line -->
  • Tuesday, January 31, 2006


    State of the Union = Sunshinin' BS

    I'm writing this before the State of the Union (SOTU) speech by Prez Bush tonight. Like some other bloggers, I can't really stomach watching it. Part of it is the prez himself but another part is my cynicism at any such event. I doubt a single sentence of it will be true and accurate.

    SOTU is less of a report on the nation to Congress and more a form of cheerleading. I'm willing to go out on a limb and give you the gist of the speech, sight unseen. Whatever the specifics in the speech, they are only there to confuse you. Here is my executive summary in the form of the Prez's notes:
    We, as a country, have faced some hard times this year. (List them.) However, we've shown great strength as a country. (Use the words determination and courage.) Things are getting better and will continue to get better. Nine eleven (9/11)! Begin and/or finish by saying The state of the union is strong.
    That's it. Oh, it'll take from 45 minutes to an hour and a half to deliver it in properly pompous fashion but that's the essence of it. I may have missed a bit here and there but I'd bet money almost everything in the speech can be reduced to that one paragraph. To be fair, with few exceptions, this is pretty much what the SOTU speech is for every prez, every year for quite a few decades.

    Please, tell me I was wrong about this, that I have seriously misjudged the event and the content of the speech. I'll even apologize here, in this very post, if that is the case. Hmm, that almost commits me to reading the text of the speech later and I'm not too keen to do so. Well, if someone tells me I'm wrong, then I'll check the text to confirm it.

    Sunday, January 29, 2006


    Some Feminist Referents

    I am currently aimless in this blog. For the most part, I'm not reading any other blogs and I am left wanting in subjects. I'm in a daze so I've gone through the comments from a particular I Blame the Patriarchy post (Dork Takes Issue With My “Tone”) and visited a few of the blogs. Hence a short list of blogs containing basically feminist bloggy goodness. I know this is a poor excuse for an entry but I fear if I don't post something, I will fade away. So check them out and wave hello for me.

    The Happy Feminist
    The Fat Lady Sings
    Ancrene Wiseass

    and of course the ever-fabulous Bitch, Ph.D.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006


    Artificially Creating Gender Wars, Education Edition

    Over on AlterNet PEEK, there's a critical piece on a recent Newsweek cover story on "The Boy Crisis." I've noticed that Time and Newsweek are very good at regularly manufacturing these "in-depth" stories, ostensibly informative and objective but usually pushing very hard from a particular perspective.

    This story seems to be a classic form of artificially creating conflict in order to advance certain interests and derail others. This tactic is regularly used by the powerful, moneyed elites (yes, I'm using that word) to divide people and keep them from seeing their common problems and enemies. At the risk of sounding like a slogan-spewing Communist Party cadre member, I still maintain that "divide and conquer" is a tried and true formula for ruling classes to keep the disempowered disorganized and focused in the wrong direction.

    Thus the framing of the story is more interesting to me. This posits that one group is losing and one is winning or getting ahead at the expense of the losing group. This is done through emphasizing certain "facts" and tensions. In one way it is a pseudo-scientific format, used to give an appearance of impartiality, when in reality it is almost the opposite. Scientific method would create a thesis or theory suggested by an array of facts. Then, as more evidence accumulates, the theory will be modified or discarded to bring it into accord with the facts. Many of these "news" stories seem to start with a perspective or narrative and then marshall carefully selected evidence to support it.

    So instead of asking more basic questions about the nature and effectiveness of American education for all children, a narrative is created where one group of children is "good but oppressed" by another group. Boys vs. Girls. [Addendum: This technique is described in Manufacturing Consent by Herman and Chomsky (New York: Pantheon, 1988) in the chapter "Worthy and Unworthy Victims."]

    What I also find is that such stories almost always work to the advantage of the existing power structure, in this case the gender power structure. Once it becomes popular knowledge (as opposed to factual) that boys are "falling behind" in education, it is then "necessary" to dedicate resources and money to remedy the situation.

    I remain doubtful.


    Don't Crush That Blog, Hand Me the Links

    Apparently I am running on intellectual fumes at the moment, unable to construct a coherent blog entry of independent thought. Thus, you get more links ("More linkage," screamed the crowd. "Give us linkage and set us free!") (inflated ego much?) instead of brilliant minutia about my irridescent life. And, obviously, many over-the-top adjectives.

    This is my way of blogrolling: I like to visit sites new to me and see what's up with them. It helps me get back to basics, back to what I find valuable about blogs.

    First is Demagogue, opinion on politics, economics, and the like.

    Legal Fiction is concerned with (what else?) issues involving the law.

    American Leftist has an extensive four part study titled China: End of an Era? Good substantial stuff. The conclusion is here.

    Then there's first draft, more opinion on politics and subjects of the day. I found the subtitle all too true and amusing as well: "writing is only real on the first draft." Ho ho ho. One of the posts led me to another blog...

    Corrente, and a post saying that there are as many as 35,000 in American secret prisons. That is astonishing.

    Pinko Feminist Hellcat has some scathing words on some guy who, the more you read of his own words, the worse he becomes. Truly horrific but in a schadenfreude kind of way.

    Go now and web surf in peace and harmony.

    Monday, January 23, 2006


    Mad Max in the New American Century

    I went to a local library to watch The End of Suburbia. I'd never seen it although I am quite aware of Peak Oil implications it's based on and what it means for the future for America and the world in general. (See the "Mad Max" trilogy of films for a few signposts.) The question after accepting the near-future inevitability of these events is: What sort of actions can be taken to ameliorate the impact of a declining oil supply?

    While developing alternative sources of energy will help, such sources will probably never be able to keep pace with our voracious modern industrial appetite for energy. Biodiesel? My understanding is we would have to devote over 90% of the US's arable land to such crops to supply our current automotive needs, much less our increasing demands. Wind, solar, tidal, hydro, and nuclear all have similar limitations. Currently, hydrogen production takes more energy, gallon for gallon, to produce than it (hydrogen) gives off in released energy. [I can't completely vouch for these figures but I believe they are generally true.]

    Besides implementing commonsense personal energy conservation measures, we also need to develop different economic strategies. The whole "buy locally made products and services" approach is good but limited. We've had decades of systemic dismantling of local businesses and manufacturing capabilities and moving these functions far away from our communities.

    The End of Suburbia used an example which stuck with me: The 3,000 mile Cesar Salad. To me, this cuts to the core of the problem. On the East Coast of the US where I live, we are used to being able to have fresh vegetables year 'round. What happens when it becomes profoundly uneconomical to ship lettuce or any food across the country? Or, to use another example, when it becomes impossible to get new clothes or shoes from China, 12,000 miles away?

    I think many people in the US are unaware of just how the government subsidizes and protects the oil industry in this country. Without these protections, gasoline prices at the pump would be much, much higher. There are different ways of looking at it but at a minimum, prices would be at least 50% higher. Other factors give larger values. According to this story, taking other factors into consideration, "...external costs push the true price of gasoline as high as $15.14 a gallon, according to a new report released by the International Centre for Technology Assessment." (A more detailed source is The Roads Aren't Free: Estimating the Full Social Costs of Driving and the Effect of Accurate Pricing.) Try filling up your car, even a very fuel efficient one, much less an SUV, at $15 a gallon and perhaps you have an inkling of a real and near future. How near? Probably within 10 years, possibly within 5 years. The war in Iraq will not change this. Drilling in the Arctic will not change this. All such control over oil resources only means the drop-off period of a limited supply will be much more precipitous when it comes.

    As I've said before, now would be a good time to learn how to raise your own food in a garden and perhaps, if you can, keep a few chickens around. As Gil Scott-Heron sings, it's winter in America.

    Saturday, January 21, 2006


    The Mark of Z

    Having managed to somehow miss seeing the film Z (1969) over the course of decades, I remedied that tonight. Perhaps the years of hearing about it peripherally had built up my expectations. Perhaps it’s the fact I now take for granted the possibility of the sort of police and military cover-up pictured in the film is entirely credible. Whatever.

    Don’t get me wrong: I liked the film and found it compelling. It held my attention and I was engrossed in the mentality of the government attempting to “protect” itself from “subversive” ideas and people. Sound familiar?

    The story is directly based on a real event in Greece in 1963, although the director and production were at pains to make the characters and locations non-specific. That is, the film takes place in a deliberately general Mediterranean city and country with characters who are often referred to by their job or function rather than name (the Senator, the Colonel, etc.)

    Its anti-authoritarian message is important. Look it up if you haven’t seen it.

    Friday, January 20, 2006


    More Fun with Music Players

    Open (unnamed omnipresent nearly monopolistic music service/player) or Windows Media Player to answer the following. Go to your library. Answer, no matter how embarrassing it is.

    How many songs? 5,246
    Sort by artist:
    First artist:
    First by punctuation: ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead.
    First by number: 801/Phil Manzanera.
    First by alpha: ABC.
    Last artist: Zombie, Rob

    Sort by song title: 'Till The Tide Creeps In, by The Thrills is first, Zomby Woof by Frank Zappa is last.
    Sort by time:
    Shortest Song: (Apparently I have a few songs listing a time of 0:00 which need to be gotten rid of.) The first song with time is The Misfits - Bonus track 2 by The Misfits at 0:06
    Longest Song: Sister Ray by The Velvet Underground at 38:01

    First Album: 21 Singles 1984-1998 by Jesus and Mary Chain (alpha: A Different Kind of Tension by The Buzzcocks)
    Last Album: Ziggy Stardust [Bonus Tracks] by David Bowie

    First song that comes up on Shuffle: Waitin' for the Man/Heroin [Live-Tom Vocal] by Cheap Trick
    How many songs come up when you search for "sex?" 141 (Skewed by a 4 CD set named Sex, America, Cheap Trick)
    How many songs come up when you search for "death?" 24
    How many songs come up when you search for "love?" 360
    How many songs come up when you search for "you?" 462
    How many songs come up when you search for "why?" 12
    How many songs come up when you search for "God?" 73
    How many songs come up when you search for "crazy?" 9



    Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

    Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) is celebrating their 20th anniversary so I thought I would bring you a sampling from the current issue of EXTRA (Jan./Feb. 2006).

    In case you are not familiar with FAIR, it is a media watchdog group with progressive values. I think FAIR is roughly comparable to Media Matters for America but they are more activist oriented and take a longer view than MM. FAIR has co-sponsored some excellent media research over the years.

    One of the first was an analysis of the guests on Nightline, the ABC news show. “Rather than trying to evaluate the content of Nightline’s political discussions -- an approach that is fraught with subjectivity -- [FAIR] wanted to analyze Nightline’s guestlist, the roster of experts and officials who appear each night to discuss the ‘top story’ of the day.” The statistical results of looking at 865 Nightline programs over a 40 month period between 1985 to 1988 were very revealing.
    The vast majority of guests -- 80 percent -- represented powerful institutions such as government or major media, while representatives of community or civic organizations, minority communities and social movements, at 6 percent, were almost invisible. Eighty-nine percent of the American guests were male and 92 percent were white. [p 13, Extra, Vol. 19, No 1]
    Near the end of the same article there’s this tidbit: “FAIR’s 2003 study of television news coverage in the weeks leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which found that less than 1 percent of on-camera news sources represented organizations opposed to the war…” This is nothing new to me, but these kinds of hard figures refute the so-called impartiality of American journalism and certainly give lie to the right-wing noise machine which insists the press is “liberal.”

    Another interesting facet of FAIR is their approach to activism. First, they don’t generally advocate advertiser boycotts. They don’t oppose the tactic but they don’t think it’s appropriate for them as advocates of a freer press. Second, they generally don’t provide an online ability to generate a form e-mail letter to companies they call for actions against. The logic is that perhaps fewer people will write but the individual tone and content of the letters that are written will make them more effective. When clicking a button sends a letter, it’s easier for the corporate recipient to discount the identical message from large numbers of senders.
    FAIR’s belief is that the best answer to bad speech is more speech. We don’t insist that people whose opinions we disagree with should be silenced; we call for a full range of debate, where viewpoints from all parts of the political spectrum are treated by the same standard. This approach is tested by the hateful rhetoric that often spews forth from major commercial talk radio stations, sometimes crossing over into calls for violence.

    In these cases, our approach has been to ask the parent companies what, if any standards they have -- does the company have any rules regarding what they are willing to broadcast? Is the company willing to stand behind bigotry and violence as defensible free speech? Simply posing such question can provoke a media outlet to rethink what they have chosen to air. [ibid, p 16]
    Anyway, I think FAIR does good work and deserves support.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006


    Soft Words, Hard Emotions

    The use of a political vocabulary is constant these days. There are two things to keep in mind when you hear politicians and related staff speak. (Of course there are more things but I’m just not addressing them here.)

    The first is vocabulary, the choice of words. Some words are used to evoke certain feelings. They are not intended to convey information, they are intended to arouse passion. I call these “soft words.” I’m sure there must be some specific political science term but that’s what I call them.

    Soft words have a definite meaning but when used by politicians they are intended to bypass critical thought and create a knee-jerk response in the listener. This often works so well that if someone calls into question the actual meaning and use of the word, some people will respond with vociferous hostility because they are triggered by the symbolic and emotional power of the words.

    An easily understood example is “freedom.” Freedom has a real definition in the dictionary. However when Pres. Bush uses it, it is usually abstracted and undefined. He uses it as shorthand for many other things not actually included in the definition of the word. That isn’t the important thing, although it is a horrible misuse of language as communication. When Pres. Bush uses the word freedom, he wants us to think of patriotism and American spirit, of good things. If the US is bringing “freedom” to the Iraqi people, that’s good, right? Who can argue with freedom?

    Of course, this is blatant emotional manipulation. It also provides an excellent way of framing and directing any response or argument. The least criticism leads to “Why do you hate freedom?” or “Your doubts and questions give strength to America’s enemies.”

    The second important thing to pay attention to with political speech is a magician’s technique for performing stage magic. This is misdirection. Misdirection is the ability to make the observer look in one place while the magician accomplishes a task in a different place. Part of this is building on the expectations of the observer.

    An example might be the “State of the Union” speech by the President. The very title of the speech sets up certain expectations for the content, that it will contain important information about the lives of Americans and the prospects for the future. What the speech will actually contain is the administration’s view of what is important. This is not a subtle distinction. It strikes to the core of our government’s ability to represent it’s people. The speech sets the tone and specifics for what people focus on. Whether they are actually important to the majority of American citizens is another matter.

    While I’ve used President Bush as an example here, this is not just practiced by Bush or the Republicans. It is part of the political culture.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006


    The Brookings Institution Katrina Index

    Remember New Orleans? That whole hurricane thing? The Brookings Institution has something called the Katrina Index which tracks some statistics on the population and economic health of the area. Here are a few bits.

  • Most schools and hospitals in Orleans Parish remain closed. Only five percent of the schools are open in Orleans Parish, for instance, and only 32 percent of the city's hospitals are now open.
  • Buying food is still difficult to do in the metro area. Only about one out of every three retail food establishments (e.g., grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores) is open in the metropolitan area.
  • Other bits: "But most of the key indicators moved in the wrong direction or not at all. The bottom line: it continues to be a very risky decision for many of the displaced households to return to the area, since all of the key necessities are in scarce supply, and it is not at all clear when or if they will be brought back online."

    Also of interest is a recent New Orleans Times-Picayune article.

    Urban historian Arnold Hirsch has studied New Orleans' cultural evolution, the intricate layers of its past. But he can't fathom what the city's future holds.

    Many neighborhoods remain dark at night, working-class people are largely absent and too much trash remains on the street, he said. The University of New Orleans professor is dismayed at what he sees as race- and class-based resistance to FEMA trailer parks. And when Carnival arrives, those joining the scaled-down celebration may have wildly varying motives -- showing faith in the city or simply escaping its hard realities, he said.

    [...]Three of every four businesses in the region battered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are back in operation, at least partially, but others may not survive, and unemployment in the metro has jumped to more than 17 percent. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is bringing in trailers to provide temporary housing for thousands of people, but so far only a fraction of the need has been met, and complaints about delays in power hookups have mushroomed. Regional Transit Authority ridership is rising each week, but its daily count of almost 11,000 rides on a scaled-down route system is less than 10 percent of what it was before Katrina -- even though the rides, for now, are free.

    Sunday, January 15, 2006


    Alito's Poison

    Although marked by many shades of lies, Judge Alito will probably still be confirmed. And we can expect decisions from the Supreme Court to carry a strong conservative imprimatur. Is it an instant turning point for justice in the US? No, but I suspect I will be uncomfortable with the results rather quickly.

    People focus on the big cases. Will Roe v. Wade be overturned? However I believe the more important decisions are less dramatic. Will Roe matter if there is actually no doctor or clinic to perform an abortion within reasonable travel distance?

    Is Judge Alito a hard core conservative jurist or just a little conservative? We'll see. If he leans toward an unstoppably strong Executive Branch of government, how different will that be from what we already have?

    If I sound cynical and resigned, bingo! Welcome to my view of our government and the higher judicial at the moment. Let's ask Gitmo inmates about Constitutional protections, shall we? Oh, that's right, they're a separate category of people. Free Speech Zones? Right. A special little space for protest. Good luck and good night.

    Saturday, January 14, 2006


    Women and Work: Limited Prospects

    The current Mother Jones has another factoid filled spread in the Jan/Feb 2006, this time on women in the "working" marketplace. I'm always attracted to these sorts of things because I love bite-sized nuggets of information. I fear this perspective leads to an oversimplified view but I can't help it. I gather info like a squirrel gathers nuts.

    This one is titled Limited Ambitions and actually has sources for the info. Here are a few selections.

    Thursday, January 12, 2006


    Blogging Beyond the Immediacy of Today

    I've been rather neglectful of the blogging community I normally visit of late. Thinking about it, it's apparent that I'm currently focused on longer range goals than the current daily political scandal or action. Focusing on these political events is important but sometimes I yearn to look beyond them.

    A problem with the specificity of immediate events is that it can lead to working hard to put out the fire in front of you without perceiving larger forces at play. Of course, this is not some exclusionary process; people can and do see and act on various levels.

    Compared to the vast majority of blogs, there is something qualitively different about non-fiction books and even magazine articles. While research on the web is an amazing process and yields connections undreamed of prior to it, it remains difficult for many people to assess the accuracy and overall context of the information. Oh, there are plenty of exceptions but I daresay most political blogs are mostly opinion rather than factual. But this is a good thing.

    Understanding public opinion and views is an integral part of an informed democratic process. But, in general, blogs function as gigantic Op-Ed and Letters pages in local newspapers. I find it less than coincidental that, as more local papers are being bought up by larger groups of papers which imprint them with a corporate perspective, people are turning to blogs to find out what other people are thinking. Yet, despite the big news stories some blogs have managed to expose and research, I remain somewhat leery of their ability to provide consistent and accurate reportage.

    Some blogs provide incredibly good information on a particular subject but this is almost always a function of the fact that the author(s) are specialists in the subject. That is one advantage of blogs. Experts are able to put out information and make it accessible to a general public. The problem is, again, assessing the qualifications of self-proclaimed experts. Padding resumes and experience is common among people who want to be considered experts but lack professional or academic standing. (Not that such standing is required for excellence in thought or research but it is a signpost to note.)

    So, to return to my original point, I'm reading more books and fewer blogs. This may be a function of winter in the woods of New England. I tend to be more introspective during this period. I'll probably become more blog-active in the spring but who knows? Maybe sooner.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006



    My preliminary comments on The Anarchist in the Library attracted a comment from the author Siva Vaidhyanathan. Cool. This led me to his site Sivacracy. There are a number of participants/posters in the blog and much of the content concerns law and legal questions, particularly copyright law. Since Mr. Vaidhyanathan also authored Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001), this is not a surprise.

    One post I found interesting was a reprint of a Washington Post article about high school students worrying whether they were violating copyrights with a charity cookbook with donated recipes.

    Intellectual Property (IP) law is a very important segment of the law. For quite a while, at least thirty years, IP laws have gotten quite amazingly weird. Many people have heard of, say, the Human Genome Project which mapped out the human gene but few people are aware that IP laws have allowed corporations to patent little bits of it. Eventually we may not even own the genes in our bodies. This is creepy stuff.

    My overactive imagination visualizes patents on influenza strains. And then pharma companies will charge you for vaccinations and they will also charge you if you "get" their strain of the flu without being vaccinated because you are "stealing" and spreading their "property". Go ahead, laugh! It doesn't seem too farfetched to me. In a world where companies are able engineer a food crop which will not produce viable seeds for the next season's planting, forcing farmers to buy new seed every planting season, I don't put anything beyond possibility. Oh, yes, and in some places in the world, it has been made illegal to save planting seeds. Welcome to the capitalist mindset, determined to find ways of charging for air and water.

    Pleasant dreams.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006


    Dammit, Jim! I'm a Poet, not a Politician!

    I've been adding some poetry on one of my neglected blogs, Sullen Oblations at Alien Altars. It's all old stuff from 1980-81.

    Thyestean (or, how I named this blog)

    The Gone World Being Really Gone

    Napoleon's Russian Offensive

    I like to think they are entertaining but feel free to tell me otherwise. Oh, and if anyone can give me hints on how to create several tabbed levels of indents on Blogger, I'd be very thankful.

    Monday, January 09, 2006


    Wolf Blitzer's Ass Served to Him by Howard Dean

    Funny thing about the blame going 'round with the Jack Abramoff scandal. Republicans are apparently spinning it as a bi-partisan event and that Democrats also took money from Abramoff. However, Howard Dean, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, provides quite a defense that Abramoff did not give any money to Dems. None. Zero. This is probably Dem spin as well but Dean's contention that some Indian tribes gave money to Dems but the money did not come from the Abramoff machine seems sound.

    The video clip is funny (courtesy of canofun) but I'm including a transcript from Past Peak for easy reference. (tip o' da mouse to PEEK) (All emphasis mine.)
    BLITZER: Should Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, who's now pleaded guilty to bribery charges among other charges, a Republican lobbyist in Washington — should the Democrats who took money from him give that money to charity or give it back?

    DEAN: There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff. Not one. Not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican, every person under investigation is a Republican, every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money, and we've looked through all those FEC reports to make sure that's true.

    BLITZER: [Stammering] But through various Abramoff-related organizations, and outfits, a bunch of Democrats did take money that presumably originated with Jack Abramoff.

    DEAN: That's not true either. There's no evidence for that either, there's no evidence...

    BLITZER: What about Senator, what about, what about, what about Senator Byron Dorgan?

    DEAN: Senator Byron Dorgan and some others took money from Indian tribes. They're not agents of Jack Abramoff. There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared. They haven't told the truth, and they have misled the American people, and now it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this.

    BLITZER: [Long pause, apparently getting direction in his earpiece] [Sigh] Unfortunately, we, uh, Mr. Chairman, we've got to leave it right there.

    Sunday, January 08, 2006


    Those Darn Lobbyists!

    The number of registered lobbyists has doubled over the last 3 or 4 years. Currently, the number is about 38,000, if memory serves. But I really doubt this makes any significant impact on our unequivically ethical and honest elected representative or their staff. Right? Sure. It's a lovely day in the (K Street) neighborhood. Presented, with a little bolding from me for emphasis, from LobbyWatch:
    WASHINGTON, April 7, 2005 — In a major study of the federal lobbying industry, the Center for Public Integrity today reports that lobbyists have spent nearly $13 billion since 1998 to influence members of Congress and federal officials on legislation and regulations.

    Out of that $13 billion, almost $600 million was tax and tuition dollars spent by states, local governments and universities.

    Records show that in 2003 alone lobbyists spent $2.4 billion and records for 2004 are expected to show expenditures of at least $3 billion. That's about twice as much as was spent on campaign finance in the same time period.

    "For years the media and the public have focused on campaign finance as the key to congressional and governmental accountability," said Roberta Baskin, the Center's executive director. "Our report reveals that each year since 1998 the amount spent to influence federal lawmakers is double the amount of money spent to elect them."

    The Center also found that the revolving door is turning dizzyingly fast. Nearly 250 former members of Congress and agency heads are active lobbyists, and more than 2,000 lobbyists used to work in senior government positions. There is a large financial incentive for the move.

    The report shows that the federal disclosure system is in disarray. Forty-nine out of the top 50 lobbying firms failed to file one or more required forms during the last six years. Similarly, 20 percent of the companies registered to lobby failed to file one or more required forms.

    Nearly 14,000 documents that should have been filed are missing; nearly 300 individuals, companies or associations lobbied without first registering; more than 2,000 initial registrations were filed after the allowable time frame; 210 out of 250 top lobbying firms failed to file one or more required document; and in more than 2,000 instances, lobbyists never filed the required termination documents at all.

    Even those who did file were often late in doing so. Almost 20 percent—36,000 out of 183,000—of lobbying forms were filed late.

    "In 2004 the press wrote ten times as many stories about campaign finance than they did about lobbying," said Baskin. "Such inattention by the public and the press has made it possible for lobbyists to run stealth campaigns that impact America's democracy out of the spotlight."

    As part of its investigation of federal lobbying, the Center built an extensive database that includes the names of all registered lobbyists, the names of the top clients of all the lobbyists, the issues lobbied, the agencies that are lobbied and the government officials involved in the revolving door system. The database (which is free to the public) takes information difficult to access from sources such as the Senate Office of Public Records and makes it user friendly and easily accessible by company, lobbying firm or issue.

    The database also details federal lobbying activities by companies based in each of the 50 states and six territories, along with information about lobbying by universities and local governments. It shows, for example, that in the past six years, more than 300 public universities have spent over $131 million, while more than 1,400 local governments have doled out more than $352 million to secure funding for everything from freeways to fire trucks.


    Cult of Character

    The article Cult of Character in the most recent In These Times (January, 2006) had some very interesting information on a couple of groups closely related to the Christian Reconstructionist movement. I've written some about this philosophy which is also known as Dominionism.

    The Character Training Institute (CTI) is apparently the secular version of another group called the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) which is headed by an evangelist named Bill Gothard.

    Hmm, I'm having a little trouble mustering my thoughts about this article. I'm just going to post this with the links. I may or may not get back to it.

    Saturday, January 07, 2006


    The Anarchist in the Library

    I just started reading The Anarchist in the Library by Siva Vaidhyanathan [New York: Basic Books, 2004]. I don't know how it will develop but my initial impression is good.

    The writing is clear and he gives a simple but rather precise and short history of Anarchism over the last 200 years. It's obviously aimed at a general audience rather than Anarchists. This is remarkable and refreshing in my opinion. I get rather fatigued reading Anarchist theory written to other Anarchists. I find the details of sectarian Anarchist theory interesting but yawn-inducing as well. I'm sure more dedicated Anarchists than I might argue that such discussion is vital to the process of consensus-building but if it presents neophytes with difficulty understanding the core values of Anarchism, then that's rather self-defeating.
    Anarchy is not necessarily chaotic and dangerous. It is organization through disorganization -- anarchistic tactics generally involve uncoordinated actions toward a coordinated goal. Instead of formal leadership structures, anarchism relies on agreements, conventions, conversation, and consensus to move the group toward action. Anarchy is by definition non-hierarchical, radically democratic. It is possible for nonanarchists to employ anarchistic tactics or join anarchistic organizations in the sense of believing that the state should wither, crumble, or fall. Just as exploiting socialist institutions such as public schools or farm subsidies does not make one a socialist, so protesting the World Trade Organization or using a peer-to-peer service to share music does not entail flying a black banner, wearing a black mask, or smashing a McDonald's restaurant. (p 3-4)
    This is clear and draws important points, particularly that Anarchism is not chaos and, at it's core, Anarchism is profoundly democratic. In the US, we have become so used to "representational democracy," we often find it difficult to imagine a personal level of immediate democracy. I suspect this is why US citizens imbue so much energy in and personal identification with the President, pro and con: any citizen who voted for the Presidency voted directly either for or against the person in office. Any voter (or citizen) has a personal stake in how the President acts.

    Anarchism is not about passing your voice up the representational political foodchain. It is about personal action and responsibility. It doesn't devolve down to voting once every year or two or four. It involves voting with your hands, feet and mind every day. It is action within the context of your community.

    Well, that's what it is to me. Other Anarchists' mileage will certainly and undoubtedly vary from mine. Welcome to a living, breathing version of freedom rather than a rhetorical version. In point of fact, I'm not really sure I would label myself an Anarchist but I'm certainly sympathetic and supportive of the philosophy as I understand it.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006


    Weird Sex!!!

    As the saying goes, now that I have your attention... Due to continued downtime due to my brain brown-outs, I'm resorting to the standby of sharing from other people's work. When my higher functions dim, I like to go for cheap laughs. In this case, The Fortean Times Book of Weird Sex, compiled by Steve Moore [London: John Brown Publishing, 1995]. Thus I can fulfill readers' curiosity and pretend to be of worth to the community. Despite the title, don't expect salacious details. These are fairly mild, if disturbing. Although all items are taken from actual published news accounts, they aren't 100 percent guaranteed to be true; this is not the Darwin Awards, which at least makes an effort to verify their winners.

    Here are some items in no particular order.


    My Slack-jawed Brain Has a Vacancy

    It must be something in the air. I'm actually straining to find subjects for this blog. My only explanation is that I am getting stupider by the day. I blame the Republicans in power.

    (cue music: "Pretty Vacant" by the Sex Pistols)

    This drought will undoubtedly come to an end with a flood of brilliant and razor sharp posts. In the meantime, it's lunchtime for my brain. Please check back later.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006


    The K Street Project

    Like it or not, lobbyists have become a part of American political process. People often think of environmental lobbyists or the like, so-called "“special interest"” lobbies. But my rule of thumb is to "“follow the money"” to find out who is actually influencing Congress and legislation. It shouldn't be a surprise that the lobbying groups with the most money are, well, monied interests: industrial, pharmaceutical, energy, military/security, etc.

    With the bribery charges against Jack Abramoff in the news, this might be a good time to visit the tale of the K Street Project. K Street is the street in Washington, DC where many major lobbying groups have offices.

    Their mission statement is fairly bland: "K Street Project is non-partisan research of political affiliation, employment background, and political donations of members in Washington DC's premier lobbying firms, trade associations, and industries." The phrase "non-partisan" is supposed to ease the reader's mind, but my understanding is that the information is intended to A) get rid of Democratic lobbyists, and B) further the careers of Republican lobbyists.

    Bias and favoritism towards one's political allies is nothing new. That's horsetrading politics in a nutshell. The discipline and fanatical focus of the NeoCon generation takes it to another level, however. A recent news story suggested that with Republicans controlling the Executive and Legislative branches of government (and working hard on the Judiciary), they are looking to dominate the next most influential Washington group: Lobbyists.

    This makes sense to me. Already lobbyists sometimes write pieces of legislation that are introduced and passed by Congress almost unchanged. That's power.

    Take a good look at Jack Abramoff. This guy isn't a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington kind of lobbyist, he's a shark in an expensive, tailored suit. In a reversal though, the shark is the one throwing chum out in front of the Congress-critters.

    [For more info on K Street, I recommend Welcome to the Machine: How the GOP disciplined K Street and made Bush supreme By Nicholas Confessore. It appeared in the July/August 2003 issue of Washington Monthly.

    Additional background can be found in this LA Times story as well.]

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006


    Watching the Detectives

    What’s wrong with a little domestic spying? Prez Bush says they’ll only spy on bad guys, really. The Prez promises. Uh-huh. You’d have to be a dirty commie to doubt the Prez. So are ya, punk? Are you a dirty commie? (Er, sorry. That’s not the paradigm anymore. Mostly.) Are you a dirty terrorist, punk?

    In the November, 2005 issue of Mother Jones magazine is a two page spread (p 26-7) titled “The Watched.” Here are a few bits from it.
    Closed-circuit TV operators watch blacks twice as often as whites and monitor 1 in 10 women for “voyeuristic” reasons.

    By March, Chicago’s surveillance software will alert police to “suspicious and unusual behavior,” including wandering aimlessly, loitering, and pulling over on a highway.

    Manalapan, Fla., runs background checks on each car and driver that enters it.

    In an article about privacy, reported easily Googling Google’s CEO’s net worth, political donations, and Burning Man attendance. Google blacklisted reporters for one year.

    The State Dept. has delayed plans to embed passports with radio frequency ID (RFID) tags after privacy advocates publicly demonstrated the poorly encrypted chips could be read from 30 feet away.
    While I just love little digestible factoids like these, none of the items are sourced. This always makes me uneasy because I do like to occasionally follow up on these things and check the source material. I’m not a real (read: paid) journalist but I do feel a responsibility to at least casually fact-check some of the items I reproduce in this blog. Because I'd feel bad if I were caught in the middle of a kerfluffle like the recent Wikipedia blunder.


    Eddies in My Mind

    (Or, Get out of there, Eddie!) (Or, Are you ready, Eddie?)

    Exposure to the myriad currents and flotsam of popular culture often leaves bits behind, phrases or words that spring unbidden to the forefront of my consciousness. Song titles and choruses, book titles and phrases jumble around in the Mixmaster of my mind. The odd bit spews out, sometimes repetitiously and frequently. It’s a kind of OCD thing, though I don’t have OCD. At least, I don’t think so.

    Often it doesn’t have anything to do with my likes or dislikes, or even my familiarity with the item. Worse, it could be something I consciously despise. This provides a fun bit of self-reproach and anger at my ill-behaved mind. It really gets to me when I’m writing or searching for a phrase and Bingo! a completely inapt and inappropriate bit pops out, blinkering me in the process.

    A common one for me recently is the title of Chalmers Johnson’s book The Sorrows of Empire, which I do not own nor have I read it. For some reason, I find the title very evocative and resonant. It speaks to me of the consequences of imperialistic actions and ambitions, among other things. There’s something deeply moving about it, though.

    I’m sure my regular readers might have noticed that I will often title a post after a song title or a particular literary phrase. (‘oo, cor! Ain’t he the fancy one?) This is part of the bubbling under of these items. I hope that by releasing them in the form of a post, they’ll stop harassing my consciousness.

    Deep, hmm?

    Monday, January 02, 2006


    The Horror, the horror...

    I'm a fan of horror fiction and film. I don't like everything in the genre but I do like being scared in a fairly controlled way. It's a psychological quirk in my makeup, perhaps my way of dealing with uncontrollable anxieties. Externalizing my free-floating fears, projecting them into the conventions of horror, somehow helps me to deal with them. And it's nice to be able to say "I've got problems but at least I'm not being hunted by a sociopath/mutant/alien." A cold comfort of sorts.

    I haven't actually been reading much horror fiction or fiction of any sort for the last couple of years. As my posts here often mention, I've been reading mostly non-fiction, politics and science. However I still reflexively pick up horror films at the local video/DVD rental place. This is wearing very thin though. We had an excellent local rental shop until recently. They moved out of town because of too much competition and I'm left with rotten chainstores, large warehouses containing some of the worst filmic crap it has been my misfortune to view.

    While I like a good film, I've reached a point where I have little tolerance for extremely derivative plots and characters. And I really despise the horror convention so pervasive I believe it has it's own name, "woman in peril." It's not enough for me that the woman is strong and wins in the end if she spends most of the film being terrorized and chased. (Although a case could be made that this type of role is illustrative and symbolic of what women deal with constantly in a sexist and patriarchal society, I still usually find it too disgusting to appreciate this symbolism.)

    The display boxes for the DVDs and their descriptions are almost useless in picking out films I've never heard of. The producers seem to spend almost as much time and effort on the cover art and description as on the whole film production. I can often make a judgment on whether to watch a film within the first minute of action. That is, once you actually see actors acting and speaking lines. Clever scripting and camera work won't keep me interested if the acting reminds me of the early read-throughs and rehearsals of a high school play. I've done a little acting in my time, nothing much, and I have respect for actors. When there are many good actors around, it frustrates me to see really bad actors getting jobs.

    What's the point I want to make? I started off wanting to make a point about horror's psychological function. Someone (Steven King?) once said the horror genre boils down to rehearsals for our own death. In a society which spends little time integrating or acknowledging the reality of death, it's difficult to know much about it until someone close to us dies. Even then, we are rarely privy any more to the details surrounding the process of dying and the body left behind after death. (Note that I use the word reality above. Films are dramatic representations, not reality.)

    There's nothing too profound here, just some ramblings about pop culture. And death.

    Sunday, January 01, 2006


    The Corporation

    I guess some people have found the documentary The Corporation dry and perhaps anti-capitalist but I'm enjoying it. Here are links to the home page and the IMDb listing.

    The film uses a framework of examining the actions and basic philosophy of corporations as if the corporation was a real single person. Since corporations are, in the eyes of the law, a person, this seems a pretty good structure to me. It could be argued that corporations shouldn't be held to the same standards as an individual but that's the point. Corporations are able to get away with actions that would put a normal person on trial for crimes against humanity. They are able to do these actions with little or no punitive reaction from government or courts.

    First the filmmakers set up a list of characteristics typical of large corporations and compare them to symptoms from the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) which is used to diagnose psychiatric diseases. Again, I think some critics see this as setting up a straw argument but I see it as holding these entities to ethics compatible and beneficial to society as a whole rather than just the stockholders.

    Are there examples of "good" corporations in the world? Undoubtedly there are some but when the prime motivating force is maximizing profit and minimizing expense, other "human" considerations fall by the wayside.

    I'd recommend seeing The Corporation if you have a chance. Oh, and I think the doc is based on a book which I haven't had the opportunity to read so I don't know whether it's any good.

    This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?