Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking Back To The Future Posted by olvlzl.

I can’t point to a post I’ve done this year that would be my favorite, none of the ones I’ve looked back at would go without a major revision. None of them would be taken back in their entirety, a few flat jokes excepted.

Looking back, it seems hard to believe that some of those things were written less than a year ago. Memory falsely says that it was a lot longer ago than that. Odd thing, public writing. It’s so different from the writing that gets sent off and forgotten or stuck on a shelf, never to be seen again.

The various experiments testing the currently fashionable superstition of scientism and the limits of genuine science took up a lot of time. Maybe those were the theme of the year. Now they are giving way to the necessities of an important election year, one which could be the death of democracy in the United States. If any of the Republicans win the presidency or if Bush appoints one more member of the Supreme Court, democracy is over for the rest of our lives.

The intention of a lot of what I’ve written is to look at the unconsciously held assumptions that endanger the political success of the left, democracy, freedom, civil rights and the environment. Pretending that many of the most commonly accepted ideas are not either flawed in themselves, leading to dangerous situations, or that they consist of more than words that have had the reality hollowed out behind them is one of the most compelling problems of our very sick society and world. Many of these dangerous ideas are held to “go without saying”.

I’ll give an example. The supremacy and wisdom of The Market and the Anglo-American legal system which upholds it.

Where I live The Market, seeking, as always, the highest monetary return for a given thing, deems that subdividing farm land and wooded land to allow speculators to strip it of its natural vegetation and life, to put up tacky, superficially attractive houses is that land’s highest use. That the houses are shoddy, built to require constant patching, high energy consumption and are surrounded by America’s most abundant, most energy expensive and least useful agricultural product, a lawn, doesn’t signify to The Market or The Law.

By the time the predictable problems with these places spring up, assuming they sell to begin with, the developers, the builders and the real estate companies have taken the money and gone on to destroy more of the rapidly disappearing open land. That many of the people who “buy” these monstrosities are now finding that they can’t pay the usurious mortgages and are defaulting and being forced to abandon or move out of them is just beginning to really register the media’s attention. When banks lose money, you can depend on the establishment taking an interest. That the all wise Market didn’t see this coming this time, when we have the experience of an only slightly different variation fewer than twenty years ago, has done nothing to diminish the absurd repute in which The Market is held. Our media never made Neal Bush an issue in any subsequent election. The same people who robbed us blind then are still operating with complete impunity. McCain is once again on his way to becoming the great hope of the establishment as the rest of the empty suits are abandoned.

But beneath this disaster is the far worse disaster of the liquidation of the agricultural possibility of large parts of the United States. A housing development is the last crop that will ever be planted on a former farm field. In large parts of the Eastern United States the amount of land useful for growing crops is a very small fraction of what it once was when the population was far smaller. And as any marginally intelligent farm hand could tell you they aren’t making any more of it. Something that most of the most august members of our intelligentsia couldn’t tell you.

As energy becomes more expensive, as much of that energy consumes what was once food, as the population grows, the loss of farm land will become an increasingly obvious crisis. That crisis is directly attributable to the superstition of The Market, the Unseen Hand, the wisdom of finance and the entire REAL religion of the majority of people today. Our legal system is largely given over to the propagation of the religion of property and contracts, it serves the god Mammon and no other.

A friend of mine is a politician in one of the towns next to where I live. There was extensive flooding last spring and a number of expensive houses built on the watershed of the Salmon Falls River were heavily damaged. He told me of a meeting he went to in which FEMA representatives heard complaints from, among others, the largest real estate agent in town and a member of what is jokingly referred to as the Planning Board. Most small town planning boards could be replaced by a large rubber stamp. Why, they wanted to know, had their houses sustained extensive damage? Why were the floods coming more often and reaching farther onto the land, causing them great expense and discomfort. The FEMA specialist said that one of the reasons was that development had denuded the land and the problem of run off and so flooding was enhanced. Of course those with a financial interest in the deforestation couldn’t believe this was true, knowing one of them I’m sure they would blame it on immigrants before they would face reality. Money makes people stupid, that’s an idea that I’ve seen little to contradict.

We are well past the cusp of the problems predicted by environmental scientists over the past fifty years, problems that will result in famines and other horrors that won’t be ignored. There are a lot of things that will have to be faced up to, the population problem, the problems of depending on depleted sources of energy, energy that destroys the environment.... You know a lot of the catalog of coming disasters. We won’t have the option of pretending that The Market and the Anglo-American legal religion will be applicable, those have largely enhanced the problem, they won’t survive once the disasters they mandate have run their course. Increasingly those orthodoxies will be seen for what they are, man-made institutions set up largely to enhance the privilege of the wealthy, at their most enlightened to manage the rabble into acquiescence.

I wish I could be more optimistic but until we give up the superstitions of The Market and the absolute rights of those who hold property to profit from it at the expense of society in general and the environment we all depend on, optimism will be a phantom. Maybe optimism is in believing that it is possible to at least mitigate the disasters that our delusion has caused.

Radio Bug Starving In A Field of Rock Posted by olvlzl.

Last week on his WGBH radio program, The Jazz Decades, Ray Smith played a very fine recording of Careless Love from the 1930s sung by a singer I wasn’t familiar with and whose name I didn’t catch. Waiting impatiently for the play list to be posted on his website I was at last glad to find out who the singer with the distinctive alto voice and unique vocal style was. Lee Morse.

Researching Morse, I had been mistaken to think that Careless Love was the first recording of her to pass my way. Robert Skoglund, who had once hosted the best program in the history of Maine Radio, The Humble Farmer*, often played her novelty number “T’aint no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones,” but I’d never caught the name of the singer then. It’s fun, and it was a distinctive voice but it didn’t drive me to look into her then.

You can hear Lee Morse singing a range of songs for yourself here. Careless Love is listed for 1938, I’d recommend it as a good place to start. I’ve only begun listening but have been impressed with what is there. I especially like Mailman Blues and her version of Mood Indigo makes you understand why the word “sultry” needed to be invented. She was quite a singer, unlike just about everyone else. It’s a shame that her personal troubles overwhelmed her career for more than a decade and that she died unexpectedly when she was making a comeback attempt in the 50s.

II. "You might have seen that best selling author who made the evening news because he had lied to the American people on national television. --- This was news because he was an author."

The Humble Farmer, Robert Skoglund was an institution on Maine Public Radio for almost three decades before he was kicked off last summer over his political and social commentary. Management made him a demand no one of any integrity could have taken. When he was first fired many of us had hoped that management would relent but that hasn’t happened yet.
Firing him over the blood-curdling accusaion that he participated in a non-endorsing Democratic get-out-the-vote message is an outrage against democracy. One for which they'd have to fire most of their on-air personalities for.

Humble’s” mix of old and newer jazz, corny and sophisticated humor and comments were idiosyncratic and funny and, at times, bitingly serious. They were what public radio is supposed to be for. His weekly shows were the best program that MPR has ever produced. Given the management’s and board’s treatment of a volunteer like him, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever try to do as well again.

Skoglund was just about always unpaid to do the show over decades of dedicated production for public radio. Shortly before he was dumped* they apparently started to pay him $30 to produce his one hour weekly show, perhaps so they could claim that he was a “contractor” in violation of his terms of “employment”. Whatever else someone might say against him, we know that he can’t be bought for $30 a week or discouraged away by nothing.

But The Humble Farmer hasn’t been silenced, his regular rants and music selections are still to be heard, his weekly Whine and Snivel still read. It’s lucky that he was so used to doing it for free because it’s not much of a difference sitting in front a piece of paper and a microphone whether it’s done for broadcast or for webcast. You can still hear him and read him almost like when he was on the air and decide for yourself. You might hate it or find it puzzling but he has many dedicated listeners and readers. It might make you want to dance around in your bones. Wait for warmer weather.

"Now I know that you have read 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' and probably other accounts of prison life," he said in one rant, after mentioning a friend whose father survived nine years in Siberia. "So even if you have been spared this particular form of cultural enrichment, you know what was going on in Russian prison camps 50-so years ago.... Can you think of anything that would take more out of you than a prison camp in Siberia? Years later, they put the old man in a nursing home in Maine. And he died the next day."

* Management at Maine Public Radio has a history of firings, discouraging volunteers and cancellations of popular programs, having had to take back their attempts to go to the sterile all talk format a few years back. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t a more subtle attempt to change formats by boring the audience out of listening.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Year-End Meditations

Is it sad that the Onion (a humor magazine) in 2000 predicted the Bush presidency almost to a t, with the exception of forgetting to mention the shredding of the Constitution? Or is it funny, in a very dark and twisted way?

Respect for Religion. An Unedited Version.

Representative Steve (St. Eve?) King recently demanded that the U.S. Congress kiss the feet (or the ass?) of Christians all over the world, and the Congress hastened to oblige. I wrote about that earlier, from the usual angles of the poor oppressed mega-majority of Christians in this country and the odd right-wing fetish of desiring to see the Christians as still in the arena being attacked by the lions and the donkeys. (Well, not the donkeys. I put that in there to create a subtle link to the current U.S. politics. Is it not wonderful that no editor will strike out my smart asides on this blog?)

Anyway, to return to the topic: When I was a tiny goddess I really did respect the religious people. They were the ones I saw walking the hard walk, feeding the poor and keeping the churches running. They knitted blankets and collected money for the starving children in Africa and they arranged all those Christmas bazaars where you could buy really ugly stuff as Christmas presents. They tried not to have feuds with their neighbors over the fence location, and they usually did not pass on the juiciest gossip. Of course this meant that conversation froze when they entered the room, but that is just a part of the crown of thorns I assumed one wears when going religious.

Yes, I did respect the Christians in those days, and probably would have respected all the other religious folk, too. All that has changed now. Mostly I fear the super-religious, because I identify them with the fundamentalists, and I identify the fundamentalists with those who would like to put women into little boxes, with a lid that cannot be opened from the inside. (Though I probably should be grateful for all the rabid clerics. It was this wave of religious fanaticism that made me really study the large monotheistic religions and to bring to my conscious thought the extreme misogyny which truly is one of their main pillars. That, in turn, let my own spirituality be freed.)

So I no longer have that reflex-reaction of respect for religiosity. Neither do I especially respect religions themselves. They have truly beautiful parts and beautiful ethical and moral rules, but they also contain much that is not commendable, and the history of the main religions does not make pretty reading. Human beings reach for the gods and end up grabbing the brass rings of power more often than not. Then those rings are used to crush the skulls of the heretics and nonbelievers. At the same time, many religious people have done much good in the world, the desire to touch the toes of gods is real, and no amount of nasty blogging about religion will make a difference, especially when done from the outside. The yearning is there and religions will always be with us.

But should we respect religions and religious people? What does "respect" mean in this context? The answer depends heavily on that interpretation. If by "respect" we mean to treat with consideration and the general rules of politeness, the answer is clearly affirmative. If by "respect" we mean to treat as something above and beyond our rights to criticize, as something good and wholesome, as something from the immaculate lips of the unerring god, then the answer must be a very feisty NO.

Because to call something "religion" does not mean that it is thereby immediately good and right, and to call something "religion" does not mean that it is from a god or a goddess, and to call something "religion" might mean that a person is just using it as a weapon for getting other things: power, money, sexual partners. (Did you notice the threefold repetition there? Trinity and manual of style all bundled up together, dosed with too much Christmas chocolate?)

This post is the child born from an unholy marriage between my pagan thoughts and this little item of news about the priests in Bethlehem fighting each other with brooms while cleaning the church. I can't respect priests who end up hitting each other hard enough to shed blood, and all over their territories within a church. True, the story is also funny, but if this is the purifying effect of religiosity, what would these priests have been in their original state?

That is not a flippant question, actually. I suspect that many fundamentalists believe that people in their raw state are unadulterated evil and that to come from that stage to the broom-fighting stage shows the glorious hand of god in work. The original sin and the nastiness of the human flesh (as opposed to the spirit which is supposedly willing) are important building blocks in that world view. Religions are needed to control the masses and the meanness of the masses. How are we going to keep people good if there are no fires of hell to fear after death, I hear fundamentalists mutter, and they mutter that because they see no other obstacle to some sort of a dream of pillaging and rampaging across the world than the divine stop-signs (with the international symbol for the fires of hell on it).

Well, I don't think people are sweet little angels, either, but I'm not going to curtsy to a priest who has just come from a broom fight, because I think I wouldn't have participated in that fight myself. (I'm trained in martial arts, after all, and part of that training was how to restrain upset priests without really hurting them.)

That is a subjective judgment about what to respect, true. But I also don't respect that branch of Christianity which argues that Jesus wants his followers to be really rich here on earth and that the way to accomplish that is by sending money to television preachers. Those preachers are engaging in something very much like fraud and a careful perusal of the Bible suggests that Jesus didn't think riches were that great a thing to focus on, rather the opposite. It's perfectly acceptable to start a religion about wealth being a signifier of divine approval, but that religion should not be called Christianity. That's just wrong. Or at least false advertising.

I have rambled all over the divine landscape here and probably angered all good believers. My apologies for that. I'm not throwing darts at you (so you are just collateral damage, I guess). I just think that if religion is supposed to be awarded special respect over and above the usual respect one should award human beings and their ideas, then religion should demonstrate special worthiness. And "respect" is not the same thing as the power to tell others what to believe or the power to make them shut up.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On Bhutto's Assassination

She is dead now. That's about all that is absolutely certain.

Was she the U.S. plant in Pakistani politics as many believe? And if so, was she the candidate of all power-brokers in the Bush administration or not? Was her return to Pakistan orchestrated in order to keep the pro-American sentiment alive? Was her death the greatest diplomatic blunder of all?

These are the kinds of questions I have been reading about the Bhutto assassination. I also saw her being called "a Westernized cunt" in a comments thread, where the comment was intended to be sarcastic, to sum her up the way she supposedly would be viewed in Pakistan.

Layers upon layers, as always, but underneath all of them is that awkward aspect of gender. She may well have been corrupt as a leader, but then how much choice do we have on that count in Pakistan? And she may well have been a pawn for the American chess-game, but then who is not? Did she really have no Pakistani support? I doubt that. Yet somehow everything I have read about her is reflected through that gender prism, made larger, more glaring, more suspicious somehow.

Why did she return to Pakistan? Was she really that power-hungry as many have argued? Or did she have deeper reasons for returning? Love of her country? Democracy?

And the question I can't help wondering about: Did she know that she was making a date with death?

Taxing Strip Joints To Benefit Rape Victims

They are going to do just that in Texas:

In what some have dubbed the "pole tax," the Lone Star State will require its 150 or so strip clubs to collect a $5-per-customer levy, with most of the proceeds going to help rape victims. The tax goes into effect on New Year's Day.

Club owners and some of their customers say the money is going to a noble cause, but they argue that the tax infringes on their First Amendment right to freedom of expression, that it will drive some bars out of business and that it unfairly links their industry to sex crimes.

My eyes went permanently crossed from trying to think this one through. Thoughts popped in and popped out, so I'm going to number them here, to capture them before they disappear altogether:

First, if the tax is levied as a "sin tax", it shouldn't be expected to yield revenues for the state. Instead, it should be aimed at cutting back on the consumption of lap dances and suchlike services. On the other hand, if the tax is just your ordinary revenue tax, why link its proceeds to the funding of services for rape victims?

My suspicion is that the politicians want to tax the strip joints because the demand is pretty inelastic (meaning that most men who frequent them won't stop going because of an extra five-dollar charge) and thus will give the state lots of revenues. At the same time, the state can pretend that they are frowning on all that grinding and bumping, and that pleases the fundamentalist faction in Texas.

Second, if you read the whole article I link to you will notice various takes on this issue, including the argument that the extra tax will just hurt the strippers who otherwise would all go to college with the income they are earning from rubbing their pubic bones against the mustaches of some men. It is an odd argument, economically speaking, because who ultimately bears the burden of this tax depends on the elasticities in both the market for the strip joints' products and the market for stripper services. It is by no means certain that the strippers will end up bearing the whole burden of the tax.

It is also an odd moral argument in some ways. Are we now to view the strip joints as charities, existing only for the purpose of giving the strippers a chance to get a college education?

Third, the article appears to argue that the tax introduces a class-based injustice into the system: Rich guys can easily pay the extra tax for their titillation, whereas the poor guys in their pickup vans must now stay at home (and do what instead?). Are we really supposed to be concerned with this particular aspect of the class war? That all men should have equal access to lap dances?

Fourth, note that the architect interviewed in the story routinely takes his customers to strip joints. Including female customers? Does he ever have female customers? Does he have female colleagues? How common is this way of doing business, with the other half of humanity acting as a sort of gigantic masturbation mitten? Is that deductible in taxes?

Fifth, and finally (though I could go on for longer), what IS the relationship between the use of strip joints and sexual violence? Is there any good research on this topic? And if there is good evidence on such a correlation, shouldn't the state of Texas use that in a way which actually protects women, rather than make money out of the industry?

The whole story leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Duplicity upon duplicity.
Link by GM.

The Almanac of American Politics and the Cootie Awards

One of the things I collect are old editions of the Almanac of American Politics (oops! I forgot that women don't collect, based on the Evo-Psycho theories). It's fun to read them in the bathtub (only if you own them, of course), and it's especially fun to follow the mental melting of Michael Barone (an editor of the Almanac from the very beginning) over time. In the most recent editions his role appears to have been to make sure that almost every page has something venomous about the Democrats and sissies in general.

I'm awarding him the Scout Boy version of the Cootie Patch. For his fear of anything female in politics. True, he has chosen to call those frightening female things "soggy" or "soft" but my goddess eyes see straight through that. So, for those furious moment of anger among my bath bubbles, here's to you, Michael:

On Glass Ceilings and Slippers

(This is a post I wrote at the very beginning of my blogging career. I still like it as an example of the use of fairy tales, so here it is as a holiday rerun.)

Cinderella's foot fitted the glass slipper and so she married the prince and lived happily ever on. At least in fairy tale terms. But imagine how uncomfortable glass shoes would be, how easily they would crack and splinter around your unprotected feet.

In some ways that's what women in business management wear every day. Their slippers are made of all sorts of contradictory materials: assertive, but not too much so or you'll be called bitchy, nurturing, but not too much so or your capabilities are suspect, just-like-the-guys but not too much so or you'll be called a ballbreaker. That these slippers crack and splinter is to be expected. That they cut the wearer's feet is not surprising.

So what does this have to do with glass ceilings? Glass ceilings are nice, they let us gaze at the sun rays or the moon and the stars, and pretend that there's nothing between us and these vast upper reaches. But of course there is. The glass is there.

Or is it? The corporate glass ceiling is supposed to keep women out of higher management; all they can do is to gaze at the stars. But now some say that there is no glass ceiling that would prevent women from flying straight up and getting a comet named after themselves. Instead, the reason for few women in leading positions is said to be.... Guess. If you are even one tenth as old as I am, you have heard this before.

Well, the blame belongs to the women, of course. They don't want the brass ring hard enough to grab it. They don't want the long hours. They want to be with their children, and to write poetry or ride a horse. They want to go to Africa to cure hunger. Women are just different.

Hmmm. Different from what? Men, of course, you thick-headed goddess.

Aah! That's why they don't fit into the public sector; the public sector was built to fit men's desires. Well, this is really interesting: why doesn't the public sector reflect the desires of both men and women? Why doesn't the fact that children must be taken care of by somebody, that families must at least meet once and a while, that human beings might need to write poetry or ride horses or cure hunger; why don't any of these things affect the way the jobs and the labor market are structured?

Why is a good manager one who has no life outside the job? Who thinks that managers are equally bright and energetic in their sixteenth consecutive work hour as in their first eight? Do you want important economic decisions made by people who don't remember what their children look like, or who haven't smelled at a flower or played a game for fun for decades?
Never mind if they are men or women, I'd shudder if humans took the division of labor to such extreme degrees.

What I see through my divine sight, are glass mountains on which people slip and slide in their glass slippers. Only those who also have glass hearts thrive. Too sad.

The glass ceilings are still there, of course. That so many deny their existence is because they are not there all the time. When some people look at the stars, they can feel the breeze and sense the raindrops, too. They know that the road is open. When others look up, they see the stars but they also see gates and locks, tree-houses with "No girls allowed" signs, preachers telling what good motherhood is, coworkers looking at you askance when you are pregnant and tell that you are coming back, husbands 'helping out' but not knowing if the fridge has milk or what the pediatrician's name is. These people don't imagine things.

It's not as bad as it used to be. Families are more democratic, employers are more open-eyed and many men do their fair share at home. But turning the looking-glass back to face nothing but the women, each alone and separately, is a very cruel thing to do. Women are neither evil step-mothers nor Cinderellas, and the story doesn't reward the one who fits the glass slippers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

End of Year Cootie Awards

I have quite forgotten about my cootie awards ("Girls Have Cooties!") for the best misogynists. I'm going to start awarding them again. Chris Matthews deserves an award for all the good work he has done to keep the patriarchy free of women, or for his own private nightmares having to do with Hillary Clinton and a pair of hedge shears.

So, for all that manly work, Tweety gets a First Class Louse Award With Pink Ribbons And Manly Smells.

The Fear Of Immigration in New Hampshire

A recurring topic for conversation on liberal blogs is this mystery: How can the Republicans in New Hampshire state that illegal immigration is their number one political concern? It doesn't seem to make much sense, given the location of New Hampshire. They may fear immigration from Massachusetts, true, but most of that is surely not against the law.

I think the answer to the mystery is the same as the answer to all mysteries of this kind: When someone is asked a question of this kind, the person desperately leafs through those memory files about politics, looking for whatever seems to be the approved topic for general consternation in his or her party. In the case of a Republican voter, the approved topic for these elections is immigration. The war on terrorism wasn't going terribly well at the time when the managers of opinions created the ad campaign, and illegals were picked as the reptile-brain topic to be scared about.

In short, I believe that people view these questions the way we would view a quiz on something we have been just taught: to spew out the "correct" answer and not necessarily the answer about what bothers you personally the most. The public message is all about illegal immigration and that must be the "correct" answer.

This is not only something Republicans do. I remember several earlier elections when "everybody" was suddenly concerned about crime or health care or whatever, and the minute the elections were over the topic got absolutely no attention in the media. Real concerns would not go away, or at least one would not expect the media to ignore them so totally after they no longer give political mileage. It's not that these kinds of topics wouldn't be real concerns, they certainly are. But the game that is being played here is about something quite different and the voters know that.

My Best Blog Post for the Year?

Jon Swift is going to do a year-end round of blog posts, those which the bloggers themselves liked the best. I write too much, but I will try to see which one it might be. Right now I think it's the Peach Porn post. Do you have better ideas? The deadline is today. As usual, I wake up late.

Bill Kristol on Ron Paul

Kristol doesn't like Paul. Paul is an extremist! It's quite funny.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Songs

You get to listen to the Christmas songs of my childhood. The first one begins: "I do not seek power nor glory but peace on earth."

The second one is about the manger. This particular group (their name translates to "limitless" or "borderless" or "infinite") sings them both beautifully and with that peace which is welcome whatever our religion might be.

Enjoy, I hope.

Women: Know Your Limits

I have finally seen the light. Feminism is wrong:

Link by the excellent Shaw Kenawe, a goddess of Italian food.


Who gets more pleasure from gifts, the giver or the receiver? What are the webs that are being woven when presents are exchanged? If you give money to someone who lives on the streets, do you worry how it will be used? Do you give because "for the grace of God, there go I?" Or do you want the homeless man or woman to shape up, shed off that mental illness and to get a job? Do you worry that the money will be spent on booze or drugs?

Questions, questions, and perhaps not the most Christmassy ones at all. I was just thinking about the power giving gifts may convey to the giver (including divine givers such as Jesus), especially when the recipient is not part of the decision-making process. For instance, you could give your nasty in-laws a psychobabble book about how to get on better with people. It is a gift, of a sort, but it is also an insult and an accusation, all wrapped up with a tidy bow. Or you could give a friend a year's supply of deodorant, soap and toothpaste, and that friend might well wonder if he or she smells bad.

Ok. I'm not in the right mood at all. I started this post wanting to shed Christmas cheer and goodwill to all, but I end up picking on kindness as if it was a zit ready to be popped. Perhaps this is not just because I'm a bitter goddess whose worshipers consist of snakes but also because it is hard not overdose on materialism around this time of the year.

What I would really like to give to all of you and the world is peace and peace of mind. Clarity and that sweet, sweet sense of rightness. And love, of course. Lacking that, chocolate will do.

Going to the Horse Races

Have we yet measured the height and weight of the presidential candidates? Have we looked at their teeth? There's probably an article or two that could be written about any speed-enhancing substances they may have taken.

It is an odd thing, this reframing of a political election into a horse race. The journalists must write so as to make the race more interesting, bashing the front-runners and pushing up the rear. It's all fun and games, and very little of it has to do with democracy at all. If Adolf Hitler rose up from the grave and was running for the president of the United States someone, somewhere, would write that sure his mustache looks like a dead cockroach and sure his haircut is terrible but the man can speak!

Ok. Now put me in a barrel and nail down the lid, for I have committed a Godwinism.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Read In Heavenly Peace Posted by olvlzl.

One of my fondest memories of Christmas is from a couple of decades back when I was the only person working at our public library the afternoon of December 24. I remember a few people straggling in and out, most returning books not anticipating having time for extra reading. The silence, the heavenly peace among the books, the happy mood of the patrons of the public library sanctified the day.

This Christmas week I’m giving myself a much anticipated and long planned treat, I’m going to read “Way Station” by Clifford Simak to my nieces. My first reading of it made another Christmas stand out among the others It’s a book I’ve never known anyone to not like. .

The story is simple and, for early 1960s Sci-fi, original. Enoch Wallace, the Civil War veteran cut off from the rest of humanity by his job as the sole attendant at an interplanetary railroad station, his closest friend Ulysses, an alien, and Lucy Fischer, the deaf, non-communicating, child of a no-account hillbilly neighbor, who turns out to be not only the most important person on the planet but in the galaxy are sketched well and, I hope, with enough skill to keep two ‘tweens from fighting like rival moon shiners for a week.

Even if you don’t have to keep two feuding sisters apart you might want to check it out of the library to read or reread it. Or you might just go there for refuge from shopping and the mass media.

Any other suggestions for out-loud reading will be greatly appreciated.

Bill Moyers For Vice President Posted by olvlzl.

Last year, the week before Christmas I was thanking Bill Moyers for his great journalism, this weekend’s program requires the same. Benjamin Barber on modern capitalism:

BENJAMIN BARBER: "Tell us what's going on? What's wrong with American consumers?" Which is kind of what you and I have been talking about. But the trouble is we're looking the wrong way. It's not what's wrong with American consumers, it's what's wrong with American capitalism, American advertisers, American marketers? We're not asking for it. It's what I call push capitalism. It's supply side. They've got to sell all this stuff, and they have to figure out how to get us to want it. So they take adults and they infantilize them. They dumb them down. They get us to want things.

And then they start targeting children. Because it's not enough just to sell to the adults. You've got to sell to that wonderful demographic, first it's 12 to 18 year olds. Then it's the 'tweens. The 10- to the 12 year olds. But then it's the toddlers.

BILL MOYERS: You used a word that went right past me. Infantilize? What do you mean?

BENJAMIN BARBER: What I mean is that grownups, part of being grown up is getting a hold of yourself and saying, "I don't need this. I've got to be a gatekeeper for my kid. I want to live in a pluralistic world where, yes, I shop, but I also pray and play and do art and make love and make artwork and do lots of different things. And shopping's one part of that." As an adult, we know that. But if you live in a capitalist-- society that needs to sell us all the time, they've got to turn that prudent, thoughtful adult back into a child who says, "Gimme, gimme, gimme. I want, I want, I want." Just like the kid in the candy store. And is grasping and reaching.

and here with Sanford Levinson on the dangerous defects in the Constitution:

BILL MOYERS; Let me briefly list some of what you called the grievous defects in the Constitution. And you tell me why they're-


BILL MOYERS; --so grievous? The allocation of power in the Senate. You say the Senate is among our most grievously flawed institutions?

SANFORD LEVINSON: Well, just on the one person, one vote notion. That to give Wyoming, with one 70th of the population of California, the same political power. And I'd mention one other feature. We have a bicameral system in Congress that gives each house a power absolutely to veto the other. So, that the Senate can block anything the House does, which makes Wyoming and the other upper-Midwest states so powerful in the Senate.

The modern Senate works, frankly, as the worst sort of affirmative action program for the residents of small states. It doesn't protect the values of federalism, state autonomy, diversity and the like. Rather, it means that senators of small states, particularly the small states that are clustered together in the upper-Midwest, quite frankly can make out like bandits. So that-

BILL MOYERS; That's where they get the bridge to nowhere?

SANFORD LEVINSON: We--the bridge to nowhere. You also have what is widely agreed to be a dysfunctional-- agricultural program.

BILL MOYERS; Oh, yeah.

SANFORD LEVINSON: That has all sorts of consequences, ranging from the obesity epidemic, to whether Africans who grow some of these crops can get a fair share of the world market. And the reason that candidates from both parties-- support the ethanol subsidies are unwilling, at the end of the day, really to touch the sacred cows of our agricultural programs is because of the power these states have in the Senate.

BILL MOYERS; The small states-

SANFORD LEVINSON: The small states.

And if these weren’t enough for one week, there is Moyer’s analysis of the steroid scandal as a symptom of a society with a terminal illness.

In our drugged state, we cheer the winners in the game of wealth, the billionaires who benefit from a skewed financial system -- the losers, we kick down the stairs. We open fire hoses of cash into our political system in the name of "free speech." Television stations that refuse to cover government make fortunes selling political bromides over public airwaves. Pornography passing as advertising assaults our senses, seduces our children, and pollutes our culture. Partisan propaganda gets pumped up as news. We feed on the flamboyance of celebrities. And we actually take seriously the Elmer Gantrys who use the Christian Gospel as a guidebook to an Iowa caucus or a battle plan for the Middle East. In the face of a scandalous health care system, failing schools, and a fraudulent endless war, we are as docile as tattered scarecrows in a field of rotten tomatoes.

As for that war, you may have heard that a quarter of the heavily-armed æshooters' working in the streets of Baghdad for the Administration's mercenary Blackwater foreign legion are alleged to be chemically influenced by steroids or other mind-altering substances.

If this doesn’t become a classic text for the analysis of the United States during the past thirty years it will only be because the species has gone extinct.

In one of her columns a while before she died, Molly Ivins proposed nominating Bill Moyers for President, and that’s a great idea if he’d take the job. I suspect that having been close to that kind of power he would rather tell the truth to the present generation and for the ages. But if I’m wrong I’d suggest to John Edwards that he approach him as a running mate. I can’t think of many things that would help his campaign more or which would help an Edwards’ presidency. Bill Moyers has no illusions about anything, he has a vast knowledge of populism and politics and he will do what no politician would dare to do, tell the plain truth in language people can understand. He would stand up to the hack advisors and DC insiders who condescendingly mention their forays into “the heartland” or “outside the beltway” as if they were doing missionary work in an alien culture. He knows that a politicians’ job in a democracy isn’t to look down at the people or to pretend to be looking up at them on a pedestal but to look them in the eye and tell the truth. And that's why he's head and shoulders above just about any journalist today.

Update: Digby is also indispensable in the real news media today. Her column from yesterday is essential reading for getting beneath the surface of our present day politics.

The founders worried a lot about the power of political parties or factions. In Federalist 10, Madison defines a faction as "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

Ironically the major concern was that the rubes would use the power of faction to take away the property of the Big Money Boyz. Obviously, he needn't have worried. When it comes to common impulse and passion, nobody has it over the conservative movement in service of its wealthy benefactors.

It might be that we are building up for a rewrite of the Constitution, which is needed if we are to avoid a dictatorship. It could take years to get there but we have to start agitating for a truly democratic system now.

Even more necessary than making the Senate equal and democratic, or, preferably, junking it altogether, and almost as necessary as ending that longest enduring insult from the “founders” to The People, the electoral college, we have to insure that the phony “persons”, the corporations, created by the aristocratic idiocy of the Supreme Court. Real people always lose when these stitched together monsters are given “equal” power and rights. Political rights belong to real people. Maybe if this was done the protection of Peoples’ lives, health and rights would take precedence over the law of contracts and our legal system would stop being the disreputable sewer that it so often is today.

Hen House Yoga Posted by olvlzl.

No matter how great or justified your pride or modesty, how well or badly you do,
no matter how brilliant or foolish, good or bad,
to these hens you’re just the idiot human who is late with their food again.