Sunday, January 31, 2010

winter light

This time of year in Seattle, as January gives way to February, the daylight comes a little earlier and lasts a bit longer each evening. Everybody here is ready for spring, all the more so because temperatures are gradually starting to warm.

Still, when it's cloudy and rainy, the darkness seems to creep in awfully early. It remains so oppressively dark so much of the time, in fact, that any relief from the gloom is welcome. That's probably why Seattle's neon lights occupy a special place in the hearts of the natives, and never more so than in late winter.

Some of these signs, such as the Post-Intelligencer Globe and the Pike Place's "Public Market" sign have long local histories and are known even outside the Northwest. This portfolio of Seattle's beloved neon ran in yesterday's P-I, which no longer exists as a "dead tree" newspaper and is now reduced to an internet site.

These classic features of the night are beautiful all year round, but never more so than at this time of year.

"Fresh Fish" sign in the Pike Place Market photo by Mike Urban, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


A year into the Obama administration we've now seen the total failure of his presidency and of the 111th Congress. There won't be a recovery.

Campaigning in 2008 Obama promised that he and a Democratic Congress would deliver comprehensive health care reform. Now, in the wake of Scott Brown's election to the Senate from Massachusetts as the 41st Republican (the Dems still have an 18-seat majority), Rahm Emmanuel has signaled that what's left of health care reform after the Senate got done eviscerating it this fall is on hold. Obama's vow is revealed as an empty promise issuing from an empty suit, and the failures of the Democratic Congress make the failures of the Republican Congresses of 2001-2006 under Bush look normal.

The various reasons and excuses for why this happened are detailed today at Talking Points Memo, but the failure of health care reform and the Democratic Party are only part of the story of the total collapse of the political system as a viable problem-solving entity. We now have a strong executive branch, filled for the last nine years with extraordinarily weak presidents, and a Congress incapable of any action other than continuing to appropriate money to the perpetual war and the so-called "intelligence" services, and funding boondoggles like the Department of Homeland Security.

In the three years that remain before the elections of 2012, we need to recall the purposes of government, as detailed by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, that "Governments are instituted among Men," in order to secure to them certain fundamental rights, that they "(derive) their just powers from the consent of the governed, (and) That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

We need to recall and keep in mind as we move toward 2012 that this government exists for our benefit, and not the for benefit of a few corporations and fat cats. With that as our reference point, it's time for us to say good-bye to these Demolicans and Republicrats and their parliaments of whores, who have shamelessly sold themselves to the highest bidders.

Power to the people.

Friday, January 29, 2010

the duck in winter

The old recluse and one-hit wonder J.D. Salinger died yesterday at 91, following Howard Zinn by a day.

Unlike Howard Zinn, who never gave an inch and never surrendered, J.D. Salinger gave up the fight early in life and left the world. He's still one of my heroes, though.

His one hit, of course, was "The Catcher in the Rye," a picaresque tale concerning the weekend adventures of one Holden Caulfield, age 16, who returns home to Park Avenue, NYC, via a seedy downtown hotel to tell his parents he's been kicked out the toney prep school they were sending him to -- again.

Holden was smart and sensitive enough to know that society sucks, but he hadn't matured enough to figure out a way to live a decent and satisfying life inside such a beast.

I don't think he ever did tell us where the ducks go in the winter.

Holden asked a cab driver that one time. The cabbie said, "What're you tryna do, bud, kid me?"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

the albatross around our necks

The tone of global climate change denial which we encounter so often these days is inevitably characterized by an intense desperation which gives it away. The strident insistence that we continue pursuing the predatory capitalism and environmental cannibalism which have led us into a deadly confrontation with the natural world flies in the face of the most painfully obvious and easily observable facts. However, it probably doesn't matter much in the long run, since in some ways climate change is the least of our problems.

Like the protagonist of Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the human race today has an albatross around its neck. Our short-sighted and prodigal exploitation of the resources which make up the earth's "carrying capacity" has now combined with massive overpopulation (world population is now just a couple ticks short of seven billion) to overwhelm the natural world on which we all depend. Long-term prospects for the survival of the human race now look bleak; short-term prospects aren't that much better.

I was first alerted to this situation about seven years ago when I read the introduction to Noam Chomsky's 2003 book, "Hegemony or Survival." In it he quotes the renowned biologist Ernst Mayr, who now believes "that higher intelligence may not be favored by selection. The history of life on Earth, (Mayr) concluded, refutes the claim that 'it is better to be smart than to be stupid,' at least judging by biological success: beetles and bacteria, for example, are far more successful than primates in these terms, and that is generally true of creatures that fill a specific niche or can undergo rapid genetic change. He also made the rather somber observation that 'the average life expectancy of a species is about 100,000 years.'"

Chomsky adds, "We are entering a period of human life that may provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than stupid -- whether there is intelligent life on earth, in some sense of 'intelligence' that might be admired by a sensible extraterrestrial observer, could one exist. The most hopeful prospect is that the question will not be answered: if it receives a definite answer, that answer can only be that humans were a kind of 'biological error,' using their allotted 100,000 years to destroy themselves and, in the process, much else. The species has surely developed the capacity to do just that, and our hypothetical extraterrestrial observer might conclude that they have demonstrated that capacity throughout their history, dramatically in the past few hundred years, with an assault on the environment that sustains life, on the diversity of more complex organisms, and with cold and calculated savagery, on each other as well."

Looking at Christ Jordan's photographs of dead baby albatrosses, taken this year on Midway Atoll in the North Pacific, serves as an analog of the impact of human activity on the natural world in modern times. The parents of these chicks mistook bright fragments of plastic they saw floating in the water for food, with disastrous results. These are unintended consequences, of course, as are the warming of the oceans, the melting of the polar ice caps, the degradation of the breathable atmosphere with pesticides and defoliants, the fouling of the water table with industrial contaminants...the list goes on and on. The fact that they're unintended doesn't make them any less real or lethal, however.

These circumstances were never described better or more bluntly than by the great Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, who bears little sympathy for the self-inflicted environmental predicament in which modern humans now find themselves. "Our intellect has created a new world that dominates nature," Jung wrote in 1950, "and has populated it with monstrous machines. The latter are so indubitably useful and so much needed that we cannot see even a possibility of getting rid of them or of our odious subservience to them. Man is bound to follow the exploits of his scientific and inventive mind and to admire himself for his splendid achievements. At the same time, he cannot help admitting that his genius shows an uncanny tendency to invent things that become more and more dangerous, because they represent better and better means for wholesale suicide."*

I've never regretted my decision to father a child, but I'm glad she's decided not to have children. One day soon we'll be gone, but the earth will survive, as a planet of weeds.

*"Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams," Ch. 7, p. 140.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Howard Zinn, the tireless advocate for the world's dispossessed and socialist historian has died. He was 87.

Zinn was the author of the celebrated "People's History of the United States," which made the old, familiar stories seem unfamiliar by looking at them from an underdog's perspective. It was published in 1980 with no fanfare and had an initial press run of 5,000 copies, but it caught on mainly through word of mouth, and by 2003 its sales topped a million.

Howard Zinn's Associated Press obit says that At a time when few politicians dared even call themselves liberal, "A People's History" told an openly left-wing story. Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.

Even liberal historians were uneasy with Zinn. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: "I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian."

In a 1998 interview with The Associated Press, Zinn acknowledged he was not trying to write an objective history, or a complete one. He called his book a response to traditional works, the first chapter — not the last — of a new kind of history.

Zinn never denied that everything he wrote and said was informed by the causes to which he dedicated his life. He filed his last column for The Progressive magazine this past July, a provocative and challenging examination of whether the three wars in our history most of us usually consider sacrosanct -- the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II, were really necessary, and in that essay he concludes that:

We’ve got to rethink this question of war and come to the conclusion that war cannot be accepted, no matter what. No matter what the reasons given, or the excuse: liberty, democracy; this, that. War is by definition the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers of people for ends that are uncertain. Think about means and ends, and apply it to war. The means are horrible, certainly. The ends, uncertain. That alone should make you hesitate.

Well said, Howard Zinn, as always. We're going to miss you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

aunt mary says...

Marcy Playground was one of those 1990's more-or-less Seattle-based bands (the group actually coalesced and began recording in NYC) of which Nirvana and Pearl Jam are the best known. They scored big with their first album, one of whose titles, "Sex and Candy," spent 15 weeks at number one on the Billboard modern rock tracks chart. That was followed by the only slightly less successful single release of a much rockier tune, "St. Joe on the Schoolbus," from the same album.

I never listened much to "Sex and Candy," but I'll never forget "St. Joe." In the fall of 1997 when the single was first released on AM radio, my daughter heard it one night as she and I were driving around Orange County in her old wreck of a red Nissan Sentra. She stopped at a Tower store (remember Tower?) and bought the tape. We spent the rest of the evening going here and there -- first to Diedrich's Coffee and then somewhere else, running into people she knew (Rachel always knows everybody) and in between, cruising up and down 17th Avenue East listening to "St. Joe on the Schoolbus" turned up loud. We couldn't get enough of it, and must have heard it twenty times that night.

It's a great, great tune. The video is here.

Marcy Playground has never really been a band so much as it's simply John Wozniak, the singer, guitarist, and songwriter, and a couple of sidemen. He's the only member of the group that appeared on every track in the band's debut album, and I noticed that on "St. Joe" the group's regular drummer sat out, and Wozniak brought in a hired gun to play just on that one song. It was a good call, considering the nature of the tune, and I've always believed that finding that "just right" drummer is one of the essential keys to success for any band, and failure to do so condemns many otherwise-outstanding groups to obscurity.

My daughter was 25 at this time, and her career had not yet blossomed into the breakthrough stage she would later experience. She was still laboring away in obscurity down in SoCal, the land of milk and money, while I was living in Bakersfield, a couple hours away. I used to try to get down there to see her once a month or so, and I don't know whether she realizes how valuable and necessary those times were for me. Going to Orange County to hang out with Rachel gave me a chance to escape from the weight of an often stressful life at home -- to escape from the classroom and taking work home and from the television which was constantly on at my house, and from endless piles of meat and potatoes on the table every night. When I was with my daughter we kicked back, drank gallons of coffee and chain smoked cigarettes, listened to the latest sounds, and had intelligent conversations. It wasn't every day I got to do those things.

These are memories I have stored up in my heart of hearts, and "St. Joe" is permanently inscribed there.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


The goddess Parvati, who was married to the god Shiva, wanted to take a bath, and she didn't want to be disturbed. So she made a young man to guard the door while she bathed. According to the story, "she made him out of her own dirt."

Ganesha was kind of stocky and muscular looking, so no one would mess with him. "I'm going to be taking a bath for the next couple thousand years," Parvati told him. "I want to be alone, so guard the door and don't let anybody in."

Some time later Shiva returned from his hunting trip. It had not been very productive and he was in a sour mood. He went to his wife's chamber and found the door guarded by Ganesha, who told him he couldn't go in.

"My lady told me not to let anybody in," said the young man.

"She's my wife," Shiva told him, "it's OK. Surely, you're not going to try to prevent me seeing my own wife."

"But she said, don't let anybody in,"Ganesha insisted.

"Do you know who I am, kid?" Shiva thundered at him. "I'm God!"

Ganesha just smiled. "You're God? Got I.D.?"

By this time Shiva was in a foaming rage, and he drew his sword and beheaded Ganesha with one stroke. Then he went in to greet his wife, and never mentioned what had happened. But when she saw the dismembered body outside her chamber door, and heard the violent story from her husband, she was moved by the young man's scrupulous observance of her instructions, and his dedication. Now she was angry at Shiva, who had killed Ganesha for nothing more than doing exactly what she had told him to do.

"You go out right now and get another head," she yelled at her husband, "and restore this kid."

Grumbling, Shiva went out and as it happened, the first animal he encountered was an elephant. He decapitated the beast and carried the head home, and set it on Ganesha's body, and so the god took the form we're familiar with today.

In India, the elephant is a symbol of immutability -- of that which never changes, and Ganesha's faith is immutable. Because his faith is so strong, he's the remover of obstacles.

He's also a protector of the innocent. In 2007 the Drug Enforcement Administration raided 11 major medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. The only major dispensary in town that didn't get busted had Ganesha in its window. Today it's hard to find a dispensary that doesn't have a picture or statue of Ganesha somewhere on the premises.*

*David Samuels, "Dr. Kush" in the New Yorker, July 28, 2008, p. 2.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

aggressive young man

Years ago there was an ad that used to run every day in the "Help Wanted" sections of the two San Francisco daily papers. It began with the phrase, "Wanted: aggressive young man."

If I remember correctly, what the ad implied was that this was some sort of sales position, but the specific duties the job entailed, the rate of pay, location where the work was to be performed, and so forth, were not actually specified, probably for good reasons. This ad ran every day for years. I was always curious about this solicitation, but never investigated it as I fulfilled only one half the necessary personal attributes required for the job. Keep in mind that this was over 40 years ago.

There has always been opportunity in this society for aggressive young men, and passive old men like myself need not apply.

Even now, as we continue trying to sell our version of How Things Should Be overseas, we send missionaries and armies consisting mostly of aggressive young men all over the world, so that the face of aggression provides many people's first impressions of this country, from Kabul to Timbuktu.

But as we look around today, we see an American economy in ruins largely due to the aggressive and reckless pursuit of huge amounts of money, obtained by fair means or foul. We're presented with a society which has unraveled because of the aggressive and deliberate sabotaging of any vestige of a social contract by a greed- and power-obsessed corporate oligarchy, ably assisted by their faithful and well-rewarded servants of which what we're pleased to call "our democracy" is composed. And we see as well, in places like Detroit and Youngstown the physical ruins of a once-powerful industrial society, whose jobs and infrastructure have been "outsourced" to people willing to do the work cheaper than we can do it, and thus contribute to an aggressively-enforced "bottom line."

And looking at all this, it occurs to me that aggression is half, or probably more than half of our problem.

Such circumstances would call for aggressive counter-measures, except for the fact that you can't eliminate aggression with more aggression.

And "So," as the poet William Blake said, "I turn'd into a sty, and laid me down among the swine."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

lies "everybody" believes

Here's a good one -- the Democrats have lost their majority in the Senate.

Hey, it's in the papers. One of Atrios's readers tipped him off to this in the Philly Metro:

That's right. The Republicans now have a 41-59 majority in the Senate. That will make it a lot easier for Harry Reid to tear up and wail, "But we don't have the votes!"

As opposed to Reid's standard lie, it's a little-known fact that the Democrats could easily get rid of the filibuster threat forever with just 51 votes, if they wanted to.

But they don't want to. That's the point.

They'd rather pursue their corporate agenda, protesting the whole time that they don't want to do what they're doing, but that the Republicans are forcing them to it.

What despicable hypocrites they are!

For other lies that "everyone" believes, see "The U.S. is not an empire."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

politics and mythology

Are you looking for someone to blame for all your troubles? Would you like to have an enemy with whom you become so obsessed that you never have to confront your own character defects, neuroses, or irrational fears? Are you seeking a talented actor to play the part of the villain in your little drama? Someone so stupid, selfish, mean, and ugly that he brings out the worst in you, and enables you at the same time to feel good about it?

Your search is over; the "furthest left elements" of the Democratic Party are here to minister to your every need. Now of course, the ideal state of mind outlined above only works if the "furthest left elements" of the Democrats are in charge of the party -- if Obama actually is a socialist who wants to redistribute income, and Nancy Pelosi a committed Maoist determined to tax your income to the hilt and give the proceeds to people less deserving than you. So forget that these contentions are strictly from the fun house hall of mirrors rather than facts. Where's the harm in literally believing in myths if they're useful?

And the good news, as Glenn Greenwald points out this morning, is that you can believe these or similar things, even if you're a Democrat! To wit:

Last night, Evan Bayh blamed the Democrats' problems on "the furthest left elements," which he claims dominates the Democratic Party -- seriously. And in one of the dumbest and most dishonest Op-Eds ever written, Lanny Davis echoes that claim in The Wall St. Journal: "Blame the Left for Massachusetts" (Davis attributes the unpopularity of health care reform to the "liberal" public option and mandate; he apparently doesn't know that the health care bill has no public option [someone should tell him], that the public option was one of the most popular provisions in the various proposals, and the "mandate" is there to please the insurance industry, not "the Left," which, in the absence of a public option, hates the mandate; Davis' claim that "candidate Obama's health-care proposal did not include a public option" is nothing short of an outright lie).

In what universe must someone be living to believe that the Democratic Party is controlled by "the Left," let alone "the furthest left elements" of the Party? As Ezra Klein says, the Left "ha[s] gotten exactly nothing they wanted in recent months."

You'd think if we were in charge of the Democratic Party, which holds the executive power and has big majorities in both houses of Congress, you'd think we'd have gotten something we wanted, wouldn't you? But it hasn't happened, and furthermore, it's not to be as long as we're looking to Democratic slugs like Evan Bayh and Rahm Emanuel to help us. Here's Arianna Huffington from a few days ago, on why "'Hope' has been a bust, (and) it's time for Hope 2.0."

What we need is Hope 2.0: the realization that our system is too broken to be fixed by politicians, however well intentioned -- that change is going to have to come from outside Washington.

This realization is especially resonant as we celebrate Dr. King, whose life and work demonstrate the vital importance of social movements in bringing about change. Indeed, King showed that no real change can be accomplished without a movement demanding it.

With what's-his-name Brown's senate victory in Massachusetts, we're on the verge of being told "the votes aren't there" for health care reform or anything else we want. And Huffington goes on to point out that unless we're willing to take to the streets in large numbers, in order to force a change in the votes that "aren't there" at the moment, we never will get anything.

The perfect example of this came in March 1965. In an effort to push for voting rights legislation, King met with President Lyndon Johnson. But LBJ was convinced that the votes needed for passage weren't there. King left the meeting certain that the votes would never be found in Washington until he turned up the heat in the rest of the country. And that's what he set out to do: produce the votes in Washington by getting the people to demand it. Two days later, the "Bloody Sunday" confrontation in Selma -- in which marchers were met with tear gas and truncheons -- captured the conscience of the nation. And five months later, on August 6th, LBJ signed the National Voting Rights Act into law, with King and Rosa Parks by his side.

At that March meeting, LBJ didn't think the conditions for change were there. So Dr. King went out and changed the conditions.

Unfortunately, the movement we need is nowhere on the horizon, and without a leader possessing Dr. King's charisma and stature, I don't see one materializing. Maybe the dreadful condition of our system of governance will produce such a leader, and maybe not. But either way, it's time to give up on the political process. Trying to get anything good out of it at this point is like trying to get blood out of a turnip.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

u district

I decided to attend a Viniyoga class taught by a friend and classmate this morning in the University District, and since parking on the busiest part of the Ave is tough and the weather was passable, I opted for leaving the car up by Ravenna Park, where the time limits are generous and there's lots of space, and walking the dozen blocks or so to the classroom location.

It's been years since I walked University Ave, and found it much changed since the time I used to hang out there almost daily, back in the early 70's. The photo shows one of the very few remaining wood-frame multi-family houses that used to line both sides of the street; this one was originally the Dresden Hotel, and dates from 1904. The street-level eating establishment on the left is typical of what you see in the U District nowadays, kind of down-at-the-heels looking and ethnic. There were a few like that in the old days, but now the street is crowded with them. The Subway shop, representing a national franchise chain, is very atypical.

The U District reflects the same general trends you see everywhere you go in this country now, and it's especially noticeable in areas which were once familiar, but that haven't been viewed intimately for a few decades. What was once prosperous and well-maintained is now run down and seedy, and there's much more of an immigrant presence than in former times. The decline of commerce and regime of tight money, especially since the middle of the double-zeroes, has contributed mightily to the overall effect of creeping poverty in formerly affluent, or at least comfortable neighborhoods.

The U.S.A. is aging fast, and none too gracefully. It's as Moll Flanders said when she looked in the mirror at age 50: "I saw only the ruins of what formerly was."

The Viniyoga class was very nice, by the way, and Ravenna Park looks the same as it always did.

Photo and building info by Joe Mabel.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

shearing the sheep

Like the hordes of door-to-door Bible salesmen who used to swarm through small towns in the South and Midwest, or the televangelists who now fire up the faithful 24/7 on their own cable channels, the leaders of the Tea Party movement are parlaying the rage and fear of their acolytes into immense personal fortunes.

Rush Limbaugh's lavish and steadily growing radio contract has been a feature of this landscape since before the demeaning term "teabaggers" came into use, but he has nothing on the recent arrivals in the right-wing millionaires' club -- Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Michael Steele. It's these three that Frank Rich zeroes in on in his regular Sunday New York Times column today.

After dismissing the non-scandal of Harry Reid's remarks, now ancient history, concerning candidate Barack Obama's complexion and diction, Rich homes in on the recent careers of the movement conservatives' most high-profile leaders. He details Steele's current for-profit book tour on company time and his brazen defiance of any in the Republican hierarchy who might challenge its propriety, Palin's abandonment of the Juneau state house for the greener pastures of Fox News, and Beck's on-air flacking of gold coins sold by one of his sponsors. Rich saves his choicest revelations, however, for an exposé of the upcoming Tea Party Convention and Palin's role in it:

She recently signed on as a speaker for the first Tea Party Convention, scheduled next month in Nashville — even though she had turned down a speaking invitation from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the traditional meet-and-greet for the right. The conservative conference doesn’t pay. The Tea Party Convention does. A blogger at Nashville Scene reported that Palin’s price for the event was $120,000.

Rich goes on to lay bare the nuts and bolts of this event, which looks like an attempt to create a sort of teabaggers' Disneyland.

The entire Tea Party Convention is a profit-seeking affair charging $560 a ticket — plus the cost of a room at the Opryland Hotel. Among the convention’s eight listed sponsors is Tea Party Emporium, which gives as its contact address 444 Madison Avenue in New York, also home to the high-fashion brand Burberry. This emporium’s Web site offers a bejeweled tea bag at $89.99 for those furious at “a government hell bent on the largest redistribution of wealth in history.” This is almost as shameless as Glenn Beck, whose own tea party profiteering has included hawking gold coins merchandised by a sponsor of his radio show.

I have to wonder whether the people who consider themselves a part of this movement realize the extent to which their irrational fears are being patronized and gamed. Are any among them the same fools who voluntarily travel to Las Vegas regularly to be separated from their money?

And lest anybody think I'm calling the sincerity of the chief ideologues of this movement into question, I'm not. I'm sure they believe the stuff they're saying, even when it's obvious bullshit like Palin's "death panels." They believe that stuff as if their lives depended on it, which quality of their lives certainly does.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

the body-mind connection

It's usually referred to as the mind-body connection -- a way of saying that states of mind such as chronic depression or panic attacks, besides being damaging in themselves, have adverse physical consequences as well.

But naturally the reverse is also true, and now that I'm beginning to recover from recent bouts with psoriasis, including the fear generated by watching it spread rapidly, my outlook is suddenly a lot sunnier, even if the weather isn't.

Becoming convinced that sleeping under wool blankets was aggravating the condition (which I had suspected for some tIme) I finally got motivated to go down to Feddie M's and buy a cheap cotton comforter. Voila! Two nights under that thing and those ugly red patches began to clear.

And here I thought wool would be better because it's a natural fabric. It's amazing what we put ourselves through in our efforts to be organically, politically, sartorially, and aerodynamically correct.

So yes, there is a mind-body connection, and today they're both doing about as well or better than might be expected considering my age, history of bad habits, and sexual orientation.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

glenn doesn't heart sarah

Atrios has the video, and calls it "Your moment of Zen."

And so it is. Even Glenn Beck is offended by her vapid stupidity.

This is sort of like the time Couric asked her what newspapers she reads and she said "All of them."

It's a non-answer and evasion, identical to the ones I got from high school students who hadn't read any of the assigned books.

"Which one of the novels we read this year did you like best?"

One day at Fox and already she's in trouble. Good.


The White House seems an odd venue for on-the-job learning, but maybe that's what's happening.

Sounding more like a populist than he ever has before, Barack Obama today reamed the banksters, telling them "We want our money back" and proposed a new tax on the biggest banks that would recoup at least some of the money the government lost bailing out the "industry" in 2008 and 2009.

He also called the bonuses the banksters are in the process of awarding themselves "obscene."

"We are already hearing a hue and cry from Wall Street, suggesting that this proposed fee is not only unwelcome but unfair, that by some twisted logic, it is more appropriate for the American people to bear the cost of the bailout rather than the industry that benefited from it, even though these executives are out there giving themselves huge bonuses," said the President, suddenly sounding presidential.

"What I'd say to these executives is this: Instead of setting a phalanx of lobbyists to fight this proposal or employing an army of lawyers and accountants to help evade the fee, I'd suggest you might want to consider simply meeting your responsibility," he added.

Let's hope he means it, because he needs to realize that adopting populist positions and then undertaking actions to match those positions is his only hope for political survival under a system in which his return to office for a second term depends basically (unless the vote is very close and the circumstances unusual) on his winning the popular vote.

Now, if he can get on the same page as the majority of Americans when it comes to other issues such as perpetual war in the Mideast, torture of detainees, and the need for a health care public option, his presidency might someday amount to something. it's a steep learning curve, but he's a talented young guy, and he might be beginning to realize he's been badly advised and misled.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the horned serpent

Just as our bodies evolved out of earlier forms, so have our minds. That the body and its constituent parts have changed over time is undeniable when we consider, for example, the appendix, which at one time served a now-unknown digestive function, but exists today merely as a vestigial remain whose only purpose, it sometimes seems, is to cause trouble.

Likewise, the human psyche has evolved from a primeval and truncated animal mind which consisted mostly of instincts and their closely associated instinctive fears, and only gradually over time acquired the capacity for rational and abstract thought. Dr. Jung in his "Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams" observes that "This immensely old psyche forms the basis of our mind, just as the structure of our body is erected upon a generally mammalian anatomy," and adds that "(T)he experienced investigator of the psyche cannot help seeing the analogies between dream images and the products of the primitive mind, its représentations collectives, or mythological motifs."

To illustrate this principle of the persistence of pre-human elements in the human mind as they continue to manifest in even modern myths and legends such as "Superman," Jung uses the example of real dreams dreamt by a child and preserved in the form of stripped-down fairy tales. He wrote:

I particularly remember the case of a man who was himself a psychiatrist. He brought me a handwritten booklet he had received as a Christmas present from his ten-year-old daughter. It contained a whole series of dreams she had had when she was eight years old. It was the weirdest series I had ever seen, and I could well understand why her father was more than puzzled...each dream begins with the words of the fairytale: "Once upon a time..." The amazingly potent images of the little girl's dreamscape were as follows:

1. A "bad animal" appears, a horned serpent that kills and devours all the other animals. But God, who is actually four gods, comes from the four corners and brings back all the animals the monster has eaten.

2. The dreamer ascends to heaven where people are celebrating pagan dances, then descends to hell where angels are doing good works.

3. A mob of small animals comes to frighten the dreamer. They then grow to a huge size, and one of them eats her.

4. A mouse is penetrated by worms, then snakes, then fishes, then humans. Then the mouse becomes human.

5. She looks at a drop of water under a microscope and sees that it is full of branches.

6. A bad boy has a lump of dirt, from which he breaks off pieces to throw at people passing by. When they get hit, they also become bad.

7. A drunken woman falls into the water and comes out sober and changed into a better person.

8. In America, many people are rolling on an ant heap and getting attacked by the ants. The dreamer panics and falls into a river.

9. She is in a desert on the moon, and sinks so far down into the dirt she ends up in hell.

10. She touches a shining ball she sees in a vision. Vapors come out of it, then a man comes and kills her.

11. She is very sick, and birds come out of her skin and cover her completely.

12. Clouds of gnats hide the sun, the moon, and all the stars except one, which then falls on the dreamer.

A person would have to be singularly unimaginative or obtuse not to see the mythological elements in several of these dreams, or the shortened stems of fairy tales and legends of monsters, trolls, magic animals, and elves. Some are fairly easy to interpret, such as number five, which appears to be a very short version of the origin of the earth.

Keep in mind that all these wonderful and powerful images sprang fully formed from the mind of a child. One might argue that she had absorbed some of these ideas from religious education, but Jung reports that her parents were the type of moderns who knew the Bible only through hearsay, and were not at all religious. She could only have gotten these images and "stories" as she styled them from the subconscious, primeval, and instinctive regions of her mind. This is the stuff dreams are made of, and nothing reveals the evolution of the human mind so well as the persistence and consistency of this kind of subconscious imagery from prehistory and beyond down to the present.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Over the past few years it's become more and more difficult to tell the difference between news and entertainment, because to a large extent news has actually become entertainment. The management at all four major networks (I'm including CNN, but not FOX) now require that their news divisions turn a profit. Or else!

Gone are the days when networks and local stations expected news programs to have lower ratings than, say, "Your Hit Parade," or "Saturday Night at the Movies." Station and network managers knew back then that the news was serious. And without saying so, they were very much aware that a lot of the public finds anything more serious than "American Idol" boring, and they made allowances for that reality.

Fast forward to today's bean-counting TV execs saying, "Oh, no! Not boring! We can't have that!"

So we see media frivolity mirrored on internet political discussion sites, where partisan one-upsmanship and juvenile name-calling often replace serious debate. But that's only because some in those places take their cues from the mainstream media. What would you expect from people who get most of their information from TV?

A lot of the time the only way a viewer can tell whether he's watching "CBS Evening News" or "Entertainment Tonight" is by i.d.'ing the anchorbabe -- is it Katie or Mary?

Glenn Greenwald wrote an excellent column on this topic today at, in the process of reviewing a new book, "Game Change," by a couple of high-profile "political" reporters. Apparently it's a shallow, sensationalist gossipfest which pretends to be serious political reporting. Greenwald says:

No event in recent memory has stimulated the excitment (sic) and interest of Washington political reporters like the release of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's new book, Game Change, and that reaction tells you all you need to know about our press corps. By all accounts (including a long, miserable excerpt they released), the book is filled with the type of petty, catty, gossipy, trashy sniping that is the staple of sleazy tabloids and reality TV shows, and it has been assembled through anonymous gossip, accountability-free attributions, and contrived melodramatic dialogue masquerading as "reporting." And yet -- or, really, therefore -- Washington's journalist class is poring over, studying, and analyzing its contents as though it is the Dead Sea Scrolls, lavishing praise on its authors as though they committed some profound act of journalism, and displaying a level of genuine fascination and giddiness that stands in stark contrast to the boredom and above-it-all indifference they project in those rare instances when forced to talk about anything that actually matters.

The whole thing is well worth reading.

This is happening at a time when the U.S. is threatened with several crises simultaneously, any one of seriously threatens our continued existence as the kind of nation we've historically been. And instead of serious examination of these issues from our corporate media, we get political gossip about a dumb and careless statement concerning race made by Harry Reid, global warming denial, partisan bickering of the "we're good and you're bad" variety, blame game evasions and general incomprehension of the ongoing economic collapse, and pants-wetting childish monster-under-the-bed cowardice over terrorist attacks that misfired. The economic and social ramifications of peak oil, and a looming world-wide food shortage are not deemed worthy of even the slightest mention.

I know we can do better than this. But we'll have to re-transform ourselves back into adults and outgrow news as entertainment if we're going to deal adequately with what we're up against. The consequences of refusing to do so may well be catastrophic.

Click on Tom Tomorrow's "Action McNews" for a larger (and legible) view.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Winter Break

It was an unusual winter's day today in Seattle. It's not just that there was no rain; that happens often enough. But additionally, there was actually some sunshine -- weak sunshine, partial sunshine, but sunshine nonetheless. And the temperature rose to an unwinterly 54 degrees, so that it felt almost warm outside.

That was the signal for the sun-starved Seattle techno-proletariat to throng to Green Lake and enjoy an unanticipated and serendipitous winter's break. We may not have another weekend like this until April, and maybe not even then, and everybody who's lived here longer than a year is acutely aware of this. So out came the sneakers and sweat pants, the dog's leash and little Howard's tricycle, and by eleven the three-mile walkway which circumscribes the lakeshore was crowded with hikers, bikers, dog-walkers and baby-strollers, all smiling, jostling one another politely and somehow never colliding as they navigated the narrow pathway, which is divided by a white line, just like a regular street, so as to accommodate people moving in both directions.

Have you ever noticed that most of us habitually travel a circuit like this in one direction or the other? For me it's always counter-clockwise. Walking the lake the other direction would feel wrong.

The lake was perfectly still and reflective today, since there was no wind. There were no wavelets or turbulence of any kind -- not even a ripple.

A day on Green Lake in pleasant weather is enough to restore one's hope in both humans and the natural world. It's not exactly what's called "Getting back to nature," because the lake's intensely urban setting makes walking it the type of experience I call "nature-lite." But the combination of water and sun and exercise seems to bring out the best in people, and the rarity of such days at this time of year seems to awaken a gentler side of the psyche than is generally elicited by the abrasive and stressful nature of city life.

We're supposed to have the same weather conditions tomorrow as we had today. How convenient, for this winter's break to occur exactly, precisely bookended by the two weekend days, before the darkness and rain descend again on Monday.

Friday, January 08, 2010


On an internet discussion board, a frequent poster started a thread asking what this country might do "To form a more perfect union." I suggested the key, not just to a more perfect union, but to a country we can live with, required our banishing private money from public politics. I suggested a Constitutional amendment requiring all candidates to run short, exclusively publicly-funded campaigns.

So of course, almost immediately someone replied, Private money cannot be banned from elections. It can be driven under the table even farther than it is now. The rich are always has a lead on power.

At what point did the U.S. become the "Can't-Do" capital of the world?

Anytime anyone these days points to something this country needs to accomplish in order to begin functioning again, such as providing universal access to health care for its citizens, or dealing adequately with the twin crises of global climate change and peak oil, or banning private money from public elections, somebody else pops up immediately to say "Oh, that's impossible, we'll never be able to do that."

We used to be a country that believed in itself, and we thought we could do anything, sometimes to a fault. When did we change into a country and a society where people sit around thinking up reasons why something can't be done?

"Oh, it's because you need 60 votes in the Senate to move it to a vote." (Well, change the goddam Senate rules then.)

"Don't you understand? That's impossible. We'll never do that." (Wasn't it true 110 years ago that humans would never fly because it was impossible?)

So don't tell me that bribery and corruption can't be driven out of politics because we can never get rid of 100 percent of it. I know that. But if we're determined we can eliminate most of it, and furthermore public attitudes, once directed to the severity of the problem, can reconfigure so that bribers and influence peddlers have about as much social status and social approval as child rapists.

I'm not the least bit interested in hearing why we can't do this or that. What I want to know is how we're going to get it done.

See also Orville Schelle's essay at TomDispatch, "The Melting of America: The Story of a Can't Do Nation."

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

too much information

Went duckin' and dodgin' through downtown Seattle traffic today and somehow got to Virginia Mason Hospital, where I'm now in the waiting room for an appointment with the physical therapist. Like a lot of other things, downtown Seattle is doable if you plan for it. But don't plan too much -- you might outsmart yourself.

It's been another week of dealing with businesses and agencies who either couldn't get my change of address straight, or thought I hadn't paid a bill that I took care of a month ago. This difficult process used to be easy, back in the days when we all wrote checks and mailed 'em in. There was always a space on the back of the bill where you'd write in your new address and that was that -- somebody at the electric company or the phone company or the magazine wrote down the new address on your file card and life went on. Then came the cyber age, and...well, you know the tune as well as I do, I'm sure. Everything that used to be simple is now immensely complicated.

It seems to me that our present-day mania and obsession with total control has paradoxically led to its opposite -- a loss of control. Formerly simple processes, which were vulnerable to the occasional clerical error, have been overlain with layers of complexity intended to make them fail safe, and loaded with automatic, "system-generated" responses which are frequently confusing or wrong.

But that's progress.

Glenn Greenwald's Salon column today addresses this same phenomenon and its disastrous effect on the nation's security and intelligence services, as evidenced by the Christmas Day Underpants of Mass Destruction fiasco.

Greenwald writes: As numerous experts...have attempted, with futility, to explain, expanding the scope of raw intelligence data collected by our national security agencies invariably impedes rather than bolsters efforts to detect terrorist plots...for two reasons: (1) eliminating strict content limits on what can be surveilled (along with enforcement safeguards, such as judicial warrants) means that government agents spend substantial time scrutinizing and sorting through communications and other information that have nothing to do with terrorism; and (2) increasing the quantity of what is collected makes it more difficult to find information relevant to actual terrorism plots.

The whole column is worth a read, since it deals not just with the issue of too much information, but also with the fact that much of this irrelevant, useless, and in-the-way information is illegally gathered for no good reason. The scareder we get, the more we violate the rights of our own citizens while tying ourselves in panic-stricken knots.

Bogged down in the minutiae of intercepted phone calls and yards-long watch lists, our swollen security forces, whose various and sundry agencies either can't or won't communicate with each other, missed the Nigerian kid whose own father had tried to warn them about him, and left him a gap in the system a pregnant rhinoceros could have run through.

This is where mass mania and social obsession of any kind leads, to a society that can't get out of its own way.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Reluctant Motorist

Go here to get Tom Tomorrow's astute comments and contemptuous opinion of the cowardly and childish Underpants of Mass Destruction hysteria.

I was thinking about flying to the southwest this spring, but now it looks like I'll have to drive instead, even though driving is tough for me.

And no, it's not because I'm afraid of being blown out of the sky by terrorists. It's because I refuse to submit to a bunch of stupid, hysteria-driven TSA torture rituals.

If the terrorists really want to take me out my car is easy to spot, even though the license plate no longer says NSECTO.

Monday, January 04, 2010


Early January in Seattle. This is the season for what I call "the glurk."

A lot of people begin to suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or S.A.D. this time of year. A lot of others, like myself, don't have symptoms of full-blown sad, but become gloomy and kind of sloppy, just like the weather outside.

Here's a view of the downtown skyline, or maybe I should say "glurkline," from West Seattle. On a sunny day it's gorgeous, and even now it's kind of impressive.

The city is still beautiful, especially after dark, which comes very early now. The thousands of lights shimmer and seem to vibrate subtly in the wet atmosphere. However, driving out to see it after dark in this weather is not the wisest idea.

Still, a good thing to do when it's wet and cold like this is arrange to meet friends in a warm, brightly-lit, somewhat noisy restaurant for a good, solid meal washed down by lots of hot coffee. It's great party weather. The Salish Indians used to repair to their long lodges in the late fall for the winter round dances. They filled up on salmon they'd smoked during the summer and thanked the deities for their prosperity, wholly a function of the primeval abundance of this land and this gentle, inland sea.

Some salmon smoked the traditional way by the Duwamish, in a pit lined with alder leaves to hold in the smoke from the embers of green alder twigs, would be good right now. But I'm having spaghetti from Central Market instead, and I'm not complaining. We do complain about winter here, but I'd still rather be in Seattle than in Minnesota or Chicago or even Santa Fe.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

forward and backward

Today is a Palindrome, that is, a day whose date reads the same from right to left as it does from left to right.


This century is fairly rich in Palindromes, having 12. The last one was October 2, 2001. But prior to that you have to go all the way back to August 31, 1380 to find one.

And no, it is NOT named after Sarah Palin. You're confusing it with Palindrama.

Don't even get me started on the very mysterious number number 34.

Dwight Eisenhower was the 34th president of the U.S. He was easily the wisest and quite possibly the best president of the postwar era, and a conservative Republican. Now there's a great mystery for you right there.

With a wave of the litter scoop to the Seattle Times

Illustration by Julie Paschkis

Friday, January 01, 2010

happy new decade

Thank God the double-zips are over. One advantage of the new decade is we can now go back to using two two-digit numbers to name the year we're in, just like we did back in 1992, rather than saying "2000-this" and "2000-that."

So happy twenty ten, everybody. It looks to be both better and worse than the last couple of years have been.

One reason Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is such an infernally long book is because it took the Empire so long to fall. It was such a gradual process that it led one wag to observe that "Rome fell without a sound." Likewise, the Empire of the Pentagon and Wall Street is taking its time unravelling, and either it or its zombie will be around for a while yet.

There's precious little for revolutionaries to do these days. There's not much need to recruit volunteers to help bring down the Empire, since the people running it seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.

2010 Will see no improvements in what used to be called The Economy. That sound reminiscent of the other shoe dropping will be the crash of commercial real estate coming on line, compounding the twin phenomena of paralysis in the residential real estate markets and intractable unemployment. Hard times are here to stay, because this is not a downturn, but a collapse, and unless you're in the retail grocery business or working a family eats-style restaurant, you're looking at no job, or one which yields fewer rewards for more work.

The good news is that a lot of people are changing their behavior to adapt to changing conditions, and many who aren't drowning in debt or foreclosed onto the street actually seem happier now. With their hours at work cut back, and making less money, folks adjust by driving less, shopping less, cooking and entertaining at home, and taking the dog and kids for a walk in the park rather than ferrying the little ones to ballet lessons, soccer practice, firearms training, and so forth. Family life and scenes of seedy domesticity are all the rage in this crumbling economy, and as long as there's enough money for food, affluence can go fish.

Is it possible we can be happier with less? That goes against the Gospel of Affluenza, but the truth is you'll never know what life is all about if you spend it behind the wheel of a moving vehicle in suburban traffic.