hoodie, talked back to a cop, whatever.

We need to see race. We need to know that black lives matter. And that's harder to do when white conservatives are always correcting us to say "all lives matter." Screw these people.


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

How Steely Dan Created ‘Deacon Blues’

From the Wall Street Journal:

As midlife-crisis songs go, Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” ranks among the most melodic and existential. Recorded for the album “Aja” in 1977, the song details the bored existence of a ground-down suburbanite and his romantic fantasy of life as a jazz saxophonist.

Written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in 1976, “Deacon Blues” was released in 1977 on Steely Dan’s album “Aja,” which in the fall reached No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart, where it remained for seven consecutive weeks. The song also was a hit single in early 1978.

More here.

This is one of my all time favorite songs. I still remember first hearing it when I was in sixth or seventh grade: it was a lot like when I first heard the Doors, haunting, deeply moving, mysterious, full of loss and possibility. And jazz. This song, probably more than anything else, pushed me to explore jazz; for that alone, Steely Dan deserves my undying gratitude.

But this is also one of those works of art that stays meaningful and relevant over the years. As I've aged, and come to understand that some of my own dreams will not be realized, I've found great comfort in having "a name when I lose." Loss and failure become romantic and empowering with this song. These are essential human states, after all, and "Deacon Blues" celebrates them well. Hell, I've even listened to this song to soothe the ache of watching the Alabama Crimson Tide defeat first my Texas Longhorns and then my LSU Tigers in back to back national championships. A tonic for whatever ails you.

When I was a kid, I always wanted to live in Steely Dan's weird, jazzy, beat poet world. Come to find out, decades later, that's what I've been doing the whole time, whether I knew it or not.


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Kim Davis released, but judge bars her from withholding marriage licenses

From CNN:

A Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was freed Tuesday, but the judge who issued the order also attached a caveat she may not be willing to accept.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered that Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis be released from jail Tuesday -- five days after he sent her there -- saying he was satisfied that her deputies fulfilled their obligations to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her absence.

But Bunning's new order says Davis, once free, still cannot interfere with her deputies issuing marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.

More here.

What I have learned from the Kim Davis affair in Kentucky: apparently, the first amendment's guarantees of religious freedom include the right to violate the first amendment if you have the power to do so. I still don't quite understand the reasoning for this, but assume it's like one of those weird, arcane baseball rules nobody knows or understands unless they're a big baseball nerd.

I will think further about this. If you need me, I'll be in my lab.


Monday, September 07, 2015


I shared this image on facebook today.

A brief but good discussion ensued in comments:
April Unions made it illegal for children to work in the factories. But have unions lived past their usefulness?  Remember, unions live off the working class. My brother paid Union dues when working in Canada.

Ronald I think the last time it might have been valid to ask about unions outliving their usefulness was in the 1970s, the point in history when global shipping became much more cost effective than it had been, which heralded in the massive wave of downsizing and offshoring effectively breaking labor's back.

Reagan firing PATCO was only symbolic. The days of labor were already numbered.

The question we should ask now: how long until we lose what labor won for us all before the 70s? We've already lost a lot. I mean, the forty hour week is something of a joke now. So what's next?

April Technology is next. Pretty sure transportation employs the most people in America.  Within a few short years all delivery vehicles will be driverless.

Ronald This is true. And unions can do nothing about it. Really, I think we're headed in a direction such that the economy simply cannot provide enough jobs for people who want to work. What happens then? I mean, "get a job" or "get a better job," that's always good advice. But we're screwed when it's just impossible for millions.

We're moving into a new economic paradigm, if we're not already there, and the conventional wisdom on work is simply not up to the task of understanding it.


Sunday, September 06, 2015



A Heckuva Job

Beyond that, Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn’t. But as long as he was talking tough about terrorists, it was hard for the public to see what a lousy job he was doing. It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration’s cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble.

What we should have learned from Katrina, in other words, was that political poseurs with nothing much to offer besides bluster can nonetheless fool many people into believing that they’re strong leaders. And that’s a lesson we’re learning all over again as the 2016 presidential race unfolds.

More here.

Krugman, in this column, riffs on how Hurricane Katrina revealed President Bush to be nothing but a fraud, not the tough guy he had masqueraded as since 9/11, but rather a poser: according to the Nobel Prize winning economist, the entire GOP presidential field this year is exactly the same as W, just a bunch of big huge phonies.

I totally agree with the Princeton professor about this, as I usually do, of course. But it would have been nice to have him, as they say, bring it on home. Krugman goes on to explain why some of these guys are, in fact, nothing but a big joke. But what he doesn't explain is sort of left as subtext. That is, why can't the GOP in the current era offer up some actual competent leadership?

It's so obvious that maybe that's the reason he leaves it unsaid: conservatism, as a twenty first century American political philosophy, has gotten so far away from reality, has gotten so deluded and crazy, that anybody truly subscribing to such "philosophy" must necessarily and automatically disqualify oneself from any sort of serious leadership position.

I mean, when your central most political proposition is that "government is the problem," then you can't possibly go to Washington to make government better. The ONLY thing you can do is go to Washington and make government WORSE. In other words, if you hate government, then you want to destroy government. That's not leadership; that's national suicide.

Which, I guess, makes Republicans the party of national suicide. They're a death cult.


Saturday, September 05, 2015


Two of my facebook features exported to Real Art.


Friday, September 04, 2015



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


Thursday, September 03, 2015


Look, if you want to join me in advocating for an end to the desperate, poverty stricken circumstances that cause high crime rates in poor black neighborhoods, then that's great. You should join me in that. But that's not what you're really doing.

Instead, you're presenting this as an either/or situation: we can either agitate against cops killing unarmed black men, OR we can go after the "real problem," the right wing's favored whipping boy, "black on black crime." We can, of course, and should, do something about both.

But really, you don't give a damn about "black on black crime." You're only bringing it up in a wrong-headed attempt to diffuse the justified and righteous anger about police killing black men. I am disgusted by your cynical, racist, and insulting-to-my-intelligence rhetorical ploy.

I'm not an idiot. Please do not treat me as one.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Mike Huckabee negotiated the sale of fetal body parts. And the guy who masterminded the Planned Parenthood fraudulent video scheme freely admits to breaking the law and lying. All on Hannity, which is fair and balanced. If you believe the Planned Parenthood videos, you have no choice but to believe this.

(Hat tip to Raw Story for the video.)


Tuesday, September 01, 2015


From the Houston Chronicle:

Ted Cruz blames Obama for death of Harris County sheriff's deputy

“Cops across this country are feeling the assault,” Cruz said in a statement. “They’re feeling the assault from the president, from the top on down, as we see — whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response from senior officials, the president or the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That’s wrong. It’s fundamentally wrong. It’s endangering all of our safety and security.”

More here.

It deeply disturbs me that some people, including angry cops, are constructing what I consider to be a false option: we can criticize police violence, or we can have safety for the police, but not both. Indeed, it's a straight up lie: this all but tells us that criticizing the cops under any circumstances is wrong and deadly. I mean, there's a reason we have the term "police state."

It almost goes without saying that this murder is horrifying. But to opportunistically and cynically seize the moment in order to score cheap racist political points is beyond the pale. The Black Lives Matter movement didn't kill this deputy. Their rhetoric didn't kill this deputy. Trying to save lives didn't kill this deputy. It is over-the-top slander to make such an accusation.

Instead, a crazed individual committed this crime, and it is impossible to know at this point the interior workings of his diseased mind--he really is crazed it appears; just today it was reported that he has already spent time in mental facilities for violent behavior. That is, this killer has far less to do with Black Lives Matter, as a movement, than various anti-abortion bombers, murderers, and other terrorists, who are typically cold calculating and sane individuals believing that the end justifies the means, have to do with the pro-life movement. And we still have no idea what his personal motivations were!!!

I am truly saddened and angered by this murder. And now, because of this right-wing reaction, which doesn't amount to much more than "blame black people," I can also say that I am disgusted.