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Truth To Power

the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must

Archive for September, 2011

R.E.M. and a better time

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

R.E.M. had been a part of my musical world since I graduated high school in 1980, yet their demise was clearly a non-event in my life. I hadn’t listened to any new music by them in years; while I still enjoy Chronic Town and Murmur, after that they seemed to be more obvious, less mysterious. But their breakup made me realize something about myself, and the world around me.

They came along when I, and most of my generation were shrugging off the ways of adolescence and the enforced conformity of high school and going out in the world. No longer would we be riding in the same cars to the same parties with the same friends listening to either Pink Floyd’s The Wall or the vapid Hotel California by The Eagles. For us, facing life on our own via college or work, meant discovery and the shock of something new. To some this was a heady sensation. I remember discovering a new band every week, from punk to blues to country. I recall hearing Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan and early Jason and the Nashville Scorchers during one month in the early ’80s- and remember, at the time, no one played the blues and certainly didn’t combine Hank Williams and AC/DC the way the Scorchers did. It was grand. About the same time I drove my roommates crazy with a pair of singles- “Too Drunk To Fuck” by the Dead Kennedys and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division. To most of them music was a mindless supplement to whatever else you were doing, and it certainly wasn’t supposed to be as grating and angry as punk.

For those people, R.E.M. was perfect. While they didn’t sound like what you had just spend five years in high school listening to, you could still dance to them, and since Michael Stipe’s lyrics were impossible to fathom, you could safely ignore them. Couldn’t do that listening to Johnny Rotten’s acerbic “Anarchy in the UK”- I am an anti-Christ– or Black Flag. But for 20-somethings in a brave new world- even if that meant the community college down the road- R.E.M. was the soundtrack. And by the reaction that their breakup garnered in the online community, you’d think the last 25 years didn’t happen and “Don’t Go Back To Rockville” had just been released.

When I read “R.E.M.: America’s Greatest Band” in The Atlantic, it gave me pause. To me, R.E.M. had long since faded into the past, kept on a shelf along with Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith; i.e., music that once meant something to me at one time, but that time was past. I wasn’t the same person, and I had no desire to be that person again. But for some, R.E.M. reminds them of a charmed time in their lives when they were young, with the world in front of them. And not the world of mindless work and foreclosed houses, but rather a perhaps the last time you thought of yourself as able to do anything, the skies the limit. After a few margaritas and a spin of “Stand!” these people are able to escape back to a more hopeful time, free of the challenges of adulthood. Some people on Facebook remarked that the breakup meant “The 80s just died“- and for them, it probably has. To spend your life looking backwards at what used to be seems to me a life just waiting out the years, with no joy left to anticipate. And to me, that is inexcusable. I relish the thought of a lifetime yet to come, with new books to read, new musical journeys to follow. It’s what makes life worth doing. I don’t chide my friends for their nostalgia, but I don’t look at life that way. To each his own, I suppose.

And anyway, R.E.M. as America’s greatest band? Good grief, that’s silly. That would be Pere Ubu.

Barbaric behavior vs. “Liberal Bias”

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

As Williams tried to continue asking his question, the crowd broke into applause, prompting Williams to pause.

The moderator then continued: “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”

Perry responded, “no, sir.”

“I’ve never struggled with that at all,” he said. “The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.”

For the state to commit murder against itself is barbaric, which is why most civilized countries don’t do it. American stands fast with other champions of “justice” such as Iran, North Korea, and Singapore in allowing the state to feed on itself. Our country’s inhumane tendencies can hardly be seen in a more compelling example than the death penalty, and it’s to our shame that it continues. As Helen Prejean said, “The profound moral question is not, “Do they deserve to die?” but “Do we deserve to kill them?”

It’s one thing to allow the state to kill it’s citizens, but it is a truly monstrous lack of humanity to cheer for it. Unfortunately it comes as no surprise that the crowd at the the Reagan Library- a library dedicated to legacy of yet another American tyrant- would stand in applause when Rick Perry’s murderous toll was brought into question. From the Reagan era at least, the GOP has garnered voters by being the “strong” party- of course, its strength comes from attacking the most vulnerable among us. Blacks, gays, women, Muslims- anyone that a typical GOP voter can rise above by squashing their humanity, they’ll do it, and cheer as they do so, apparently. In fact, you could say it’s their only real draw as a party- that someone, somewhere, isn’t worth as much as you. It is both terrifying and sad. Terrifying because of the damage they inflict from it, and sad because it reveals their utter lack of compassion.

Fox “News” Chris Wallace apparently thinks that Brian Williams’ question reveals yet another example of “liberal bias”. Of course there is no such thing in our Murdoch-controlled media universe- it there was, there would be no wars in the Middle East- or against unions, for that matter. Or the death penalty. Liberal bias is a fiction spouted by Fox, Rush et al to allow their Orwellian disinformation to prattle on 24/7. But beyond that, Wallace’s question reveals so clearly the “conservative” mindset:

Chris Wallace appeared on Friday’s Fox and Friends and assailed NBC’s Brian Williams over his question to Rick Perry about whether he ever struggled to sleep at night over the potential innocence of one of his many executed inmates, calling it an example of a “liberal bias.

Any sane person would “struggle to sleep at night” over the killing of another. At least, you hope they would. The case Williams was referring to was Rick Perry’s apparent murdering of an innocent man. We can expect no humility from Perry- he’s a politician, and a Texas one at that. Forgiveness and big thinking aren’t in his makeup, whereas lying and vengeance is. But apparently just asking the question- do you struggle to sleep at night over potentially killing a innocent man– is liberal. To be troubled by the awesome power of the state to kill it’s own, that’s liberal. To have doubts about the innocence of one you condemned to die, that’s liberal.

If evidence of humanity therefore is liberal…sign me up.

Please shut up!

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Since I’ve been at home for the last month, I’ve wasted way too much time on the net. Do this too long and you get overloaded with information, so that you wouldn’t know a good idea if it bit you on the ankle. But one thing I can tell you without any fear of being contradicted- there are a lot of foolish, foolish people out there, who, in our age of “If I say it, it must be so!”, distrust of reality, 24/7 vomit of opinion think that whatever they have to say is, um…relevant. Before the internet and cable news these people were confined to the fringes of society- a sort of Hazel Motes you might say. No more.

To change the beliefs of an entire community, only 10 percent of the population needs to become convinced of a new or different opinion, suggests a new study. At that tipping point, the idea can spread through social networks and alter behaviors on a large scale.

That’s scary stuff. Combine that with the never-ending barrage of propaganda from cable news being pumped everywhere, you can see how the most idiotic of notions gets a foothold in our national discourse- particularly if there’s money to be made. Now, I could devote a full, thoughtful piece to each of the following, but really, I think I’ll cut to the chase.

If you’re attempting to teach “creationism”, deny climate change, or think that homosexuals “choose” who they’re attracted to (but some how you didn’t pick yours, imagine that), oh, shut up. There’s a nifty fact about science- it has a self-correcting aspect build in it. It’s called testing. If one scientist decides to make the claim that huffing Marlboro’s doesn’t cause cancer, then a score of other scientists will test it, find that in fact, smoking kills you, and move on. No matter how great your faith is (which must again be noted, is defined as “believe in things not seen”), no matter how many episodes of PTL club you preach it on, science will always “win”. The Dali Lama once said “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.” Buddhism gets it, wonder when the rest of the world will accept it? Until then, please shut up.

One of the greatest things about how our country was setup is the notion of “one man, one vote”. A great amount of bloodshed and struggle led to it, and it’s a cornerstone of our democracy. Everyone gets to do it, even blacks. Or women. Or poor people. So Matthew Vadum, Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals,” , please shut up. Go find a island and you can be a king and let anyone vote or not, but here in America, your idea is repugnant. Then again, look at what network let him say it.

The only people who want you to be concerned- and give up your rights and tax dollars for “national security” about Muslims and “Sharia” are people who stand to profit from your misconceptions. If we haven’t made this a Christian nation in 222 years or so, despite the majority of people who proclaim themselves as such, how would you think that Muslims, who only account for 2% of our population, would do it? So Frank Gaffney, Alan West and all the other “Sharia scaremongers”, please shut up. Your continued employment may well rest on feeding disinformation to the fearful rabble, but it doesn’t make it accurate- or any less vile.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. You could fill a dozen columns like this, but frankly, who’s has the time- or the stomach? There are far more pressing things in the world that we could be doing instead of this- go find them. Turn off the internet, read a book. Take a walk. Volunteer. But if you want to fill the world with disinformation, bigotry and hatred, please shut up. We’ve certainly had enough.

The end of our empire

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

That the United States will no longer function as an empire is plainly evident to anyone who cares to look. Our government is, to put it nicely, “dysfunctional” – the actual word is criminal. It exists solely, at this late hour, to funnel money to the wealthiest 1%. There is no free market – not that we had any at any time in our history anyway. The rich make the rules, and they always get theirs first. The only sops given to “the people” is just enough to keep them off the streets. The powerful care not a whit about whatever your pet issue is- and if they seem to care, just follow the money. Drug legalization? It only exists to create a criminal class and those that get rich off it. And don’t forget the medical community, who of course don’t want marijuana legit- a weed that grows in a ditch, has never resulted in one death? Who would need big pharma, and their willing pill-pushers in the AMA?

Or, perhaps this:

“Almost $43 million from seven charitable groups went toward financing anti-Muslim campaigns, the report said, including proposed state laws to ban judges from considering Islamic laws in U.S. courts, opposition to the Islamic center near Ground Zero, and a general encouragement of anti-Muslim rhetoric in politics and elsewhere.

Dig down deep enough, and you’ll find, I bet, money to made. As long as our population has someone to blame, they will keep the war machine going, cable news will have good ratings, and moron politicians will get elected spouting gibberish like “Sharia law”, no matter how insane it appears to normal people. And while we bicker about it, the relentless, always hungry for more, damn the little people orgy of greed continues. Unstopping, unregulated, oblivious to everything but itself greed. People on every “side” can prattle on about “entitlements” and austerity in some Randian circle jerk, or on the other, wanting a Prius and a solar panel installed by the government. But as long as our country things of itself as the world’s policeman, nothing will ever change.

And because the United States has the world’s largest economy, its share of world military spending is outsized, accounting for 43 percent of all the military spending on Earth — six times as much as China, which has the world’s second largest military budget and accounts for 7.3 percent of world military spending. Russia accounts for just 3.6 percent.

With polls showing declining support for the war in Afghanistan and increasing talk in Congress, even among Republicans, about cutting the military budget, it appears certain that the Defense Department is going to be downsized and our foreign military commitments scaled back in coming years.

This is going to require serious rethinking of what we perceive to be our strategic threats and whether the United States can continue to afford to be the world’s peacekeeper.

Of course it can’t- not to mention it shouldn’t. But every rational person knows this, so there isn’t a lot to debate. At some point the money will run out- what do we do then? Will we go the USSR route, with rebellions and food shortages, or will we just fade in prominence ala the British?

For the U.S., declining economic growth and rising military commitments won’t necessarily signal the decline of Pax America unless others become disproportionately richer and stronger. That is why the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia are such threats to American power. And while it is difficult to imagine the U.S. accepting a diminishing status gracefully, it will have to find a destiny in that seam where finance and commerce meet politics and strategy. Post-imperial Britain shows a possible path.

As for me, I cannot wait. All empires fail, and Fox News notwithstanding, ours is not “the greatest glory God ever placed on the earth”. We will fail, one only wonders if it will be graceful or brutal. In any event, it’s past the point of if, but when. So, what do you do? Well, for starters, assume that its already happened, and that we’re five or fifteen years down the road. Do you live off the grid? Do you make most if not all your money in an underground economy or with barter? Do you grow food? There are a thousand things that can be done- investigate. But in a “post-American” world, things will be changed, some rapidly, some incremental. This will require you to adapt and evolve- or face a world unfamiliar.

One man spoke to this. He was Gandhi, and he spoke multitudes when he said:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Until you understand this – really understand this, deep in your soul, until it is second nature, like breathing, you will be forever out of step. You don’t want war? Then be a beacon of peace, not hostility. You want freedom for all? Then approach everyone as free. Quite simple. Except for actually doing it. It might take you a lifetime to achieve.

If you’re lucky.