A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

My sources of passion: a reply to Shakespeare's Sister

Shakespeare's Sister asked "What has stirred in you that fervor for politics that’s brought you to my virtual doorstep?"

Here is my answer:

Hi, first of all what brought me here was skippy.

I was raised in a Catholic military officer's family, mostly at a rotation of Air Force bases in the South. However I always identifed as a middle of the road generic American--always out of step, I considered myself a "yankee" in the South. And of course in California one year I took a lot of abuse as "Florida" because I had finally gotten comfortable in Panama City, Florida. I was always an outsider wherever I went.

The roots of my politics are being raised as a true believer in a moderate vision of the American way, combined with a tendency to be an outsider (perhaps because I am nearly deaf) and to have a bleeding heart for other outsiders and losers.

Nowadays I can only describe my parents as reactionaries (very decent individuals, I owe them plenty including this passion, but they support incredibly vicious causes in almost the worst ways possible.) I think when I was little they were much more in a mainstream that was much more liberal--on the conservative side but they got polarized in the 1970s and for a time I went with them, my own way. But we all still watched CBS News with Walter Cronkite, and I grew up assuming people read the newspaper every day and thought about issues it brought up. How could you get the jokes on Saturday Night Live if you did not after all? When I was little my parents used to watch Smothers Brothers and while comedy got reined in after that, comedy remained the most subversive intellectual influence around. Right wingers are not and never have been funny, because they are too busy hiding from the truth to see the absurdity of things. But when I was young I think even conservative Americans had less insecuirty and more ability to do that than they do now, and so the fatal seed of independent thought was planted to be nurtured by such waters as Mad Magazine! But in the 1970s I still believed that the basically liberal society we had worked well, offered the best hopes of progress, and would be improved with less government interference--from my white suburban military brat position I thought I was a Libertarian and that Reagan was our champion, though it did cross my mind that I had grown up in the very bosom of the government and admired lots of things, from NASA to public libraries, that were governmental. I hoped it would all get sorted out when capitalism was stripped down and revved up--the USSR would collapse under its own weight; the economy would boom and shift away from weapons; freedom would spread and traditional tyrannies wither and private ventures into space would pave the road to the abundant future.

This true belief was outraged when I discovered gradually in the 1980s how much deception there is in the myths Americans live by, and of course that was a time when the ruthlessness of the real rulers of our system against anyone who did not have "clout" became apparent. All of this fed my indignation at the lot of powerless people and admiration of those who take power by standing up bravely to those who consider themselves the "better" people.

It has never gotten better in that respect either; the only progress I have seen is polarization between people who are more and more outraged and indignant, and those who are more and more calloused. Or both; we are all developing some kind of battle armor.

Basically I still believe the deep values reached for by the American Revolution were and are still worthy goals (thus I base my US politics on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address), but their true evolution has been in the direction of other great revolutionary movements. I believe the evidence shows we must all evolve into some kind of populist communitarians, or we are all going to kill each other, by murder, poisoning, or ecological catastrophe in some combination. Socialism or Barbarism, baby! And we have lots of Barbarism and getting more of it all the time.

And that I and I think most people really don't want to be bothered with politics, but we have no choice since those who are outside of systems of power get abused by those inside, and only a balance of power brings about justice and equity, to some rough degree.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Fearless Fosdick on the case!

I'm starting to notice a pattern in dealing with Republicans. Yes, even here in Sonoma County one can strike up a conversation and even make friends with Republicans, and then there are the ones I am related to, like my parents. So I am asking them the reasons for their priorities, like getting Bill Clinton but giving a pass to all the tremendous (and illegal, unConstitutional, hypocritical, and policy-related) blunders (or are they more sinister than that?) of their President and his crowd,or saving Terri Schiavo (but not the thousands or perhaps millions of other severely disabled Americans their tax cut/benefit cut/give corporations carte blanche policies put into the same position of having their food cut off, etc, as in Texas's "Futile Care Law" enacted by G. W. Bush as Texas Governor.) How about then WMDs in Iraq (or actually, as it turns out, not...) Well, what do they have to say?

What I am hearing lately reminds me of something that shocked me about our criminal law system. The vast majority of felons entering our prisons never actually have a trial, properly speaking. The police arrest poor people, typically, who know they don't have the resources to fight the system--especially because they are typically also members of some out-group, which juries would tend to be prejudiced against--which might not mean they could not get a fair trial, but they had better be able to match the prosecution's lawyers. A public defender will not cut it, generally speaking. So they plea-bargain, the judge pounds the gavel, and that is the trial. In effect, this makes the police department the practical court. American police do generally have the attitude that they know who the crooks are, and if they arrest someone on flimsy evidence--probably their collar is guilty of other crimes they can't actually pin on him, so it is not just OK, it is practically mandatory, to try to make every little charge stick, and get as much punishment as you can out of whatever you can get a conviction on. These people are not citizens, they are "the enemy."

So much for Perry Mason. When Edwin Meese said that an "innocent suspect" was a contradiction in terms, that someone would not be a suspect unless he were guilty, he flew in the face of all the noble talk about rule of law, presumption of innocence, the necessity of trials, etc we were all trained to recognize is great about America, but he accurately reported the true attitude of American enforcers. They think they know, and in our legal system they often get to bury their mistakes--once a "suspect" has been tarred with the label of "felon" it becomes far more difficult for them to prove innocence as they are forced to do.

So, how about all those other Terri Schiavos? As a longtime parter of a disabled person I am uneasy with my fellow lefty bloggers who jump in with "she is effectively gone and has been for over a decade." Well, maybe and maybe not. Lots of very functional disabled people have aspersions cast on the worthwhileness of their lives, particulary when acknowlegding it might cost money. It is supposed to be the business of the courts and other elements of the system back there in Florida to decide these things, and I am in no position to go visit Terri Schavio and see for myself--is there an imparied but alert mind there, or not? None of my business is how it should be, but both sides are making it my business. Am I the only one reminded of _Citizen Ruth?_

Why single out Terri Schavio? Why not take her husband's word for things? Well, something I don't see on left-wing blogs is all the allegations rightists like to make against his character (and they imply the judges all are in on some deal too). I have no intention of perpetuating what I judge is probably slander, of felonous proportions, but I asked the reasonable question--oh, if that is the case, why not prosecute him on those grounds. And then there is a lot of shifty muttering about statutes of limitation, cold trails, etc. But some of the things they allege would have no statues of limitation. If they are true, then Mr. Schavio appears in a different light and so would anything he said about Terri's wishes. But if not true, he has a long list of people he can sue at this point, I would think. So in the Republican mindset, they can't bring Terri's abuser to justice--but they can _spite_ him by keeping her alive! And maybe she will get better and _talk!_ That is what they say.

Why by the way, I ask, did we spend 8 years with Republicans gumming up all the works of the Federal government in their attempts to get Bill Clinton? Well, Clinton was a sexual predator. Can't let one of those stay in office, can we? Predator? I asked--name me one non-consensual relationship! And he did, a name I don't remember but Lord knows they were coming of the woodwork. Again I ask--oh, if he raped or harassed someone, why didn't Starr make that the thrust of his prosecution? Why didn't Congress impeach him for that high crime/misdemenor, instead of about lying to them about a question they had no business asking? Again, not much of an answer. But they Got him lying! Such an unprecedented dishonor of the White House, a stain wiped away by the new President...

So it goes, they locked up Martha Stewart on similar charges it seems--perjury when the investigation itself had no merit. I am wondering what the hell Kevin Shelley, California's Secretary of State, allegedly did to cause him to be driven out of office, and how does it weigh versus tremendous conflicts of interest like Katherine Harris's simultaneous oversight of Florida's 2000 election and state campaign for Bush. Iraq--no WMDs, but Saddam was a bad man. And there are murky hints at yet unrevealed secret justifications, but no clue why would could not use true charges to drum up war fever instead of false ones. Because the only time you have to use false pretenses is, when your case has no merit at all, and no truthful charge can have the weight needed to bring around judges or publics.

Everywhere, the Fearless Fosdick is on the case, out to make a collar, and if the evidence of the heinous crime he is sent out to avenge is slim, nonexistent, or downright against the charges--no matter, there is some techicality or other the perp must be in violation of, or at least it can be rumored to be so. Or it that falls short, by golly rules are made to be broken! When dealing with some people and some cases anyway.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

So-Calling it Mainstream; the early years

MistahCharley wrote:
I just want to urge you to start using the term "corporate media" for what has been too long misleadingly called the "main stream media" - "corporate" is denotatively as well as connotatively more accurate.

I usually do say "corporate media", or "reactionary."

Note what I did say this time though--not SCLM, not MSM. I said SCMSM! The So-Called Mainstream Media--that is the essence of the discussion. Who does the calling besides themselves? My point is that they have always promoted a "national party line" and been rewarded with a special status for it. This has not arisen by accident and is no recent phenomenon. They have always been corporate, true, but they have always been "so-called mainstream" in a largely successful attempt to drown out and discredit alternative messages with the clear signal that whoever listens to what is not on their menu of acceptable memes will be ignored, dismissed, or shunned and punished as an "irresponsible" thinker.

Our modern perception that the MSM are corporate whores is not exactly breaking news!

I was not thinking very carefully or planning or anything. But I have done this rant in dozens of comments in the past. If I did it right I'd weave in the cartoons in The Masses magazine (actually in a memorial compendium)--"Poisoned at the Source," by Art Young, showing a suited, sneaky figure poisoning a reservoir ("The Press") with a vial of "Lies." He is labeled--AP. The cartoon is from July 1913, and AP sued The Masses over it.

TM was a sort of semibohemian, semiprogressive, semiradical, semipopulist organ that featured a lot of cutting edge journalism and wicked cartoons (including of semi-nude women, which prompted a semi-obscene portrait of the semihuman Comstock, maven of censors in his day who of course tried to shut them down.) Much of their best work (featured in the collection anyway) was concerned with World War I--its precursors, its example, the US being drawn into it--actively as TM's contributors saw it by the US elites. (Another great cartoon-haven't found a link to it yet-a bloated, confused, worried, greasy figure gesturing at the black clouds and vague but horrible smoking ruins of Europe over the sea--this man is a "Preparedness Advocate" and his tortured plea is "If we don't do as they did it could happen to us!" The cartoon's caption? "Logic") One thing about TM was that I could recognize images that the cultural censorship we live under had let through the net--yet other cartoons had eventually gotten a gig as illustrations in such references as the World Book Encyclopedia. And the editor, Eastman, went rightward and founded Reader's Digest in later years.

But in its day, The Masses was sort of like Mother Jones magazine. And the war between the radical and establishment press was in full swing. Woodrow Wilson is in many ways the President who did the most to lay the foundations of modern, 20th century America--FDR largely just had to cultivate Wilson's legacy and bring it front and center. (Wilson also did much to confirm and to worsen the system of racial oppression as it worked in modern America, practically mandating Jim Crow, and his racism was fused with his imperialism to set the pattern in global policy as well.) Regulation got its start earlier than Wilson, with Theodore Roosevelt, but it was the Wilson years where such entities as the Federal Reserve Boards and the amendment to allow income taxes were passed. In general their impact was kept limited by conservative resistance. But of course Wilson got World War I to give him war powers in this early modern context--Lincoln had equally sweeping powers and mandate, but Lincoln was dealing with an internal convulsion that demanded radical, sweeping methods, while Wilson was entering into what was for us an optional war. He used his war powers to reshape the very idea of what was "normal" in America, creating Creel's committee of advertisers to not only direct propaganda but also to create a culture of informers. Of course he created the FBI to round up and jail or deport troublesome leftists who allegedly sabotaged the war effort--as many did merely by continuing to be against the war on the same terms they had always opposed it. That's how we got rid of the Socialists as a rising mass party for instance.

And as the cartoon illustrated, the mainstream "respectable" press played its part in the general repression, hewing to what Abby Hoffman would later call a "national party line." Such are the origins of the ideals of liberal journalism--a social contract whereby the press plays a defined role and follows rules, and is rewarded with its place at the big table. Throughout that era there were parallel presses, that followed different lines and did not get that mantle or those perks. I suppose there were far rightist rags, though actually the mainstream was so accommodating of so many reactionary views, to which it could point as evidence of its freedom, that it would be pretty hard to be thrown out of the ranks of respectable journalism in the day for being too racist or nationalistic or otherwise bigoted. But definitely there were left-wing organs, ranging from Communist Party mouthpieces to some of the greatest journalism we have ever seen-that were socially speaking lepers to the AP set. They were the best evidence we did have a free press, but their views were not considered to have the reliability that the word of the mainstream press did.

So what I am pointing out here is, the claim to be "mainstream" is not just a market response phenomenon, it is not just that 7 out of 10 readers freely choose to prefer this or that flavor of news. Powerful social mechanisms exist that claim the right to define "mainstream" in terms not of what people like or dislike to read, but in terms of the range of content these papers and other media have. If they toe the line they are mainstream. They are "so-called" because someone arrogates the right to do the calling. They are mainstream because the national party line defines that idea, not some faith in moderation or loyalty to truth. It was always that way here, at least since Woodrow Wilson and World War I.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Digby on the need for a Left Wing press

I don't know why I don't read Digby every day--because I have to tear myself off the Net sometime I guess?

In response to laments from some who claim to be lefties, who worry that insofar as we are establishing our own trusted media channels and abandoning the so-called mainstream, we are falling into the same wicked, postmodern error as our dear friends on the Right have been wallowing in for decades now--Digby had this to say.

And I had this supportive reply for him:

In the days when a bunch of folks left outside of the process that formed the Constitution intruded their democratic heads back into the process and said, "Put this Bill of Rights in there right now or we ain't gonna let you do this!" the free press they had in mind had none of the pretense to objectivity and balance that we children of the 20th Century came to think was our God-given right. Back then, the Federalists had their papers, the Democrat-Republicans had theirs, and each side's portrayed a world where they were decent and wise folk and the others were the spawn of Hell. That kind of freedom of the press is what they had in mind--the freedom to say any damned thing and let the reader judge what they wanted to believe it really meant, and whose lies they wanted to read.

Mind you, I think that the rise of a press with standards of objectivity and balance was a fine and noble vision, and one whose passing I do regret. But professionalism is not an adequate basis for standing up to powerful, entrenched interests. What America needs and has not had for generations is a genuine, hard-core Left with a firm basis and claims to real power; a bunch of people who are not ashamed to say that capitalism is the problem and real power over property to the people is the solution. Part of the rise of professional journalism was the process of shutting down the left--the real, organized left in all its fraticidal but significant diversity--Wobblies, Socialists, anarchists--the lot. The generation of middle-class readers who favored the respectable news feeds of the AP and UPI and revered the NYT, also favored J Edgar Hoover's police state tactics. For quite some time, we could delude ourselves that the mainstream press was providing "All the News That's Fit to Print"and that was not "Fit" was just too indecent--and irrelevant to the big picture--to worry about. Objectivity about important matters was supposed to arise via vigorous competition for market share and fear of the "scoop" by the rival paper. But in reality there were always huge gaps and distortions in American mainstream coverage and no amount of reportage in lefty rags brought some of those stories into the mainstream, no matter how true they were.

But, I think it was fear of the possibility of a revival of a genuine Left that kept a generation or two of mainstream journalists middling honest. There were stories you just didn't print and knew no other mainstream paper would print either; but in the field legitimately open to public view, by golly real journalists dug out the story! That way, we in the middle classes could believe our press served us well enough, no reason to doubt and go off and read weird stuff. And we could believe we had the information needed to make informed political decisions and not that we were being herded. George Orwell had a few words to say about it. And now we are living in times where everyone who lived before the Wilson Administration is dead, and the people who remember the Depression are leaving us, and there is no fear of a Left that no one has ever seen here among our propertied rulers, and they think they can just bloody well rule without all this pantomiming.

The rise of a genuine Left press, if that is at hand, and insofar as we have one here on the Internet, is the only hope I see for a revival of the old middle-of the road mainstream journalistic ethics we were all raised to believe a free press was all about. Actually it is not, freedom is supposed to mean freedom, not adherence to a quest for truth. But a believable quest for the truth would be nice to see again, and as long as we have it I will exercise my right to believe what seems sensible to me--which means I read the lefty stuff because a radical socialist analysis is how I understand things. And I do hope that if we can keep our freedom and dislodge the propertied from their dead-hand monopoly on power so they have a healthy respect for the need to gratify and benefit the public if they want to keep us Leftists at bay--then out of this process may emerge again a revived mainstream, fact-oriented, balanced press, hopefully one with _no_ blinders reliably on its vision. That would be a new thing actually. But if it doesn't happen--it wasn't the Left that killed it, and it is not our obligation to do the balancing for those who did.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

This is both funny and wise

The sound of the shoes of the centipede dropping; or, isn't Leviticus fun?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Who was Natasha you ask?

L Natasha Littletree, 1990 with real bunnies, and real canary in fake pose and stuffed bunny Photoshopped in

Natasha was my dear lady. She was the person I lived with until she couldn't live any more, and the website we did together was some of our best work. And she did a lot of good work.

Here, here's the old site, it should be good at least till September 2005 and I will do what I can to keep it up after that.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Alternate answer to my random profile question

"You can punch a hole through an apple with a straw. How does this make your milkshake feel"

First answer was that it feels flashes of hope amid its terror and despair. Then I wondered...

...does the milkshake enjoy and look forward to its destiny of thrilling my palate and pooling in my gullet? In that case, it might be miffed and anxious I will neglect it. Not to worry, brave milkshake! If I order an item of food or drink, or make it, I am gonna eat it soon enough.

Stupid Blogger demanded a 150 word answer. I am not about short answers most of the time.