Thursday, January 31, 2013

I'm Back -- Just in Time to Be Gone Again

I wrapped up the newsletter (it's an eight-page tabloid that is a lot like origami, fitting stories and ads to the available space) late this morning, sent it to the printer, and had a little party to thank the people who helped me put it together.

No rest for the wicked, they say... Now I have a busy weekend planned. This weekend is the statewide Democratic Party yearly meeting, complete with a reception with our new Democratic governor tomorrow night. And then of course it's the Super Bowl (I have money on the 49ers, the West Coast team) on Sunday, so there goes the whole weekend.

I'll be back next week.As always, thanks for reading.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Taking a Week Off

I need some time off. I'm still editor of the Thurston County Democrats newspaper, and I have a deadline looming up at me on Friday. I need to free up some time to get it out.

See you all next week.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friendly Reception for Kerry?

Yep, that's the news. A friendly reception for John Kerry in the Senate hearings on his nomination to be Secretary of State.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that just eight short years ago John Kerry was a communist traitor who sold out his brothers on Vietnam and posed naked on top of Hanoi's Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, in flagrante delicto with Jane Fonda [citation needed]?

Of course the wingnut media is already all over this like stink on shit. That was predictable -- even expected.

But surely there are still some red-blooded members of the "patriotic" party (aka the Rethugs) left in the Senate who can put a stop to this travesty. But maybe they are not so red-blooded and more red-eyed from their partying down with congressional interns and high-class prostitutes and others of that ilk.

And for that lack of red-bloodedness, may I suggest a vodka, Geritoltm and tomato juice cocktail, otherwise known as a Tired Bloody Mary...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Who is John Galt? The Pernicious Influence of Ayn Rand

In 1957 two books were published that were destined to have long-lasting effects on American society, long exceeding the lives of their writers. One was On the Road by Jack Kerouac (see December's Book of the Month, which turned half the members of two generations into late-period Beatniks, transitional "Fringies" and ultimately, Hippies. The other was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, which turned the other half into radical libertarians, anti-government conservatives, and today's Republican Party. Even the erstwhile 2012 Republican VP candidate, Paul Ryan, cited the book as a seminal work in the development of his world view.

Who is John Galt? That's the annoyingly-repeated question scattered throughout the first two thirds of Atlas Shrugged, and it is just as annoyingly repeated on the waving placards of the Teabaggers at their rallies (see here for example).

So then, who is John Galt? It turns out that he is a one-man larger-than-life beacon of hope for the producing class, the industrialists, the captains of industry, i.e., the "makers", standing firmly against the onslaught of collectivism as promoted by lazy slacker socialist parasites intent on sharing the wealth, i.e., the "takers".

Does that ring a bell? It's the spirit – and some of the words – behind Mitt Romney's now-infamous "47%" speech at an expensive fundraiser attended by the "makers", and surreptitiously filmed by a "taker".

It's a long book and it's hard to get through. It's chock full of leaden prose and wooden dialogue from two dimensional characters plodding through unrealistic situations, all of it larded over with a stomach-churning mess of sophomoric half-baked "philosophy" that decries collective action, exalts the producing class over the parasites, and culminates in a "strike" by the capitalist industrialists which firmly reestablishes its control over the masses. (I will admit, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I have not actually read the entire book. But in the timeless words of the well-known literary critic John Simon, "How many spoonfuls of rotten stew do you need before you know the whole batch is spoiled?")

Although the action in the book is supposed to reflect the United States at some point in 1957's future, it depicts a society that is almost completely foreign to the America we know; it's actually a weird kind of science fiction, but without the science part.

She called her philosophy Objectivism, which she describes as "rational self-interest". As she explains in the pages of Atlas Shrugged, "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." [Emphasis added]. That doesn't leave much room for the great unwashed masses, the "takers" she decries as virtual parasites living off the wealth of the "makers".

This philosophy can have a profound resonance with those who already think of themselves as The Elite. In the cold hard facts of reality, however, it can be boiled down to the deathless words of Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street: "Greed is good."

Ayn Rand herself was a bundle of contradictions, an anti-collectivist who decried Social Security for its socialism, but ended up depending on it herself in her old age. A hero to the Religious Right who was herself an atheist. A Russian-born rabid critic of the Soviet Union who nevertheless exercised a Stalinist control over her own followers.

Ayn Rand died in 1982 but her influence on a certain segment of the population has never waned. If anything, it's gotten stronger. Unfortunately, and ironically, despite her paramount reliance on rational thought, the current followers of the Ayn Rand philosophy are anything but rational. We see it all the time in the party of climate change deniers, young-earth creationists and historical revisionism.

In the words of a popular t-shirt slogan, "You can't argue with crazy". Instead of trying to reason with these people, we'll all be better off by continuing to organize our own party and establish our own permanent majority. After we've elected enough Democrats to office at the local, state and Federal levels, the Republicans and their Ayn Rand philosophy will be cast out into the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mysterious Lights in North Dakota

This is interesting. It's a time-lapse sequence from the space station over several night-time overflights of the planet.

It goes by so quickly that you can't quite make out exactly where you are at any given time. Given that, you are likely to miss that there is something very odd that shows up in western North Dakota, a cluster of lights that doesn't belong there. And that wasn't there six years ago.

Look at the upper left corner of that picture. That looks like a city larger than Chicago out there in the flat plains farmland of ... North Dakota?. What the fuck?

It turns out that it's not a new city after all. It's fracking oil wells, with the natural gas being burnt off. Burnt off. Oil companies exploiting the Bakken Shales by fracking are allowed to just burn off the natural gas that comes up along with the oil. Some locals call it "Kuwait on the Prairie".

NPR has the whole story and it's not a pretty one...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Music Break: Pride in the Name of Love

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here's U2 with Pride in the Name of Love from 1984:

"Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride."

Actually, it was early evening and not early morning, but no matter...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The FBI and the Infiltration of Radical Groups

Back in the day, when I was kind of peripherally involved with certain elements of society who were considered "radical" (I previously posted something on this, quite coincidentally, exactly one year ago today), there was a certain amount of paranoia in the air about FBI undercover agents sent in as spies and agents provocateurs.

I especially remember one guy who seemed to pop up out of nowhere and was quite vocal in his desire to "stick it to the man". He proposed any number of outlandish plots, one of which, bombing the local National Guard Armory, he was especially eager to discuss.

Unfortunately for him, we weren't that kind of radical. A number of us were card-carrying members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and while we had a basic sympathy for, and agreement with, the stated goals of its splinter/offshoot group, the Weathermen (later the Weather Underground) -- and had Bill Ayres or Bernadine Dohrn actually made contact with us for assistance while they were in hiding, we would have rendered it gladly -- we didn't agree with their tactics of violence, symbolic though they may have been in intention and practice.

So this guy apparently got the idea and disappeared after a while. He had the look and the attitude and the slang and the politics down, but we all pretty much agreed that something just wasn't right about him.

Looking back now, especially after reading A Window Into Infiltration: The FBI Informant File of Sheila Louise O'Connor, it seems obvious that we weren't so paranoid after all. Now it appears more than likely that, as we suspected, the guy was an FBI informant/provocateur. (I can't recall his name now, but that doesn't matter since I'm sure it wasn't his real name.)

The FBI, doing its part,  instituted COINTELPRO to disrupt, discredit and destroy the New Left and its allies in the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Liberation Movement, the Black Panthers, etc., and then put a bunch of the Weather Underground leaders on its Ten Most Wanted list, edging out a bunch of real criminals.

Sadly, the issues that fired up the radicals of the 1960s and 1970s are still with us: Racism, imperialism, neo-colonialism, political prisoners in our own repressive prison-industrial system, ongoing wars against indigenous Third World populations, etc. etc. So it is perfectly reasonable to assume that Occupy, to pick just one example, has more than its share of undercover agents and general provocateurs involved with it. And, as a simple Google search shows, this is a fact.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pallin' Around With Terrorists

One of the many criticisms leveled against Barack Obama was that he was, in the words of Sarah Palin, "pallin' around with terrorists". That of course meant his still-not-entirely-clear relationship with one William Ayres, who back in the day, was one of the leaders of the then-notorious radical Weather Underground.

While the WU was responsible for a series of bombings of offices that were symbolic of American imperialism -- the Pentagon, several Department of Corrections offices, a police station, the Latin American HQ of ITT -- most people forget that they were scrupulous in trying to avoid injury and bloodshed in these attacks.

In fact, the only people ever killed by the Weather Underground were three members of the group who were accidentally blown up in 1970 in a Greenwich Village townhouse when a bomb they were assembling exploded prematurely.

That said, I wonder who else was pallin' around with terrorists. Take a look at this photo:

So who is that funny-looking little guy next to Nancy Reagan?

Well, glad you asked. That is none other than Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin, who in his youth was active in a Jewish terrorist group in Palestine called Irgun. Begin was directly responsible for the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel which killed 91 people, British, Arab and Jewish. Unlike the Weather Underground, who killed no one except three of their own.

So tell me again, who was pallin' around with terrorists? But, as Saint Ronald himself said, "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Hidden History of the NRA

Those of us who are a certain age can remember the National Rifle Association back in the 1950s as being different from the NRA today.

Back then the emphasis was on gun safety and marksmanship and recreational shooting. The organization was even behind a number of gun control laws that developed as a reaction to the lawless 1920s (they helped to outlaw machine guns) and urban unrest of the 1960s (too many black people having easy access to guns). As hard as it is to believe today, there was no undue reliance on an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment.

There's an excellent history lesson on the NRA and how it got taken over by the paranoid libertarian wing of American politics as recently as 1977, The Surprising Unknown History of the NRA that is well worth the read.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Music Break - Betty Boop as Snow White

Here from 1933 is the cartoon version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, starring the inimitable Betty Boop and featuring the incomparable Cab Calloway singing his St James Infirmary Blues. This short feature is commonly rated as one of the best cartoons ever made. Watch it and check out that animation: Its surrealism is almost like a freaky-deaky black-and-white acid trip!

Full disclosure: I first saw this at a theater in Isla Vista, California (home of the University of California Santa Barbara), in late 1973, Back then, it was kind of hard to see the screen through all the smoke in the air. No, I am not talking about tobacco. But you knew that...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Guilty Pleasure Destroying Civilization

Okay, I'll admit it up front. I take a guilty pleasure in occasionally watching The Jerry Springer Show. It's not something I can take on a regular basis, but whenever I'm feeling down and weepy about my own personal situation, there's nothing like tuning in and watching an hour filled with people who are seriously fucked up. All of a sudden my little problems don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world*.

So it's with some not inconsiderable interest that I note that Jerry Springer himself admits that his show is destroying civilization:

Television host Jerry Springer on Friday described his own show as “an hour of escapism” with “no redeeming social value.”
“Look, my show is stupid,” he admitted during an interview with HuffPost Live host Alyona Minkovski. “It’s stupid, but it’s fun to do. I enjoy it. People obviously like it, otherwise they wouldn’t watch it.”
For his show, Springer interviews guests embroiled in every sort of scandalous and bizarre drama, from those cheating on their spouses to those involved in incestuous relationships. He insisted everything on The Jerry Springer Show was real, not staged or scripted.
Springer said that by paving the way for other reality TV shows, he had become “the father of the destruction of Western civilization.”
[* Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca: "Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that ... Here's looking at you kid."]

Friday, January 11, 2013

Did Hitler Take the Guns?

It's long been a meme of the NRA and their enablers (e.g., Alex Jones' tirade shown in the Daily Show clip I posted Wednesday) that an armed populace is the only thing standing between us and tyranny, and that Hitler "confiscated" all the privately-owned guns in Germany.

But did he really? I always "knew" -- without really knowing -- that it didn't happen that way, but Mother Jones has an article, Was Hitler Really a Fan of Gun Control? on that very subject:

As World War I drew to a close, the new Weimar Republic government banned nearly all private gun ownership to comply with the Treaty of Versailles and mandated that all guns and ammunition "be surrendered immediately." The law was loosened in 1928, and gun permits were granted to citizens "of undoubted reliability" (in the law's words) but not "persons who are itinerant like Gypsies." In 1938, under Nazi rule, gun laws became significantly more relaxed. Rifle and shotgun possession were deregulated and gun access for hunters, Nazi Party members, and government officials was expanded. The legal age to own a gun was lowered. Jews, however, were prohibited from owning firearms and other dangerous weapons.
Read the whole thing for a healthy shot of historical reality. I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say on the issue as attempts to regulate firearms unfold.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Welcome Back Jon Stewart!

 Here's his take on the current "gun control" issue:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Scapegoat Hunter - Gun Control
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

"Is it possible to regulate bags of hammers? Or people who are as dumb as...?"

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Harpooning the Great White Whale

Long-time readers of this blog know that I've always taken a special delight in skewering Rusty Limpdick (aka Rush Limbaugh), but I've noticed to my chagrin that it's been a while since I thrust a harpoon at the Great White Whale.

Well, that hiatus has come to an end. When I read 25 Examples That Prove Rush Limbaugh Is A "Low-Information" Radio Host over at Media Matters, I couldn't help myself. I had to pass it on.

Some examples:

Limbaugh Mocks Fact That Unemployment Benefits Are Stimulus. Limbaugh denied that unemployment benefits have a positive effect on the economy, saying it's a "crock" that extending them translates into economic growth. In fact, studies show that these benefits stimulate the overall economy and provide greater economic impact on growth than the Bush tax cuts for upper-income earners.
Limbaugh: "Everything -- Except The Polls -- Points To A Romney Landslide." Under the headline "Everything -- Except The Polls -- Points To A Romney Landslide," Limbaugh's website posted a transcript of his radio show in which he said his "intellectual analysis" of the election was that "it's not even close. Three hundred-plus electoral votes for Romney."
Limbaugh Rewrites Obama's Dreams To Falsely Claim "Racist" Attack. Limbaugh used a new biography about President Obama's life to claim he viewed his high school basketball coach and his team as "racist" and that Obama wrote in his book Dreams From My Father that "he played black ball, the coach coached white ball, and as such the coach was a racist, the team was racist, strategy of the game was racist, and Obama rode the bench." In fact, Obama wrote that he disabused a friend who suggested racism was a factor in him not getting more playing time on the basketball team.
There's a lot more, so be sure to read the whole thing.

Oh, and Rusty, you fucking draft dodger, I'm still waiting for that High Noon Showdown that I challenged you to way back in 2005. But I don't have to worry. If Rusty ever came up against a real Vietnam veteran, he'd be wetting his pants faster than a fratboy after beer call.

Hagel a Good Choice for SecDef

While he apparently is hauling some baggage around with him (his comments on "the Jewish Lobby", his past lack of support for LGBT issues, his Republicanism), Chuck Hagel is, on the whole, a good choice for Defense.

I've especially and immensely enjoyed the faux-outrage criticism, without even a whiff of irony, by the wingnuttery that he's "anti-gay". As has been said before, if Obama came out today for motherhood and apple pie, the Rethugs in Congress would pass a resolution against them both tomorrow.

I don't know if we've ever had a Secretary of Defense who has come out of a background that included Purple-Heart-winning ground combat as a regular grunt before, but Hagel will bring a much-needed sense of reality to the job of Secretary of Defense. And there's no reason to think that he'll go off the rails and go in a direction that his boss doesn't want him to go in.

So grab some popcorn, crack open a beer and watch the nomination fight in Congress. It's a good prelude to the one we'll see when John Kerry is nominated for Secretary of State.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Monday Music Break - Life During Wartime

Word on the street has it that David Byrne of the Talking Heads saw the 1997 interview on 60 Minutes with former Weather Underground member Matthew Landy Steen and was inspired to write this song. It's about someone living in hiding in the radical underground, dressing in disguises and keeping one step ahead of the law.

Aside from that, it's also a really great song!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Video Documentary: Entertaining Vietnam

This brought back some memories. Entertaining Vietnam is a short documentary about non-USO entertainers in Vietnam, many of them Australians, who had to live by their wits and fly by the seat of their pants to bring their shows to GIs in the boonies and places where the establishment acts didn't -- or wouldn't -- go.

Several of these performers, such as Cathy Wayne (shown in this film), were actually killed in Vietnam, including a van full of band members who were killed in a "friendly fire" ambush by South Vietnamese "Ruff Puffs" (RF-PF, Regional Force-Popular Force, the dimwitted morons of the Vietnamese forces) on the road to Vung Tao. The same road on which I served as a shotgun guard on convoys (of course the Ruff-Puffs weren't about to take on a heavily armed convoy of American troops).

These entertainers are an unsung and forgotten lot whose story has not been told until now. Be sure to check this out as soon as possible, since I think it will be available for only a limited time.

Sorry I couldn't embed it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Donating My Third Kidney

So just before Xmas I get, out of the blue, an email from a friend of mine, someone that I've known for years (I used to work for her mother, some 25 years ago), with a surprising bit of quite alarming news:

Sorry I did not inform you about my sudden trip out of the country to Belgium. Am here to see my ill cousin, she is suffering Kidney disease and must undergo Kidney transplant to save her life. Kidney transplant is very expensive here so i want to transfer her back home to have the surgery implemented.
I really need to take care of this now but my credit card can't work here. I traveled with little money due to the short time I had to prepare for this trip and never expected things to be the way it is right now. I need a loan of $1,500  from you to take care of things here and I promise to reimburse you at my return. Kindly get back to me asap if you can assist so I'll advise on how to transfer funds.
[errors in the original]

Wow, what a shocker. Naturally you can imagine my distress. I didn't even know she had a cousin in Belgium, nor did I know that medical care was SOOO expensive in Europe (take that Mister Barack Socialized Medicine Obama!). So I lost no time in responding to her:
Thanks for thinking of me in your time of need. Sad news about your cousin, but fortunately for everyone, this comes at a time when, due to my well-known volunteer work with the Chernobyl cleanup, I happen to have an extra Kidney. Since I don't need three of them, and the third one is inconveniently living outside my body in an extruding sac that, if the truth were known, is turning into quite an eyesore, not to mention a hassle when I try to put on my pants, I will gladly donate it to your cousin.
I'd love to send money as well, but as you know, I've had to spend most of my savings on a new wardrobe to accommodate my extra Kidney -- ironic in that if I donate the Kidney, I will have to spend an equal amount of money to have my wardrobe altered to fit me once again. Oh, well...
So, that being said, I am willing to get on a plane and fly to Belgium tomorrow, if needs be, to give your dear cousin my extraneous body part. Please reserve me a room at the Stilton, and inform room service that I would like some Belgian waffles, some Belgian ale, and some of that incredible Belgian tiger stake-and-Kidney pie (from the Belgian Congo, of course) garnished with Belgian endive waiting for me. Yum I can hardly wait...
BUT...the only problem I have is with the money: I don't have enough to actually buy the ticket, so I have taken the liverty to forward your Kidney email to our mutual friend Bob Giblette.
I'm kind of surprised, actually, that you didn't contact him yourself, since as you know he recently came into that substantial "inheritance" from his dearly-beloved "aunt" in Nigeria, so much money in fact that he is actually contemplating retiring from the FBI and becoming a gentleman of leisure/private detective.
I'm sure that Bob, while he is still employed at the Omaha Field Office of the FBI, will be more than happy to work with you.
Expect a contact from him soon.
Very soon.
[misspellings etc., e.g., "liverty", are intentional]

Book of the Month: Assholes: A Theory

Assholes. Everybody knows a bunch of them, and they seem to be multiplying like self-absorbed rabbits in McGregor's garden. But up until now, no one has done a scientific study of them. Aaron James is a university professor of philosophy and an avid surfer, and those disciplines give him the insight needed for his new book, Assholes: A Theory.

For the first time James attempts a scientific definition of the term "asshole", examines many examples of asshole-osity that we see around us, and answers the questions regarding the source, the genesis, the future of assholes, why some cultures have so many of them (the US) and some so few (Japan), and most importantly, how we can deal with them.

I got the book because I couldn't resist the title. I thought it would be funny, and it is, but it's also a serious study of the phenomenom, and examines why we find so many assholes are on the Right (e.g., Dick Cheney, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, etc.), and relatively few on the Left (e.g., Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann). He also goes to some length explaining why so few assholes are female (Ann Coulter).

The section on Asshole Capitalism alone is worth the price of admission, and it's pretty scary stuff. Unlike Jon Ronson, James holds that CEOs and the like are, for the most part, not sociopaths or psychopaths but just Assholes. They think like Assholes, they do asshole stuff, and the rest of us get left behind.

As an aside, go read the Amazon reviews. As one reviewer says, "Apparently the robotic censors that patrol the reviews will not allow a review to post that actually uses the title of this book."