Friday, December 30, 2005
Random 10 Quotes
The obvious point is that the behavior of any corporation must be judged by what it does, not what it says. (p 92, Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age by Michael H. Shuman [New York: Routledge, 2000])
We justify our payoffs to backward nations with a new philosophy, one that probably never occurred to the bureaucratic sages of the Chinese empire. We explain that our gifts are development funds, designed to bring peace by uprooting the very causes of discontent and war. We call our new form of tribute “foreign aid.”
In many cultures, however, giving things to people is a way of humiliating them. It is a sneaky technique for drawing attention to the recipient’s lowliness on the hierarchical ladder. (p 250, The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition in to the Forces of History, Howard Bloom [New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995])
I am walking rapidly throught striations of light and dark thrown under an arcade,
I am a woman in the prime of life, with certain powers
and those powers severely limited
by authorities whose faces I rarely see.
I am a woman in the prime of life
driving her dead poet in a black Rolls-Royce
through a landscape of twilight and thorns.
--Beginning of “I Dream I’m the Death of Orpheus”, Adrienne Rich.
Triplism Number played an important role in Celtic symbolism. Most sacred or magical of all was the number ‘three’. The idea of threeness is, indeed, a very common feature of Indo-European tradition, as it is in other families of cultures. (Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, Miranda J. Green [London: Thames and Hudson, 1992])Wow. I could have done separate, full posts on each of these quotes with no problem. And here I am throwing them out in a big bundle, leaving you, dear reader, to sort them out.
More than anyone else in the seemingly endless parade of professionally anomic rockers, Iggy [Pop] really is isolated, and this isolation manifests itself in lightning-stricken desperation. He’s the most intense performer I’ve ever seen, and that intensity comes from a murderous drivenness that has in the past also made him the most dangerous performer alive: the plunges into the third row, cutting himself and rolling in broken glass onstage, getting into verbal and occasionally physical brawls with his audiences. (p 205, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Lester Bangs, edited by Greil Marcus [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987])
Panic. It crept up my spine like the first rising vibes of an acid frenzy. All these horrible realities began to dawn on me. Here I was all alone in Las Vegas with this goddamn incredibly expensive car, completely twisted on drugs, no attorney, no cash, no story for the magazine -- and on top of everything else I has a gigantic goddamn hotel bill to deal with. We had ordered everything into the room that human hands could carry -- including about six hundred bars of translucent Neutrogena soap. (p 70, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson [New York: Vintage, 1998])
Night of the Living Dead is a significant achievement both as a horror film which would alter the genre’s formal operations as well as an initial statement of [George] Romero’s thematic concerns. Like all great achievements, it has relevance far beyond its actual generic associations. In extending the boundaries of generic representation in its time, the film intuitively followed a tradition of grotesque realism, having links with both the satirical tradition of both Rabelais and Zola. (p 31, The Cinema of George A. Romero, Tony Williams [London: Wallflower Press, 2003])
A news producer who worked at CBS and NBC for nine years discussed how concentrated corporate ownership encourages self-censorship: “People are even more careful now, because this whole notion of freedom of the press becomes a contradiction when the people who own the media are the same people who needs to be reported on. There are political limits I perceive, and you have to work within those limits, because ultimately it’s unacceptable to stray beyond them.” (p 99, Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media, Lee & Solomon [New York: Lyle Stuart, 1990])
Eclipsing Falwell and perhaps even Robertson is Dr. James Dobson, a right-wing psychologist who chairs a national network of more than eighty Christian fundamentalist ministries called Focus on the Family. Dobson’s “internationally syndicated radio programs [are] heard daily on more than 3,000 radio facilities in North America and in 15 languages on approximately 3,300 facilities in over 116 countries,” according to his Web site. “His commentaries are heard by more than 200 million people every day, including a program translation carried on all state-owned radio stations in the People’s Republic of China. He is seen on 80 television stations daily in the U.S.” (p 194, The Republican Noise Machine, David Brock [New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004])
24. Most corporations pay no federal income tax
The GAO examined millions of tax returns from 1996 through 2000, the economic boom years. They found the 61 percent of US-based corporations paid no income tax. For foreign-controlled corporations that operate in the US, 71 percent didn’t pay. […] To make it even more sickening, most of the corporations that actually do owe taxes pay a rate less than 5 percent, even though the base rate for corporate entities is 35 percent. (Only 0.6 percent of US corporations and 0.1 percent of non-US corporations paid 30 percent or more, the suckers.) (p 65-66, 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know, Russ Kick [New York: Disinformation, 2004])
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Still Digesting Noam "Chompin'" Chomsky
The refusal of the rebel opposition to participate in the election is portrayed as a rejection of democracy and proof of its antidemocratic tendencies, although the very plan of the election involves the rebels’ exclusion from the ballot. The sponsor government also seizes upon any rebel statements urging nonparticipation or threatening to disrupt the election. These are used to transform the election into a dramatic struggle between, on the one side, the “born-again” democratic army and people struggling to vote for “peace,” and, on the other, the rebels opposing democracy, peace, and the right to vote. Thus the dramatic denouement of the election is voter turnout, which measure the ability of the forces of democracy and peace (the army) to overcome rebel threats.Despite the fact this was originally written during the Cold War and was illustrated with examples from three Central American countries from 1980-85, this excerpt could easily be applied without change to Iraq. The even have the “official” military terrorizing the population with torture and murder. And, like in Central American in the early 1980s, the media downplay the blatant evidence of systemic “official” Iraqi military torture and murder. The latest “insurgent” explosions and victims get full play because those are more likely to cause American casualties. Thirty civilians found in a mass grave, dead from bullets fired only from high priced and unique guns only available to Iraqi police, not so much.
Official observers are dispatched to the election scene to assure its public-relations success. Nominally, their role is to see that the election is “fair.” Their real function, however, is to provide the appearance of fairness by focusing on the government’s agenda and by channeling press attention to a reliable source. They testify to fairness on the basis of long lines, smiling faces, no beatings in their presence, and the assurances and enthusiasm of U.S. and client-state officials. But these superficialities are entirely consistent with a staged fraud. Fairness depends on fundamental conditions established in advance, which are virtually impossible to ascertain under the brief, guided-tour conditions of official observers. (p 89, Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent [New York: Pantheon, 1988]) (italic emphasis in original, bold emphasis mine.)
Missing in Action
Thus, there are oddities, glimpses of... thingies. That is, things of less than major import, fragments of ideas within my immediate sphere of attention, undeveloped and scrawny ideas trying to puff up and fill out. Yes. Self-absorbed much?
First, the hysterical deafness visited upon mainstream American culture when certain words are uttered. "Socialism" and "anarchy" are two. Show stoppers. Inconceivable. "No one speaks of socialism any more; it's a dead ideology." (my personal re-interpretation of a line from the film Simon, King of the Witches: "No one speaks Aramaic; it's a dead language.")
Second, all that is old becomes new again. Well, at least my vinyl music is becoming so. My collection mostly covers from the early 1960s through the early 1990s, and generally in the rock/blues genres. One thing that bothers me is I'm beginning to develop a distinctly critical view of today's pop music. I don't really want to be an old fart saying "Hmmmph! That ain't music! Why, in my day, people played real music, not this crap!" Perhaps it's the curse of having decades of musical history floating in my head. I hear the opening riff and usually begin listing the musical influences in the song and the groups who did the same thing 10, 20 or 40 years ago. Nothing sounds original any more. Along with this is increased complexity of the released recordings. Multiple dense layers of sound create a miasma, a fog of detail below the top layers, a modulated jungle of bits difficult to pick out. It becomes less of a song and more a collage. Yes, part of this is samples and remix but it still bothers me. I also suspect that much of this is a result of studio manipulation rather than actual musicianship or proficiency with instruments and voice. See, I am an old fart.
So the end of the year is upon us and I'm just complaining and whinging. Happy F---ing New Year.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
A Few Seasonal Words
Christmas, n. A day set apart and consecrated to gluttony, drunkenness, maudlin sentiment, gift-taking, public dulness (sic), and domestic misbehavior.
What? not religious? You should see, my pet,
On every Christmas day how drunk I get!
O, I'm a Christian -- not a pious monk
Honors the Master with so dead a drunk.
Christian, n. One who believe that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teaching of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
Freethinker, n. A miscreant who wickedly refuses to look out of a priest's eyes, and persists in looking into them with too searching a glance. Freethinkers were formerly shot, burned, boiled, racked, flogged, cropped, drowned, hanged, disemboweled, impaled, beheaded, skinned. With the lapse of time our holy religion has fallen into the hands and hearts of merciful and humane expounders, and the poor freethinker's punishment is entrusted to Him who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." Here on earth the misguided culprit is only threatened, pursued, reviled, avoided, silenced, cursed, insulted, robbed, cheated, harrassed, derided, slandered.
Clergyman, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.
Living in the Past
It's full of things that were important at the time but seem less so now. Er, to stave off becoming more maudlin, I'll just end this entry here.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
The Death Pit of Liberalism
The current secretive and blatantly repressive administration is nothing new. It is just more thorough and effective at it than most past administrations I'm familiar with. The cynic in me begins to doubt there is any benefit for the majority of people in this country through the actions of national politics. Like popular culture targeted at the lowest common denominator, what passes for discourse on national issues is shallow, clearly emotive rather than thoughtful.
While mainstream liberals and Democratic politicians serve to advance some progressive causes and are certainly better than having no opposition at all, I find it difficult to discern any underlying political philosophy consistent with my personal beliefs. As far as I can tell, the system is so biased toward corporations and the wealthy, any actions truly for the good of the general population are, in effect, practically afterthoughts or byproducts of the central business of rewarding power and money.
This is the kind of perception that creates revolutionaries. When there appears to be no other avenues open, violent and extreme action seem logical and necessary. When protests and letter writing appear ineffectual in affecting government and policy, the immediacy and gratification resulting from direct action is immensely appealing.
The boundaries and definitions of mainstream politics have changed and morphed into something quite different from the labels. What is called "conservative" these days is practically unrecognizable as the conservative of thirty years ago. The actions of dominant conservatism today is blatantly imperialistic on the international stage, actively belligerent towards the poor and lower classes, and best described as a kind of corporate oligarchy.
In the face of this de facto rule by the wealthy "conservatives", the so-called liberal strain in politics seems to have become moribund and ineffectual for the most part. The Democratic Party is an entrenched power structure in it's own right, currently limited to attempting weak procedural roadblocks to Republican actions. They don't seem to have a unified or dynamic philosophy that I can easily understand. Opposition and sloganeering are not a coherent political philosophy. Why does the phase "Hey, at least we're better than the Republicans" come to my mind? Democrats don't say it but I pick up this sentiment as a backdrop to most of their speeches.
So I'm left (ha-ha) wondering what a radical/progressive should do in these times which try our souls. I'm feeling particularly repelled by the state to which liberalism has devolved. So I write my little blog entries and do my best to keep my ear out for something better (and safer) than throwing Molotov cocktails in sheer frustration and anger. I haven't reached that point. Yet.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Another of My Unwritten Books
Intro: Welcome to My Nightmare
Financial Matters (If you need to ask how much it costs to be a candidate, you can't afford to be one.)
Procedural Matters: How do you get to be a candidate in the first place?
Wooing the Electorate: Babies, Shaking Hands, and Photo Ops
Information, Issues, and Poll Numbers
Can You Win in the Media Circus? (Hint: Money helps.)
Influence Peddlars and Buyers
Welcome to the Political Foodchain
Friday, December 16, 2005
I try to fight it. I try to evaluate ideas and consumer items by usefulness, durability, and impact but I admit I often fail. So when I recently started reading Noam Chomsky's political work, I thought I should get his most recent books to evaluate his ideas. Some people might want to start with his first books to get a picture of the evolution of his political philosophy but this is my “new” twitch raising its head.
Being a frugal sort of fellow, I'm a big fan of our local used book stores. Since we have a concentration of five colleges in the area, I like to shop at Raven Books. They have used books and often a very high percentage of academically published texts in excellent condition. I’ve fed some of my housemate’s Celtic Studies needs through finds there. (The languages and cultures, not the basketball team.) I’ve also acquired many of my political, media studies, and language texts there.
So when I came across Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), I wanted it. At the same time I was doubtful about the usefulness of an examination of the media written from the perspective of 1988. The charts of company ownership would undoubtedly be out of date and the media landscape has changed hugely with the advent of the Web. Right? Well, not quite.
I did not reckon with the depth of the analysis in the book nor the incisive and inclusive reach of the theories put forth by Messrs. Herman and Chomsky. Despite using examples from the relatively recent history of the time, the principles articulated are eminently applicable today. There is even a way in which the additional perspective of time has given more weight to their arguments.
I regularly come across statements that resonate so strongly, it’s difficult to believe they are not about current events. That is the power of the theoretical model they propose: You can take any current topic being covered by the media, examine it through the magnifying lens of the model, and come to remarkably parallel conclusions. The authors don’t claim infallibility but they do claim that the theory holds up as an accurate predictor of press responses to current events. That is quite a claim but as far as I can see, it holds true.
When bloggers speak with some contempt of the “mainstream media” (MSM), this is the perspective covering the whys of the MSM’s failure to cover important issues. Here are a few excerpts.
Institutional critiques such as we present in this book are commonly dismissed by establishment commentators as “conspiracy theories,” but this is merely an evasion. We do not use any kind of “conspiracy” hypothesis to explain mass-media performance. In fact, our treatment is much closer to a “free market” analysis, with the results largely an outcome of the workings of market forces. Most biased choices in the media arise from the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power. Censorship is largely self-censorship, by reporters and commentators who adjust to the realities of source and media organizational requirements, and by people at higher levels within media organizations who are chosen to implement, and have usually internalized, the constraints imposed by proprietary and other market and governmental centers of power. (p. xii, Preface)Some of the specific examples given in the text are only partially familiar to me from the time but my memories are in accord with the authors’ analysis. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as to the accuracy of the details because of this.
The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda. (p. 1)
A propaganda model focuses on this inequality of wealth and power and its multilevel effect on mass-media interests and choices. It traces the routes by which money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interest to get their messages across to the public. (p. 2)
All in all, an excellent book that I’m enjoying reading. I'm including a link to the Amazon listing for the book, not because I'm keen on Amazon, but because it's an easy central location to see other people's reviews and thoughts on the book. And, yes, I know there is a video/DVD documentary covering this material which I've seen as well but I've got a thing for books. I like to savor the words. I like the luxury of mulling over the footnotes and processing the information. I don't seem to process film footage and audio as well as print since often at the end of a documentary I find it difficult to remember specific details to follow up on. Perhaps that's just me.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Oppression in the Wake of Katrina
Democracy Now had a segment called New Orleans Evacuees and Activists Testify at Explosive House Hearing on the Role of Race and Class in Government's Response to Hurricane Katrina. Here is a little from it. While the transcript doesn't show it, the hearing seemed shockingly empty and unattended, particularly up in the "official" seats. All emphasis added.
AMY GOODMAN: We'll turn now to excerpts from that hearing. We hear first from Ishmael Muhammad, an attorney for the Advancement Project, part of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund.
ISHMAEL MUHAMMAD: The purpose of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition is to insure that those who have suffered the most before, during and after Katrina, and whose voices have been historically disregarded, are empowered to be heard and take charge of the monies being raised in their names, the reconstruction of their communities, and the repairing of their lives. Therefore, the testimony that I'm going to give today, on behalf of the legal work that we're doing and on behalf of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and the Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition, will be from those voices. And we urge all of you to seek out those voices that we cannot bring you today.
Denise, a 42-year-old black woman from New Orleans, interned in the Convention Center, reports, “I thought I was in hell. I was there for two days with no water, no food and no shelter, with my 63-year-old mother, 21-year-old niece and two-year-old grandniece and thousands of others. Police would not come out of their cars. National Guard trucks rolled by, completely empty, with soldiers with guns cocked and aiming at us. Nobody stopped to drop off water. A helicopter dropped a load of water, but all of the bottles exploded on impact. Many people were delirious from lack of water and food, completely dehydrated. Inside the Convention Center, conditions were horrible. The floors were black and slick with feces. Outside wasn't much better, between the heat, the humidity, the lack of water, and old and very young dying from dehydration. There were young men with guns there, who organized the crowd and got food and water for the old people and babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When buses came, it was those men who got the crowd in order. Old people in front, women and children next, men in the back. Many people decided to walk across the bridge to the west bank, but armed police ordered them to turn around at the top of the bridge. The first day, four people died next to me, the second day, six. Make sure you tell everybody,” she said, “that they left us there to die.”
Nicole, a young black woman from New Orleans, who was interned in the Superdome, states, "We survived despite being abandoned by federal, state and local government. Black families with children and no money were the majority in the Superdome. I noticed only 5% of people were not black and they were mostly unfortunate white and Asian tourists. While waiting in line behind a barricade for 18 hours to board a bus away from the Superdome, I noticed a group of tourists, three white and two Asian people, rushed quietly out one side of the barricade that held thousands of exhausted, financially underprivileged black families with babies. The looting was people's main rebellion, because it was hotter than Satan's oven in the Dome and people wanted cold drinks, ice, anything cold. The National Guard did not serve or protect. They were constantly threatening us and herding us by machine guns like cows. I saw a teenage boy beaten up by a National Guard officer in front of a crowd of thousands of people. The National Guard was disorganized. They did not try to instill order to the chaos of ration distribution. Nobody ever knew when or where food was given out, and people stood in line for hours. I was alone and female. Many of the older men and women were protective of me in the Superdome. Nobody really laid a hand on me, except for a white police officer, Officer Hall, badge 185 or 158 (I wish I could remember). He grabbed my booty in Texas during a 3:00 a.m. bus search, while we were on the way to Dallas. The U.S. is the richest country in the world. I don't understand why so many people would have to die in Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. has the money to evacuate people in a disaster, especially one that has been awaited for a number of years.”
Shelly, a 31-year-old who was trapped in the Superdome, adds, "When buses came to take us from the Superdome, they were taking tourists first. White people, they were just picking them out of the crowd. I don't know why we were treated the way we were. But it was like they didn't care.”
Alva, a 51-year-old grandmother from New Orleans East, remembers, “When we were taken to the higher ground in Jefferson Parish, what did we have to greet us? A line of military police with M-16 rifles. They watched us, caged us, laughed at us, took pictures of us with their camera-phones. I saw a young man get down on his knees and beg for water for his little baby, and I saw the child die right there on the concrete. This was murder. They wanted us dead. They just didn't think so many of us would survive."
Tammy, a black woman in her mid-30s, complains, “I was trying to evacuate with my two daughters by car, when we were stopped by police, made to get out and told, ‘Lie down on the ground, you black monkey bitch.’ I was arrested and thrown in jail with my daughters and could not get out for several weeks.”
John, a New Orleans resident displaced at the Houston Astrodome, says, “I was in the Astrodome and told to move from the bleachers to the field on the lower area, but I refused because I had seen dead bodies down there and I was with some of my 12 children in the upstairs area. There were just too many unsafe issues down there. I was forced to leave the stadium. Me and my family were taken out at rifle-point.”
Agnes, a 70-something-year-old Creole woman who was a resident of Iberville Public Housing Development; Maybell, a woman in her late-70s, a longtime resident of St. Bernard Public Housing Development; Joseph and Cynthia, who are residents of B.W. Cooper Public Housing Development; and Alberta, who is a resident of Lafitte Public Housing Development, have all been displaced, and all are wondering why they have to be locked out of their public housing residence when their homes have received little to no flooding and are habitable.
These stories illustrate that these are the people who need to be heard, because their stories illustrate the failures of the government on every level.
A Different Kind of Random 10 Songs
In that spirit, I'm going to spoil myself and list a few of the albums I've recently ripped from my sorely neglected collection of vinyl LPs. I'll add a little annotation as well. It's a selfish gesture but hey, it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to.
Winwood, Steve Winwood. This was a two record anthology of his work through 1971, including groups such as the Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith, and Traffic.
New Orleans Piano, Professor Longhair. A well-known New Orleans musician and legend who never really made it big on the national level. Recorded in 1971. Songs include "Tipitina", "Ball the Wall", and "Boogie Woogie."
The First Supergroup, The Steampacket. The title is hyperbole but it's an interesting recording from 1965. Members of the group included Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart, Brian Auger, and Julie Driscoll. The songs were recorded in a day for a demo tape. Kind of gospel-y with songs like "The In-Crowd", "Can I Get a Witness", and "Cry Me a River".
Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood Mac. Before the Mac were super famous, they had a very different sound. This was very, very blues oriented. I liked them better then.
Okay, that's not 10 songs (or albums) but then again it wasn't randomly generated either. Sue me.
[Addendum: Power in the Darkness, Tom Robinson Band. One of the first rock bands I was aware of that had an explicitly pro-gay song, "Glad to be Gay". They also actively promoted "Rock Against Racism" and sang against authoritarianism.]
Monday, December 12, 2005
CFIDS and Diastolic Cardiomyopathy
Since no one has died directly from CFIDS and because unremitting extreme fatigue is a hallmark, it is easy to make fun of people who say they have the disease. "Yeah, I get tired too but you don't see me in bed all day." Adding to the confusion is the fact that there are no definitive blood or lab tests which can provide an unmistakable positive diagnosis. This also made it very susceptible to misdiagnosis and over-diagnosis by doctors unfamiliar with the symptom guidelines or the necessity for eliminating other conditions before settling on a CFIDS identification.
Osler's Web: Inside the Labyrinth of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a book chronicling some of the research into the causes of the disease and is a detailed and fascinating look at CFIDS. Its tone is very reminiscent of And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts about the development of AIDS research and theories.
Recent developments may have finally cracked some of the mysteries around the causes of CFIDS. Dr. Paul Cheney, a longtime specialist in CFIDS, now thinks the disease may be related to a heart condition called Idiopathic Cardiomyopathy (ICP). He thinks a variation on this condition causes many of the symptoms of CFIDS because the patient's body is attempting to compensate for the ongoing heart problem. He's dubbed it Diastolic Cardiomyopathy or sometimes Compensated Idiopathic Cardiomyopathy but he seems to have settled on the former term.
In ICP, the heart doesn't push out enough blood. The CFIDS variation does not preload enough blood into the heart, reducing circulation throughout the body, particularly extremities. This reduces the available oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body. There is more to this theory but that is the bare bones of it.
A long video (three hours and twenty minutes) of a presentation by Dr. Cheney in June, 2005 has many details on his current findings. It's available for $18US.
The most promising course of treatment appears to be removing bone marrow from the patient and injecting the patient's own stem cells into their heart. A BBC report and a Science News report give some details on this treatment. Currently, this protocol is only available in Germany and not in the US.
CFIDS is not a joke to those who have it. To get an inkling of what it's like to have CFIDS, try to remember what you felt like at the end of an exceptionally active and physically tiring day. The kind of day that leaves you bone weary with aching muscles and practically unable to get up out of a chair once you slump into it. Perhaps you wonder if you can even make to your bed. This is what many CFIDS patients feel like all the time without having done any activity. They wake up like this; this is their starting point for the day. Even mild exercise, which in a normal person would increase stamina and strengthen the body, will actually damage a CFIDS patient's body. A little too much activity might actually leave them more weakened for days or even weeks.
I'm just hoping the current theory pans out. People with CFIDS could use a break after twenty years of investigation. Or non-investigation. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) was allocated millions of dollars over several years for research into CFIDS. They spent most of the money elsewhere despite specific Congressional budget mandates. Osler's Web provides some details on this misappropriation of funds.
Ugh! And with that light note, good night.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
The Myth of American Democracy
I don't mean in a general way but in very specific and ongoing ways. Some of the methods are small, seemingly innocuous and reasonable, but taken as a totality they funnel the "will" of the American people into the narrowest of possible channels with predictable outcomes. Perhaps any large-scale "representative" democracy such as the US would, through logistical necessity, end up like this but I don't think so. I believe the methods are deliberate, aimed at sapping any energy placed in the electoral system by the general population.
In other words, participation in the electoral system provides an illusion of effect, of contributing to the result, when the mechanics conspire to minimize, ameliorate, and nullify electoral participation.
Every step in the process of any election larger than a town or county official is predicated not on encouraging participation but on engineering predictable results and electing those candidates most in accord with the current power groups. While there is often very real and distinct differences between positions of competing candidates, by any broader spectrum beyond Democrat and Republican, the results are remarkably similar in the end.
Of course, Americans are quite afraid of change, of truly different candidates. This is intrinsically built into the system. It's called a free market system but when most elections come down to candidates A positive or A negative, I'm less inclined to think of it as a competitive system.
It begins to look price fixing and racketeering.
Law and Order, American Style
That's not what I want to talk about though. I've recently been watching "Spike TV", a cable network supposedly specifically geared to a male audience. Why watch it? Well, they show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation every evening. I've only recently discovered CSI and I'm enjoying catching up on the series. It's a little addictive.
Another show I've been watching is World's Wildest Police Videos, a kind of law enforcement verite of chases, videos of convenience store robberies, riots, etc. This is what I want to talk about.
The narration of this show is most interesting. It is, of course, very pro-police. The essential paradigm of Good and Evil is explicit. The new centurions of law and order versus the anarchic criminals. A narrative is woven around each video, stressing the dangerousness of police work. But they are proud to protect the community, putting their lives on the line because they are honorable men and women. And it should be obvious that those they pursue are the scum of the earth: vicious, stupid and reckless.
This is the point. Anyone the police pursue is, ipso facto, guilty. In another long running series called Cops, the producers make of point of saying at the beginning of the show that all suspects are considered "innocent until proven guilty in a court of law." Police Videos doesn't bother with such niceties. The suspect is fleeing so obviously they are guilty, right?
There's no denying the power and adrenalin rush of the clips themselves. Many of these clips are from the police cruiser cameras mounted on the front dashboard that are becoming more standard all the time. The chases have an immediacy through editing and the fact these are real situations being played out. It's easy to go with the story being laid out in front of you.
The message of "the cops are just doing their job" is pervasive as is "the police are your friends as long as you are a law abiding citizen." However, the police are enforcers of laws. And the police are not able to make judgments on the justice of laws. In this sense, they are directly guarding the established structure and status quo.
Do I value the police? Sure. Do I trust them? No. Their sense of honor and values are difficult to assess. Their loyalty seems rooted more in their peers and top down hierarchy than with their constituent population. I'm not saying that they are dishonorable as a group but I am saying that they pledge their honor to each other and superiors. That is different than honor dedicated to the people they guard and watch over.
[Later update: Upon reflection, I think I'm being too hard on all police. Particularly in smaller communities, the police often have casual and strong connections to many people. Yet I still maintain that even so, the police will apply the law unevenly depending on their perceptions of the people involved. It's probably impossible and/or unwise to disengage the officer's judgement and assessment from their actions. This is the point: If the police are suspicious of someone, they will look closer to find violations, related or not to the particular situation.]
Friday, December 09, 2005
A Commercial Plug for Starhawk
We’re heading into that holiday season, when even the most dedicated anti-capitalists buy things. Presents, cards, little tchatskies for your Aunt Gladys, that sort of thing. If you need cards, images, mugs, trinkets, etc. and want to support a good cause, check out these CafePress sites, both of which have my own photos on them (did you know I was a photographer before I was a writer?).
www.cafepress.com/earthactivist/ supports our Earth Activist Training scholarship fund, and has cards, journals, mugs, T-shirts, all kinds of things.
www.cafepress.com/belili/ has Solstice cards and postcards, and supports our documentary film company, www.belili.org, where you can also order the documentary made by Donna Read and me, Signs Out of Time: the Life and Work of Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. It’s a beautiful, hour long film on the woman who did the most important work on the ancient Goddesses of Old Europe. As well, you can get videos of the extended interviews we’ve done with many of the major thinkers in the Goddess movement.
And if you’re still looking for something to give, here’s a suggestion for you—buy books!
Why? Well, for one thing people aren’t buying them much these days. Why should they, when they can get so much reading done on the Internet? Oh, they’re buying Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code, but there’s a whole lot of other books that aren’t getting bought. And if they aren’t bought, they won’t get published, nor will others like them. And that would be a shame, in my opinion—and not just because, until we succeed in transforming this whole wide world into one Really, Really Free Market, books pay my mortgage, buy the groceries and the biodiesel, and support the massive amount of unpaid work I do in actions and in writing the updates you receive on this list.
There simply are arguments too complex to be made in an email post, and ideas that take more time and thought to develop than you can do in a blog. There’s information you want to have in some solid form, somewhere where you can put your hands on it.
I’ve written ten books. That’s a bit like having ten children—it gets hard to pay proper attention to any of them. If you ask me which is my favorite, I couldn’t really say. But here’s a bit about each of them:
The Earth Path is the newest, and it’s the book I think we need to help us get our spiritual feet back on the ground. We’re in a global environmental crisis, because of our deep spiritual and practical disconnect from nature, and The Earth Path is the antidote. It takes us back through the elements, with both practical and mystical ways of opening our ears to the great conversation nature is having all around us.
On the spiritual side, The Spiral Dance, my first book, is still a great introduction and by now, a classic work, on earth-based and Goddess spirituality. If you or someone you know is ready to graduate from Hogwarts, The Spiral Dance is a fine introduction to real magic.
You could carry on from there with The Twelve Wild Swans, cowritten with Hilary Valentine and drawing on the combined experience of our extended community of teachers and ritual makers in Reclaiming. Swans is a Witchcraft course in a book, or rather, three courses: one on the elements of ritual making and magic, one on inner healing, and one on magical activism. It’s also a great resource for circles and groups to use.
Circle Round, Raising Children in Goddess Tradition, cowritten with Anne Hill and Diane Baker, is for families looking for an earth based practice. It’s got stories, rituals, and recipes for every holiday, and lots of resources for kids. And here’s a secret—I’ve known adult circles that use it, too.
At the other end of life, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, cowritten with M. Macha Nightmare, is a great guide for anyone dealing with loss, death and dying. It contains stories, prayers, rituals and experiences from many different Pagan practitioners and traditions, and is also used by many chaplains and hospice workers.
Then there’s the more political side (although all of my books bridge them both.) Dreaming the Dark, written in the early eighties when I was in graduate school in psychology, makes the case for an activism that springs from spiritual depths. It also includes a long appendix, an historical, economic and psychological analysis of the Burning Times.
Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority and Mystery, was inspired by observing the strange power dynamics I saw in the course of many nonviolent direct actions. I began looking into the ways we internalize power and images of power. In it I also do a long, historical look at the transition from the Goddess cultures of Old Europe to patriarchy, and how that came about—punctuated with a lot of juicy erotic ancient Sumerian liturgy. Of all my early books, this is probably the one I wish more people would read today.
Webs of Power, Notes from the Global Uprising is contemporary history. Half of it is posts I sent out on the global justice actions from Seattle to 911. The other half is longer, more thoughtful pieces on important issues in the movement, from a fresh look at nonviolence to the question of diversity.
And then there’s fiction. The Fifth Sacred Thing, of all my books, is the one that people constantly come up and tell me how much they love, and how it has changed their lives. When I wrote it, I was tired of footnotes and historical research, so I made up a future history, where Northern California has achieved the ecologically balanced, multicultural, erotophilic society we dream of. Frankly, I could have been happy just describing that world at great length, but fiction requires drama, and drama needs conflict. So Southern California has become the ultrapatriarchal, fascist society we fear—and the main characters, Madrone, a healer, Bird, a musician turned fighter, and Maya, a ninety-eight year old writer, are caught in the crunch.
Finally, there’s Walking to Mercury, the prequel to Fifth Sacred Thing. It’s the most autobiographical of my books—although it’s all made up and you can have a lot of fun guessing what parts are true to my life, what parts are things I thought of doing but thought better of in real life, what parts I wanted to do and never got around to.
And there are other books, besides mine. My partner, David Miller, wrote a really quirky autobiography, I Didn’t Know God Made Honky Tonk Communists, that weaves his experiences as the first draft card burner in the Vietnam war and his prison memoirs together with his research on the Goddess and Mayan mythology and sacred ball games. Don’t ask me how it all fits together, but it does.
Check out his website at www.honkytonkwitch.com/. And if you’re interested in the bioremediation work we’ve been doing in New Orleans, check out Paul Stamets Mycellium Running. www.fungiperfecti.com. It’s a truly amazing journey into possibilities of earth healing you never dreamed of. Thinking about starting an intentional community? My old friend Liz Walker has just put out a book, Ecovillage At Ithaca, telling the story of their experiences building one inspiring model. www.ecovillageithaca.org. And if you want to read more about the struggles in Palestine, the International Solidarity Movement has a powerful collection out, called Peace Under Fire, and check out the ISM Canada website for other suggestions.
And here’s wishing us all a cozy hearth, a good friend, and a good book in this winter season, and a timely return of the light,
Remember, if you want off this list, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and put ‘unsubscribe’ in the subject line. Please DON’T email me and ask me to do it for you. If you or someone else wants on, email email@example.com and put ‘subscribe’ in the subject line.
December 2 marks the four-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Robert "Woody" Woodward by Brattleboro [Vermont] police. Woodward, an environmentalist with many friends in the local activist community, entered a [Unitarian] church during a Sunday morning service and asked for asylum (exactly from whom remains unclear). Police arrived on the scene. Though many witnesses insist that Woodward posed no danger to the congregation, police opened fire and hit Woodward seven times. [There is evidence that some of the shots may have hit him after he had fallen and was prone on the floor.]I can't begin to go into the details of this case. Note that this happened almost three months after 9/11/2001. It's quite probable Woody's death was directly related to the heightened security atmosphere of the time. I seem to recall that two of the officers who shot Woody had been pulling down a lot of overtime guarding the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant in the months preceeding the shooting.
According to eyewitness accounts, a medical doctor on the scene begged police to allow her to tend to Woodward, who was lying handcuffed in a pool of his own blood, but she was repeatedly rebuffed. Woodward died in a New Hampshire hospital about three hours after the shooting.
The officers who took Woody's life were exonerated of any wrongdoing. [Then Gov. Howard Dean signed off on the non-independent investigation clearing the officers.] There have been no official apologies made for the shooting, no grand jury has even been convened and efforts to bring the case to civil trial have not yet been successful. A citizens' group, "Justice for Woody" (www.justiceforwoody.org), continues its call for justice as well as an end to the excessive use of force and other abuses by American law enforcement.
It's very sad.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Murderball: Crips on Adrenalin
This sort of film often gets tagged with words like "inspirational" or "uplifting" because many "able-bodied" people are used to thinking of these folks as victims. Murderball portrays them as fierce athletic competitors, more akin to extreme sports players than helpless victims of fate.
Mark Zupan (centrally pictured in the poster graphic) is pretty fierce. The DVD features a get-together between him with a couple other quads from the film and the MTV Jackass crew. If you're not familiar with Jackass, suffice to say that John Waters calls it the most homoerotic show on TV. It's just a bunch of guys inflicting pain on each other for the audience's amusement. Watching Zupan trading blows with Steve-O in a competitive black-eye giving contest provides a surreal reality check. Zupan gave better than he got and won easily in my opinion.
That's the point. By the end of the film, you don't see these guys as limited or defined by their injuries. You see individuals grabbing life and shaking it hard. They are the kind of guys you want to sit down and have a beer with and shoot the breeze. Watch out for the practical jokes though.
Just see it. You won't be disappointed.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
My Sluggish Mind Craves
My housemate's computer is back from repairs on the west coast and appears to be in fine shape, allowing me to get back to my thoughtful and blogalicious way of life. However, I'm feeling sluggish and peevish, cranky and sullen. Okay, not so much but still...
I've been spending fa-a-a-ar too much time ripping vinyl LPs to the computer. It's fun but sucks up spare time like a sponge, what with cleaning up the files, ID/tagging the resulting MP3s mostly by hand, etc. And I fear becoming the sort of person who bores everyone around him by posting to the blog every album I rip in an attempt to define myself through proclaiming to the world the music I listen to. That is not my idea of a socially integrated and balanced person. Maybe that's just me.
I'm still reading Chomsky's Necessary Illusions. I'm particularly interested in the whole Propaganda Model theory of media. Despite being written in 1989, the theory is applicable to how the media have treated the whole Iraq war. The following is from the Wikipedia link above:
Herman has gone on to join and support Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a group I positively adore.
First presented in their [Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky's] 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, the propaganda model views the private media as businesses selling a product -- readers and audiences (rather than news) -- to other businesses (advertisers). The theory postulates five general classes of "filters" that determine the type of news that finally gets published in news media. These five are:
The first three (ownership, funding, and sourcing) are generally regarded as being the most important.
Although the model was based mainly on the characterization of United States media, Chomsky and Herman believe the theory is equally applicable to any country that shares the basic economic structure and organizing principles which the model postulates as the cause of media biases.
That's enough for now. I have to ease back into this blogging stuff, build up my stamina. But wait! I need to post about watching Murderball! Great film, see it! It's out on DVD. Screw watching the Olympics; I'd pay hard cash to watch the Paralympic Games. Er, more on this film next time.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
The Death of Music
Music production values go through fads like everything else in popular culture. Certain styles of putting the guitar high in the mix or being bass heavy or putting a slight echo on the vocals will be popular for several years, then fade out. We know from experience that music producers listen very carefully to other recent releases, particularly if they were big sellers, to figure out the tricks being used in the production.
There has been an obvious trend toward "pushing" the levels of the finished product to higher saturation of all frequencies. One explanation is that this allows the songs to play and seem louder (particularly on the radio) than music mixed without pushing the frequency. Some people might attribute it to the influence of "grunge" on production values but that's not the whole story.
While researching and trying methods of recording and importing my vinyl LPs to the computer, I made a startling discovery. CDs often have shitty sound. It's not just in the mix. It's the sound as it is played.
Like many people, neither my stereo or my computer is particular high end. My stereo amp/tuner is nearly twenty years old, completely non-digital, and wasn't much above the low end of the scale at the time. The turntable is an Akai, bought for $70 around the same time. My computer doesn't even have a separate sound card. It's part of the motherboard. The speakers are just two pieces (no 2.1 or 5.1) of low to mid-level no-brand desk speakers.
Since I've been planning to import my vinyl for years, I've tried not to duplicate items I already have on vinyl when buying new CDs. I had a CD retrospective of Patti Smith's career called Land but I also wanted to have all of her album Wave so I recorded it from the vinyl. There were some overlapping songs that were duplicated like Dancing Barefoot and Frederick. I listened to the CD and vinyl versions side by side and was astonished at the difference in the sound quality. The vinyl copies were far and away superior. I don't mean a little better. I mean like listening to an oldtime radio show and listening to something live. It was that apparent even on the crappy computer speakers. You could hear every little cymbal strike, the rocking of a finger on a guitar note, the breath of the singer.
Lest you think I'm comparing an MP3 ripped from a CD with a larger audio file from the vinyl copy, I'm not. I compared both full sized CD tracks and the large .WAV files from the vinyl. Then I compared the compressed and reduced MP3s from both sources. It didn't matter how it was done. The vinyl copies showed obviously greater clarity and tonal range than the CDs.
This isn't earth-shaking but it is rocking my world. I thought it was just my crappy computer speakers accounting for the dull sound on the computer. Now it seems that the fault is in the CDs themselves. I always thought the audiophiles bleating about the "flat" sound of CDs was just griping about distinctions and subtleties a schlub like me couldn't possibly hear. Lo, I find they may have a very good point. It's a little like rediscovering music.
Perhaps much of this is because I am working directly with an analog source transferring to a digital format. But that makes no sense. The original CD files are probably created from excellent source material. I admit to bafflement on this point. All I know is I'm feeling very dissatisfied generally with CDs if this factor shows through consistently.
I resisted buying CDs for many years because it seemed very obvious that the music industry was using the changeover to the new format to jack up prices outrageously. (I believe this was proven in court and, in the settlement, music companies were required to donate large numbers of CDs to libraries. The companies used the opportunity to dump massive amounts of excess "D-list" inventory on the libraries.) Eventually I succumbed because of the convenience and because some new releases were being shipped only on CD.
Of course, there's not much in the way of alternatives. MP3s ripped from inferior sounding CDs yield inferior MP3s. Still, I'm feeling very grumpy towards the mainstream corporate music companies at the moment.
Friday, December 02, 2005
I learned everything need I to know about imperialism from Phil Ochs
Ochs was a powerful protest folky in the same camp as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and he used music to good effect in raising awareness of the US government's long history of imperialist foreign actions among other topic. Santo Domingo speaks to the fairly frequent US intervention in the Dominican Republic, particularly the 1965 invasion. Were you aware that we invaded that country? There are *lots* of direct US interventions during the twentieth century that I've never heard about. William Blum chronicled many of these in a book called Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II.
Ochs has an achingly clear voice, beautiful to listen to. He can also be quite funny. His version of Love Me, I'm a Liberal is very amusing. And Outside of a Small Circle of Friends combines bleak reality with a call for people to never be bystanders in the face of injustice, all wrapped in a light humor.
He was writing about Vietnam in 1962, well before most people had any clue about what the CIA was developing there.
Phil Ochs doesn't have much to do with it, but I'm continually surprised at the consistant drive of the US government in imperialistic pursuits. It spans all kinds of presidents and administrations and reaches far back in our national history. I don't know why it should surprise me; I like to think I've been around the political block a few times and don't have much in the way of illusions. Yet I do. When I constantly hear that there are some bad apples in government but generally the US does a lot of good in the world, it sort of seeps into my unconscious. The stuff I learned in high school, the conveniently edited history, stays with me even as I try to establish a realistic view based on accurate information rather than the "patriotic" and popular illusionary image.
Here's to you, Phil.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Chomping on Chomsky
I surprise myself in that I've read very little Chomsky. I find him a bit of a difficult read, mostly because my reading style is less than completely concentrated. Chomsky repays close attention while reading with a wealth of insight and detail. It's easy to understand why many consider him a preeminently and outstanding critical thinker on the left. His analysis is deft and informed. If I can, I'd like to read Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.
['Tho unimportant in the grand scheme of things, I'm still getting used to copying LPs to the computer. Latest additions: A pair of Screaming Blue Messiahs releases which have been out of print for a long time, Bikini Red and Totally Religious. Yum!]