Sunday, February 25, 2007

"If you want to arrest a thief...

you will have to arrest the world."

Vittorio Giacci: Cinema, Responsibility and Formation

Cinema, Responsibility and Formation
by Vittorio Giacci


Cinema is the most suitable form of art and communication to represent the society we live in, and hence it is fully sffected by the argumentations ... of freedom and responsibility.

But there is a warning: when we enter the area of communication, things become even more tricky as it is evident that one of the hard-won principles, is exactly is the one that concerns the value of the freedom of expression, which, in order to be effective must be free of any conditions.

Any restriction of this freedom would in fact evoke the ghosts of censorship which has caused much suffering to the arts in general and cinema in particular. I am thinking of the films made by Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti, Pasolini (to name but a few) whose works, today considered authentic masterpieces, have had a lot of problems with the censorship system.

Nevertheless, we must make some cinema-specific reflections even on this non-negotiable principle.

Ulike other forms of artistic expression, cinema is an "industrial form of art": in order to express itself fully, it needs ever-greater financial investments. This means that author's artistic expression is conditioned right from the start-and it would be hypocritical not to admit this-by the capital invested. These capital sources can be motivated not just by the simple and legitimate desire for expression, but also by power groups, concentrations and lobbies of all sorts and backgrounds, who can use cinematographic media in instrumental way to advance particular interests that that have little or nothing to do with the noble-and general-principle of the freedom of expression.

To Read the Rest of This Essay

Hal Duncan: The Art of Life

(I've been thinking about the intertwining themes of aesthetics/politics in my film classes and this essay by Duncan gave me much to think about--I came across it b/c I am currently reading his novel Vellum: The Book of All Hours... highly recommended, challenging and rewarding. So in light of this my question is always... can aesthetics be divorced from politics? Is not our appreciation of what is beautiful, what is pleasing, what is sensible, always a political statement? As I navigate my neighborhood, my workplace, my community, my society, my world--I make asumptions, distinctions, conclusion... all based upon my understanding of the proper order of things, what is pleasing to me, what is beautiful--now I may stretch your common understanding of these terms... but if you relax for a moment and think... is not beauty/pleasure/sense-of-order [aesthetics] a political concept?)

The Art of Life
by Hal Duncan
Notes From the Geek Show


Aesthetics can adopt pragmatics as an aesthetic. We might find logic quite fascinating, heuristics quite intriguing. Our senses are structurings of symbols, symbolisations of structures, our attention drawn to raw material that comes with ready-made symbols or structures to make sense of, or that is ripe with perhaps random relationships that can be teased into pattern. When order and complexity in and of itself inspires affects of joy, when disorder disturbs us and making sense of it is satisfying, it's no surprise these tastes develop into principles, into an aesthetic where what we care about most is those systems of ordering the world with the modalities of must and must not, should and should not, could and could not, the informal logic of a suppositional calculus. Still, it is the fact that we care about this that really matters, the fact that it is an aesthetic judgement. At heart, with all our attempts to make sense of the world in this manner, the goal is still to make sense. The valuation of pragmatics is an aesthetic valuation.

In the end it's all about making sense, in all meanings of the term. We make sense of the world with sentience -- or rather, we should say, sentience is the act of making sense of the world. And the world, of course, includes ourselves, as beings living and breathing in it, so we make sense of ourselves also, with affect -- or rather, we should say, affect is the act of making sense of ourselves. And our sentience and our affect, being also features of the world, must also be made sense of. Like any art form, sentience works by creating patterns, points of tension and moments of release. Every sentient being is a composition of affects, its elements in conflict or balance, a fragmented unity. Making sense of that composition is like finding a title for a book, a story, or a section of an essay, finding a phrase or even just a word that can stand in for it, not summarizing it but symbolising it. That's where sentience becomes identity, in the sense of all that sensation being a whole, in the aestheme of self. And this, to me, is why aesthetic(s) means far more than just a "set of principles of good taste and appreciation of beauty" or the branch of philosophy which concerns itself with the questions of what constitutes art and beauty. Bullshit. What we're dealing with here is the very nature of identity, the self, what it means to be human. And the tools for investigating that from the ground up are right there in front of us, in our affect as aesthemes and the relationships between them. Not so much in front of us, actually, as within us.

To Read the Entire Essay

Help Support Domestic Partner Benefits in Kentucky (Feb 26)

(Message from Aaron Hutson)


Help support fairness by calling the on-air viewer line on Kentucky Tonight (1-800-494-7605) on Monday at 8:00 PM.

Monday, February 26 at 8:00 pm ET/7:00 CT on KET1

Scheduled Guests:
Susan Carvalho, chair of the UK Domestic Partner Benefits Task Force
State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington
State Sen. Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs
Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky

Senate Bill 152 proposes that only married heterosexual couples should be able to purchase health care for their partners or spouses through employer benefits programs. This bill is proposed right when UK is on the verge of making a decision about domestic partnership benefits.

Help show legislators that you want to be able to purchase insurance for a domestic partner and let your employer make its own decisions about benefits packages -- ask them to vote NO to SB 152. Call the viewer line on Kentucky Tonight at 1-800-494-7605.

If you can't get reach the viewer line on Kentucky Tonight you can also leave a phone message for your legislator by calling 1-800-372-7181. For information on emailing your legislators visit
This Website

If you miss the program and would like to view it online or purchase a copy of the video please visit the KET website at

Thank you for your support of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance Bluegrass Chapter. To learn more, get involved, or help support our efforts please visit
our our website

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Its Raining, Its Cold and I'm Wondering About the Grand Scheme of Things............

(From SFFWorld)

Lara Jakes Jordan: Anti-terror case data flawed

(Courtesy of the Rhetoricians for Peace listserv)

Audit: Anti-terror case data flawed
By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer
Yahoo News

WASHINGTON - Federal prosecutors counted immigration violations, marriage fraud and drug trafficking among anti-terror cases in the four years after 9/11 even though no evidence linked them to terror activity, a Justice Department audit said Tuesday.

Overall, nearly all of the terrorism-related statistics on investigations, referrals and cases examined by department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine were either diminished or inflated. Only two of 26 sets of department data reported between 2001 and 2005 were accurate, the audit found.

Responding, a Justice spokesman pointed to figures showing that prosecutors in the department's headquarters for the most part either accurately or underreported their data — underscoring what he called efforts to avoid pumping up federal terror statistics.

The numbers, used to monitor the department's progress in battling terrorists, are reported to Congress and the public and help, in part, shape the department's budget.

"For these and other reasons, it is essential that the department report accurate terrorism-related statistics," the audit concluded.

Fine's office took care to say the flawed data appear to be the result of "decentralized and haphazard" methods of collection or disagreement over how the numbers are reported, and do not appear to be intentional.

Still, the errors led Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to question whether the department had exaggerated the number of terror cases.

"If the Department of Justice can't even get their own books in order, how are we supposed to have any confidence they are doing the job they should be?" said Schumer, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the department. "Whether this is just an accounting error or an attempt to pad terror prosecution statistics for some other reason, the Department of Justice of all places should be classifying cases for what they are, not what they want us to think them to be."

Auditors looked at 26 categories of statistics — including numbers of suspects charged and convicted in terror cases, and terror-related threats against cities and other U.S. targets — compiled by the FBI, Justice's Criminal Division, and the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.

It found that data from the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys were the most severely flawed. Auditors said the office, which compiles statistics from the 94 federal prosecutors' districts nationwide, both under- and over-counted the number of terror-related cases during a four-year period.

The office has since agreed to change the way it counts and classifies anti-terrorism cases, said department spokesman Dean Boyd.

Boyd denied suggestions that the department pumped up its numbers. He said Criminal Division prosecutors at Justice headquarters and the FBI have overhauled their respective case reporting systems since 2004 for a more accurate picture of terror-related workloads. Both agencies, he said, were strained to accurately report terrorism data in the flood of cases immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Press TV: Iraq war claims 800 Pentagon contractors' lives‎

(Courtesy of Juan Cole of Informed Comment)

Iraq war claims 800 Pentagon contractors' lives‎
Press TV

At least 800 civilians under contract to the Pentagon have been killed and more than 3,300 hurt in Iraq doing jobs normally handled by the U.S. military, AP reported Friday.

It is not clear how many of the employees are American but the casualty figures make it clear that the Defense Department's count of more than 3,100 U.S. military dead does not tell the whole story.

Employees of defense contractors such as Halliburton, Blackwater and Wackenhut cook meals, do laundry, repair infrastructure, translate documents, analyze intelligence, guard prisoners, protect military convoys, deliver water in the heavily fortified Green Zone and stand sentry at buildings - often highly dangerous duties almost identical to those performed by many U.S. troops.

The U.S. has outsourced so many war and reconstruction duties that there are almost as many contractors (120,000) as U.S. troops (135,000) in the war zone.

In January, four contractors for Blackwater were killed when their helicopter was downed by gunfire in Baghdad. In 2004, two Americans and a British engineer were kidnapped and decapitated. That same year, a mob of insurgents ambushed a supply convoy escorted by contractors, burning and mutilating the guards' bodies and stringing up two of them from a bridge.

Early in the war, most of the casualties on the coalition side were military. But with the fall of Saddam Hussein, contractors flowed in behind the troops, and the number of deaths among the contract workers has been increasing each year.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Returning Soldiers Living in Poor Conditions at Walter Reed Hospital

(Thanks to the thursday night dinner radicals for filling me in on this...)
(Lets face it this administration and the military-industrial system do not care about the welfare of the soldiers when they are serving or when they come back from fighting.)

The original Washington Post report: Dana Priest and Anne Hull: Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility


Editorial: Facility robs soldiers of their hope, dignity
San Antonio Express-News

They come back bruised and battered, scarred by a war that has left some without arms and legs, others without hope and dignity.
It is not within the power of medical technology to give these men and women their limbs back.

It is, however, the responsibility of the government to preserve their hope and dignity — to treat them with the respect and compassion they deserve.

The government has not done that for all of them.

In a shocking series of recent articles, two Washington Post reporters exposed deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

With almost 700 patients recuperating from their wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, the facility has been stretched, but neglect and incompetence have exacerbated the problem.

Here are some of the findings:

Mountains of paperwork prevent veterans from receiving proper care. One veteran, recuperating from debilitating injuries, was told he was being sent back to Iraq. Officials discovered the error before he could be redeployed.

Outpatient rooms are filthy, sometimes teeming with mice and cockroaches. One patient could see into the room above him because mold had rotted the drywall. His room was filled with mouse droppings.

Some patients leave the hospital without the compensation they deserve. One soldier suffered a head injury in Iraq, but doctors said test results from his school days indicate he was slow as a child. If he was so slow, his family countered, why did the Army accept him for duty?

The series has shaken up the Beltway. Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman told the Post that conditions would improve rapidly. And White House press secretary Tony Snow said he spoke with President Bush, who told him, "Find out what the problem is and fix it."

U.S. military personnel suffer enough on the battlefields. They should not have to return to more turmoil at home. The real tragedy is that it took a newspaper series to alert the military — and the government — to something it should have known already.

"We need to bring the Army people in and say, 'What the hell is going on?'" Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told the House.

But outrage is not enough. It must lead to action.

Original Link

Democrats Admit It: We're Idiots
by Scott Thill
The Huffington Post

Every morning we get up and hear the same news over and over again, usually centering on one of two things: The Bush administration's could-give-a-fuck economic campaign to destroy civil liberties at home and abroad, and the Democrats utter inability to do anything of substance about it.

And while it has been a terrorizing streak, it has been easy to nail down, mostly because the too-white Republicans, the vice-president who runs the country and the puppet president who runs the liquor cabinet could care less about being accused of sheer hypocrisy. This is, after all, an administration that can't stop crowing about how much they support the maimed troops rotting away at Walter Reed, even as they send more off to die. An administration that warns us daily about the threat of Middle East terrorism while they sell our ports off to Dubai and inflame sectarian wars across the Iraq, Iran and, well, everywhere. An administration who says they'll fire anyone for compromising the national security of the nation, unless of course it's one of their own that does it, in which case they'll do nothing at all, so go fuck yourselves.

But then there are the sad-sack Democrats, who voters across the country in a fit of rage gave the keys to Congress and were rewarded with half-assed nonbinding resolutions that couldn't even make it past the Senate. And that's after they crowed about all they were going to do in 100 hours. After that? You're on your own suckers!

Why? Well for starters, Clinton and Obama have another whiny bitchfest on the docket, an election to plan for, and other non-essential extracurricular activities to attend to, all while those same soldiers rot away inside Walter Reed because of the war their sorry ilk rubber-stamped. Meanwhile, the jackass Joe Lieberman they thought would help Gore win the 2000 election ended up turning heel and finally becoming the worthless Republican we all knew he was. And they say Nader cost us the 2000 election. The fucking gall.

Is it any wonder the Bush administration steamrolled right over these pussies while implementing a PNAC plan for energy domination disguised as a urgent need to disarm a country we already knew had no WMD? Is it any wonder that these same losers now look back in anger at their 2002 War Authorization red carpet, not because it was wrong or stupid or easily damned, but because it might cost them an election in 2008?

And so it is without a hint of irony whatsoever that John Kerry, a grandfather clock on its last pendulum swing, recently complained in the Washington Post that he has "had enough of nonbinding" resolutions, or that the Democrats next chowderheaded chess move is to repeal that 2002 megablunder, five years and thousands of corpses too late. And sure, better late than never, but never is really what you get with the Democrats in this barely born new millennium. All it takes is one scan near the bottom of the Post's piece on the repeal to smack the optimists upside the head with a hyperreality check:

"More important, the legislation may include a waiver that the president or defense secretary could invoke to deploy troops who are not fully combat-ready, Democratic aides said. That way, the commander in chief's hands would not be tied."

Well, I feel better already. I'm sure the voters who turned out en masse to collectively call bullshit on the reign of Cheney and Bush the crashing buffoon want nothing more than their hands to be free to wreak even more havoc on the world, at the nation's expense. And what an expense: According to McClatchy, "The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's 'haves' and 'have-nots' continues to widen."

Think about that: A 32-year high. At the beginning of this administration's reign, we had an economic surplus. Ever since the Democrats enabled this thieving band of corporate criminals, we've moved it into Exxon and Halliburton's pockets and screwed everyone else in the process. Look, the comb-licking Paul Wolfowitz is on his way back to Iraq right now, coming back into the fold like the neocon prodigal son we all knew he was. And just what do you think he's going to do when he gets there? What else? Ask the Government Accountability Project:

"'This is exactly what he shouldn't be doing and what the [World Bank] board was initially afraid that he would do, which is to use the financial resources of the World Bank to take some of the heat off the U.S. Treasury and U.S. policy,' Bea Edwards of the Washington-based watchdog group Government Accountability Project told IPS. In a previous statement, Edwards argued that 'Wolfowitz's apparent determination to use the World Bank to further questionable American military goals in the Middle East is a fundamental distortion of the Bank's mission, a violation of its founding Articles of Agreement, and a reckless waste of donor resources.'"

And so another day passes, and the sea levels rise higher than expected. Exponology goes into overdrive, and the grift goes on. Meanwhile, the Democrats decide to use what precious time we have left on this planet to revisit a monumental fuck-up that happened years ago, in another lifetime practially, when they decided to rely on the national intelligence rather than their own.

I may be relatively young, but I've been a political animal since I could talk. And I have never been as ashamed of my country, my party or my politicians in my entire life. And you should be too, whether you're in on the grift or not. So I'm asking you to do something about it. Go Howard Beale on these mutherfuckers. Prank them, spank them, Sherman tank them, but do not sit idly by anymore while they ruin what wondrous possibility is left in this country as climate change encroaches and liars breed like roaches. This country talks the talk, but will it walk the walk? Is it truly for the people, by the people? Or is it another Rome, whose spectacular fall is mere seconds away, lost in a soup of hyperreal distraction? You decide.

The Link


More reports:

More Reports

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Elana Levin: Fixing Our Democracy Requires Knowing How It Works; Richard Dreyfuss on the Need for Civic Education

Fixing our Democracy requires knowing how it works...
by Elana Levin

Blame it on reading too much Alan Moore in high school but to paraphrase one of his characters, I've always subscribed to the belief that in a functioning democracy, people should not be afraid of their government -- government should be afraid of its people. Ok, not afraid per say but "on notice" that government exists to serve the people and not the other way around.

As a progressive it goes without saying that I also believe that government has a positive role to play in peoples lives (as opposed to Grover Norquist's followers who don't believe in government and therefore governments under their leadership tend to play a negative role in people's lives). However, progressive governance is only achievable when the government knows that the public is watching and that it is ultimately accountable to the people.

But it is nigh impossible to make the government serve the public when the public doesn't even know what the government does or what government can do. And beyond knowing facts like how long a congressional term is and various interpertations of the Equal Protection Clause, the public has to also know how to turn awareness into action. To make government use its powers for good, not evil the public has to know how to impact the government, becoming personally engaged in politics at the local and national level.

Civic education in America is not where it needs to be. As Andrea wrote in her column on civic education in the New York Daily News,

Today, formal civics has all but vanished from the high school curriculum in favor of passive courses in "government." In New York State today, for example, a one-course Participation in Government class constitutes our civics education requirement. And every teacher I've spoken to says the curriculum leaves out the "Participation" part.

The results of the government's abdication of its responsibility to prepare young people to participate in democracy are depressing:

* three-fourths of high school students don't know how they feel about the First Amendment, or take it for granted.

* One-third think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.

* Only 9% of American 12th-graders nationally could list two ways that democratic society benefits from the active participation of its citizens.

Schools don't teach civics anymore, or enough history. That's why young people don't understand these concepts, not because they don't care about their country. If teachers are trapped teaching to the test and only focusing on the three R's your education is bound to be incomplete. As a society we must ask ourselves why don't we value empowering young people enough to make it part of their education. Because that is what civics education can be at its greatest- a way to empower young people to participate in the political process.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kentucky: Minimum Wage Increase Bill #305 Passes--Kentucky Politicians Gut It

(revised, i heard it in passing, was happy that it was passed, and then a good activist friend of mine who has been fighting to get this bill passed told me the bad news...)

I meant to fill you in on this earlier, but we've been in high gear, and I just haven't been able to. It broke my heart to read your happiness for the wage bill passing the house. The thing is, the bill that passed the house--hell, the bill that *went* to the house--was a stripped down version of the bill that you came up and lobbied for.

House leadership--Jody Richards (the gubernatorial candidate) and four others--insisted that J.R Gray file a committee substitute. We didn't find out until the morning of the committee hearing, and the low-wage earners who were there to testify had a heck of a time dealing with the blow. The new bill doesn't index the wage to inflation, it doesn't do anything for tipped employees (though another bill, 206, "raises" their wages to 42% of the minimum wage, and it passed through committee today), and it doesn't fully take effect until 2009. That's a piddly-ass gesture toward economic fairness, especially when so many people in KY--85% from the poll I heard about, though I don't know who did it--supported the raising the wage.

Oh, and also? That tipped employee bill was supposed to raise their wages by 60%, but a committee substitute lowered it to 42%, which is basically what it is now. Rob Ramsey, the owner of the four Ramsey's restaurants in town (one of which I used to work at...horrid), came to testify against the bill. The committee was much more impressed by the tipped worker who testified for a wage raise, paltry as this one is. Ramsey also mentioned that he had the support of the owners of Malone's, Cheddar's, the Keeneland caterers, and Regatta's. I doubt you frequent those places anyway (I'll have to go straight to Missy's to get pie, and bypass Ramsey's altogether), and I suggest we continue that.

I'll keep you posted about what we're going to try to do about this constant lack of leadership in the house.

Could you change your blog, maybe, to give some of the context? It's better than nothing, but it's not nearly what it could have been. As one of our members said, house leadership snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

If you could throw into your blog a congrats to Cara Prince and Leah for the progress that was made on the wage bills..They're the low-wage and tipped workers who worked really hard to get a good, strong bill passed.

Matt Taibbi: Maybe We Deserve to Be Ripped Off By Bush's Billionaires

(Courtesy of Rebecca Glasscock)

Maybe We Deserve to Be Ripped Off By Bush's Billionaires
By Matt Taibbi,
Rolling Stone and AlterNet

"Now, after she shaved her head in a bizarre episode that culminates a months-long saga of controversial behavior, it's the question being asked by her fans, her foes and the general public: What was she thinking?"-- Bald and Broken: Inside Britney's Shaved Head, Sheila Marikar,, Feb. 19

What was she thinking? How about nothing? How about who gives a shit? How's that for an answer, Sheila Marikar of ABC news, you pinhead?

I'm not one of those curmudgeons who freaks out every time that Bradgelina moves the war off the front page of the Post, or Katie Couric decides to usher in a whole new era of network news with photos of the imbecile demon-spawn of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I understand that we live in a demand-based economy and that there is far more demand for brainless celebrity bullshit than there is, say, for the fine print of the Health and Human Services budget.

But that was before this week. I awoke this morning in New York City to find Britney Spears plastered all over the cover of two gigantic daily newspapers, simply because she cut her hair off over the weekend. To me, this crosses a line. My definition of a news story involves something happening. If nothing happens, then you can't have "news," because nothing has changed since the day before. Britney Spears was an idiot last Thursday, an idiot on Friday, and an idiot on both Saturday and Sunday. She was, shockingly, also an idiot on Monday. It will be news when she stops being an idiot, and we'll know when that happens, because she'll have shot herself for the good of the planet. Britney Spears cutting her hair off is the least-worthy front page news story in the history of humanity.

Apparently, from now on, every time a jackass sticks a pencil in his own eye, we'll have to wait an extra ten minutes to hear what happened on the battlefield or in Congress or any other place that actually matters.

On the same day that Britney was shaving her head, a guy I know who works in the office of Senator Bernie Sanders sent me an email. He was trying very hard to get news organizations interested in some research his office had done about George Bush's proposed 2008 budget, which was unveiled two weeks ago and received relatively little press, mainly because of the controversy over the Iraq war resolution. All the same, the Bush budget is an amazing document. It would be hard to imagine a document that more clearly articulates the priorities of our current political elite.

Not only does it make many of Bush's tax cuts permanent, but it envisions a complete repeal of the Estate Tax, which mainly affects only those who are in the top two-tenths of the top one percent of the richest people in this country. The proposed savings from the cuts over the next decade are about $442 billion, or just slightly less than the amount of the annual defense budget (minus Iraq war expenses). But what's interesting about these cuts are how Bush plans to pay for them.

Sanders's office came up with some interesting numbers here. If the Estate Tax were to be repealed completely, the estimated savings to just one family -- the Walton family, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune -- would be about $32.7 billion dollars over the next ten years.

The proposed reductions to Medicaid over the same time frame? $28 billion.

Or how about this: if the Estate Tax goes, the heirs to the Mars candy corporation -- some of the world's evilest scumbags, incidentally, routinely ripped by human rights organizations for trafficking in child labor to work cocoa farms in places like Cote D'Ivoire -- if the estate tax goes, those assholes will receive about $11.7 billion in tax breaks. That's more than three times the amount Bush wants to cut from the VA budget ($3.4 billion) over the same time period.

Some other notable estimate estate tax breaks, versus corresponding cuts:

Cox family (Cox cable TV) receives $9.7 billion tax break while education would get $1.5 billion in cuts
Nordstrom family (Nordstrom dept. stores) receives $826.5 million tax break while Community Service Block Grants would be eliminated, a $630 million cut
Ernest Gallo family (shitty wines) receives a $468.4 million cut while LIHEAP (heating oil to poor) would get a $420 million cut
And so on and so on. Sanders additionally pointed out that the family of former Exxon/Mobil CEO Lee Raymond, who received a $400 million retirement package, would receive about $164 million in tax breaks.

Compare that to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which Bush proposes be completely eliminated, at a savings of $108 million over ten years. The program sent one bag of groceries per month to 480,000 seniors, mothers and newborn children.

Somehow, to me, that's the worst one on the list. Here you have the former CEO of a company that scored record profits even as it gouged consumers, with gas prices rising more than 70 percent since January of 2001. There is a direct correlation between the avarice of oil company executives and the increased demand for federal aid for heating oil programs like LIHEAP, and yet the federal government wants to reward these same executives for raising prices on the backs of consumers.

Even if you're a traditional, Barry Goldwater conservative, the kinds of budgets that Bush has sent to the hill not only this year but this whole century are the worst-case scenario; they increase spending generally while cutting taxes and social programming. They commit taxpayers to giant subsidies of already Croseus-rich energy corporations, pharmaceutical companies and defense manufacturers while simultaneously cutting taxes on those who most directly benefit from those subsidies. Thus you're not cutting spending -- you're just cutting spending on people who actually need the money. (According to the Washington Times, which in a supremely ironic twist of fate did one of the better analyses of the budget, spending will be 1.6 percent of GDP higher in the 2008 budget than in was in 2000, while revenues will be 2.6 percent of GDP lower). This is something different from traditional conservatism and something different from big-government liberalism; this is a new kind of politics that transforms the state into a huge, ever-expanding instrument for converting private savings into corporate profit.

That's not only bad government, it's bad capitalism. It makes legalized bribery and political connections more important factors than performance and competition in the corporate marketplace. Beyond that, it's just plain fucking offensive to ordinary people. It's one thing to complain about paying taxes when those taxes are buying a bag of groceries once a month for some struggling single mom in eastern Kentucky. But when your taxes are buying a yacht for some asshole who hires African eight year-olds to pick cocoa beans for two cents an hour ... I sure don't remember reading an excuse for that anywhere in the Federalist Papers.

I also don't remember reading much about this year's budget. It was a story for about half a minute when it came out two weeks ago. It barely made TV newscasts, and even when it did, only the broad strokes made it on air. There was some fuss about the Alternative Minimum Tax and a mild uproar over the fact that the 2008 budget failed to account for estimates of the costs for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But overall, the budget was a non-starter as a news story. As it does every year, it takes a back seat to hot-button issues like gay marriage, the latest election scandal, etc. Already, the 2008 election presidential campaign has gotten far more ink than the 2008 budget. As entertainment, bullshit politics always triumphs over real politics.

Here's the thing about the system of news coverage we have today. If the Walton family, or Lee Raymond, or the heirs to the Mars fortune actually needed the news media to work better than it does now, believe me, it would work better. But they have no such need, because the system is working just fine for them as is. The people it's failing are the rest of us, and most of the rest of us, apparently, would rather sniff Anna Nicole Smith's corpse or watch Britney Spears hump a fire hydrant than find out what our tax dollars are actually paying for.

Shit, when you think about it that way, why not steal from us? People that dumb don't deserve to have money.

Matt Taibbi is a writer for Rolling Stone.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Charlie Rose: Iran And The U.S. What Is At Stake

Iran And The U.S. What Is At Stake
Hosted by Information Clearing House


Charlie Rose talks with David Sanger of The New York Times, Michael Hirsh of Newsweek, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations on Iran and the United States. Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations

Watch the Episode

Monday, February 19, 2007


Chris Hedges: “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America”

(This is an extremely important interview and I encourage everyone to listen to it)

Chris Hedges on “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America”
Interviewed by Amy Goodman
Democracy Now

[This] book by Chris Hedges called “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America” investigates the highly organized and well-funded "dominionist movement." The book investigates their agenda, examines the movement's origins and motivations and uncovers its ideological underpinnings. “American Fascists” argues that dominionism seeks absolute power in a Christian state. According to Hedges, the movement bears a strong resemblance to the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and '30s.

Chris Hedges was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times for many years where he won a Pulitzer Prize. He is also the author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" and "Losing Moses on the Freeway." Chris has a master's degree in theology from Harvard University and is the son of a Presbyterian minister. He is currently a senior fellow at the Nation Institute.

Listen/Watch/Read the Interview

Also check out Umberto Eco writing on fascism:

Umberto Eco on Fascism

Curley: Silence, Please!

Post from The Tempest a combination of political and literary writing:

Winter afternoons and the heft of cathedral tunes...Emily Dickinson tolled the time and her chimes and charms persevere. However, silence predominates too, whether willed or arriving over the threshold of the evening. Silence, like our notions of death, can be approximated but never become a full essence, an embodied totality: we approach its condition but can never ever truly reach its sanctum. Even a sensory deprivation experiment will yield the noise of one's own blood pulsing through the temples (a sublime dual meaning that). In this raucous internet-friendly world, a world of telecommunication that only underwrites our loneliness, a culture of noise merely conceals the absym of silence. Silence is existential, pathological, necessary, and taken for granted. I've been silent on this blog for some time; to recover the pause between words, the caesura between breaths. But I reach for Beckett, my favorite advocate of silence, and shut my ears between his pages, pages configuring and prefiguring silence, passage to the final destination. -curley

Frank's Vinyl Museum: The Internet Home of Weird Records

(Time waster for snowbound folks... includes cover art, brief histories, comments from visitors and tracks online)

Frank's Vinyl Museum: The Internet Home of Weird Records

Ken Silverstein: Bad Students are Getting Stuck in Iraq

Kerry Was Right: bad students are getting stuck in Iraq
By Ken Silverstein

When Senator John Kerry said last fall that students who didn't do well in school were more likely to “get stuck in Iraq,” he was immediately attacked for insulting the intelligence of U.S. troops. Kerry later insisted that he was actually trying to make a joke not about the troops, but about President Bush. Looking back, however, he had no reason to hedge. His comment as it was first reported was entirely accurate—not because American soldiers in Iraq are dumb, but because the Pentagon, in seeking to overcome serious recruiting shortfalls, has enlisted growing numbers of high school dropouts.

I recently spoke about this with my friend Eli Flyer, a longtime Pentagon consultant on military recruiting, who painted a grim picture of the Army's current recruiting strategy. In 2005, Flyer noted, the Army fell far short of its goal of attracting 80,000 enlistees. It managed to meet that same target last year by deploying about 1,400 new recruiters, by offering larger enlistment bonuses and other incentives, and by systematically lowering educational standards for new recruits. For example, the portion of non–high school graduates in last year's enlistee pool was 27.5 percent, up from 17 percent in 2005. In the 1990s, non-grads (most of whom do have a G.E.D.) made up only about 5 percent of new Army recruits.

There has also been an increase in the number of recruits coming in with “moral waivers” for a criminal history (a story covered last year by the Los Angeles Times). Last year, one in ten recruits had a prior misdemeanor or felony conviction. That adds up to 7,500 individuals, up from 4,000 in 2004. Meanwhile, a Hartford Courant series last year found that the military is enlisting (as well as redeploying) a growing number of mentally-troubled soldiers.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Chalmers Johnson: 737 U.S. Military Bases = Global Empire

737 U.S. Military Bases = Global Empire
By Chalmers Johnson
Metropolitan Books; excerpt posted on AlterNet

With more than 2,500,000 U.S. personnel serving across the planet and military bases spread across each continent, it's time to face up to the fact that our American democracy has spawned a global empire.

The following is excerpted from Chalmers Johnson's new book, "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic" (Metropolitan Books).

Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base; and by following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever more all-encompassing imperial "footprint" and the militarism that grows with it.

It is not easy, however, to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records available to the public on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual inventories from 2002 to 2005 of real property it owns around the world, the Base Structure Report, there has been an immense churning in the numbers of installations.

The total of America's military bases in other people's countries in 2005, according to official sources, was 737. Reflecting massive deployments to Iraq and the pursuit of President Bush's strategy of preemptive war, the trend line for numbers of overseas bases continues to go up.

Interestingly enough, the thirty-eight large and medium-sized American facilities spread around the globe in 2005 -- mostly air and naval bases for our bombers and fleets -- almost exactly equals Britain's thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons at its imperial zenith in 1898. The Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD required thirty-seven major bases to police its realm from Britannia to Egypt, from Hispania to Armenia. Perhaps the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty.

Using data from fiscal year 2005, the Pentagon bureaucrats calculated that its overseas bases were worth at least $127 billion -- surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic products of most countries -- and an estimated $658.1 billion for all of them, foreign and domestic (a base's "worth" is based on a Department of Defense estimate of what it would cost to replace it). During fiscal 2005, the military high command deployed to our overseas bases some 196,975 uniformed personnel as well as an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employed an additional 81,425 locally hired foreigners.

The worldwide total of U.S. military personnel in 2005, including those based domestically, was 1,840,062 supported by an additional 473,306 Defense Department civil service employees and 203,328 local hires. Its overseas bases, according to the Pentagon, contained 32,327 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and 16,527 more that it leased. The size of these holdings was recorded in the inventory as covering 687,347 acres overseas and 29,819,492 acres worldwide, making the Pentagon easily one of the world's largest landlords.

To Read the Rest of the Excerpt

I Am a Sex Addict (Caveh Zahedi: 2005)

(Thanks to G who told me I must watch this film...)

The style of this film includes interweaving personal narratives, historical and cultural asides, metanarrative reflections, recursive recounting of events, pseudo-documentary expositions and re-enactments. The narrator is engaging and personable, revealing his weaknesses and faults, yet engaging us with his honesty and courage, while still exposing his ignorance. It leads to me wonder how I often mask my own desires and needs, if only we all were so honest (but then he is never truly honest with himself, no matter how desperately he tries)? This is a philosophical film about addiction.

There are moments in the narrative progression when I feel, along with Caveh, shocked by this honesty, this raw emotional and physical need, but at the same time I am exhilarated by the possibilities of expressing one's dark side and having it accepted. We see the downside of the repression of our inner needs when he sacrifices his first true love for Anna because Caroline will throw herself out the window—his discursion on the “saint” complex hit way to close to home and made me angry? regret? confused? at some of the things I did under the same misguided notion of rightness. Later we are presented with the full enactment of his so-called true desire, he is with an Asian prostitute and he finally acts out his aggressive sexuality and feeling somewhat guilty is amazed that she pats him on the ass and says come again… having someone, anyone seeing you for what you are, beneath all of those layers, and having them accept it, or at least not be horrified… is exhilirating and liberating for him; of course, any thinking person must question this exchange, it is so loaded with inequality, perhaps intentionally so? In this we realize that this is his exchange with a prostitute and the ugly nature of the exchange, but still it speaks to the anxieties we all suffer in letting our supressed nature/needs becoming “completely” exposed and the dsyfuntional/abusive outlets that result from repression. Did sex become linked to power or did power link itself to sex (and in a capitalist world we are talking about money, for some drugs, material goods, and other means)?

Then there is the neediness of human relationships, the struggle to be with someone without trying to control them, to love them and let them be who they are… which would include letting them fulfill their needs in the ways that they want. We see this in Caveh’s second relationship with Christa where he struggles to come to terms with his outside sexual desires, and, when he does, his befuddlement, jealousy and anger when his lover then becomes enamored with a mutual friend. Of course in the context of this narrative this seems ridiculous to us that he would be jealous/angry, but then who amongst us has not had what we want and when we want it, then decide that a person we are with shouldn’t do the same? Once again, the struggle to come to terms with desire and needs in the context of freedom and openness—are there boundaries, who defines them and redefines them, why and when?

In his first conversations with Devin, who we think he has fallen in love with and who has a much more honest/direct understanding of impulses/desires than Caveh does. She calls him on his assumptions and how he continues to play out what he detests in conventional society—why would he anguish over Christa that night… why not wish she is having the time of her life, which makes all the more sense because Caveh is laying next to Devin as she tells him this… is his jealous keeping him from finding happiness?

Then there is the struggle in our minds/souls for pleasurable pursuits on the purest level of sensation (and this is about addiction, not just sex) and the opposite need for longstanding developments of understanding and meaning. Where will either be found—will they war with each other throughout our lives—will one conquer and suppress the other—or is it possible to achieve a rapprochement between and through these dueling impulses? In the repression of our true needs (out of fear, anxiety, shame) do we continuously end up with the wrong people (and this applies to those of us with long series of broken relationships as well as those that quietly suffer through one or two)? It is in the struggle between Caveh and Devin to define some boundaries that this weird and twisted attempt to reach through the sado-masochistic reality of dueling impulses of love/hate, desire/revulsion, acceptance/rejection (is Devin’s alcoholism really any worse than Caveh’s obsession with sex?) is played out in a twisted macabre sense, they obviously care about each other, but…. It is in his regret when he states that he once read somewhere that everyone that comes into our lives is a mirror for something inside us that we are not seeing and he wonders how Devin acted as that mirror. How are the people that we desire, that we lust after, that we need, a reflection of our fears/anxieties/submerged-desires? What are the patterns that we re-enact because we don’t confront submerged feelings/repressions? Is there the possibility of coming to terms with our shadow?

This is, I think, the central question of the film, and so brilliantly explored, even with the happy conclusion of Caveh finding his bliss… but I am skeptical...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bush Sunday Bloody Sunday

Would be funny, if it didn't make me want to cry...

Hosted by You Tube (wonder what they plan on doing with the 600 million dollars?)

Response to a Response to Rick Tealander's "Sports, Religion, Strange Bedfellows"

First read Rick Tealander's Chicago Sun-Times opinion piece Sports, religion strange bedfellows then read Six O'Clock Vintage's response RE: Sports, religion strange bedfellows

Actually I didn't find Dungy's comments dangerous or threatening, merely ridiculous and besides-the-point, cheapening the effort of the players/coaches:

I Hope God (if there is one or many) Has Better Things Than to Ensure Football Victories

and i think you are willfully ignoring the key to Telander's comments, what if an American football coach proclaimed that Vishnu, Allah, etc... gave them the victory... watching Dungy post-game was depressing... and now hearing about his connections to the fascist branch of Christianity, it is just sad that such a caring man would allow his glorious moment be co-opted to promote hate and discrimination.

The National Committee to Impeach for Peace: US corporate shopping boycott April 15 (Tax day) to April 22 (Earth Day)

National Effort to End the War and Impeach Bush and Cheney

The National Committee to Impeach for Peace announces a coordinated effort to organize a US corporate shopping boycott April 15 (Tax day) to April 22 (Earth Day) to end the Iraq war and Impeach Bush and Cheney.

We are asking people to suspend corporate shopping for one week by delaying major purchases, avoiding chain stores and shopping malls, and finding local retailers and small business owners to support.

The message to corporate America —we are not buying it— is a response to Bush’s declaration after 9/11 to quietly go shopping. We are not going to be quiet in the face of torture, WMD lies, civil liberty losses and hundreds of thousands civilian deaths.

Endorse the Shopping Boycott

We need regional volunteer coordinators though out the US. Sign up today and download a support kit.

National Committee: Impeach for Peace

Peter Phillips, Dennis Loo, Dahr Jamail, Larry Everest, Mary Lia, Lew Brown, Bridget Thornton, Mickey Huff, Michael Nagler, Andy Roth, Camelia Gannon, Liane Casten, Myrna Goodman, Lenore Foerstel, Susan Guest

Saturday, February 17, 2007

More on Heroes; Comics; Promethea

(Response to a comment on NY Times Article Puts Me in Unusual Position of Defending TV)

I sympathize Jemiah... unfortunately I don't read comics very much these days because they are really expensive. I do pick up the occasional series in Graphic Novel form (Promethea; Fables; and 100 Bullets).

For anyone that is still under the illusion that all comics are simple art/narrative forms (just like any genre/art-form you have to sift the chaff to get the choice grains, or as Theodore Sturgeon put it in regards to Science Fiction 90% of it is crap, but it s that 10% that will transform the way that you see the world that makes it all worthwhile) consult this great intro (or for anyone that is interested and would like to learn more about them):

Graphic Novels: Everything You Need To Know

Ultimately my point about my weekly viewing of Heroes is that I really don't expect anything profound and watch it on a pure enjoyment level. We deserve sweets from time-to-time and don't need to be harangued for eating them, of course if that is all your diet consists of, then that is a problem. On the other hand, when I got Alan Moore's graphic novel series Promethea I knew that it incorporated his knowledge/interest in esoteric/mystical arts and I expected to be challenged, inspired and awed... which the series did...

Salon: Promethea/Moore

This series is also a good example of the importance of the visual narrative in excellent comics. Moore's story would fall apart without the visual daring of Williamson and the other artists... Williamson's art provides just as much narrative structure (no doubt infused by Moore's written instructions) as the written text does. If you do not take the time to read and re-read the imagery in this comic, then you are missing a lot of the story...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Oliver Belcher: Analysis of Local Starbucks

(The one in the Chevy Chase district of Lexington)

Read first:

A Paroxysm of Praxis: Experiencing Starbucks

My response:

I like your spatial analysis of our local Starbucks and would like to see a comparative one of an independent caffeine-haunt like Common Grounds (which is the same area, relatively... although we know the people who frequent these two places are very far apart, in more ways than one...)

The Starbucks you reference is very much about appearance (image is everything) and the few times I have been there (usually because a fellow academic wants to meet there) I have been amused at the level of pretentious posturing and conversing that is prevalent in the Chevy Chase SB... I remember fondly stumbling in there once on a sunday, worse for wear from late night festivities, desperate for a caffeine infusion to get me to my next destination, looking ragged and discombulated (especially that wild hair and glazed eye look). It was early morning and the other people in line (who studiously avoided me in my conversational friendliness--it was a long line) were dressed to the t's, well-coifed and well-polished... I wondered if they ever go anywhere without having to buff the exterior and polish their presentations and prepare their scripts.

Once again I would be interested in your comparison with an independent haunt, I would imagine, with a place like CG, what would be most unique would be the interaction of people--the spontaneity and the general atmosphere of hanging out/letting it hang out.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bjork: The Hunter

Go all the way down to the bottom of the page that is linked:

Watch/Listen: "The Hunter"

More Bjork Videos

VD Gift: Mogwai

Watch/Listen to "Haunted by a Freak

kind of puts the day into a good perspective...

and for those that can't get enough, a clip of Mogwai recording this song:

Session Video

Also check out their podcast section:


Dr. Mitchell favors "Living Wage" concept - UK professor takes his cause to Lees students

Dr. Mitchell favors "Living Wage" concept - UK professor takes his cause to Lees students
Writer: Jeff Noble
Breathitt County Voice (Jackson)

Telling students that "people who work full-time should not be poor", a University of Kentucky professor with a long record of social activism took his cause to Jackson last Thursday.

Invited to speak at Professor Marilyn Brown's Social Inequality class at the Lees College Campus of Hazard Community and Technical College, Dr. Richard Mitchell explained to students what a "Living Wage" is, and why it's become his life's passion.

"It is a wage that makes the worker and their family self-sufficient. That way, the worker is able to pay for necessities like housing, food, clothing, medical care and transportation," said Dr. Mitchell, who is a biomaterials teacher at UK's College of Dentistry in Lexington. "It's a wage that is 15 per cent above the poverty level for a family of four."

In his presentation that was called, "The Living Wage - Reality, Impact and the Working Poor", Dr. Mitchell gave a PowerPoint presentation to the Lees Students, showing them the advantages and misconceptions about the concept, which has been passed in over 140 cities across America. Dr. Mitchell is part of a group called the Lexington Living Wage Campaign, which is wanting to do the same in that Bluegrass city to our northwest.

"We're trying to get a Living Wage Ordinance passed in Lexington, which would require the local government to pay workers a Living Wage," noted Dr. Mitchell in a question-and-answer session after the class. "It usually requires a health benefits plan, as well as a cost of living increase." When asked by a student what the proposed living wage would be in Lexington, Dr. Mitchell replied, "Given the research we've done on this, the proposed Living Wage in Lexington would be $10.70 an hour."

In his talk which went just over an hour, Dr. Mitchell said that employees would benefit from the program, because it was self-sufficient, and that employees wouldn't need public assistance, and they would be protected against "outsourcing". He also said employers would benefit because it reduces employee turnover and absenteeism, increases productivity and morale, plus it lowers recruitment and training costs. "In general, everyone benefits because it lowers welfare costs, you have lower health-care costs because people go to the doctor before emergency treatment is needed, and parents are able to supervise teens, so there's lower crime rates."

Dr. Mitchell pointed out some misconceptions about the program, such as one that Living Wages discourage new companies from coming into an area. "That's not true. Those businesses that refused to come are those jobs, and they were low-paying jobs, were subsidized by taxpayers in the form of social services. Contractors have continued bidding on contracts, and their business has flourished."

He finished the session by asking students to get involved in the campaign, which is also going in Louisville and Knoxville, Tennessee. "You can tell your friends and neighbors about the problems caused by low wages, and you can help us get the word out. By all means, you can volunteer by joining our campaign." Dr. Mitchell closed his time with the class with a quote from former President Franklin Roosevelt. "No business that depends for existence on paying less than living wages has any right to continue in this country...and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level. I mean the wages of decent living."

A very important campaign: for more info

Let Justice Roll: Living Wage Campaign

Kentucky Jobs with Justice

National Education Association (NEA): Reaching for a Living Wage

NEA: Living Wage Organizing:
Back to the Grassroots in the Bluegrass State

Universal Living Wage

Find the Minimum Wage Law in Your State

Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARNTOC): Documents from Around the Nation on the Importance of the Living Wage Campaign and Raising the Minimum Wage

Religious Support of the Living Wage Campaign

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kentucklans for the Commonwealth: I Love Mountains Day! (Feb 14th)

Final call for I Love Mountains day! I look forward to seeing many of you TOMORROW to stand strong in support of Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains.

I Love Mountains - Lobby Day
This Wednesday, February 14th.
Carpool leave Lexington at 8am.

Here is a partial list of folks who have confirmed from this chapter:
Dick and Faith Shore
Marcie Smith
Ryan Large
Brittany Zwicker
Daniel Leffel
M'shae Alderman
Shad Reese
Susan MacDonell
Allison Asay
Danielle Deneys
Ben Becker
Alex Thomas +1
Sally Evans
Susan Williams
Janet Tucker
Dave Newton
Jessica Hays
Heather Mahoney
Martin Richards
Ed McClanahan
Shawn Lucas
Geoff Young
Leah McQuade
John Scrader
Niles Barnes
Rick Clewett
Emily Ogburn
Jacob Gahn
Erik Hungerbuhler

This is the big, focus lobby day for our Streamsaver Bill (HB 385) to stop companies from dumping mine waste into streams. We're expecting over 200 participants and the largest, including Kentucky Authors like Wendell Berry! This will likely be the most fun lobby day of the year!

If you only lobby one time in Frankfort this year - this might be the best one to come to!

A Central Kentucky carpool will gather in the parking lot of the Save-A-Lot next to the Village Branch Library on Versailles Rd at 8am.

In Frankfort, we’ll be meeting in Room 113 of the Capitol Annex.

Let us know if you're coming if you get a chance, but either way, just come out!

- Dave

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC) is a grassroots citizens organization that believes in the power of citizens, working together, to challenge injustices, right wrongs and improve the a quality of life for all Kentuckians.

We meet locally on the 3rd Thursday of the month at 7pm at the Episcopal Diocese Mission House on the corner of 4th St. and Martin Luther King Blvd. Come join us!

To join our Central KY email listserv, send a blank email to

Also, please visit our new website at KFTC

10 must do things and 5 must visit places

A friend asked me:

10 must do things:

1) Hike the Appalachian Trail or the West Coast Trail (from Mexico to Canada)
2) Publish a book
3) Go to a place where I can retreat fot a time and develop a stronger sense of spirituality/philosophy--think and write and learn
4) Start a journal that adds to the culture of the place I live in and start a press (that fosters young writers)
5) Excavate a hidden history that would develop a new understanding of a place
6) Develop a stronger sense of awareness of my place in the world, my purpose in life and how best I can make a difference.
7) Make a film
8) Create my own special food creation or drink--but don't name it after myself.
9) Found a place of learning that is solely about learning for enrichment...
10) Build a community of progressive people who work to make their place better: culturally, socially, spiritually and politically

5 must visit places:

1) Macchu Piccu
2) Thailand
3) Bali
4) New Zealand
5) All over Europe

(feel free to supply your choices)

Saturday Night Live: Men, Stuck on What to Get as the Perfect Valentine's Gift

(Courtesy of Martha)

SNL: Valentine's Day Gift Suggestion (you tube)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Save NPR and PBS

(Courtesy of Haley)

President Bush just proposed drastic cuts to NPR and PBS. We've stopped similar cuts in the past, but enough is enough: With the new Congress, we can make sure this never happens again.

We need Congress to save NPR and PBS once and for all.

Can you help out by signing this petition to Congress? It's really easy—just click the link below:

Sign the Petition


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sandra Blakeslee: A Small Part of the Brain, and Its Profound Effects

A Small Part of the Brain, and Its Profound Effects
New York Times

The recent news about smoking was sensational: some people with damage to a prune-size slab of brain tissue called the insula were able to give up cigarettes instantly.

Suppose scientists could figure out how to tweak the insula without damaging it. They might be able to create that famed and elusive free lunch — an effortless way to kick the cigarette habit.

That dream, which may not be too far off, puts the insula in the spotlight. What is the insula and how could it possibly exert such profound effects on human behavior?

According to neuroscientists who study it, the insula is a long-neglected brain region that has emerged as crucial to understanding what it feels like to be human.

They say it is the wellspring of social emotions, things like lust and disgust, pride and humiliation, guilt and atonement. It helps give rise to moral intuition, empathy and the capacity to respond emotionally to music.

Its anatomy and evolution shed light on the profound differences between humans and other animals.

The insula also reads body states like hunger and craving and helps push people into reaching for the next sandwich, cigarette or line of cocaine. So insula research offers new ways to think about treating drug addiction, alcoholism, anxiety and eating disorders.

Of course, so much about the brain remains to be discovered that the insula’s role may be a minor character in the play of the human mind. It is just now coming on stage.

The activity of the insula in so many areas is something of a puzzle. “People have had a hard time conceptualizing what the insula does,” said Dr. Martin Paulus, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego.

If it does everything, what exactly is it that it does?

For example, the insula “lights up” in brain scans when people crave drugs, feel pain, anticipate pain, empathize with others, listen to jokes, see disgust on someone’s face, are shunned in a social settings, listen to music, decide not to buy an item, see someone cheat and decide to punish them, and determine degrees of preference while eating chocolate.

Damage to the insula can lead to apathy, loss of libido and an inability to tell fresh food from rotten.

The bottom line, according to Dr. Paulus and others, is that mind and body are integrated in the insula. It provides unprecedented insight into the anatomy of human emotions.

Of course, like every important brain structure, the insula — there are actually two, one on each side of the brain — does not act alone. It is part of multiple circuits.

The insula itself is a sort of receiving zone that reads the physiological state of the entire body and then generates subjective feelings that can bring about actions, like eating, that keep the body in a state of internal balance. Information from the insula is relayed to other brain structures that appear to be involved in decision making, especially the anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortices.

The insula was long ignored for two reasons, researchers said. First, because it is folded and tucked deep within the brain, scientists could not probe it with shallow electrodes. It took the invention of brain imaging techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to watch it in action.

Second, the insula was “assigned to the brain’s netherworld,” said John Allman, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology. It was mistakenly defined as a primitive part of the brain involved only in functions like eating and sex. Ambitious scientists studied higher, more rational parts of the brain, he said.

The insula emerged from darkness a decade ago when Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist now at the University of Southern California, developed the so-called somatic marker hypothesis, the idea that rational thinking cannot be separated from feelings and emotions. The insula, he said, plays a starring role.

Another neuroscientist, Arthur D. Craig at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, went on to describe exactly the circuitry that connects the body to the insula.

According to Dr. Craig, the insula receives information from receptors in the skin and internal organs. Such receptors are nerve cells that specialize in different senses. Thus there are receptors that detect heat, cold, itch, pain, taste, hunger, thirst, muscle ache, visceral sensations and so-called air hunger, the need to breathe. The sense of touch and the sense of the body’s position in space are routed to different brain regions, he said.

All mammals have insulas that read their body condition, Dr. Craig said. Information about the status of the body’s tissues and organs is carried from the receptors along distinct spinal pathways, into the brain stem and up to the posterior insula in the higher brain or cortex.

As such, all mammals have emotions, defined as sensations that provoke motivations. If an animal is hot, it seeks shade. If hungry, it looks for food. If hurt, it licks the wound.

But animals are not thought to have subjective feelings in the way that humans do, Dr. Craig said. Humans, and to a lesser degree the great apes, have evolved two innovations to their insulas that take this system of reading body states to a new level.

One involves circuitry, the other a brand new type of brain cell.

In humans, information about the body’s state takes a slightly different route inside the brain, picking up even more signals from the gut, the heart, the lungs and other internal organs. Then the human brain takes an extra step, Dr. Craig said. The information on bodily sensations is further routed to the front part of the insula, especially on the right side, which has undergone a huge expansion in humans and apes.

It is in the frontal insula, Dr. Craig said, that simple body states or sensations are recast as social emotions. A bad taste or smell is sensed in the frontal insula as disgust. A sensual touch from a loved one is transformed into delight.

The frontal insula is where people sense love and hate, gratitude and resentment, self-confidence and embarrassment, trust and distrust, empathy and contempt, approval and disdain, pride and humiliation, truthfulness and deception, atonement and guilt.

People who are better at reading these sensations — a quickened heart beat, a flushed face, slow breathing — score higher on psychological tests of empathy, researchers have found. The second major modification to the insula is a type of cell found in only humans, great apes, whales and possibly elephants, Dr. Allman said. Humans have by far the greatest number of these cells, which are called VENs, short for Von Economo neurons, named for the scientist who first described them in 1925. VENs are large cigar-shaped cells tapered at each end, and they are found exclusively in the frontal insula and anterior cingulate cortex.

Exactly what VENs are doing within this critical circuit is not yet known, Dr. Allman said. But they are in the catbird seat for turning feelings and emotions into actions and intentions.

The human insula, with its souped-up anatomy, is also important for processing events that have yet to happen, Dr. Paulus said. “When you decide to go outside on a cold day, your body gets ready before you hit the cold air,” he said. “It starts pumping blood to where you need it and adjusts your metabolism. Your insula tells you what it will feel like before you step outside.”

The same goes for drug addicts. When an addict is confronted with sights, sounds, smells, situations or other stimuli associated with drug use, the insula is activated before using the drug.

“If you give cocaine to an addict, you are affecting their brain’s reward system, but this is not what drives the person to keep using cocaine,” Dr. Paulus said. The craving is what gets people to use.

For example, smokers enjoy whole-body effects, said Nasir Naqvi, a student at the University of Iowa Medical Scientist Training Program, who was the lead author of the recent article on smoking. It is not just nicotine binding to parts of the brain, he said, but sensations — heart rate, blood pressure, a tickle in the lungs, a taste in the mouth, the position of the hands, all the rituals.

The insula’s importance makes it an ideal target for many kinds of treatment, Dr. Paulus said, including drugs and sophisticated biofeedback. But methods to quell insular activity must be approached carefully, he said. People might lose the craving to smoke, drink alcohol or take other drugs, but they could simultaneously lose interest in sex, food and work.

As clinicians explore the possibilities, Dr. Craig is thinking about the insula in grander terms.

For example, lesions in the frontal insula can wipe out the ability to appreciate the emotional content of music. It may also be involved in the human sense of the progress of time, since it can create an anticipatory signal of how people may feel as opposed to how they feel now. Intensely emotional moments can affect our sense of time. It may stand still, and that may be happening in the insula, a crossroads of time and desire.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

How To Piss People Off

(In the midst of a long day workshopping papers with students, just got this from "I Love Olive" and it made me bust up laughing...)

1. Leave the copy machine set to reduce 200%, extra dark, 17 inch paper, 99 copies.
2. In the memo field of all your checks, write "for sexual favors."
3. Specify that your drive-through order is "TO-GO."
4. If you have a glass eye, tap on it occasionally with your pen while talking to others.
5. Stomp on little plastic ketchup packets.
6. Insist on keeping your car windshield wipers running in all weather conditions "to keep them tuned up."
7. Reply to everything someone says with "that's what you think."
8. Practice making fax and modem noises.
9. Highlight irrelevant information in scientific papers and "cc" them to your boss.
10. Make beeping noises when a large person backs up.
11. Finish all your sentences with the words "in accordance with prophesy."
12. Signal that a conversation is over by clamping your hands over your ears and grimacing.
13. Disassemble your pen and "accidentally" flip the ink cartridge across the room.
14. Holler random numbers while someone is counting.
15. Adjust the tint on your TV so that all the people are green, and insist to others that you "like it that way."
16. Staple pages in the middle of the page.
17. Publicly investigate just how slowly you can make a croaking noise.
18. Honk and wave to strangers.
19. Decline to be seated at a restaurant, and simply eat their complimentary mints at the cash register.
21. type only in lowercase.
22. dont use any punctuation either
23. Buy a large quantity of orange traffic cones and reroute whole streets.
24. Repeat the following conversation a dozen times.
"Never mind, it's gone now."
25. As much as possible, skip rather than walk.
26. Try playing the William Tell Overture by tapping on the bottom of your chin. When nearly done, announce "No, wait, I messed it up," and repeat.
27. Ask people what gender they are.
28. While making presentations, occasionally bob your head like a parakeet.
29. Sit in your front yard pointing a hair dryer at passing cars to see if they slow down.
30. Sing along at the opera.
31. Go to a poetry recital and ask why each poem doesn't rhyme.
32. Ask your co-workers mysterious questions and then scribble their answers in a notebook. Mutter something about "psychological profiles."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

NY Times Article Puts Me in The Unusual Position of Defending TV

(Original article courtesy of Gerry Adair. I say this is unusual for me because I am a strong critic of TV programming, but this is a mindless dismissal of TV that seeks to denigrate, not understand, those that watch TV. Kind of like the terrible and pointless film Idiocracy that is the dumbest, empty, insulting film ever made about the dumbing down of society)

Read this first:

The Unseen and Unexplained, Inching Closer to the Truth

Hmmm, I like Heroes (and watch it every Monday--it is the only thing on TV that I watch regularly)--Lost, The Medium and the others I really can't stand, but I don't see them as the decline of Western civilization?

Simply because they incorporate spiritual/magical aspects? Have you read Shakespeare? The Odyessey and The Illiad? Beowulf? Sir Gwain and the Green Knight? Roland? Dante? Most of the world's sacred and literary texts.... don't they have these aspects?

Another dismissal is that it is serial in nature... so I suppose this person believes that Charles Dickens whose novels were delivered in serial installments and caused riots on American wharfs due to peoples' excitement to read the next installation, where utter crap (and we see the author realizing the stupidity of her dismissal and trying to remove her critique from the realm of Dicken's elitist approved standard-bearing role) ... that the tales of Arthur Conan Doyle was evidence that society was going down the tubes... and on and on... come on... really?

Now I am concerned about simple-minded programming that condescendingly plays on peoples post-9/11 anxieties by returning to a spiritual/mystical neverland without any critique or recognition of the social/political/economic realities we face (and I see both Lost and Heroes dealing with these--I liked Lost at one time, I just can't stand being teased unrelentingly without any payoff... mental blueballs it gave me...)

Sometimes the tweedy NY Times critics need to get off their high-horse and if TV disturbs them, they might seek answers why others are fascinated with these shows. As it is this critic just whips out a litany of dismissals--kind of like masturbation in a sense that the only person it please (or interacts with) is the critic (or like-minded people).

Then there are the simply unneeded derogatory dismissals of the mutant freaks, who in their appreciation of these shows, must be destroying the pure race of the past intellectual giants that Stanley looks nostalgically to as the benchmark of civilization (once again forgetting Shakespeare who was viewed as sure sign of the decay of his society):

" The fans of these kinds of serialized thrillers are unusually passionate and devoted, carrying a clout not unlike that of anti-abortion activists "

" they provide an alternative society for those who don’t fit comfortably into their own. (That is to say, smart, socially awkward adults and all 12-year-old boys.) "

Next thing you know she will call for measurements of our skulls and the institution of euthanasia programs... I guess our current administration must have nothing to do with all of the problems we are facing... no it must be them simple-minded geeks watching TV!!! better not let them reproduce!(OK, I'll defuse any of my fellow leftists who might insist if they watched a bit less TV we might not be suffering through a second term of Dubya, I get your point, but do you get mine--this is not really the site for this type of critique... I, once again watch Heroes every week, I enjoy its comic-minded simpleness and its boldly drawn figures, I also spent all last night reading a Buddhist text and went to Frankfurt today to petition my state representatives to raise the state minimum wage and to rally to support higher education.)

Stanley also shows an ignorance of the conventions of TV--serialized nature, ratings as important, longstanding interaction of creators with fans of shows (if that is a sign of social decay then it has been happening at least since the days of Star Trek). Also, Stanley doesn't provide us with any "pure" example of entertainment that might be used to show us what would rescue us from our apocalyptic fate... perhaps in watching all of these shows she slipped into the mood/tone of the shows and is providing us with one in a series of her apocalyptic fantasies? Or, perhaps, she is just a symbol of how the deterioration in the quality of NY Times opinion pieces (hmmm, lets put her drivel side-by-side with some of the past pieces from this rag that supposedly prints all "the news that is fit to print") is a sure sign of the decay of our society...

Thivai ... no defender of TV, in fact he has turned it off for years at a time, and has been known from time to time to rant about it as a problem, and has even kicked a couple when they made him mad.

Also check out Madeline Ashby's passionate and direct rebuttal of Stanley's argument:

"Heroes" = decline of civilisation, says NY Times

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Erin Stout: Universities Cannot Provide Benefits to Employees' Same-Sex Partners, Michigan Court of Appeals Rules

(It will be interesting to see if there will be an employee/faculty drain on the colleges/universities of states that forbid these benefits to the colleges/universities of states that do allow it. I know that in California's higher education system they have the very fair system in which anyone can put their partner--no matter the sex and they do not have to be legally married--on their health care benefits. Courtesy of Virginia Blum.)

Universities Cannot Provide Benefits to Employees' Same-Sex Partners, Michigan Court of Appeals Rules
Chronicle of Higher Education

Michigan's public universities and other state-government agencies cannot provide health-care or other benefits to same-sex partners of their employees, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled.

In an opinion released on Thursday, the court said that such benefits violate an amendment to Michigan's Constitution that bans gay marriage. A three-judge panel interpreted language in that amendment as barring public employers from recognizing same-sex unions in any way, including offering benefits. Institutions affected by the ruling include the University of Michigan, and Michigan State, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Michigan, and Wayne State Universities.

Officials at the University of Michigan said that they were "deeply disappointed" in the ruling and would support an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, as well as seek an immediate stay while the case is appealed.

Laurita Thomas, an associate vice president of the university and its chief human-resources officer, said in a written statement that the university is allowed to provide health benefits through the end of the year or through the end of the current contract for "bargained-for" employee groups.

"As an employer, we offer benefits to our employees and their dependents in order to recruit and retain the very best faculty and staff," she said. "Our benefits program allows us to be competitive with peer institutions, including private universities, across the country."

The ruling overturns a decision in Ingham County Circuit Court that approved same-sex benefits in a case brought by National Pride at Work Inc., a gay-rights advocacy group, and several individuals against the governor of the state and the City of Kalamazoo. That decision was appealed by Mike Cox, state attorney general.

The Court of Appeals ruling last week rejected arguments that universities have a degree of independence that allow them to offer such benefits.

Meanwhile, Ms. Thomas said, the University of Michigan "will continue to promote access to health benefits for our employees and their families."


Monday, February 05, 2007

Starting a Literary/Cultural/Arts Journal

I'm thinking about starting one in Lexington (welcoming contributions from people from everywhere)... we have a lot of amazing people here in this community and I think we could make some noise/create some beauty.

I'm thinking about a combination of literature, art/photographs, film/book/music reviews, attending/photographing alternative events, cultural/societal critiques and interviewing people...

Although, I'm still figuring this out as I develop it, I do have experience and the will to carry it out... these kind of ventures usually require equal parts vision (goal-directed and future-thinking), stupidity (I like to think of this as being a dreamer, square society likes to call it stupidity, maybe we are both right in that it involves being oblivious of the fact that you probably can't do that), passion (a pure love for what you are doing that will help you tackle the impossible) and luck (I've been building up good Karma for awhile and I am ready unleash it).

I have been the managing editor for four academic print journals, edited and designed books for The Unit for Contemporary Literature and Fiction Collective Two and was a founding member of two long-running zines (one in St Louis and one in Normal, IL). I was a long-time music reviewer for zines on the West Coast and I'm currently a review editor for the cultural studies journal Reconstruction (and have edited and recruited the essays for two complete issues in the last two years: "Rhetorics of Place" and "Theories/Practices of Blogging")

I'm thinking of putting it online because it is relatively free, or for a nominal fee for web space, which I can cover, and we could remain independent for as long as we want free of the taint of corporate influences (except for any free music they might want to send our way)--at least until someone offered us a ridiculous amount to sell our souls.

So why am I interested?

1) I'm tired of wasting my energy on other people's projects/publications

2) I'm most happy when I am creative... this is something that I could really get into...

3) I think Lexington really needs something like this... I mean really the Ace is not much of an Alternative source when they have the society events on page three???

What do I want to know from anyone that might be interested?

My question is would anyone be interested in participating in this project if i get it going and if so what would be your interest? Creative... organizational... cheerleading (publicizing)...

anyone know a good web designer who might be interested in taking part (for the glory... thinking independent here...)

can you spread the word and ask creatives if they would be interested... i learned publicity from underground music clubs in san diego and word-of-mouth is amazing (my last journal issue I actually recruited written work from people from 22 countries simply through word of mouth publicity)

I know a lot of you are busy b/c of work, school, social lives and other things--people would contribute what suits them, just carve out their space in the journal/zine...

I really work best bouncing ideas off of people... its stimulating--so feedback is appreciated...

I leave with a poem by Marge Piercy, political in tone, but her message is about the power of people coming together to effect change on many levels, and for me creative expressions is transformative and liberating, helping us imagine possibilities for liberating our minds from the comformitive shackles that are used to reign in our explorative jouissance:

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t blame them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fundraising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Hiking Cowles Mountain in San Diego

I was on a very big high this day because I had just climbed Cowles mountain twice (I was trying to hike as much as I could before I left SD):

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Foreign Service Institute Language Courses

(Courtesy of UFO Breakfast Recipients)

A great resource for those learning other languages:

Foreign Service Institute Language Courses

Indy Media

No branches in Kentucky (yet) ... why does that bother me?

Indy Media

James Horrox: Leo Strauss and the Cult of the Noble Lie

Leo Strauss and the Cult of the Noble Lie
by James Horrox
Get Underground

As the “Free World” slowly but surely catches on to the idea that its so-called ‘War on Terror’ is largely an elaborate fabrication, an illusion brought into being by Western leaders in order to justify the execution of long-held policy objectives, it is becoming increasingly clear that this one gargantuan, overarching fiction of our times has been propped up by an infinite multiplicity of smaller, auxiliary untruths. As new tales of corruption, faulty intelligence and ham-fisted governmental cover-ups unfold in Western “media”, it is becoming ever more self-evident that the culture of institutionalized deception in Washington is one deeply embedded in the strategy of those who have shaped United States policy during Bush’s tenure in the White House. While the reputation for dishonesty acquired by Britain’s Labour government during recent years is widely seen as symptomatic of a simple pathological inability to tell the truth, coupled with a desperate need to explain an ever-growing catalogue of blunders and a truly dazzling ineptitude at being even remotely subtle vis-à-vis lying through its teeth in order to do this, in Washington it’s a different story altogether; the strategy of deception so demonstrably fundamental to the Bush administration’s modus operandi is calculated, deliberate, and a crucial part of a new era in American politics.

* * *

The centrality of organized deception to the U.S. policy agenda is attributable in large part to a controversial political thinker by the name of Leo Strauss. Until recently, outside the political and academic arenas Strauss (1899-1973) enjoyed a position of relative obscurity, but as the principal ideological inspiration behind the Neoconservative movement he has over the last few years found himself on the receiving end of all manner of accusations, particularly as blowback from neocon bellicosity has finally begun to elicit something resembling meaningful dissent within the ranks of the American electorate. In fact, the first mainstream mutterings about Strauss began as far back as 1996, when Time magazine identified him as one of the most influential and powerful figures in Washington, “the man most responsible for the Newt Gingrich ‘Conservative Revolution’ on Capitol Hill", and the intellectual godfather of Newtzi's ‘Contract on America’ blueprint for vicious fascist austerity. Not long afterwards Canadian academic Shadia Drury echoed these claims in her highly acclaimed book Leo Strauss and the American Right, in which she paints a somewhat less-than-complimentary picture of the thinker; Drury again stressed the centrality of his ideas to neoconservative ideology and her book prompted a certain amount of discussion of Strauss’s role in modern U.S. politics in the sub-mainstream media. But it wasn’t until several years later, after the neocons had assumed power, after the twin towers had fallen, after the Project for the New American Century had taken the reins of the foreign policy agenda and America had made clear its intentions of all-out global war, that Strauss’s name began to enter everyday conversation.

So Why So Controversial?

In response to an article of mine on Get Underground in early 2006 I was rebuked by one zealous reader for rather glibly referring to Strauss as a “Nazi philosopher”. The reader in question cited the fact that Strauss “was Jewish and fled Germany in 1934” as evidence of his being nothing of the sort. Strauss was indeed Jewish, but the claim that he “fled” Nazi Germany is a more disputed one; it has been suggested that he in fact left the country in pursuit of a better position abroad, and that he did so on the “warm recommendation” of the jurist Carl Schmitt. In 1934 Schmitt, a prominent Nazi Party member widely known as ‘Crown Jurist of the Third Reich’ was personally responsible for arranging a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship for Strauss which enabled him to leave Germany to study in England and France. In 1937 Strauss arrived in the United States where he would remain until his death in 1973. During his career he occupied various academic positions in U.S. universities including a stint at the New School for Social Research, and most notably a Professorship at the University of Chicago where a young Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky were among his students.

Although Strauss repeatedly professed disgust for the Nazi regime in Germany, much has been made of his early relationship with Schmitt (to be fair, Strauss actually broke off all contact with Schmitt after leaving Germany), and also of his interest in the political philosopher and Nazi Party Member Martin Heidegger, for whom he continued to express admiration throughout his career. To attribute totalitarian sympathies to Strauss purely on this basis would be as unfounded as to do so on the basis of his similarly controversial affinity with the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. But while his supposed political loyalties with respect to key figures in the Third Reich have been enough to earn him the revulsion of many within the contemporary Left, it is for his own philosophy that he has attracted the most damning and most justifiable criticism.

In 1999 Drury set the ball rolling with her argument that Strauss is responsible for inculcating “an elitist strain” in American political leaders that “promotes imperialist militarism and Christian fundamentalism”. She accuses him of teaching that “perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them.” For Drury, Strauss was nothing less than “a Jewish Nazi” whose “pretense of American patriotism and piety hid a cynical and extremist antidemocratic ideology”. This ideology has its roots in ideas contained in Plato’s Republic, a book Strauss dedicated much of his academic career to studying and one on which his own philosophical outlook would be based. A staunch follower (or skewed interpreter?) of the latter’s concept of the Philosopher King, Strauss essentially put forward a belief in a totalitarian system run by a sophist elite who saw their mission as “absolute rulers”. This elite would rule over the populace through deception and consolidate their position of power by disseminating myths designed to keep the general population in blissful ignorance and docile servitude. Strauss thus believed in a hierarchical social structure that sees society divided into two classes: the elite who should lead, and the masses who should follow. Unlike Plato, whose Philosopher King (a hypothetical paradigm and one never meant as a blueprint for reality) is more of a ‘benign dictator’ with the altruism and moral rectitude to be able to govern genuinely in the interests of the people, Strauss is unconcerned with the moral character of these leaders; rather, according to Drury, he believed that “those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior.”

Deception for Strauss is therefore not just an unavoidable bi-product of politics but a central and necessary part of it, a condition of “perpetual deception” between the rulers and the ruled being the sine qua non of a stable society. Strauss suggests that “noble lies” therefore have a key role to play in uniting and guiding the mass of the population – the elite, in other words, need to proliferate certain “myths” in order to give people meaning and purpose and to ensure stability in society, on the basis that a populace dedicated to the relentless examination of what Nietzsche called “deadly truths” can never be conducive to social cohesion and a stable social order. As another Strauss analyst summarizes, he advocates a society in which “the people are told what they need to know and no more”, and he puts forward certain key myths that he claims all governments need to exert control.

Important among these is religion; in Strauss’s eyes religion is essential in order to impose moral law on the masses, and for this reason he had a “huge contempt” for secular democracy.While the elite few, he argued, are capable of absorbing the nonexistence of any moral truth, the masses would not be able to cope, and “if exposed to the absence of absolute truth, they would quickly fall into nihilism or anarchy [sic]”. But while advocating religion as an instrument of social control, he stressed that it was solely for the masses – the rulers who preached it need not be bound by it. Indeed, it would be ridiculous if they were, seeing as the truths proclaimed by religion were “a pious fraud” – i.e., lies.

Another crucial myth Strauss advocated was that of nationalism. Following a Hobbesian line of thinking he argues that mankind’s inherently aggressive nature can only be restrained by a powerful nationalistic state: “because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed,” he wrote. “Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people” [my italics]. In other words, Strauss believed that “a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat”. Moreover, according to Drury “following Machiavelli, he maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured”.

To read the rest of the essay