Monday, December 19, 2005

Reconstruction 5.4: Femscape

Our newest issue. A great issue by Ximena Gallardo C. and Kim Wells!

I'm the review editor of Reconstruction, so if anyone is interested in reviewing for us, feel free to leave a comment on this site or email me with "reviewing for Reconstruction" as the subject.


Reconstruction 5.4 (Fall 2005):
Guest Editors: Ximena Gallardo C. and Kim Wells

Ximena Gallardo C., "Beyond Cyborgs?"

C. Jason Smith and Ximena Gallardo C., "Oy Science Fiction: On Genre, Criticism, and Alien Love: An Interview with Marleen S. Barr."

Diana Dominguez, "'It's Not Easy Being a Cast Iron Bitch': Sexual Difference and the Female Action Hero"

Susan A. George, "Pushing Containment: The Tale of the 1950s Science Fiction Vamp"

Andrew Gordon, "Contact: Little Orphan Ellie"

Lorna Jowett, "To the Max: Embodying Intersections in Dark Angel"

Helen Merrick, "Alien(ating) Naturecultures: Feminist SF as Creative Science Studies"

Susan J. Wolfe, "The Trouble with Trills, Gender and Consciousness in Star Trek"

Review Essays
C. Jason Smith on Brian Attebery’s Decoding Gender in Science Fiction

Joe Bisz on Justine Larbalestier’s The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction

Carlos Hernandez on Lillian Robinson’s Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes

Melissa Purdue on Mary E. Bradley Lane’s Mizora: A Prophecy

Luke Vassiliou on Ximena Gallardo C. and C. Jason Smith’s Alien Woman: The Making of Lt. Ellen Ripley

Michael Benton on Octavia Butler’s Fledgling

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bush Authorized Spying on American Citizens Without the Use of Warrants

(Courtesy of Wealth Bondage)

Bush Backed Spying on Americans

Bush stands firm over spying row

Philip K. Dick: "If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words."

The link was added by me--it just seemed appropriate.
(Courtesy of The Deoxyribonucleic Hyperdimension)

How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later
by Philip K. Dick, 1978

Well, I will tell you what interests me, what I consider important. I can't claim to be an authority on anything, but I can honestly say that certain matters absolutely fascinate me, and that I write about them all the time. The two basic topics which fascinate me are "What is reality?" and "What constitutes the authentic human being?" Over the twenty-seven years in which I have published novels and stories I have investigated these two interrelated topics over and over again. I consider them important topics. What are we? What is it which surrounds us, that we call the not-me, or the empirical or phenomenal world?


In 1951, when I sold my first story, I had no idea that such fundamental issues could be pursued in the science fiction field. I began to pursue them unconsciously. My first story had to do with a dog who imagined that the garbagemen who came every Friday morning were stealing valuable food which the family had carefully stored away in a safe metal container. Every day, members of the family carried out paper sacks of nice ripe food, stuffed them into the metal container, shut the lid tightly—and when the container was full, these dreadful-looking creatures came and stole everything but the can.

Finally, in the story, the dog begins to imagine that someday the garbagemen will eat the people in the house, as well as stealing their food. Of course, the dog is wrong about this. We all know that garbagemen do not eat people. But the dog's extrapolation was in a sense logical—given the facts at his disposal. The story was about a real dog, and I used to watch him and try to get inside his head and imagine how he saw the world. Certainly, I decided, that dog sees the world quite differently than I do, or any humans do. And then I began to think, Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world, a world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. And that led me wonder, If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn't we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe, it's as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can't explain his to us, and we can't explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too diffrently, there occurs a breakdown of communication... and there is the real illness.


It was always my hope, in writing novels and stories which asked the question "What is reality?", to someday get an answer. This was the hope of most of my readers, too. Years passed. I wrote over thirty novels and over a hundred stories, and still I could not figure out what was real. One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." That's all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven't been able to define reality any more lucidly.

But the problem is a real one, not a mere intellectual game. Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups—and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener. Sometimes when I watch my eleven-year-old daughter watch TV, I wonder what she is being taught. The problem of miscuing; consider that. A TV program produced for adults is viewed by a small child. Half of what is said and done in the TV drama is probably misunderstood by the child. Maybe it's all misunderstood. And the thing is, Just how authentic is the information anyhow, even if the child correctly understood it? What is the relationship between the average TV situation comedy to reality? What about the cop shows? Cars are continually swerving out of control, crashing, and catching fire. The police are always good and they always win. Do not ignore that point: The police always win. What a lesson that is. You should not fight authority, and even if you do, you will lose. The message here is, Be passive. And—cooperate. If Officer Baretta asks you for information, give it to him, because Officer Beratta is a good man and to be trusted. He loves you, and you should love him.

So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. Or at least that is what my editors hope. However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.


The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words. George Orwell made this clear in his novel 1984. But another way to control the minds of people is to control their perceptions. If you can get them to see the world as you do, they will think as you do. Comprehension follows perception. How do you get them to see the reality you see? After all, it is only one reality out of many. Images are a basic constituent: pictures. This is why the power of TV to influence young minds is so staggeringly vast. Words and pictures are synchronized. The possibility of total control of the viewer exists, especially the young viewer. TV viewing is a kind of sleep-learning. An EEG of a person watching TV shows that after about half an hour the brain decides that nothing is happening, and it goes into a hypnoidal twilight state, emitting alpha waves. This is because there is such little eye motion. In addition, much of the information is graphic and therefore passes into the right hemisphere of the brain, rather than being processed by the left, where the conscious personality is located. Recent experiments indicate that much of what we see on the TV screen is received on a subliminal basis. We only imagine that we consciously see what is there. The bulk of the messages elude our attention; literally, after a few hours of TV watching, we do not know what we have seen. Our memories are spurious, like our memories of dreams; the blank are filled in retrospectively. And falsified. We have participated unknowingly in the creation of a spurious reality, and then we have obligingly fed it to ourselves. We have colluded in our own doom.

And—and I say this as a professional fiction writer—the producers, scriptwriters, and directors who create these video/audio worlds do not know how much of their content is true. In other words, they are victims of their own product, along with us. Speaking for myself, I do not know how much of my writing is true, or which parts (if any) are true. This is a potentially lethal situation. We have fiction mimicking truth, and truth mimicking fiction. We have a dangerous overlap, a dangerous blur. And in all probability it is not deliberate. In fact, that is part of the problem. You cannot legislate an author into correctly labelling his product, like a can of pudding whose ingredients are listed on the label... you cannot compel him to declare what part is true and what isn't if he himself does not know.


If any of you have read my novel Ubik, you know that the mysterious entity or mind or force called Ubik starts out as a series of cheap and vulgar commercials and winds up saying:

I am Ubik. Before the universe was I am. I made the suns. I made the worlds. I created the lives and the places they inhabit; I move them here, I put them there. They go as I say, they do as I tell them. I am the word and my name is never spoken, the name which no one knows. I am called Ubik but that is not my name. I am. I shall always be.

It is obvious from this who and what Ubik is; it specifically says that it is the word, which is to say, the Logos. In the German translation, there is one of the most wonderful lapses of correct understanding that I have ever come across; God help us if the man who translated my novel Ubik into German were to do a translation from the koine Greek into German of the New Testament. He did all right until he got to the sentence "I am the word." That puzzled him. What can the author mean by that? he must have asked himself, obviously never having come across the Logos doctrine. So he did as good a job of translation as possible. In the German edition, the Absolute Entity which made the suns, made the worlds, created the lives and the places they inhabit, says of itself:

I am the brand name.

Had he translated the Gospel according to Saint John, I suppose it would have come out as:

When all things began, the brand name already was. The brand name dwelt with God, and what God was, the brand name was.


Such is the fate of an author who hoped to include theological themes in his writing. "The brand name, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; no single thing was created without him." So it goes with noble ambitions. Let's hope God has a sense of humor.

Or should I say, Let's hope the brand name has a sense of humor.

Link to Read the Entire Speech

Friday, December 16, 2005

Culture Pulp

Portland based film critic/cartoonist Mike Russell's Culture Pulp is a weblog of writings and comics. They are hilarious and very intelligent--a great combination.

Do yourself a favor and check out the archive of Culture Pulp comics

(Courtesy of Green Cine Daily)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas Culture War

(Courtesy of Wealth Bondage)

"It's usually easy to tell where a person stands in the culture wars, but whose side is someone on when his Christmas decor is a blood-spattered Santa Claus holding a severed head?"

Murderous Santa Display Draws Stares


War on "Happy Holidays"

How the ACLU Didn't Steal Christmas

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Weisman/Cooperman: Conservative Christians Say Fighting Cuts in Poverty Programs Is Not a Priority

(Courtesy of Hysterical Blackness)

A Religious Protest Largely From the Left: Conservative Christians Say Fighting Cuts in Poverty Programs Is Not a Priority
By Jonathan Weisman and Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writers

When hundreds of religious activists try to get arrested today to protest cutting programs for the poor, prominent conservatives such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell will not be among them.

That is a great relief to Republican leaders, who have dismissed the burgeoning protests as the work of liberals. But it raises the question: Why in recent years have conservative Christians asserted their influence on efforts to relieve Third World debt, AIDS in Africa, strife in Sudan and international sex trafficking -- but remained on the sidelines while liberal Christians protest domestic spending cuts?

Conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family say it is a matter of priorities, and their priorities are abortion, same-sex marriage and seating judges who will back their position against those practices.

"It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important," said Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, Dobson's influential, Colorado-based Christian organization. "But whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that."

Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian journal Sojourners and an organizer of today's protest, was not buying it. Such conservative religious leaders "have agreed to support cutting food stamps for poor people if Republicans support them on judicial nominees," he said. "They are trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."

At issue is a House-passed budget-cutting measure that would save $50 billion over five years by trimming food stamp rolls, imposing new fees on Medicaid recipients, squeezing student lenders, cutting child-support enforcement funds and paring agriculture programs. House negotiators are trying to reach accord with senators who passed a more modest $35 billion bill that largely spares programs for the poor.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Charlie Kaufman: "Maybe you have the one thought that’ll change everything for me."

“Maybe you have the one thought that’ll change everything for me. The one thing I haven’t considered in my relentless, obsessive, circular thought process. Is there that one thing? Is it possible for one person to impart any transformative notion to another person?”

Charlie Kaufman Script for Being John Malkovich (New York: Faber and Faber, 2000), p, ix.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Ignacio Ramonet: Brazil's Soiled Hero

Brazil’s soiled hero
By Ignacio Ramonet
Le Monde diplomatique

‘NEITHER Brazil nor the Brazilian people deserve this,” said President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, shaken by a four-month-long corruption scandal involving ministers and leaders of his own Workers’ party (PT). The scandal was jubilantly revealed by the media and worsened by public accusations from politicians under fire. It swept through the political scene with the force of a hurricane, and the saga has come to resemble a television soap series (1).

It is alleged that Lula’s close associates, especially José Dirceu, his “civil chief of staff” (which is equivalent to a prime minister), organised a vast system of kickbacks to secure the votes of deputies from parties allied with the PT (2). About €10,000 a month was paid to each bribed politician from a slush fund that had been fed with public money.

It is also alleged that the campaign leading to Lula’s election as president was funded by a sophisticated system of embezzlement that had been set up in 2002.

So far there is no proof of the personal involvement of the head of state. Nor would it seem that the political leaders of the PT implicated in the scandal lined their own pockets. They were the corrupters rather than the corrupted, acting for the greater good of their party as they saw it.

Since January 2003 the PT has governed with the support of various allies. But that support does not give it a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. So it has been forced to seek the neutrality or support of large conservative parties: the Brazilian Social Democratic party, the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement and the Liberal Front party.

In Brazil, parliamentary representatives are traditionally independent of the parties whose badges they wear. They readily change allegiance and are therefore highly susceptible to all forms of corruption. As in many other countries, corruption is a constant factor in politics, whatever party is in power.

This time, however, with the PT in office and Lula as president, the people of Brazil hoped political corruption was a thing of the past.

The PT had made morality its main election platform. It had claimed again and again that “participatory democracy” in the cities and states where the PT held power was the best guarantee against corruption. And it had invented and exported the idea of the participatory budget as a model for the collective control of public finances. After all, wasn’t Lula, a man born in poverty who, by the force of his will and intellect, had made his way against terrific odds, the very example of an honest politician?

The present disappointment is proportionate to the hopes raised by Lula’s election in October 2002, when it seemed a new era had begun, an era of social justice for Brazil’s disinherited masses (3).

Yet to some people the scandal came as no surprise. The left wing of the PT, like the Movement of the Landless and other powerful social movements, had long warned against the aberrations of a government that was reluctant to implement essential social reforms but, egged on by the International Monetary Fund, had happily pursued an economic policy far removed from its promises to the electorate.

The amazing thing is that, in the process, the PT had appealed to corrupt rightwing parliamentarians to push through rightwing legislation.

Naturally, the conservative parties, which have been wallowing in corruption for decades, have now taken the moral high ground. Washington is shedding no tears for Lula. His innovative South-South diplomacy has been a source of irritation, as is Brazil’s pivotal role in a Latin America which is driven by the new Venezuela-Cuba axis and the increasingly left-leaning Argentina, Uruguay and Panama.

Addressing the nation in August, Brazil’s president presented his apologies, claiming to have been “betrayed by unacceptable practices of which I was not aware”.

The next election is due in October 2006. Will Lula have succeeded by then in restoring the bond with Brazil’s people, who made an icon of him but then saw their dreams shattered?

Translated by Barry Smerin

(1) A detailed chronology of the scandal is accessible at Mensalão scandal, which is on the website of the Wikipedia free encyclopaedia.

(2) The Liberal party, Brazilian Communist party, Socialist People’s party, Democratic Labour party, Brazilian Socialist party, Green party and the Brazilian Progressive party.

(3) See “Viva Brazil!”, Le Monde diplomatique, English language edition, January 2003.

Article Link

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Richard Pryor: 1940-2005

Richard Pryor was a groundbreaking comedian that pierced through the shell of 1970s mainstream America... I remember as a little kid my parents receiving a copy of "Is It Something I Said?" for a Christmas present and I wanted to hear it played. My parents, of course, with older generations present, squirmed uncomfortably and made some excuse about the record player... later I played it myself and learned about a new culture. It was revolutionary humor, it was cultural storytelling and it kicked open the door for others to follow him. It is often remarked that what was most remarkable about Pryor was his simultaneous rage and vulnerability... soemthing I could understand.

Green Cine's collection of early tributes

Also check out Jill Nelson's "Pryor Convictions"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Quote For Our Times?

(Posted by "Anonymous" at Bluegrass Film Society)

"Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it's still there."

Philip K. Dick

Will Ferrell: Dubya on Global Warming

(Hosted by One Good Move and courtesy LiP Media)

Will Ferrell, as George W., talks about the dangers of global warming and gets attacked by a pop-up book. Earth to America!

Dubya on Global Warming

Friday, December 09, 2005

Colin Wilson: Excerpt from The Occult (1971)

(Courtesy of Jahsonic)

But there was, equally, a positive side to Crowley. This emerges in Seabrook's account of Elizabeth Fox's experience at Thelema. She was the "film star" who somehow avoided becoming Crowley's mistress. Seabrook says that before she came to Cefalu she was in a depressed condition due to too much night life and bath-tub gin. Crowley dismayed her by telling her that she must begin with a month's solitary meditation in a lean-to shelter on the cliff-top. When she objected, he pointed out that there was a boat leaving the next day. To comply, she had to meditate naked, except for a wooly burnoose that could be utilized on chilly days. The shelter was completely empty; the latrine was a lime pit outside the "tent." "She would have, said Master Therion, the sun, moon, stars, sky, sea, the universe to read and play with." At night, a child would quietly deposit a loaf of bread, bunch of grapes and a pitcher of water beside her.

She decided to give it a try. The first days confirmed her fears. Sun, moon and sea are all very well, but if you feel bored, they are boring. For the first days she felt nervous and resentful. By the nineteenth day, her chief sensation was boredom. And then, quite suddenly, she began to feel "perfect calm, deep joy, renewal of strength and courage."

There is nothing strange in all this, although few people know it. The mind must be made to stop running like a wristwatch. It must be persuaded to relax and sit still. Its hidden fountain of strength must be persuaded to flow. This is the secret of the Hindu ascetics who sit still for years. It is not penance, but a continuous trickle of deep delight. What is more, this is an automatic process. Our subconscious robot will adjust to any conditions if it is given long enough. It adjusts to stillness, so that the stillness ceases to cause boredom. For you have boredom when nothing is happening inside you. And nothing is happening inside you when the outside world keeps the mind distracted. If the outside world is distracted for long enough, the inner power-house begins to work.

(This brief excerpt is from Colin Wilson's excellent volume The Occult 1971. New York: Vintage Books. pp 374-375)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dennis Lim: Dante's Inferno

Dante's Inferno: A horror movie brings out the zombie vote to protest Bush's war
by Dennis Lim
Village Voice

"This is a horror story because most of the characters are Republicans," director Joe Dante announced before the November 13 world premiere of his latest movie, Homecoming, at the Turin Film Festival. Republicans, as it happens, will be the ones who find Homecoming's agitprop premise scariest: In an election year, dead veterans of the current conflict crawl out of their graves and stagger single-mindedly to voting booths so they can eject the president who sent them to fight a war sold on "horseshit and elbow grease."

The dizzying high point of Showtime's new Masters of Horror series, the hour-long Homecoming (which premieres December 2) is easily one of the most important political films of the Bush II era. With its only slightly caricatured right-wingers, the film nails the casual fraudulence and contortionist rhetoric that are the signatures of the Bush-Cheney administration. Its dutiful hero, presidential consultant David Murch (Jon Tenney), reports to a Karl Rove–like guru named Kurt Rand (Robert Picardo) and engages in kinky power fucks with attack-bitch pundit Jane Cleaver (Thea Gill), a blonde, leggy Ann Coulter proxy with a "No Sex for All" tank top and "BSH BABE" license plates. Murch's glib, duplicitous condescension is apparently what triggers the zombie uprising: Confronting an angry mother of a dead soldier on a news talk show, he tells this Cindy Sheehan figure, "If I had one wish . . . I would wish for your son to come back," so he could assure the country of the importance of the war. The boy does return, along with legions of fallen combatants, and they all beg to differ.

How fitting that the most pungent artistic response to a regime famed for its crass fear-mongering would be a cheap horror movie. Jaw-dropping in its sheer directness, Homecoming is a righteous blast of liberal-left fury (it was greeted with a five-minute ovation in Turin, the most vocal appreciation seeming to come from the American filmmakers and writers in attendance).

At once galvanic and cathartic, Dante's film uncorks the rage that despondent progressives promptly suppressed after last year's election and that has only recently been allowed to color mainstream coverage of presidential untruths and debacles. For all its broad, bludgeoning satire, Homecoming is deadly accurate in skewering the callousness and hypocrisy of the Bush White House and the spin industry in its orbit.

Zombie flicks, with their built-in return-of-the-repressed theme, have always served as allegories of their sociopolitical moments (as demonstrated mere months ago by George A. Romero's prescient pre-Katrina class-war nightmare, Land of the Dead). Dante, the Roger Corman protégé who went on to direct Innerspace and both Gremlins movies, has been known to embed wayward subversions in Hollywood genre pieces (he also previously attempted an all-out political satire in the 1997 HBO movie The Second Civil War, just out on DVD). But Homecoming, very much a movie on a mission, casts aside metaphor—it derives its power from its disconcerting literalness. The zombies do not represent—but are—the unseen costs of this futile war. Implicit in the film's unapologetic bluntness is a sickened urgency, an insistence that this is no time for subtlety.

"If you're going to code the message, which is the way horror movies have always done it, that's fine, but it's not going to reach an audience like a movie that's overt, and this is not exactly subtle," says Dante. "Somebody has to start making this kind of movie, this kind of statement. But everybody's afraid—it's uncommercial, people are going to be upset. Good, let them be upset. Why aren't people upset? Every minute, somebody's dying in this war, and for nothing. To establish

Link To Read the Entire Article

Masters of Horror

Also of interest Inspector Lohmann's two-part analysis of the current cultural relevance of zombie imagery:

Part 1: Zombies

Part 2" Zombie Pedagogy

Monday, December 05, 2005

New Film Adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly

I cannot believe it! Someone (actually Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney, et al are producing and Richard Linklater is directing) has finally decided to go through with adapting Philip K. Dick's novel A Scanner Darkly...

I don't know though, I'm not a big fan of this "live action photograph overlay" technique that Linklater favors (see "Waking Life"):


A report from the Philip K. Dick trust:

A Scanner Darkly: Film Adaptation

Can anyone though truly bring to life the true subtext of this powerful pulp novel. Philip K. Dick's exploration of the incestous, symbiotic relationship of chaos/order, law/crime, yin/yang, and so on and the reproduction of this destructive/creative duality within us all... even more disturbing for some may be the conclusion that we all have that dark side and feed it one way or another. Mind your addictions folks...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Which Action Hero Would You Be?

Must be bored... but at least I can live with the answer!

Roguish,quick-witted, and incredibly lucky, Jack Sparrow is a pirate who sometimes ends up being a hero, against his better judgement. Captain Jack looks out for #1, but he can be counted on (usually) to do the right thing. He has an incredibly persuasive tongue, a mind that borders on genius or insanity, and an incredible talent for getting into trouble and getting out of it. Maybe its brains, maybe its genius, or maybe its just plain luck. Or maybe a mixture of all three.

Captain Jack Sparrow


Neo, the "One"


Batman, the Dark Knight


Lara Croft


The Amazing Spider-Man


Indiana Jones




El Zorro


James Bond, Agent 007


The Terminator


William Wallace


Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Bat Segundo Show: Octavia Butler and T.C. Boyle

The Bat Segundo Show has extended audio interviews with two of my favorite authors:

Show 15#--Octavia Butler:

Anne Rice, the advantages of writing vampire novels, research, the ambiguities of "persistently repulsive" material, Fledgling as ripping vampire yarn and multilayered quest story, setting vampire rules, naming character names, the influence of the state of Washington upon atmosphere, Butler's editorial relationship with Seven Stories, Warner vs. Seven Stories, on being categorized as a science fiction author, auctorial labels, Butler's three primary audiences, Dorothy Allison, the influence of criticism, fiction as prophecy, Bush and global warming, education, Margaret Atwood, why Butler dislikes Survivor, the Parable books, why this is the first book in seven years, on writing a "continuous first draft," Butler's working methods, typewriters, technology, Alfred Hitchcock, cell phones, how Butler's computer is set up, T.C. Boyle, on being a baby boomer, being "comfortably asocial," inner introverts, polyamory, sexuality, the science aspect of science fiction, and science fiction vs. fantasy.

Show 10#--T.C. Boyle:

Boyle as one of the original bloggaz, how Boyle arranges his short stories for his collections, John Cheever, how Boyle got into the New Yorker, the current state of the short story market, the future of literature, country music, historical fiction vs. contemporary fiction, the comparisons between "The Doubtfulness of Water" and Water Music, Boyle's working methods and the "continuous first draft," the frequency of watering holes in Boyle's stories, community at T.C. Boyle websites, details on Talk Talk, the influence of history upon fiction, how The Human Fly came to be, political subtext, The Bonehunters' Revenge by David Rains Wallace, observing people and balancing time, the ethics of creating characters based on people, on being prolific, the T.C. Boyle website, the media perception of literature, the New York Times Book Review (Chip McGrath vs. Sam Tanenhaus), the influence of book reviews on writing, reevaluating writers generations later, The Inner Circle vs. Bill Condon's Kinsey, Boyle's "continuous first draft" before computers, technology's influence upon culture and writing, the spoken and visual dimensions of fiction, on being a "nutball perfectionist," and the joys of the word "ventricose."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dana Frank: Bananeras

(I'm currently developing a course on "social movements" and would appreciate any suggestions of movements, books, websites, films, music, art, etc... I haven't read the book below, but it is on my short-list...)

"I want to learn how to defend myself from whoever tries to oppress me, whether it's my husband, my union, or my boss."—a bananera

Women banana workers—mujeres bananeras—are waging a powerful revolution by making gender equity central in Latin American labor organizing. Their successes disrupt the popular image of the Latin American woman worker as a passive bystander and broadly re-imagine the possibilities of international labor solidarity.

Over the past twenty years, bananeras have organized themselves and gained increasing control over their unions, their workplaces, and their lives. Highly accessible and narrative in style, Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America recounts the history and growth of this vital movement.

Starting in 1985 with one union in La Lima, Honduras, and expanding domestically through the late 1990s, experienced activists successfully reached out to younger women with a message of empowerment. In a compelling example of transnational feminism at work, the bananeras crossed borders to ally with banana workers in five other banana exporting countries in Latin America, arguing all the while that empowering women at every level of their organizations makes for stronger unions, the better to confront the ever-encroaching multinational corporations.

When the bananeras of Latin America, with their male allies, explicitly integrate gender equity into their organizing work as essential to effective labor internationalism-when they refuse to separate the global struggle against transnational corporations from the formidable efforts at home to achieve equity and respect-they inspire all of us to envision a new framework for internationalism that places women's human rights at the center of global class politics.

Banana workers are waging a quiet revolution in Latin American labor organizing by making women's issues central. Their successes disrupt the popular image of the Latin American woman worker as a passive bystander and offer a new model for international labor solidarity.

Excerpt from the Introduction

"I hope Dana Frank's highly readable and moving book will find its way into the hands of those who know nothing about how, by whom, and under what conditions bananas are grown, as well as by those who do know something and seek to know more from the workers themselves.… Bananeras is a vital accounting of the struggles still being waged."
—Margaret Randall, author of When I Look Into the Mirror and See You: Women, Terror, and Resistance

"This is a wonderful book—entertaining, enlightening, and inspiring. A unique blend of personal stories grounded in a solid analysis of the globalization of the banana economy, the rise of a regional banana workers movement, and the intense internal struggle for gender justice within Latin America's historically male-dominated unions. I couldn't put it down, really!"
—Stephen Coats, Executive Director, US/Labor Education in the Americas Project

Dana Frank is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism (Beacon, 1999); Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender, and the Seattle Labor Movement, 1919–1929 (Cambridge, 1994); and, with Howard Zinn and Robin D.G. Kelley, Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls and the Fighting Spirit of Labor's Last Century (Beacon, 2001). Her work has also appeared in The Nation, the Washington Post, In These Times, New Labor Forum, and numerous scholarly journals. Long active in labor solidarity work, since 2000 she has worked with the US Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP) in support of the banana unions in Latin America.

Tom Regan on Afghanistan

Afghanistan: signs of progress, but violence surges again: Signs of foreign support, new tactics signal reemergence of Taliban.
By Tom Regan
Christian Science Monitor

A spate of recent violent and sophisticated attacks have officials in Afghanistan worried that Taliban fighters are receiving assistance or direction from foreign sources. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the attacks increasingly mimic those of insurgents in Iraq, including the use of suicide bombers.

The recent attacks – including at least nine suicide bombings – have shown unusual levels of coordination, technological knowledge and blood lust, according to officials. Although military forces and facilities have been the most common targets, religious leaders, judges, police officers and foreign reconstruction workers have also fallen prey to the violence.

After last September's elections, when violence was relatively minor, Afghan and US officials had hoped that the insurgency was losing strength. But the Post reports that it now seems that the Taliban were using the two months following the elections to "marshal foreign support and plot new ways to undermine the Western-backed government."

This view was echoed by Robert Strang, terrorism analyst and the CEO of Investigation Management Group, on FoxNews Monday. Mr. Strang said that one of the keys to improving the situation in the country was better control of the production of poppies, which are used to make heroin. Heroin remains the largest cash crop in Afghanistan.

The Guardian reported earlier this month that the US is planning to pull out 4,000 troops early next year, and hand over security for much of the country to NATO troops, led by the British. But Simon Tisdall wrote Sunday in The Observer that as in Iraq, the lack of security undermines the country's hopes for economic progress and political stability. The violence also has some NATO countries concerned for the safety of their troops.

With Mullah Omar, the fugitive Taliban leader, threatening intensifying jihad against "all infidel forces," worries are growing in Britain and allied countries about the situation their troops will face next spring, especially in the south, as the US begins to pull back. The basic question, as yet unanswered, is what are peacekeepers supposed to do when there is no peace to keep?
Tisdall writes that part of the problem may be President Bush's "wish to declare Afghanistan a democratic success story even if the facts on the ground tell a different story."

Link to Read the Entire Hyperlinked Report

Weltatem: Bush's Bunker Mentality; NPR: Abramoff, Scanlon and the Influence of Money

Highly recommended:

Weltatem provided an insightful response to her viewing of the film Downfall through current political events in the US:

Bush's Bunker Mentality

I listened to this NPR story on the way home from work and was simply amazed at the extent of the corruption in the US government. You know that it is there, but you just don't know how rotten it is... now we are finding out:

Abramoff, Scanlon and the Influence of Money

Calvin and Hobbes: The Lessons of "No Child Left Behind" Politics

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


(Courtesy of Bryan Campbell)


It started out innocently enough.

I began to think at parties now and then -- to loosen up.

Inevitably, though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.

I began to think alone -- "to relax," I told myself -- but I knew it wasn't true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time. That was when things began to sour at home.

One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of
life. She spent that night at her mother's.

I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't stop myself. I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka. I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here? " One day the boss called me in. He said, "Listen, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job." This gave me a lot to think about.

I came home early after my conversation with the boss.

"Honey," I confessed, "I've been thinking..."

"I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"

"But Honey, surely it's not that serious."

"It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as college
professors, and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on
thinking, we won't have any money!"

"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently.

She exploded in tears of rage and frustration, but I was in no mood to deal with the emotional drama.

"I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door.

I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche.

I roared into the parking lot with NPR on the radio and ran up to the big glass doors...They didn't open. The library was closed.

To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night.

Leaning on the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye. "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinker's Anonymous poster.

Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker.

I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's."

Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting. I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home.

Life just seemed...easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.

I think the road to recovery is nearly complete for me.

Today, I registered to vote as a Republican.

Immanuel Wallerstein: Mr Bush's Nightmare

(A recap of last months events...)

Commentary No. 172, Nov. 1, 2005

"Mr. Bush's Nightmare"

Everything went wrong for George W. Bush in October, 2005. Some called it "the perfect storm." It seemed to take Bush by surprise and left him like someone buried in the mudslide, still alive but struggling hard to extricate himself. It looks unlikely that he will be able to do so. Let us review all the fronts on which Bush suffered political setback.

First, Iraq. The U.S. casualty rate passed 2000, and this was noticed even in middle America among those who initially supported the war. Many now feel it was a mistake. Bush's approval rate fell to under 40%, extremely low even for a president in his second term (when ratings often fall). The elections to ratify the Iraqi constitution didn't really help. True it passed, but over very heavy Sunni opposition. No one believes that this constitution can be the basis of a long-term stable, legitimate government, or that this government would really survive a U.S. pullout.

Then, there are the indictments. Note the plural. The Republican Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, is facing charges of money-laundering for electoral gain, and has had to step down. His close political ally, the lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, has been indicted for fraud. And above all, the very powerful I. Lewis Libby, Chief of Staff to the Vice-President and Assistant to the President, has been indicted on five charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements. This indictment is of course closely related to the Iraq War, since the issue was Libby's attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson by "outing" his CIA secret agent wife. Wilson had been sent on an official mission to Niger and later publicly related the non-existence of proof that Saddam Hussein has been buying uranium there. To be sure, Karl
Rove has not yet been indicted for his involvement in the same project to discredit Wilson, but the Special Prosecutor made it quite clear that this remains a real possibility. Looming on the horizon is an enquiry into the financial misdeclarations of Senator Bill Frist, the Republican Majority Leader, concerning stock sales. And we should remember that indictments lead to trials some time later, in time to remind everyone of misdeeds after the initial publicity has died down.

Next came the Supreme Court appointment fiasco. Seeking to avoid a knockdown battle in the Senate over the Supreme Court nomination, Bush chose his lawyer, Harriet Miers. He was immediately pounced on by his most conservative supporters, who doubted her conservative credentials. Bush said trust me, and they said we don't trust you, because the only thing that concerns us is undoing the right to abortion, far more important to us than supporting George W. Bush, and we're not sure about Miers. They forced her withdrawal, a humiliation for Bush. He has now had to nominate a person they want, Samuel Alito, and he will thus get the Senate battle he wanted to avoid. Whether Alito is confirmed or not, the political bottom line was stated by former Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, a quite conservative Democrat, who noted the consequence for Republicans in Congress: "It means the fear factor is gone."

And then, to top it off, the President of Iran chose this moment to thumb his nose at the United States by publicly calling for the destruction of Israel as a state. To be sure, this has been Iranian official policy for almost three decades, but restating it now so flagrantly was simply saying to Bush, "I dare you to do something about it." Meanwhile, in Israel, the very temporary truce between the Palestinians and the Israeli government seems to have collapsed.

Can Bush do something to recuperate? Well, obviously, he is trying in the Alito appointment. But even if Alito is confirmed, the credit will not go to Bush. Can Bush invade Iran? Most obviously not. And getting a U.N. Security Council resolution to sanction Syria, if he can, is small potatoes. If one goes through the list of what went wrong in October, every item will continue to plague Bush: mounting casualties in Iraq, political instability in the Iraqi government, judicial trials that in every case implicate his government, a fierce social battle over the Supreme Court, and Iranian (and North Korean) open defiance.

Even political friends are getting off the sinking ship. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one of Bush's few fervent allies in Europe, but himself in trouble in his coming elections, chose this moment to announce very publicly that he had fruitlessly tried to persuade Bush not to invade Iraq. And Senator Trent Lott, former Republican Majority Leader, opined that Bush needs "fresh faces" among his immediate aides and the cabinet.

Within the Republican Party, the reaction of persons up for election has been to take their distance from Bush. Once upon a time, not too long ago, everyone wanted Bush to campaign for them. Now candidates are careful not to invite him to do this. Bush's ability to be the leader, nationally or internationally, is critically damaged, perhaps irreparably.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

Bill Gifford: The Bicycle Diaries

(I would really like to ride a bicycle to work despite the difficulties, but I live in an automotive city in which it is really dangerous just to walk along the roadways between my home and the college. Maybe I am lazy, or just making excuses... I do enjoy walking there and back--about a 8-10 mile loop, depending on routes I take, but like most Americans I just find myself too busy most of the time--even though I'm not really that busy.)

The Bicycle Diaries: Is it possible to live in America without a car? Uh, sort of.
By Bill Gifford

"I can't believe how windy it is today," said the woman in line at the pet store.

"I know," said the cashier. Then, rolling her eyes and nodding meaningfully in my direction, she added, "and some people are riding their bikes."

"Mmmm," said her customer, gathering up her kitty litter and heading for her minivan, studiously avoiding even a glance in my direction, which was difficult because I was holding the door open for her.

After two weeks of riding my bicycle everywhere, I'd gotten used to people treating me as if I were somehow not right in the head. Store clerks ignored me, old men gave me the hard stare, soccer moms avoided eye contact. After all, almost nobody in America rides a bike if they can afford a car.

But after Katrina jacked gas prices toward $4 a gallon, my Volvo station wagon was starting to seem a lot less affordable. It wasn't just the $50 fill-ups, either, but the $400-plus repair bill that resulted from the Volvo's annual state inspection, on top of a $200 insurance payment, and the costly new drive shaft that she still needs, the insatiable beast. In mid-October, under the influence of warm fall weather and a recent visit to Amsterdam, I decided to opt out of humanity's little deal with the Devil, known as the automobile.

Long story short: At least I tried.

It seemed easy enough. I'm what the newspapers call an "avid" cyclist—rhymes with "rabid." I own four bikes, which I rarely use for actual transportation. Like most of the 90 million Americans who swung a leg over a bicycle last year, including our president, I rode for fitness and recreation only.

Then, last month, I went to Amsterdam for a friend's birthday party. I was amazed: Everyone rode bikes, everywhere. I saw 80-year-olds pedaling along beside young mothers with two and even three small children perched on various parts of their bikes, and dads trundling off to work in business suits and nice Italian shoes. The Dutch, I later learned, conduct 30 percent of all their trips—to work, for errands, socially—by bike. In America, that figure is less than 1 percent. We drive 84 percent of the time, even though most of our trips are less than 2 miles long. More than three-quarters of us commute alone by car, compared with just half a million (way less than 1 percent) who do so by bike, according to the 2000 Census. As a "committed" cyclist—another loaded adjective—I'd always tut-tutted these kinds of statistics.

In late October, I took a vow of automotive abstinence. I'd go everywhere by bike: daily errands, social events, even the "office" (a Wi-Fi cafe where I often work—4 miles away, over a decent-sized hill). I don't commute to an actual job, but I would go somewhere every day, rain or shine. I allowed a few exceptions, like emergency vet visits and picking up friends from the train station. Otherwise, I'd be helping to cut down on greenhouse-gas pollution and traffic congestion, while keeping myself in shape. I was well ahead of the curve: According to one survey, gas would have to hit $5 per gallon before a majority of Americans would consider walking or riding bikes as alternative transportation.

I'm not like most Americans: I have no kids to chauffeur to soccer practice, no elderly parents to care for, and I commute in slippers. I would still need to eat, however, and I would continue to go to restaurants and movies and parties and shopping. Although I live in a semirural area, suburbia is closing in on all sides, with more housing developments every year. As in much of suburbia, there are almost no services within easy walking distance: It's 2 miles to the convenience store where I buy the New York Times, 6 miles to the grocery and pet stores, 4 miles to my favorite bar. The former country roads around here are becoming busier all the time. Luckily, a defunct local railway line had recently been converted to a 17-mile recreation trail that passes fairly close to the stores I most often visit, as well as a couple of pretty good bars and restaurants. I'd be riding a lot of miles, but as it turned out, the mileage wouldn't be the problem.

To Read the Entire Essay

Paul Bigioni: Fascism Then, Fascism Now

(Courtesy of Bill at Thoughts on the Eve of the Apocalypse)

Fascism Then. Fascism Now? When people think of fascism, they imagine Rows of goose-stepping storm troopers and puffy-chested dictators. What they don't see is the economic and political process that leads to the nightmare.
by Paul Bigioni
Toronto Star; Common Dreams

Observing political and economic discourse in North America since the 1970s leads to an inescapable conclusion: The vast bulk of legislative activity favors the interests of large commercial enterprises. Big business is very well off, and successive Canadian and U.S. governments, of whatever political stripe, have made this their primary objective for at least the past 25 years.

Digging deeper into 20th century history, one finds the exaltation of big business at the expense of the citizen was a central characteristic of government policy in Germany and Italy in the years before those countries were chewed to bits and spat out by fascism. Fascist dictatorships were borne to power in each of these countries by big business, and they served the interests of big business with remarkable ferocity.

These facts have been lost to the popular consciousness in North America. Fascism could therefore return to us, and we will not even recognize it. Indeed, Huey Long, one of America's most brilliant and most corrupt politicians, was once asked if America would ever see fascism. "Yes," he replied, "but we will call it anti-fascism."

By exploring the disturbing parallels between our own time and the era of overt fascism, we can avoid the same hideous mistakes. At present, we live in a constitutional democracy. The tools necessary to protect us from fascism remain in the hands of the citizen. All the same, North America is on a fascist trajectory. We must recognize this threat for what it is, and we must change course.

Consider the words of Thurman Arnold, head of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in 1939:

"Germany, of course, has developed within 15 years from an industrial autocracy into a dictatorship. Most people are under the impression that the power of Hitler was the result of his demagogic blandishments and appeals to the mob... Actually, Hitler holds his power through the final and inevitable development of the uncontrolled tendency to combine in restraint of trade."
Arnold made his point even more clearly in a 1939 address to the American Bar Association:

"Germany presents the logical end of the process of cartelization. From 1923 to 1935, cartelization grew in Germany until finally that nation was so organized that everyone had to belong either to a squad, a regiment or a brigade in order to survive. The names given to these squads, regiments or brigades were cartels, trade associations, unions and trusts. Such a distribution system could not adjust its prices. It needed a general with quasi-military authority who could order the workers to work and the mills to produce. Hitler named himself that general. Had it not been Hitler it would have been someone else."
I suspect that to most readers, Arnold's words are bewildering. People today are quite certain that they know what fascism is. When I ask people to define it, they typically tell me what it was, the assumption being that it no longer exists. Most people associate fascism with concentration camps and rows of storm troopers, yet they know nothing of the political and economic processes that led to these horrible end results.

Before the rise of fascism, Germany and Italy were, on paper, liberal democracies. Fascism did not swoop down on these nations as if from another planet. To the contrary, fascist dictatorship was the result of political and economic changes these nations underwent while they were still democratic. In both these countries, economic power became so utterly concentrated that the bulk of all economic activity fell under the control of a handful of men. Economic power, when sufficiently vast, becomes by its very nature political power. The political power of big business supported fascism in Italy and Germany.

Business tightened its grip on the state in both Italy and Germany by means of intricate webs of cartels and business associations. These associations exercised a high degree of control over the businesses of their members. They frequently controlled pricing, supply and the licensing of patented technology. These associations were private but were entirely legal. Neither Germany nor Italy had effective antitrust laws, and the proliferation of business associations was generally encouraged by government.

This was an era eerily like our own, insofar as economists and businessmen constantly clamored for self-regulation in business. By the mid 1920s, however, self-regulation had become self-imposed regimentation. By means of monopoly and cartel, the businessmen had wrought for themselves a "command and control" economy that replaced the free market. The business associations of Italy and Germany at this time are perhaps history's most perfect illustration of Adam Smith's famous dictum: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

How could the German government not be influenced by Fritz Thyssen, the man who controlled most of Germany's coal production? How could it ignore the demands of the great I.G. Farben industrial trust, controlling as it did most of that nation's chemical production? Indeed, the German nation was bent to the will of these powerful industrial interests. Hitler attended to the reduction of taxes applicable to large businesses while simultaneously increasing the same taxes as they related to small business. Previous decrees establishing price ceilings were repealed such that the cost of living for the average family was increased. Hitler's economic policies hastened the destruction of Germany's middle class by decimating small business.

Ironically, Hitler pandered to the middle class, and they provided some of his most enthusiastically violent supporters. The fact that he did this while simultaneously destroying them was a terrible achievement of Nazi propaganda.

Hitler also destroyed organized labor by making strikes illegal. Notwithstanding the socialist terms in which he appealed to the masses, Hitler's labor policy was the dream come true of the industrial cartels that supported him. Nazi law gave total control over wages and working conditions to the employer.

Compulsory (slave) labor was the crowning achievement of Nazi labor relations. Along with millions of people, organized labor died in the concentration camps. The camps were not only the most depraved of all human achievements, they were a part and parcel of Nazi economic policy. Hitler's Untermenschen, largely Jews, Poles and Russians, supplied slave labor to German industry. Surely this was a capitalist bonanza. In another bitter irony, the gates over many of the camps bore a sign that read Arbeit Macht Frei — "Work shall set you free." I do not know if this was black humour or propaganda, but it is emblematic of the deception that lies at the heart of fascism.

The same economic reality existed

Link to Read the Rest of the Essay

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Stephen Stills: Treetop Flyer

I heard this song on the way to work today--I liked it a lot (probably because it reminded me of the style of another poet-singer-songwriter I know, Wes Houp)

Artist: Stephen Stills
Song: Treetop flyer
Album: Stills Alone
[" Stills Alone " CD]

I could be a rambler from the seven dials
I don't pay taxes 'cause I never file
I don't do business that don't make me smile
I love my aeroplane 'cause she's got style
I'm a treetop flyer
Born survivor
I will fly any cargo you can pay to run
these bush league pilots just can't get the job done
Got to fly down into the canyons, never see the sun
There's no such thing as an easy run
For a treetop flier
Born survivor
I'm flyin' low, I'm in high demand
Fly fifteen feet off the Rio Grande
Blow the mesquite right up off the sand
Seldom seen, especially when I land
I'm a treetop flier
Born Survivor
People ask me, "Where'd you learn to fly that way?"
Over in Vietnam, chasin' NVA
The government taught me, and they taught me right,
Stay under the treeline, and you might come out alright
I'm a treetop flier
Born survivor
Comin' home, I'm runnin' low and fast
promised my woman this one's gonna be my last
Get the ship down, and I tie her fast
then some old boy walks up, says "Son, you wanna make some fast cash?"
I'm a treetop flyer
There's things I am and there's things I'm not
I am a smuggler and I could get shot
But I gonna die, I ain't goin' to get caught,
'Cause I'm a flyin' fool and my aeroplane is just too hot
I'm a treetop flier
Born survivor

Michael Benton: Thanksgiving

(I've asked Thivai to step aside for a second so that I can compose my Thanksgiving--because I don't think I will be allowed to say this at the Thanksgiving table when everyone says what they are thankful for...

In my mind, friendship is a radical engagement... how do we form meaningful relationships in this world and what are the significance of those bonds?

This is meaningless pastiche at its worst--you have been warned! A sure sign of encroaching mental illness in that I have a naive belief in language, friendship, erotics/politics, possibilities and change.)

I suffer from a Deleuzian stutter, or a Derrida-da-da, in which my language is stifled by the spectacle.

So many friends lost through time, through neglect and through conflict. “We have lost the friend . . . the friend of the perhaps . . . of respectfully experiencing that friendship." So many dead, some institutionalized, and some just disappeared back into the void. “I will continue to begin again … and I’ll have to wander all alone in this long conversation that we were supposed to have together.”

Spectral visitors stay my hand reminding me that the only answers are in questions that produce more questions. Unsure and uneasy, I stumble about asking questions of everything and everyone.

Popular culture haunts my questions and mocks my unrest by co-opting it for entertainment: “I know why you hardly sleep. Why you live alone and why night after night you sit at your computer. … I know because I was once looking for the same thing. … It’s the question that drives us."

My spectral guides condemn those that have escaped into this cultural amnesia of recycled consumer pleasures. Yet, I wonder if we can truly blame these defectors for choosing the tender steak over the complex gruel? When were they offered an opportunity to believe otherwise: “Your soul is like an appendix! I don’t even use it!” My TV encourages me to escape into its warm embrace and forget the outside world:

The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore television is reality, and reality is less than television.

Rejecting the siren's lure, I turn everything off and find a quiet place far away from the competing voices. I am listening for the emergence of a being, an/other who escapes my comprehension, this listening requires a transition to a new dimension of understanding.

I am listening to you: although I do not understand what you are saying, I am attentive to your silence amongst history’s mentions, I am attempting to understand and hear your intention. Which does not mean: I comprehend you, or that I know you … No, I am listening to you as someone that I do not truly know … with you but not as you … I reside in a realm of absolute silence in order to hear what you have to say or what is left unsaid or what reverberates from the unknown. I quest for new words, for new meanings, for new modes of understandings that will bridge this river of silence … for an alliance of possibilities that will not reduce the Other to an item of property or a subject to be mastered. This unspeakable silence is a rift that shatters the boundaries of my life in order to produce a conflagration of nothingness that sears the forest of my consciousness clearing the way for new growths. Perhaps, as the borders of my psyche that restrain my various selves breaks-up, there will be the productive explosion of new life spreading across my interior landscape. Chaos enters my realm and produces … possibilities.

“Perhaps the impossible is the only chance of something new, of some new philosophy of the new … Perhaps friendship, if there is such a thing, must honor ... what appears impossible here." Where are the friends that ask questions of the dominant and seek the impossible? I dream of relationships yet to come, writing as a politics of creative imagination that refuses to be silenced. I await a new politics, new friendships and new possibilities... in the meantime I'm not afraid to say I really don't know the answers, but I am seeking new questions.

For that I am thankful!

Patchwork Cast:

Jacques Derrida’s eulogy for Gilles Deleuze: “I’ll Have to Wander Alone.”
The character Trinity speaking to Neo in the movie The Matrix
Michael Kelso on That 70s Show
Brian O'Blivion in David Cronenberg's film Videodrome
Luce Irigaray The Way of Love and To Be Two
Jacques Derrida's Politics of Friendship

Sprinkled throughout:

Michael's fears, hopes and desires


Guy Debord
Gilles Deleuze
Michel Foucault
Martin Heidegger
Karl Marx
Friedrich Nietzsche

Intellectual Intoxicants still resonating years later (recipe called for the cook to stir and simmer for years until tightly bottled conception explodes all over the place):

Rebecca Saunder's and Ronald Strickland's courses at Illinois State University "Mourning of Modernity" and "Marxist Cultural Theory"

Like all meaningless writings one must periodically turn over the topsoil exposing the rotten concepts, words and beliefs to the sun, leaving the exposed underground to develop into a new potent hummus... when developed into a potent mix spread liberally across the society. Recipes must be changed frequently to resist contamination from the monological discourse that seeks to control pointless thoughts.

U.S. Government Holds U.S. Citizen For Three Years in Solitary Confinement Before Charging Him: What Precedent Does This Set For Our Legal System?

Why did the Bush Administration Hold Jose Padilla for 3 Years as an Enemy Combatant? No Mention of al Qaeda or Plot to Attack U.S. in Indictment
by Amy Goodman and Bill Goodman
Democracy Now

The Justice Department announced Tuesday criminal charges have been filed against Jose Padilla - the U.S. citizen who had been held for over three years in solitary confinement on a military brig in South Carolina. We speak with one of Padilla's attorneys and the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Listen/Read/Watch the Report

Toggle Switch Takes Up the Challenge

Toggle Switch at Nuts and Bolts responded to my earlier post to what makes me happy with her own version: Six Degrees of Happiness. To show my delight I have decided to answer a series of questions she has set up in her profile on the right of her blog (because I found her answers intriguing and creative):

Today, If I were asked inside James Lipton’s Inside The Actor’s Studio:

What is your favorite word? Ineffable

What is your least favorite word? Tie: Never/Always

What turns you on? Intelligence, blended with curiosity and passion (Being honest I cannot deny that strong legs, a beautiful back and striking eyes are a plus ;)

What turns you off? Intolerance and close-mindedness

What sound do you love? The sound of waves crashing on the shore and sliding back into the ocean (a close second/third/fourth rivers/rain/wind)

What sound do you hate? A living creature in pain

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Publisher (close second--filmmaker)

What profession would you not like to participate in? Professional Politician

What is your favorite swear word? Frel (close second--FUBAR) of course these are my favorites, not most frequently used...

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Despite your iconoclasm, heresy and non-belief we have decided to let you in because, in the end, you were just doing the best you could as an imperfect being"

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Global Voices: Best of the Blogs Award; Anguilla; David Sasaki; Caribbean Blog List; Bridge Blogs

Congratulations to the essential Global Voices for their Best of the Blogs award for Best Journalistic Blog in English

Speaking of the reports at Global Voices, I just noticed, while reading posts about Anguilla, that David Sasaki is translating various countries weblogs. Check out his posts, David is the co-author of one of my favorite text/photo weblogs and a talented writer, but I will leave that site unmentioned since he publishes it under a pseudonym.

While sifting through David's Anguilla post I noticed two very interesting sites:

Taran Rampersad's Caribbean Blog List

Bridge Blog Index

Now I have never heard of Bridge Blogs before, so I am off to learn more...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Germany: CIA knew 'Curveball' was not trustworthy

Germany: CIA knew 'Curveball' was not trustworthy
German intelligence alleges Bush administration repeatedly 'exaggerated' informant's claims in run-up to war.
By Tom Regan
Christian Science Monitor

Five top German intelligence officers say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly ignored warnings about the veracity of the information that an Iraqi informant named 'Curveball' was giving about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The Los Angeles Times, in a massive report published Sunday, reports that "the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq." They also say that 'Curveball,' whom the Germans described as "not a psychologically stable guy," never claimed that he had produced germ weapons, nor had he ever seen anyone do it.

According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.

Curveball's German handlers for the last six years said his information was often vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm. "This was not substantial evidence," said a senior German intelligence official. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said."

The Times report also says that the White House ignored evidence presented by the United Nations that showed that Curveball was wrong, and that the CIA "punished in-house critics who provided proof that he had lied and [the CIA] refused to admit error until May 2004, 14 months after the invasion." Much of the information Curveball gave to the CIA later turned out to be stories he had gleaned from research on the Internet.

The Independent reports that proof of Curveball's lack of credibility came when the US sent its own team of inspectors to look for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They discovered the informants's personnel files in Baghdad.

It showed he had been a low-level trainee engineer, not a project chief or site manager, as the CIA had insisted. Moreover he had been dismissed in 1995 – just when he claimed to have begun work on bio-warfare trucks.

The Independent also provides what it calls its list of "intelligence red herrings." There was Curveball himself. There was Ahmed Chalabi, who brought to US attention defectors that "proved to be false, as was his claim that US invaders would be met with bouquets." There was the Niger-Iraq uranium story, which later turned out to have been fabricated by a former Italian spy. And there was Iraq's possession of aluminum tubes, which the administration said were for nuclear weapons, yet turned out to be for small conventional military rockets.

Link to Read the Entire Report

Patrick Martin: Senate Democrats Continue to Support Iraq War and Guantánamo Prison Camp

Senate Democrats back Iraq war, Guantánamo prison camp
By Patrick Martin
World Socialist web Site

Senate Democrats went on record Tuesday to support the war in Iraq and the continued operation of the US concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay. A large majority of the 44 Senate Democrats lined up with the Republican majority and the Bush administration in key amendments to the defense appropriations bill. The Senate session culminated in a bipartisan 98-0 vote to approve the nearly $500 billion budget for the Pentagon.

In the two most critical votes, the Democrats gave their support by a 37 to 6 margin to a Republican amendment tacitly supporting the Bush administration’s policy on the Iraq war; and then voted 30-13 for a Republican amendment explicitly endorsing the use of military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay.

The first vote came on an amendment by Republican John Warner of Virginia which hailed the US military forces in Iraq and called on the Bush administration to provide regular reports on the “current military mission and the diplomatic, political, economic, and military measures, if any, that are being or have been undertaken to successfully complete or support that mission.” The reports were to include figures on Iraqi troop strength and capabilities, and other conditions demonstrating “progress” in the war.

The amendment expressed the wish that the “calendar year 2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq.”

The passage of this measure was portrayed by Democrats and sections of the media as a rebuff to the Bush administration’s conduct of the war. It actually represents the watering-down of an already weak amendment offered by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan containing the same language about a “successful completion” of the US “mission” in Iraq.

Levin’s version appealed to the administration to present a “campaign plan with estimated dates for the phased redeployment of the United States Armed Forces from Iraq.” This version—which did not mandate either a definite date or an actual withdrawal—was defeated by a 58-40 vote, largely along party lines.

The Republican leadership then took the Democratic amendment, dropping only the section referring to estimated dates of withdrawal, and presented it as a directive to the Iraqi stooge regime established by the US military occupation. Senator Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, described the amendment as a “strong bipartisan message to the world” that it was time for Iraqis to take charge of their own country.

“The coalition forces, most particularly the United States and Great Britain, have done their job,” Warner said. “And now we expect in return that they take charge of their nation and run it and form a democracy and prevent any vestige of a civil war from taking place.” Other Republicans expressed the hope that adoption of the amendment would appease growing antiwar sentiment in the US—without altering the actual policy of the US government.

Link to Read the Entire Article

No Torture

Demand a House Vote

"Stop Torture"
by Crucifix

Savage and barbarous, they continue the practice of torture
the police engage in riots, the army gears for war
stop the
mutilation,stop the torture
stop the torture for profit and war
corporations use torture to rob and discard the poor

they deal in assassinations to keep the cry down to a murmer
to fight war in which mutilation is condoned and
the system will use any amount of force to uphold its strength and power
singling people out for their
beliefs, this happens now
the outright violation of human rights must be stopped somehow
on the basic questions of human
rights and human needs
they'll quietly close the door
you'll see that the freedom we have is not our own
take a look at
el salvador
us government backed butchers in the guise of friendly advisors
the friendly neighbor with a bloody trade

preparing to declare their next war
their use of the media to discredit disclaim and betray
to outrage and incite
violencee, make sure
things remain the same
somewhere a captive audience watch a demonstration
watch a man disfigured, his body wired
for electrocution
they sit with their hands clasped waiting in anticipation
they sit with their hands clasped
waiting in anticipation. stop torture.

Also memorably covered by X-TAL:

Sunday, November 20, 2005

George Herbert Walker Bush: On Why They Did Not Invade Iraq

(I posted this during the last presidential election, but I think this statement keeps getting more important the longer we are in Iraq...)

Trying to eliminate Saddam... would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible.... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq.... there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.

-- George Herbert Walker Bush, from his memoir, "A World Transformed" (1998)

What Makes Me Feel Good?

So I thought about it for a bit and here are the first ten things that came to my mind (no hierarchy):

Getting launched out of a wave on a boogie-board and quite literally flying for a few, brief, but fantastic seconds ...

Laying on my back and staring at the stars out in the desert and realizing that we are but a tiny speck in the universe...

Traveling to new places with people who have a sense of adventure and enjoy surprises...

Loving--spiritually and physically ...

Camping/vacationing with my family ...

Those heady philosophical conversations with good friends, when you relax, feel the good vibes and really start to feel the ideas flow and everything clicks ...

Getting lost in a good book/film where I lose track of time...

Losing myself in the music of a band to the point I am mindlessly dancing (perhaps a frightful sight for some--but literally transcendent for me)...

Walking/hiking in a stimulating environment...

Interacting with animals...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Hispanic Pundit: A Powerful Method To Reduce Student Loan Debt Is Being Blocked

A Powerful Method To Reduce Student Loan Debt Is Being Blocked

Thanks to Hispanic Pundit who you may remember from his debates with El Oso (and other left bloggers) on various subjects, such as, Theories of Homosexuality

Hawk Speaks Out Against The Iraq War: The Murtha Speech

(In case you would like to see this for yourself, The Zen Fly mentioned that it was linked at Crooks and Liars)

The Murtha Speech

What Do You Fear?

(One of my earliest memories are of terrifying nightmares of being in the front of a shopping cart in a grocery store with my mother and all of the sudden she, along with all of the other people in the store, disappears and the lights in the store dim and a strange glowing emanates from behind the meat counter. I don't know what is back there, but the sinister ambience of the situation terrifies me and I awake screaming at the terror of facing this unseen being in that empty, glowing place. I was probably about four years old at the time. The dream repeated for weeks...)

From the introduction to The Exploration of Modern Monsters

A culture's monsters emblematically embody its most acute anxieties. Cultures create and ascribe meaning to monsters, endowing them with characteristics derived from their most deep-seated fears and taboos. The body of the monster, then, becomes the site of these cultural proscriptions, representing the taboos of the societies that spawn them: "the monster's body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy . . . , giving them life and an uncanny independence" (Cohen 4). A monster cannot be contained. A monster disobeys its master, overspills its margins, consumes its benefactors. We make scapegoats of our monsters, attributing to them our own misdeeds and faults while using them as vehicles for intergenerational transfers of taboos and morals.

The monster becomes a way of explaining the seemingly inexplicable. The humanoid form most monsters assume is our own-familiar yet unfamiliar-and transgressions performed by the monster reinforce its status as 'other:' "In its function as dialectical Other or third-term supplement, the monster is an incorporation of the
Outside, the Beyond-of all those loci that are rhetorically placed as distant but originate Within" (Cohen 7). A monster dwells on the fringes of what is culturally acceptable (Grendel). Banished to the physical and social hinterlands, he is also border guard (Minotaur). Whoever crosses into her realm has also transgressed, broken the taboo, courted contamination. The transgressor must then encounter the monster on his own terms.


Monsters of Childhood and Adolescence

Why I Am Unhappy?

(A recent post got me thinking...)

Recently I read something from the Dahlai Lama about attempting to, just for seven days, resist thinking any negative thoughts about any other person. He stated that in a competitive, consumer society we are conditioned to focus on the negative and that this is destructive to our psyches and communal well-being.

At first I said well that is fucking ridiculous there are too many idiots and assholes for me to resist thinking negative thoughts... but then I reflected on what my statement said about myself.

So I decided I would try it. The first day was a disaster... no luck, OK, I would do it an hour at a time-very difficult (I work on a busy campus and I do run into a lot of people...). Manageable, but strangely I noticed how easily my mind could laspe into negative feelings/thoughts and that even as I worked to develop a positive outlook about current events/relationships, past events would begin to seep into my consicousness and would assail my defenses... what about when this happened, or when I failed to do this, or when this person let me down, or the countless people I have hurt in my lifetime...

Despite the periods of pain this exercise has caused me, I have been noticing more moments of pure happiness and delight in life--I am also more conscious of how my negative thoughts are a conditioned reflex (often unconscious) and that I can choose to be happier.

I'm an old school existentialist who is suspicious of bliss, but I am learning to enjoy myself more... hopefully I can spread some of that joy.

Thanks for the post Okir.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

World Reserve Monetary Exchange: Gift Ideas for Christmas

Taking the fetishization of money to new levels:

(Courtesy of The Happy Tutor at Wealth Bondage)

World Reserve Monetary Exchange

Steven Greenhouse: Labor Dept. Is Rebuked Over Pact with Wal-Mart

(From Fitz, a organizational theorist: "Let's see....the Labor Department made a deal with Wal-Mart to give them 15 days notice before they came in to inspect for child labor violations? 15 DAYS !!!! And Wal-Mart's lawyers wrote "substantial parts of the settlement" HUH??????????????")

Labor Dept. Is Rebuked Over Pact With Wal-Mart

The Labor Department's inspector general strongly criticized department officials yesterday for "serious breakdowns" in procedures involving an agreement promising Wal-Mart Stores 15 days' notice before labor investigators would inspect its stores for child labor violations.

The report by the inspector general faulted department officials for making "significant concessions" to Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, without obtaining anything in return. The report also criticized department officials for letting Wal-Mart lawyers write substantial parts of the settlement and for leaving the department's own legal division out of the settlement process.

The report said that in granting Wal-Mart the 15-day notice, the Wage and Hour Division violated its own handbook. It added that agreeing to let Wal-Mart jointly develop news releases about the settlement with the department violated Labor Department policies.

The inspector general, Gordon S. Heddell, said the agreement did not violate federal laws or regulations.

The Labor Department reached the settlement in January after finding 85 child labor violations at Wal-Mart stores in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Arkansas, involving workers under 18 who operated dangerous machinery, including cardboard balers and chain saws.

Wal-Mart settled the investigation by agreeing to pay $135,540, but it continued to deny any wrongdoing.

In addition to allowing the 15-day notice, the agreement lets Wal-Mart avoid civil citations and fines if it brings a store into compliance within 10 days of when the department notifies it of a violation.

In exchange for these concessions, the inspector general wrote, there was "little commitment from the employer beyond what it was already doing or required to do by law."

"In our view," the inspector general's office wrote about the Wage and Hour Division, "the Wal-Mart agreement may adversely impact W.H.D.'s authority to conduct future investigations and issue citations or penalty assessments, and potentially restrict information to the public."

Responding to its inspector general, the Labor Department said it "strongly disagrees with the report's overall characterization of the effectiveness of the Wal-Mart child labor settlement agreement."

The department said the inspector general had wrongly given the impression that Wal-Mart had been permitted to avoid all penalties for violations of wage and hour laws by bringing its stores into compliance.

Even though department officials asserted that the agreement was much like that with other companies, Mr. Heddell found that the agreement between Wal-Mart and the Wage and Hour Division "was significantly different from other agreements entered into by W.H.D." and "had the most far-reaching restriction on W.H.D.'s authority to conduct
investigations and assess" fines.

Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who asked the inspector general to investigate the settlement, said the report showed that the Bush administration was seeking to do favors for a powerful friend and a major Republican contributor in Wal-Mart.

"The Bush Labor Department chose to do an unprecedented favor for Wal-Mart, despite the fact it is well known for violating labor laws, including child labor laws," Mr. Miller said. "The sweetheart deal put Wal-Mart employees at risk, undermined government effectiveness, and further undermined public confidence that the government is acting on its behalf."

Mr. Heddell said he did not find that the agreement resulted from improper pressures. "Nothing came to our attention indicating evidence of influence or pressure from internal or external sources," he wrote.

Martin Heires, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said, "We think it's important to note that the inspector general's office found that the agreement is in compliance with federal law."

"We continue to believe the agreement was the appropriate course of action," he added. "Our goal remains to make sure that our stores are in full compliance in that our associates are fully informed of all policies, regulations and laws that apply to the employment of workers who are 16 and 17 years of age."

The inspector general recommended that the Wage and Hour Division develop procedures for developing and approving agreements and require that all future settlements be developed in coordination with the department's legal division.

The department said that it had developed a new policy on reaching settlements that, it was confident, would carry out the inspector general's recommendations.

The Labor Department said that the advance notification provisions applied only to child labor matters. But the inspector general voiced concern that "the plain language of the advance notification clause applies to any potential violations, not just child labor violations."

Department officials say that giving 15 days' notice helps to ensure that Wal-Mart will come into compliance.

The department denied the inspector general's suggestion that it had consulted with Wal-Mart before issuing a news release on the settlement. The department took the unusual action of announcing the agreement a month after it was signed, doing so only after some details were leaked to a newspaper.

The report said: "The inspector general has specific concerns with the Wal-Mart agreement because it contained significant provisions that were principally authored by Wal-Mart attorneys and never challenged by W.H.D., and because it did not receive adequate W.H.D. review and approval."