Tuesday, March 30, 2010

the emperor's new clothes

The Prez looked very imperial showing up in Afghanistan in his bomber jacket yesterday.

I've been thinking about what he might have said to Karzai. Maybe he told him, "You know, with that outfit, brown Gucci shoes don't make it, Homes." Possibly he leaned in close and whispered a request that Karzai and his brother try to restrain themselves just a little bit in their siphoning off of funds and pursuit of the opium trade.

He should have worn the bomber jacket to the meeting with Karzai, instead of that sorry looking black suit. And he should also have worn dark sunglasses.

Monday, March 29, 2010

well-regulated militia

This is strange fruit. It's neither entertaining nor amusing any more (if it ever was), and makes me wonder if we've entered a new period similar to what historians call "The Dark Ages."

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI have arrested members of a Michigan militia group that has stirred up a witches brew of planned politico-religious violence, in preparation for the Second Coming.

From the AP story on this group: The group in question calls itself the "Hutaree"; its website says the term translates as "Christian warrior." And in keeping with that name, the material it has posted online reflects an outlook of violent religious confrontation. The Hutaree believe that acts of violence can bring about the final judgment prophesied in the Christian Bible — and therefore have been arming themselves to go to war with the Antichrist, "evil Jews," and Muslims. They have documented their training exercises in a series of You Tube videos. And they spell out the theological rationale for their actions on the about us page on their website.

"Evil Jews" and Muslims? What about Unitarians, Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians?

Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment. The only thing on earth to save the testimony and those who follow it, are the members of the testimony, til the return of Christ in the clouds. We, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren't. We will still spread the word, and fight to keep it, up to the time of the great coming ... The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it. We will reach out to those who are yet blind in the last days of the kingdoms of men and bring them to life in Christ.

This is so far from rational thought, such a welter of superstition and "magical" thinking, that it barely even qualifies as speech. It's more like the grunting of primitive humanoids, and not far removed from the mentality exhibited in its heyday by the Manson Family.

According to the indictment unsealed this morning in court, the nine members of the group — eight men and one woman — planned to "levy war" against the U.S. government. To incite such a war, the group planned to murder law enforcement officials and then follow up their initial attacks with a separate attack on the fallen officers' funeral(s), where a large number of law enforcement personnel would no doubt be gathered.

The one hopeful thing about this, apparently, is that even other right-wing militias don't like this group, so that when they realized they were under attack over the weekend and asked for help from militia people in Michigan and Ohio, they didn't get any.

But this kind of thing is clearly madness, and it's past time we gave some serious thought to who we are and where we're going. I've never seen anything like what's going on in this country today, and I'm through joking and wisecracking about it.

But still, I can't help but wonder why it is that most of these people have very round heads.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

a family tradition

"Latcho Drom," which means "Safe journey" in the Rom language, is a musical odyssey which tells the story of the Gypsy diaspora, by following the trail of these singular and mysterious people from the land of their origin, in the deserts of Rajasthan in northwestern India, through Egypt and across the Mediterranean to Turkey and Rumania, then westward across Europe to Spain's Atlantic shore. Filmed in its numerous locations in the early nineties by Tony Gatlif, it was for a short time available on DVD, but now is once again only available on videotape. At the moment, Amazon has access to several sellers vending used copies of the tape for reasonable prices (under $40).

Although the entire film is an education, I found the most affecting portions of it to be near the beginning, which shows families of nomadic herders, accompanied by their goats, camels, and donkeys, carrying their meager possessions in carts and barrows and whatever wealth they have on their bodies, moving through an inhospitable landscape and finding time to celebrate their lives. This is a purely tribal and almost completely illiterate society, whose songs, stories, instrumentation, and dances are transmitted orally from one generated to the next, and necessarily learned by rote.

Memorization with the objective of permanent retention is a powerful learning tool, and underestimated in literate societies where written records have rendered it superfluous. It enables the learner to absorb and then transmit knowledge with careful attention to the tiniest details, as these three young women have obviously done in learning the words, the timing, and the accompanying choreographed movements of the traditional tribal song they perform here near the beginning of Gatlif's movie.

In a remarkable study entitled "Homer in India" which ran in the November 20, 2006 issue of the New Yorker, South Asia scholar William Dalrymple examines the public performances of epic poems in Rajasthan. "(I)t seemed extraordinary," he wrote, "to find in modern Rajasthan performers who were still the guardians of an entire self-contained oral culture...I longed to know how the bhopas (performers), who were always simple villagers -- ploughmen, cowherds, and so on -- could remember such colossal quantities of verse."

His conclusion was that their capacity for memorization is enhanced, not impeded by illiteracy. Dalrymple was present for one complete performance of the epic of the god Pabuji, which required 56 hours for the bhopa to recite, in seven consecutive eight-hour nightly performances. The rural people and nomads occupying the deserts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, where the ancient epics are most commonly performed today, are the most conservative element in the most conservative states of modern India, and Dalrymple believes that "illiteracy seems an essential condition for preserving the performance of an oral epic. It was the ability of the bard to read, rather than changes in the tastes of his audience, that sounded the death knell for the oral tradition. Just as the blind can develop a heightened sense of hearing, smell, and touch to compensate for their loss of vision, so it seems that the illiterate have a capacity to remember in a way that the literate simply do not."

Understandably, learning by rote has a bad reputation among educators nowadays. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the power and beauty of what was for thousands of years the one indispensable tool for learning and the transmission of civilization and civilized values, and is still, among obscure people in a few remote and barely accessible places, a family tradition.

Friday, March 26, 2010

things are getting better...

...because the enormous vessel you see slipping into the brine in the picture is the good ship "Perpetual War Fever."

Partly this is Obama's doing, although it's not due to any conscious strategy on his part. It seems the debate over his timid and industry-oriented health care reform bill has begun to cause millions of people, possibly a majority, to think in ways I've never witnessed before in this country, about our resources and how they're being used and misused. Taxpayers -- people in other words -- are just beginning to figure out how badly they've been scammed by their supposedly representative government, and by the war machine in whose service that government is ripping us off, and they've had enough.

The best thing about the health care reform bill is that the right-wingers, the party of War on Terrorism and War on Drugs and War on Common Sense, put all their marbles on winning the health care reform debate, and now they've lost their marbles. Their behavior, before, during, and after the debate has landed them securely at the bottom of history's garbage can, where they've always belonged.

During my entire lifetime, these people have poisoned the political atmosphere in this country, and polluted the public discourse with lies, evasions, and the immorality of self-deception. But they won't be back to bother us any more.

In his novel 1984, Orwell wrote that modern warfare "helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs." Preserving "that special mental atmosphere" in the United States for the past 65 years has required keeping voters (or, once again, people) focused on an enemy and fear of that enemy. The objective is to keep them so ignorant and frightened that they are unable to focus on the true state of affairs, and will fail to notice that their taxes are underwriting a military establishment which is robbing them blind.

Billions for so-called "defense," but nothing for necessary social services is what our government has been selling us for a lifetime, whether it's been in the hands of Republicans or Democrats. But now the scam stands exposed, and the game is over.

They pay taxes in Europe, too, but most Europeans don't complain. They actually get something for those taxes, because their governments are not dominated by a parasitical war machine which re-invents reasons for waging a "war on terror" every day of its life.

Some of my earliest memories are of the radio and TV coverage of the Korean War. Then came the Cold War and the insanity of the armaments race with the Soviets. While that was still going on there was Vietnam, and at the tail end of the Cold War, the Reagan-sponsored and -funded mass murders in Nicaragua and El Salvador. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism, the keepers of the eternal flame of perpetual warfare and war hysteria had to work hard to come up with an enemy to replace the "Evil Empire," and were obliged by Osama bin Laden. But there were no profits to be realized in chasing bin Laden, so after a quick bait-and-switch, the neocon Bush administration decided to go after Saddam and the Iraqi oil reserves.

But now it's time to say "Good-bye to all that." So here's to you, warheads: Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

the long count

There's been a lot of noise lately about the Mayan prophecy predicting the end of the world in 2012. Much of it was stirred up by a Hollywood disaster movie "2012," and as usual serious discussion of this topic has been drowned out by the howls of the ignorant and uninformed, who have (again, as usual) divided into two diametrically opposed camps: on one side people yelling "We're all gonna die!" and on the other, calmer and more skeptical ignoramuses answering "It's just a lot of superstition."

Oracles and prophecies are often, but not always, manifestations of superstition. In this case, what's actually predicted is not the death of the planet, but simply the end of a 5,125-year cycle of causes and effects which began in 3113 BCE -- roughly the time what we call civilization began -- and the beginning of a transition to something else, but we don't know what. In addition, the winter solstice of 2012 also marks the end of a "galactic day" of 26,625 years, which consists of five of the smaller 5,125-year cycles. So needless to say, 11:11 a.m. of 12/21/2012 will indeed be a momentous tick of the clock.

What we're looking at here, however, is not an event, but a process which is already underway, with the end of 2012 marking some sort of turning point in the process. Facets of it include the eclipse of communism in the late 80's and early 90's, the collapse of capitalism signaled by the global economic meltdown which began in 2008 (touched off by an almost comically fraudulent series of interlocking Ponzi schemes based on bogus real estate loans), and the termination of the age of petroleum, and with it the modern industrial age, which has been simultaneously a tremendous blessing and a foul curse for humankind.

There is ample evidence that this process is nearing some kind of culmination. Writing a little over a year ago on an economics blog called "Angry Bear," the anonymous author Rdan, after observing that the current economy is collapsed rather than experiencing the kind of downturn associated with what we've come to think of as the normal business cycle, predicts that the "solution" of propping up failed institutions with bailouts of fiat money can only end one way:

Inflation is on vacation at the moment – but it is the end game. Fiat money requires at least some net positive inflation and a determined Central Bank can Quant-Ease (plus Gov fiscal) some of our problems away – with many side effects to be sure – but someone has to go over the top rope – and it is going to be savers and not debtors.

At some point we will have what may be called A Recovery – but it will really turn out to be A Reflation and collapse again – just like in the late 1930s. Inflating our way out of trouble may also crash into Peak Oil – creating Check Mate and Lights Out.

The emphasis is mine, not Rdan's, and I would only edit that ominous prediction by changing the word "may" to "will," which brings us to the heart of the crisis. In an article which ran yesterday in a U.K. newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, we learn that "The world's oil reserves have been exaggerated by up to a third, according to Sir David King, the Government's former chief scientist, who has warned of shortages and price spikes within years."

The scientist and researchers from Oxford University argue that official figures are inflated because member countries of the oil cartel, OPEC, over-reported reserves in the 1980s when competing for global market share.

This does not mean we're going to wake up some morning in the near future to discover that the oil is all gone and there won't be any more gasoline. It does mean, however, that supply will be insufficient to cover demand sooner than we thought, and that spot shortages and prohibitive prices, accompanied by enormous social disruptions and disturbances exacerbated by rapid inflation, are on the near horizon. Sir David says this will be happening by 2013-2014, but considering the rapid depletion of the huge fields on which the world is most dependent -- Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, Burgan in Kuwait, and (especially ominous for the U.S.) the Cantarell field in Mexico -- I would move that date slightly, back to the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013. Starting then, gas and oil supplies will be undependable, rationing is certain, and our way of life will change because it has to.

I constantly watch the price of oil. Right now the "new normal" is $80 a barrel, which translates into three-buck gas. Next year it will go up to 90 or 100. By 2012, panic will begin to set in. It's amazing and more than a little frightening that North American and European governments are not taking this imminent catastrophe seriously enough to pay attention to it.

For a taste of what's coming in the short term, read Jim Kunstler's Predictions for 2010. In the longer run, say 2012-2025, I foresee a new world emerging out of a very bleak, very bloody birth trauma during which perhaps 13 out of every 14 of the world's seven billion people fall victim to the Four Horsemen: Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death, and the human race returns to a way of life governed by an agricultural regime based on muscle power -- the muscles of humans and draft animals -- and the one-half billion world population that way of life can support.

But hey, look on the bright side; it won't be the end of the world.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

two ravens

This is an old and very sad Scottish ballad I recently rediscovered. It was probably already old by the time it first appeared in print, in 1611, and seems to be a more cynical version of the somewhat earlier "Three Corbies," an idealistic and romantic poem about a departed warrior and those who mourn him.

"Twa Corbies" turns the original on its head, and emphasizes the transitory nature of life, the fragility of loyalty, and the tragic and destructive aspects of a culture of violence and war such as prevailed in the middle ages and early Renaissance. Note that the dead man is a knight, the proudest creation of a society of professional warriors whom one modern historian called "a terrible worm in an iron cocoon."

As I was walking all alane⁄(1),
I heard twa(2) corbies making a mane(3);
The tane(4) unto the t'other say,
‘Where sall(5) we gang(6) and dine to-day?’

‘In behint yon auld fail(7) dyke,
I wot(8) there lies a new slain knight;
And naebody kens(9) that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.

‘His hound is to the hunting gane(10),
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame(11),
His lady's ta'en another mate,
So we may mak(12) our dinner sweet.

‘Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane(13),
And I'll pike(14) out his bonny blue een(15);
Wi ae lock o his gowden(16) hair
We'll, theek(17) our nest when it grows bare.

‘Mony(18) a one for him makes mane,
But nane(19) sall ken where he is gane;
Oer((20) his white banes[21], when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw(22) for evermair.’

1. alone
2. two
3. moan
4. one
5. shall
6. be going
7. turf
8. believe
9. knows
10. gone
11. home
12. make
13. breast bone
14. pick
15. eye
16. golden
17. feather
18. many
19. none
20. over
21. bones
22. blow

Colored loinoleum-block print, "Twa Cprbies," by Julie Francine Abowitt.

Monday, March 22, 2010

an end, finally, and a beginning

It's not nearly as bold a move as passing Medicare was in 1965, and initially things are not going to change that much because of it.

And it's certainly not the "government takeover of health care" the delusional one-third claims it to be.

However, as Robert Reich maintains, it's the biggest thing Congress has managed to do in decades, and considering that, it has enormous political implications for the future.

Now we can begin. In terms of policy, this is just the beginning, nothing more.

In order to remedy this bill's policy shortcomings, we need to move on immediately to Alan Grayson's "Medicare for all" bill (HR 4789).

But this vote was a lot more about power than policy.

It signals the final defeat of John Birchism, which has enjoyed a last-gasp mini-renaissance due to the health care reform debate, but is now no longer a viable political movement.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

window into bedlam

Right. So I was at the car dealership the other day waiting for my car to get fixed, and they had a TV in the waiting area tuned in to CNBC, the NBC money cable channel. I hadn't seen any TV for about a year.

There's that crawl thing at the bottom of the screen, and it kept running the words "Hot gas in crack." The phrase seemed simultaneously obscene and meaningless, but somehow connected to something called "the gasoline crack spread trade," which I also saw going by on the crawly.

I had no idea what any of this means, Seeing such stuff only communicates to me that this is not the same world I was born into.

Since then I've gotten a pretty good layman's explanation of what the gasoline crack spread trade is: "(A) buy & sell trade [done simultaneously] between the Gasoline futures contract and the Crude oil futures contract. One would buy the crude futures & sell the gas futures [or vice versa.] Hence a "crack spread" whereas a plain old spread would be done within the same futures contract by buying a near month and selling a farther out month." Thanks, Marysara.

I can understand that explanation, sort of, to the extent that such things can be understood at all in these chaotic and frightening times. I even basically now understand what collateralized debt obligations are and how they work, although I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around credit default swaps.

Mostly, after this brief glimpse through that window which affords a view of what passes for "reality" in some circles (i.e., a couple of hours of watching television), I've decided that our society is truly insane, unhinged, and berserk, and that I'm still a hippie after all these years, and the only way to deal with this society is to drop out of it completely.

For a couple hours, I watched people in suits yelling at each other, sometimes drowning each other out in their hysterical rage, while incomprehensible and cryptic messages from a gone world crawled across the bottom of the screen, accompanied by numbers and abbreviations which I'm sure mean something to somebody, but which appeared to me to be as inscrutable as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

No wonder economists and bankers tend to have high blood pressure.

My neighbourhood has been overrun by baboons.

I'm going to move to Oregon, build a mud house, and learn how to grow cabbages, potatoes, tomatoes, and green, five-pointed medicinal herbs. That's my response to it all.

Friday, March 19, 2010

untitled from april, 2007

A culture of war is a culture of death.

This country spends more money on war than anyone else in the world, by a lot. Half our Fed taxes go to pay for either the war machine or its endless wars.

The United States has been conquered and defeated by war. We exist for only two reasons: to war and to consume.

The war machine is a heartless robot with ten thousand muzzles, that has turned on us and enslaved us. It wakes us up in the morning and says, "Feed me, or I'll kill you. Our economy would collapse overnight if we were not either at war or actively preparing for it.

It's terrible to think about what's happened to us.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Dennis Kucinich's conversion notwithstanding, I can make no better comment on so-called health care reform than to refer people to Norman Solomon's comments on this sad parody running at Common Dreams.

Three months ago Howard Dean said, "If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current healthcare bill. Any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over healthcare and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real healthcare reform."

I held with that position then and I still do, because, as Solomon remarks, "I continue to believe that guaranteed healthcare -- a.k.a. single-payer or enhanced Medicare for all -- is the only way to solve this country's enormous healthcare crisis. But early last year, before the public option shrank and shrank some more and then disappeared under the bus of the Obama administration, it appeared to possibly be a significant step forward...But the White House, even while claiming to want a public option, was cutting deals with the pharmaceutical and hospital industries while ditching the public option..."

For any who might doubt the truth of Norman Solomon's assertions, he refers readers to the documentation provided by the Huffington Post's Miles Mogulescu.

"It's remarkable and sadly revealing," Solomon concludes, "that boosters of the bill have scarcely mentioned -- much less publicly come to terms with -- the dire implications of a nearly enacted law that requires people to have health insurance and offers no option other than further enriching the private insurance industry."

If this is and the expanding Afghan War are the kind of change Obama has in mind he can keep it. His first year along with the performance of his made-to-order Democratic Congress have shown conclusively that Democrats are the tools of the corporate oligarchy just as much as Republicans are. They're cosmetically different, that's all.

Seven years ago Doris Haddock, the 100-year-old activist who died a few days ago said, of this oligarchy,"The CEO's of their corporations make tens of millions of dollars a year, not on the long range expectations of profits, but on this year's, this quarter's profits, and how those profits affect stock prices. They can't think more than a year out. The real problem is that they also own all the broadcast networks now, and they finance the careers of most of the politicians."

This is why politics has become so intolerably boring lately. Our rulers have set on themselves on a self-destructive course, but the slow collapse is occurring in what we today call "real time," and they're still firmly in charge. Nothing will change in the short run.

The only escape lies in the future, and on learning how to be in the future now. To paraphrase the Vietnamese monk Thich Naht Hanh, it's not enough to just want the future, you have to be the future.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

in babylon's shadow

It began with Tuscarora people moving north and west after their defeat at the hands of the British in North Carolina between 1711 and 1714. They settled in among the Lenape, in the densely-wooded New Jersey hills west of the Hudson, up against the New York border.

Over time they intermarried with other races, mainly servile escapees, both black and white, from the old Dutch plantations along the river, who gave the tribe the names of their main families: Mann, De Freese, De Groot, and Von Donk. In time, they also welcomed a sprinkling of Hessian deserters from the British Expeditionary Forces at the time of the Revolution.

Outsiders sometimes call them "Jackson Whites," an insulting and derisive term, originally 'Jacks and Whites," implying that these people are mostly descended from runaway slaves and white traitors or turncoats. They call themselves the Ramapough Mountain Indians, and are recognized as a tribe by the state of New Jersey, but not yet by the government of the U.S. Certainly the historical stem of this tribe of associated clans is Native American, but over the years their culture has evolved and changed along with their ethnicity. The old Indian languages are forgotten now, although some of the people are making an effort to revive them. They mostly speak English exclusively, with a little whiff of the nearly extinct dialect known as "Jersey Dutch" occasionally thrown in. They live isolated and apart in their remote mountain fastness, and in that style of life generally known as "hillbilly."

An example of the kind of fear and distrust the Ramapo Mountain people excite in some of their neighbors is typified by H.P. Lovecraft's descriptions of "the degenerated local inhabitants" in his stories dealing with the town of Arkham, Mass. and its environs, such as "The Dunwich Horror." There is no doubt that the old horror master and born-again racist Lovecraft was using the so-called "jackson Whites" as the model for his inbred and decadent villagers of western Massachusetts, and they are undeniably different than their neighbors, bound to arouse the animosity that clannish and reclusive people often provoke among the untrusting.

Those who know them well describe a mild and harmless people, living in shanties and old houses scattered thinly among the hills and hidden lakes of upland Bergen County. They sometimes drive ancient, rusting pickup trucks, but more often take to the mountain roads on all terrain vehicles, which they use for hunting squirrels and possums and for other kinds of foraging. Most drop out of school after the eighth grade, so they're neither illiterate nor educated. Often they seek employment in nearby towns and villages, where they work as construction hands, fork lift drivers, janitors, or other manual pursuits. They're a unique and singular people, and there is no one else like them.

The thing that fascinates me most about these people is that they have persisted against all odds. Their focus is not on careers or material gain, since their highest values in life are the family, the clan, and the tribe. The white invaders have been trying to stamp them out or run them off for most of the last 300 years, but they're still right here, living in the shadow of Babylon. Hunkered down a stone's throw away from the Empire's greatest city, whose skyscrapers the mountain people can easily see on a clear day, they hang on to their old ways, a stubborn band of witnesses providing evidence for the persistence of a gone world.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

strange flights in a big ol' jet airliner

Paul Pena, a blind blues singer, grew up on the east coast but moved to San Francisco in the early '70's. His one major AM radio hit, "Jet Airliner," attracted little attention when it debuted on his second album, "New Train," in 1973, but four years later Steve Miller's cover of it went to number eight on the national pop charts.

In 1984 Pena's career took a strange turn when he picked up a Soviet radio station on his short-wave receiver and heard Tuvan throat singing for the first time. Tuva, an extremely remote area of far-southern Siberia, is actually, geographically and ethnically, the northwestern corner of Mongolia.

Pena searched for a record of Tuvan music for years, finally finding one in a neighborhood record store in San Francisco in 1991. He became obsessed with the sound and learned to approximate it through close and tireless attention to the record. Learning the language was tougher, however, since there is no Tuvan-to-English dictionary, and Pena was blind. But he managed to find a Tuvan-to-Russian dictionary, combined it with a Russian-to-English dictionary, and somehow secured the use of an optacon (optical tactile converter), an electronic reader and output device which converts printed material to Braille.

Two years later Pena participated in a Tuvan throat-singing performance at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum and met the famous throat singer Kongar-ool Ondar, who encouraged him to visit Tuva in 1995 for a festival and competition there. The story of his arduous and sometimes bizarre journey to farthest-outer Mongolia, how he won first prize in both the singing contest and the "audience favorite" category in Kyzyl, Tuva and became a major celebrity in one of the most obscure corners of the world, are beautifully documented in the 1999 film "Genghis Blues," which won the Sundance Film Festival grand prize that year and was nominated for an oscar in the documentary category in 2000.

After 1997, when he was severely injured by smoke inhalation in a fire in his bedroom and in a coma for four days, Pena's already-tenuous health declined. He died in 2005 at age 55, from complications of diabetes and pancreatitis.

Paul Pena left some worthy monuments, including "Genghis Blues," a joy to watch which also underscores the practical and pragmatic aspect of following that dream, no matter how strange it may seem to others and no matter where it leads. There's also this wonderful live performance of his hit song on Conan O'Brien's show, backed by a rock-solid TV studio band, in 2001. Unless you've been living in someplace like Tuva for the last 20 years you should be able to hum along.

Friday, March 12, 2010


During the last week in February, the Utah state legislature passed a bill making deliberate miscarriage a crime, and defining such an act as illegal abortion. The law stems from a case in the town of Vernal in which a young woman paid a guy to beat her up in an (unsuccessful) attempt to induce a miscarriage. I haven't heard, but I would guess that the state's Republican Governor, Gary Herbert, has already signed this measure into law.

It's fitting that the whole machinery of Utah's state government should turn its full attention to this bizarre incident, which must be an extraordinarily rare and freakish occurrence. As the home of of the singular faith whose followers call themselves Latter Day Saints, while the rest of us refer to them as "the Mormons," Utah is the only state whose government is unapologetically a theocracy. And if you know anything about the LDS Church, you'll know why this theocracy is also necessarily a patriarchy.

I'm certain that one of the biggest supporters of the new anti-deliberate-miscarriage, anti-abortion law was the Utah house majority leader, Republican Kevin Garn. Now it turns out that Garn, who like most of his fellow Utahans is only too willing to monitor the moral conduct of others, had a naked hot tub party with a 15-year-old girl a few years back.

Actually, it was a long time ago -- 25 years to be exact -- and Garn was not a legislator at the time but a 30-year-old, married record company executive. The girl was an employee of his, and there was apparently no sex or illicit touching. Despite that, Garn paid her $150,000 in 2002 to buy her silence when she threatened to go public.

Maybe this is an unwarranted generalization, but it seems to me that those societies which are most thoroughly partiarchal are not only the most likely to strictly curtail women's freedoms, especially any hint of sexual freedom or choice, but are also the most prone to lawlessness when it comes to men's behavior toward those same women and, in this case, girls.

You can find all the dirt that's fit to dish on Kevin Garn, along with his mea culpas and deepest apologies, at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

cross reference

See "Omnem" for today's post.

See "Other blogs of interest" in the left sidebar if you haven't heard of "Omnem" before.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

granny d has died

Doris Haddock lived for a long, long time, so I suspect she knew that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.

The first I ever heard of her was 10 years ago when she was 90 and making her celebrated walk across the U.S., to publicize what she felt was the most important political issue facing the country: campaign finance reform. She paused to appear as a guest speaker at the Reform Party's national convention that election year, and I watched and listened to her on C-Span, not knowing who she was. I was riveted when she declared that "What's keeping us from real campaign finance reform today are the twin judicial fictions that money is speech and that a corporation is a person." I had never heard anybody speak to the subject so plainly and with such concision.

Afterward I bought and read her book, "Walking Across America in my 90th Year." It was a fun and instructive biography as well as a chronicle of a 90-year-old old woman with emphysema and a bad foot trekking, limping, and skiing the 3000-mile width of the Lower 48, and I'd recommend it.

Speaking on the subject of our corporate masters at a Chatauqua assembly in 2003, Granny D said, The CEO's of their corporations make tens of millions of dollars a year, not on the long range expectations of profits, but on this year's, this quarter's profits, and how those profits affect stock prices. They can't think more than a year out. The real problem is that they also own all the broadcast networks now, and they finance the careers of most of the politicians.

These people do not go around the world spreading peace, justice and democracy. They spread credit card debt, cell phones, sweatshop conditions, factory farms for hogs and not much better for people. They are in it for the money, and they want to economically enslave people, not free them. I will bet that Iraqis will see bills from MasterCard before they see a meaningful ballot, just like us. This is a new wave of economic colonialism, and, like previous waves, it is done in partnership with armies and rulers.

Granny D was one of my heroes. Her passing had to happen sometime, of course, but I'm still sad that it did.

She turned 100 this past January, and died yesterday at her home in New Hampshire.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Walmart is in hot water again. It seems the manager at one of its stores -- which store isn't known, but one in Louisiana is suspected -- put black Barbie Dolls on sale for a little over half the price of the regular white Barbies on the shelves right next to them.

A Walmart spokeswoman, who could not verify the exact store shown in the photo, said that the price change on the Theresa doll was part of the chain's efforts to clear shelf space for its new spring inventory, the ABC coverage of this story reports, adding that critics say Walmart should have been more sensitive in its pricing choice.

Devaluing the otherwise-identical black doll also sends a message about what "the Real Barbie," who plays a critical role in America's spiritual life, is supposed to look like.

The centerpiece of indigenous and basically unconscious American spirituality is an unrecognized but very real and very plastic polytheistic folk religion, whose most important deities in this era are Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe. (They used to be George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.) Barbie isn't exactly a goddess, like Marilyn, but she's America's most important totemic figure.

Like it or not, the Barbie doll historically has been both a reflection and an important influence in defining American ideals of womanhood, both for women and men. Her example informs little girls how a grown woman is supposed to be, and tells boys what kind of woman they're supposed to want. We would like to think and may ardently wish to outgrow such notions as we grow older, but we ignore their persistence in the unlit and more primitive recesses of our minds at our peril.

Barbie evolved from a popular 1950's German newspaper cartoon character drawn by Reinhard Beuthien for Hamburg's Bild-Zeitung. Lilli, as he called her was a tall, slender, curvy blonde in her 20's, a single clerical worker, quick-witted and unlike her monogamous American descendent something of a whore. "I could do without balding old men but my budget couldn't!" she once wisecracked. The newspaper's management decided to market a doll based on Lilli and contracted a German toymaker to produce "Bild Lilli," as she was called. The doll was as successful as the cartoon, and sold in Germany between 1955 and 1964 when the American manufacturer Mattel bought the rights to her and German production ended. Sold in tobacco shops and novelty stores, she was an adult toy, and many Germans considered her unsuitable for children. In spite of that, and because as time went by more and more outfits were made available for her, she eventually became popular with girls, and manufacturers jumped in with dollhouses, furniture, etc. for the sophisticated and worldly toy woman, whom one Mattel CEO sometimes referred to as "that hooker."

Bild Lilli was the doll the American toy marketer Ruth Handler of Mattel discovered while shopping in Europe in 1956, and corresponded uncannily with what she had already been thinking of producing. She bought three dolls, gave one to her daughter Barbie, and showed the other two to designers at Mattel. When Mattel's Barbie debuted at the New York city toy fair in 1959 she looked awfully much like Bild-Lilli, even including the sidelong glance, and was atypically available as either a blonde or a brunette.

The significance of Barbie Millicent Roberts's only direct ancestor being a woman of questionable character conveys some strange significance in assessing the meaning of this icon of unattainable femininity and her status as a vacuous, strangely empty role model. It's almost as if the only truly interesting things about Bild-Lilli were exorcised from her American descendent, and never replaced by anything. What's important, what makes her who she is and are through her put forward as the ideal traits of American womanhood, are her white skin, yellow hair, and anatomically impossible body.

Monday, March 08, 2010

slow death, dreaming of life

There are times, when knowledge of how quickly our planet is dying assaults the mind, so that a person might feel like giving up and abandoning all hope. Why not just pop a top, light a fag, sit back in the front porch rocker, and watch the strangely fluorescent-colored magenta sunset?

It's that kind of a day today, as we read via McClatchy News Service a chronicle of our dying oceans headlined "Growing low-oxygen zones in oceans worry scientists."

Lower levels of oxygen in the Earth's oceans, particularly off the United States' Pacific Northwest coast, could be another sign of fundamental changes linked to global climate change, scientists say.

They warn that the oceans' complex undersea ecosystems and fragile food chains could be disrupted.

In some spots off Washington state and Oregon , the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions.

This is something almost too horrifying and depressing to even think about -- our beautiful northwest coast becoming a huge marine dead zone. How can anyone, particularly one who lives in this part of the country, deal with such information?

But a moment's thought tells us that we can't give up, that that would be the totally wrong thing to do. We certainly do need to stop debating with the imbecile flat earth society, and light a fire under government that will spur them into taking the actions necessary to at least attempt to salvage some of the life-sustaining features of our dying world. But ultimately we have no control over what governments do or don't, and for each of us individually the most important thing is to keep that dream alive.

Personally, I have dreams and hopes and aspirations that are driving me insane. I dream of paradise here on earth, attained by throwing off and abjuring the lifeways and habits that have brought us to this unsustainable place. I dream of living differently, of being physically fit and active and self-reliant.

Maybe these are silly dreams, and I'm dreaming them at an age when people are generally supposed to have given up such imaginings. But those dreams, hopes, and aspirations are what keep me going. And maybe it's a dream to think that the oceans and the atmosphere can recover, but I believe they can if we would just start treating them right. I may not live to see this happen, but that doesn't mean it can't.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

arrested in pakistan updated

Adam Gadahn's paternal grandfather was Jewish and a militant Zionist, but his grandmother was a Christian and edited a Christian newspaper. This is a divided-up young man, and even his roots are divided.

His dad, Phil Pearlman, came of age in the Orange County hippie scene of the late '60's, played music, got married, converted to Christianity, and along with his wife changed the family name to Gadahn, after the ancient Hebrew warrior Gideon. Adam was born in Oregon and grew up homeschooled on an isolated goat farm near the little town of Hemet, California, where his Christian father made a living raising and butchering goats in a manner conforming to the Muslim version of the rules of kosher.

Apparently estranged from his environment, Adam was looking for something to fill the void inside from early adolescence onward, and first became a death metal cultist, reaching out to musicians and other fans via little magazines. He sometimes performed as a one-man band called "Aphasia" and wrote reviews for a 'zine, Xenocide.

When he was 16 Adam's parents agreed to let him leave their ranch and go live with his grandparents in Santa Ana, in Orange County. He got a job in a computer store and began cruising the internet, searching for the philosophy, teacher, or answer which would make him whole. At first he tried Christianity, but decided that Christians' "apocalyptic ramblings" were "paranoid."

The next year, 1995, he began studying Islam with the Islamic Society of Orange County.

In 1998 he moved to Pakistan and married an Afghan refugee. He was still in intermittent contact with his family.

In the fall of 2004, using the name "Azzam the American," Gadahn released a 75-minute video threatening the U.S. with terrorist attacks, which was broadcast by ABC News.

He's shown up in numerous al-Qaida films and videos since then, including an unmasked appearance on a video made public via the internet in which he denounced the U.S.'s conduct of the Iraq War. He's also served as a media advisor to Osama bin Laden, and is believed to have inspired a 2007 bin Laden video in which the al-Qaida chief refers to the American subprime mortgage crisis.

He was arrested today in Karachi, Pakistan by officers of that country's intelligence service, on the same day al-Qaida released his latest video, in which Gadahn urges Muslims in the U.S. armed forces to emulate Army Major Nidal Hasan, who opened fire in a crowded room at Fort Hood in Texas in November, killing 13, to protest America's policies in the Middle East.

Update: This gets curiouser and curiouser, and news of the apprehension of Adam Gadahn now seems to have been a case of mistaken identity.

The New York Times's latest revision of this story says: "American and Pakistani officials said the man arrested was Abu Yahya Mujahdeen Al-Adam, who was described as having been born in Pennsylvania and who was thought to be affiliated with the operations division of al Qaeda, commanding fighters in Afghanistan."

So somebody -- some reporter or military information officer somewhere -- got this Abu Yahya chelloveck mixed up with Gadahn.

Friday, March 05, 2010

hell for sure

My friend Bill Baugher, who lives in Bakersfield, took this absolutely gorgeous photo near the top of Hell For Sure Pass in the Kern River Canyon while hiking there a couple days ago. I didn't ask his permission to use it, but I'm sure he won't mind.

The Kern River Canyon is a dramatic and dangerous water-cut cleft in the earth which begins immediately east of the city. Bakersfield, with its unbreathable air, is not exactly the kind of place people ordinarily think of as a scenic attraction, but there are beautiful and wild places within a stone's throw of it.

A little-known bit of Kern Canyon lore is the history of a stealth fighter crash which occurred there in July of 1986. Partly because it happened prior to the advent of the internet, and partly because the Air Force has worked very hard to keep any knowledge of it suppressed, information about the crash is to this day only readily available on nutter web sites -- the types of sites ordinarily devoted to UFO mythology, etc.

Nobody outside a tight circle of secretive Air Force personnel knows why the Stealth plane was flying out of Edwards AFB when it crashed in the canyon at 2 a.m., instantly killing the pilot and only person on board, Major Ross E. Mulhane, and touching off a 150-acre blaze which required 16 hours for firefighters to extinguish. Fortunately, there were no weapons on the plane.

As far as anybody outside the Air Force's circle of secrecy knows, it was highly unusual for a stealth aircraft to be flying in that area. Most of the development and testing of all the various stealth craft took place at the famous and mysterious Area 51 base in western Nevada.

All trace of Major Mulhane's fatal crash is gone from the canyon now, and I'm sure it was very quiet the day my friend Bill was hiking the remote and semi-accessible reaches of Hell For Sure Pass. The peace of the Kern River Canyon can be very deceptive, however, and I would advise anybody who ever visits there to resist any temptation you might have to go swimming in the Kern River.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

housecrash boy collared

You may remember this incident if you're a local here in Seattle. After drunkenly crashing his SUV into a house at 90th and Meridian in Seattle during a high-speed chase a little less than a month ago and assaulting the officer who was chasing him, Steve Hyatt ran.

He "ran so far away" -- all the way to Mexico. The long arm of the law reached out and grabbed him when he re-entered the U.S. a couple days ago. He's now in jail in San Diego awaiting extradition back to Washington.

Hyatt was picked up by officers working for something called the Pacific Northwest Fugitive Apprehension Task Force (PNWFAT) -- it's complicated, and I'll let the Seattle Times Police Blotter reporter describe what it is and how it works in case you're interested, via the PhinneyWood blog.

Phinneywood.com, incidentally, is turning out to be a really Crackerjack ™ local news blog. They had some of the best reporting on the Greenwood arsonist both during the period of his most concentrated activity in the neighborhood, during which he set over a dozen fires, and since his capture and incarceration in November. Kevin Todd Swalwell, a homeless street person who has recounted for the police details of how some of the blazes were ignited that only the perpetrator could know, is currently in jail awaiting trial. His bail has been set at a million dollars, so he's not going anywhere real soon.

Now I know anyone who writes about such people as Hyatt and Swallwell is supposed to refer to them as the alleged perpetrators, since neither has yet been convicted. However, I no longer bother with that, since both are obviously guilty of what they're charged with. In Hyatt's case, he left his licensed vehicle at the scene of the crime(s), so for the police, establishing his identity, obtaining a photo of him, etc., was a slam dunk. In Swalwell's case, his apprehension signaled the end of Greenwood's spate of arsons.

As Sergeant Preston of the Yukon used to say, "King, this case is closed." And King -- he said "Ruff ruff."

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

these are a few of my favorite things

Cakravakasana (pronounced Chakra-va-KAsana), usually called "table top" to "child's pose." This simplest of all yoga asanas (postures) is very therapeutic for the lower back, and it also feels really good. You'll probably want to put some padding under your knees if you're working on a bare floor.*

King Oliver's both-feet-off-the-ground cornet solo on "Dippermouth Blues." It's a 1923 recording, so a listener has to adjust to the inferior technical quality of the sound in order to "be there," so to speak. Joe Oliver, mentor of the young Louis Armstrong, was a ground-breaker in his own right. He pioneered the use of mutes for cornet and trumpet, and the "Dippermouth" solo is a muted-horn masterpiece.

The neighborhood in the area of 85th and Greenwood in Seattle. It's the fully-equipped urban hellhole, complete with coffee shops, a yoga studio or two, and everything else a person might want including groceries. Plus it's got more than its share of erudite and sophisticated people who sometimes might appear snobbish, possibly even "elitist" to outsiders. But to know them is to love them.

Trader Joe's lightly-salted Hawaiian-style potato chips. I shouldn't ever eat stuff like that because I live with elevated cholesterol levels, but we all have our weaknesses.

*Even though it's easy and therapeutic, don't attempt cakravakasana if you've had knee replacement surgery.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

too late?

The question we need to be asking now -- and nobody is asking it, so I guess I'll go first -- is "Who is giving the orders in Washington D.C.?" We've been at war almost continuously since Reagan took office. During Clinton's interlude people tended not to notice because the Iraq War was on the back burner then.

Does the civilian government instruct the generals in the Pentagon to undertake hostilities, or are the generals in the Pentagon giving orders to the civilian government?

Is this a military dictatorship, or isn't it? If it is, what are we going to do about it? If it's not, why are we continuously at war, sometimes against imaginary or totally insignificant enemies?

I don't think anybody can answer this question, except maybe a few people at the very top. And possibly even they can't answer it.

What would happen if a president said to someone like Gen. Stanley McChrystal, "No, I'm not sending any more troops, and in fact, you need to prepare to leave Afghanistan because we're withdrawing and ending the war."?

If the civilian government said "No" to the Pentagon, what would happen? Nobody, since Truman said "No" to MacArthur, has ever put it to the test. Why is that?

We were supposed to get a "peace dividend" after the Soviet Union collapsed. But we all know how the civilian government, in the wake of 9/11, managed to create an enemy as big and scary as the Russians were, out of nothing more than a few rag-tag terrorists who possess no regular army, navy, or factory-produced weapons of their own. (Terrorism is the only weapon available to otherwise powerless people.)

This is the two-ton elephant in the living room nobody wants to see. It appears fairly obvious to me that the U.S. government, no matter which party is in charge, is now set on a course under which it is obligated to have an enemy whose ferocity, real or imagined, justifies a nearly trillion-dollar annual expenditure for weapons and ongoing warfare, and if no such enemy appears in the natural course of events, then we are obliged to create one.

If this country has indeed degenerated into a military dictatorship, if the civilian government exists only for the sake of funding the war and weapons sector of the economy, then we have become the ultimate destroyer of world peace. If that's what's happened, it's unacceptable, and we need to take the country back. However, it very well may be too late to do so.

Illustration, "Card Number One" by Bill Sienkiewicz, from the series "Friendly Dictators Trading Cards," 1990.

Monday, March 01, 2010

our favorite catastrophes

It's sobering and awesome to think of the enormous social disruptions and unprecedented violence of the last 200 years, and of the twentieth century in particular. The human race has had a very tough time adjusting to the changes brought on by the advent of modern industrial society, and still is.

Russia alone experienced two devastating world wars, a major revolution followed by a merciless civil war, a series of mass murders of the civilian population by a mad dictator, and a counter-revolution all during the 100 years bookended by 1900 and 1999. People could not possibly have endured such such suffering and disruptions of their normal lives without being seriously drunk most of the time.

My own parents, of course, were intimately caught up in one of the century's major catastrophes, the Second World War. The fear, uncertainty, and awareness of the transitory nature of existence the war instilled in them colored their perception of life from then on. But in their older years they grew nostalgic about their lives during the war years. It was their favorite catastrophe.

You know, it's been a 20 years since the Soviet Union collapsed. That was a society that ceased functioning, because it subscribed to a failed ideology -- the idea that all evil issues from economic private enterprise, and that if you do away with private enterprise you can do away with evil. The state will own all means of production in trust for "the people," and since the state's motives are pure, everything will work great and everybody will be happy. Theoretically.

Abstract ideological approaches such as that are pure fantasy.

At the time the USSR collapsed, I wondered how long it would take for the other shoe to fall. The other shoe is us, of course.

These days I'm reading on economics sites that there may have to be further bailouts of the largest banks. To paraphrase Sarah Palin, "So how's that 'markets are self-correcting' thing workin' out for ya?"

And I answered my own question: It'll take about 20 years.