Friday, November 30, 2007

"America in the Time of Empire"

Reprinted below is an article written by Chris Hedges, which was originally published by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

All great empires and nations decay from within. By the time they hobble off the world stage, overrun by the hordes at the gates or vanishing quietly into the pages of history books, what made them successful and powerful no longer has relevance. This rot takes place over decades, as with the Soviet Union, or, even longer, as with the Roman, Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian empires. It is often imperceptible.

Dying empires cling until the very end to the outward trappings of power. They mask their weakness behind a costly and technologically advanced military. They pursue increasingly unrealistic imperial ambitions. They stifle dissent with efficient and often ruthless mechanisms of control. They lose the capacity for empathy, which allows them to see themselves through the eyes of others, to create a world of accommodation rather than strife. The creeds and noble ideals of the nation become empty cliches, used to justify acts of greater plunder, corruption and violence. By the end, there is only a raw lust for power and few willing to confront it.

The most damning indicators of national decline are upon us. We have watched an oligarchy rise to take economic and political power. The top 1 percent of the population has amassed more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, creating economic disparities unseen since the Depression. If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes president, we will see the presidency controlled by two families for the last 24 years.

Massive debt, much of it in the hands of the Chinese, keeps piling up as we fund absurd imperial projects and useless foreign wars. Democratic freedoms are diminished in the name of national security. And the erosion of basic services, from education to health care to public housing, has left tens of millions of citizens in despair. The displacement of genuine debate and civil and political discourse with the noise and glitter of public spectacle and entertainment has left us ignorant of the outside world, and blind to how it perceives us. We are fed trivia and celebrity gossip in place of news.

An increasing number of voices, especially within the military, are speaking to this stark deterioration. They describe a political class that no longer knows how to separate personal gain from the common good, a class driving the nation into the ground.

“There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of forces in Iraq, recently told the New York Times, adding that civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a “lust for power.”

The American working class, once the most prosperous on Earth, has been politically disempowered, impoverished and abandoned. Manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. State and federal assistance programs have been slashed. The corporations, those that orchestrated the flight of jobs and the abolishment of workers’ rights, control every federal agency in Washington, including the Department of Labor. They have dismantled the regulations that had made the country’s managed capitalism a success for ordinary men and women. The Democratic and Republican Parties now take corporate money and do the bidding of corporate interests.

Philadelphia is a textbook example. The city has seen a precipitous decline in manufacturing jobs, jobs that allowed households to live comfortably on one salary. The city had 35 percent of its workforce employed in the manufacturing sector in 1950, perhaps the zenith of the American empire. Thirty years later, this had fallen to 20 percent. Today it is 8.8 percent. Commensurate jobs, jobs that offer benefits, health care and most important enough money to provide hope for the future, no longer exist. The former manufacturing centers from Flint, Mich., to Youngstown, Ohio, are open sores, testaments to a growing internal collapse.

The United States has gone from being the world’s largest creditor to its largest debtor. As of September 2006, the country was, for the first time in a century, paying out more than it received in investments. Trillions of dollars go into defense while the nation’s infrastructure, from levees in New Orleans to highway bridges in Minnesota, collapses. We spend almost as much on military power as the rest of the world combined, while Social Security and Medicare entitlements are jeopardized because of huge deficits. Money is available for war, but not for the simple necessities of daily life.

Nothing makes these diseased priorities more starkly clear than what the White House did last week. On the same day, Tuesday, President Bush vetoed a domestic spending bill for education, job training and health programs, yet signed another bill giving the Pentagon about $471 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. All this in the shadow of a Joint Economic Committee report suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been twice as expensive than previously imagined, almost $1.5 trillion.

The decision to measure the strength of the state in military terms is fatal. It leads to a growing cynicism among a disenchanted citizenry and a Hobbesian ethic of individual gain at the expense of everyone else. Few want to fight and die for a Halliburton or an Exxon. This is why we do not have a draft. It is why taxes have not been raised and we borrow to fund the war. It is why the state has organized, and spends billions to maintain, a mercenary army in Iraq. We leave the fighting and dying mostly to our poor and hired killers. No nationwide sacrifices are required. We will worry about it later.

It all amounts to a tacit complicity on the part of a passive population. This permits the oligarchy to squander capital and lives. It creates a world where we speak exclusively in the language of violence. It has plunged us into an endless cycle of war and conflict that is draining away the vitality, resources and promise of the nation.

It signals the twilight of our empire.
What's going on in our heads? Is this really what we've become?
I thought that the article was important enough, and gave its message with such clarity, that I had to dump it whole on my blog. It's depressing as hell, I know. Will things come to pass as Hedges predicts? I hope not, but I dont hold out too much of it. The longer the People sleep, the harder our awakening will be.

On the other hand, there was a nice (more hopeful, I thought) comment by a fellow named TAO Walker:
"This old Indian encourages our domesticated Sisters and Brothers to stay calm, let go of the chains of fear binding them to the foundering pyramid-scheme, take care of one another, and start travelling Light. There is a wonderful Story unfolding in these “interesting times,” and they are all in it."
Let's hope so. Let's hope for the spirit shown by the people of New York after 9-11, and hope that government "leadership" doesnt create another fiasco like that which followed Hurricane Katrina. I especially love the idea of "travelling light", because if there's any root cause for all this mess we're in right now, it's our obsessive need for more stuff.

props to Kel at the Osterly Times

Thursday, November 29, 2007

art for the day

I believe that the function of art is to show people the world around them that they are generally too wrapped up in the business of survival (or, at least, the business of life) to notice. Why do you think that artist are among the first to feel the hand of repression? (hint: it's not because a lot of them are gay.)

How powerful is this piece?
This* is what our soldiers should be fighting for, not a shit-ton of oil that'll just further kill the planet (or, rather, the part of the planet that supports us; the planet will live on, whatever we do to it, whether we live on or not).

Here's another good one, though it's really just cool, rather than powerful.

*art, not Jesus or gold

props to ALR for leading me to it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

hump-day happiness

Yes, I know. They are bad for me. Bad for my heart, bad for my gut, bad for my prostate. Beef doesnt digest well, meat and cheese shouldnt be mixed, yada yada yada. Well, I'll tell you, you can have my cheeseburger when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands. Over the years, I've eaten burgers a lot of different ways, and enjoyed almost all of them... no, not "almost all of them", I have enjoyed all of them. And like nuts in my candy bars, it's just not a proper burger unless it has cheese, whether it's swiss, blue, cheddar or a good old American single.

Now I'm hungry. But when I'm done, I'll be happy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

if you love music, read this

once again, I've missed the file sharing boat
Demonbaby's output is erratic at best, but even when it's truly bizarre it's generally entertaining. So I was pleased to find this post about the Music Industry in my seasonal sojourne to his site. An exerpt follows:
For the major labels, it's over. It's fucking over. You're going to burn to the fucking ground, and we're all going to dance around the fire. And it's your own fault. Surely, somewhere deep inside, you had to know this day was coming, right? Your very industry is founded on an unfair business model of owning art you didn't create in exchange for the services you provide. It's rigged so that you win every time - even if the artist does well, you do ten times better. It was able to exist because you controlled the distribution, but now that's back in the hands of the people, and you let the ball drop when you could have evolved.
I'd heard somewhere just recently that only 75% (or maybe it was 95%) of musicians never see more than an advance check from their record labels, and that most of the profits recording artists make comes from touring and merchandise. So tell me again why anyone needs the Reocord labels? Read the whole thing, it's terrific, and it makes me hope for the future of music.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Who do you support?

vote, you scum, vote!
Take this quiz from Glassbooth and see where they put you. Last time I did one of these it told me that Mike Gravel matched my issue beliefs best. This time it said Dennis Kucinich, though Gravel was only a point or two behind.
I wonder a bit about the trustworthiness of these things sometimes, but I suppose that at worst they're at least as trustworthy as anything we get from the News.

Does it seem to most of you out there that people treat politics the way they do entertainment? It would certainly explain a lot. Maybe people need to be convinced to treat politics like a health insurance policy, instead. Sure, they're all lousy (unless you're a politician), but you've got to look carefully and choose the one that meets your needs the best. Picking the one with prettiest brochure isnt going to do you much good at all.

Of course, as the Good Reverend pointed out, it helps to have good health insurance to recognise it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

sunday funny

La Cucaracha used to run in the Dallas Whoring News, until they decided to make their hispanic comic quota using Baldo instead. I now have to read it via the Houston Chronicle website ("comix" on the sidebar under "media").

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

hump-day happiness

You know what makes me happy? Whimsy, that makes me happy. Oh look, here's some now...

A few "facts" about bears, from my comments in an amusing "Bearskin Rug" post "about" bears:
  • It seems that in the last century or so, bears have achieved an understanding of human art, one of the few animals to do so. They generally practice a form of scrimshaw, a medium for which their claws are handily adaptable to. Their work is largely of the magical-realistic style, and mostly concerns issues of ecology, climate, and an ongoing debate having to do with nuts in chocolate.
  • Bears are actually largely hairless, much like humans, having little hair on their bodies except for on their heads. The so-called "bearskin" is actually a jumpsuit-like covering that bears weave using their own head-hairs. It may be due to the decrease in popularity of the "bearskin rug" that bears have taken up carving, since they are no longer having to spend all their time stockpiling and making new coats to replace those stolen by bearskin hunters.
  • Bears could save themselves a lot of trouble if they would wear clothes, instead of their woven bearskin suits (fleece sweat-clothes would work admirably), but refuse to for aesthetic reasons. They also find depictions of bears in clothing, such as in Maurice Sendak's "Little Bear" stories, to be highly offensive. There is a rumour that they had contacted legal council, but the contact seems to have advanced to the eating stage and they have been since black-balled by all reputable advocacy agencies.
The Boy has an amusing addition to this, which I'm hoping he puts in the comment area (hint, hint). (addendumn on 11/28: the Boy was supposed to do a bit about Bearsong, but has let me down.)(sniff!)I can only post this because bears would have to take a bus to come to my house and eat me, and bears disdain public transportation

Monday, November 19, 2007

quote for the day

"The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment."

-Bertrand Russell

Well, maybe in theory. A lot of "liberals" are no more liberal than "conservatives" are conservative.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

sunday funny

I'm just not sure the general public is ready for this, FosterCaption says: "I'm just not sure the general public is ready for this, Foster."

If it doesnt use gasoline, and costs less than $40 a week to feed, I'm ready for it.

This is a Gahan Wilson cartoon I cut out of something (probably a Playboy) years ago. I thought I'd heard that Wilson was dead, but apparently not.

Friday, November 16, 2007

yet another way in which we "support our troops"

Good golly yes, the Bush Administration loves our boys in uniform. That's why they've been dismissing them in greater numbers* than before (often sans benefits), because they dont want army units to be tainted by crazy people. That's got to be it, right? How else would you explain the rise? Is it the lowered standards for getting into the military in the first place that has resulted in over 28,000 soldiers being kicked out since the war began? Would it be fair to say that this number is about how many people got in who wouldnt have before? If so, then what was the point? (Huh, what was the point, indeed?)

I've got a suggestion: let's go back to the way it was during the Viet Nam War. You know, instead of "supporting the troops" by cutting their funding, denying them mental care for combat-derived craziness, farming out their services to lowest-bidders making a buck off of them, and generally sending them into harms way for anther barrel-full of petro-profits, let's just spit at them when they come home and call them baby-killers, but give them the services, care, equipment and institutional respect they deserve, no, have earned.

Sure it's a lousy choice, but words hurt far less than the "support" that this nation, in the guise of the government, has shown to those who do (and die) it's bidding. If it was me, I'd take the words and the services. After all, I'd rather wish that a bunch of hippies (or whatever) go fuck themselves than that the government I was fighting for did so.

* Dont give me any bullshit about it being the army rather than the administration. Middling army brass dont give a shit about whether some fuck-up soldier gets benefits or not, just so long as he gits. Benefit denial is almost exclusively a Republican trait.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

BlogTroll no. 5

Yes, folks, once again it's time for my Blogtroll, that feature where I post all the interesting sites that I've discovered randomly in my journeys through the tubes of the internets, frequently via the "next" button up there on the top of the page. Lest anyone think that this is a purely altruistic posting on my part, allow me to assure you that it's mostly done because I'm a lazy sod who likes his links and this makes it easier for me to keep an eye on promising blogs.

No More Parents: this blog goes with the
Elephantitis of the Mind cartoon blog.
Bearskin Rug: cartoons, etc, kind of like a magazine.
Mr. Toledano: terrific photos.
Joe Irvin's Blog: political blog by former newspaper editor
SlovinskySculpture: an art blog
The Cartoon Blog: a reasonable christian blog.
Consider This: musings on modern life
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence: indescribeable, but eloquent
Gus Van Horn: not a "conservative", not a "liberal", worth a read.
Pinky Tailors Bag everywhere: a fake ad blog. I think.
Stupid Enough Unexplanation: a liberal blog
Clusterfuck Nation, a blog by former journalist Jim Kunstler. Also located here.
Millard Fillmore's Bathtub: a liberal blog.
Corrente: a liberal blog by the Senior Fellows of The Mighty Corrente Building
Have Coffee, Will Write: another liberal blog (can't have too many).
xkcd - a webcomic
Culinary Annotations: a recipe blog.
Nate's Fargo Fixer-Upper: a house repair blog.
Bits and Pieces: random stuff. (new site here)
Book Dragon: a book-lover at Word Press, or the old one here.
The 4th Avenue Blues: an ex-addict's blog
The Divided States Of bu$hmeriKa 2: an anti-bush blog
Beam Me Up: Science & Science Fiction news.
Pass Me a Diet Coke: the blog of a female law student
Workshop: Paul Kane, artist
Pascal Campion: artist, cool illustrations.

individual posts of note:
An amusing "story" w/ LOTR.
Some cool Red/Blue maps.
A fascinating set of graphs about about the national debt.

Then there are these blogs which may be defunct, which you might look at once anyway:
No: an odd one, I think it changes.
I Think In Maps: a theology dude.
Red Dirt Design: a design blog (duh).
Ótimas Oportinidades de Negocios: a brazillian architecture blog, I think.
Usafari: a traveller's blog.
Berto's Blog: a science site, more or less.
You have to see this to believe it. Republican "humor".

previous blogtrolls: no. 4, no. 3, no. 2, or maybe it's no. 1, I cant actually find 2 more in the archives. Troll \Troll\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Trolled; p. pr. & vb. n. Trolling.] [OE. trollen to roll, F. tr[^o]ler, Of. troller to drag about, to ramble; probably of Teutonic origin; cf. G. trollen to roll, ramble, sich trollen to be gone; or perhaps for trotler, fr. F. trotter to trot (cf. Trot.). Cf. Trawl.]

To move circularly or volubly; to roll; to turn.
To dress and troll the tongue, and roll the eye.
- Milton.
2. To send about; to circulate, as a vessel in drinking.
Then doth she troll to the bowl. - Gammer Gurton's Needle.
Troll the brown bowl. - Sir W. Scott.
4. To angle for with a trolling line, or with a book drawn along the surface of the water; hence, to allure.
5. To fish in; to seek to catch fish from.
With patient angle trolls the finny deep.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

hump-day happiness

this is a photo of the Baby Einstein toy, item 05810#So, the other day I was following things around on Sitemeter, and I read one of my old posts, which had a comment from my bud Sh3rry, who asked...
I wonder if perhaps you could spend one day dedicated to what makes you laugh rather than being angry at the obvious decay of our nation?
I've thought about this (she's not the first to ask, either) and decided to try and be a bit more positive. And let's substitute "happy" for "laugh".

I'll start out small, but I'll try to make this a regular feature.

This is something that makes me happy. It is a Baby Einstein product which is, sadly, no longer available. I got it at my favorite thrift store. I dont remember the kids being particularly enamored of it, but I thought it was great. It plays only four (brightly-colored) notes, but each of those notes has four different tones, none of which sound like typical (annoying) electronic sounds, plus it plays a half dozen or so fairly complex classical pieces at the touch of a button. It is one of the few electronic toys that I've encountered in raising my kids that I'd actually recommend to anyone for their own kids.

I know, it's not much, but it is a pure and unadulterated happiness.

Monday, November 12, 2007

bad medicine

I saw Naomi Klien on an old Bill Maher today, and her description of what Bush and others in the Republican Party (and to be honest, probably the Democratic Party also) have been doing to America every time there is some sort of disaster rang so true, it's amazing that no one has caught on to this before.

It's also absolutely infuriating.

If you dont feel like watching what I'll admit is a very propagandistic-style film, then try reading this book review from the Guardian. Or google her.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

sunday funny

pop up commentDoesnt just apply to psychics, though, does it?

This is from Cectic. Try it, you'll enjoy it... unless you're an easily offended religious type.

There arent a lot of cartoons yet, but my favorites are here, here, here and here.

(whoops! forgot to give credit where credit is due!)

Friday, November 09, 2007

is anyone really surprised?
seriously, anyone?

Senator Chuck Schumer
Senator Betray-us

After this whole Mukasey thing, I find myself wondering, what did Schumer get for his part in this nomination? I believe he was the one who brought Mukasey to everyone's attention, "suggested" him to the Administration. What form did his 40 pieces of silver take? Surely, especially the way Washington runs today, he didnt play the part of Dubya's rent-boy unwittingly or for free. So what does he get out of it? Keep an eye on Schumer, 'cause it'll be something.
Seriously, after one year of the Democrats being in power, I'm really starting to wonder what the point of having elections in 2006 was. Some people worry about Lord Bush staging some sort of coup to remain in power, but it seems to me that all he'll need to do is go to Congress, regardless of who runs it, and say, "Hey Guys! I really like being the Big Chief, so I want you to make me President-For-Life."
Democrats will make a fuss, a Republican or two will express misgivings, and then they'll make him our Emperor.
And what the hell, why not. I've seen it said that the Military Industrial Complex that runs our nation now wont loose its grip until we have a major crisis of society. Unpleasant as that sounds, how much worse can it be than this slow death by civil strangulation we're slipping into now? So bring it on! Let's descend into third-world barbarism and dispair. Let's become the downtrodden masses that our Republican masters have been working us towards for decades.

And while you're at it, why dont you check out some Buddhist literature? It might come in handy later on.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

sunday funny

Back in my college days when I lived in Austin, Texas, I was browsing a used bookstore when I came across a copy of the second "Academia Waltz" book. Before "Opus", before "Bloom County", there was "Academia Waltz", Berke Breathed's college cartoon. Now, it seems, this thing is a "collectable", which means I took it out of the box in the garage, and put it on the shelf in the living room. I only wish I had found the first book back in those days, because I sure as hell cannot afford one now.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

quote for the day

"History teaches us that underestimating the words of evil, ambitious men is a terrible mistake..."

George W. Bush

Once again, Herr Dubya says something about his enemies that might just as easily have been said about him. Does nobody pay attention to what that man says?