Wednesday, June 30, 2010

tweety tweet

ZOMG Chris Matthews said something I agree with. Something, in fact, that I really agree with real hard.

Here's what Tweety said on the Huffington Post:

If you're looking for good news, I have one suggestion. Stop listening to Europe, stop listening to the conservatives, do what has worked in the past.

What got us out of the Great Depression was production: massive industrial production to support the allies in World War Two.

We need production for this country now. We need to build rapid rail to catch up to those allies from World War Two. France has the TGV. China is building its rapid rail system. It's time we joined the movement. We need to go back to the future and become a country that builds things. It'll create jobs. It'll catch us up to the rest of the world. It'll cut our reliance on oil. It'll give us hope you can believe in.

That's the right idea very well put (I think this guy is easier to read than watch). I would only add that while we're at it, we should get the construction crews out, put some of those unemployed construction workers back to work, and reconfigure about half our cities' streets to obstruct auto traffic and encourage bicycles, walking, skateboarding, in-line skating, and so forth, as the Netherlands has done.

The war is at home, not in Afghanistan. It's a two-front war on unemployment and irrational energy choices; reconstructing a rail system and discouraging driving are essential components of it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

beyond politics

I get so tired of the wining bastards who want to put down this Great Country and our Flag says a contributor to the Facebook page, "If the American Flag Offends You, I'll Be Happy to Help You Pack." If this is such a bad place then why did you come here and why do you stay. One of the things that makes our country great is the fact that you can leave any fucking time you want to, so if is so bad then get the FUCK out. GOD BLESS THE USA AND THE FLAG THAT REPRESENTS US!!!!!!!!

My purpose here is not to ridicule internet litter; that's unnecessary considering the ineptitude. However, this kind of disjointed, barely articulated crying out is useful for showing the degree to which people are capable of misjudging the scope and seriousness of the crisis confronting not just this country, but the entirety of what is sometimes called the developed world.

If our current troubles were just a matter of plugging the leaks in this zombie empire still trying to pass itself off as a country, and setting it on a course more likely to enhance our survival as a nation, that's doable. Unlikely, but possible. If it was just a matter of righting the ship of state, the tasks facing us would be, not easy, but a lot easier.

The thing is, the crisis now unfolding isn't just political -- it's way beyond that. We're locked into one of those enormous historical centrifuges now, in which everything -- countries, economies, populations, cultural identities -- everything is being spun irresistibly from the center. A whole way of life, and a whole orientation toward life is going down the tubes right now. The seeds of destruction were sewn, says Morris Berman, 100 years or so ago, when the scientific method, so necessary to human progress in the dark and superstitious past, was integrated into, and began evolving "within the context of an expanding industrial, technological, and corporate/commercial culture."

Especially since World War II, the good in our lives has been defined by goods, and the object of living to pile up lots and lots of stuff, because the "values and ideology of marketing and consumerism managed to overwhelm America in the twentieth century."

"(C)ommercial groups in cooperation with other elites committed to accumulating profit on an ever-increasing scale" gradually came to dominate both economies and cultures world-wide, Berman continues, "until this way of viewing the world pushed out any other vision of the good life."

Now, all of a sudden, that way of viewing the world has fallen to ashes, and sunk under the weight of the BP oil spill, and that catastrophe has forced us to focus on what really matters, and sent an instant revelation showing like a compass where the true good lies. The spill is augmented by this empire's perpetual wars in distant places waged for inscrutable reasons, and most importantly by the second Great Depression, which appears here to stay, further undermining the constant media hum encouraging everyone to "buy more." Under these pressures, the world -- the developed world especially, is breaking out of what sociologist Max Weber called the "iron cage" of industrial society.

We're not talking regime change here, such as the one where the regime of Clueless George gave way to that of the vague and timid Barack Obama. This is (I hate to say it) a paradigm shift, and world systems, says one historian, don't fail, they "restructure."

"Guernica" was painted by P. Picasso to commemorate a fascist bombing raid on a village which killed mainly civilians during the Spanish Civil War. Click on the image for a larger view.

All quotes from Morris Berman are from "The Twilight of American Culture" (Norton, '06), pages 110-120.

Monday, June 28, 2010

preservation nation

To observe the way a knowledge-system is knit together is to learn at least a minimum knowledge-of-knowledge, until someday -- or some century -- an Integrator (will) come, and things (will) be fitted together again. So time matter(s) not at all. The memorabilia (are) there, and (they are) given to (us) to preserve, and preserve (them we will) if the darkness in the world last(s) ten more centuries...

...Long ago, during the last age of reason, certain proud thinkers had claimed that valid knowledge was indestructible -- that ideas were deathless and truth immortal...There (is) objective meaning in the world, to be sure: the nonmoral logos or design of the Creator; but such meanings (are) God's and not Man's, until they (find) an imperfect incarnation, a dark reflection, within the mind and speech and culture of a given human society, which might ascribe values to the meanings so that they (become) valid in a human sense within the culture...but...cultures (are) not immortal and they...die with a race or an age, and then human reflections of meaning and human portrayals of truth reced(e), and the truth and meaning resid(e), unseen, only in the objective logos of God...

The Memorabilia (is) full of ancient words, ancient formulae, ancient reflections of meaning, detached from minds that...died long ago, when a different sort of society...passed into oblivion. There (is) little of it that (can) still be understood. Certain papers (seem) as meaningless as a Breviary would seem to a shaman of the nomad tribes. Others (retain) a certain ornamental beauty or an orderliness that (hints) of meaning...

Quoted, with adaptation, from Walter Miller's novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, first published in 1960.

"The loss of freedom will not come as a thunderclap. Rather, if it goes, it will slip silently away from us, little by little, like so many grains of sand sliding softly through an hour glass. The curbing of speech in the Senate on judicial nominations will most certainly evolve to an eventual elimination of the right of extended debate. And that will spur intimidation and the steady withering of dissent. An eagerness to win -- win elections, win every judicial nomination, overpower enemies, real or imagined, with brute force -- holds the poison seeds of destruction of free speech and decimation of minority rights. The ultimate perpetrator of tyranny in this world is the urge by the powerful to prevail at any cost. A free forum where the minority can rise to loudly call a halt to the ambitions of an over zealous majority must be maintained. We must never surrender that forum, the United States Senate, to the tyranny of any majority."

R.I.P. Senator Robert Byrd, 1917-2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

rapid transit

Events of the past month have made painfully obvious that we've entered what Jim Kunstler calls "The Long Emergency." I prefer the more user-friendly term "rapid transition." Only the unconscious and those committed to ideological orthodoxy fail to appreciate this.

A lot of people are baffled and don't know what to do to be able to deal with the new realities. But there are three things everybody can do right now, and we're crazy if we don't.

1. Get a bicycle, and ride it. For most, the second part is the hard part. It's either that or ride the bus. I realize some people have to travel long distances to work. OK then, I didn't say "ride it all the time." But I don't think there's a car-dependent family in this country that couldn't convert a lot of the errands and recreational trips now done by car to two wheels, saving thousands of miles and hundreds of gallons a year.

A lot of people who have bikes don't ride them. But now there is fierce and compelling urgency behind the command, "Get off your rusty dusty and just do it." Park the car and leave it.

And don't tell me you can't do it. I'm doing it, and I'm a 66-year old man with emphysema, the result of 50 years of smoking cigarettes while driving cars. If I can do it, nearly anybody can.

2. Stop eating meat. Or if you must, make it chicken, and try to show a little respect for the creature you're devouring by finding out whether it had a real life, as opposed to a slow death on the wire.

But red meat is out. I know that's a tough one for a lot of people, but consider: According to the UN, livestock grazing takes up about 26 percent of the earth's land surface, and cultivation of feed crops presently requires about a third of arable land. In addition, livestock is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions -- that's more than transportation puts out, world-wide. Not only that, but too much of the stuff is bad for you.

Besides, if you've ever seen a cattle feedlot or a factory-style pig farm up close, you probably don't want to eat that stuff anyway.

Fish is OK if it's caught in the wild.

3. Don't listen to them. The reason there are no political solutions to Kunstler's Long Emergency is because all the truly important members of the political caste have been bought up, whether they're actively on the take or not. They're relegated to serving as water carriers and gophers for the corporate oligarchy, without whose approval they could not have risen to where they are, and who are our true rulers. That's why Obama seems impenetrably stupid sometimes, even though we know he's not, especially on matters such as the Afghan War.

The Oligarchy is now so isolated and out of touch with real people's lives, and hence reality, than they can't imagine the world functioning on any terms other than what they've known in the past, which was characterized by growth made possible by readily available, cheap petroleum and easy credit. Both of those things have vanished and won't ever return,

The main reason we need to stop listening to them is to free our own minds of habits and entrenched attitudes about the world and our place in it that have become unconscious and almost reflexive. Andrew McDonald on his site Radical Relocalization describes the ideological inertia all of us suffer this way: "We've lived in that old story for a very long time and its back story - that growth is good and inevitable - is so in our bones, so embodied in us literally that new thinking doesn't affect it much. The Industrial Revolution and the turbo-charge provided by fossil fuel has strengthened these assumptions. We maintain them in small unnoticed ways. When we go shopping or to work, when we talk to friends - we're actors in a world where the script is still the old story about progress and growth and we bow to that story's conventions before we know it. If we watch TV or advertising, it's the old story, even if with some new lines."

Key to changing our thinking is to stop feeding bullshit about "the recovery" or "nation building in Afghanistan" into the hopper, and that can be most efficiently accomplished by swearing off what are commonly known as "mainstream" media. The stenographers and glitzy talking heads of the infotainment industry are nearly universally oblivious to the fact that in these times all viable activity will proceed from the only revelation that matters -- John the Revelator said it best in the opening lines of his 21st chapter: "And I saw a new heaven, and a new earth: for the first heaven, and the first earth were passed away..."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

road trip

Today's bike adventure was the most ambitious so far. Not only did my two wheels take me all the way out to my old high school (Shoreline Spartans we're all for you), they trod the wilds of the Interurban overpasses as well.
Just short of 155th Street, about 43 blocks north of my apartment, there's a sharply inclined but short ramp leading to a north-south overpass over 155th, a major junction where several arterials meet. Then comes another ramp (above) leading to the main event, an enclosed east-west overpass above Aurora, or Highway 99, of which I got this shot looking north through one of the plastic windows. (above).

The ramp on the east side (right) is less elaborate than the one on the west, and leads to a section of trail which runs through a nondescript area in the unexciting suburb of Shoreline. I think it may have once been an alley running between 99 and the back yards of the houses fronting whatever street lies immediately east of the highway. It's not beautiful, but is strangely quiet because there are buildings interceding between the roar of highway traffic and the trail.
On the way home I stopped at Central Market, which lies almost athwart the trail at 155th for the daily grocery shopping, and took a breather beside lovely Bitter Lake where I shot this picture, just off the road at about 130th and Linden. The lake is nearly completely ringed by apartment buildings and condominia, but with its ducks and trees and lotus-bearing lily pads maintains an aura of sedate tranquility just the same.

I'm having more fun with this bike than I thought possible. It's mildly challenging, and a new rider will be amazed by the immediate awareness of how much of the landscape drivers miss completely, enclosed like larvae in their petroleum-powered pods with their eyes glued to the road ahead. it's also striking to realize how abrasive and numbing constant exposure to traffic and other urban noise is, and how completely the noise vanishes at a few yards remove, as happens on most parts of the Interurban.

As near as I can figure, I traveled about 170 blocks round trip today, or between 14 and 15 miles. It took about three hours, and I was at Shoreline probably a little over half an hour and paused several times on the homeward leg, to shop and so forth. I have to say it's easier than I thought it would be, It gives one a tremendous sense of empowerment to be able to park the car and get around on your own muscle power. I used to not know what that word meant -- women would tell me that my daughter's dancing made them feel "empowered" or "empowered women," and I nodded but didn't actually know what they were trying to communicate. Now I do.

Click on any photo for a larger view, then click again to embiggen even more.

Friday, June 25, 2010

how and why of the mess

A lot of people would like to understand better how the BP oil disaster happened and why, to know what decisions caused it, and be able to judge just how desparate we are to satisfy our oil addiction.

I was educated on all these matters last evening listening to Dave Davies' interview with New York Times science reporter Henry Fountain on NPR's Fresh Air. Davies avoided political rhetoric as he quizzed Fountain on the nuts-and-bolts technical processes that went so horribly wrong at Deepwater Horizon. And Fountain responded with technical expertise that was comprehensible in layman's terms. For example, I learned what a blowout preventer actually looks like, and I had no idea.

If you want to know more about the why of the BP oil spill, I'd highly recommend listening to this interview which you can access here. When you get to the site click on "listen to the story," which runs about 40 minutes.

The scariest thing about the spill is that it shows just how insane we've become in pursuing the means to keep our current lifestyle intact. A sane society would have begun reconfiguring cities and towns and re-designing them as walking and biking spaces, like they have in the Netherlands, 35 years ago when Jimmy Carter sounded the warning.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

twilight zone

As Obama replaces a commander who failed in Afghanistan with another destined to, and the sound here in the so-called Homeland of that distant and senseless conflict subsides into a monotonous background hum, like traffic noise from the street, I'm re-reading for perhaps the third time Morris Berman's masterful analysis of our national collapse, "The Twilight of American Culture." Since it is "based on a comparison between Rome in the late-empire period and the contemporary situation in the United States," and uses arguments heavy with concrete historical detail, "Twilight" can hardly go wrong, and it doesn't.

In a preface to the 2006 edition, necessitated by the first edition's having been published 15 months before the 9/11 attack, Berman analytically divined our future as well as the meanings of events of the recent past, declaring that "George W. Bush is but the tip of the iceberg here" when assessing the reasons for America's growing weakness and declining influence. "The problem is systemic," he continued, "...and is not going to go away by means of a 'regime change' at home." He thus establishes himself as one of the few who dealt calmly and perceptively with both the wild elation and subsequent emotional deflation of the Obama phenomenon even before it happened.

Make no mistake -- this is a deeply pessimistic analysis of our national situation and prospects, yet Berman was surprised (and so am I) when e-mail response to the book was "emotionally positive." People smart enough to read it and understand it appreciated that someone at last punctured the fake piety surrounding our role in the world and national destiny, by demonstrating that "America has no real future, that it (is) going through an inevitable end-of-empire phase..."

He offers no solution other than a type of dropping out he calls "the monastic option," pursued by individuals who want to preserve some measure of truth and beauty in their lives. In short, he's talking about simply living differently -- differently than we have in the recent past, differently than our parents did, and differently than the Lords of Empire, Bank of America, and Exxon-Mobil want us to.

Now more than ever, this is the book to read. It's written simply and straight-forwardly, but I find its learning curve, while easily comprehensible, fairly steep and formidable.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

the interurban jihad

I got out and biked the Interurban Trail for a little while this afternoon, while the sun was shining and the weather was warm.

Not all of the trail is as pretty as this, but a great deal of it is. Neither is the trail unbroken, as it sometimes gives way to less-traveled city streets. The section pictured here shows a spot where the trail resumes after such an interruption, as indicated by the bollards set up to block would-be delinquent autos.

I'm living just six blocks east of where the trail forms the western margin of Washelli Cemetery, where my parents' ashes lie next to the traffic whizzing by on Dear Old 99. Today I went from my apartment building on 112th up to 145th Street, 39 blocks altogether. Between 128th and 145th Linden Avenue substitutes for the trail, and even though it's not heavily traveled, sharing the road with cars is something of an annoyance after not having to deal with them. The bikes are probably an annoyance for the drivers as well.

Linden isn't real scenic. It runs just a block off Highway 99, known as Aurora Avenue in these parts, past businesses and the backs of strip malls and machine shops, a very large block of apartment buildings, and a ramshackle, pea-green building that looks like it was once a motel which somebody bought and is now renting as tiny apartments for the less than affluent.

I didn't precisely time it today, but I think travel time biking the trail is about a minute per block. It was about half an hour each way today. (A younger person in better condition than me could probably make that in a lot less time.) The Shoreline YMCA where I'll be teaching a yoga class next month is another 47 blocks north of 145th on the Interurban Trail at 192nd, or 80 blocks altogether from my house. So I figure an hour and a half to get there from here, just to be safe.

Even though I haven't done hours and hours of riding so far, it's already getting easier, and I have a feeling I'll depend on the bike more and more going into the future. I hope to toughen up enough to do some riding in the winter. I noticed this morning when I drove the 20 miles to Normandy Park to teach my Tuesday class that I've used almost no gasoline since last Thursday, when I filled up on the way home from Portland.

This is my jihad against the oil companies, and a very soft and gentle sort of jihad it is, but one that will bring them down if we can recruit enough convinced believers to the path, or in this case, the trail. So eschewing pussyfooting, I declare a jihad against them, BP and all the rest of Satan's agents, and furthermore, pronounce a fatwa against them. They're probably so used to jihads and fatwas, and don't feel particularly threatened by my little contribution, but every little bit helps.

Monday, June 21, 2010

tears of the buddha

The original estimate floated by BP of the amount of oil leaking into the gulf as 5,000 barrels a day went out the window a month ago. We're now looking at 70,000 barrels a day or more and it's been 60 days.

Long time -- 4,200,000 barrels, minimum, and lots of oil-soaked dying pelicans washing up on Louisiana beaches.

Besides the oil, "BP has used two dispersants, Corexit 9500A and Corexit 9527A, so far applying 600,000 gallons on the surface and 55,000 gallons below the sea" (from MSNBC). These toxic chemicals have never been used in anything like these amounts before, and their long-term effects on the marine environment are unknown.

This is the end of the way we've been living, one way or the other.

"The tears of the Buddha are concentrated in the tea."
--Holy Modal Rounders, "Tea Song."

And as the freeway hums the cars go by,
Their headlights roll across the sky
Many miles away, but I can see them
Speeding through the dark.

--Jonathan Coulton, "Shop Vac."

"The feeling grows that we can't do anything right. Will someone please turn off the TV?"
--James Howard Kunstler, earlier today.

Photo by Blue Perez

Saturday, June 19, 2010

reset button

From McClatchy News Service via Atrios comes this quote from the Republican/Libertarian candidate Rand Paul:

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul on Friday urged Americans who have been unemployed for many months to consider returning to the workforce in less desirable jobs rather than continue relying on government unemployment assistance.

He's entitled to his take on it, of course, but I would urge something else. Instead of accepting low-paying, demeaning, and servile work -- "less desirable" as Rand put it -- I would urge people to seriously think about assuming different social roles from the ones they've played up until now. Adapting to changed economic conditions means a lot of us are going to be required to live much differently than we do and have in the recent past. The question is, will we do this gracefully, and with a little style, or will most of us be helpless and collapse into grimy and desperate sorts of poverty?

We're talking no mortgage no car payments no credit cards and fewer trips to the store here. It's pretty down home.

Friday, June 18, 2010

round about the neighborhood

This is one of Seattle's ubiquitous roundabouts, which you'll discover slowing traffic in about half the intersections of the residential neighborhoods throughout the city. The weekend before last, on a sunny Saturday, I saw an older couple at work pulling all the weeds out of this one, which is half a block from my apartment building, at 112th and Phinney. They weren't getting paid for this, and they weren't part of some organized neighborhood cleanup day; they were just doing it because it needed doing, and they're neighborhood people. I see a lot of that kind of community spirit around here, but there's always room for more.

Today I biked to my Yoga for Parkinson's class at Northwest Hospital, which is only about a mile away but tough to get to. There's a fenced-in cemetery in the way and a large arterial to cross, so I guessed at what would be the best route and guessed wrong. I'll do better next time, but it might take a while to find the best, most traffic-free passages. Much complication for such a sort distance!

I was going to bike home as well, but Professor Pete suggested I stow my ride in the copious cargo hold of his ancient, rusting Chevy Suburban and we go to lunch somewhere. He ended up taking me to the little Japanese restaurant right near my house, at 105th and Fremont, which I'd thought a thousand times about trying (Japanese food is my favorite), but never did since it looks kind of crumby from the outside.

Surprise! It's bright and attractive on the inside, and the food is very good, and very reasonably priced. It's not the absolute best Japanese food I ever had, but it's certainly not sub-par, and I can see myself becoming a regular there, since it's five minutes away from my apartment by bicycle, or ten minutes on foot.

Professor Pete and I talked pleasantly about life and literature -- he was an English lit professor and I was an English teacher -- and I recited some of the lyrics to "Subterranean Homesick Blues"* for him, since I've always thought of that particular Dylan song as a companion piece to "Catcher in the Rye," about which Pete has a recent book, an excellent readers' guide.

Afterward I biked home, and went walking in the neighborhood this afternoon while the sun was shining. The clouds are supposed to roll back in tomorrow.

*Apparently Dylan's own famous version of Subterranean Homesick Blues from the DA Pennebaker film "Don't Look Back" is not available in any on-line video format.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I wonder sometimes how many of the millionaires and aristocrats cruising the Senate's halls have ever stood in an unemployment line.

Yesterday Obama's jobs bill went down in the Senate 52-45, with 12 Democrats voting to kill it. Among other things it contained an unemployment benefits extension. From Arthur Delaney at HuffPo:

Lurking beneath deficit concerns, for both Republicans and even some Democrats, is the suspicion that extended unemployment benefits discourage job-seeking. Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) said last Thursday, for instance, that extended unemployment benefits are "too much of an allure" for people to look for work. Even Senate Democrats who voted in favor of the bill, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), are starting to look toward winding down the programs.

"We have 99 weeks of unemployment insurance," Feinstein said. "The question comes, how long do you continue that before people just don't go back to work at all?"
(Note: Diane Feinstein's personal worth is about 75 million dollars.)

Needless to say, no help is forthcoming from Congress for the 99ers, the several million people who will have exhausted all available benefits by the end of the year.

Feinstein, despite her mean-spirited comments, ending up voting for the bill, which is more than you can say for other Dems such as the regrettable Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Atrios calls this "The Great Shirk," and says As evidenced by growing sentiment in Congress as reflected in DiFi's comments, elites are coming to the conclusion that they are not the failures in this employment crisis, but that people are simply too lazy to find jobs in a world with 9.7% unemployment.

It is very depressing.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

bad boys

Although the Holy Modal Rounders have seen various sidemen and personnel come and go over the decades, their core and essence is still the original duo, Peter Stampfel (left) and Steve Weber. When they first appeared in the early '60's their fiddle-and-fingerstyle sound was obviously informed by rural string band music, but their bizarre, surprising, sometimes risqué and frequently psychedelically-derived lyrics delighted unschooled and eclectically-inclined listeners as much as they offended folk and acoustic music purists. Their work was impossible to classify, and one early reviewer, in a brave but unfortunate attempt, called the Rounders "psychedelic folk."

Later in the sixties they hooked up with the Fugs, essentially the New York vocal-and-songwriting duo of Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, who played no instruments, making sides like "Slum Goddess (from the Lower East Side") and "I Couldn't Get High." After that they produced a couple of amphetamine-fueled albums, "Indian War Whoop" and "The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders," then disappeared, only to re-appear in the early '70's with "Good Taste is Timeless," which contained the immortal "Boobs a Lot."

I thought that was their last recorded work together until I was at my daughter's house yesterday and she put on a disc I wasn't familiar with, but recognized immediately as the long-gone Rounders in yet another incarnation. They never did have much polish, and by 1999 when they made "Too Much Fun," whatever refinement they had ever possessed was gone completely, and their voices, especially Weber's, were pretty much shot. But they were still making wonderful songs, such as this one by Stampfel, "Bad Boy."

Mommy doesn't like him because he's got long hair;
Daddy doesn't like him, he says he heard him swear;
He's a bad boy, but I don't care.

He knows illegal people; he does illegal things,
But he doesn't seem illegal when he plays guitar and sings.
He's a bad boy, but I don't care.

Doesn't it kind of break your heart, doesn't it make you sad,
When the boy you love so dear turns out to be so bad?
He's a bad boy, but I don't care.

Don't ever let a bad boy steal your heart away,
You'll never get it back again until your dying day.
He's a bad boy, but I don't care.

He'll sell your heart on St. Mark's Place in glassine envelopes;
He'll cut it with pig's heart and burn the chumps and dopes.
He's a bad boy, but I don't care.


He's awfulness incarnate, he's wickedness on wheels;
He'll ruin my reputation -- how wonderful it feels.
He's a bad boy, but I don't care.

He's Sodom and Gomorrah, and Cairo, Illinois
He makes it seem so boring going out with other boys.
He's a bad boy, but I don't care.


My life is so exciting since I'm going out with him;
Romance is more romantic when you know that it's a sin.
He's a bad boy, but I don't care.


Doing a little research, I discovered that "Too Much Fun" was not the finale; they followed it up a couple years later with "I Make a Wish for a Potato," which I haven't heard, but the cover art alone makes it a must-have. Will there be more from the Holy Modal Rounders in the New Century? Surely there will be. You can't kill immortality.

Monday, June 14, 2010

the other

From the June 10 edition of the New York Times:

In the last few months, Muslim groups have encountered unexpectedly intense opposition to their plans for opening mosques in Lower Manhattan, in Brooklyn and most recently in an empty convent on Staten Island.

Some opponents have cited traffic and parking concerns. But the objections have focused overwhelmingly on more intangible and volatile issues: fear of terrorism, distrust of Islam and a linkage of the two in opponents’ minds.

“Wouldn’t you agree that every terrorist, past and present, has come out of a mosque?” asked one woman who stood up Wednesday night during a civic association meeting on Staten Island to address representatives of a group that wants to convert a Roman Catholic convent into a mosque in the Midland Beach neighborhood.

We have entered into perpetual war against Islam. In order to have never-ending war, a necessity for the orderly functioning of the modern superpower, we need an invincible enemy. When I was young it was "Godless atheistic communism," but communism turned out to be vulnerable and collapsed, unable to keep up with endless war's material requirements.

So without missing a beat we found -- actually created -- a new enemy, a dire threat whose menace is omnipresent, whose rage is implacable, and whose character is demonic. George Orwell recognized that the forging of such an enemy is an act of psychological warfare against one's own citizens, and in his novel 1984 uses a book within a book, Emmanuel Goldstein's "Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism" to explain the psychology of the government and citizens of the modern warfare state.

The consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival. War not only accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. In principle it would be simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of the masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war.

The "necessary destruction" Orwell speaks of is the destruction of surplus wealth generated by modern industrial societies, which, if it wasn't eaten up by war and weapons, might be spent to educate the people, enhance their prosperity and comfort, and, in the case of Americans, address basic needs such as medical care. Such a population might become too intelligent, difficult to control, and prone to acting in its own self-interest rather than the interests of the state. The superpower prefers a docile and manipulable people to one that is fully conscious and self-interested, and works to repress us by taking steps to keep us ignorant and fearful, and thus in a permanent state of infantile dependency.

And they accomplish this fairly easily. The psychiatrist C.G. Jung was not the first to point out that every human being is aware of the conflict between good and evil constantly occurring in his or her own heart, but he focused with devastating clarity on "the prevailing tendency of consciousness to seek the source of all ills in the outside world," and to project the evil we find within outward onto another. "We can now point a finger at the shadow," Jung declared. "He is clearly on the other side of the political frontier, while we are on the side of good and enjoy the possession of the right ideals."

This country has been doing its dirty work in the oil-rich Middle East for so long now that it was just a matter of time before violent retaliation, or what the C.I.A. calls "blowback" began to occur, culminating in the 9/11 terrorist attack. Once that happened, it was a simple matter for the ideologues of the three branches of American government -- the administrative bureaucracy, the military, and the Christian churches -- to demonize those we had done wrong, and paint them as the source of all evil.

Projecting one's own evil impulses onto another is a very dangerous game, especially when people are blissfully unaware that's what they're doing, and Dr. Jung, who has to be the conscience of our time, cautions that "one well to possess some 'imagination for evil,' for only the fool can permanently disregard the conditions of his own nature."

Photo: New York Times, June 10, 2010. Cartoon by Brazilian artist Carlos Latuff, 2008. "1984" was first published by Harcourt Brace in 1949. All quotes from Jung are from "The Undiscovered Self," translated and revised by R.F.C. Hull; Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press, 1990; first published in 1957.

barack obama's excellent adventure -- updated

It never occurred to me that if we just loitered in Afghanistan long enough we'd eventually find a reason to be there. From the New York Times, via Atrios:

Headline: U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

Wait! Did you say lithium? By some bizarre coincidence, that's the stuff we need to run the next generation of cars. We need it for the batteries, now that we've decided it would be best to get rid of BP and the rest of those old-fashioned, rude, embarrassing grease monkeys and that dirty, messy crude oil they're always spilling all over the place and telling us we can't live without. Who needs them, the way they ruin the neighborhood?

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

And cars. Don't forget the cars!

So forget Iraq and Exxon-Mobil and BP. It's on to Afghanistan, and our brand-new relationship with a brand-new set of Lithium gazillionaires, the Karzai Brothers LLC.

Update: The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder debunks this "OMG this is an incredible scoop" type story. Thanks, Atrios.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

we are all mojados

The only Americans who aren't wets are full-blooded Native Americans. For the rest of us, our ancestors got here by crossing water -- either swimming it, or tossing around for six weeks in a boat in the North Atlantic and going "Bleggghh" all the way.

I've always suspected that the paternal ancestors who bore my surname were Newgate birds, transported as felons from London's notorious prison in lieu of execution and settled in Georgia, which began as a penal colony. I have no proof, but it makes a good story. The Swedes on my dad's mother's side came quite a bit later, and in a much more dignified fashion, buying their own tickets and passing through Ellis Island.

My mom's family was here very early, and received land grants near Baltimore in the seventeenth century. Later on most of them lived in western Kentucky where they grew their own vegetables and hunted squirrels, raccoons, possums, and God knows what. Her mother's ancestors were less illustrious, arriving in the 1830's from Ireland on those leaky old potato boats, "shoveled out" as they said at the time of the great famine. It was usually the landlord who paid for the 17-shilling passage.

For all of my ancestors, coming to the New World wasn't easy, but it was simple. They weren't subjected to legal hassles or demeaning, complex, lottery-like procedures to determine their immigrant status. Unlike today's waves of Latino economic and political refugees who are fleeing violence, repression, and grinding poverty, nobody questioned their right to be here except maybe the copper-colored original inhabitants whose land they stole, and nobody listened to them.

I'm leaving out, of course, our darker citizens who arrived involuntarily. They were also mojados of a sort, but that's a whole other story as we all know.

In 1978, the celebrated Norteño band Los Tigres del Norte synopsized in poetry and song the modern-day experience of coming to America the majority of them endure, and it's the same today as it was then, only getting harder.

Vivan los Mojados

Because we're
mojados, we're always looking out for the law.
Because we're illegal and don't speak any English.
Gringo is too stubborn to take us, but we always come back.

If you catch one of us in Laredo, ten pass through at Mexicali.
If a few others are kicked out in Tijuana, six more come in at Nogales.
Do the math, suckers, if you really want to count us.

If you have a problem with us, you can easily fix it;
Just give us a hot little
gringita to marry,
Then when the wedding is over and we're legal we'll get a divorce.

If the wets go on strike and never come back,
who's going to pick your onions, your lettuce, or your beets?
Your lemons and grapefruit would be history then.

All your ballrooms would be closed.
If we wets weren't around any more, who would come to the dance then?
If even a quarter of us flew away you'd be inconsolable.

So long live the wets -- everybody who's migrating one way or the other;
Those who just want a vacation and those who are planning to marry
In order to get themselves fixed up.

It may be an emotional argument, but I strongly feel that it's grossly unjust to say to people, "OK, our ancestors were all immigrants, and the door was wide open then, but times have changed and now we're closing it."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

new wheels

It's a beautiful day in Seattle, the first one in a long, long time. I got up early this morning, looked out the window at the blue, cloudless sky, and decided this would be a perfect day to buy a bicycle. This plan has been in the works for a long time, as a way to improve my health, save a little money, and give BP and the rest of those gooey evil suit guys the finger. After all, a bike doesn't burn anything but calories. Put that in your catchment pipe and suck on it, Tony.

So I walked the couple of miles to the nearby Target store at Northgate and picked out a nice little Schwinn mountain bike, a simple machine with 21 gears and caliper brakes, then saddled up and rode it home, using my cell phone to snap this pic of me and my new wheels reflected in the glass of my apartment house's front door.

Didn't stay home for long, though, as there were errands to run. So it was off to Greenwood to get a prescription refilled, go to the store and the bank, and also took time to stop for a cuppa java at my favorite coffee house, the Green Bean, a Greenwood-Phinney landmark operated by a neighborhood church which is involved in a lot of local social work. The Bean is in the process of moving across the street, and will soon take up residence in an abandoned McDonald's restaurant. The corporate fast food joint's departure was Act I of this spontaneous neighborhood improvement project, and now comes the denouement.

Going home was not as easy as getting there. The gentle downhill gradient that enables one to travel from 112th to 85th and Greenwood in a few minutes doesn't seem as gentle going back the other way, but for an old man with emphysema and Parkinson's Disease I did OK. Actually, considering the way I lived most of my life I'm lucky to be able to pump a bike up any kind of hill, even one with a .0000002 percent grade.

I figure I'm not going to have to start the car till Tuesday, when I have to drive the 20 miles to work, down by the airport, then continue on to beautiful Portland, Oregon when that's done to celebrate my daughter's birthday. But I'm already scheming on how to get to Portland without driving next time, and I've heard that taking the AmTrak is convenient, pleasant, relaxing, and affordable.

You know, folks, we can do this. We can walk right out of this oily prison we've locked ourselves into, and it won't hurt a bit.

Friday, June 11, 2010

he knows too much

Apparently the Pentagon has sent out a team of investigators scrambling and in a hurry to locate Julian Assange, the founder and proprietor of So far, they have no idea where he is.

The peripatetic and nervous Mr. Assange, who is profiled in last week's issue of the New Yorker (June 7), has made a career of collecting and publishing government secrets on his now-notorious web site. In early April he was in the U.S., appearing at the National Press Club in D.C. to release a U.S. Army videotape of a helicopter attack on unidentified people on the streets of Baghdad. Shot in 2007, the tape shows copter gunners killing 12, including (as it turned out) two Reuters News Agency reporters. As Assange was presenting the tape at the Press Club, the video, which he calls "Collateral Murder," was released on the WikiLeaks site, YouTube, and a number of other places.

The Pentagon fears that Assange is about to publish a very large cache of State Department classified cables which the blog Daily Beast describes as containing information related to American diplomatic and intelligence efforts in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Assange now lives everywhere and nowhere, moving on after each few days of intense work, from hotel rooms to rented houses and back again in several countries. His computer network is sequestered, encrypted, and secure, and spread out over numerous Scandinavian locales. He's a hyperactive man on a mission, very secretive and and very hard to track. Until he's apprehended and taken in for "questioning," he will continue to claim that a "social movement" to expose secrets could "bring down many administrations that rely on concealing reality -- including the U.S. administration," and he'll continue trying to prove it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

a new paradigm II

As we grapple with the muck spewed out daily by the BP spill, we can expect to see and hear a lot of protesting, but what good will it do? We are very small mice here, and BP is one of the world's most powerful global corporations. They can afford not to listen to us.

Unless, of course, huge numbers of people protest by refusing to buy their product. So really, the most effective way to protest against our Babylonian captivity by the oil giants and their toxic products is to buy a bicycle, then actually ride it. It won't do much good if it just sits in the garage while we drive to the store for our daily bread.

This is what my daughter and others have been stressing to me lately -- speaking out against accomplishes very little, but living in the alternative is ultimately the only thing that will work. If even very large numbers don't buy into alternative ways of living, life improves immensely for those who do.

The other crucial link besides oil that cements our dependency on the corporate state and all its auxiliary institutions is housing. In his book "The Hand-Sculpted House," Lanto Evans writes: The building industry and government regulation concentrate power in the hands of government and selected corporations by enforcing compliance with a limited set of options (p. 18).

The construction industry is a major cause of mining and industrial processing... (p. 19), producing synthetic amalgams that don't exist in nature...aluminum alloy, stainless steel, plastics, varnishes, particle board, drywall, and above all, cement. Those materials...are the source of our deepest misgivings...(and) we should expect that any synthetic material is likely to be toxic (p. 15).

Real earnings are declining, and housing costs continuing to rise, trapping people in lifelong mortgages. Many homeowners take jobs they dislike to pay for houses they do not love. They hand over control of their personal finances to banks, which are some of the most ecologically damaging institutions on the planet (p. 17).

Building with natural materials reduces the push for resource extraction and for industrial processing. It decreases pollution, deforestation, and energy use (p. 19).

Evans recommends that people opt out of the bank-based system of debt, credit, and mortgages, and instead save up enough money to buy a little plot of land somewhere, and learn to build their own shelters. In places where the climate is appropriate, he suggests cob, a form of construction using unbaked earth along with clay, sand, and straw, as the best option. Cob is an English term for mud building, using no forms, no bricks, and no wooden structure (p. 25). Cob houses are a lot more durable than you might imagine, and the results are beautiful as well as practical -- the picture above shows the interior of a snug cob cottage recently built in Missouri.

Want to know more? Read the book, which is a comprehensive how-to manual, among other things.

Just before he was murdered in 1948, Gandhi said "A non-violent revolution is not a program of seizure of power. It is a program of transformation of relationships, ending in a peaceful transfer of power." A genuine revolution need not involve the violence of bombs, barricades, and firearms, and a much more effective way to overthrow institutions, including governments, whose continued existence is incompatible with the existence of civilized society is to stop giving them money. That's all you need to know in order to understand why, as Gil Scott-Heron said in 1971, "The revolution will not be televised."

All quotes set in italics are from Lanto Evans, Michael G. Smith, and Linda Smiley, "The Hand-Sculpted House; A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage," illustrated by DeAnne Bednar; (Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT), 2002.

See also, "Year of Mud: Buiding a Cob House," a set of 180 photographs which shows the day-by-day steps in building the cob cottage pictured above.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

a new paradigm

Bob Herbert's New York Times column this morning is about the unemployment crisis (again), and the refusal of those in power to acknowledge how disastrous it is. Obama and the Seven Dwarfs (his advisors) simply refuse to understand that this is the Second Great Depression.

Herbert is beginning to sound frustrated as he addresses the ongoing disaster and the government's non-response for probably the seventh or eighth time this year alone. "Obama’s take on the May numbers seemed oddly out of touch," he writes this morning, and quotes the president saying “This report is a sign that our economy is getting stronger by the day.”

A few paragraphs further down, Herbert sums up, then asks the 64-dollar question: It’s impossible to overstate the threat that this crisis of unemployment poses to the well-being of the United States. With so many people out of work and so much of the rest of the population deeply in debt, where is the spending going to come from to power a true economic recovery? The deficit hawks are forecasting Armageddon, but how is anyone going to get a handle on the federal deficits if we don’t get millions of people back to work and paying taxes?

As much as I agree with Bob Herbert, and appreciate that an influential journalist with a national audience is striving mightily to point out the obvious to those who have the power to do something about it, I can't adopt his point of view. I guess I have more faith than he does -- faith that our national government as well as many state governments are now totally dysfunctional, and will never lift a hand to help ordinary people in need. They've simply lost the ability to do so. There are a number of reasons for this which I don't feel like going into right now, but it's sufficient to say that of the 15 million people now out of work, many now at or near the expiration of their unemployment benefits and sinking into poverty, there is no help nor hope forthcoming. Many of them are now out of work for good.

That means from now on.

So I would suggest that instead of proposing a return to full employment, to the ideal of everyone holding a job so he or she can have the money to make the payments required to purchase life's necessities -- a house, a car, and medical insurance, that we adopt a new paradigm, one that stresses self-reliance and rejects consumerism absolutely. What I'm talking about is ordinary workers who are now permanently unemployed becoming ordinary peasants, living in earthen houses they make themselves (and to hell with permits, building codes, and bank loans), riding bicycles instead of driving infernal-combustion-powered vehicles (communities could have two or three trucks that would accommodate everyone's needs), and re-learning how to produce their own food supplemented by a cash crop (usually marijuana).

People might laugh at such notions and say "That's impossible." But as the cliché reminds us, necessity is the mother of invention (it's a cliché because it's true), and today's impossibility is tomorrow's reality, out of necessity. After all, people have to live somewhere and eat something. What I've described is nothing less than the lifeway of our ancestors, and of most of the people living on earth even today. I'll go into more detail tomorrow.

Click on the photo for a larger view.

Monday, June 07, 2010


From Juan Cole this morning:

A group of German Jews organized as Jewish Voice for Peace in the Middle East, is sending a relief ship to Gaza.

We're a group of German and international Jews living in Germany who are sending a ship with goods and musical instruments to Gaza. We're part of a larger European project that is sending supplies in the spring of 2010.

We're acquiring a ship, loading it up in Germany, then picking up passengers (Jewish and non-Jewish, German and non-German) at a Mediterranean port.

Among the goods being shipped are urgently needed things like medicines, baby food, bedding, children's clothes, school materials; but also painting equipment and musical instruments. We believe cement isn't the only thing needed for rebuilding - we call on our politicians to provide these urgently needed building materials! - but also things to help heal the soul. We hope our musical instruments will contribute a little towards this.

There are also plans afoot to arrest war and charge it with disturbing the peace.

are we there yet?

Jim Kunstler has a workman-like essay up this morning on the BP disaster in the Gulf and its wider implications for the American Way of Life -- you know, the WOL that Dick Cheney said was "not negotiable" a few years back.

In the comments section, S. White of Minneapolis writes: "There was one public official who warned us about our dependence on oil and set a national goal to halt the expansion of our oil imports. He was about as highly placed in the government as it is possible to be, and he couln't (sic) get the job done. No one listened.

"The name of course is President Jimmy Carter."

spreading freedom and democracy


A cruise missile loaded with cluster ammunition killed 52 people in Yemen last December. Investigators with Amnesty International have revealed that over half of them were women and children.

Up until now the Yemeni government has claimed sole responsibility for the attack, but new photographs show parts from a "BGM-109D Tomahawk cruise missile designed to be launched from a warship or submarine." The Pentagon's fingerprints are all over this one.

It's unclear whether the missile struck "an al-Qaida training camp" or a village.

When Cluster munitions explode they spray steel fragments and burning zirconium over an area 150 meters in diameter. 98 Countries have banned the production and use of these weapons, but the U.S. isn't one of them, and Obama has refused to consider signing on to such an agreement. For the time being the Empire of the Pentagon plans to continue spreading freedom, democracy, and steel fragments throughout the Middle East.

good-bye to all that

Via Atrios:

He's planning to sound very gloomy and downcast when he makes this speech. The U.K.'s new P.M. David Cameron will tell Britons today that their "whole way of life" is about to change because of deep government spending cuts.

I don't know if it applies in England as much as it does here, but isn't that a desirable outcome? I mean, it's our "whole way of life" that's the problem, isn't it?

It's not too late to get rid of the car and replace it with a bicycle, get rid of the television and replace it with exercise (such as riding the bicycle), throw out all the processed frozen pizzas in the freezer and stock the fridge with fresh veggies, etc., etc., etc.

Like Atrios, if I was going to run for public office I'd do so on a promise to completely destroy our "current way of existence."

Sunday, June 06, 2010

good old days are here again

And you knew who you were then
Girls were girls and men were men
Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again...

--"Those Were the Days"
Theme song of TV sitcom "All in the Family," sung by Archie and Edith Bunker

We're hearing ominous rumblings from the plutocrats who rule us as they congregate for their annual huddle at the G-20 meeting, this time in South Korea. The world's highest-placed movers and shakers have decided that worldwide government debt is the villain in the current economic malaise, and that reducing it is the cure from our troubles.

"The deficit hawks have taken over the G20" groans Paul Krugman, who writes on his blog today (via Atrios):

(D)on’t we need to worry about government debt? Yes — but slashing spending while the economy is still deeply depressed is both an extremely costly and quite ineffective way to reduce future debt. Costly, because it depresses the economy further; ineffective, because by depressing the economy, fiscal contraction now reduces tax receipts.

Argh, don't the Lords of the Universe putting their heads together in Busan know this? Haven't they studied the history of the First Great Depression of 1929-1940? Don't they know how disastrous Hoover's budget-balancing policies were? Of course they do.

So when Atrios says the reason this is happening, at a time of crisis-level unemployment in the States and rising unemployment in Europe, is because "The planet is ruled by idiots," I disagree. I believe it's the fruit of a deliberate ruling-class strategy to further impoverish and disenfranchise working-class people everywhere. They know that a population composed of desperate péones, preoccupied with satisfying the bare requirements of a hand-to-mouth existence, has little time and less inclination to mount a serious threat against the status quo.

They aren't at all worried about the chances of any serious revolutionary agitation breaking out anywhere at the moment, and are taking whatever steps are required to make it even less likely.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

still alive

Words and music by Jonathan Coulton; performed by Ellen McLain

Portal - Credits Song 'Still Alive'

I've written about Jonathan Coulton's music before, and was a big fan of his ode to suburban confusion and angst, "Shop Vac." His best work explores dissonant emotional states, in this case simultaneous feelings of despair and resignation, expressed in a sad-humorous, understated, and intelligent way.

We hear "Still Alive" as the end credits for the video game "Portal" roll past, sung by a computer-enhanced Ellen McLain who also plays GLaDOS, the game-player's artificial intelligence opponent and arch-enemy. Coulton describes her as a "hilarious passive aggressive personality, which is obviously a perfect subject for me."

Because it's theme music for a video game, the lyrics repeatedly refer to specific details of Portal's plot and content, and listeners who want to delve further into the lyrical details should consult Wikipedia's thorough profile of the song.

Valve Software, the innovative Bellevue, Washington company who developed and markets "Portal" is also worth knowing about. Even in the depths of a Second Great Depression, Valve boasts that "we're always hiring for all positions. Seriously," and stresses how well it treats its well-compensated employees. Even in the worst times nowadays, there are always opportunities and big rewards for the most creative among us, especially when that creativity combines with the rarified skills of the most cutting-edge technocratic elite.

(H/t Jonathan Schwarz @

Friday, June 04, 2010

yeah, good luck with that

Rush Limbaugh will marry his 33-year-old girlfriend this weekend, in Palm Beach, Florida. It will be his fourth time to the altar.

Rush hasn't been receiving members of the press, but in an e-mail to his local paper, the Palm Beach Post, he said "We try to live our lives as normal people."

imprisoned in the echo chamber

Usually I have better things to do than sitting around hating on Glenn Beck, or even reading any of his hypertensive fulminations for that matter. But every once in a while he says something that makes me wonder, "What's up with this guy?"

As for instance happened yesterday when on Fox News, while he was showing that little snippet of videotape of the Israeli attack on the relief flotilla that the Israeli government released (they of course aren't willing to show us what happened in the previous or subsequent minutes), Beck suddenly revealed that Fox was the ONLY place where viewers could see that tape. "No one seems willing to show that," Beck rumbled ominously. "Why?"

Now, as Jon Stewart documented last night, the same piece of tape had been shown repeatedly during the previous 24 hours, on MSNBC, regular NBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, PBS, etc. It's also been all over the internet. So why would Beck think he could get away with telling such an outrageous whopper?

It's because he's confident that Fox News viewers don't ever watch anything else, isn't it?

Yep. And he's probably right.

interspecies bonding

Via Balloon Juice, the heart-warming tale of a dog, and the ape who loved him.

that's what I like about the south, II

Jake Knotts, a South Carolina state senator from Lexington County, gets his mug into national news outlets once in a while for antics that, while they may not be news in Dixie, seem curious to folks living outside the barbaric regions of cornbread and televised evangelism.

For example, back in 2003 Knotts was discovered to have paid the $100 annual dues for his membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans out of his campaign funds. This was a minor transgression, to be sure, and in the land of Boss Hogg probably didn't even cause a ripple.

This morning Josh Marshall reports that "On a talk show tonight in South Carolina, State Senator Jake Knotts told listeners 'we already have one raghead in the White House, we don't need a raghead in the governor's mansion.'"

The second "raghead" he was referring to is Nikki Haley, the daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab State in India. Haley's candidacy has run into trouble because of multiple allegations of adultery, which as we have seen from the recent collapse of Governor Mark Sanford's career can get a politician in trouble even in South Carolina.

And while adultery is troublesome for aspiring pols, being fat and stupid is apparently not a problem. Voters in that part of the country are most likely reassured that such a person is "one of us."

Update: Knotts later apologized for his racist and ethnically chauvinistic remark, and said it was "a joke." I guess that makes it O.K., then.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

everybody likes a little nukie

A few days ago I alluded to the fact that numerous people, some of them influential and some reputedly intelligent, think that the best way to handle BP's Gulf oil spill is to nuke it. I've heard (but have not seen evidence) there are even some scientists who hold this opinion.

As far as I know, everyone thinking this way is a guy -- no women. Real men like to blow shit up. It's natural. From today's New York Times:

“Probably the only thing we can do is create a weapon system and send it down 18,000 feet and detonate it, hopefully encasing the oil,” Matt Simmons, a Houston energy expert and investment banker, told Bloomberg News on Friday, attributing the nuclear idea to “all the best scientists.”

Or as the CNN reporter John Roberts suggested last week, “Drill a hole, drop a nuke in and seal up the well.”

Fortunately, as the same story reports, the likelihood of that happening is zero. This means that sometimes the people in charge of some things, at least some of the time, aren't totally nuts.

Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said that neither Energy Secretary Steven Chu nor anyone else was thinking about a nuclear blast under the gulf. The nuclear option was not — and never had been — on the table, federal officials said.

“It’s crazy,” one senior official said.

I've changed my mind about the federal Department of Energy, which ordinarily I think of as existing only to perpetuate its own existence. On second thought, it might actually be good for something once in a while.

Photo: the nuke Fat Man, 1945.

smart and dense

Are people in big cities smarter than people in towns like Bakersfield or Ames, Iowa? If we can't demonstrate conclusively that they're smarter, are they at least better educated? That's what this graph appears to be telling us. (Click on the graph to see a larger, legible view of it.)

What jumps out are the numbers for San Francisco and New York, whose residents are miles ahead of everybody else in education, sophistication, and wine-and-cheese parties.

Or are they?

The problem with that graph -- and its authors don't tell you this -- is that San Francisco and New York City have the greatest population density of any American cities. They're number two and number one respectively, both with billions and billions of people crowded into every square mile. And among those billions there are probably just as many dull and semi-literate people as geniuses and Ph.D.'s.

However, it is true that besides being more likely to work as heart surgeons, attorneys, or board-certified psychotherapists, New Yorkers and San Franciscans also have lighter carbon footprints than any other Americans. Contrary to what we usually think, it's not rural and small-town folks who are treading most lightly on the earth, but the inhabitants of what Atrios calls "the urban hellholes."

And those are some impressive college degree numbers NY and SF have put up.

Graph schnorred from Barry Ritholtz's economics blog, "The Big Picture."

why are we in vietnam? (part MCCXXVII)

Writing in the early morning at Atrios's blog, Jay Ackroyd mentions that he'll be speaking with Juan Cole on blog talk radio later today. Cole is a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Michigan, fluently reads, writes, and speaks Arabic and Persian, and is probably the best-educated and best-informed American commentator on MidEast affairs. His Informed Comment blog is indispensable for anyone interested in knowing what's really going on in that part of the world, or for those offended by U.S. government propaganda and the meaningless platitudes offered up on CNN.

Ackroyd also mentions that he and Cole will discuss the U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, and that like Atrios he doesn't know what they are. But then, nobody knows that except God, and maybe not even Him, Her, or It.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

good-bye days of yore

I still remember well the first time I saw that car. I was walking home from a typical first-grade day at Garfield Elementary in Youngstown Ohio. From across the street, a guy in an unfamiliar metallic-tan car wearing sunglasses (the guy, not the car) says to me, "Hey. Want a ride?"

I looked at him for a moment then asked, "Are you my dad?"

He had unannounced taken the day off from work and gone out and bought the sexy new vehicle, a '49 Mercury. I guess he wanted to surprise mom, although she always hated surprises.

The New Merc was bigger and more powerful than the little black '39 Ford sedan it replaced and looked exactly like the one in the picture. So from then on we rode in style, and those were indeed the days.

Today Ford announced that it's retiring the brand. The Mercury is now relegated to the boneyard of extinct automobiles whose names are fading like half-forgotten magical incantations from America's illustrious past -- Plymouth, with its echo of the famous rock; Pontiac, the Indian leader who warred bravely and tragically against the white invaders...

Considering what we now know about oil exploitation, automobile emissions, and the toxic runoff from brake dust (which is turning Puget Sound into a dead zone), all the romance of the golden age of automobiles is now vanished. So it's appropriate that instead of the Mercury, the Plymouth, the Pontiac, the Kaiser, Packard and Nash Rambler, we're now left with nothing but the new Nissan Jellybean, the Honda Gnome-Mobile, and the Chevy Grunt pick-em-up truck.

days of rage redux

After a 40-year absence, the days of rage have returned.

As crude oil spews into the Gulf of Mexico for the 43rd day in a row, washing up on Gulf Coast beaches and killing all marine life it the millions of American unemployed and foreclosed-upon count the days and weeks until their unemployment benefits expire and the bank moves to evict the war in Afghanistan continues to bleed that country and this one white, life by life and dollar by homicidal Israeli commando-thugs board relief ships bound for Gaza in order to break the illegal and immoral blockade of the largest open-air concentration camp since the cotton and sugar plantations of Alabama and the Caribbean islands were in full bloom in the 19th century, and as a timid, vacillating, weak, wimpy, indecisive, delicate, and anemic American president sits in the White House composing beautifully articulated speeches, signifying nothing, an implacable rage rises into the throats of the working classes and dispossessed all over the world.

It's about to blow.

It's time to take to the streets, to the sea lanes and forbidden shores, to the public places, and shut down the monstrous system of war, pillage, and piracy that has brought us here. All that's needed is the leader or leaders to show us the way. I expect him or her or them to appear, momentarily.

that's what I like about the south

The young man with murderer's eyes pictured on the right is William Simkins, whom the blog Texas Underground says is "believed to have fired the first shot of the Civil War," although the blog's proprietor doesn't say by whom this is believed. However, we do know for sure that whoever fired the first shot of the war was fighting for the Confederacy, since it was the south who attacked the north at Fort Sumter, South Carolina in 1861.

After the war Simkins was one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan, and later a professor at the University of Texas, where he taught law and apparently racism from 1899 until the time of his death in 1929. His Klan associations were discreetly overlooked by the University 25 years later when a dormitory was named for him. But now a former UT law professor is challenging the university to rename the dorm. A story that ran at Huffington Post last month reported that Thomas Russell, now a professor at the University of Denver, began researching Simkins while at Texas. His findings show that Simkins, who taught law at UT from 1899 to 1929, "advocated his Klan past to Texas students" and was "explicitly concerned with the sexual defense of white women."

But the University of Texas is having none of it, and speaking through an office called the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, has announced that Simkins' Klan activities are not news to them, and that they've decided to abstain from dwelling on the past and let bygones be bygones.

"Simkins' affiliation with the Klan is deplorable and offensive, that is true," said the division's Associate Director of Communications Leslie Blair. "And although he was not memorialized with his name on a building until 1954, The University of Texas has since moved on."

I can certainly understand why UT doesn't want to "dwell on the past," as institutional spokespersons often say when trying to evade unpleasant realities. Still, I would be very hesitant to name anything after somebody who stares out from an ancient photograph with the eyes of a serial killer. Why can't they just name the building for what Simkins fought for rather than him, and call it "Genocide Hall."

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

bob says...

Bob asks, "When are we going to stop behaving so stupidly?"

For a nation that can’t stop bragging about how great and powerful it is, we’ve become shockingly helpless in the face of the many challenges confronting us. Our can-do spirit was put on hold many moons ago, and here we are now unable to defeat the Taliban, or rein in the likes of BP and the biggest banks, or stop the oil gushing furiously from the bowels of earth like a warning from Hades about the hubris and ignorance that is threatening to destroy us.

Jawohl. I've been asking for some time now when exactly it was that we became the can't-do capital of the universe. When I was a kid I thought this country could do anything -- fly higher than the strongest eagle, send gizmos up into space, and illuminate the universe with her endless electricity and energy. That's what the grown-ups told me. In those days everybody referred to that "Can-Do American Spirit."

So yeah, why can't we plug a leak and stop prosecuting an endless, pointless, and frequently criminal war? Is that so hard?

beep prepared (updated)

British Petroleum Plc has suspended all efforts to stop the flow of oil from the gusher that has been spewing since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20. Bloomberg News Service reports that the company "has decided not to attach a second blowout preventer on its leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico and efforts to end the flow are over until the relief wells are finished, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Thad Allen, who spoke at a press conference today."

Those relief wells are expected to be up and running at about the end of August.

Over the weeks that have transpired since the "accident," I've heard a few conspiracy theory-type rumors that the company never intended to stop the flow, and that their plan from the beginning has been to deal with it by drilling a replacement well, so that they wouldn't lose the anticipated revenue from Deepwater Horizon. Being as how the replacement well is also anticipated as a remedy which will potentially end the ongoing disaster, it wouldn't have to go through the long permitting process that would ordinarily attend the launch of such a project.

So is this suspicions confirmed?

In other news, Attorney-General Eric Holder announced today that the Justice Department is launching a criminal investigation into the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Update: Thanks to John Cole at for the tip that BP's stock has been falling like a stone since the Justice Department announcement earlier today. From the AP story on Yahoo!'s financial page:

On the business side of things, the company's share price, which has fallen steadily since the start of the disaster, took a turn for the worse Tuesday, losing 15 percent to $6.13 in early afternoon trading on the London Stock Exchange.

That was the lowest level in more than a year. The shares have now lost more than a third of their value, wiping some $63 billion off BP's value, since the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig six weeks ago.

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy than Tony Hayward.