Sunday, September 30, 2007


As I mentioned last November, things seem to be looking up for the Dems, er, Cubs. (I keep getting those two confused.) Here's hoping they don't pull their customary crash-n-burn.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Greatest Misallocation of Resources in the History of the World

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We Need Another Mort Sahl

"Will Rogers...used to come out with a newspaper and pretend he was a yokel criticizing the intellectuals who ran the government. I come out with a newspaper and pretend I’m an intellectual making fun of the yokels running the government."

In his trademark V-neck sweater, with the day’s newspaper tucked under his arm, Mort Sahl has satirized -- and entertained -- presidents from Eisenhower to Clinton. He revolutionized the world of stand-up comedy with a fresh combination of political awareness, fearless criticism of the government, and a willingness to draw on personal experience. His refusal to play favorites with the political community made him the center of intense controversy, and his involvement with John F. Kennedy nearly cost him his career. But through it all, Mort Sahl has remained an unflinching critic of American politics, and he has never backed away from his beliefs.
Born in Montreal, Canada in 1927 Mort Sahl attended the University of Southern California. It was there that he began to work as a stand-up comic on stages throughout Los Angeles. In late 1953, at the urging of a friend, Sahl went to San Francisco to try his hand at the big time. There, Enrico Banducci, owner of THE HUNGRY I, a popular nightclub, hired him to fill in for a singer. To conquer his initial nervousness, he adapted a machine-gun, non-stop delivery that earned him the nickname "Rebel Without a Pause." While most comedians of the 1940s and 1950s were delivering stock jokes about wives and mothers-in-law, he turned to the newspapers for material. "The audience didn’t know what to make of me," Sahl said, "Here was this strange face, speaking a strange language, in a strange dialect, with strange ideas."
The political climate of the 1950s was ripe for comic satire. President Eisenhower, the
McCarthy hearings, the Cold War, and the beginning of the atomic age all presented themselves as targets for Sahl’s bipartisan barbs. His unbridled critiques of the House Un-American Activities Committee brought strong criticism and even violent threats. Through it all he continued to work, putting out several comedy albums and performing frequently on THE TONIGHT SHOW and THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW. He also took roles in a number of movies. Pioneering stand-up comedy in a circuit of night clubs that presented primarily jazz music, he adopted much of the jazz aesthetic. Sahl cites jazz pianist and bandleader Stan Kenton as his most important performing influence: "Stan, of course, was a great artist, but he was a voice of defiance, and he always did it on his own terms."
In August of 1960, TIME magazine pictured Sahl on its cover and called him "the patriarch of a new school of comedians," including in that group such stand-up legends as Lenny Bruce and Jonathan Winters. The year before, Sahl was hired to contribute jokes to John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign speeches, but once Kennedy was in office, Sahl returned to his policy of making jokes about the incumbent. Kennedy’s father Joseph Kennedy put pressure on Sahl to cease his criticism, even going so far as to threaten to silence Sahl.
Following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Sahl volunteered to assist in the investigation being conducted by New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison, which eventually concluded that the assassination was sanctioned by the CIA. During the investigation, Sahl began to openly criticize the findings of the Warren Report, which said that Oswald had acted alone. Once again, Sahl met with hostility from the press. Many questioned the professional wisdom of Sahl’s devotion to the assassination issue—some even suggested that he had lost his sense of humor.
Though the early 1960s would be his time of greatest fame, he enjoyed renewed popularity during the Watergate scandal, and since then has made frequent appearances both in person and on television. In the 1980s he delighted audiences with his parodies of Reagan and Bush on Broadway. Today Mort Sahl remains an inspiration to humorists and social critics everywhere. Of his deep integrity, journalist John Hart said, "Mort Sahl doesn’t tell jokes so much as he tells the truth."

More here.

Listen to Terry Gross interview Sahl on Fresh Air.

I have three dollars in the bank. I don't get paid 'til a week from Friday. I just got a disconnection notice from the electric company. The landlord just left a message on my voicemail because I still owe him for September rent, and it's almost October. We have a one-party system. I feel like screaming "FUCK YOU" at everyone I meet.

Friday, September 21, 2007

More Ammo for the Godless

Liberal academia's Darwinist hoax just keeps getting more and more elaborate (wink) :

A tickling find: Feathers on velociraptors
September 20, 2007 – 9:52 PM
Velociraptor, the terrifying predator made famous in the movie Jurassic Park, appears to have had feathers in real life.
A close study of a velociraptor forearm found in Mongolia shows the presence of quill knobs, bumps on the bone where the feathers anchor, researchers report in today's edition of the journal Science.
Dinosaurs are believed to be ancestors to modern birds.
"This is something we'd long suspected, but no one had been able to prove," said Alan Turner, lead author on the study.
The velociraptor studied was about 3 feet tall and 30 pounds. (Their size was exaggerated in the movie.) It had short forelimbs, indicating it would not have been able to fly, even though it had feathers.
The feathers may have been used for show, to shield nests, for temperature control or to help it maneuver while running, researchers said.

More here. And here. And here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Let George Carlin Set You Straight

Analyzing Authoritarianism

From The Chronicle Review:

Freud and Anna
Why publish a book about Sigmund Freud in 2007, a time when many people — perhaps most — think that Freud is passé?

Even a reasonably sympathetic observer is likely to believe that what's best in Freud's work has already been absorbed into the culture. Everyone, this line of thinking runs, now knows what Freud knew about dreams, about the unconscious, about the centrality of sex in human life, about jokes and slips of the tongue, and about a half a dozen or so other consequential matters. Then, of course, there's what his critics think of as the bad side of Freud: Contemporary psychologists dismiss him as insufficiently scientific; feminists denounce him as the ultimate patriarch. So why bother now with Sigmund Freud?
The Death of Sigmund Freud began as a book about death and dying. I wanted to understand what it might mean to die a good death — a good secular death. From what I knew of Freud's last days, when he was dying of cancer, he had done exactly that. In fact, as I studied his life, I found that to the end he was tough, brave, and resolutely secular. His final public act was to publish his most controversial book, Moses and Monotheism. "Quite a worthy exit," he said of the volume, and it was. So I began writing about Freud's heroic demise.
But the true subject of a book is often about 20 degrees away from the author's original intention, and so it was here. As I studied Freud's old age and his late work, I came to see that the problems he encountered were in many ways still ours. Both religious fundamentalism and political tyranny threatened Freud in old age, and in quite immediate ways. Freud worked on his Moses book under the shadow of the repressive Roman Catholic Church of Austria, which surely would have moved to suppress the book if he had tried to publish it in Vienna. When he was 81 years old, Nazi Germany invaded Austria and threatened Freud and his family with death.
But Freud did more than experience tyranny. In a series of remarkably prescient books and essays, he also wrote about it. Totem and Taboo, Group Psychology, Future of an Illusion, and a number of other works all analyze how and why authority goes bad and becomes oppressive. It occurred to me as I reread those works that, at best, culture had assimilated only half of Freud's thinking, the half that, broadly speaking, deals with eros. Freud the analyst of sex was something we all knew about. But there was a second phase of Freud's work, little read, that bears strongly on our own crises in politics and religion. Freud was, I came to believe, something of an expert on how and why authority goes bad.
The complicating factor was that Freud sometimes trafficked in oppressive authority himself. In writing as in life, he could be bullying, intolerant, overbearing — though never to what one could call a pathological degree. Feminists were right, I concluded, to say that Freud was patriarchal, and right, too, to say that patriarchy might be the great malaise of our times — in politics and in religion, particularly. But reading Freud, I concluded something else, too. Patriarch that he may have been, Freud nonetheless lived and wrote in a way that allows us to understand our own attraction to oppressive power — and perhaps even to do something about it.
The excerpt that follows tells the story of a crisis in Freud's relationship with his daughter Anna, which reveals something about Freud's capacity for love and his drive for authority.

By 1938, the year that the Nazis invaded Vienna and put Sigmund Freud and his family in mortal danger, Freud's feelings for his daughter Anna were at their height. Anna had become not only the great comfort of his old age, but also his hope for the future. What Freud wanted was not to live on and on; he was tired and very ill: He had been struggling with cancer of the jaw for 15 years. What Freud wanted was to die assured that the psychoanalytic movement that he had founded and the knowledge that he believed he had uncovered and organized would live on through time. Freud was obsessed with the continuity of his work, and lately he had come to see that Anna was the one who could do the most to ensure it. In Freud's old age, Anna meant everything to him. March 22, 1938, the day that the Nazis came for her, was surely the worst single day of Sigmund Freud's life.
Freud had not always held his youngest child in high esteem. Anna had never been pretty, at least according to Freud, and she was not precocious; as a girl, she was dutiful, thoughtful, and thorough, with a capacity for hard work not unlike her father's. Over time, though, Freud came to see that what Anna lacked in quickness of understanding, she made up for in depth. She immersed herself in his work and his world — when she was still a girl she attended the seminars Freud held for his disciples in his apartment at Berggasse 19, sitting quietly in a room blue with cigar smoke — and became as well versed in her father's thought as any of his followers. Anna's relation to Freud's vision was never creative. She took it all in; she learned its terms by heart; but it never seems to have occurred to Anna that her father's thinking required revision or even much development.
Freud's authority with Anna was absolute; he had established it early in her life, in part by psychoanalyzing her himself. Looking back on the psychoanalysis, Anna said that her father never permitted her to indulge in halfway measures. He compelled her to offer the whole truth about everything, including her erotic life. It seems that she shared with him accounts of her sexual fantasies and of her initial forays into masturbation, and that Freud took it all in with characteristic equanimity. Anna emerged from the analysis grateful to her father and more committed to him than ever. From that time on, Freud's attitude toward his daughter was protective in the extreme, especially when sex was the issue. Even as Anna reached her 20s and began to attract men, including one of Freud's disciples, the devoted womanizer Ernest Jones, Freud continually proclaimed that she was too young and not at all ready to leave the family. Once, during the period of Anna's analysis, when she had gone off on vacation and left her mother and father, Freud, writing to the Russian psychoanalyst Lou Andreas Salomé, said, "I have long felt sorry for [Anna] for still being at home with us old folks, ... but on the other hand, if she really were to go away, I should feel myself as deprived as I [would] now if I had to give up smoking!"
By 1938, Anna had virtually displaced Freud's wife, Martha, in his life of feeling. Anna took care of him: She got his medicine; she helped him remove and clean the prosthesis installed on the right side of his jaw, where the cancer had done its damage — they called the device "the Monster." And Anna sustained her father intellectually as well, for he talked his ideas over with her as much as he did with anyone. He sought her comfort, yes, but he also sought her intellectual advice. Anna had become Freud's great stay against the world.
For at least 30 years, Freud had wanted inheritors, younger men (it would preferably be men) who could devote themselves to him and carry on his legacy. So he began to gather around him talented younger thinkers like Karl Abraham and Sándor Ferenczi and Carl Jung. He seated them at a table with himself at the head, like a monarch surrounded by his knights. In time he gave some of them rings to seal the fellowship. He called them his sons.
Over time, though, it became clear that Freud could not bear much of any intellectual disagreement from his followers. The story goes that once when a disciple disputed a point with him during a seminar, Freud tried to quash him. "But," the disciple replied, "a dwarf sitting on the shoulders of a giant can see farther than the giant." Freud took this in. He gestured once with his cigar, then again. "Fine," the founder replied, "but a louse sitting on the head of an astronomer, what can he see?"
Carl Jung, whom Freud for a while called "the crown prince" without terribly much irony, was creative, excessively so. He was intrigued by astrology and alchemy; he was a visionary and a mystic, and he impressed Freud and disturbed him in about equal measure. To break with Jung, as Freud did beginning around 1912, and over time to begin to look to Anna as the guardian of the legacy, was a great shift. In making it, Freud chose caution over imagination, continuity over creative disjunction. Freud loved Anna for herself; he passionately wanted her happiness: That much is certain. But he also loved her as a guarantor of the only kind of immortality that Freud, who famously called himself a "godless Jew," could believe in. Anna Freud was the critical link in the chain that might help make psychoanalysis live on, perhaps for all time.
Part of Freud's genius lay in knowing that to be a genius was not enough. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, from whose work Freud had — to put it generously — borrowed, had also developed brilliant interpretations of life. But both had left academia early; neither had founded a school or created disciples in significant numbers. Freud did not intend to make the same mistakes.
On Tuesday, March 22, a few days after the Germans invaded Austria, the Gestapo came to Berggasse 19 and took Anna. They seemed persuaded that the International Psychoanalytical Association was a front for an antifascist political movement. Surely the person they most wanted to arrest and question was Freud. Anna told them that it was not possible for her father to leave the apartment building, because he was ill and too frail to manage the stairs. She was willing to go in his place and to answer any questions the Gestapo might have about the association. Before she left with them, Max Schur, Freud's personal physician, handed Anna some Veronal, a poison that would have allowed her to kill herself if the Nazis decided to torture her. Freud did not know about the Veronal, and if he did he would no doubt have been enraged at Schur. But mostly he was furious at the Nazis. All over Vienna, Jews were disappearing; some were being killed, many taken off to the concentration camp at Dachau.
No one now knows for certain what Anna said or did not say in her encounter with the Nazis. But she had observed her father well over the years, and he had provided her, just as he had provided himself, with something close to a perfect cover story to use in this kind of emergency. When the officers asked her if her father was political or subversive, or if any of his ideas might be an affront to the Reich, Anna had a whole grammar and vocabulary of response at her disposal. This language of exculpation was both radically misleading and absolutely true, for Freud had a way of talking about himself and his work that was designed for public consumption.
My father, Anna might have said, has always involved himself with science. He has labored for years in as close to laboratory conditions as he could find in order to draw valid conclusions about the dynamics of human behavior. He has tried to write up those conclusions in dispassionate, clear language. Some of the conclusions, to be sure, are provisional, but, as he himself has said many times, he is waiting for further developments in biochemistry to confirm, or perhaps to modify, what he has learned.
As to day-to-day politics, they hardly interest my father at all. He reads the newspaper as others do; he follows events. But he is far too old and he is far too sick to be a rabble-rousing Austrian nationalist. When the Great War came, in 1914, he dutifully sent his sons off to fight. He hoped for their safety and he hoped for the victory of Austria-Hungary and of its ally, Germany.
Granted my father is a Jew, as I, of course, am myself. But Papa's commitment to Judaism has never consisted of much more than going to the B'nai B'rith every couple of weeks and playing a spirited game of Tarock with other old men. He is not a Zionist, and he is no Jewish rebel. And as his writings will show you, should you chance to read them, he is anything but a Communist. True, my father will never deny his Jewish heritage. He is above all things an honest man. When he is healthy, he leads a regular life: breakfast and his patients; dinner, his walk, his beard trim, his paper, more patients; supper with the family, then work, work, late into the night.
My father has worked ceaselessly his whole life, and over time this work, which is, as I say, of an impeccably scientific nature, has won him many admirers and many friends, some of whom do not lack influence in the world. He is an aged, peaceful, and overall harmless man, but, with all respect due, one would not lightly disturb the tranquility of what are surely his final years.
At home, waiting for his daughter, Freud paced the floor and smoked. He did not speak; he was too distressed to utter a word; he knew that nothing he could possibly say there in the front room of Berggasse 19, with his family around him, could be any actual help. But surely during those bad hours, Freud thought a great deal. Anna was so much to him: Could he live in the world without her any longer than old Lear could after he lost Cordelia?
At Nazi headquarters, Anna was no doubt telling the most blandly respectable story she could about her father — but she might have been thinking other things as well. She might have been thinking more candidly about the bearing her father's work and character actually had on the Nazis, for that, in fact, was considerable.
My father, she might have thought, as the dull questions came and came again, knows you better than you know yourself. A string of books and essays proves as much: "On Narcissism," Group Psychology, Future of an Illusion, Totem and Taboo. For years he has been writing about the hunger for the leader — your Hitler, your half-monster, half-clown — and all the others who've come before and all who will come later in his image. He knows why you need the leader the way you do. He understands how the leader brings oneness to a psyche — and a state — at odds with itself. He knows how the inner life is divided — ego battling id, prohibition battling desire, in incessant civil war — and how painful that division can be. The great man shows the people how to indulge their worst and most forbidden desires — and then to congratulate themselves for doing so. Now in Germany and Austria it is no crime to persecute the Jews. This is no longer forbidden: Rather, it is patriotic; it is heroic. Under the leader, inner conflict relaxes, people become unified. All of their energies flow in the same direction: They become intoxicated; get high, and stay that way.
In a certain way, my father sympathizes with this need. He knows that the hunger for the leader is not alien or exceptional, but all too human. All of the fiery joy you felt when you saw your Führer ride in state through Vienna — the apotheosis of the will — my father understood. You are nothing new and wonderfully rebellious, as you imagine, but part of the endless recurrence of the same sad hunger for Truth, the Center, the Leader, and the Law. By understanding as much and making it plain for all who care to see it, my father is the one who has perhaps brought something into the world that is new.
But it might also have occurred to Anna that her father's knowledge about the dynamics of a certain sort of authority arose from his own attraction to it. He was no dictator, no brute — far from it. But surely he was in his way a Victorian patriarch. (Ask Jung — ask any of his former disciples — ask a woman, a daughter, who had been compared to a cigar.) Yet he was a patriarch like no other. He was a patriarch who lived and wrote, in that great string of books and essays on authority and its mysteries, to bring patriarchy to an end.
It's possible that there was some intervention on Anna's behalf. There may have been help from the American Embassy. Anna remembered a phone call that seemed to change the atmosphere. In all likelihood, though, it was Anna herself who worked her way out of the Nazi trap: More and more, the Nazis were coming to realize how little the world cared about what was happening in Austria, and how much they could do as they pleased. In significant matters. they were becoming ever freer to make up their own minds.
At home Freud paced up and down in his living room and, forgetting his doctors' injunction against smoking, pried his aching jaw open and inserted one cigar after another. He walked and walked, smoked and smoked. At noon he could not eat. He did not acknowledge anyone. There was no way for Freud to express all of the things that Anna — daughter, disciple, nurse, colleague, confidante — meant to him. When Anna finally walked in the door, early that evening, exhausted from her ordeal, the restrained Freud did something, we're told, that almost no one had ever seen him do. Sigmund Freud showed emotion. The great stoic may even have wept.

Mark Edmundson is a professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is author of The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days, published this month by Bloomsbury.

The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Bicycle Thief

From Salon:

Bike activists face an uphill climb against Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who claims bike paths are not transportation and are stealing tax money from bridges and roads.

By Katharine Mieszkowski
Sep. 14, 2007 Imagine you're the federal official in the Bush administration charged with overseeing the nation's transportation infrastructure. A major bridge collapses on an interstate highway during rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring an additional 100. Whom to blame? How about the nation's bicyclists and pedestrians!
The Minneapolis bridge collapse on Aug. 1 led Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters to publicly reflect on federal transportation spending priorities and conclude that those greedy bicyclists and pedestrians, not to mention museumgoers and historic preservationists, hog too much of the billions of federal dollars raised by the gas
tax, money that should go to pave highways and bridges. Better still, Peters, a 2006 Bush appointee, apparently doesn't see biking and walking paths as part of transportation infrastructure at all.
In an Aug. 15
appearance on PBS's "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," Peters spoke against a proposal to raise gas taxes to shore up the nation's aging infrastructure. The real problem, the secretary argued, is that only 60 percent of the current money raised by gas taxes goes to highways and bridges. She conveniently neglected to mention that about 30 percent of the money goes to public transit. She then went on to blast congressional earmarks, which dedicate 10 percent of the gas tax to some 6,000 other projects around the country. "There are museums that are being built with that money, bike paths, trails, repairing lighthouses. Those are some of the kind of things that that money is being spent on, as opposed to our infrastructure," she said. The secretary added that projects like bike paths and trails "are really not transportation."
Peters' comments set off an eruption of blogging, e-mailing and letter-writing among bike riders and activists, incensed that no matter how many times they burn calories instead of fossil fuels with the words "One Less Car" or "We're Not Holding Up the Traffic, We Are the Traffic" plastered on their helmets, their pedal pushing is not taken seriously as a form of transportation by the honchos in Washington, D.C.
Bike paths are not infrastructure? "There are hundreds of thousands of people who ride to work, and millions who walk to work every day, and the idea [that] that isn't transportation is ludicrous," says Andy Clarke, executive director of the
League of American Bicyclists, who has biked to work for almost 20 years on a path paid for with federal dollars. Clarke fired off an angry letter to Peters, and invited the 25,000 members of his organization around the country to do the same. "The guy in his Humvee taking his videos back to the video store isn't any more legitimate a trip than the guy on the Raleigh taking his videos back," says Andy Thornley, program director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
In fact, only about 1.5 percent of federal transportation dollars go to fund bike paths and walking trails. In the meantime, 10 percent of all U.S. trips to work, school and the store occur on bike or foot, and bicyclists and pedestrians account for about 12 percent of annual traffic fatalities, according to the Federal Highway Administration. "We represent a disproportionate share of the injuries, and we get a minuscule share of the funds," says Robert Raburn, executive director of the
East Bay Bike Coalition in the San Francisco Bay Area, who calls the Peters' comments "outrageous." Plus, he notes, with problems like global warming, the obesity epidemic and energy independence, shouldn't the U.S. secretary of transportation be praising biking, not complaining about it?
What really drives cyclists around the bend is that while they're doing their part to burn less fossil fuel -- cue slogan: "No Iraqis Died to Fuel This Bike" -- they're getting grief for being expensive from a profligate administration. "War spending, tax cuts for the rich, and gas taxes are all big sources of funding. Bike spending is not," fumes
Michael Bluejay, an Austin, Texas, bike activist, in an e-mail. "The few pennies we toss toward bike projects is not enough to fix our nation's bridges, not by a freaking long shot."
One of the many communities that benefit from federal dollars for bicyclists and pedestrians is the very one where the bridge collapsed. For the St. Paul, Minn., program
Bike/Walk Twin Cities, administered by Transit for Livable Communities, $21.5 million of federal dough is being spent to create bike lanes, connect existing walking and biking trails with one another, and install signage to alert drivers of the presence of bicyclists and walkers. Despite the cold winters, Minneapolis is something of a biking Mecca, with 2.4 percent of all trips to work made by bike, significantly higher than the national average of 0.4 percent, according to Joan Pasiuk, program director of Bike/Walk Twin Cities.
It's hard to argue that walking paths and bike trails are robbing federal coffers when states can't even spend all the federal money they've received to repair bridges in the first place. In 2006, state departments of transportation sent back $1 billion in unspent bridge funds to the federal government, according to the
Federal Highway Administration. "The fact that there is a billion dollars of bridge repair money sloshing around in the system not being spent suggests that it's not the fault of bike trails," says Clarke.
Congressional Democrats agree. "It's a red herring to point to bike paths and even imply that if we didn't build another bike path we'd have all the money we need to fix our highways and bridges," says Jim Berard, communications director for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. "You can't build very many bridges with the amount of money that you would save if you didn't build any bike paths."
So why is Peters suddenly taking on bikes and pedestrians? Her comments are especially odd since she sang the praises of bikes as transportation in a
speech at the National Bike Summit in Washington, in March 2002. Has she simply forgotten the glory of two wheels? One theory: Peters is on a campaign to quash the idea of raising the gas tax, as she editorialized recently in the Washington Post. A key proponent of raising the gas tax to fund bridge restorations in the wake of the Minneapolis bridge collapse is Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, who has advocated for bike and pedestrian paths in his district. By putting a culture-war spin on the bridge collapse, Peters is hoping to run his gas tax proposal off the road.
Does Peters herself buy this theory? Does she really think that bike paths do not qualify as transportation infrastructure? Why does she say that things like bike paths steal money from bridge repairs when states have more than enough money to fix bridges? The secretary would not respond, but Jennifer Hing, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation's Office of Public Affairs in the Office of the Secretary, would. She answered all the specific questions with one resoundingly uninformative e-mail: "The federal government should set high standards for and invest in the ongoing safety, reliability and interconnection of the nation's transportation network. State and local communities should have the flexibility to then set local transportation priorities."
For their part, cyclists have been weaving through political land mines for decades. In the perennial struggle to gain public support for bike paths, they remain philosophical. Says Thornley of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition: "Before there were automobiles, and after there will be automobiles, there will be bicycles moving people around for transportation."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Well, Duh

Study finds conservatives, led by George Will, dominate editorial pages
Associated Press
NEW YORK — George Will's column runs in more newspapers than any writer in the nation, according to a new study by a liberal media watchdog group that concludes conservative voices such as his dominate editorial pages.
Will's syndicated column runs at least once a month in 368 newspapers with more than 26 million in total circulation, said the Media Matters for America. The organization surveyed 96 percent of the nation's 1,430 English-language daily newspapers.
"He reaches half of the newspaper readers in America," said Paul Waldman, the study's author. "He has a huge megaphone, probably bigger than anybody else in America."
His group found that 60 percent of the daily newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists each week than liberals. Twenty percent of the papers are dominated by liberals and 20 percent are balanced. Media Matters had no information on local columnists.
It's similar to how conservative talk radio voices dominate, although to a much more limited extent.
Waldman called it "one more nail in the coffin of the myth of liberal media bias." Better balance should be the goal, he said.
Will, 66, distributes two columns each week to newspapers through the Washington Post Writers Group and writes every other week for Newsweek. He's been a columnist since 1974, when newspapers began searching for conservative voices after the Nixon administration complained about a liberal bias.
"It's pleasing news, because one never knows," Will told The Associated Press. "You send these things out and you can't possibly keep track of how the newspapers are using them."
Alan Shearer, editorial director and general manager of the group that syndicates Will, said he thinks the column is popular because it contains original reporting and is not just opinion. Will can also be unpredictable, and predictability is the death of columnists, he said.
Some well-known TV personalities can't approach Will for reach in their written work. Bill O'Reilly, for example, reaches 4 million readers and Ann Coulter 1.1 million, the survey said.
The five most popular columnists include another conservative, Kathleen Parker, and two liberals, Ellen Goodman and Leonard Pitts Jr. David Broder of the Washington Post, who is third, isn't assigned an ideology by Media Matters.
The top 10 is rounded out by Cal Thomas, Charles Krauthammer and three from The New York Times: Thomas L. Friedman, Maureen Dowd and David Brooks.
Both Will and Shearer said they believe that Media Matters is right, that conservative columnists have a wider reach than liberals. It may partly be because publishers lean conservative, and editorial page editors often report to them, Shearer said.
Will said he hoped to write "'til I drop," pointing to his 50th anniversary as a columnist as a goal. That's in 2024.
"I love to write," he said. "I think that's unusual among journalists. A lot of journalists like the reporting and hanging around the journalistic subculture and seeing their names in the paper, it's the middle part they don't like. I like the middle part."

War With Iran?

War with Iran? We—meaning Anglo-American financial interests—have been at war with Iran for nigh on two hundred years.

The conflict began in 1856, when British forces attacked Persia to force them out of portions of Afghanistan. Constant skirmishes with Russia and its Mid-East neighbors had eroded Persia’s sphere of influence more or less to present day Iran, and the newly throned Qajar Dynasty was intent on re-establishing lost territory, but those intentions went unmet as Tehran fell prey to foreign influence, first from Russia and later from England.

In 1888, the Ottoman Empire inked a deal with Germany to build the Berlin-to-Baghdad Railway; the discovery of oil a few years later turned England against the scheme. England had developed an oil monopoly in Iraq, and by 1901, they had a similar arrangement in Iran. A German railway into the region would weaken England’s hold on the world’s newest strategic resource: oil. Some historians cite this as the main impetus behind World War I.

The Oil Concession of 1901 spelled the beginning of decades of British tyranny in Iran, as the Anglo Persian Oil Company (later, the Anglo Iranian Oil Company) bought politicians, bullied legitimate opposition and foisted laws upon the people. By 1951, the people had had enough. They toppled the Shah and elected a semi-socialist prime minister named Mohammed Mossadegh, who quickly nationalized Iran’s oil production. The AIOC was reduced to simply one of several competing entities allowed to bid on Iran’s oil fields.

The following year, British intelligence operatives drew up plans for a joint Anglo-American plot to overthrow Mossadegh and install a new puppet regime. President Truman killed the idea, however, and it was shelved until Eisenhower became president in 1953. By then, it had become a CIA operation codenamed TP-AJAX. Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., Teddy’s grandson, led the scheme. In 1954, AIOC reinvented itself as British Petroleum, regaining a 40 percent share of Iran’s oil production, and positioning itself as the preeminent oil producer in the region.

History repeated itself, as it so often does, in 1979, when the Shah was again overthrown. This time, however, instead of a Socialist, Iranians elected a Muslim extremist, Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, who framed his takeover in religious destiny terms. The current Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, though not a religious figure, has maintained Khomeini’s hardline stance towards the West. And recent British and American actions suggest our leadership is repeating itself too.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Boards of Canada -- Dayvan Cowboy

93% Ain't Bad, Is It? Well, Is It?

You Are 93% Feminist

You are a total feminist. This doesn't mean you're a man hater (in fact, you may be a man).
You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It's a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The American Dream is a Lie

The American Dream is a cruel hoax perpetrated by Wall Street on a mostly unsuspecting populace addled by years of TeeVee and disinformation. This Labor Day post comes directly from the front line trenches where average Americans chase their own tails for fun and profit.

In 1998, I had a temp job at a local Ameriquest Mortgage affiliate. The assignment lasted from right before Thanksgiving to right before Christmas.

God, that job sucked.

Mainly, my job was to enter mortgage information into a database, but they would occasionally ask me to perform other tasks, such as driving to the Government Center to hunt down information on recently filed foreclosure notices. That was the modus operandi at this office – locate desperate families who were about to lose their homes and offer them a refinancing deal. It didn’t hurt that it was Christmastime.
In the sales office, there was a huge zip code map with pushpins identifying the poorest neighborhoods. The sales staff would pore over the white pages looking for addresses in the shitty zip codes and then cold call the hapless suckers and offer them refinancing deals. Evidently, business was booming, because the “loan officers” all wore expensive suits and drove new cars. A couple of the guys, however, had forgotten to include shoes in their new ensembles. Nothing says redneck nouveau riche more than white Nike high-tops with a suit.

When I asked my supervisor, a wiry bleach blond mother of three from a far away suburb, why the database included race information, she said it was just a legal technicality. “Don’t worry,” she reassured me, “there’s no racism anymore.” After that, I started marking every entry as “Caucasian, non-Hispanic.” I don’t know if that helped or hurt, but I had to do something subversive. In the anteroom where the coffeemaker and fax machine were, the walls were decorated with news clippings. Every one of them was about
ACORN, the non-profit group that helps working class families buy homes. Names of ACORN representatives were highlighted in yellow with nasty remarks written in the margins.

Since it was autumn, hunting and football were the main topics of conversation. And of course children. “Blah blah blah hunting,” they would say. And “blah blah blah football.” And of course, “blah blah blah family.” Since I didn’t hunt, watch football or have children, I was like half a fag in their eyes. Politics were carefully avoided, probably on orders from the Main Office or something, but it didn’t take a rocket surgeon to figger out who these dolts voted for in the last election. (HINT: Bob Dole)

Anyway, flash forward nine years. Now I’m working for the second largest settlement administrator in the country (yes, I’m
temping again) handling the class action settlement against – you guessed it – Ameriquest. According to the badly spelled script we are supposed to be reading to the class members, all 50 states except Virginia (supposedly because Ameriquest never did business in Virginia) have found Ameriquest guilty of violating just about every law governing home loans. They provided deceptive information on interest rates and discount points, convinced homeowners to refinance when doing so provided no benefit to the borrower, and they falsified borrowers’ financial information in order to maximize the loan amounts.

Here’s how a class action settlement works, for those of you who, like me, were never very clear on the concept: What happens is, somebody sues someone. Then another person sues that same entity for more or less the same reasons. Then another person does it. Then another. After awhile, it becomes apparent that the entity being sued perpetrated the alleged crime on numerous individuals. Said individuals are then identified as a ‘class.’ Efforts are made to locate all of the class members – in this case, anyone who had a loan with
Ameriquest between 1999 and 2005. (I’m not sure how those dates were arrived at, since the bad behavior extends beyond them.) If the defendant is found guilty (or about to be found guilty), they offer a settlement to be divided among the class members. If the majority of the class members accepts the settlement, then the whole thing is settled. If the majority of the class members fails to accept the settlement, then it’s back to the drawing board. In the case of Ameriquest, the average settlement amount is around $600. Naturally, Ameriquest wants everyone to accept the settlement, since it means the company will pay out a mere fraction of what they stole. Class members are faced with the choice of accepting the settlement and at least getting something, or refusing the settlement, hiring an attorney and going it alone in the hopes of getting the tens of thousands they are really owed. Since most of the class members were poor to begin with, or at least not rich, this latter option is usually beyond their reach, unless they know a lawyer willing to help them out pro bono. One fly in Ameriquest’s ointment is the fact that many of the class members have lost their homes and are now unreachable using the information in Ameriquest’s databases. If less than a certain percentage of the class members accept the settlement, either intentionally or because they couldn’t be reached in time, then new settlement arrangements must be arrived at.

For some strange reason, there is very little mention of the class action lawsuit against Ameriquest in the supposedly liberal media.

As I mentioned above, Rust Consulting is the second largest settlement administrator in the country, a fact they are eager to repeat at every opportunity. I probably shouldn’t be linking to them, since they are kinky for confidentiality and this will probably come back to haunt me somehow. One observation I have made on this assignment, or I should say, one suspicion I have long had which has been emphatically confirmed on this assignment, is that the American educational system is woefully inadequate. Both my fellow temps, and the class members I am calling at a rate of 30 per hour, display a shocking incapacity for basic communication and reasoning skills. For example, whatever happened to the tradition of keeping a pen and paper near the telephone in case you need to write something down? Time and again, I am forced to wait while someone laboriously searches for a pen, and even then I must spell nearly every word of the two-sentence message while they scratch it out Ali G style. “…Set-tle-ment,” I repeat patiently. “S-E-T-T-L-E-M-E-N-T. Ad-min-ist-rat-or. A-D-M-I…” I hang up knowing that not one word of the message will reach its intended recipient in any meaningful form.

I can tell by the uneasy expressions I receive from my supervisors whenever we talk that I am an anomaly among the temp crowd in that I catch on quickly and use relatively good grammar in my daily speech. There must be something wrong with me, they suspect, since I am not borderline retarded. What I mean is, there must be something wrong with me that isn’t readily apparent; there is something wrong with nearly all of my coworkers, but you can tell what it is at first glance. With me, the problem is lurking below the surface somewhere, and that fills my supervisors with unease. I think some of them suspect me as some sort of corporate spy – perhaps from
Ameriquest or one of the law firms – sent here to make sure they are handling things professionally. But maybe I’m just being paranoid. In any case, they are right that something is lurking beneath the surface; it’s an irrepressible urge to speak truth to power, which is precisely why I keep landing in these crappy temp jobs in the first place. The American workplace, from the White House on down, craves obedience. Independent thinking, even if it is used to accomplish the tasks at hand, is a Major Threat that needs to be extinguished quickly before it spreads. Likes golf? Check. NASCAR? Check. Hooters? Check. Sinclair Lewis? WARNING WARNING WARNING…

On Friday, August 17th, 40 or 50 of us temps crowded into a hotel conference room to receive our “orientation,” which consisted mainly of reiterating Rust Consulting’s extremely high level of ethics, and repeating the importance of being at our workstations on time each morning and after every break. And speaking of breaks, these are rigidly enforced. Unfortunately, the process for punching in and out for breaks consumes nearly a third of the break time.

On Monday, August 20th, we arrived for our first shift. We were forced to wait in the lobby for nearly 40 minutes before we were allowed through the front doors. The delay was never explained. We didn’t get to punch in until after 9 am, over an hour after our agreed upon start time. What I deduce from this, naturally, is that our time is worthless to Rust Consulting, but that Rust’s time must be regarded as precious to the temps. Bryan, one of my many supervisors, spent most of the morning filling out MAF forms for each of us to sign. MAF stands for Manual Adjustment Form, and one must be filled out anytime there is an error in the electronic timekeeping system; for example, if you forget to punch out for break, you need to fill out a MAF, and it needs to be signed by you, your supervisor and the HR director.

The scripts we were expected to read to the class members over the telephone went through many rewrites, exacerbating the already awkward task of calling strangers and reading to them. We were instructed to read the scripts “conversationally,” which is impossible since they are laden with legalese. Well, not legalese so much as excruciating ass-covering detail. For instance, you can’t say “the tenth,” or “Monday the tenth;” you have to say, "Monday, September 10th, 2007." Every. Fucking. Time. How do you do that “conversationally?” Not even Spock speaks that formally. There is always somebody listening to your phone calls, and from time to time one of the many supervisors appears with a checklist that you must sign grading your performance. The most common criticism is that you didn’t adhere to the script. The script is so poorly written though, that you cannot adhere to it without splitting infinitives and dangling participles.

The class members we are calling – that is, the ones who haven’t yet lost their homes – already stinging from the flogging they have received at the hands of Ameriquest, become belligerent the moment the word “Ameriquest” is uttered. That’s the only word from the whole script that they seem to hear. If they don’t just hang up, which is understandably common, they blurt out some variation of “the check’s in the mail.” About half the time, it takes a solid 30 seconds of arguing just to get them to understand that they are eligible to receive money this time, and of course you can’t do so at all without deviating from the script. We are expected to make a minimum of 25 calls per hour. Since either Ameriquest or Rust has screwed the pooch on this deal, we are having a hard time reaching all 200,000 or so of the class members before the September 5th deadline. As a result, overtime is available for the temps who aren’t ready to pull their hair out at the end of their regular shift. But in order to be considered for overtime, you must make at least 30 calls per hour. As a result, most of my coworkers read the script in an unintelligible monotone that results inevitably in even more hang-ups. Hang-ups are good, since they only take a few seconds. I suspect that the whole thing is designed to minimize the possibility of actually making contact with all the class members. But maybe that’s just me being paranoid again.

I wish I could've been there at the Ameriquest branch when the chickens started coming home to roost and people were getting laid off and the phones weren't ringing except when the lawyers called and it became painfully obvious that, yes, you self-absorbed suburban white trash twat, racism is still alive and well in the Land of the Free. It's about the only time I've wished to be at a temp job.

As is so often the case, corporate America has pitted two groups of poor people against one another in their interminable effort to evade justice. One group, so desperate for meaningful employment that they will immerse themselves in an absurd tragicomedy just to make ends meet, is forced to attempt contact with the other group of poor people who foolishly believed in something that vanished around 1950, if it ever even existed at all – the American Dream.