Letter to Congress: Wednesday 1/16/19
Surely by now you are aware of the sad primary, secondary, and even tertiary effects of closing down the Federal government’s operations. While employees will now receive back pay, it may not be in time to repair their finances. Federal contractors are even worse off; many won’t get any back pay. Small businesses that depend on government employee patrons will also be out of luck and some undoubtedly will go under. Do you care?
What the news media isn’t telling us is that Trump’s shutdown might be more than a negotiating tactic. He says it’s on account of funding for his Wall, but his holding the Government up for ransom could have ulterior purposes. His brain trust is full of people who want to cut the size and sway of the Federal Government until it’s small enough to “drown in the bathtub,” in Grover Norquist’s memorable words. Shutting down government programs indefinitely is certainly a strong step toward eliminating or privatizing them and cutting their budgets.
Whether that’s your hope or not, as a legislator, your response to the shutdown should be based on what you believe our nation is obligated to do for its citizens. It is certainly not fulfilling its current obligations, but the way to dismiss them is not to stand by and starve them, but to bring to the floor bills to eliminate agencies and programs you feel have outlived their usefulness. Then debate that with your colleagues and vote on it
If you don’t take legislative action, you will be seen as an accomplice to Trump’s shameless blackmail and will be judged accordingly. Just sayin’.
Need a Last-Minute Gift? Friday 12/21/18
Books are always appropriate and usually appreciated. To warm someone’s devious heart this winter, give them the gift of radical action—my thriller Turkey Shoot published by Perfidy Press (read about it here). It’s available on order at most independent booksellers (find one near you here), or if you’re really in a hurry, at Amazon (or click the cover below).
What to Expect from the New House: Wednesday 11/7/18
You may recall that a week or so ago Nancy Pelosi said “After the election we’ll tone it down.” Well Dems took over the House of Representatives and it looks like she’ll be back in the saddle for a couple of years. In fact, she called herself a “transitional speaker” assuming her election is a done deal, which no doubt it is, but it would be swell if a progressive member contested her. Some of the new blood on her side of the aisle may be progressive, but a fair number of new members have military, security, or police corpuscles running in their veins. The Dems strategically placed them to make laws pertaining to national security go the way intelligence agencies want, including reforms to the Patriot Act and mass surveillance. Think about that in the context of emerging fascist tendencies. The spy agencies under Trump are planning to or already do mine social media data to predict protest demonstrations. Lets see what the House does about that…
Marriott’s Feudal Kingdom: Thursday 111/1/18
An email received today from labor union Unite Here had this to say about the Marriott Corporation:
Marriott’s employee credit union gouges Marriott hotel housekeepers and cooks with astronomical fees that keep workers poor. The New York Times recently reported that Marriott workers have been charged as much as $2,000 a year in banking fees by the Marriott Employees Federal Credit Union (MEFCU). Marriott’s credit union also offers employees high-fee “mini loans” through Human Resources, where workers can borrow $500 to pay their bills—at an effective interest rate of 47%.
Unite Here went on to say:
The credit union’s chief executive Glenn Newton said financial products like MEFCU’s mini loans are more affordable to hotel workers than products they could get from a payday lender.1 But unlike payday lenders, MEFCU is a non-profit financial institution that gets federal tax subsidy and offers high-cost loans out of the same Human Resources office that cuts workers’ meager paychecks.
Many credit unions have responded to years of low interest rates by charging more and higher fees, but MEFCU is an outlier even in this. The think tank Dēmos found that for every $100 MEFCO loaned, it raked in $11 in fees—almost three times more than the similar Philadelphia-area credit unions they studied. Marriott’s employee credit union products are so rigged against working families, the Dēmos report likened them to sharecropping. 2
Marriott workers say they are done shopping at the company store and juggling jobs to make ends meet. Click here now to tell Marriott’s credit union to refund the outrageous fees they charge hotel workers.
And so I did.
Dear Mr. Newton:
You know, Mr. Newton, that if Marriott paid workers a living wage, they wouldn’t have to borrow from Marriott’s in-house credit union.
But if employees stopped borrowing money from the credit union, Marriott wouldn’t be taking back chunks of their miserable wages. Such practices may be business as usual, but it is cruel and unusual punishment for your presumably valued employees.
For what, though? I reckon Marriott must be in financial straits if it feels it has to resort to eating its young. By not paying a living wage to employees, Marriott is eating itself alive as well as spinning its wage-earners into poverty.
I am a Marriott customer and erstwhile shareholder. I am now an erstwhile guest, as I will not enter a Marriott facility until your employees say they are satisfied, and will ask as many people as possible to conduct themselves similarly.
Please take a few minutes to tell Newton what you think. Here’s the Campaign page (you can opt out from receiving further communications from them at the bottom):
A Musical Blast from the Past: Monday 10/22/18
I hardly attend concerts except for those my cousin Larry puts on. He’s a classical music professor at Berklee’s Boston Music Conservatory and a conductor of some repute, who today conducted a concert of new works by Berklee faculty performed by student musicians. The 90-minute program featured seven compositions by six house composers, all professionally performed. One piece, Realization of a Dream by Daryl Lowery, an interpretation of the pop ballad You Stepped out of a Dream by Nacio Herb and Ran Blake (see below), struck a chord in me with its haunting interplay of Justin Veira’s piano and Solomon Alber’s tenor sax. when it ended, Larry asked composer Lowery to rise, who asked composer Ran Blake seated next to him to also rise. Ran, now in his 80s, struggled up to half height, waved, and sat down. I know that guy, I suddenly realized. Got to say hello.
And so, after the last straggling claps, I went over to Blake, knelt down and took his hand. His hair and hipster beard had turned white but his nose was still aquiline and his darting eyes still sky blue. “Upper West Side, maybe 1964,” I said. “You were a struggling composer and pianist. I was a struggling college student living a block away from you on 111th Street, over the Gold Rail tavern.” We might have met at the West End bar on Broadway or at a protest rally; it doesn’t matter.
Wherever it was, the young Ran’s charisma and devotion to music and social change (agitating to end the new Vietnam War and depose the junta that had taken over Greece) drew me to him. He knew a lot of musicians from all over and joined Mikos Theodorakis Melina Mercouri in protesting the Colonels’ coup. A lost soul also into jazz and in need of mentoring, I hung out with him at his dingy apartment on 113th Street whenever I could, listening to him bang out lyrical atonal jazz on his Chickering upright, digging how into it he was. Several months hence he was gone, spirited away by Gunther Schuller to Boston to develop a new curriculum at the New England Conservatory that would fuse European classical music with American jazz, blues, and gospel. It was his big break—a dream come true. And even though I knew I would miss him, I was happy for him.
Having lost touch for 40 years, little did I know when I knelt before him that this man had made a ton of albums with all sorts of musicians, had received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant. Maybe he recalled me, maybe not, but he asked what I had been doing. I gave a breathless recitation encapsulating my three main careers,was now retired and had just published my first novel that I told him was set in Greece. He said he was eager to read it and asked me to write it down so he could buy it online. No you’re not, I told him; I’m going to give you a copy here. (I always keep my car locked and loaded with literature.) A dash down the street and i was back, autographing it over to him along with my business card, saying I wanted to keep in touch.
He grinned. We said goodbye and his friends escorted him out, bent over his walker. I wasn’t sure if he would make it home to read my book, but it made my day to reconnect with the old master. Here’s his and Jeanne Lee’s haunting 1962 rendition of You Stepped out of a Dream from their 2nd album.
A Literary Thriller to Die for: Wednesday 9/19/18
On September 11th, your host’s novel Turkey Shoot (subtitle He might not be the terrorist you were expecting) was published by Perfidy Press in cooperation with the good people at Gatekeeper Press. (Perfidy Press is a boutique imprint dedicated to publicizing the sorts of investigations Progressive Pilgrim Review conducts to a wider audience.) Three years in the making, the radical international conspiracy thriller is now available at online booksellers worldwide. Learn more about the book here and where to purchase paperbacks and eBooks here.
A limited number of free Turkey Shoot eBooks are available to subscribers to the Perfidy Pronouncements mailing list. If that entices you, sign up now, before the supply runs out. We promise not to trade in your contact info or spam you more than once a month or so. Should you still be dubious or simply curious about what this book is all about, watch the author interview in the space below.
Irritation on Tap: Thursday 7/26/18
You know what pisses me off about men’s rooms? (Not to slight the ladies; I’m sure their loos are equally up-to-date.) It’s the contrivances they now sport, all motion-activated, allegedly for our sanitary convenience. Handle-less taps and urinals; auto-flushing johns; whooshing hand driers and even touch-less towel dispensers. (Ever tried to dry your face with a wall-mounted blower? Ineffective and totally humiliating.) And for ventilation an exhaust fan or a/c; nary a window to admit light and air. Imagine trying to do your business in such a place when the power fails. Forget flushing, ablution, drying of hands. It’s a plot, I tell you, by the bathroom appliance industry in cahoots with power companies, who are by now surely pushing home builders to install all-electric johns. If in your heart you feel that the only power bathrooms should rely on for anything but illumination is gravity, write to newspaper editors, your representatives and social media friends urging the banning this insidious electrification of plumbing and a swift return to the days when bathrooms were all lever-operated. File under Useless Crap.
Driven to Distraction (2): Sunday 6/17/18
Another driving game, this one a game of chance that I call Going My Way. Should a car I’m behind or one following me me make the same turns a couple of times, I start to fantasize if the driver has a same or a similar destination. The longer we follow the same route, the more I’ll mentally wager that our missions are similar. Almost half the time, I find this turns out to be true or almost true. It gives me a strange satisfaction that mere words cannot convey. When the other car peels off, I sigh and tell myself maybe next time. Serendipity is like that.
Driven to Distraction: Friday 6/15/18
Let me tell you what I do while driving. No, it’s not dirty. These days, I find myself mostly driving over utterly familiar routes with imprinted scenery, often just a mile or two through local environs. I’ve fashioned driving around into a sort of a game and occasionally a contact sport. I’ll leave the details of the three cars my spouse and I have wrecked for another time; today its the games my mind plays with people and their conveyances as I cruise city streets, highways, and byways that I want to tell you about.But first, a story about trying to get lost taking Robert Frost’s advice.
I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence: / Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.
Once upon a time in my reckless youth I drove extreme distances just for the hell of it. This is a game I played with myself on long trips to unfamiliar areas in a camper van I signified as Blue Boxcar on CB radio, vainly attempting to convince truckers I was hauling a big rig. As this was well before GPS reckoning, my only map was a road atlas or one of those state road maps I needed to fold just so to fit in my lap. At certain junctions in remote areas, I would randomly plunge ahead on unimproved roads that seemed like they might go somewhere interesting while conveying me to my destination. Not all were on any map I had.
I don’t recommend this practice to everyone, but should you ever navigate by dead reckoning, unless the night sky is visible and you know how to read it, try not to travel after dark. Be sure you can see the sun or else have a reliable compass with you, because it’s critical to know which direction you’re heading in the event the road you’re on isn’t the line on your map you think.
It’s fun getting lost if you have the time and inclination. You meet interesting people when you’re obliged to stop to ask for directions. Off the beaten track, you may be rewarded by gorgeous unnamed and untamed scenery, curious historical sites, or odd habitations in the middle of nowhere. Don’t cheat. Turn off the babbling GPS and use your senses to as you peer through the windshield. The truth is out there, not in your robot navigator.
Why No News Is Good News: Monday 5/28/18
Most evenings I listen to the nightly news on NPR as I fix supper. One trend I’ve noticed is that, despite Trump’s entertaining antics, weekend news is even more boring than what I hear during the work week. Unless I am misinformed, rarely does anything of national significance transpire between Friday and the next working day.
I chalk that up to my suspicion that movers and shakers tend to spend their weekends trying to move up a notch and shake their booties, meaning that (scandals excepted) few events of consequence come to pass until their revels end and they resume their machinations and subterfuges. Now and then a natural or man-made disaster might interrupt their pleasure seeking, an unwelcome exception to their help-yourself rule. Elites, understand, like to chill as much as you do.
This could be a nice, juicy opening, comrades. Should you have a point you wish to direct to the general public, contrive to make it on a weekend or some other low-pressure newshole. Make a splash with a press release some Friday at midnight. Watch a brilliant flash mushroom through the dead air. Just sayin’.
Petit Mal: Thursday 5/24/18
This is a short story coming out real soon, part of an anthology called As Told by Things published by Atthis Arts. The collection has 25 charming stories by 24 authors and is available in eBook and print versions. Because my story is embargoed until publication, I can’t share it here, but you’re welcome to listen to my computer read it if you’d like. That’s particularly appropriate because Petit Mal is narrated by a personal computer that discovers it has been infected with spyware. What happens to it next isn’t pretty. So here ’tis.
If you liked that robotic narration, buy the freaking book. Rush over to Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, or Nook and place your order. There are 24 other entertaining tales in the volume, so you won’t waste money just on me.
Evolution As a Team Sport: Thursday 4/5/18
Chances are you are a cultural, political or economic malcontent if your eyeballs have come to rest right here. You probably worry about what it might take to set society on a sustainable path, so here’s a suggestion.
Teacher, author, media critic and activist Douglas Rushkoff has been tracking the digital revolution for decades and knows what has made it go so terribly wrong. He’s said so in books like Present Shock and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus and at innumerable meetings and interviews. The nub of most of our problems, he asserts, are bugs in how public corporations are programmed, causing them to strip-mine value from society, stupefying, surveilling, and stiffing the public. He’s a tireless advocate for generative social and economic arrangements that create value for local and online communities rather than extracting it to faraway investors.
For several years, he has been working to build a community of the like-minded online. Team Human has a couple of hundred members who pony up $5 to Patreon to network with Douglas and one another. It’s quite an interesting group, reminiscent of The WELL, an Internet community gathered by Whole Earth Catalog refugees like Stewart Brand, Howard Rheingold (in conversation here), John Perry Barlow, and it’s still going strong after 35 years. (WELL stands for Whole Earth ‘Lectric Link.)
Every week or so, Team Human issues a podcast. Douglas riffs on some topic for ten minutes and then interviews some interesting folks from technology, the arts, or some innovative community. He’s just finished writing a book on that project that will come out next year.
It may seem like all this is to Rushkoff’s greater glory, and perhaps it is. I don’t have a problem with his success because I support what he stands for; Team Human is simply its latest efflorescence. On its Slack site (members only) I’ve encountered some curious good-hearted characters, along with their ideas and endeavors. Completely civil conversations snake around communitarian topics to which Rushkoff often adds his two cents. As one team member said, “If even 2ppl connect on TH and make something happen, that, imo, is a win.”
If you’re feeling lonely online, consider alternatives to the toots, tweets, and trolls of solipsistic social media, whether down the block or out on the Net. Involve yourself in something bigger and get a piece of the action.
Biden vs. Trump; Be a Winner: Friday 3/23/18
By now, almost all Americans know that fighting words exchanged between Donald Trump and Joe Biden could end up as a prizefight. So what would be the prize? The Nuclear Codes? A line of credit from Deutschsbank? A $10K tab at Hooters? A night with Stormy Daniels? Will Jared be Trump’s Second and Obama Biden’s? Not since Aaron Burr dispatched Alexander Hamilton(!) in round one have high-level altercations come to this, but why not? How better to command all channels of the media than a tawdry mano-a-mano face-off between a prez and a veep? Ratings galore!
The first to offer a venue for the match-up was the Lowell, Massacusetts, Spinners, a Red Sox affiliate. Its GM offered to host a boxing match between the men on Friday, August 17, at LeLacheur Park. World champion Micky Ward—whose life the movie “The Fighter” was based on—has offered his services as referee.
That’s all well and good but it ain’t gonna happen. Trump will surely snub the offer from that no-account team in a loser city, no matter how popular he may be there. I am absolutely sure that the Donald will settle for nothing less than than a canvas in Vegas. Atlantic City also comes to mind, but wagering is more restricted in the Garden State than in the Porn State.
Rest assured, much media and fixer energy will be consumed to make this utterly debased spectacle happen. It’s too sweet a value proposition to let lapse, especially for broadcasters and bookies. So tune in to the theater of the absurd this summer and demand no less of your mid-term contestants this fall. Oh, and good luck in the office pool. File under Gladulation.
It Is Us: Wednesday 3/21/18
Excerpt from John Steppling’s essay in CounterPunch today. It asks a lot of questions that should trouble all of us. Read it, please.
“Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer.”
— Gabor Mate
Perhaps Mate is right. It is a self hating nation that internalized the ethos of Puritanism and produced Manifest Destiny. It was a slave owning nation. It was, at its inception, a genocidal nation. A nation founded on those sorts of psychic wounds is a nation that is repressing and sublimating at extraordinary rates and degrees. It is this self loathing America, the only real failed state in the world, as far as I can see, that is now a dire threat to the survival of humanity. The one core truth for me today, at least politically, is one must resist western Imperialism. You don’t have to agree with the rest of the world that resists it, but you must stand with them. It is only white privilege, hubris, that allows for a westerner, an American, to criticise Maduro, or Assad, or the DPRK. Or Iran. Yes Iran was a conservative revolution, but they are part of a bulwark against the nightmare of Western capital today. Self determination. America has never wanted to save anyone. Ever. America has always had ulterior motives. The self loathing American. The Ugly American. We have met the enemy, and it is us.
How to Smoke a Cigarette: Sunday 3/18/18
Smoking kills for a number of reasons. We know this because smoking doesn’t always kill, even with extreme histories of it. Nicotine is one reason. Tars too. But what about tobacco additives, hundreds of which hunch together in a Marlboro or Pall Mall (are they still made?). Pesticides could also be at fault.
And then there is how smokers practice their art. How do they light up? How deeply do they inhale and how thoroughly exhale? Are they getting enough oxygen? Remember, tars are products of incomplete combustion; the higher the temperature, the fewer dark residues remain to get sucked in. Cigarette makers know this, so they add flame accelerants to burn away tar compounds. This has the added benefit of consuming the cigarette sooner, so its smoker will light up another one sooner rather than later.
Fellow smokers, don’t fall for this vicious cycle. Instead, get quality smokes and time-manage your habit. I have a few suggestions.
Your cancer sticks should be additive-free and if possible organic. They should contain tobacco strands and cellulose only. Establish a limit of cigs you’ll use per day, and try to reduce it over time. This is made easier by the fact that a quality cigarette can be smoked partially three to five times before it is used up, each session being three or four drags.
In other words, apportion each cigarette into four or five sessions that may in total last for one to four hours, depending on their frequency. It works. If you can only escape a few times a day to smoke, simply keep in mind how many coffin nails you intend to consume that day.
And when you light up, whether a fresh one or a stub, strive for complete combustion. Don’t drag in the first puff; keep it in your mouth and get rid of it by blowing it back out the tube. This stokes the flame so it will more completely combust. Draw in and out again the same way. Take a drag when the flame is nice and red. And then, after two, three or four more mindful puffins, snap off the flaming tip with a fingernail and gently snuff out the cig. You’ll do the same the next time you reach for it. When it’s finished, go on to the next—when it’s time.
Join the World’s Largest Activist Organization: Wednesday 3/7/18
Claiming 46 million members in almost every nation, Paris- and New York-based Avaaz (they say it means “song” in many languages) has had unprecedented success in tackling environmental threats, human trafficking, political corruption and other issues in hundreds of thousands campaigns. Visit their multilingual website to see summaries of recent successes and a few failures. When, for instance, Monsanto sued Avaaz for trying to block use of their pesticides, members chipped in to pay for legal representation and Monsanto backed off. Click the membership map below for an interactive version that shows worldwide membership distribution and learn more about what they do, and then sign on. File under Activism.
If Our Stuff Could Talk: Saturday 3/3/18
A short story I recently submitted to a contest sponsored by Atthis Arts, a small press in Detroit was accepted and is due to appear in an anthology they expect to publish some time in June. Their list focuses on fantasy & sci-fi novels, making this collection of stories new territory for them.
The publisher’s home page says they are still considering submissions for the collection (through March 14th), so if you want to toss a story aboard, go to the link provided there. Best of luck if you do!
They turned to Kickstarter to fund the project. Through the end of March you can visit the funding page to see authors’ bios and pre-purchase copies of the paperback and/or audio book, should you wish. The book’s title is As Told by Things: A “Unique, multi-genre collection of short stories and flash fiction from US and Canadian authors — as told by inanimate objects.” Check out their Kickstarter page and chip to get the book if you’re so moved. I haven’t read any of the other authors’ stories, but their bios make them out to be an interesting crew.
As my story (a tale told by a personal computer) belongs to them for the time being, I’m not able to present it here, but can share an audio recitation (by my computer) of the story (called Petite Mal) for your dubious listening pleasure.
We Can Dish It Out but We Can’t Take It: Tuesday 2/27/18
In the darkest days of World War II, Hollywood went to bat for Russia—our ally then—by adapting Soviet propaganda films for the American audience. This amazing documentary, a paean to the heroism of the Russian people and the Red Army, was shot before, during, and after Hitler’s siege of Moscow. Filmed between October 1941 and January 1942 during a time of privation, agony and death in the depths of the Russian winter, Moscow Strikes Back may be a little hard to take in spots, but is well worth an hour of your time. If the film begins in the middle, rewind by dragging the red button all the way to the left. Makes me think: wouldn’t it be nice to rewind America away from the right.
The sound track is narrated by Hollywood tough guy Edward G. Robinson and features spirited scores by Russian composers. Directed by Leonid Varlamov and Ilya Kopalin, it won an Academy Award for Best Documentary. How likely would that be today?
Nobody wants to talk about that now. We aren’t allowed to say good things about Russia or even to remember that our countries once worked together, however mistrustfully. Few of our countrymen appreciate what the Russian people suffered in that war and how appreciative they were for the goods the US shipped to them that helped them get through it, but it was their own fortitude that won the day. I doubt whether today’s Americans could take it on the chin and collectively mobilize themselves like the Russians did to overcome total war. We haven’t known any kind of civil defense since the 1950s. Now it’s every man for himself, especially if he owns a gun. At the first sign of danger, our elites will repair to their estates and lock the gates, leaving the 99% to tough it out. Those of us who aren’t preppers will go first. Then civil society will collapse and militias will battle over whatever resources are left. And then, depopulated, America will be great again.
You can watch the original film in the original Russian here.
Tweet a Book: Tuesday 2/20/18
dear mister prezident, your a rich man who likes the best of everthing. I bet you wish american peeple do to even i never herd you sait. and you say whats in yor mind not like most lyer pols. but pls mister prez dont tweet!!! it is indignafied and makes it like you dont think things over enuf. like you dont lissen to your staph. and they say you dont reed things. prezidents have to reed alot. go read insted of tweeting. i used to tweet all the time and follow all celebratees and tlak about everthing like i knowed something. and you know what? before i tweeted i cud rite real gud. now look at me. i get my fingers stuck between the keys and rite so fast it don make no sense. i kicked the bird away & now i am cleen so maybe if i can get back to normel someday i will rite me a book. you can too. if you dont wanna read at least rite a book. you kin give the $ you make to the american peeple so they kin have the best of everthing to.
If All Else Fails: Thursday 2/8/18
… try triumphalism. Now that there’s a two-year federal budget in place, President Trump wants to celebrate. And what better way to do that than to muster members of all the armed services to march down Pennsylvania Avenue in tribute to their valorous Commander in Chief. USA Today reports:
“President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
So what does he wish to celebrate? Endless unwinnable wars in the Middle East? America’s resolve against the growing military might of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran? Open season on coal, oil, and natural gas reserves on Federal preserves? The epidemic of Black Lung Disease? Stripping Medicaid benefits? Privatizing public education? Mass deportations? So many great things. How to choose?
That’s not it at all, according to White House press aide Sarah Sanders. President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” she said. “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.
What he and Congress are pledged to take away from domestic programs and so-called “entitlements” (funny label; why shouldn’t we who paid dues to Social Security and Medicare be entitled to benefits?) will be heaped upon the national security apparatus in spades. And what better way to burn through that largess but to mobilize the troops to march in formation along DC streets that the DC government will have to police and has pledged not to pay for?
“In the meantime, we do know that, just like the wall, he will have to pay for it,” said Anu Rangappa, spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, referring to Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Is this a great country or what?
Americans at large have allowed all this to happen because they are confused and scared. Despite the stock market’s ecstasies, things seem to be falling apart. We apparently think that a strong leader is needed to vanquish threats to our way of life, so why not give irrational hegemonic posturing a try? Given how depleted budgets for social programs and heath care have become in favor of a beefed-up military budget, we must now put our faith in our armed forces. They will stamp out anti-American extremists, end the opioid scourge, fix failing schools, mop up after natural calamities, save polar bears, and build housing for the homeless under the free market guided by national socialism, all while maintaining 800+ military bases in 180 countries.
We Americans have let this has come to pass by wanting to have our privileges and eat them too. “We’re number one” we chant; “America first!” That’s partly true; among industrialized nations we’re near the top in infant mortality, low life expectancy, consumer debt, homelessness, incarceration rates, college tuition costs, and free and fair elections.
If that’s what being number one signifies, give me a ticket on Elon Musk’s next trip to deep space. I’m sure that will be a more hospitable environment than the USA of 2018 and it foreseeable future.
Stupid bowl Sunday 2/4/18
Even though Superbowl LII hasn’t been decided yet (unless it was rigged), I want you to know I don’t give a fig. I haven’t even glimpsed at NBC’s pre-game festivities, much less the game itself or its vaunted TV commercials. It’s due to my feeling that American football perfectly symbolizes American violence on minorities, as the number of mind-numbed former players so sadly attests. The closest I came to obeisance to tradition was to fix chicken wings for supper, after which I retired to post this.
I simply can’t understand what makes the nation go berserk for a ritual that stands to put millions of junk food fed Americans into a drunken stupor and rake in hundreds of millions for the tax-exempt NFL. If you are drawn to this madness machine, please comment to tell why. Please help me understand the fascination.
Ground to Bits (Audio Version): Tuesday 1/24/18
This is a story that takes the point of view of a personal computer who discovers spyware in its innards and tries to warn its user. Unfortunately, the text is embargoed on account of being submitted for an anthology. The best I can offer right now is an audio track of my computer reading it (10 min). As much as its robotic voice is geekly unsatisfying, it somehow seems appropriate to the situation the story’s protagonist finds itself in.
Understanding Virtual Money: Monday 1/15/18
Given that financial derivatives and robots manning trading desks is the new norm, the conduct of finance is already etherialized. Now, following Bitcoin come a whole range of cryptocurrencies, issued by everyone but your cousin Jake (Like Goldman Sachs, for instance). Bitcoin itself is in bubble territory and several clearing houses have been smacked by hackers. Writing in NY Review of Books this week, Sue Halpern reviews two books that demystify the blockchain thing, one of which offers the astounding statistic that “By the end of 2016, a single [Bitcoin] mining facility in China was using over half the estimated power used by all of Google’s data centres worldwide at the time.” I reckon that’s more energy than it takes to mine equivalent value in gold, except that Bitcoin is untethered to any outside reality.
Sue Halpern explains our moment in history better than almost anyone. Watch her unwind the ways in which Internet users are data-mined, sliced, and diced in a speech at Dartmouth College in 2014. It hasn’t gotten any better for us since. File under Someone Else’s Money
Fortune Slightly Smiles: Wednesday 1/9/18
Sometimes the magic sort of works. After months of fishing for agents and publishers for my eccentric thriller, I had a nibble. My first chapter landed third place in a contest sponsored by the Tallahassee (FL) Writers Association. The payoff is fifty bucks and publication in their annual anthology (print & Kindle), due out in March. Of course their obscure volume won’t be widely read, but bragging about it could help me wedge my foot in the door of a literary agency or publishing house.
In my dreams. The manuscript’s quality doesn’t matter when its subject matter can be interpreted as being sympathetic to terrorists. It’s not, actually; it’s sympathetic to victims of official violence and oppression. But try to tell a shuddering publishing industry that.
BTW, you needn’t wait to read the chapter in print. Write in for a PDF of it here, read the backstory here, or if you are feeling lazy, listen to it and others here. Then tell me if you think the book has a chance. File under False Hopes.
The Mother(board) of all Bugs: Friday 1/5/18
Chipmaker Intel has admitted that ten or so generations of their ubiquitous processors have a fatal flaw that researchers publicly revealed this week. Two related low-level vulnerabilities (called Spectre and Meltdown) allow intruders to steal data straight from protected memory due to timing irregularities in how processors cache their instructions. The flaw exists in perhaps 90% of servers worldwide plus almost all computing devices with Intel Inside (R), including your Android, PC or Mac if it’s less than 15 years old. No known exploits have been reported, and operating systems are being patched to ward of Meltdown, but Spectre can’t easily be guarded against. It’s unlikely that your personal computer or tablet will suffer from either issue, but they are vectors that could compromise data on cloud servers like AWS and iCloud. You don’t keep personal data out there anymore, right?
Intel’s CEO reportedly sold most of his Intel stock in November, after the company was told of the flaws. That’s called insider trading, I believe.
Computer security expert Bruce Schneier yesterday posted a good roundup of articles on the flaws. If you’re curious about what security experts say to each other over beers, read the comments his followers have been leaving. File under Computer Insecurity.
Let It Go and Take It On: Sunday 12/31/17
Well, this is it folks. 2017 is kaput, and as it slouches away let us not mourn its passing. Today marks the end of the beginning of Trump. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this, but then neither was the Spanish Inquisition. I’ve been hammering away and yammering forth here since inauguration day, doing my part to sort control mechanisms out for you, my faithful readers. So thank you both for bearing with the grim facts and irrelevancies I’ve brought to your attention. Stay with me as we try to make 2018 not quite as awful as it might be. Have a happy if harried new year my dearests. Be what you wish to achieve. Make sure your voice gets heard. Lie to Facebook. Better yet, dump it entirely and come together in the physical world. Kick the bums out of corner and oval offices. We can do it. I know we can. Lean into your oar on the good ship Resistance.
Are we almost there yet? Of course not. Yo heave ho anyway.
See you downstream.
An Urgent Downtown DC Meeting: Friday 12/22/17
Spycraft is a 2006 account of the wizardry performed by CIA’s Office of Technical Services (its version of the shop that 007’s Q ran) on its 50th anniversary in 2001. Written by insiders, sanctioned by the agency, and with a foreword by ex-Director George Tenant, it boasts of operations and their modi that the Agency mounted in the Cold War (all well-vetted of course). Tenant begins his foreword with these words:
Minutes before I was to deliver the keynote speech at CIA Headquarters recognizing the fiftieth anniversary of the Office of Technical Service (OTS) on September 7, 2001, I was unavoidably called away to a meeting downtown. What I had prepared to say to the several hundred OTS officers gathered that morning would seem prescient* ninety-six hours later when al-Qaeda struck the American homeland.
* Those prepared words: “the 21st century will present major challenges to our agency and OTS ingenuity will be put to the test in the years ahead.”
Maybe not so much prescient as in the know. It would be nice to know what urgency tore Tenant away from celebrating his agency’s accomplishments on the eve of a spectacular intelligence failure. File under Hmm.
That was no lady; that was my accuser: Monday 12/18/17
Some one-liners from my friend Ben Alpert, joke writer for late-night TV.
- Chef Mario Batali has been fired from “The Chew” amid sexual misconduct claims. However, he’s just been asked to star in a new show, “The Grope.”
- Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, accused of sexual harassment, announced he will not run for reelection. He said he wants to spend more time at home, gathering his belongings off his front yard.
- Former Mass. state Sen. Brian Joyce was charged with collecting about $1 million in bribes and kickbacks. “And yet,” Joyce complained, “no one gives me credit for not sexually harassing anyone.”
- Paul Ryan said that in order for his tax plan to pay for itself, the American public needs to have more kids. Wouldn’t it be easier to have fewer stupid congressmen?
Chuckle over many more and subscribe to his weekly blasts at bennettalper.com/.
Winter take all: Tuesday 12/12/17
Pendant with succulent seeds
My bird-feeder abides unheeded
but for the odd Cardinal or Finch
or Chickadee chancing by,
barely visited, like my blog.
Shrouding branches, bare ground
and shriveled leaves, the first snow
ups the avian ante; a flurry,
an abrupt racket, a shower of husks.
Sparrows, trolling my site!
My back-porch page-rank improves.
Originally posted at medium.com.
How to Save Congo: Saturday 12/9/17
This past week in Goma, the Congo, 15 Tanzanian UN peacekeepers and 5 Congolese soldiers lost their lives and 53 were wounded in a surprise attack by Ugandan rebels. It was the largest of several such attacks on UN forces in Africa so far. A State Department spokeswoman tweeted that the United States was “appalled” but left it at that.
America should do more. Here’s my modest suggestion to help contain this internecine war to control valuable mineral resources: We have an excess of small arms in this country. Local police, the military, and CIA can draw on their arms caches and team with the NRA to solicit gun donations from citizens. Unmarked CIA aircraft can airlift the weapons to the Congo and drop them on towns and villages at risk to rebel attack, along with ammo of course, to arm their citizens. I’m sure this will help because, as we know, the only thing that can stop a terrorist with a gun is a good guy with a gun. File under Right to Bear Arms.
Getting to the Bottom of It: Thursday 12/7/17
For several weeks now, men have been shuttling in and out of the basement of a house across the way carrying orange buckets, dumping their contents into a their pickup’s utility trailer, and then going back for more of what I assume is just dirt. By now, they must have hauled three or four loads of it away. I’m dying to know what’s going on down there but not knowing those people makes asking awkward. Could be laying drains in the floor I suppose, or maybe the basement has a low ceiling and the workmen are adding headroom. When I visited London I was told that some of its well-off residents excavate their basements to as much as double their living space, so perhaps my neighbors are adding a sub-basement playroom for their two little kids. Could even be a tunnel to the house next door. Who knows what they’re into? A mass grave or a detention cell? People, stop torturing me! File under Morbid Curiosity.
What the War Machine Wants, It Gets: Sunday 12/3/17
In the current government-minded corporate news environment, expressing anti-war sentiments is enough to be branded as a troublemaker, so naturally the media will do its best to ignore you. One cannot hope to gain attention for asserting that US foreign policy seeks to destroy certain uncooperative states and their “enablers,” i.e., people like you. Perhaps you don’t know anything about CounterPunch, and why should you? Not that mainstream news outlets would ever alert you to it, but for over two decades this print and Web publication has been in the vanguard of what Trump-discomfited liberals have since come t0 call “the resistance.” So don’t think you weren’t warned when that knock on the door at 5 AM comes.
Neither liberal politicians nor the liberal media are wont to acknowledge that US foreign policy has consistently promoted a state of war for three generations and counting. The stealth capture of US foreign and domestic policy by warlords has gone virtually unnoticed, save by a few watchdogs like Counterpunch and Afeez Ahmed, who points out a decades-long campaign by the US Military to weaponize news and social media to prime the American people and residents of its self-made “conflict zones” for endless military incursions and black ops in the name of freedom.
You needn’t worry about a trigger-happy Donald Trump. He will only press the button when he’s told to by minders of the war machine, just like Obama. But unlike him, Trump straightaway fessed up that where military aggression is concerned he is over his head. If you think the defense of the homeland requires more than 200K troops and 800 US bases in most of the world’s countries, none of this will alarm you. But why shouldn’t it?
Pie in the Sky and at Mar-a-Lago: Wednesday 11/29/17
The orange grinch stole Thanksgiving from the residents of the Riviera Beach, FL Coast Guard station, first by delivering a holiday meal of takeout sandwiches, chips and soda and then an inchoate address before retiring to Mar-a-Lago for a full-monty feast. Among his many strange utterances was a loony salute to the much-delayed F-35 Lightning II Fighter (which the Coast Guard has no use for):
With the Air Force I can tell you we’re ordering a lot of planes, in particular the F-35 fighter jet, which is like almost like an invisible fighter. I was asking the Air Force guys, I said, how good is this plane? They said, well, sir, you can’t see it. I said, but in a fight. You know, in a fight, like I watch on the movies. The fight, they’re fighting. How good is this? They say, well, it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it. Even if it’s right next to them, it can’t see it. I said that helps. That’s a good thing. (Find more of his F-35 babble on The Drive)
Trump is just the most recent president to pardon this money gobbler. The F-35, the most expensive ($1.6T projected) military boondoggle ever, was supposed to take off in three modes on land and sea, dogfight, and evade detection, but does none of that very well. Sporting a fancy flawed $400K flight helmet, the F-35 is overstuffed, breakdown-prone, and has a habit of asphyxiating pilots. It is hardly invisible, even on radar, and can be easily targeted by its telltale hot exhaust. BTW, Bernie is all for it too. File under Air Farce.
Facing Up to Facebook: Monday 11/27/17
When the social media monstrosity kicked me out three years ago, I said good riddance. I had given them my nom de guerre, an incorrect birthdate and nothing else because I knew they would slice, dice and peddle my data if I did. All I used it for was to pass on opportunities for political action and partake of a writers’ group. I liked, messaged, posted and replied in the group and was sorry to lose it, but I had other means of connecting to them.
Whenever I hear that Facebook is censoring political expression for whatever reason I shudder, knowing that US intelligence apparatchiks are looking over their shoulder. See the sad story of some Kurdish liberation partisans whose FB group and personal accounts was locked down and then almost inexplicably restored in the recent post Cutting Cords to Kurds if you’re keen on freedom of speech. Here’s an audio teaser from the post:
The next post in this social media series examines an alternative to Facebook and its interesting sociology. File under Big Brothers.
Thoughts on Thanksgiving: Monday 11/20/17
One Thanksgiving when I was cooking for twelve, none of the turkeys I eyeballed at the supermarket looked adequate so I asked the meat department guy if they get any bigger. “No,” he told me, “they’re dead.” So I served turducken instead. Six hours of boning and stuffing and trussing and those ingrates complained I should have wrapped it in bacon.
I don’t want to know how many turkeys have died for the white man’s sins. As I partake of this week’s feast, should I feel thankful for being overfed in an undernourished world and a country in which three people have more wealth than the bottom half, a situation that will take more than thoughts, prayers, and overeating to fix? The turkeys themselves should be held blameless. See, our president has already pardoned one mean one.
So happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Eschew fowl language as you cherish your togetherness and gird yourself for political gridlock and the morrow’s mortal combat. As Dave Barry put it, the Thanksgiving holiday brings Americans of all races and religions together to fight over discounted electronics.
The US Steps in it Again: Thursday 11/16/17
WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – “A White House spokesman acknowledged that Iraqi Shia militias may be using US military equipment, contrary to US laws.”
Isn’t that special. Much less progress would have been made battling ISIS in Iraq without its own Shia Militias, not to mention the Iranian ones who fight alongside them. I love this part:
The head of Iraq’s Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, is a US-designated terrorist. He is also the Deputy Commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the formal name for the Shia militias under the Iraqi Army.
At the press conference, [Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, California)] stressed the role that Iran had played in the assault on Kirkuk. “Here’s the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] commander,” Hunter said, pointing to another picture, “with the militias that we’re equipping, training and sending into combat.”
Yup. What did you expect, Duncan, after the US set up a Shia-dominated government and then slinked off, hoping for the best? File under psy-ops.
Take Terrorism: Wednesday 11/15/17
Offering advice to essayists, Tracy Kidder writes: “‘Terrorism.’ This big,capacious, amorphous word, big enough for everyone’s hatreds and fears, has been used by so many people for so many ends that writers simply have to know what they mean when they use it, and somehow make that meaning plain to their readers.”
I want to help, so here’s an idea: Suppose, like the Humpty Dumpty, you decide what a word should mean. You are then free to copyright your definition. I suggest licensing under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. Whomever modifies your definition in print is thus obligated to attribute yours and not commercialize it, and all sub-modifications are so bound, etc. Coming up with a non-encyclopedic definition of a blob of a word like “terrorism” isn’t easy, so best to hitch it up to an adjective such as narco-, state-sponsored-, Islamic-, or even Christian-, for God’s sake that will better express what you mean, and then copyright that definition. If you graduate to, say, state-sponsored-cia-narco-terrorism you may be on to something. File under psy-ops.
Writing to Think: Tuesday 11/14/17
After quitting the software factory a couple years back, I removed the Tech from my Tech Writer hat and just wrote whatever the hell I wanted. In fairly short order my practice begat a quite a stack of stories, essays, memoirs and articles about all sorts of stuff. But only recently did it dawn on me that I was writing not just to produce manuscripts that would delight readers but to comprehend—if not discover—their subjects. After all, you can’t express coherent thoughts about something you don’t understand. To express, you need to know what to say before you can decide how to say it, both of which can be hard. Gathering new information can negate what you’ve already written or cast a new light on it, and sometimes even change the subject. By learning by doing, writing has taught me not to form instant opinions when new information impinges. Fitting in new data helps me refine opinions and even change my mind. I become more alert to subtexts and missing pieces in what I process. Surprise! So this is what it’s about! File under self-discovery.
Digging in the Dirt: Sunday 11/12/17
It takes a lot of time and energy to sharply focus on current events even if you only zoom in on a select few. Journalists understand this, but having to cover breaking stories under deadline pressure forces them to do sloppy work. This came home to me when expanding a post about Alabama politician Roy Moore’s sexual escapades as a thirty-something State Prosecutor, now a national scandal. It turned out what I divulged in yesterday’s Daily Eruption is only part of the story. Today’s post fleshes that out. As usual, the salient issue isn’t sex, it’s money in the pursuit of power. But I would never have been able to dig up the pertinent details (and overcome sloppy investigative reporting by the Washington Post) if, having submitted that story, I was instructed to move on to something else. Fortunately, I have nobody telling me what to write about or when. That freedom lets me research topics wider and deeper than most legitimate journalists (not that I am one, but I too have professional standards). So please check out the updated version of that story here and let me know if it was worth my 12-hour effort. File once again under corruption.
If These Allegations Are True… Saturday 11/11/17
As we know, the GOP candidate to replace Alabama’s Jeff Sessions in a December special election is that piece of work ex-ex-Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. Fired twice for defying federal court orders to remove religious symbolism from his courthouse, Moore has now been accused by four women of attempted seduction, including a then-14-year-old who says he disrobed her in his bedroom.
And so, Republicans honchos are coyly distancing themselves. Speaking on behalf of the President, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump “believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life … However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.” Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and other GOP bigwigs have said pretty much the same thing.
But here’s the deal: Moore denies everything and claims the women are shills for Democrats and the Liberal Media. Cases like this, especially against prominent personages, take time—years, usually—to work themselves out and the special election is a month away. Expect GOP pols to play the innocent-until-proven-guilty card, meaning that until an Alabama court of law confirms his moral turpitude, Moore should stay in the race. Sadly, media outlets take Trump’s and other GOP leaders’ feigned outrage at face value. If ever they bring up this ploy, it will be too late, as usual.
Moore, of course is a devout Southern Baptist. And in his defense, Alabama State Auditor and Amateur Theologian Jim Zeigler told The Washington Examiner “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Unlike Moore and his under-aged pick-up, scriptures indicate that Joseph and Mary were husband and wife. Isn’t that, as SNL’s The Church Lady used to say, special.
Smoke ’em if You Can Afford ’em: Friday 11/3/17
A while back, I decided not to quit smoking and have stuck to it. But to hedge my bets, I switched to an organic and additive-free brand of cigs (to avoid smoking pesticides and the dozens of scary chemicals most brands have) and taught myself not to inhale deeply. But this decision turns out to be costly. My state regulates the minimum price of smokes, which for my brand is currently $10.86 (brand minimums range from $7.09 to $12.39). Add to that a 6.25% sales tax, and my coffin nails come to at least $11.50 per pack. (back in high school they cost a quarter.) My state taxes $3.51 per pack before they go on shelves. In a neighboring state it’s $2.78, 20% less, with no sales tax. There, a pack of my brand generally costs $6.50, a 45% saving. You can guess where I buy my cartons.
Oh, in case you’re wondering, after enjoying six cigs a day over a bunch of decades, my wind is fine and my annual MRI scans show no worrisome blotches. Sorry to disappoint the anti-smoking lobby, but I’m fine. We smokers are pariahs anyway, so instead of continuing to harass us why not focus your addiction anxieties on the clear and present danger that is opioids and the greedy corporations that push them? File under self-abuse.
Kill Jill: Thursday 11/2/17
Who says the Federal Election Commission is toothless? Certainly not when it comes to third parties. Why just about a month ago FEC smacked down Jill Stein (Green Party candidate for President who collected about 1% of the 2016 vote). She and treasurer Steven Welzer got socked $9,162 for filing her campaign’s February 2017 donor report eight days late (filings are due 20 days after the end of the month being reported). Then another $459 when the March report came in a week late. That month she raised $38,253. In January, its receipts were $2,167,032, both on top of her four-year total of $11.24M. That sum includes a loan of $40K she made to her campaign (interest rate unknown) that may or may not have been repaid. The dockets include no responses from her campaign contesting the fine, so presumably Stein paid up.
Turns out that FEC even gets that $40K loan wrong. Instead, their database shows her lending her campaign $10K 75 times on 6/6/16 and 25 times on 6/23/16. A million bucks. Is she being set up?
I wonder how many such library fines were levied on other campaigns in 2016. I haven’t gotten a handle on that yet, but no other fines of that sort have been announced recently. Browsing the FEC site informed me that Jill, like other politicians, continues to collect campaign funds after an election. Her FEC file details 10K contributions that came in November and December 2016. Based on her fines, clearly more are dribbling in this year, hopefully not supporting a lavish lifestyle for the only candidate whose platform and rhetoric made sense to me. File under politics, I guess.
Manufacturing Identities: Monday 10/30/17
Saluting the rainbow flag of identity politics is said to have cost Hillary Clinton the election, and not only because it got in the way of her addressing bread-and-butter issues. The alt-right portrayed her embrace of heathen feministas, LGBQ-ers, black-Livers, latinos, and swarthy refugees as an attack on “traditional” America. Identity politics could only lead, they averred, to decadent miscegenation that will swell the nation with evil miscreant spawn. Mocking the inclusionary political correctness of the Democrats, media, academies, and intersectionalists became great sport for them.
But wait, hasn’t the alt right been circling its wagons ever more tightly around its own flagpole? By enumerating all the identities they are sick of, have they not crystallized their own, the marginalized White Male? To hell with all those half-breed upstarts, they insist, we’re the only real Americans. The occasional exceptional Asian, Jew, or Black proves their point that white males are the pinnacle of creation and deserve to lead. Well, I happen to be one, and am here to say we’ve fucked things up pretty good. I should resign, but that’s a membership card that’s hard to burn. To nullify my privilege, maybe I should switch gender. Take that, Steve Bannon! File under Identity.
Does the Lord Laugh at Fracking? Saturday 10/28/17
Which is worst: Worldwide climate change or its denial? Making that choice was easier when the deniers were outside the circle of policy-making. Now, under Trump, they have the edge. A report on PRI’s Marketplace informs us that a leaked draft the Department of Interior’s five-year plan prioritizes “energy dominance” over conservation and eliminates all mention of climate change. Under Obama’s last plan, it was referred to 43 times. That plan “explicitly stated that the department was committed to improving resilience in those communities most directly affected by global warming.” DOI’s fraudulent Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to open as many federal lands as possible for fossil fuel exploration as soon as possible, and isn’t listening to any objections unless they come from the energy extraction sector. “Fracking,” he said, “is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us.” I’m sorry, Lord, but I’m not laughing. Zinke and all of Trump’s appointees are corrupt money-grubbing parasites who prey upon the American people and mock our ideals. Why did not God, or at least the media, not see this coming and warn us?
Don’t laugh. Resist, like DOI whistleblower Joel Clement. Zinke must go. Let’s see to it. File under Sustainability.
Three Heroes of the Syrian Resistance: Wednesday 10/25/17
We Are Syrians is a chilling little book of memoirs and oral histories of three Syrians who have stood up to one Assad or another and paid dearly. Their stories were collected and edited by Adam Braver and Abby DeVeuve and published by the University of New Orleans Press. We hear from: Naila Al-Atrash (theater director, female, 65), Radwan Ziadeh (dentist, male, 42), and Sana Mustafa (student, female, 25). All are now safe and able to tell their stories in part thanks to Scholars at Risk, an extensive network of institutions and individuals devoted to rescuing academics and intellectuals from persecution.
All three have devoted most of their lives as democracy activists under extremely harrowing conditions in a despicable regime that seems to take joy in harassing, torturing, and killing citizens who say they don’t like it. A regime, I might add, that until the Arab Spring of 2011 was a trusted regional partner of the US. So trusted that the CIA rendered suspected terrorists to black sites there for “questioning.”
But I digress. Read the book to be impressed by how courageous these three—who all fled to the US—have been in protesting oppression and working to reconstruct civil society. Both publicly and clandestinely they protested, propagandized. organized, and succored dissidents until, after many interviews with law enforcement, prison or worse seemed inevitable. Knowing what they went through with heads held high makes me ashamed to call myself an activist. File under Resilience.
NPR Agrees with CIA that Only Sickos Leak State Secrets: Tuesday 10/17/17
In her interview with Ursula Wilder, a CIA psychologist whose job is debriefing returning spies, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly (their alleged National Security Correspondent) failed big-time to probe whether Wilder thought an insider might ever have a patriotic motivation to inform the public of bad behavior on the part of the agency. Based on Wilders’ profile of leakers, the answer would surely have been No, but it would have been nice to ask.
Instead, the official story is simple. Each and every leaker suffers from some DSM psychopathy, such as impulsiveness, narcissism or drug addiction, often compounded by exigencies such as marital discord or gambling debts. It’s all due to character defects, Wilder says—and Kelly doesn’t contradict—not to blowback or some nasty conduct the agency wants to disappear. Hear for yourself.
How many set pieces does NPR owe spy agencies as the price of access? File under Psy-Ops.
Where’s the Beef? Sunday 10/15/17
One September evening, out of the blue, my dear daughter suggested we forego meat. Even though she couldn’t quite say why she wanted to do this, we agreed to veg out and see. But I drew the line at vegan; I respect dairy far too much to banish butter and eggs.
A meatless month later (excepting bacon, a significant source of micronutrients), we’ve sort of stuck to it. We’re doing okay and our grocery bill is lighter. Me too, but it hasn’t been easy.
If you decide to try this at home, let me tell you there are downsides. You’ll spend a lot of time poring over recipes involving exotic ingredients like faro, miatake, adzuki, kombu, and seitan. Our young lady’s aversion to staples like beans and ancient grains challenged my culinary creativity. We consume a lot of salad, mushrooms, and on her recommendation, hot dishes (preferably pizza) smothered with cheese. So much for the meat co-op I was thinking of joining. Pass the pepperoni. File under fiber.
Take This Flagpole and … Friday 10/13/17
NPR tells of how in 2003 our future Chiseler-in-Chief sued the school district of Rancho Palos Verdes, California town for $100M over land it owned in the middle of a golf course he was rehabilitating. They settled and the district got $5M for the land (they had wanted rent), but not before Trump called the town’s lawyer an a-hole to his face. (BTW, Attorney Milan Smith is now a judge on the circuit court that blocked Trump’s immigration restrictions.) Then, when homeowners complained about a 70-foot flagpole he put up on the course without obtaining a permit, the City Council went after him for it. It got ugly. Trump played the patriotism card, saying if you make me take down our flag you hate America. He still has hissy fits about it. Here you go. File under Mendacity.
Trump According to Dilbert’s Dad: Wednesday 10/11/17
On—for whatever reason—Halloween, Scott “Dilbert” Adams will release a book called Win Bigly to comfort his supporters, afflict his critics, make money, and cement his pundit brand. Having been taken to task for trumpeting Trump, he wants everyone to know he endorsed Trump because he has “an appetite for risk, a deep understanding of persuasion, and a personality the media couldn’t ignore,” qualities that gave him “a 98% chance of winning.” Trump’s sleaziness, divisiveness and badmouthing don’t seem to faze Adams—in fact he seems to rather admire those qualities, saying they make him a better negotiator. He wants his readers to be as persuasive as Trump, to the extent he can persuade them. I tried to be persuaded. My take on an advance copy of the book is posted here. In a nutshell, I’ve read Win Bigly so you won’t have to. File under Self-Help.
Guns Are People: Friday 10/06/17
The NRA signaled today it wouldn’t oppose regulating “bump stocks,” those gizmos that make assault weapons fully automatic, of which Stephen Paddock had a dozen of in his complementary 32nd-floor hotel room. Even Gopers are saying that a bit of adult supervision might be needed in this regard. Well, so says the Paranoia Lobby, that there’s the tippity-top of your slippery slope, isn’t it? If the feds can outlaw bump stocks, what will they do next to render the populace impotent to resist the Illuminati’s plans to lock down America?
But surely the NRA can’t be serious. To weather blowback from Vegas, they dissemble, pretending neutrality publicly while pressing gun dealers and owners to do the heavy lifting should Congress ever bring itself to broach the subject. Let’s face it, Americans; guns r us. Don’t expect any new restrictions on firearms unless you live in Massachusetts or DC.
Oh yeah, I forgot. Guns don’t kill people; bullets do.
Spooks in Space: Tuesday 10/03/17
Today, Marketplace asked Should we fund the militarization of space? Hell, no. There is no need to further militarize space or anyplace else, not with 200+ bases around the world, grossly overstuffed DoD and black budgets, offloads of military surplus weapons and gear to local police forces to keep the populace under control, overseas adventurism, and unconstitutional spying on of our Internet and telephone use, aren’t we sufficiently militarized for God’s sake?
Here’s an idea: call it Spooks in Space; send our intelligence officials and military leaders off to conquer and colonize Mars. Then we could get on with what really matters to the American people, as opposed to what the security-industrial complex wants, without the distractions of endless wars and assorted homeland security intensification that only benefit their ranks and vendors. When will more Americans wake up to see their taxes and their real security swirling down the Pentagon’s thousand-dollar toilets?
What Happened in Vegas Should mostly Stay in Vegas: Monday 10/02/17
Great. Another mass shooting, this one from a guy 32 floors up packing ten rifles who took his own life when police entered his hotel room. Sure, it would be nice to know who 64-year-old Stephen Paddock was and why he killed 58 people and injured 500+, but let’s curb our own and the media’s ghoulish disaster mania. This very morning I was at an NPR station taking pledges over the phone, but at 830 they sent us volunteers home and suspended the fund drive so the station could cover Vegas continuously, as if they couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. If you think gun laws are a joke now, wait til you see HR 38 and HR 3668. Sign CREDO’s petition to congress to oppose them now.
What (TF) Happened: Friday 9/29/17
Amazon’s been deleting one-star reviews of Hillary Clinton’s memoir What Happened. As of right now (9/29), of 1600 reviews 1425 (89%) are 5-stars and 96 (6%) are one star. There are no 2 or 3-star reviews and just 48 4’s. According to Zero Hedge, mid-morning on 9/12 there were 1500 reviews 50% 1’s and 45% 5’s. By closing time, of the 442 remaining reviews, 97% gave the book 5 stars and 1% (4) awarded it one star. Could have been a business decision, but given that Jeff Bezos also owns WaPo and given that WaPo has long had close ties with the Agency (recall that Georgetown Set from yesterday’s post?), perhaps HRC’s spooky friends went trick-or-treating at Jeff’s house. Find it hard to believe? Check out this list of 50 ways the Agency infiltrated mass media, paying close attention to number 21. File under Psy-Ops.
The Commemes Are Coming! Thursday 9/28/17
Columnist Chris Floyd strikes a troubling cultural note in today’s Counterpunch about the sound of tweets coming from the so-called “resistance” to Trump that he labels a counter-revolution. From BLM to kneeling NFL players, establishment anti-Trump forces are laying outrage at American racism at Moscow’s door. Yes, they say, Putin’s people are stirring up the masses on Twitter and elsewhere about ailments America never had before the Russkies manufactured them in a massive psy-ops campaign. Read the article, see the tweets. and be on the lookout for such commemes, #hiddenpersuaders that imply that whatever is wrong with America would be right if it weren’t for Russian meddling. We tried this before. It was called McCarthyism and it didn’t work.
Harvard, the CIA and All That: Wednesday 9/27/17
When Harvard’s Institute of Politics abruptly rescinded its offer to Chelsea Manning of a fellowship, all hell broke loose. After intense pressure from both sides, Harvard chose to back the “intelligence community,” as is its wont. That wont goes back many decades, as documented in my post, Harvard, the CIA, and All That, in which I cast available light on networks of Ivy League cold-war-era establishmentarians, a clique of insiders that Harvard fomented, abetted, and continues to play a key and unapologetic role as empire thought leaders. Its coziness to power is one reason why I don’t donate to my alma mater.
My Almost-Famous Haircut: Saturday 9/23/17
This morning I visited my famous Greek barber George for a haircut. Proudly displayed on the wall in his 120-year-old Harvard Square cuttery are photos of him with his more notable clients, like Michael Dukakis and Yo-Yo Ma (both of whom I’ve encountered there). Among patrons not pictured, he told me, are Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama from their student days, Mike Taibbi (Rolling Stone investigative reporter), and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whom he expects to be the next Prime Minister of Greece. When I hinted that he might also let people know that he does my hair, he suggested adding a photo of the two of us to his collection, saying people will assume I’m somebody famous. Now I’m kicking myself. Why didn’t I insist on a selfie with George right then and there?
Regarding Blowback and Liberation: Tuesday 9/19/17
Literature has an obligation to confront moral issues. One of humankind’s most persistent ones involves “collateral” injustices and suffering visited upon innocent people in the course of acquiring territory and asserting control over it. The unpublished novel Mahmoud’s Jihad focuses on the bubbling cauldron of the greater Middle East through the lens of marginalized opponents of state power who take matters into their own hands. You might find what these self-styled freedom fighters do shocking, but at least you’ll learn what makes them tick and what life underground is like. Politically conscious people don’t rebel just for the hell of it. As one character puts it, “They only call it class warfare when we fight back.” Read the preface to the novel to appreciate some of those reasons and the moral ambiguities of radical action.
Rojava—A Functioning Democracy inside Syria: Saturday 9/16/17
Who knew that part of a province of Syria functions autonomously as a bottom-up secular socialist democracy where women fight ISIS/Daesh and are full partners in all decision-making? It’s a Kurdish enclave called Rojava, and while it’s tiny it’s an inspiration for oppressed people in the Middle East and in fact everywhere. American feminist writer Meredith Tax explains Turkey’s attempt to crush Rojava and all Kurdish aspirations in her blog, and provides an in-depth account of its origins, organization, and prospects in her 2016 book A Road Unforeseen. View her describing what she learned in writing the book in a video from the 2017 Left Forum. File under Resistance.
The Great Purge of the Great War: Friday, 9/15/17
Happy Hundredth, WWI. We love you so much. Now’s a good time to remind all Americans—liberals in particular—how, during and after the Great War, the Wilson Administration, local law enforcement, newspapers, and assorted shitkickers all across the country brutally assaulted German-Americans and suspected Bolsheviks, sweeping up tens of thousands of trade unionists, progressives and freethinkers of all stripes in a grand purge, all patriotically shilled by politicians and newspaper publishers and bought and paid for by industrialists. Suggest taking a few moments to reacquaint yourself with that era by reading Adam Hochschild’s When Dissent Became Treason in NY Review of Books. File under Fascism.
AI Is a Zombie Bent on Eating Your Brain: Thursday, 9/14/17
What does “Artificial Intelligence” bring to mind? Robots? Siri psyching you out? Facebook quantifying your whole life? It’s coming, and fast. Bottom line for you is your intellect atrophies when all your decisions are “augmented,” you are made intellectually redundant, and tech overlords make out like the autonomy bandits they are. Find out more in this post at Linked In. File under technoquences.
Long Gas Lines—Better than No Gas Lines: Wednesday, 9/13/17
Evacuees returning to their homes across Florida are stymied. Few gasholes with petrol and power avail themselves. No nonnuclear terrorist attack would bring so many to a standstill for so long. Yet our nation spends umpteen billions more to safeguard Americans from pinpoint terrorist attacks that may not happen than from catastrophic acts of nature everyone already expects. The combined odds of a hurricane hitting the mainland or a twister rip-roaring through the heartland or a Big One pulverizing the Left Coast outweigh those of terrorism in inverse proportion to funds the Feds allocate to these eventualities. Follow the money. Find out who profits from ramping up the security state versus who profits from rehabilitating devastated lives and properties and then you’ll know. War, it seems, is the answer. File under corruption.
Lessons Learned from Hurricane Irma: Tuesday, 9/12/17
Your 401Ks and IRAs probably aren’t doing much, so cash them in. Be that alligator in the swimming pool; buy Florida real estate and rent it out. You won’t find a better deal until the next tropical storm hits. Flood insurance is optional if the property isn’t in a flood zone, even if it’s a bit damp now. File under avarice.
On Errorism: Monday, 9/11/2017
On this day, we honor the victims of terrorism in New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, PA 16 years ago. What we dishonor are the provocations that the USA visited on the Middle East that created all that enmity and the sadly apparent fact that Washington has yet to acknowledge that those losses are almost-inevitable consequences of its adventurism. Filed under blowback.