Thursday, November 30, 2006

All Together Now!

Strange how the closer together we pack ourselves on this planet, the further we drift from just about everything: each other, our food, our comfort, our feelings...

Psychologist spend an awful lot of time debating whether human beings are essentially noble and good (the Rousseauian Romantic position) or horrid brutes held in check only by the "civilizing" influence of government and religion (the Hobbesian Realist position). Total waste of time.

People are "good" if they think they're intimately involved with what they're doing and "bad" if they see themselves as at a distance from their actions.

Take war for example. During WWII, the U.S. military found that they had a serious problem: their soldiers found it very difficult to shoot AT the enemy. Most soldiers were firing above their advancing heads. Killing the enemy -- even as feared an enemy as the Japanese -- was just too revolting.

But how many pilots do you suppose find themselves unable to push the button that sends the bombs off to kill and maim unseen victims far below?

Another example: meat. Just about all the meat we eat is made from the flesh of animals that we've systematically reduced to a non-life of drugged stupor in a cage. What we allow to happen to other living creatures so that we can enjoy the pepperoni on our pizza would be unthinkable for most of us if we had to actually participate in the process in any meaningful way. Even simply seeing what happens on a pig farm/processing plant would render most of us nauseated vegans.

But as most of us will never see the reality, we keep chewing.

In Iraq, Americans and American policies are killing thousands of people every month, while in America, people are more concerned with shopping. We are as removed from the war being fought in our name as we are from the slaughterhouse. And as unconcerned.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Paris Stinks!

Just back from the city of Love -- not "Brotherly Love," either!

First night there, we went to the grocery store and bought some food for the room -- to remove the mini-bar temptation: some wine, beer, cheese, salami, bread, etc. Nice.

Next day, we came back to the room and were dismayed to find that it smelled like shit! Literally, like shit. We considered changing rooms, but figured it was a ventilation problem, so we turned on the A/C and waited to see if that helped. It didn't. So we decided it was worth it to pack up all our stuff again and move to another room.

Just before going down to reception to tell them the problem, I realized that the cheese was not in the fridge. No shit. Just cheese.

How do you say "American idiot" in French?

Here are some shots from our stay:

A strange dude and his dog (with helmet)
Me by the Seine
Casi and Pierre in front of some church...
Casi pretending to be an infidel

Idiot Chic

If anyone needs an argument-ending example of how fashion has nothing whatever to do with aesthetics and is, in fact, nothing more than a crude "in-group" sign, the utterly absurd, pathetic, uncomfortable, awkward low baggy pants is it. I thought piercing the eyebrows was beyond goofy, but this is just laugh-in-your face stupid. Call me a grumpy old man, but at least I'm not an utterly ridiculous young idiot!


Saturday, September 16, 2006


Since we're in the "Remember 9/11" season, I thought I'd offer my own take on that unique, pivotal day.

There is very little unique or pivotal about it -- other than the fact that it was broadcast live and in living color.

Fewer than 3,000 people died that day. No question that this is horrible for those personally involved, but for the rest of us there was really no tangible impact. How many people died in last year's earthquake in Pakistan? Remember that one?

Just under 80,000 -- or about 25X as many as died on 9/11. But 9/11 "changed everything?"

Come on.

Tsunami, anyone? Car accidents? Lung cancer?

You counter that these are natural disasters, so they cannot be compared? OK, how many innocent people in Iraq died under U.S. bombs in the past year? Nobody knows, because the American authorities don't keep track of Iraqi dead (anyone guess why not?), but it was certainly far more than 3,000 (judging just by bodies brought to the Bagdad morgue).

More U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq than died on 9/11. But those deaths aren't televised. No funerals. No flag-draped coffins arriving. They are kept away from public consciousness, even as our noses are constantly rubbed in 9/11. It's not about what we know -- it's about what we see.

As a culture, the U.S. has crossed over to virtual reality. What happens is no longer as important as what appears to happen. The Bush administration knows this all too well. They know they can keep repeating the same lies over and over and eventually these falsehoods will become woven into the fabric of what most Americans consider to be "reality." "Reality shows" are scripted and edited. The war in Iraq is part of the war on terrorism. America is the land of the free. Republicans will protect your family. Democrats are tax and spend liberals who are soft on the enemy. Wonderbread builds strong bodies. Coke is the Real Thing.

Rinse, repeat.

What's special about 9/11 is presentation. Nothing else. Imagery. Camera angles. Flames. Dramatic footage of people plummeting to their deaths.

9/11 is the best-marketed tragedy in history.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Who Took My Moustache?

I don't think it makes me a homophobe to say that I'm pissed at homosexuals for stealing the moustache. Does it?

When I was a kid, I had an uncle who seemed to me to be the ultimate in macho intelligence. I mean, this guy had it going on: his driveway contained a camper-van with dope in the glove compartment, a little green Saab sportscar and there was a motorcycle parked in the garage. Dude lived out in the countryside (a place called Quiggleville -- I kid you not), big garden, sexy, funny wife (my aunt), wild, happy, snotty-nosed kids (my cousins), and a big old German Shepard named "Luke." He was a man of peace and wisdom (Master's Degree in Forestry, Crosby, Stills and Nash records), but he also taught me how to shoot his handguns in the field out back, and he went deer-hunting with a bow and arrow to make it more challenging, etc. This guy had everything -- and a moustache.

Of course, after growing up -- more or less -- I grew my own moustache, more or less like his. My Puerto Rican girlfriend loved it -- or claimed to. We were living in San Francisco at the time, and years later it occured to me that perhaps the devious woman only claimed to like my 'stache (and black leather jacket) in order to make me seem as gay as possible and thus thwart any possible interest from other women.

Now here's the thing: having a 'stache was fun. I could feel the breeze blowing through it. I felt like a cat with whiskers -- attuned to sublte changes in the environment that I never felt without it. It was sensuous (which is probably the real reason my girlfriend -- who loved all things sensational -- was into it).

But unless you're gay, that sort of stash is now off-limits. It's become a neon-bright, no-mistake-about-it identifier. Akin to a love of opera or a poster of Barry Manilow on your bedroom wall.

I feel like a straight guy who loves Barry Manilow. Where's my 'stache?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Ignoring Nuclear Logic

How strange to read commentary on the on-going confrontations between the U.S. and North Korea and Iran concerning nuclear technology. What I find unbelievable is that I've yet to read anyone who questions the underlying premise, which is that some countries have the right to certain technology while others don't. We're being resourceful when we develop something like germ warfare or suitcase nukes, but they're "renegade nations" who cannot be trusted with such things. Can someone explain the moral argument behind this? I don't think there is one.

Is there any doubt that the first Europeans in the New World did their best to keep the secret of their "fire-sticks" from the native Americans? The inventors of dynamite were surely jealous of their explosive new toy. Nobody wants potential enemies to have access to our latest weaponry, but sooner or later, they get it. Such is the nature of technological drift.

So we can assume, with close to 100% certainty that Iran, North Korea and anyone else willing to invest a bit of time and money will eventually have nuclear bombs if they want them. That cat got out of the bag decades ago. So why are we still trying to control something that is already way beyond our control?

Because the only other option is to shift to a new paradigm for international relations. This new paradigm will be characterized by global MAD (mutually-assured destruction). This time, it's not just a couple of countries who are capable of wiping each other out, it's pretty much everyone. We're in the transition from living in a town where only the sheriff and a couple of other prominent thugs have guns, to one of those Pakistani villages where absolutely everyone over the age of 7 is walking around with an AK-47. A very different situation, to say the least. And it's not a situation that bodes well for the sheriff, if he keeps ignoring the fact that he's not the only one with a gun any more.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cops = Robbers

From a recent Frank Rich column in the NY Times:

What's most impressive about Mr. Rove, however, is not his ruthlessness, it's his unshakable faith in the power of a story. The story he's stuck with, Iraq, is a loser, but he knows it won't lose at the polls if there's no story to counter it.

And so he tells it over and over, confident that the Democrats won't tell their own. And they don't — whether about Iraq or much else.

The question for the Democrats is less whether they tilt left, right or center, than whether they can find a stirring narrative that defines their views, not just the Republicans'.

What's needed, wrote Michael Tomasky in an influential American Prospect essay last fall, is a "big-picture case based on core principles.

Right, narrative is everything. Whatever your "facts" happen to be, if you have control over the narrative in which they are embedded, you control their import.

I'll tell you why the Democrats are so mysteriously unable to beat the Republicans, who couldn't be more vulnerable if they were cleaning drains in a prison shower: they have no story. They cannot have a story to rival the Repub's story, cause as repulsive as it is, the Repub's story is based on truth.

Here are the two party's narratives:

Republicans: We're rich bastards who don't give a damn about the poor or the common good, cause we can afford to buy our way out of the mess our single-minded pursuit of wealth and power creates (we'll filter our private air and water, hire private security firms, build walled communities, pay for private medical care, etc). We pretend to be Christians in order to give us some popular base, but all we really care about is power and money. If you support us, there's a chance you might get some of the booty we control.

Democrats: We're rich bastards who do sorta care about the poor and the common good, but not enough to get unruly when the other party rapes and pillages the environment, the Constitution or the above-mentioned working class. Truth is, we can afford to buy our own protection as well, so the plight of the working class is a bit of an abstraction to us, but it's an abstraction we find somewhat compelling. In other words, we're full of shit. Supporting us will get you nothing but well-intentioned platitudes.

This is why Clinton was compelling but Kerry wasn't. Clinton came from an alcoholic trailer park, while Kerry lives in castles. Without a credible hope of understanding poverty, no Democratic candidate has a chance.

Say what you will about the Repubs, their message makes sense. It has conviction. They're swashbuckling pirates with knives in their belts.

The Democrats are what? War heroes without the balls to directly confront a sniveling shithead like GWB? If John Kerry is so fucking brave, why didn't he throw that shit in GWB's face in the debates? Why did he defer to Bush's accusations without mentioning Bush's avoidance of national service, his drug use, his business failures, his father having bought him every opportunity he's ever had? Why didn't he go to the mat over the vote-stealing in Florida and Ohio?

I'll tell you why, because the Democrats are merely "representatives" of the working-class, while the Republicans are actual members of the class they represent.

That's the difference; the Republicans represent their friends and families while the Democrats represent people who work for them. And really, who's gonna risk their career and comfy life on an abstraction or an easily-replaced employee?

At this point, there's as much difference between the two American political parties as there is between cops and criminals in a place like Nigeria. In other words, none beyond the uniforms. Both of them are criminals, but they enact a simulacrum of struggle to distract the victims of their corrupt game.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Vonnegut on Bush

From Vonnegut's recently-published memoires:

Running the Country as TV Entertainment

"Do unto others what you would have them do unto you." A lot of people think Jesus said that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say.

But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, five hundred years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.

The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.

We've sure come a long way since then. Sometimes I wish we hadn't. I hate H-bombs and the Jerry Springer Show

But back to people like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, each of whom have said in their own way how we could behave more humanely and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favourite humans is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana.

Get a load of this. Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was not yet four, ran five times as the Socialist party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, almost 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

"As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.

"As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it.

"As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Doesn't anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools, or health insurance for all?

When you get out of bed each morning, with the roosters crowing, wouldn't you like to say. "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

How about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly George W Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings.

And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

It so happens that idealism enough for anyone is not made of perfumed pink clouds. It is the law! It is the US Constitution.

But I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers.

Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'état imaginable.

I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: "C-Students from Yale".

George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.

To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete's foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!

Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.

PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!

And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them?

And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he's against gay marriage.

So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick.

They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.

They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive.

They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't.

Do this! Do that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly disturbed people ran for class president.

The title of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is a parody of the title of Ray Bradbury's great science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451.

Four hundred and fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit is the combustion point, incidentally, of paper, of which books are composed. The hero of Bradbury's novel is a municipal worker whose job is burning books.

While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

And still on the subject of books: our daily news sources, newspapers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of the American people, so uninformative, that only in books do we learn what's really going on.

I will cite an example: House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger, published in early 2004, that humiliating, shameful, blood-soaked year.

In case you haven't noticed, as the result of a shamelessly rigged election in Florida, in which thousands of African-Americans were arbitrarily disenfranchised, we now present ourselves to the rest of the world as proud, grinning, jut-jawed, pitiless war-lovers with appallingly powerful weaponry - who stand unopposed.

In case you haven't noticed, we are now as feared and hated all over the world as Nazis once were.

And with good reason.

In case you haven't noticed, our unelected leaders have dehumanised millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound 'em and kill 'em and torture 'em and imprison 'em all we want.

Piece of cake.

In case you haven't noticed, we also dehumanised our own soldiers, not because of their religion or race, but because of their low social class.

Send 'em anywhere. Make 'em do anything.

Piece of cake.

The O'Reilly Factor.

So I am a man without a country, except for the librarians and a Chicago paper called In These Times.

Before we attacked Iraq, the majestic New York Times guaranteed there were weapons of mass destruction there.

Albert Einstein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the end of their lives, even though Twain hadn't even seen the first world war.

War is now a form of TV entertainment, and what made the first world war so particularly entertaining were two American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun.

Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don't you wish you could have something named after you?

Like my distinct betters Einstein and Twain, I now give up on people, too. I am a veteran of the second world war and I have to say this is not the first time I have surrendered to a pitiless war machine.

My last words? "Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a mouse."

Napalm came from Harvard. Veritas

Our president is a Christian? So was Adolf Hitler. What can be said to our young people, now that psychopathic personalities, which is to say persons without consciences, without senses of pity or shame, have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and corporations, and made it all their own?

Kurt Vonnegut/ICH

© 2005 Kurt Vonnegut Extracted from A Man Without a Country: : A Memoir of Life in George W Bush's America.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Why don't yanks like soccer?

It's not because of the dearth of scoring (think hockey). Nor is it due to the theatrics of faking injury (think "professional" wrestling). It has nothing to do with the kissing and hugging after a goal (think of all the ass-slapping on the NFL sidelines -- far more expressive of repressed homoerotic tendencies). No, it's the fact that soccer is not a game that can be interrupted every 3 or 4 minutes for commercials about beer and trucks.

When in doubt, follow the money.

A soccer game is composed of two 45-minute periods and a 15 minute half-time rest. In other words, it takes just under 2 hours to watch a complete game, including the convenient 15 minutes to go get a beer, take a piss, call your mom, and so on. An American football game is composed of 4 15-minute periods, plus half-time, plus innumerable commercials. One ostensibly 60-minute game can take 3-4 hours to watch!

That's why soccer isn't popular in the States. Madison Ave. can't figure how to make it work for the money boys, so they don't sell the idea to the punters.

40 hrs./wk = $10,700/yr (gross)

Wonder why people laugh at entry-level jobs and turn to selling drugs on the street (or join the army)? Check it out. Richest nation on earth, and this is what we offer:

From Marc Cooper (

"$10,700 per year. That's how much somebody makes if he or she earns the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. That's $6,000 below the Federal poverty line for a family of three. And that's before payroll deductions. So figure take-home pay at about eight thousand per year. $150 a week. For a 40 hour week. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

"Thanks to the Republicans --who awarded the top 1% of the population nearly a trillion bucks in tax breaks over the last five years-- $10,700 per year is exactly the amount that minimum wage workers will continue to make.

"For the ninth time since 1997, Congressional Republicans on Wednesday voted down a proposal to raise the minimum wage. The vote was 52-46 in favor, eight votes shy of the 60 needed to pass. Eight Republican senators voted for the raise; four of them are up for re-election.

"The others, apparently, couldn't give a flip. Of course, these Republican misers are the same folks who have voted to raise their own salaries and benefits on a consistent basis. While minimum wage service workers have their pay frozen, fat and lazy U.S. Senators get an automatic cost of living increase every year. Is there anyone out there stupid enough to even try to justify this disparity? U.S. Senators will now make about $170,000 per year, about a $30,000 (or if your prefer, a 20%) increase since the last time the minmum wage was raised.

"Adjusted for inflation, the purchasing power of the minimum wage is now at its lowest point since 1955. I repeat, minimum wage workers now have less buying power than they did 51 years ago. Again, adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage hit its post-war peak in 1968 when it was equivalent to $7.71 in current terms."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Tin Hats in the Rain

I love how thinking 9/11 may well be a government-sponsored event
designed to "sell" the U.S. public on the pre-existing take-over of
the Middle East and Afghanistan (permanent bases are nearing
completion in both places, coincidentally the source of the world's
most precious resource) is presented as "nutty" and "tin-hat" stuff.
But if we know anything at all about history, we'll recall that the
sinking of the Maine to start the Spanish-American War (the U.S.
wanted Cuba and the Philippines -- got them both), the Gulf of Tonkin
incident used to justify the start of the Vietnam war, and the
burning of the Reichstag were all inside jobs used to sell war to the
public. In other words, there is a long history of governments
staging attacks to justify their aggressive "response." Yet those of
us who suspect that history may simply be repeating itself are the nut-jobs.
Interesting reading of history, if you can call it a "reading" at all.

And really, knowing what we do about GWB's utter disregard for history and world politics, can anyone really believe that he is motivated by a burning desire to bring "democracy" to the Middle East? Utterly ridiculous.

It's the same theme I'm writing about in my book at the moment: those of us who suggest that there have been times, places, and cultures that offered a better life are considered "hopeless romantics," while those who insist that we live in the best of all possible worlds and that the evolutionary process is one of constant improvement of overall living conditions (a demonstrably false supposition) call themselves "realists." No evolutionary theorist of any repute believes evolution to be a process of "improvement." Evolution is simply a process of adapting to a changing social and physical environment. There is no tangible sense of "better" or "worse" apart from the organism's relation to that environment. But for some reason, supposedly serious thinkers still advance the belief that our time and place is the best that ever was. There is no scientifically valid reason to think so, as far as I can tell. But I'm the romantic. Bizarre.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


The name finally came to us. Thanks to all of you who suggested names. Some of them were very good. My sister suggested "Teflona," as none of the previous names stuck. But we finally realized that she reminds us of our favorite female anthropological subject, Nisa of the !Kung. If you don't know her, check out the book by the same name, by Shostak. It's a great read. All about her life, including the most intimate details. You really get a sense of how a life can be so utterly different from yours yet still be aligned along the same thematic lines.

So, the little black and white mountain kitten is henceforth Nisa.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Name our Cat!

If you read the previous post, you know I'm not big on birthin babies, but I do like cats (and since they won't live longer than me -- with any luck -- I don't have to concern myself with the state of the planet before taking one in. Anyway, here are a couple photos of our new one. We're not sure what to call her. So far, we've come up with:

Maggie (cause she reminds us of my cousin, Maggie, when she was little)
Halle Berry (cause she's half white and half black)

Any suggestions?

Who's Romantic Now?

Sometimes I find myself in the position of being asked by smiling parents-to-be why I don't want to have kids. I normally try not to answer at all or I let them off with half an answer: I'm too selfish to give up my own life in exchange for spending the rest of it worrying about someone else's. The other half of the answer, the part I don't normally discuss with smiling parents-to-be, is simply that I don't believe in the future.

That's not to say I don't think there will be a future. I'm sure there will be. But it'll suck.

The myth of progress is no myth. It's the central pillar of an elaborate marketing campaign. Myths are tales containing useful information designed to be easily remembered, while the notion of progress upon which our sense of "aren't we the lucky ones" is based contains nothing of any use whatsoever. It is utterly false, but effective at reassuring us that we are fortunate to have been born here and now. Then and there was so much worse, according to this advertisement for the present. I'm sure the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Mongol hordes and Aztecs all had self-gratifying stories that celebrated their uncanny fortune at having been born when, where and who they were. The Vikings no doubt felt blessed to be Vikings, even as they drifted out to sea under overcast northern skies.

But that ain't science.

However, as the appearence of rational thought is what floats our boats, we couch our self-aggrandizing myth in scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo. We convince ourselves that human life was "nasty, brutish and short" before the advent of our exalted rational civilization, despite copious evidence to the contrary. Any who doubt this party line are dismissed as hopeless romantics.

But what is more romantic really, than insisting that your world, your age, your way of living is the best in the history of humanity? To my way of thinking, a true realist would entertain other possibilities.

I know the arguments. I hear you saying that modern medicine has doubled the human life span. But you only say that because that's what you've been told. You haven't checked the numbers. Why would you? Who bothers to confirm good news? The purported doubling of the human life span is a trick based upon statistical dishonesty and highly parsed wording. Look, in the Old Testament, we're told that a man's allotted time on earth is "three score and ten." That's 70 years. I don't have the space to get into the whole thing here, but suffice it to say that an "old" person 50,000 years ago was over 50 for sure, and quite possibly over 65. The notion that the average life span was 30 is based upon child-mortality figures. Many children died as infants, both from disease and as a means of controlling population. A stable population is vitally important to hunter/gatherers, as the available food supply is pretty stable as well. There was no way to increase the holding capacity of the land until the advent of agriculture. So sure, if you calculate 30 dead babies, and 30 people who lived into their 60s, you'll get an AVERAGE life span of about 30. But that doesn't mean someone from this group was a doddering senior at 30!

What would the "average human life span" be in contemporary USA if aborted fetuses were included in the calculation? If anthropologists agree (as they do) that infanticide was a widely-practiced form of population control, then what's the scientific justification for including those in the mix but not the abortions?

And I hear you saying, "But Chris, modern medicine has cured so many terrible diseases!" Right, but the diseases that are so terrible weren't significant problems for humans until the "miracles" of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Influenzas, measles, pox, tuberculosis, fevers... all are viruses that jumped from one species living in close proximity to humans. Pigs, cows, chickens... they are the sources of these killer diseases it took modern medicine 12,000 years to bring under some form of control. If you light my house on fire, don't expect me to thank you for putting that fire out a few hours later.

You want to know why time always seems to be going faster and faster? Because it is; we're circling the drain, my friends.

I wouldn't wake you up with a phone call at 2:30 in the morning urging you to come to a party that is already at the spilled beer and full ashtrays stage, so why would I want to invite children to this party, a party that is clearly well beyond its best moments and pretty far into what is already recognizable as a very brutal denouement?

I love kids as much, or more than the next guy. That's why I let mine keep sleeping.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Power not only corrupts...

It makes you stupid, too. As if any further proof were needed, a recent study shows that among Americans between 18 and 24 years old:
- 60% couldn't find Iraq on a map of the world
- 30% couldn't find Louisianna
- nearly 75% think English is the most widely-used language in the world
- 40% think Toronto is part of the United States
- 80% think Spain is in Latin America
- 75% couldn't find Israel on a map
- 95% think the U.S. has the best educational system in the world.

I made some of those up. Can you guess which? If ignorance is a necessary precondition of brutality (as I believe it to be) then the world's most violent nation is well-positioned to continue along that path. There should be no problem recruiting ignorant, self-righteous thugs to "defend freedom" in far-off lands.

Since power means being able to force the world to adapt to your ideas, while learning largely consists of adapting your ideas to the world, much of what power buys you is the dubious luxury of not having to learn.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Reluctant Leadership Rules!

Just read another article talking about how there seems to be a groundswell of support for a Gore presidency, now that he's not interested in running. This reminds me of something very interesting that I learned while researching hunter/gatherer politics: those who want to be leaders rarely are. Describing !Kung leaders, an anthropologist who lived with them for several years writes that,

"None is arrogant, overbearing, boastful, or aloof. In !Kung terms these traits absolutely disqualify a person as a leader and may engender even stronger forms of ostracism. Another trait emphatically not found among traditional camp leaders is a desire for wealth or acquisitiveness. Their accumulation of material goods is never more, and is often much less, than the average accumulation of the other households in their camp."

This isn't the place for a long diatribe about hunter/gatherer power structures, but it is worth noting that coercive political power is a relatively recent development in human history. In a sharing-based economic system like that followed by hunter/gatherers (which means our ancestors for 98% of our existence), it's very difficult to accumulate the sort of power that would allow you to MAKE anyone do anything. Walking away is always an option for everyone. When the source of food and shelter is open to all, how does one go about becoming important? By being a good hunter perhaps and sharing the meat. Hoarding would get you ostracized.

Anyway, the point is that we go about choosing our leaders in such a way that we end up with those who are psychologically least qualified -- those with a NEED TO LEAD! "Fire in the belly" might be great for fans of Mexican food, but it leads to smoke in the brain for potential leaders. Better to draft a reluctant leader who has matured beyond the burning desire to be called "Mr. President."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hair-brained legislation

Ohio ("Land of 10,000 Toxic Waste Dumps") has now joined Nevada and Indiana as states that have laws on the books prohibiting driving under the influence of THC, the most prevalent psychoactive chemical in marijuana. They test by taking a hair sample and checking to see if there's any THC metabolite present. This is idiotic (and legally absurd) on at least two counts:

1) THC metabolites are found in the body (fatty tissue, blood, urine, hair) weeks or months after any exposure to marijuana. So maybe you smoke a joint at midnight on New Year's Eve. You were high until around 1:30 or 2. Then you swear off smoking pot as your big resolution for 2006. But you get pulled over at a random traffic stop and busted for driving under the influence of marijuana in mid-March! Punishable by up to 6 months in jail, by the way. Yeah, that's a law that'll make the youngsters respect the legal system...

2) Back before he was "America's most famous doctor," Andrew Weil worked at the National Institues of Health doing research on altered states of consciousness. While there, he looked into the effects of marijuana smoking on driving skill. He found that drivers who had been given a chance to practice driving while high (which includes basically everyone who regularly uses grass), actually drove BETTER than drivers who smoked nothing at all. Given the state of governmental interference into drug-related research since the 70s, I doubt any further research has been done along these lines since then. So, the existing scientific research tells us that driving under the influence of marijuana is not a danger to other drivers, but could actually increase the overall safety of the roads.

Justice, anyone? Logic, even?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Woman gets a $100 ticket for having that on a bumper-sticker. Pretty amusing article. All the way at the end we learn that it's apparently a family activity. Her son got busted for having one that said, "Bush sucks Dick. Cheney too." Nice.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

No Drinking Allowed in the Bar

According to Reuters News Service, Texas is now sending undercover cops into bars to arrest people for being drunk. Remember, the terrorists hate us for our freedom!

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Texas has begun sending undercover agents into bars to arrest drinkers for being drunk, a spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said on Wednesday.

The first sting operation was conducted recently in a Dallas suburb where agents infiltrated 36 bars and arrested 30 people for public intoxication, said the commission’s Carolyn Beck.

Being in a bar does not exempt one from the state laws against public drunkenness, Beck said.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Drugs Cause Bad Science

Here's an article I just saw today claiming that MDMA (Ecstasy) can cause permanent memory loss. This is a study that was published in a prestigious journal and covered widely by the press -- with provocative comments by the lead author warning that the study's message is "loud and clear" that users will not recover memory and learning capacity.

But look at the study.

Fifteen subjects. Half of them (8) were not using one year later. The article says that, "In all of the former users who had been abstinent for at least 32 weeks, test scores improved compared with their scores one year previously. However, some individuals' scores stayed the same." Presumably the "some individuals" refered to are those who had not been abstinent for at least 32 weeks -- as ALL those who had been improved.

So what can we conclude from this study?
1). Nothing. 15 subjects is far short of anything approaching statistical validity.
2). All those who hadn't used MDMA for 8 months scored better than they had a year previously, so we might conclude that there is evidence that memory recovers when MDMA use stops -- but that it takes several months for the recovery to get under way.

But that's not the headline, nor is it what the lead author says the conclusions are. He says that if you stop, "your memory may or may not recover." But ALL of those who stopped experienced improved memory over a year previously, so his conclusion is directly opposed to what the study shows.

It doesn't matter though, because my point is that shitty, sloppy bullshit science gets widely published and editorialized when the message is what society wants to hear. Next time someone tells you that science is about the search for truth, keep that in mind.

Ecstasy-related memory impairment can be permanent
Wed Mar 22, 2006 12:33 PM ET

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Taking the drug Ecstasy can impair memory and learning, but giving up the drug can stop the slide in mental capacity, a new study shows. However, researchers also found evidence that in heavy Ecstasy users, the effects on memory may persist even after they quit.

"The message should be loud and clear that if you're using a lot, you're not going to recover learning and memory," Dr. Konstantine K. Zakzanis of the University of Toronto at Scarborough, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.

Zakzanis and his colleagues had previously shown that people who used Ecstasy, also known by the chemical name MDMA, experienced a decline in their memory over a one-year period. The 15 study participants' reported using the drug from 3 to 225 times over the course of the year.

The researchers looked at the same 15 people after another year had passed. Seven were still using the drug, while eight had become abstinent. The researchers evaluated their memory and learning using three tests, including the Rivermead Behavioral Memory Test, which is designed to evaluate everyday memory function.

In all of the former users who had been abstinent for at least 32 weeks, test scores improved compared with their scores one year previously. However, some individuals' scores stayed the same. Current users showed continued decline, with more frequent and longer-term use of the drug tied to greater loss of memory and learning function.

The worst impairments were seen in episodic memory, meaning the sort of memory a person uses while watching a news story on television and then trying to describe it to another person later.

"The general conclusions that one can make are that if you stop using, your memory won't get worse," Zakzanis said. "Depending on how much you've used, your memory may or may not recover."

Zakzanis pointed out that damage to memory and learning is just one harmful aspect of Ecstasy use, which also has been tied to depression.

SOURCE: Neurology 2006;66:740-741.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Brats become Republicans

Here's one of those cases where science seems to confirm the obvious:

How to spot a baby conservative
KID POLITICS | Whiny children, claims a new study, tend to grow up rigid and traditional. Future liberals, on the other hand ...
Mar. 19, 2006. 10:45 AM

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.
At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.
The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.
But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.
A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.
The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.
Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. But within his sample, he says, the results hold. He reasons that insecure kids look for the reassurance provided by tradition and authority, and find it in conservative politics. The more confident kids are eager to explore alternatives to the way things are, and find liberal politics more congenial.
In a society that values self-confidence and out-goingness, it's a mostly flattering picture for liberals. It also runs contrary to the American stereotype of wimpy liberals and strong conservatives.
Of course, if you're studying the psychology of politics, you shouldn't be surprised to get a political reaction. Similar work by John T. Jost of Stanford and colleagues in 2003 drew a political backlash. The researchers reviewed 44 years worth of studies into the psychology of conservatism, and concluded that people who are dogmatic, fearful, intolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and who crave order and structure are more likely to gravitate to conservatism. Critics branded it the "conservatives are crazy" study and accused the authors of a political bias.
Jost welcomed the new study, saying it lends support to his conclusions. But Jeff Greenberg, a social psychologist at the University of Arizona who was critical of Jost's study, was less impressed.

"I found it to be biased, shoddy work, poor science at best," he said of the Block study. He thinks insecure, defensive, rigid people can as easily gravitate to left-wing ideologies as right-wing ones. He suspects that in Communist China, those kinds of people would likely become fervid party members.
The results do raise some obvious questions. Are nursery school teachers in the conservative heartland cursed with classes filled with little proto-conservative whiners?
Or does an insecure little boy raised in Idaho or Alberta surrounded by conservatives turn instead to liberalism?
Or do the whiny kids grow up conservative along with the majority of their more confident peers, while only the kids with poor impulse control turn liberal?
Part of the answer is that personality is not the only factor that determines political leanings. For instance, there was a .27 correlation between being self-reliant in nursery school and being a liberal as an adult. Another way of saying it is that self-reliance predicts statistically about 7 per cent of the variance between kids who became liberal and those who became conservative. (If every self-reliant kid became a liberal and none became conservatives, it would predict 100 per cent of the variance). Seven per cent is fairly strong for social science, but it still leaves an awful lot of room for other influences, such as friends, family, education, personal experience and plain old intellect.
For conservatives whose feelings are still hurt, there is a more flattering way for them to look at the results. Even if they really did tend to be insecure complainers as kids, they might simply have recognized that the world is a scary, unfair place.
Their grown-up conclusion that the safest thing is to stick to tradition could well be the right one. As for their "rigidity," maybe that's just moral certainty.
The grown-up liberal men, on the other hand, with their introspection and recognition of complexity in the world, could be seen as self-indulgent and ineffectual.
Whether anyone's feelings are hurt or not, the work suggests that personality and emotions play a bigger role in our political leanings than we think. All of us, liberal or conservative, feel as though we've reached our political opinions by carefully weighing the evidence and exercising our best judgment. But it could be that all of that careful reasoning is just after-the-fact self-justification. What if personality forms our political outlook, with reason coming along behind, rationalizing after the fact?
It could be that whom we vote for has less to do with our judgments about tax policy or free trade or health care, and more with the personalities we've been stuck with since we were kids."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Birds of a feather...

Maybe you've heard about Bush's top domestic policy advisor getting busted for stealing crap from Target. "Top domestic policy advisor" -- think Josh on early West Wing -- before he went to work for Santos. Dude makes $161.000 per year and he's wandering down to Target on weekends to boost $5000 worth of crap in a year? This obviously isn't a case of economic need -- it's the same sickness that drives so many wealthy, powerful people to keep squeezing the lemon long after all the juice is gone. I call it RAS (Rich Asshole Syndrome). Ask any homeless guy; he'll tell you that the people who give him some change aren't the ones who can afford it most easily, but the ones who cannot. Being obscenely wealthy is stressful. On some level, we know we don't deserve it, but we strive to make sense of it -- to create a narrative in which it makes sense that we have it and they don't. How else to live with the fact that the cost of our shoes could provide a month's health care for an entire village. I say "we" because, having spent a lot of time in places like India and Cambodia, I know what it's like to be obscenely wealthy. And I know some of the bizarre psycho-emotional contortions one can get into trying to feel justified and somehow "worthy." That's why the wealthy are so fond of telling us that they worked hard for every penny -- as if the poor don't work hard. It's a particularly poignant form of survivor's guilt -- but the victims aren't necessarily dead, just living in pain we'll never have to bear.

Given the nature of the bus we're riding, some will have a seat and some will have to stand. If you don't want to give your seat up to the pregnant woman, the least you can do is let her lean on your shoulder occasionally. But to do that requires that you acknowledge the injustice of the whole situation, and your complicity in being one of the "winners." That's far too much for the simple-minded buffoons we choose as our leaders these days. So no sharing of seats, and no leaning!

Anyway, here's a nice piece of work showing how Bush's advisor's crime is nothing more than a very small enactment of Bush's economic policies. From

"Claude Allen's Mentor
Shoplifting and Bushonomics.
By Jacob Weisberg

Last week, Slate broke the news that Claude Allen, until recently the White House chief domestic-policy adviser, was arrested for theft in suburban Maryland. The president has expressed his shock and disappointment. How could one of his top appointees, a devout Christian who passed a series of FBI background checks, have been a common thief? But the more we hear about what Allen is accused of, the less it sounds like kleptomania and the more it sounds like an application of Bush economic policy.

Allen's alleged scam was something called "refund fraud." According to the police in Montgomery County, he would purchase a home-theater system or a computer printer from a department store and put it in the trunk of his car. Then he would come back to the same store with his receipt, pull an identical item off the shelf, and take it to the return desk for a refund. Using this technique, a brazen perpetrator pays for the item once but derives value from it two times—he gets his money back and keeps the merch. Allen is alleged to have stolen more than $5,000 worth of merchandise over the past year in this way.

Just as a point of comparison, consider Bush's Social Security proposal, which died on the vine in Congress last year. Bush wanted to create a system of private retirement accounts for future retirees. To create these accounts would have required him to divert $1 trillion or so from the Social Security Trust Fund, which pays for benefits for current and future retirees. Since Bush did not propose to reduce benefits, how was he going to make up the difference? By sauntering to the customer service desk and asking for his money back. In this case, the receipt was a bogus projection that the retirement funds invested in the stock market would grow so quickly that everyone would come out ahead. The main difference between Allen's alleged scam and Bush's attempted one is scale. The goods Bush tried to slip under his coat at the Social Security Administration were worth around 200 million times as much as the ones Allen is said to have lifted at Target and Hecht's.

Allen's appliance-rustling days are surely over, but his former colleagues in the West Wing are still running all their favorite cons. At the moment, they're trying to slip more tax cuts out the door without stopping at the cash register. Their trick is to claim that with the manager's special, tax cuts are on sale—for nothing. "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase," Bush said last month, in a typical statement on the subject. In other words, tax cuts will mean more money for the Treasury, not less.

There is, of course, no economic support for the concept that tax cuts are cost-free, just as there are no shops where customers are encouraged to walk past the checkout line without paying. Bush's tax-avoidance scam is based on the truism that government revenues almost always rise in nominal terms because of inflation, population growth, and GDP growth. Even if Congress cuts taxes, government is likely to take in more in 2007 than in 2006—it just won't take in as much more as it would have otherwise. According to a recent paper by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, after Bush's 2003 tax cuts, federal revenues were $316 billion below the administration's own previous forecast.

Another con the president pulls not at Wal-Mart but at the Office of Management and Budget is price-tag swapping. In this scam, the presidential perp picks out a high-priced item like a package of lamb chops or the Iraq war. When the security camera is pointed elsewhere, he peels off the $200 billion price tag and attaches a lower one. Should a subordinate threaten to squeal to security, the ringleader deals with the problem Tony Soprano-style. For instance, when the government's chief Medicare actuary came up with a too-high price tag of $551 billion for Bush's Medicare prescription drug bill, members of the president's gang paid a visit and made him an offer he couldn't refuse: Keep quiet and keep your job. The official price tag was dropped to $400 billion—even though subsequent estimates have ranged as high as $700 billion.

Presidents set a moral example, and given the message Bush has been sending, it's no surprise that the problem of inventory shrinkage has spread to Congress as well. For example, Republicans in the Senate recently proposed a novel way to "pay" for extending Bush's tax cut on investment income, which will otherwise expire in 2009. They want to allow millionaires—and not just those making less than $100,000 a year—to convert their conventional IRAs to Roth IRAs, which allow people to deduct money tax-free upon retirement. This change would produce a temporary revenue boost, because taxes are due on the initial conversion to a Roth IRA. But the change would be a big money-loser in the long run. With this swindle—paying for one tax cut for the rich with another tax cut for the rich—Bushonomics has finally reached its larcenous apogee.

So, where might Claude Allen have learned you can get the things you want without having to pay for them? Let's just say it wasn't at church."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Billion Dollar Baby

From the "Too weird to be possible" file:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The counterfeit money looked good, but there was one flaw. There's no such thing as a one billion dollar bill.
U.S. Customs agents in California said on Tuesday they had found 250 bogus billion dollar bills while investigating a man charged with currency smuggling.

Tekle Zigetta, 45, pleaded guilty to three federal counts of trying to bring cash, phony bills and a fake $100,000 gold certificate into the United States in January.

Further investigation led agents to a West Hollywood apartment where they found the stash of yellowing and wrinkled one billion dollar bills with an issue date of 1934 and bearing a picture of President Grover Cleveland.

"You would think the $1 billion denomination would be a giveaway that these notes are fake, but some people are still taken in," said James Todak, a secret services agent involved in the probe.

Really? Some people are still taken in? Like who, Officer Todak? Who was taken in by the billion dollar notes? Did the guy take one down to Fort Knox to ask for change? Who the hell has EVER been taken in by a billion dollar note?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

r/K compassion for Oprah

We've just learned that one of our kittens has a congenital defect in her spine that is already causing her great pain and will only get worse. Not good news.

Biologists distinguish those organisms that have many young, most of which aren't expected to survive (fish, rats, most insects, etc.) from those that have few young, but invest heavily in their survival (whales, humans, elephants, etc.). These two approaches to survival are known as r-type or K-type selection. As humans, we respond to the death of a child with profound grief. If we were r-type organisms, we would presumably be far more philosophical about such a death, as it would be an ever-present part of family life. So how does a K-type animal (Casi and me) respond to the demise of our r-type pet? It's a strange conundrum.

Cats are not known for their sensitivity to the death of others. They characteristically seem to enjoy the suffering of the mouse they play with for hours before killing. Death seems neither shocking nor unfamiliar to our feline friends. While Casi and I are heart-broken over watching this little kitten suffer and the need to end her suffering ourselves, she would probably not understand what all the fuss was about, if she were in our position. She'd probably consider us to be pathetically sentimental. We hide from ourselves the fact that we participate in death every day -- we call the dead cow, "beef" and the dead pig, "pork" to better obscure the reality from ourselves. And only this self-deception allows us to think that the death of a sick kitten is tragic.

Or so I keep telling myself...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cronkite on The War on Drugs

This was recently written by Walter Cronkite, perhaps the most respected journalist of the past 50 years.

As anchorman of the CBS Evening News, I signed off my nightly broadcasts for nearly two decades with a simple statement: "And that's the way it is."

To me, that encapsulates the newsman's highest ideal: to report the facts as he sees them, without regard for the consequences or controversy that may ensue.

Sadly, that is not an ethic to which all politicians aspire - least of all in a time of war.
I remember. I covered the Vietnam War. I remember the lies that were told, the lives that were lost - and the shock when, twenty years after the war ended, former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara admitted he knew it was a mistake all along.

Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens.

I am speaking of the war on drugs.

And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.

While the politicians stutter and stall - while they chase their losses by claiming we could win this war if only we committed more resources, jailed more people and knocked down more doors - the Drug Policy Alliance continues to tell the American people the truth - "the way it is."

I'm sure that's why you support DPA's mission to end the drug war. And why I strongly urge you to support their work by giving a generous donation today.

You see, I've learned first hand that the stakes just couldn't be higher.

When I wanted to understand the truth about the war on drugs, I took the same approach I did to the war in Vietnam: I hit the streets and reported the story myself. I sought out the people whose lives this war has affected.

Allow me to introduce you to some of them.

Nicole Richardson was 18-years-old when her boyfriend, Jeff, sold nine grams of LSD to undercover federal agents. She had nothing to do with the sale. There was no reason to believe she was involved in drug dealing in any way.

But then an agent posing as another dealer called and asked to speak with Jeff. Nicole replied that he wasn't home, but gave the man a number where she thought Jeff could be reached.

An innocent gesture? It sounds that way to me. But to federal prosecutors, simply giving out a phone number made Nicole Richardson part of a drug dealing conspiracy. Under draconian mandatory minimum sentences, she was sent to federal prison for ten years without possibility of parole.

To pile irony on top of injustice, her boyfriend - who actually knew something about dealing drugs - was able to trade information for a reduced sentence of five years. Precisely because she knew nothing, Nicole had nothing with which to barter.

Then there was Jan Warren, a single mother who lived in New Jersey with her teenage daughter. Pregnant, poor and desperate, Jan agreed to transport eight ounces of cocaine to a cousin in upstate New York. Police officers were waiting at the drop-off point, and Jan - five months pregnant and feeling ill - was cuffed and taken in.

Did she commit a crime? Sure. But what awaited Jan Warren defies common sense and compassion alike. Under New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws, Jan - who miscarried soon after the arrest - was sentenced to 15 years to life. Her teenage daughter was sent away, and Jan was sent to an eight-by-eight cell.

In Tulia, Texas, an investigator fabricated evidence that sent more than one out of every ten of the town's African American residents to jail on trumped-up drug charges in one of the most despicable travesties of justice this reporter has ever seen.

The federal government has fought terminally ill patients whose doctors say medical marijuana could provide a modicum of relief from their suffering - as though a cancer patient who uses marijuana to relieve the wrenching nausea caused by chemotherapy is somehow a criminal who threatens the public.

People who do genuinely have a problem with drugs, meanwhile, are being imprisoned when what they really need is treatment.

And what is the impact of this policy?

It surely hasn't made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of people...disproportionately people of color...who have caused little or no harm to others - wasting resources that could be used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching white-collar criminals.

With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort - with no one held accountable for its failure.

Amid the clichés of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we've become blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too expensive, and too inhumane.

But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs has failed.

That's where the Drug Policy Alliance comes in.

From Capitol Hill to statehouses to the media, DPA counters the hysteria of the drug war with thoughtful, accurate analysis about the true dangers of drugs, and by fighting for desperately needed on-the-ground reforms.

They are the ones who've played the lead role in making marijuana legally available for medical purposes in states across the country.

California's Proposition 36, the single biggest piece of sentencing reform in theUnited States since the repeal of Prohibition, is the result of their good work. The initiative is now in its fifth year, having diverted more than 125,000 people from prison and into treatment since its inception.

They oppose mandatory-minimum laws that force judges to send people like Nicole Richardson and Jan Warren to prison for years, with no regard for their character or the circumstances of their lives. And their work gets results: thanks in large part to DPA, New York has taken the first steps towards reforming the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws under which Jan was sentenced.

In these and so many other ways, DPA is working to end the war on drugs and replace it with a new drug policy based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

DPA is a leading, mainstream, respected and effective organization that gets real results.

But they can't do it alone.

That's why I urge you to send as generous a contribution as you possibly can to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Americans are paying too high a price in lives and liberty for a failing war on drugs about which our leaders have lost all sense of proportion. The Drug Policy Alliance is the one organization telling the truth. They need you with them every step of the way.

And that's the way it is.

Make a Donation

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Maine, Tonkin, 9-11

Remember the Maine! Yes, the Maine was an American ship burned in Havana harbor, which was the pretext for attacking Spain to get Cuba and the Phillipines from them -- and to eject them from the American "sphere of influence" in the western hemisphere. So we burned our own ship and blamed them for it so we'd have an excuse to attack them.

Remember the Gulf of Tonkin! This was the incident in which the North Vietnamese supposedly fired upon an American ship off the coast. Thus attacked, Americans felt justified and morally obligated to "defend themselves" against such "unprovoked aggression." It is now clear to even mainstream historians that this incident never actually occured and was wholly fabricated by the American administration as a pretext for attacking North Vietnam.

Nothing changed on 9-11. It's the same old story of audacious lies being used to justify nefarious deeds. If you dare to doubt the comforting bullshit, check out this film:

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Farcist Conspiracy

Think back to the last so-called presidential "election." Remember how the federal government kept issuing Terror Alerts? Remember how plans were discovered showing that the evil A-rabs were going to attack New Jersey, fer crying out loud? Take a guess how many times a Terror Alert has been issued since GWB "won" that "election." Go on, take a shot in the dark.

Did you say, "none?" Zilch? Zero? Not a one?

They don't even pretend to give a damn what the public thinks any more -- mainly because the public doesn't show any signs of thinking at all. We've gone beyond farce now; we're well into farcism.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blood money flowing freely

Courtesy of the New York Times, here are six top defense contractors and the percentages by which their profits have increased since 2004: Boeing (37.4 percent), Lockheed Martin (44.2 percent), General Dynamics (19.1 percent), Northrop Grumman (29.2 percent), Raytheon (108.9 percent) and Halliburton (292.9 percent). Keep in mind, that's just the "clean" money that's been declared as income. Billions more are unaccounted for. Billions.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dead -- Really Dead Flowers

Why write a review when I can quote one that says it all so much better?

"The entire film was a lazy, smirky reprise, an exercise in inertia intended to demonstrate that a master of deadpan such as director Jim Jarmusch could draw even less than the usual bare minimum out of Bill Murray, who seemed to be walk without using his legs, talk without using his lips, and sit like a receptacle that had been emptied an hour earlier."

That's from James Wolcott's blog ( The only exception I'd take to that would be to note that Jarmusch's first two films (Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law) were great largely due to his exceptional use of silence and emptiness. The problem is that deadpan is the only pan he's got. One more exception: the music of Mulatu Astatke, featured in the film, is great.


The other day my friend Stan looked up from his tea and said these words to me: "Oh, did I tell you about my psychic prostate surgery?" No bells rang, so I said, "No, tell me about it." He then launched into a story about being in Brazil with a Chilean TV crew along for his interview of a psychic surgeon, etc., etc. Great story, as are most of his. It wasn't until a few hours later that I realized just how bizarre it is that I have a close friend who comes out with lines like that one -- and that it takes me hours to be appropriately amazed.

Department of Deer, Lightning and Peanuts

In celebration of my one and only birthday (this year, at any rate), I'd like to offer this fact as my gift to anyone who happens to wander by:

Even including the 9/11 casualties, the number of Americans killed by international terrorists since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting them) is about the same as that killed by lightning - or by accident-causing deer, or by severe allergic reactions to peanuts.

In almost all years, the total number of people worldwide who die at the hands of international terrorists is not much more than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The X word

What is it about American culture that makes us blind to our own ridiculousness? How is it possible that the congressman who proposed renaming "French fries" "freedom fries" didn't turn red as a beet and shoot himself in his big, empty head? How is it possible that people manage to take themselves seriously while getting all worked up over Janet Jackson's tit, gay cartoon characters, and brain-dead Floridians while simultaneously ignoring American torture, bombing of innocents and the continued transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest? Where's the outrage? Where's the shame? Where's the common fucking sense?

Which brings me to another example of this bizarre deflection of consciousness. American culture has accepted the very strange use of "the N word" or "the F word" instead of saying "nigger" and "fuck" -- as if we were speaking in the presence of 3 year-olds. Now, you might say these words are offensive and I'd respond with a diatribe about how absurd it is to be offended by words, which are nothing but symbolic representations of something supposedly meaningful. Being offended by words is as absurd as being offended by cartoons -- attention towel heads! In any case, whether or not the words are offensive is not the point. The point is that WE ALL KNOW THAT THE F WORD IS "FUCK" AND THE N WORD IS "NIGGER!" So precisely how are we evading the offense here? Whether we call it "bullshit" or "BS" it still stinks.

As Shakespeare put it, "An R-word by any name would smell as sweet."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Can It Happen Here? Has It?

Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel 'It Can't Happen Here' envisioned an America in thrall to a homespun facist dictator. Newly reissued, it's as unsettling a read as ever.

Picture this: A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America.

The nation is facing one of the half-dozen or so of its worst existential crises to date, and the people, once sunny, confident, and striving, are now scared, angry, and disillusioned.

This politician, a ''Professional Common Man,'' executes his rise by relentlessly attacking the liberal media, fancy-talking intellectuals, shiftless progressives, pinkos, promiscuity, and welfare hangers-on.

All the while clamoring for a return to traditional values, to love of country, to the pie-scented days of old when things made sense and Americans were indisputably American.

He speaks almost entirely in ''noble but slippery abstractions''-Liberty, Freedom, Equality-and people love him, even if they can't fully articulate why without resorting to abstractions themselves.

Through a combination of factors-his easy bearing chief among them (along with massive cash donations from Big Business; disorganization in the liberal opposition; a stuffy, aloof opponent; and support from religious fanatics who feel they've been unfairly marginalized)-he wins the presidential election.

Once in, he appoints his friends and political advisers to high-level positions, stocks the Supreme Court with ''surprisingly unknown lawyers who called [him] by his first name,'' declaws Congress, allows Big Business to dictate policy, consolidates the media, and fills newspapers with ''syndicated gossip from Hollywood.''

Carping newspapermen worry that America is moving backward to a time when anti-German politicians renamed sauerkraut ''Liberty Cabbage'' and ''hick legislators...set up shop as scientific experts and made the world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution,'' but newspaper readers, wary of excessive negativity, pay no mind.

Given the nature of ''powerful and secret enemies'' of America-who are ''planning their last charge'' to take away our freedom-an indefinite state of crisis is declared, and that freedom is stowed away for safekeeping. When the threat passes, we can have it back, but in the meantime, citizens are asked to ''bear with'' the president.

Sure, some say these methods are extreme, but the plain folks are tired of wishy-washy leaders, and feel the president's decisiveness is its own excuse. Besides, as one man says, a fascist dictatorship ''couldn't happen here in America...we're a country of freemen!''


While more paranoid readers might be tempted to draw parallels between this scenario and sundry predicaments we may or may not be in right now, the story line is actually that of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel ''It Can't Happen Here,'' a hastily written cautionary note about America's potential descent into fascism, recently reissued by New American Library in a handsome trade edition with a blood-spattered cover design.

The book, though regarded as a departure for Lewis, bears all the trappings of the writer in his prime. Lewis made his name, and his fortune, writing scathing indictments of an America enamored of materialism and mediocrity in the prosperous '20s; he won America's first Nobel Prize for Literature for it.

From ''Main Street'' to ''Babbitt,'' ''Arrowsmith'' to ''Elmer Gantry,'' there was no instance of egregious Rotarianism or middle-class hypocrisy he wouldn't gleefully assail.

Lewis was so successful in these forays that the eponymous protagonist of ''Babbitt,'' whom Lewis held up as the embodiment of all that was wrong with middle-class America in the '20s, saw his name transformed into a widely used pejorative.

At its center, ''It Can't Happen Here'' is no different from these prior efforts. It's just carried out on a bigger, more hyperbolic scale: Lewis takes that Babbitt mentality-the entrenched incuriosity, the smug certitude, the conformity, the complacency-and combines it with the growing desperation of the times to envision an end of America as we know it.

It's an unsettling read, especially in a day and age where wags and politicos on both sides compulsively accuse one another of plotting to destroy America. Other such books, most recently Philip Roth's ''The Plot Against America,'' ask whether a fascist dictatorship can happen here.

But whereas Roth manipulates history in order to show what could have happened, imagining an America so blinded by celebrity adulation that it elects an isolationist, anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh president, Lewis suggests that it already has happened, in little pockets all over America: in bridge club meetings, Rotary luncheons. No invading army will be needed to turn America fascist.

Instead, the catalyst will come from within, and when it does it will speak colloquial American, and it will come waving the Stars and Stripes.

FROM 1935 TO 2005

However broad its themes, ''It Can't Happen Here'' echoes its time, sometimes literally. The Depression was dragging on, the New Deal was on the rocks, FDR was vulnerable, and the GOP had foundered.

People were desperate for strong leadership, and as a result there was a real threat coming from numerous quasi-populist movements led by fire-breathing demagogues promising deliverance.

Among these groups was the Share Our Wealth movement, spearheaded by Senator Huey Long, a former Louisiana governor best known as the inspiration for Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren's ''All the King's Men.''

Long sought to radically redistribute the nation's wealth and impose an income gap, which, while socialist on its face, was more a cynical ploy for votes than a fast-held ideology.

Equally prominent was sulfurous radio personality Father Charles Coughlin's Union of Social Justice, a nativist movement that proposed abolishing the Federal Reserve to reverse the Depression.

Both groups were as corrupt as they were illogical, and FDR feared they would combine, unseat him, and replace American democracy with a strain of Hitlerism suited to America's unique temperament.

Driven by his support of Roosevelt and informed by the insights of his second wife, Dorothy Thompson, a pioneering journalist who more than anyone helped bring home the full horrors of Hitler's rise, Lewis cranked out the book in two months in 1935, in the hope that it would help avert what he felt was a looming catastrophe.

In order to do so effectively, though, he would have to mine the collective prejudices and disenchantments inherent in the American character.

Enter Berzelius ''Buzz'' Windrip, Lewis's tyrant. He's a regular guy, personable, plainspoken, ''with something of the earthy American sense of humor of a Mark Twain...a Will Rogers.'' Guided by his secretary Lee Sarason, he cozies up to the electorate by stoking their disdain for fancy ideas and encouraging them to follow their hearts, not their minds.

Windrip's economic policies are disastrous, his figures often incorrect, and his platform seems to change depending on who he's talking to, but none of that matters as long as he keeps expressing himself decisively.

''I want to stand up on my hind legs,'' he writes in ''Zero Hour,'' his widely read pre-campaign book, ''and not just admit but frankly holler right out that...we've got to change our system a lot, maybe even change the whole Constitution (but change it legally, not by violence)....

''The Executive has got to have a freer hand and be able to move quick in an emergency, and not be tied down by dumb shyster lawyer congressmen taking months to shoot off their mouths in debates.''

When Windrip is elected, all hell breaks loose. Dissent is crushed, the Bill of Rights is gutted, war is declared (on Mexico), and labor camps are established to help shore up Windrip's vaunted ''New Freedom,'' which is more like a freedom from freedom.

All that's really left of the old America are the flags and patriotic ditties, which for many is more than enough. But to Lewis it's not entirely the fault of those who will gladly abide America's principles being gutted.

The blame also falls on the ''it can't happen here'' crowd, those yet to realize that being American doesn't change your human nature; whatever it is that attracts people to tyranny is in Americans like it's in anyone else.

When Lewis embarked on ''It Can't Happen Here,'' his wife wondered if a dictatorship could happen in this country, whether complacent Babbitt, as she put it, could be taught to march ''quickly enough.''

It was a question that Lewis had already answered. There's a scene in ''Babbitt'' where the title character blows up at his wife and admits for the first time in years that he's not as thrilled with his lot as he lets on.

His wife soothes him and sends him off to bed, where, ''For many minutes, for many hours, for a bleak eternity, he lay awake, shivering, reduced to primitive terror, comprehending that he had won freedom, and wondering what he could do with anything so unknown and so embarrassing as freedom.''

In other words, the marching is just pageantry. Windrip's most formidable task, convincing Americans to renounce bedrock democratic principles, was already accomplished well before he took power. It was just waiting for its moment.

Joe Keohane @ Boston Globe

Monday, February 06, 2006

Steelers and Star Wars

Go Steelers!

In other news... I saw that a subsidary of Halliburton has been awarded a $387 million contract to build "detention centers" to be used in case of an "immigration emergency." Is it just me, or does that sound mighty suspicious? An immigration emergency, eh? Is someone expecting martial law anytime soon?

You might call me paranoid, conspiratorial, whatever. But here's how I see it: the available sources of news are all biased in one way or another. This is not to say that Fox is as reliable as the BBC, but it's not hard to find distorting bias in any news outlet in their choice of what to report, the tone of their reporting and so on. So the only way to think clearly about these matters is to approach current events like a scientist. Disregard the interpretation and just look at the bare bones to try to discern structure. Who benefits? Where's the money go? Does the cover story make logical sense?

Take the Star Wars Missile Defense Shield, for example. Since the Reagan days, this has been one of the most expensive, if not THE most expensive item in the defense budget. Many billions of dollars have gone into this program, and the flow of funding did not slow a bit when the only potential enemy against whom such a shield would be useful (USSR) ceased to exist. Run it down:
- They still, after a couple of decades and many billions of dollars, haven't managed to shoot down a single missile.
- Even if they could, the potential attacker could overpower the system with a few missiles armed with multiple warheads that separate and re-enter the atmosphere independently -- or by launching dozens of missiles simultaneously.
- Any state that shot missiles at the USA would not be doing it anonymously (pretty simple matter to know where it came from), thus being assured of massive retaliation.

So, it's incredibly expensive, doesn't work and would be utterly useless even if it did work. Anyone smell bullshit around here?

Here's my hypothesis. There's no shield. This program is a cover story to hide the development and implementation of a space-based surveillence/attack system. The satellite system ostensibly placed to detect hostile missile launches is really there to provide highly detailed, real-time monitoring of the entire planet. The attack satellites, armed with nuclear-powered lasers (already tested and in place) are not for shooting down missiles (hence the lack of concern over the repeatedly unsuccessful tests) -- they're for vaporizing "enemies of the state" down below. The whole deal is just a step up from the satellite/drone system now being used all over the world (I've noted attacks in Afganistan and Yemen). Once they have this system in place, they'll be able to attack any spot on earth instantaneously from a computer console in a bunker hidden under a Wal-Mart in Baton-Rouge.

So far, so scary. But here's where it gets really revolutionary. Once the powers that be have this system in place, they don't need armies anymore. If they can have a few hundred true-believers ready to push the right buttons at the right time, that's pretty much all they need. No need for troops to do all that dirty work, so no need for a public willing to go along with the agenda. No worries about morale or rebellion. It's the logical next step in the concentration of power. A step that, once taken, will bring an already reeling world just that much closer to the drain we've been circling.

But hey, Go Steelers!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Ah, now I understand...


We erred when we reported that a pacifist had been given a small fine for a peaceful protest outside an Army recruitment office while a soldier convicted of torturing an Iraqi prisoner to death was given 6 months in prison. In fact it was the soldier who tortured and killed the prisoner who was given a small fine, and the pacifist who was sentenced to 6 months in prison. We apologize for any confusion.


While waiting for our clueless leader to tell us abuut the State of the Union, here's a primer on how the U.S. government is designed. Pay attention, as there's a quiz at the end:

Our System of Checks and Balances

Our government consists of three, coequal branches: Legislative (the Congress), Executive (the President), and Judicial (the Courts). Congress enacts the laws, the President executes the laws, and the Courts interpret the laws. When the President has to sign a law he doesn't like, he adds a "signing statement" which says he doesn't have to abide by it. If the Courts say he does, he has someone whom he has employed for the purpose tell him he still doesn't have to abide by the law, so he doesn't.
Reading Comprehension Question: Which of the three branches of our government can pretend the other two don't exist?


Munich and Match Point

Warning: if you haven't seen these films and are planning to, you might want to skip this discussion.

Munich. Verdict: disappointing. I'd read the reviews calling this Spielberg's greatest, most courageous film and so on. What I saw was a well-acted, well-filmed action movie with a bit of confused moralistic mumbo-jumbo thrown in and a whole lot of loose threads left hanging. The film basically amounts to little more than a series of assassination scenes. Where's the profundity? What's so courageous about saying that terrorism and retribution (interchangeable terms in most cases) are morally treacherous?

Specific problems:
- Papa. Whoever he is, we are led to believe that he is very deep in the shadows. He's got information and sells it at a very high price. Avner has to wear a blindfold when he's taken to see Papa, so there's no way he could discover Papa's true identity, location, etc. But we're supposed to believe that this ultra-cautious underworld figure would bring Avner to his country home and introduce him to his extended family, including about a dozen grandchildren? Huh? "My identity must be kept ultra-secret, but let me introduce you to my clan and show you around the house." Right.
Papa's organization arranges a safe-house for Avner and his boys in Athens, after being paid well over a million dollars by Avner thus far (i.e., Avner is a good client). We are to believe that this organization confuses the dates somehow and puts the Israelis in the same room with the PLO terrorists? Come on, now. Either this was done intentionally to get them all shooting each other, or it's utterly unbelievable. Add this to Papa's having given Avner the wrong explosives, almost resulting in Avner's death (not to mention innocents), and we're left with three choices:
- Papa's organization is very, very sloppy (unbelievable, given the nature of their business -- if you're sloppy, you don't last long in the espionage underworld)
- Papa's organization is trying to fuck up Avner's mission (seems the obvious choice to me, but since Avner doesn't seem to take offense at the fuck-ups, or even question them, this was apparently not intended to be the story line)
- It's just a case of sloppy thnking/writing (the only conclusion that makes sense, though I find this one hard to believe as well). Do you see other viable possibilities?

Another thought: at the end of the film, when Avner is thinking his family may be in danger, he calls Papa from a phone booth in New York. He's shocked that Papa knows his name. I'm shocked that Avner had Papa's home phone number! So much for secret identity, secret location!

Match Point. Verdict, same as Munich, overrated and sloppy. Plot points that just don't work:
- He's been a tennis pro for years, close to the top of the rankings. He's now teaching at a top-flight club and is invited to dinner at the home of a very wealthy client (who can help him immensely). He sees a sexy woman at the house and starts coming on to her like an alley-cat? No way! He would be very cautious to find out who she was before risking everything that way. Furthermore, the whole plot turns on him becoming obsessively attracted to this woman -- who is sexy, but not very smart or interesting or useful to him in any way other than sexual. Not believable. He's been a tennis pro for years; are we to believe that he's easily infatuated by sexy women? Please.
- Here's a plan: Go to an apartment building and shoot someone with a shotgun in the street-level apartment, then hang around for an hour or so. Great plan! You've got neighbors right, left, above and possibly below you, as well as people walking by on the street. You think nobody's going to hear the shotgun blast? Nobody? Right. Sloppy bullshit. I'm done with Woody Allen.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Who left the seat up?

Here's a question that may rock the firmament of your world view: Why is "down" the default toilet seat position? Seriously, let's walk through this one. If the seat is up, nobody's pissing on it, right? How many times (guys) have you walked into the men's room and found the toilet seat down and pissed all over? Who's gonna raise a pissed-on toilet seat? Unless I happen to be wearing my Haz-Mat suit, I'm not touching the thing! But if it were up by default (imagine a small hydraulic device standard in toilet seats) nobody would be pissing on it. Not til later in the evening, anyway.

This has the added benefit of removing one of the perennial triggers of male/female domestic conflict as well.

This is today's contribution to world-betterment.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

On the wrong side of history

Growing up in the USA in the 60s and 70s, I was taught that I lived in a country uniquely founded on freedom and respect for human dignity. For better or worse, my first serious intellectual passion was centered on native American cultures and their destruction by the freedom-loving Americans, so by the time I was an adolescent I was all too well-aware that this glorious mythology was a cover story meant to obscure the innocent blood and deceit in which the American dream is soaked.

But still, even within all the hypocrisy there seemed to be some remaining sense that America really was somehow different and better than other countries. When Watergate embarrassed the nation into electing Jimmy Carter, there was a brief moment of hope. I know that even then we were supporting thugs in Guatemala, the Phillipines, Iran and elsewhere, but there was something ennobling in the declaration that we held human rights inviolate -- even if our concern was demonstrably hypocritical.

In those days, the American government quoted the annual reports from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to buttress its own critiques of oppressive governments -- those aligned with the Soviet Union anyway.

Those days are now long gone. Gone is the noble hypocrisy. No longer do we claim to be "better;" now it's enough to assert power. The latest report from Human Rights Watch spells it out:

The 2006 World Report is not easy reading for those who believe in and value human dignity.

"New evidence demonstrated in 2005 that torture and mistreatment have been a deliberate part of the Bush administration’s counter terrorism strategy, undermining the global defense of human rights.

The evidence showed that abusive interrogation cannot be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, but was a conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials. The policy has hampered Washington’s ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law, said the 532-page volume’s introductory essay."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Welcome to the new location. This site seems to be more flexible and allow me to publish photos along with the text. I also found it frustrating to have comments come in but not know who I was talking to. So I hope this one will work out better.

If all goes well, there should be a photo of me at the beginning of this entry and a photo of the cats at the end.

When a man loves a woman...

Percy Sledge is full of shit. In his biggest hit, "When a Man Loves a Woman," Mr. Sludge opines that a man who is truly in love will do the following:
- turn his back on his best friend if he criticzes the woman
- spend his last dime on her
- give up all his comforts and sleep in the rain.

I don't know much about Sludge's personal life (in fact, I know absolutely nothing about it), but I'd bet my bottom dollar that he didn't spend much time sleeping in the rain, and if he did, it had more to do with some mind-altering chemical than it did with his one true love. In fact, I'd be willing to wager that Mr. Sludge -- being a famous singer of love songs -- went through women in a manner wholly inconsistent with what his famous song advises to the rest of us.

For the record, women aren't impressed with the type of man who will dump his closest friends, squander all his money and sleep in the street. These are not advisable ways of demonstrating love. If we're worried about violence in the media planting the wrong world-view in our kids' minds, shouldn't we also be concerned with the self-destructive, unrealistic vision of relationships planted in their hearts by silly love songs?

Anyone know some realistic love songs? I nominate "I need a woman who won't drive me crazy" by John Cougar (pre-Mellencamp). Save your last dime, fellas.

On the other hand, is there any more egregious example of shamelssness than Elvis singing "Suspicious Minds?" It's a song sung to a suspcious woman by a man who is SHOCKED that she'd suspect him of infidelity. Come on, Elvis! Reminds me of Richard Pryor's line when his wife catches him in bed with another woman, "Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?" Go with your eyes, ladies.

And if Mick Jagger can't get no satisfaction, what hope do the rest of us have?