Friday, January 22, 2021

Poet Amanda Gorman reads 'The Hill We Climb'

The essay in the NYT by Timothy Egan titled "A President Can Govern in Poetry" reminded me of Amanda Gorman's wonderful reading of her poem "The Hill We Climb". 



As powerful as her live reading was, Amanda Gorman's soon to be released book seems like a nice keepsake for those who believe in the power of words to foster hope and healing.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Livin Large


Walt Whitman wrote in his poem Song of Myself, 

"Do I contradict myself? 
Very well then I contradict myself, 
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

Whitman's contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson was perhaps touching on this idea when he wrote,

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..." 

and perhaps also when he wrote, 

"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them." 

________________________ 

Consider how you might define your self and find meaning in your one precious life. Don't sell your self short, don't be afraid to be ignorant, or to put it another way - don't let your hard-headedness or hard-heartedness prevent you from learning; or finding compassion for fellow beings.

You could define your self as something small and constraining such as a member of a political party, state, or nation. 

or

You could think of your self as a precious unique individual with expansive possibilities - a human living in a civilization that is the product of thousands of years of human history, millions of years of geological history, on a planet, in a solar system, in a galaxy, in a universe that is infinite.

Many many possibilities - it's up to you to make the world you live in. In that vein consider another quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson -

“I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

As is so evident in contemporary American society what we read, listen to and watch has extraordinary impacts on who we are (or at least who we think we are). 

The right-wing media ecosystem has for decades encouraged millions of Americans to be fearful, angry, hateful, and aggrieved at one another; as well as promoting distrust of science, expertise and traditional journalism i.e. fact-based and error-correcting. 

This blame displacement exercise has led to the richest country on earth lagging other economically developed nations in key aspects of how our society cares for it's citizens - health care, education, wages, family leave etc. while a large portion of it's citizens have been propagandized into blaming each other, rather than holding those with power (wealth), who control the economic and political structures, accountable.

That's bad...but here's the silver lining.

Humans who are ensnared in the right-wing media ecosystem aren't necessarily racist, or stupid, or mean...they are just people. Forgive them for they know not what they do...if you want to be angry you could be angry with those with power (wealth) who created and control these vast right-wing propaganda machines in order to use people as a means to their own selfish ends. 

___________________


Sunday, September 27, 2020

BREAKING NEWS! Trump Challenges Biden to Pissing Contest!!

Sources are reporting that Donald Trump has challenged fellow septuagenarian Joe Biden to a pissing contest. Trump who claims to have the peeing range of an 8 year old is reported to have requested the pissing contest as an alternative to this years presidential debates. Sources report Trump saying, "I talked about dongs in the Republican debates of 2016, lets ratchet things up a notch this time by whipping them out on live television."

That's not breaking news you say?

It's as factual as much of what you'll find if you happen to be a denizen of the right-wing media ecosystem or if you listen to Donald Trump talk for a few minutes.

If you have some attention to spare please watch the video below. 

You won't be able to save the victims enthralled by the right-wing media ecosystem but at least you'll have a better idea of how and why the United States got to where we are currently. Hopefully you can come up with some ideas for how you as an individual might save our democratic liberal society from a group of people that are being manipulated to the point where they inhabit a world that you, and and anyone else who inhabits the world of reality, would find very unfamiliar. 

Anyone who wants to get a better view of how the United States slipped into our current dystopian state and what we might do to start correcting our path should be interested in this video and, if you have time, read the associated book Network Propaganda - Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics

If you are short on cash you don't have to buy the book since the authors have made a PDF copy available by clicking on the "open access" link at the top right corner of the book's page at Oxford University Press

The book isn't typical media criticism but rather data analysis of millions of stories, tweets and Facebook shares using MIT's Media Cloud Software. If you are curious you can sign up for an account and start doing your own research.

Sadly the book confirms that it would be as foolish to believe in the upcoming Biden/Trump pissing in the wind contest as it is to believe that "facts" and "journalism" and "reality" are going to sway people looking solely for information that is entertaining, self-affirming and non-threatening to their preconceived (and constantly reaffirmed) fantasies.

On the plus side you can stop beating your head against the wall wondering how so many people can be so ignorant. They aren't to blame, they have been trained very well over many years by the finest propaganda money can buy.

You can also stop fretting over all the negative but truthful coverage of the GOP and Trump in mainstream journalism and why that awfulness doesn't sink in with the current supporters of the GOP and Trump - because they aren't reading, watching or listening to any of that stuff. 

If you have a good mental core and can view emotional things dispassionately it might be better to listen to right wing hate radio, read Breitbart, RT, Daily Caller, Daily Pundit or the Washington Examiner and watch Fox and Friends in the morning and Hannity, Ingraham and Carlson at night - like the President and most other GOP politicians and their supporters do - to get a better idea of what that frightening world is like. 

Trump took over a media machine that the Republican party spent decades constructing and now this out of control giant robotic beast is roaming the country wreaking havoc on us puny humans. 


It seems unlikely but if you think an intervention - with some victim of the right-wing media ecosystem, who you know well and can talk with, would help - by all means try to help them. 

It's more likely that these beliefs are so ingrained and deeply personal that unless a person looks for reality of their own accord...no one else is going to convince them, or debate them, or shame them, into changing these deeply held personal beliefs. 

If over 100,000 excess deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic don't convince Fox News watching and Facebook sharing, Uncle John or Aunt Sally that the GOP and our president are unfit - your debating, Facebooking, and twittering skills aren't going to help. I came up with 100,000 as a conservative figure. The US has about 4% of the world's population and 20% of the world's Covid-19 deaths. In other words we have five times as many fatalities as would be expected...which means with our current 200,000 plus deaths that Trump and his GOP enablers are responsible for 160,000 excess deaths in our country.

___________________
 

It's not all that surprising that this video was posted in March and only had 27 views when I  watched it this September since it isn't being promoted by "influencers."

It's not that hard to push content to the top of the Google search. I used to do that with this blog years ago when I still accepted advertisers.

Finally I'll leave you with this quote from the book that sums things up pretty well from my perspective -
"We think that fundamentally, anyone who insists on claiming that we cannot draw conclusions about which side is biased, and which side gravitates more closely to the truth, must explain how the media sources most trusted by consistently conservative survey respondents—Fox News, Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck—are the equivalent of the sites that occupy the same positions among consistently liberal respondents: NPR, PBS, the BBC, and the New York Times."
_______________________ 




Saturday, September 26, 2020

Handmaiden Nominated for Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett, nominated to replace Justice Ruth Ginsberg, is a member of the group People of Praise. This ecumenical, but mostly Catholic, group subscribes to non-Catholic theology in their belief that husbands are the "head" of the family and wives "handmaidens". 

I'm being a bit unfair with the "handmaiden" label. In 2017 when Ms. Barrett was nominated for her first judgeship on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals the leader of the group People of Praise, Mr. Lent, said the group’s system of heads and handmaids promotes “brotherhood,” not male dominance. He said the group recently dropped the term “handmaid” in favor of “woman leader.” 

Catholic doctrine does not teach "male headship", which is a belief held by some evangelical sects.

"Male headship" contradicts Catholic doctrine which states that in the mutual relationship of man and woman in marriage -

The woman cannot become the "object" of "domination" and male "possession".

The group People of Praise also believe in prophecy, speaking in tongues, divine healing and most troubling - discriminating against some of God's children, namely LGBTQ people.

This snippet from a South Bend Tribune article is illustrative of the groups treatment of LGBTQ people, specifically a young woman named Flannery who joined the group at 18 -

When she returned to South Bend after graduating, she was allowed to transfer to the South Bend branch. At that time, Flannery was realizing that she was lesbian or at least bisexual. During a women’s group meeting, she talked about her “big life change” and how she had met a woman she was interested in, and she was struggling with the fact that she no longer identified as straight, she said.

“I did not ask them to approve of what I did or to pat me on the back and say ‘good job,’” she said. “I just needed to tell somebody so I could talk about it.” 

Flannery said she was shocked to learn that the women then reported what she said to her leader, who, a few days later, called her to a meeting at her house and said the women “were very uncomfortable that you were talking about that.” 

“She said, ‘Either you never mention this again, or you leave.’ I said, ‘I’ll leave, I don’t want to live like that.’” 

Not commenting specifically on Flannery’s case, Lent said the group would end the membership of a person who admits to homosexual activity, or any other “ongoing, deliberate, unrepentant wrongdoing.” He said the group believes that only married people should have sex, and only men and women should marry. Homosexual attraction is not sinful, but acting on it is, Lent said. 

Aside from the group’s views on homosexuality, Flannery said she “absolutely” would have been concerned if Barrett had received the Supreme Court nomination.

I don't know anything about Amy Coney Barrett - she sounds like a good person from what I've read. Looking at a group like People of Praise as an outsider doesn't tell me what it's like to be in the group interacting with it's members. It has some aspects that sound appealing to me but there are other aspects that sound quite disturbing. I don't  have any issue with people joining non-traditional religious groups it's just that I'm not sure if being a member of a group like People of Praise should not be disqualifying for anyone wanting to be a judge in secular society or at least that a member of that group should be questioned and explain how her membership does not skew her ability to be an impartial judge.

Friday, September 25, 2020

One of The Golden Texts of Philosophy

The quoted text below is from volume I pages 667-669 of Will and Ariel Durant's series of books "The Story of Civilization" -

"The Confucian program is expressed pithily and profoundly in the famous paragraphs of The Great Learning: 

The ancients who wished to illustrate the highest virtue throughout the empire first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their own selves. Wishing to cultivate their own selves, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their own selves were cultivated. Their own selves being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed. The states being rightly governed, the whole empire was made tranquil and happy."

Will Durant goes on to write -

"This is the keynote and substance of the Confucian philosophy; one might  forget all other words of the Master and his disciples, and yet carry away with these "the essence of the matter," and a complete guide to life. The world is at war, says Confucius, because its constituent states are improperly governed; these are improperly governed because no amount of legislation can take the place of the natural social order provided by the family; the family is in disorder, and fails to provide this natural social order, because men forget that they cannot regulate their families if they do not regulate themselves; they fail to regulate themselves because they have not rectified their hearts - i.e., they have not cleansed their own souls of disorderly desires; their hearts are not rectified because their thinking is insincere, doing scant justice to reality and concealing rather than revealing their own natures; their thinking is insincere because they let their wishes discolor the facts and determine their conclusions, instead of seeking to extend their knowledge to the utmost by impartially investigating the nature of things. Let men seek impartial knowledge, and their thinking will become sincere; let their thoughts be sincere and their hearts will be cleansed of disorderly desires; let their hearts be so cleansed, and their own selves will be regulated - not by virtuous sermonizing or passionate punishments, but by the silent power of example itself; let the family be so regulated with knowledge, sincerity and example, and it will give forth such spontaneous social order that successful government will once more be a feasible thing; let the state maintain internal justice and tranquility, and the world will be peaceful and happy.

It is a counsel of perfection, and forgets that man is a beast of prey; but like Christianity it offers us a goal to strike at, and a ladder to climb. It is one of the golden texts of philosophy."


________________________


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Buy The Ticket Take the Ride

B and I went to see Hunter S. Thompson "speak" at the old Gallatin Gateway Inn four decades ago or so. He was with Jerry Jeff Walker and his band. Lots of drinking and laughing. We had a blast as usual.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Smoke (1995) - Auggie's Photo Album

I think the 1995 movie Smoke has some subtle wisdom about paying attention to beautiful things around us.


On the topic of philosophically interesting movies, the 1986 movie "The Mission" is another film that touches on philosophical questions. In the case of "The Mission" the philosophical questions include civilization, religion and choosing between violence and non-violence. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Ophelia (The Band cover) - With Tuba - Reina Del Cid

Reina Del Cid and the musicians around her don't seem to take themselves all that seriously but I think they are seriously talented.



Friday, September 11, 2020

In Praise of Doubt

Half a century ago or so my Mother made a comment about an engineer she'd met playing bridge. That comment has stuck in my porous brain all these years because as I've thought about it I realize that it speaks to a fundamental truth about modernity, mankind and expertise.

My mother was not formally educated. She didn't graduate from high school. She was funny, a good piano player, and as good a mother as anyone could wish for.

So what was the comment about the engineer that has stuck with me over the decades? She told me the engineer knew a lot about some things but mistakenly thought his specialized knowledge meant that he knew a lot about all things.

As an engineer who knows some things I see the truth in that tendency in myself constantly. I know that there's a lot that I don't know and yet I regularly demonstrate my "expertise" in medical, financial, sociological, psychological, legal, and other areas where my knowledge is lacking. Allow me to demonstrate ;-)

Rene Descartes told us we exist because we think - "I think therefore I am." The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in his 1930 book "The Revolt of the Masses" changed that statement to be, "I doubt therefore I am." Why is that important?

It's because of paradox of the engineer - he thinks he knows way more than he actually knows. We could explore what it means to "think" or to "know" if we had time - but time is short. Suffice it to say that much of what people call "thinking" is nothing of the sort, but rather repeating some thing they read, or were told or some thought they came to after a 5 minute web search. Thinking is hard - people like me are lazy. You see the terrible truth is this line of thought?

I don't think therefore I do not exist as a human - I am a tool to be molded and used. The best we can hope for as non-thinking automatons is that those doing our molding are people of good faith...but that hope is dashed against the rocks of reality throughout history. Teach your children well.

____________________


This thinking we know things we don't isn't an ailment unique to engineers - it's the human condition of our scientific technical age.

It's not that we don't trust experts (often for good reason) but that we don't need experts - we've got the internet, Facebook, WebMd, Wikipedia and thousands (millions) of like-minded souls we can tap into via our social safe spaces to agree man-made climate change isn't real, our current president is a hero and that unicorns exist.

I'd change Jose Ortega's formulation a bit to say, "I doubt therefore I am a philosopher." We all are philosophers, to some degree, in that we want to know answers to fundamental questions - why am I here? why does the universe exist? what is a good life? 

We philosophers don't need to bound the questions - we want to know the universe and everything in it. The crucial point is that we know we can't know many many many things...so we are left to doubt, learn a little and muddle through as best we can. What we end up with is a philosophy that concludes that to philosophize is to live life as best we can. By recognizing that to live is to experience life in all it's messy, ugly, beautiful, maddening aspects we become (and remain) human. In essence by knowing that we don't know, recognizing that there are no simple answers, people to bless or people to blame - we are what God made us to be - human...beautiful, puny, often helpless...humans.

Recognizing the beauty and sadness of the full catastrophe we are here for an instant to love laugh and live...to help those suffering when we can...but most of all to lighten and soften our hearts on this worldly stage in order to live the singular miraculous life God blessed us with in all it's glory. 

 

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

All Day Long

This scene with Jack Nicholson from the 1978 movie "Goin South" seems classic to me. You would have to watch the whole movie to understand the context; but I think there's something touching, brave, human and humorous about this character working in a dusty mine saying "I can do this all day long". It's not clear if he's trying to convince himself or his partner that he can persevere - which seems like a common human condition. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Dismantling Government - The Postal Service Dilemma

If you live in a cave or a right-wing safe space you may not be aware of what the Republican party and their leader Donald J. Trump are doing to the United States Postal Service. 

Mail boxes are being removed, automated mail sorting machines costing millions of dollars are being destroyed and thrown into dumpsters, postal service leadership has been sidelined, overtime for postal workers has been eliminated and mail carriers are banned from making extra trips to deliver mail. Vice News seems to have fairly good coverage if you haven't been keeping up.

The new post master general Louis DeJoy and his wife Aldona Wos, who was appointed ambassador to Canada in February, own millions of dollars of stock in private competitors to the United States Postal Service. Louis Dejoy and his wife were big campaign contributors and fundraisers for Trump. Louis Dejoy was a Republican National Committee finance co-chair (along with now-disgraced Michael Cohen and now-disgraced Elliot Broidy). Steve Wynn (also now-disgraced) was the RNC Finance Chair. The Republican National Committee deleted the press release announcing these people's assignments in their political machine, but the wayback machine helps us fight the propagandists attempts to erase history.

Two streams of thought are converging - (a) the Republican parties long held desire to turn the United States Post Office over to for-profit private corporations and (b) the Republican party's decades long efforts to suppress voting

You can blame Trump but he's merely one symptom of a disease that infected American politics long ago. He's following doctrines held by the people who finance the Republican party. Prior to his election these doctrines were disguised using emotionally fraught deceptively simple words like freedom, individual rights, and free markets. 

Trump, from the Republican parties point of view, is fine on policy - his failures are rhetorical. Even though in his own estimation he knows the best words - the people who control the Republican party are afraid that he isn't using the right words to keep us peasants from revolting. 

____________________


Bernie Sanders has done us a favor by posting the policy platform of the group that has taken over the Republican Party over the last four decades.The following three planks from that platform are relevant to understanding what's being done to the U.S. postal service, and why it's being done, by the current administration -

  • "We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence. Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.” 
  • “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.” 
  • “We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”

Very utopian, extremely radical and completely disconnected from the complicated world we live in. A case of ideology causing a break from reality while also allowing that insanity to be sublimated by those in it's grasp.

___________________________


The Republican Party's efforts to turn the United States Postal Service into a private for-profit enterprise didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Quoting from this 2013 L.A. Times article -

"In 2006, the GOP Congress passed a bill that required the Postal Service to fully fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years and to accomplish this within a 10-year period. Republicans are always insisting that the USPS be run like a good capitalist enterprise, but few, if any, private businesses could bear the burden of funding three-quarters of a century of retired employees’ medical costs over just one decade."

"In truth, the Republicans who crafted the bill were not interested in turning the Postal Service into a better business; they were seeking to run the post office out of business." 

"The post office may be mandated by the United States Constitution, as clearly as freedom of religion or the right to bear arms, but it does not fit with modern Republican dogma and, therefore, has been targeted for extinction."

_____________________

People living thousands of years ago had highly developed civilizations that lasted for a time and then vanished leaving nothing but incomplete historical records for future generations. There is no reason to think that what we refer to as civilization in this century will suffer a different fate...it's just a matter of when. If I was a betting man I'd put my money on the climate crisis which the Republican party's decades of science denial has most-likely made insolvable according to people like Bill McKibbon. Never underestimate the power of the American people though...

Thinking about how the (current and soon to be worse) climate disaster happened, and if we ever could of prevented it given human nature makes an old guy like me sad, angry and confused...for awhile, life is too short to stay focused on things you can't control.

How about talking about money instead?

Money depends on public trust. If you have money backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government (as opposed to a money backed by gold or other precious metals) it is imperative that a certain amount of trust exists between users of that money and those who print it. As Wall Street thrives thanks to massive amounts of money being printed, and main street fails - the trust people have in the U.S. dollar will diminish. 

Some economists predict that printing an over-supply of fiat money will lead to hyper-inflation - which makes sense to a simple-minded person like me. I can't help but think there must be other impacts such as increasing the power of publicly traded companies at the expense of private enterprise (mom and pop or other smaller non-publicly traded businesses) leading to more monopoly power by corporations. 

Following the roaring 20's we had the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent national depression. The shared pain of that crash led to a variety of financial reforms to keep banks solvent and government projects to employ and otherwise help a struggling people. This time is different - the pain is not shared. People in glass towers making money from investments, divestments, mergers, acquisitions and other financial paper magic that have no intrinsic value to society may find public support dwindling. They retreat to their super-zips while the rest of the nation is left holding an empty bag decorated with the words freedom, individual rights and free markets courtesy of the Republican party.

Whether you think a fiat currency is good or bad, credit should go to the Republican party for creating fiat money in the United States. Our country changed from having a dollar backed by gold to a fiat currency during Richard Nixon's time as president in the early 1970's.

_____________________

Some people decry the onset of big government as being an outgrowth of the New Deal. That may be true but a complex open society needs a sophisticated open form of government. 

We won't get that type of government through slogans like "no new taxes" while Republican congresspeople create tax giveaways for rich people in private meetings with lobbyists ala the 2017 tax giveaway. Or by the sincere sounding words of Ronald Reagan about cutting government spending while his budget director David Stockman said it was "like hogs feeding at a trough" to see the corporate special interest lobbyists manipulating the politicians. Here's the quote from The Atlantic -

Stockman participated in the trading—special tax concessions for oil—lease holders and real-estate tax shelters, and generous loopholes that virtually eliminated the corporate income tax. Stockman sat in the room and saw it happen. “Do you realize the greed that came to the forefront?” Stockman asked with wonder. “The hogs were really feeding. The greed level, the level of opportunism, just got out of control.”

I hold a complex open society requires a sophisticated open government (size is secondary, a small weak government does not necessarily mean good government and a large well run open government does not necessarily mean bad government). The conservative (whatever that may mean) intellectual George Will, citing the classical liberal economist Friedrich Hayak thinks a bit differently - the more complicated society becomes, the less capable government is in dealing with that societies issues and therefore the smaller that government should be.  In this video from his appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival, George says that the goal of "American Conservatism" is, "to preserve a society  open to perpetual dynamic change." 

I can't help but think that some people who cloak themselves with a conservative label would be quite surprised to hear George's words about what he thinks American Conservatism really is.

I'm surely not objective but I prefer things a bit easier to understand. One thing I understand empirically is that the working class people I was close to as a young person - loved Franklin Roosevelt. Other people must of liked him, he was elected president four times. Maybe all those people who voted for him were misguided. Maybe so...but at least we could maybe agree that no matter your inherited ideology (and they are mostly inherited) it would be wise to occasionally ask yourself - is it possible I've been misguided?   






Thursday, August 13, 2020

Kurt Anderson: “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America" | PBS

Kurt Anderson cites the 1971 Powell memo as the beginning of the takeover of American government by corporate business interests. I usually start with Reagan's election in 1980 which came shortly after his neoliberal counterpart Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of the U.K.

The Republican president Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. This exacerbated big business's concern that they had ceded too much power to the people (the government). Justice Powell wrote his memo in 1971 as a call to arms for corporate interests to assert their power to capture the government. Almost 50 years later we see just how successful they were in removing power from the people and placing it in the hands of special interests.

The fact that the Republican president Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 - then Reagan and Neil Gorsuch's mom, along with every other Republican administration afterward, worked so hard to dismantle it, should in itself tell you how far from the center the Republican party has slid. Going from protecting the environment to an active campaign to discredit science to deny human caused climate change...is quite a leap.

The Republican party of today cannot be trusted with power. 

The Republican party no longer believes in majority rule and has shown time and time again that they will undermine our representative democracy in order to retain power. 

The Republican party's denial of science makes that party a danger to our country's health as the current pandemic makes clear. 

The Republican party is willing to betray our country by accepting election assistance from Putin's Russian. 

The Republican party has participated in the destabilization of the Western alliance formed post WWII by encouraging right-wing ultra-nationalist illiberal movements and leaders. 

The Republican party is willing to allow the Federal Reserve to print money to prop up the financial industry - as a result we see soaring stock markets juxtaposed with a country filled with suffering people and failing small businesses. A country filled with jobless, homeless, sick and dying people takes little comfort in rising Dow Jones. S&P or NASDAQ averages. The financialization of American business has made the productive economy of small business separate from, and subservient to, the unproductive financialized economy of mergers, takeovers, buyouts and other financial paper magic. CEO's, hedge fund managers and leveraged buyout experts roll in the dough while citizens sleep in the streets. 

and if all that wasn't enough...

The Republican party threatens the continued survival of our country and the world by denying climate science.

If that isn't sufficient to make the current Republican party a party of the past in November then we will have the government we deserve - which seems just.

It seems unjust that future generations will inherit a dying burning planet...because we were too selfish and ignorant to get our act together.

Vote em out...march em out. Do it for your kids, their kids and for every succeeding generation. 





Wednesday, August 12, 2020

When Radicals Takeover The Government

The Republican party would like you to be afraid that radicals, like Joe Biden, want to take over the country. If you hang out in Republican safe spaces long enough you might start to confuse Joe with Che Guavara

If you are too young to know who Che was, he was a Marxist of some sort whose revolutionary stance was solidified as a result of the neocolonial policies of the United Fruit Company and the United States government in South America. He held roles in the Castro government of Cuba in the early 60's and was executed by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces in 1967. The 2004 movie The Motorcycle Diaries is about Che's life-changing travels through South America. The United Fruit Company later became Chiquita Brand International, and the events that these large multi-national corporations participated in with United States government backing are the source of the term banana republic.

Swinging back from the radical left to the other side of the political spectrum...

William F. Buckley wrote a book in 1990 titled Gratitude: Reflections On What We Owe To Our Country. Buckley recommends some form of national service for young people in the book and in the episode from Firing Line below. I haven't read William's book but I did order it from Powell's and am looking forward to reading it.

More recently Sebastian Unger has recommended some form of national service in his book Tribe - On Homecoming and Belonging

I think some form of national service would help individuals further their educations by getting to know and work with people from various parts of the country - people with different religious, racial, sexual, economic, and educational backgrounds - then their own. Beyond the benefits to increasing individuals knowledge of the people and the world around them - this service for the country and it's people would aid national cohesiveness by cutting down on some of the stupid my team vs. your team activity we see in today's media and political realms. 

____________________


So that's the good part...here's the bad part.

This Firing Line episode from 1990 is useful in beginning to understand what happened to the United States starting around the time Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. 

Ronald Reagan is a hero to many people and he certainly had his good qualities. He was quite charming, apparently sincere, and a good public relations guy - both for the General Electric Corporation before he entered politics, and after he became Governor of California and later President. He was a better actor than most politicians. 

Was he honest with the American people? My outlook on his veracity comes from a story in the book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" by the British neurologist Oliver Sachs

The story is called "The President's Speech" -
"What was going on? A roar of laughter from the aphasia ward, just as the President's speech was coming on, and they had all been so eager to hear the President speaking. .. 
Thus the feeling I sometimes have-which all of us who work closely with aphasiacs have-that one cannot lie to an aphasiac. He cannot grasp your words, and so cannot be deceived by them; but what he grasps he grasps with infallible precision, namely the expression that goes with the words, that total, spontaneous, involuntary expressiveness which can never be simulated or faked, as words alone can, all too easily. .. 
And what dogs can do here, aphasiacs do too, and at a human and immeasurably superior level. 'One can lie with the mouth,' Nietzsche writes, 'but with the accompanying grimace one nevertheless tells the truth.' 
We recognize this with dogs, and often use them for this purpose-to pick up falsehood, or malice, or equivocal intentions, to tell us who can be trusted, who is integral, who makes sense, when we --so susceptible to words-- cannot trust our own instincts."

Back to where I was...

In this Firing Line episode you can see part of the root of the ideology that led us to a place where today government does not serve the people, income inequality has exploded, medical care is shambolic, schools are failing, infrastructure is failing, childhood poverty afflicts 1 in 6 children in the U.S., the environment is in crisis and a myriad of other problems face us that should be addressed by society and government but are not. Why?

Because a group of right wing radicals took over our government.

Before you assume I'm being hyperbolic in using the word radical read the platform from the 1980 Libertarian Party when David Koch was running as their vice-presidential candidate. Bear in mind that the Koch machine, and a myriad of other dark-money funded groups that were created by, and for, those operating under the capitalist's golden rule - them that gots the gold makes the rules - wield a tremendous amount of power and capacity to shape public opinion. We actually don't know how much power since the money trails are all hidden thanks to Citizen's United which in itself should have been a red warning light that our democracy was being taken over by big-money interests.

"We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis  (1856-1941)

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The idea that some "radical" group or ideology is going to take over our government is of course a tired old saw from the GOP. It's also one of those mirror images where what someone says is the reverse of what is actually true. The radicals that took over our government are on the right not the left and the further right you go the closer you get to some type of totalitarian fascistic corporatist state. 

This Firing Line episode is a discussion between William F. Buckley and the economist Milton Friedman who was a member of the Chicago school of economics.

Milton Friedman is an odd character. I'm not sure if he is insane, insanely naive, ideologically possessed or just making a buck by pushing propaganda in service of his corporate masters. A lot of people would think I'm nuts for writing that.

They'd say - Uncle Miltie is a nice old guy who wants us to be free! He wants us to be independent individuals! He wants to shrink government, eliminate government waste and lower taxes - what could be wrong with that?

It turns out a lot is wrong with that. The concept is fine but as Aristotle noted a couple of thousand years ago - it's the extremes that cause problems.

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The propagandists who serve the rich and powerful started this radical project after the New Deal and haven't given up trying to shape public opinion to allow the oligarchs to roll back the social safety net, privatize as many government functions as possible and eliminate regulations they don't like - to this day.

Our corporate masters put Milton Friedman on popular daytime television shows prior to and during the Reagan era (1980-1988) to shape public opinion in ways beneficial to their project. It's also possible that, out of the blue, working class Americans suddenly became interested in what an economist from the University of Chicago had to say. In the latter case the corporations who own the networks were just giving the people what they wanted to see on a popular daytime TV show - a lecture on economic theory. Sure sure that's it. 

The shapers of public opinion knew that people would be bored out of their gourds listening to some ideologue drone on about economic theory so they gussied the message up by having a kindly super-smart sounding old gent present his radical antisocial views in ways that made them sound like good old "common sense". Here's Milton on the Phil Donahue show in 1979 promoting a book and softening up the populace for the upcoming "Reagan Revolution" beginning in 1980.

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You have to go back further than 40 years to see how this transpired. In the 1950's the radical right-wing John Birch Society was making inroads into American society. Fred Koch the father of the Koch brothers of Koch-topolis fame was one of the founders of the John Birch Society. 

When Lyndon Johnson became president in the early 1960's and passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicaid and the food stamp program (along with various other Great Society programs) - the extremely well funded hard right was energized - they never accepted the New Deal social programs from FDR and now LBJ was making things worse from their ideological point of view. The people with money and power began a project to remake our government and society.

They created all kinds of think tanks with benign patriotic sounding names, they funded and placed professors to preach their ideology on college campuses, they funded astro-turf (as opposed to grass roots) organizations like the Tea Party, congressional Freedom Caucus and more recently the protesters at the Michigan state capital. They spent decades funding magazines, books, websites, television and radio networks - to sow hatred and fear of the "others", with the goal of furthering their radical right wing agenda that helps the few at the expense of the many. 


The John Bircher/Koch wing of the political spectrum was too radical even for William F. Buckley so he instituted a project to distance the more mainstream conservative movement from the insanity of the Birchers. 


The Koch and other uber-wealthy plutocrats money talked louder than William F. Buckley's words which meant the takeover of the mainstream conservative movement by the radical right was well underway in 1990 when Reagan left office.

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William Buckley is pushing back on this in his polite way in this Firing Line where he refers to some Milton Friedman idea as "randian". William says it's hard to have a serious debate with Milton about the role of government when his views are as radically anti-government as they are. Milton says things like, "I do not agree that it's desirable that the state force people to read and write....I'm opposed to compulsory education." There's probably some merit somewhere in a statement like that but on it's face it's as cray-cray radical as the laundry list of insane ideas the current Republican party is infected with thanks to the radical right that has co-opted their party. Here's one example (please read the whole list) - "abolish the Federal Aviation Administration".

Yeaaa that sounds great. The fantasy of the ideologically possessed that allows them to believe that every government function would be better off in private for-profit hands is betrayed by our own empirical experience in dealing with for-profit cable TV companies, cell phone companies, medical insurance companies and the health care industry in general.

If you can help any voter escape from the ever more harmful fantasy world of the Republican safe-spaces please do your part. Lest you think I'm some kind of partisan fanatic who just likes to hate on Republicans it might help to know I've been happily married to a Republican for about 40 years. We see eye to eye on important things, including her choice to leave that party after it devolved into it's current state. To paraphrase the actor who played "The Gipper" in the movies - she didn't leave her party it left her. 

The current Republican party cannot be trusted with power. 

I'm keeping my fingers crossed hoping enough people know that now - and come November there is going to be a wave of independent, red and blue voters who agree that it's time to start picking up the pieces after 40 years of insidious continual corruption in servitude to the wealthiest of the wealthy at the expense of the vast majority of the American people.

If you are curious about a time in our not so distant past when government worked for the people and the United States was thriving, and how that form of government was disassembled - read Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker's book American Amnesia How the War on Government Made us Forget What Made America Prosper




Tuesday, August 11, 2020

MST3k 416 - Fire Maidens of Outer Space


Mystery Science Theater 3000 can be pretty funny.  It aired for about ten years starting in 1989. I used to watch it with my daughters when they were young - they may have liked the robots more than the jokes but we enjoyed watching it together.


I'm also getting a kick out of watching Maxwell (Mr. Max) a funny cockatoo who lives with a guy that rescued him. Max belonged to an elderly man who passed away. Max listened to a scanner or a radio and imitates those sounds sometimes. I think he's super cute but I can see why having a bird like that is a huge commitment. He loves to bite on things and can break pieces of wood with his beak. 

Have you ever heard of the Gartner Hype Cycle? Yeah me neither..but I hope we are coming out of the trough of disillusionment and moving up the slope of enlightenment. If what's going on in the world, and our country, now doesn't cause a person to question some of their preconceived notions nothing will.

Friends don't let friends watch Fox News...if only that was true or possible. It's impossible to quantify the damage those millionaires paid by billionaires have done to our country. These two stories about how confused people who watch Fox News are about Covid-19 are tragic.