Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Mythunderstanding of Slang

by gendanke

I used to love pointing out that the sadist who put the “s” in lisp was the same one that stuck an “r” in rhoticism, defined as the inability to pronounce the letter “r.” This would eventually draw out that one illiterate prig who, with double-negatives arguing that “nobody owns no language,” only served to put an extra sniff in my Awesome Scholar’s Arrogance. Because everyone knows educated people don’t start sentences with “because,” don’t use slang, and most certainly never aim to boldly split infinitives. The “gifted underachiever” is that guy delighting that he finds Sara Lee’s “Nobody Doesn’t like Sara Lee” grammatically offensive as it associates him with class, regardless of how much of the dirt on his face is chocolate frosting.

In 2003, Lynn Truss wrote Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a hilarious tale of a pedant mourning the death of punctuation; she refuses to board the buses at Victoria Station because posters on the side advertising Hugh Grant’s Two Weeks Notice [sic] were maliciously missing an apostrophe. Defining the capacity for nausea at the comma in “Bob,s Pets” as a Seventh Sense only the elite possess, she’d rather curl up in a box than live in a world where signs like “Waiter’s Wanted” exist to offend with their awful punctuation.

Now, there is no question language is important; the human brain assembles the world a million ways a million times a day by juggling words in combinations the best computers sweat through. It shapes culture in fascinating ways; the Australian aboriginal language Dyirbal classes nouns into four categories: 1) animate objects and men 2) women, fire, and dangerous things 3) edible produce 4) miscellaneous. So where an English speaker inflects nouns only in respect to plurality and verb agreement, the Dyirbal speaker must first identify that noun as either male, female, possible threat, or whether or not he can eat it before uttering a single sentence. Isn’t that interesting?

Some languages, like Japanese, have the “adversative-passive” tense for verbs which, like the insanity clause, allows people to abdicate responsibility. Mishima didn’t commit suicide; he was suicided. But despite awesome German nouns like Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which means “beef-labeling-regulation-and-delegation-of-supervision-law” or the Spanish word for handcuffs meaning “wife,” language, like all heroes, has a tragic flaw. Without a pinch of salt, it achieves the alchemy of transmuting the ugliest hypocrisies into a “spreading-of-democracy” or arbitrarily vilifying human impulses by labeling them a “sin.” In one swoop, it undermines a person’s social class and therefore value by lumping how he speaks into a subcategory called “slang,” which we’re taught to associate with imbecility without having to prove why that person is below us.

It slaughtered Lenny Bruce, a genius smarter than the morons who never had to explain why Bruce was being arrested other than because he used words like cocksucker and was therefore disobedient. In 1966, two such cocksuckers conducted tests on black children and concluded that from their absent use of Proper Grammar they were little more than animals. So what else could condescending bigots do but set up “Bereiter-Engelmann” preschools, where these awful little savages could be taught a little class by imitating white people?

Exactly how is being repulsed by the way a person speaks different than being nauseated by their skin color? It’s a bitter pill to swallow for us pedants; both are forms of willful negligence allowing you to assume value without having to create it. So what if it’s amusing knowing your gorgeous ear is sensitive to the erroneous modifying of verbs with adjectives? There is little qualitative difference between Ms. Truss refusing to board a bus transporting awful grammar and Miss Annabelle refusing to because there’s a Negro riding on it.

The real imbecile is the one presuming he knows what you are because he buys into the myth of slang being “immoral.” It grants him the petty narcissism of being able to show that he’s offended. Does this mean grammar is racist and should therefore be scorned? Before you go around lynching grammar as elitist, I leave you with this—in 1327, Welsh conspirators needed to murder King Edward II without clear evidence of their involvement. One of them sent this note to the perpetrators: “Kill Edward not to fear is good.” Purposely ambiguous, punctuation was left out in case the plot backfired. So poor Edward did die at the mercy of a scalding iron shimmied up his anus where, quite frankly, the one thing that could’ve saved his colon was a colon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Suddenly Santorum

I guess it was inevitable, though I would never have dared to hope for such a thing. Now that the, "Anything but Mittens," contingent of Republican primary voters have worked their way through Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich, it looks like it just might be Rick Santorum's turn on top. Rick Santorum. The man whose name will forever more be synonymous with, "the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the result of anal sex," thanks to sex columnist Dan Savage. Really. He's doing well in Iowa.

Much has been made of Ron Paul's surge in the Iowa polls. He does share the racist, misogynistic, homophobic values so dear to the Republican base, it's true. But apparently he doesn't take them far enough, because he's not the only candidate benefitting from Newt's demise. Rick Santorum's numbers are climbing too. And God knows, there is no one more racist, misogynistic, or homophobic than Senator Santorum.

In case you've forgotten what an abomination of a human being Santorum is since Pennsylvania voters finally mustered the good sense to vote him out of office last year, let's take a little trip down memory late, shall we?

He may be best known for his virulent homophobia. He has compared homosexuality to bestiality, pedophila, and incest. He's bizarrely equated the love between same sex couples with his for his children and mother-in-law. He doesn't really see what all the fuss is about same sex marriage anyway, as his view of marriage has nothing to do with affirming one person's love for another, but is all about being, "open to children," whatever exactly that means, and bettering civilization.

He takes the anti-choice agenda to an astonishing new level. Not only does he want Roe v. Wade overturned, which is par for the patriarchal course, he'd like to see Griswold v. Connecticut thrown out as well. It was the pre-Roe ruling in which justices first invoked the right to privacy, in granting married couples the right to use birth control. For one thing, in Santorum world there is no such thing as a right to privacy. None at all. Nothing extant protects the physical bodies of citizens from the exercise of state power. That in and of itself carries terrifying implications a plenty.

Just as importantly, Santorum thinks birth control itself is a bad, bad, thing, saying in 2005:

I think it’s harmful to women, I think it’s harmful to our society to have a society that says that sex outside of marriage is something that should be encouraged or tolerated, particularly among the young. I think it has, as we’ve seen, very harmful long-term consequences for society. So birth control to me enables that and I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for our country.

So, no birth control, and no sex outside of marriage. Santorum seems to believe even sex within a marriage should be federally regulated. Because, you see, "if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything." Consensual sex, amongst adults, leads inexorably to the legalization of polygamy, adultery, and incest. I'm pretty sure adultery is legal already, but maybe the imagined threat of imprisonment is the only thing keeping Santorum from straying beyond the marriage bed. Even more disturbing, though, is the moral equivalency drawn here between adultery, polygamy, and incest. Don't we all agree that incest is worse than adultery, or even polygamy, carried out among consenting adults?

Abortion is, of course, even worse. In Santorum world, it is, in fact, worse than slavery. “But unlike abortion today, in most states even the slaveholder did not have the unlimited right to kill his slave,” he tells us, in his 2005 book, "It Takes a Family." It's nice how he's found a way to combine two of his favorite hobbies, racism and misogyny in a single insane sentence.

More recently, he did it again, saying in January, " find it almost remarkable for a black man to say ‘now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people’.” Apparently black people have no business being pro-choice, because having been legally defined as something other than fully human in the days of slavery. Which gets really confusing, because he's also said legal abortion is worse than slavery, which wasn't really so bad after all. Or something like that.

He made a similar point when he joined Michele Bachmann in signing a family values pledge stating,"sadly, a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African American baby born after the election of the U.S.A.'s first African American President." Because slave owners were super respectful of their possessions' family feelings, and never, ever, sold parents off to the highest bidder without their children. Right.

He's described the interactions between Catholic Priests and any children they sexually abused who were over the age of 13 or so as, "a basic homosexual relationship." He thinks it's horrible and selfish for women to work outside the home just because they need to provide for their children, or, worse yet, find it satisfying and fulfilling to do so. He blames Social Security's financial woes on legal abortion. He thinks something specific to American freedoms has lead to doubling human life expectancy. He's either a little bit crazy, or unfathomably stupid. Neither of which, recent history tells us, necessarily rules him out of the presidency.

Granted, his numbers haven't gone up as far or as fast as Paul's have. But the most recent Public Policy Polling survey of Iowa has him up from 6% to 10, tied with former frontrunners Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry. And Mike Huckabee did win Iowa in 2008. So anything is possible.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Alabama Law can not only take a Child away from a Parent, Make False Accusations, and it Can Make the Parent Pay Child Support

Parents beware!!

Layne Gunter of Trussville, Alabama was falsely accused of child neglect. It is his job as nuclear engineer to travel to facilities throughout the South to fix trouble that occurs there. There are only two people in the South who does the kind of troubleshooting work he does. Mr. Gunter is one of them. Nuclear industry is keenly aware of wanting to avoid the same disaster that occurred in Japan on March 2011.

Ever since his first wife died, he had an agreement and relied on his grown and married daughter next door to watch his one minor child whenever he had to go on business trips.
On his business trip in January 2011, he did the usual. He called her daughter to ask to watch the 13 y.o. child.

When he returned, he was already accused of “child neglect”, the child had been “removed from home” and placed in official custody of the daughter next door. Ironically, this was the same one who was supposed to be watching over the young child in the first place. The social security payment that the child received due to her mother’s death had already been transferred to the married daughter.

DHR had been lied to by the daughter next door and the minor child, and was used to crucify this very devote church-going man who meticulously keeps all his commandments. The judge did not hear anything he had to say, including proper documentation of phone calls he made to the daughter next door to make sure the youngest was being watched.

The judge was not listening to Mr. Gunter. He heard all the lies, and the youngest lied just as good as the rest. She had good coaching. The daughter next door who has the custody has particular need for extra money. In addition to $750/mo. social security, now they are to get $900/mo in child support.

Mr. Gunter would rather rot in jail rather than pay something for false accusation that he is not guilty of. He will also retire from the nuclear industry. It would be best if people in the South pick up their things move to the Northwest.

Kazumi Hart

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Twilight of Taste

If you knew me, you wouldn't be surprised to hear I won't be seeing the new Twilight movie. I've long since aged out of its target demographic, and I usually see smart movies. I'm amazed by how good the third Olson sister was in Martha Marcy May Marlene. I can't stop thinking about Melancholia. When I do go for silly, it's silly with a meta twist of irony. Stepbrothers, maybe, or Wet Hot American Summer. If you knew me, it would never occur to you I'd consider doing any such thing.

But I did. Not for long, one minute, maybe five, that's all. For the very same reason I decided in the end against it. I love the Twilight books, especially the last, beyond all reason. So just like I never saw Demi Moore's turn as Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, or last year's Never Let Me Go, I won't be seeing Breaking Dawn because I like the book too much to want to see a filmic version.

I know better, I really do. I'm entirely too old to be reading teen vampire porn at all, let alone loving it. I know the books aren't very well written, the heroine is intolerable until the last book, and there's arguably an anti-choice Mormon subtext. My love for them is every bit as weird and inappropriate as the books themselves.

I don't know what possessed me to start Twilight in the first place, not a clue. It was Edward Cullen, Bella Swan's vampire boyfriend, though, who kept me reading, kept me coming back for more.

For starters, he is exactly my type. Tall, skinny, pasty, and deeply invested in his vision of himself as dark, complicated, solitary and strange. His please stay, go away, initial approach to courting Bella was also awfully familiar. So I kind of couldn't help myself. That's what I always say.

As things progress, however, Edward becomes something else entirely, the world's most perfect boyfriend. Really, without flaw. He likes to talk about feelings, he craves commitment, he never presses Bella sexually, giving her space to sort out her own teenage desire, and of course, he's good for rescuing her from the endless parade of evil vampires out for her blood. And that's the least of it.

Edward has nothing to do but hang out with Bella, think about Bella, talk about Bella, protect Bella, watch Bella sleeping, Bella, Bella, Bella. He's rich like Warren Buffett, so doesn't have to work. In high school for maybe the 25th time, academic work is nothing to him. All he has to do is kill a deer or something now and then, to keep himself in blood. That's it. He has nothing better to do, nothing he's more interested in, nothing to distract him from his Bella. When he tells her, "You are my life now," it isn't just romantic hyperbole. He means it literally. Best of all, when Bella tells Edward to go away, he does. What could be better?

Bella herself, however, is a whiny brat, throughout the first three books. She wants to become a vampire herself, immediately. She wants to have naughty pre-marital sex. She doesn't like Edward's extravagant gifts. She can't do much of anything for herself, she's impossibly insecure, and has no discernable sense of self protection. She's exactly as unbearable as any actual 16 year old girl.

In Breaking Dawn Bella is transformed, literally and figuratively. Her fairy tale doesn't end with the wedding, it continues into the days and months after, during which Bella gets everything she's ever wanted, and it's even better than she'd dreamed. Clumsy and awkward as a breathing being, Bella is great at being a vampire, amazing the others by taking so easily to the whole thing. She and Edward have a lot of fabulous married vampire sex. Her werewolf ex moves on. Chronically victimized, requiring endless rescue through the first three books, here, Bella does the rescuing. She saves Edward, his family, and all their vampire friends, from the power mad vampires of the Voltari. She doesn't just become a vampire, she becomes a sexy bad ass. I'd take her over Edward any day.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Off Grid

By Lee Waites

The novelty will probably wear off before too long. But for now the various little chores and big tasks required to get up and running are kind of fun. I, my wife and our two young children are living off grid. By off grid, I mean backwoods off grid. We’re away from it all. It has been our plan to build an earth berm house for years, incorporating various alternative energy sources and a complete lifestyle change to reduce our addiction to the wasteful habits of modern life. Some of these habits are so ingrained we don’t even think about them.

I once worked for this woman who lived in a very large house. She dressed in expensive hippie clothes. The police in her neighborhood would more likely than not pull me over if I was there after dark. From what I could tell of her life, she was very spoiled and very wasteful. I remember when she saw some of my stickers she began to identify with me. I don’t think people like this understand how uncomfortable that kind of thing makes people like me. You simply can’t have it all. We have completely different ideas about success.

After we spoke for a while she told the nanny to get the kids ready. She politely and with a look of utter self-satisfaction, put the kids in the back of her SUV and drove away. She had just had a lovely encounter. I winced at the “Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live” sticker on the back of her Chevy Tahoe. (If you don’t get why I winced, ask just about anyone else around you to explain.)

My family struggles to have enough money to get started. I’ve researched alternative living for years, since my days as an anthropology major at our prestigious local U A of B. I’ve kept up to date on the emerging technologies and improvements to old technology. But like so many others we kept spinning or spiraling into debt, or when lucky, just dead broke. I know many of you can understand how wonderful it is to make it back up to just broke.

A while back, we moved into a little farm house in the country, trading work on the house for rent. We bought a wood burning stove and some propane heaters and began to practice for our new life. The house was built in 1860-something, had real log floor joists set up on dry stacked stone. When built, there were no building codes and it was put together a bit on the cheap. Of course, I need to shut up because it was put together before electric circular saws and nail guns. So the men who built it are probably tough enough to rise up from the grave and come give me a good thrashing. We spent a great deal of time and effort to get the house livable. But it was a constant uphill battle. In truth, the house needed far more love than anyone will ever give it again. But it helped toughen us up. It never got cool enough in summer or warm enough in winter. It was full of brown recluse spiders (who really never bothered us by the way). Once they figured out we lived there they moved into the walls and left us alone. But it was a good transition to a hard life.

Earlier this year, we had a bit of a disagreement with our landlord at the farmhouse. We had a few words when I refused to shoot some stray dogs that were making a ruckus on the property. The spirit at the old farm house became tainted. It was time to move.

We bought an older RV and pulled it over to the property on the river. And yes, I do realize how lucky I am to have a few acres on the river. The beauty of an RV is that it is actually self-contained and designed for conserving energy and water. We already had an old school bus on the property so we had plenty of storage space and a fairly safe haven in a storm. The beauty of the school bus is that they’re made strong. Until we get our first shipping container out here, a component of our future house, we’ll use the bus as a safe haven during storms. Not the best by any means. But after weathering the fear of twisters in the old farm house, the bus is actually a step up. So with a few generators and some salvaged lumber we’re setting up camp.

I know once we get established we will be able to have most of the comforts offered by the grid. I’ve seen others who live the same if not better from renewable resources. But for now, it’s the hard life. I try to look at the positives, the way man once must have. For instance; the rains just came back in. It makes our new driveway a complete mess. My kids cried because we had to walk 1000 feet to get to the car parked past the mud puddles (the jeep broke down again). They made it onto the bus and I got back home. I realized how much water was falling out of the sky onto my head. So I quickly set up several wash basins under those troublesome low points in the tarp and sliced a drain hole. Rainwater for free. That’s how it is.

The Inevitable Smoking Ban

by Ian Hoppe

Photo by Mark J Sebastian
Initially, when I conceived of this piece, it came to me as a knee-jerk response to the (somewhat) self righteous pandering of those involved in, or peripheral to, the anti-smoking campaign in the Birmingham area and Alabama at large. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a smoker. Not an incredibly heavy smoker, but I spend a lot of time at Birmingham bars and night clubs and smoke much more heavily when I am partaking in the drink. Hence I am one of those people at whom an attack of this kind is leveled. So, as is the case with most smokers, I was immediately defensive. My hard-line libertarian streak began swinging around wildly, calling up those arguments that one might see in a chain e-mail sent from some reactionary friend or family member decrying the ‘Nanny State’ and paternalism ruining businesses across the country.

But then I took a deep breath and decided to look at this issue with the most objectivity I could muster.

First things first, read the proposed ban. The bill up for consideration at the moment is HB149 and is what British folk might call ‘The Full Monty.’ This bill, in its current form, wants to completely outlaw smoking in and around bars, restaurants, and night clubs. For clarification, the term “smoking” in this context is entirely inclusive and includes not just cigarettes but pipes, cigars, cigarillos, bongs, hookahs, and even those newfangled electric cigarettes.

I should also mention that there is no provision allowing smoking on patios or outside of establishments. The bill even goes so far as to say that ashtrays or other smoking receptacles must be removed from all areas.

I get the feeling that the strategy here is to go for the whole enchilada (I like colloquialisms . . . and enchiladas) with the expectation of rolling back some provisions during the legislative process. However, I think that it is safe to say that a bill of this kind would negatively affect businesses to which it applies. I talked to a local smoky bar owner/operator who asked to remain nameless. He agreed with me that these provisions are extreme and would have a dramatic affect on his patrons, most of which come there to drink and smoke profusely. He did say, though, that he would be in complete support of a ban, if it allowed for smoking on a patio, was e-cigarette friendly, and made exemptions for cigar/hookah bars, tobacco shops, and other establishments whose primary function is smoking things.

This seems like a legitimate stance to me. But it takes the argument in a completely different direction. If we allow smoke shops to remain open and for people to smoke inside of them as well as lighting up on the patio of a restaurant, then the implicit statement goes from, “Smoking is bad for everyone, and you ought not do it” to the much more reasonable, “Smokers are not allowed to negatively affect those around them.”

If this second statement is what we can agree on, that smoking is fine but that smoking ought not to affect involuntary non-smokers in a negative manner. Then I would like to ask smoking ban supporters what they think about the following proposition. Tax breaks for bars and night clubs that prohibit smoking altogether, and tax credits for smoking bars to have effective smoking ventilation professionally installed. This would simultaneously give owners incentive to go non-smoking and clean the air for patrons and bartenders alike. There would be no change in the flow of business; contentedness of everyone involved would only increase, and my libertarian streak would be satisfied.

Sumiton Annexes Birmingham

by Jim Reed

Listen to an audio version of this column.

I learned the other day that my driver’s license had expired. Note that I did not receive a notice stating that my driver’s license is due to expire soon. I learned that only late notices are issued.

“Why would that be?” I ask a friend. “They could just send me a note three weeks before expiration instead of three weeks after—you think?”

“Why would they do that?” says the friend. “If they tell you you’re delinquent, they get to assess a penalty on top of the license fee. It’s called revenue-generation.”

I don’t argue with this statement, since I can imagine no other reason. I have to admit it is clever—and, of course, evil. That’s why I find myself standing here in a Butler Building-type structure in Sumiton, Alabama, about to receive my pain-free driver’s license.

The day before, I had gone to the Jefferson County cathedral of licensing to obtain my renewal, only to find a long, long line of people ahead of me, some of whom had been waiting a long, long time. Denial is always my first defense, so I walked past the extended queue to speak to anyone who could tell me that this wasn’t really the license line.

“Yes, this side of the hall is driver’s licenses,” a very pleasant employee told me. “And this other side is everything else having to do with licenses and the like.”

I said, “This is wild—is there a better time to come?”

She smiled and reported that the situation is the same every day. “People start lining up at five a.m., even though we don’t open the doors till eight.”

I turn and begin the hall-long trek to the end of the line.

“Hey, Jim!” a familiar voice beckons. I look at the middle of the “other” line and see my friend Ben Elliott standing there grinning his usual sardonic grin. “

Are you trapped here?” I ask.

“Yep,” Ben says. “It’s the way of the world.”

We chat and giggle at the outrageousness of it all. Ben is resigned to his certain fate, but I decide to just leave the building.

Being an optimist, I had parked at a half-hour meter.

So, next day, here I am in Sumiton, northwest of Birmingham, grateful that Liz suggested I pay for my license in another, less disorganized county. It actually works! A pleasant drive to this village, a chat with the librarian and a patron, a meandering path to the Butler Building, and I’m only third in line! Life is good.

Ms. Ash is the sole officer who processes licenses and apparently runs everything else: answers the phone, takes the ID photos, does the paperwork, and wrangles the crowds—yep, she’s prepared for crowd control, herding the three of us as if we were fifty people. “Take a number . . . stand right there ’til that chair is empty . . . now, take the yellow chair after that . . . now, read this chart.”

We have a nice conversation, she does her duty, and I’m out of there in minutes, feeling smug but sorry about the long gray lines in Birmingham.

The round-trip voyage to Sumiton gives me time to plan my next civic action. My campaign to have Birmingham annexed is all in my head, but with a little help from you, it could become reality.

Hard Times

by Glennwood Urbz

On a recent trip to New York City, I decided to take a walk and catch the soul of Harlem. I stumbled upon Marcus Garvey Park, where kids were playing in the water fountains and several games of intense chess were in session. There was a card game with money on the table and a young man selling freeze cups; I bought two. This was Harlem at its finest—electric and caught up in the energy of the moment. I flipped my camera out in true tourist form and begin snapping away. I was about to take a picture of several elderly black men sitting on a park bench until one of the men noticed me and alarmed the others. They pointed fingers in protest of my invasion of their privacy! So I asked “My brother what’s the problem?” He informed me in his Caribbean dialect that he and his friends were hustling up money for something to eat and fell short of the goal. The older one said it was hard times in Harlem and that I should go downtown and take a picture with the Happy People. Where’s my bailout?

The men in the park reminded me of a friend who told me he was tired of taking handouts. He had served several years in Alabama Corrections and was doing the best he could to avoid trouble. In his attempt to gain employment he put in a number of applications to no avail; nobody’s rushing to hire felons. I felt his pressure building and saw the tears in his eyes when he said his daughter called and asked, “What kind of father is that?” My friend said he was going to go and see the judge that sent him to prison and ask where felons can find work. He said it was hard out here for him and the monkey on his back was now a full-grown gorilla. He once told me that, believe it or not, he was doing better in prison than on the streets. They say, “It’s billions to be made behind bars!” I haven’t heard from my friend in several weeks. Last I heard he had some time on his hands. It’s hard times in Birmingham just as it is in Harlem.

They say the message is in the music so I asked Hip Hop what has happened to our song? Why are we leading these kids on in these Rap Video Universities? Our ancestors once sang songs that lifted our spirits beyond our conditions. Today the lyrics are intensifying the celebration of guns, sex, money, and violence, promoting foolishness and mental genocide, furthermore handicapping our conditions with a crab in the bucket attitude. Sometimes I wonder why rappers glorify bling and drug sales. They sell the youth dreams when in reality, the only thing waiting is a jail cell. So the seven year-old has his pants sagging because he sees Lil’ Wayne do it and thinks it’s cool. We as black men need to reevaluate or do a better job of raising our sons instead of watching them raise their guns.

Or we find ourselves in a compromising position with a gun to the rib cage and the youth saying it’s hard times. Give it up!

So you must ask yourself what kind of human being are you if you see wrong and don’t say nothing or turn the head? The same problem you choose not to correct will be sitting in your lap in the near future. What happened to the village that raises our children? At what point in time did we stop caring? My uncle sent a letter yesterday saying that the prisons are full of men 18 to 24 years old with lengthy sentences. It’s no wonder they are tearing down schools and building prisons. Economically depressed communities with drug addictions breed violence. So on 16th street in Birmingham, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once marched, an addict is crying for help. She says, “It’s hard times in Alabama.”

False Flag

By Stephen Smith

On October 11, FBI director Robert Mueller called a press conference to announce that a sinister plot by Iran to assassinate Saudi ambassador Abel al-Jubeir with the help of a Mexican drug cartel had been foiled. The whole thing was described as a James Bond-type operation that Mueller said “reads like the pages of a Hollywood script.” The assassination was to take place in Washington D.C. and involve the bombing of both the Saudi and Israeli embassies. It was big news for about 24 hours and then disappeared from the American press in favor of more important things like Kim Kardashian’s divorce. The rest of the world continued to report on the story with an air of skepticism and Iran called the whole thing “laughable.”

We Americans have to have a boogieman. And that boogieman has to be totally irrational and pure evil. There is nothing too far fetched that you can say about the boogieman that the American public won’t buy into. As we continue to downgrade our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan the boogieman is starting to look more and more Iranian. Why would Iran take such a foolish gamble that might very possibly result in military retaliation by a trigger-happy U.S. that loves to watch explosions on television? Why would they be so careless as to deposit large and easily traced sums of money into a dummy bank account set up by an FBI agent posing as a Mexican hit man?

One of the two suspects in the alleged assassination plot is Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen and used car salesman who has lived in Texas for over two decades. Arbabsiar isn’t particularly religious and is known to be a heavy drinker who frequents strip joints. His boss described him to the Voice of America as “a simpleton who failed at even the most menial tasks.” This is not your typical James Bond villain. Arbabsiar was arrested at J.F.K. airport and has pleaded not guilty to the plot, though his “confession” is the primary evidence for Iranian involvement. The other suspect is Gholam Shakuri, who the Department of Justice claims is a member of Iran’s elite Quds Force and Iran claims is a member of an exile group whose aims are to overthrow their current government. U.S. officials maintain that the plot was orchestrated from the upper echelons of the Iranian government.

On November 18, the U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn the alleged assassination plot. The unbinding resolution was introduced by Saudi Arabia and passed with 106 votes in favor, 40 abstentions, and 9 votes against. It didn’t directly accuse Tehran of involvement but rather condemned “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

As the American media seems to have lost interest in what, if true, should be one of the most dramatic foreign policy crises in recent memory, one has to wonder what really happened. Republicans are constantly threatening to bomb Iran. If they were looking for a motive to start yet another war they haven’t pursued it... yet. Possibly the whole thing is just a comedy of errors. Are all terrorists incompetent boobs? Must the American public periodically be entertained with a series of failed plots to justify our wars and suspensions of liberties?

If Iran really tried to pull off this assassination plot their motivation could only have been suicide. Conspiracy theorists point to Israel stirring the pot of antagonism between the U.S. and Iran. Possibly. That makes more sense than some incompetent used car salesman leading a secret life as an international man of mystery. More than likely the whole plot can be placed squarely on the lap of the shape shifting lizard people that secretly control the world. The only real question is “what are they up to this time?”

You Aren't So Beautiful

by Gaije Kushner

original photo by André Natta
Driving around Birmingham and its endless suburbs does not exactly offer a feast for the eyes most days. The 280 traffic, the ridiculous SUVs, remnant Bush Jr. stickers clinging to their bumpers, the ubiquitous chain stores and restaurants, especially Chick-fil-A, and the Starbucks here, there, and everywhere. Step out of the car, and it’s all unfortunate hair and pleated khaki shorts. On those days coming across one of those, “You Are Beautiful” signs is the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

It’s nothing to do with their questionable legality, placed as they are on private buildings and public structures, nor with the aesthetics of graffiti. It’s the message itself that troubles, assuring each and every passerby he or she is beautiful. Because most people really aren’t so beautiful. You probably aren’t, neither am I.

Beautiful is a word, with a specific meaning. Applied to people, it refers to someone unusually appealing to the observing eye. It is utterly superficial, and not terribly inclusive, which shouldn’t be a problem for us. Some people are better looking than others. However we might wish that truth away, it isn’t going anywhere, which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone either. No one has trouble acknowledging other physical or mental traits exist along a continuum. Some people are taller, smarter, better runners, more intuitive, more all kinds of things than others. We’re okay with those distinctions, yet we want beauty to exist in a strange, vacuum-packed category of its own. We want to see both the word and the thing itself as infinitely malleable, but neither is.

Efforts to redefine what we mean when we talk about beauty like You Are Beautiful Birmingham have two rather contradictory goals. To expand the definition of physical beauty so everyone gets a turn at it, and to remove the physicality from beauty altogether, redirecting our attention to internal qualities instead. Simultaneously saying, “this thing is not at all important,” and, “this thing is so important no one should be left out of it.” That doesn’t really work, in fact suggests a disconnection from reality and language.

We like to believe in beauty’s subjectivity. We tell ourselves and one another how widely ideals of beauty vary from one person or culture to another. It’s a generous impulse, really, wanting to believe everyone will be seen as beautiful by someone, somewhere. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of science. For decades now, study after study has found that across culture, race, class, gender, and sexual preference, we find symmetry and certain proportions most attractive in face and figure. Recent research suggests these traits are effective markers of genetic and reproductive health, personality even. However subjective our individual assessments of beauty may feel, however random our standards of beauty may seem, they are based in our biology, one more expression of our shared DNA.

Definitions of beauty consistently specify it as something particularly pleasing to the physical senses. Again, it is a word, bearing a limited meaning, one inapplicable to intangible inner qualities. This doesn’t diminish their importance in the slightest. They are almost unspeakably important, far more so than external appearance. But being imperceptible to the senses, to please them or do otherwise, they cannot rightly be described as beautiful. Why should they be? With so many other, better words with which to discuss interiority, why the insistence on this one? A revalorization of interiority deserves to be taken up on its own terms, not uncomfortably wedged into one that will never quite fit.

We absolutely value and reward physical beauty beyond all reason. It benefits us all to challenge those realities, no matter what we look like. But pretending differences in beauty don’t exist isn’t the way to go about it. Neither is an attempt to force the word itself into a meaning it doesn’t carry. If we describe everyone as beautiful, inside or out, we only succeed in stripping it of meaning altogether, making it that much more difficult to make any sense of one another whatsoever.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inevitable Romney? Really?

by Gaije Kushner

For months now, all kinds of people have been insisting on Mitt Romney's inevitability as the Republican party's presidential nominee. Surely you've seen it. It's been all over cable news, editorial pages, coast to coast, and, of course, the internet. But that insistence has not been accompanied by convincing explanations as to its own existence. It's almost as if Mittens' champions believe the force of repetition, fueled by their desire, will turn insistence into reality. Alas, things rarely work out that way. They do offer reasons for their belief, of course they do. It's just that none of them bear much relation to reality.

The favorite seems to be the idea that Romney has the support of the party bigwigs, whoever exactly they may be. As evidence, they say he's getting the vast majority of GOP endorsements, and has connected with the big donors who tend to gravitate toward the institutional favorite. It's true he's won the bulk of party endorsements thus far, about 55%, according to a Huffington Post analysis. But the same analysis confirmed earlier findings that the rate of those endorsements in this election cycle has lagged far behind that of the last five contested Republican presidential primaries. So, yes, those party bigwigs who have committed themselves thus far have gone for Mittens, but an awful lot of them are still withholding judgment, six weeks from the Iowa caucuses.

As far as the big money donors supposedly swarming Romney, they haven't materialized as his supporters would like to believe. His overall fundraising total, $32 million through the third quarter of this year, is dwarfed by President Obama's $88 million.  In the third quarter, silly Ricky Perry's campaign brought in $3 million more than Romney's $14 million. More to the point, 83% of his contributions came in amounts of $259 or less. Not such big money after all.

Then there's the idea it's Mittens' turn. According to this theory, Republicans have a self-defeating prediliction for nominating the previous election cycle's loser. For instance, John McCain. The problem with this one, though comes in his ever stagnant poll numbers. Try as he might, Romney cannot seem to get above 25% in national polls. He's been running for president for the last five years, and can't break 25%. If he's going to get the nomination as a kind of consolation prize for 2008, shouldn't someone have told the voters who'll have to give it to him by now?

Romney's debate performances have been universally acclaimed. Surely that should count for something, his supporters opine, shouldn't it? Maybe it should, but it doesn't seem to. So far, Mittens hasn't seen a single post debate bump in his poll numbers. Life is full of disappointment.

Last but by no means least, we have the electability argument. As one of my two Republican friends put it, Mittens "projects an air of competence and a technocrat mien, and he's profoundly unscary, not amenable to being demonized as a raving would-be starver of granny and such." This lines up pretty well with what other supporters have had to say. Basically, as they see it, Mittens has to get the nomination, because the other candidates are just implausible. But I'm afraid this view requires an awfully optimistic view of Republican primary voters. When did competence become a priority of theirs? I just don't see a technocrat mien appealing to the tea partiers, or all those Bush Jr. voters. I disagree wholeheartedly about his not being scary, in a general election context. He has reiterated his devotion to social conservatives' anti-choice, homophobic agenda sufficiently to elicit terror on my part.

More to the point, Romney's Mormonism makes him scary indeed to the evangelicals who comprise about 40% of Republican primary voters. In poll after poll, they consistently say they do not regard the Latter Day Saints as real Christians, and are disinclined to give their votes to a Mormon candidate in the primaries. On the plus side, their hatred of President Obama is such that, should Romney be the nominee, they will support him, despite his membership in such a creepy cult. Even so, I'm not quite understanding how a candidate who continues to lose to the incumbent President, in poll after poll, can be considered so very electable. I guess these things are relative.

According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, one third of likely GOP primary voters do see Romney as the most electable. Not exactly an overwhelming consensus. Worse yet, 70% say it's more important to them to vote for the candidate who most closely represents their beliefs, than for the candidate most likely to win the White House. Not a wise approach, but there it is.

It always comes back to those pesky poll numbers for our Mittens. His just aren't great, not great at all. They suggest a candidate who, far from being an inevitable victor, is something of a long shot. Whatever the reason, voters just don't like him that much. Might be that technocratic mien. Even soulless Republicans need to feel an emotional connection to their candidate. Romney offers them no point of connection whatsoever. He has no personal charisma, no compelling story, really nothing for them to grab onto. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, is a roiling petri dish of emotions. Just saying.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Secret Loans Reveal the Arrogant Aristocracy of U.S. Banks

by Ian Hoppe

$7.77 trillion.

That number is the (actual) amount loaned out by the Federal Reserve in secret during the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis, from which we are all still reeling. It finally came out in a Freedom of Information act and a lawsuit by Bloomberg LP.

Just to put this number in perspective, since we’ve all become desensitized to the ‘billions’ and ‘trillions’ that are tossed around like pennies these days, $7.77 trillion is more than half of the US GDP in 2010. That means that the Fed loaned out an amount equal to half of everything of value produced in or by the United states in an entire year. Try to maintain that context and consider the following:

As a result of these various bailouts and transactions numbering in the tens of thousands, the “Big 6” banks increased in size (^39% since 2006)*, increased the amount spent on lobbying congress (^33% since 2006)*, and have all but ceased lending to businesses and individuals since. They made money on the deal (an estimated $13 billion net)*, and are sitting on it. Except, of course, that money they are routing to congress and attorneys to keep transparency and regulations at bay.

When we were all worried about TARP funds and congressional bailouts in the mere billions and small trillions of dollars, this egregious lending was going on behind the scenes without our knowledge and without our representatives’ knowledge. How are we or our elected lawmakers supposed to make decisions with incomplete information? This is shameful.

The “Big 6” consist of; Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley,  and Wells Fargo. Given the depth of failure it seems obvious that these institutions are dangerously inept in their practices and completely incapable of managing risk. These bailouts extended by The Fed, came with no restrictions and even further corrupted the incentive to acquire and balance with safe assets.

The big bank bailouts were bad enough, but with huge amounts of money flowing behind the scenes in an effort to sustain the clearly defective and contaminated monetary syndicates and their position in our staggering little republic, one wonders if a true aristocracy has formed, backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.


Thursday, November 17, 2011


by Gaije Kushner

I have a dream for the Republican party, which I have had since sometime this summer. It's simple enough, and far more realistic than most. At least, it’s much likelier to come true than my getting Maureen Dowd's job, or my own talk show.

Whatever might this be, you're hopefully wondering by now? Only the possibility, probability maybe even, at this point, that the Republican primary voters who don't want to vote for Rick Perry, because he's crazy, and carries a gun when he heads out for a run, and those who don't want to vote for Mitt Romney, because he's a Mormon Ken doll, and used to be a baby killer, will come together to nominate a true freak show as their presidential candidate, thereby ensuring Obama's second term.

Despite the punditocracy's best efforts to imbue Romney with a sense of inevitability, his support consistently hovers below 30%, running neck and neck with the amount of likely primary voters who say they will never vote for him, for whatever reason. Mittens has been running for president for at least the last five years. Unless he's been saving his best material, if he hasn't sold the voters' on himself by now, it isn't going to happen. It's probably time for him to start sending out some resumes, get himself a real job.

It's almost impossible to think of Rick Perry as a serious contender at this point. His poll numbers have been dropping like flies, ever since the first time he was allowed to speak in public. If only he could somehow contrive to spend the rest of primary season in Texas, silently killing animals or something, for the rest of primary season. But that's probably not a viable option.

For a little while, I thought Herman Cain might just be the man of my dreams. He's so very entertaining, so preposterous a presidential candidate. A conservative talk radio host no one had ever heard of, former CEO of a third-tier pizza chain, who'd never held public office? Seriously? Of course not. Add in the creepy, inappropriate jokes about electrified border fences, and Anita Hill, his apparent inability to understand, or even remember, his own anti-choice position, and of course those allegations about his crotch grabbing management style.

It's the last of those finally eroding Cain's support. I was surprised it took so long, so many accusations for it to happen. But then I remembered, Republicans have no souls, and understood it all. It's really too bad, as a Cain nomination would have guaranteed both an entertaining general campaign, and Obama's reelection. But life is full of disappointments, or so I'm told.

All those Cain supporters are going to have to choose another candidate eventually. You might think they'd give up the fight, and get onboard with Mittens, or resurrect Perry's campaign. But that doesn't seem to be what's happening. Whose numbers are rising as Cain's fall? None other than Newt Gingrich's. Remember him?

It makes some sense, at least as much as anything Republican voters do. He's been so far below the radar thus far, he somehow feels like a fresh faced newcomer to the field, despite his lengthy political career. Simultaneously, that lengthy career makes him a comforting, adult figure, in the midst of all the primary mayhem and madness, to those who fondly remember his tenure as Speaker of the House. Apparently some do.

The lack of attention has also allowed voters to forget Newt's obvious flaws in a general election. The ethical problems, the serial infidelities, his overall smarmy nastiness. There are reasons he's no longer Speaker of the House, or even a member. They should suffice to keep him out of the Oval Office, and he's pretty entertaining himself. So, Cain, Gingrich, either way, I'm good.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rick Perry's New Hampshire Antics

by Gaije Kushner

Watching Rick Perry's bizarre performance at the recent Cornerstone banquet, in Manchester, N.H., I found myself profoundly grateful to the governor for having done such a fantastic job of taking himself out of contention for his party's presidential nomination. Well, once I left off laughing, I was.

If you haven't seen the speech yet, it's almost impossible to describe. Perry giggles and bounces on his toes, gesticulating wildly. He loses his place in his speech, has to take long pauses to remember what word or gesture is supposed to come next. At one point, discussing New Hampshire's state motto, he exclaims, "This is such a cool state, c'mon, live free or die? Ya gotta love that!" Sounding more like a frat boy near the end of spring break than an actual adult, let alone a presidential candidate, Perry goes on to say something semicoherent about the Alamo, and slogans, finishing big with, "Live free or die! Victory or death! Bring it!" the first two, of course, reference the state motto again, and then the Alamo. The last calls nothing much to mind, just the second President Bush's infamous mission accomplished challenge to evil doers, only that was, "Bring it on!" so it doesn't quite work. I'm not sure what he was getting at with that one, but then, the governor probably isn't either.

There was another semicoherent rant, something to do with fundraising, in which Perry announced, "Gold is good!" once or twice. I'm not entirely clear as to what he meant, but I have to admit, it would make a great catch phrase for the reality TV show I'm ardently hoping is in his future.

Perry finished big, with more maniacal grinning, shouting, "Today has been awesome!" He could barely contain his joy at being presented with a small jug of maple syrup. Then it was finally over.

The truly mesmerizing thing, though, isn't anything the governor said or did. It's the gleam in his eyeballs. The incoherence coupled with so much energy. An overall demeanor I expect to see in myself at 3 am, after a busy, varied night out. Or in someone else, about halfway to complete insanity. Not in presidential candidates touring New Hampshire.

The temptation to speculate as to what exactly Perry was up to proved too strong for pretty much every cable news personality, or viewer. Not even Fox news could resist. Of course MSNBC's lone conservative host, Joe Scarborough, was all over it.

On his Morning Joe, Scarborough referred to Perry's, "truly bizarre behavior," suggested Perry might have had a few drinks before his speech to loosen up a little. His sidekick, Mika Brzenski, rambled on a bit herself, saying, "It just makes you think, that's all. There's not a law against thinking someone was acting completely loopy and wondering ... if they were maybe ... I'm wondering." If you're too loopy for Mika, something is very, very, wrong.

Later, on Fox's The Five, Greg Gutfield said, "That reminded me when I take an Ambien and have a scotch." In co-host Bob Beckel's opinion, "That looked more like shrooms." Andrea Tantaros thought, "He looked unstable." Former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino, an old hand at defending the indefensible, thought Perry had just gotten overexcited. She might even believe it. She never did seem all that bright.

One friend of mine similarly suggested the governor might just have been overtired. I am intimately acquainted with the effects of lack of sleep upon a human brain. This wasn't that. Another described him as a, "stoned bumpkin with suppressed dreams of being Jeff Foxworthy." If there's anything more tragic than having suppressed dreams of being Jeff Foxworthy, I can't think what it would be. Others called Perry an unwatchable bitch, a bobblehead, and reminiscent of both George W. Bush, and Mr. Rogers. Gawker thought he seemed awfully gay, thanks to the giggling, and the uncharacteristically lisping overenunciation,
The most specific idea was, "benzodiazepines, some Inderal to stop the shakes, valium, and three fingers of Wild Turkey."

The last is closest to my own best guess. What with all the goofy grinning and eyebrow waggling, the giggling and the bouncing, I'd say there was a combination of uppers and downers going on. Maybe Perry overdid some kind of something or other on his own— benzos, painkillers, or some Wild Turkey—the possibilities are endless. Some overachieving staffer noticed his boss was not quite right, and gave him a handful of his Adderall, or Ritalin, or Dexedrine, hoping they would pull him through the speech. This clearly did not turn out to be the very best of all possible plans.

It wasn't all fun and games in Manchester though. Perry did manage to get across the basics of his plans for tax reform. Taken together, they amount to a declaration of war against the middle and working classes. It wasn't that he said anything new and different, just the timely reminder of who he'll be when he sobers up.

There's the ill considered, implicitly regressive, 20% flat tax. Hurriedly concocted in response to Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, this will be optional, at least initially. Perry's big argument for this one is its simplicity. Who cares if a tax plan unfairly distributes the tax burden, if you can fill out your return on a postcard in two minutes?

Perry also plans to eradicate the estate tax, saying, "The death tax expires before you will expire." He further vows, "You can wave goodbye to the capital gains tax, and the dividend tax." Considering that the estate tax isn't applied to any estates of less than $5 million, and many of the very, very, rich pay only capital gains and dividend taxes, this will lead to a radical redistribution of wealth towards the top. Fortunately, 1% can't make up an electoral majority. But they do tend to have the best drugs.

Friday, October 28, 2011

More Adventures of Mitt and Rick

by Gaije Kushner

The social conservatives who currently constitute the Republican base have never loved the prospect of a President Romney. They don't find him trustworthy, they say. His shifting positions on some of their pet issues have them questioning the depth of his commitment. Some even say they wonder if he has any core principles at all, or if he's willing to say anything to get himself elected. Oddly enough, the same group seems untroubled by Rick Perry's recent changes of heart around the very same issues. Maybe it's just my suspicious mind, but I can't help thinking they aren't being entirely forthcoming about the precise nature of their issues with Romney.

It's certainly true Romney's positions on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, health care reform, and taxes, have changed dramatically since his Massachusetts days. Where he once was pro-choice, he now values lives fetal over those full grown and female. Promises to advocate for gay rights have given way to support for the Federal Marriage Amendment. Despite having increased an array of fees and taxes as governor of Massachusetts, he's signed a pledge to neither create nor increase any existing taxes, should he be elected president. The senatorial candidate who supported a federal health insurance mandate, the governor who proposed and signed Massachusetts's universal health coverage law, has become a presidential candidate calling for the repeal of national health care reform, its mandate, promises of something approaching universal coverage, maybe, one day. In 1994, he was an opponent of school prayer. By 2007, he'd somehow become a supporter.

It is indeed a lot of change, all in the more conservative direction one might reasonably expect to appeal to Republican primary voters. Romney's held to his new positions consistently since at least 2007 though, rendering questions about his commitment somewhat suspect. Granted, it's impossible to know what he, or anyone else, believes deep down in his innermost heart of hearts. But why does that matter, in the face of his endlessly avowed conservatism, his clearly stated support for their agenda?

Perry's about faces, on the other hand, are of a much more recent vintage. They began in August, and seem still a work in progress. Shortly after becoming a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry was predictably questioned about some of the more extreme ideas he'd voiced in last fall's manifesto, "Fed Up!" These included declaring social security unconstitutional, along with child labor laws, environmental regulation, and the federal income tax. He went on to call for the repeal of the 16th amendment, which establishes that federal income tax, and the 17th, which provides for the direct election of senators.

How did Perry respond to the questions? Did he take the opportunity to further articulate his thoughts? Explain them, carry them to their logical conclusions? No, not exactly. In a matter of days, his communications director was saying, "Fed Up! Is not meant to reflect the governor's current views," his campaign announcing he did not in fact believe the 16th and 17th amendments should be appealed. His critique of social security no longer centered on constitutional concerns. Instead, he doubted its long term financial viability.

The ideas in his book aren't the only ones Perry's repudiated. As recently as July, his support for the 10th amendment's protection of states' rights was a governing principle. He went so far as to say both abortion and gay marriage were issues to be addressed by individual states, as each saw fit. By August, he was supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment, and pledging to use every means available to him as president to deprive American women of control over our very own bodies.

Perry's changing views are, again, much more recent than any of Romney's. If they aren't politically motivated, they are so plentiful, so sudden, as to be inexplicable. Yet, neither conservative advocates nor mainstream media seems much bothered about them, especially compared to their responses to Romney's. It's impossible not to wonder what the difference could be. Might it have anything to do with Perry's endlessly professed evangelical Christianity, Romney's Mormonism?

About 25% of all Americans consistently say they are less likely to support a Mormon presidential candidate, as do 15% of Republicans. When it comes to the white evangelicals amongst them, the number jumps to 30%. In September, a Gallup poll found religious Republicans preferred Perry over Romney by a margin of about 2 to 1. A CBS poll just two weeks ago found 42% of white evangelicals saying most people they know would not vote for a Mormon.

In 2009, in the wake of Romney's failed first go at the Presidency, then RNC chair Michael Steele opined, "it was the base that rejected Mitt because it has issues with Mormonism." If Mormonism promoted political positions or values in opposition to the white evangelical Republican base, this antipathy might not be so disturbing. As it doesn't, it seems nothing but a religious test, based on the belief Mormons are somehow not real Christians. Is there any reason to think they'd feel any different about a Jewish or Muslim candidate? A Buddhist, or maybe a Hindu? I'd love a way to see all this as anything but religious bigotry and hate, but it continues to escape me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Occupying Eric Cantor

by Gaije Kushner

Until now, the erstwhile occupiers of Wall Street, and wherever else, have been little but an annoyance to me. Almost everything they've said, or done, or Facebooked, has irritated me beyond description. But last Friday, shockingly enough, some of them, the Philadelphia branch, to be precise, did something fabulous. They shut down, shut up, Eric Cantor, which can only ever be a good thing.

Cantor is, of course, the House majority leader, tea party suck up, and D.C.'s foremost douchebag du jour. He is also a power hungry media whore, and a bad, bad, man. Yesterday he was scheduled to give a speech at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school. He'd no doubt anticipated a cozy gathering of one percenters, baring their tiny souls, and sharing tax evasion tips. But that, alas, was not to be.

No tickets had been sold, or reservations taken. Nothing to ensure the friendly audience Cantor had expected. Instead, admission was on a first come, first serve basis, for the first three hundred in line. If that kind of free for all wasn't bad enough, imagine Cantor's dismay upon hearing all three hundred were likely to be protesters associated with Occupy Philadelphia.

Maybe he saw no point in wasting his words of wisdom on people who would never donate to any campaign of his. Maybe he wanted to keep his illuminati plans to help the 1% complete the enslavement of the other 99 a secret from the rabble. Maybe he was scared the mob would teeter over the brink of violence, and burn his castle to the ground. Whatever the reasons, Cantor cancelled his speech, making the world a better place, as long as he stayed silent, and disappointing the 500 protestors who'd gathered to greet him.

Happily enough, the university's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, obtained a copy of the speech Cantor had planned to give. It's hard for me to imagine it wasn't handed to them by some GOP staffer, who just didn't understand it was full of the kinds of things nice people just don't talk about in public.

Surprisingly, Cantor did acknowledge the existence of income and opportunity inequality. Even feigning empathy for a moment:

We know that we all don’t begin life’s race from the same starting point. [...] The fact is many in America are coping with broken families, dealing with hunger and homelessness, confronted daily by violent crime, or burdened by rampant drug use. Recently I was asked, “What does your party say to that 9-year-old, inner city kid scared to death, growing up in a life of poverty? What can you do for that little girl?  That child needs a hand up to help climb the ladder.

He almost sounds human here, doesn't he? Recognizing other people exist, and might even be deserving of a little help sometimes?

As second in command of the House majority, Cantor is one of the few lucky people in a position to actually offer real help. What might he propose? Subsidized after school activities? A private/public partnership to get poor kids into internships and summer jobs they might not otherwise have access to? Reimagining subsidized housing, or community policing? No, of course not. Don't forget, that empathy was only make believe. Instead, he offers something he calls, "The Steve Jobs Plan."

I believe that the most successful among us are positioned to use their talents to help grow our economy and give everyone a hand up the ladder and the dignity of a job. We should encourage them to extend their creativity and generosity to helping build the community infrastructure that provides a hand up and a fair shot to those less fortunate, like that little 9-year-old girl in the inner city.

So, the plan seems to be asking the billionaires amongst us to do nice things for poor people. Which I'm just not seeing turning out terribly well for the poor.

Surprisingly enough, Cantor's non-plan somewhat echoes what some of the occupiers have been saying about shifting the culture's moral compass, rendering greed and the will to power socially unacceptable. I didn't think much of the idea coming from them either. Maybe seeing their thoughts reflected in such an unflattering mirror will bring about an occupational epiphany, a new understanding of the impossibility and irrelevance of shifting a nonexistent moral consensus. Then this might not be a one time thing. They might start to annoy me significantly less, on a daily basis. They might even start thinking about accomplishing something real. That would be delightful.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Remember the Good Times

by Gaije Kushner

Muamar Gadhafi is dead, NPR tells me. Having just had a look at the corpse video, I expect they're right. They usually are. I understand he was a terrible, horrible, dictator. I do. The Libyan people are celebrating in the streets, and rightly so. Prisoners are hoping to be released, their death sentences overturned. I hope they, and all of Gadhafi's surviving victims, find peace and justice. It's certainly long overdue. Despite all that, I find myself wondering if I'm the only one who's going to miss him, just a little? Probably so, yeah.

I realize this probably makes me a bad person, but so many things already do, I can't start being bothered by that now. It's nothing to do with his policies. I find them all appalling; of course I do. It's just that over the years, he has proven such an excellent source of entertaining crazy. I can't imagine who could ever take his place.

Gadhafi's antics first came to my attention a decade or two ago, when I discovered his Amazonian Guard. Beautiful women, all decked out in make-up and heels, fully armed. They looked like they'd been plucked straight off the set of a Robert Palmer video, to surround and protect him, at all times. They travelled with him, took vows of chastity for him, got into scuffles with other security contingents on his behalf, some may have even died for him. He saw them as symbols of modern Libyan women, powerful, glamorous, and virginal.

Then came the nurses, the pretty Ukranian nurses. They lived in luxury apartments, had their own drivers, frequent lavish shopping trips, and called their employer Papa. They also monitored his blood pressure, insisted on frequent exercise, and travelled with him. When he visited less developed nations, they insisted he wear gloves at all times, to protect against exotic diseases they saw lurking on every surface. One nurse in particular, Halyna Kolotnytskya, was reported to have a special connection with her employer, constantly at his side. On her flight back to the Ukraine in February, she drank more than might have been wise, telling her fellow passengers, "Papa is good and Papa is eternal. Quadaafi will be victorious, and in one and a half to two months I will return there." She clearly lacks the gift of prophecy.

In recent years, apparently thinking his work on behalf of Libyan and Ukrainian women was done, Gadhafi turned his attention to the plight of western European women. During a 2007 trip to Paris, accompanied by 30 of his Amazonians, camels, and probably a nurse or two, requested a meeting with 1000 French women. The women were instructed to stand when he entered the room, and not to upset His Excellency.

He began by telling them all he'd done for Libyan women, reforming divorce laws, employing them as bodyguards, and such. But he wasn't there to talk about himself, or his country. Oh, no. He wanted to express his wish to "save European women" from their "tragic conditions" under which they were "sometimes forced to do work they do not want to do." Tragic indeed.

Paris was just his trial run. In 2009, Gadhafi paid his friend Silvio Berlusconi a visit. In Rome, he had a hostess agency, whatever that is exactly, round up 200 women. They had to be at least 5ft. 7, attractive, and couldn't dress too revealingly. The women were bussed in to the Libyan ambassador's residence. There, they were treated to Gadhafi's thoughts, not on their tragic plight this time, but Islam. His efforts to convert them included the assertion Jesus had not been crucified. Instead, "God in heaven took him. They crucified someone who looked like him."

After two hours of such pearls, the women left. Some offended by their host's portrayal of Christianity, all complaining they hadn't been offered any refreshments, and at least one, by the name of Rea Balko, sold. "He convinced me," she said. "I shall be converting to Islam." Her family must be very proud.

Last fall, Gadhafi took things to the next level, bringing 20 of those same Italian women to Libya. For two weeks, they stayed in 5 star hotels and resorts, rode camels, drank warm camel milk, and enjoyed the Colonel's company. Clio Evans, one of the lucky ladies, describes a cozy time, "We sat in a tent and joked and laughed for ages." Can't you just see it? Gadhafi and 20 Italian women, bonding in a real way in that tent? Doing each other's hair, and having pillow fights, no doubt. But was he really fully present for the slumber party? Or was his mind elsewhere, filled perhaps with thoughts of his beloved Condoleeza Rice?

Gadhafi made no secret of his feelings for Condoleeza. In a 2007 interview he declared, "I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders . . . Leeza, Leeza, Leeza . . . I love her very much. I admire her, and I'm proud of her, because she's a black woman of African origin." When Rice visited Libya the next year, he continued addressing her with his private pet name for her, Leeza, and showered her with $212,000 worth of sparkly gifts. But none of us could have prepared us for the discovery, deep within his lair, of a photo album, filled cover to cover with Condi. It's not quite a stalker style altar, but really, close enough.

I could go on and on. The endlessly changing spelling of his name, the tent he wasn't permitted to pitch in Central Park, inspiring Ronald Reagan to utter the comic book words, "Madman of the middle east."

Who could possibly take his place? Hugo Chavez is too ill. Kim Jong Il doesn't leave the house enough. Vladimir Putin's too busy wrestling bears underwater, and coming up with ever more creative methods of assassination. Maybe a Kardashian will prove equal to the task, or one of Bravo's Real Housewives? I see some potential there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pink Fatigue

by Gendanken

Pink is the color of breast cancer awareness. It’s also the color of rash, that pigment of excess from grating a nerve too long. This year’s rub is the pustular “Pink Snuggie” that’s promised to donate $50,000 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. I’m being asked to believe that the creeps who will sell you a robe you wear backwards at 4 times the price, the same rogues behind “HeadOn” and the ComfortWipe (an overpriced stick used to distance the hand from the atrocious act of wiping one’s bunghole), can simultaneously wish  to help a demographic they’d squeeze dry for a profit. This October, I’m being asked to be the idiot that would actually buy their blankies in honor of Breast-Cancer-Awareness.

Marie Claire has an article this month by a certain Lea Goldman, who asked a charity executive how much money his organization actually donates and what does he mean by saying he donates “company capacity” if not actual “money?” What he actually means is “manpower,” which amounts to handing out flyers, not money. That’s a long string of male pronouns, don’t you think, for a cause so inherently female? That’s because the majority of breast cancer “non-profit” founders not only make 6-figure salaries, but they’re also quite male: the founder of Coalition Against Breast Cancer, sued last June by the NY Attorney General? Andrew James.  His “treasurer?” A  housepainter with a criminal record, and the owner of their telemarketing firm, Garret Morgan. The Arizona-based Breast Cancer Society is the nonpareil of James T. Reynolds II, with the title of “II” dangling on the end of his name like a booger in salute to his father, who owned Cancer Fund of America before being pummeled by the BBB for donating less than a penny for every dollar raised. Remember that—less than a penny; that’s not even currency.

Sometimes founders are actually women who’ve survived The-Cancer-That-Maims, but when they are, like Janelle Hail who founded the National Breast Cancer Foundation, they quickly roost and create a network of rank despotism to churn out huge salaries for sons and husbands as well. All enjoy annual raises and personal loans, nary one of them making under $150,000 yearly. Turns out anyone can file a tax-exempt 501(c) and many, who are well-meaning survivors not educated enough to thrust their good will beyond breast intentions, eventually get swallowed by people like Reynolds who feed on pink glut.

What’s astonishing is discovering what they mean by “research-and-education,” deducted as an expense on their financial reports, required to be made public. Suppose they hire telemarketers charging 50 cents for every dollar they make from donations. If the charity writes something like “Don’t forget to douche!” at the bottom of the bill they send you, why, that’s considered education! No lumpy silicone to grope and no booklets with scary words like “ductal carcinoma” and “health care;” the invoice they send is your path to vaginal enlightenment thanks to the fine print and the narcissistic warmth of knowing you gave to a Good Cause.  Telemarketers being incredibly expensive, with the added costs of pink, pointless, cheap garbage, we can safely imagine how much money actually goes to people with cancer.

More women are affected by breast cancer awareness than any other disease and why? Because of a lesson girls learn every time mothers crowd conversational space to proudly talk about pregnancies in glorious detail: like Gloria Steinem and Madonna, women are obsessed with their ‘parts’ and whatever comes leaking out of their girly poots. Surf the web—feminist literature is beset with cant on Reproductive Rights and Abortion unlike the earlier suffragist who actually cared about traits above the poot: intelligence, character development, money, and voting. That was boring, so they made the movement sexy, catering to that stubborn need to talk about clots and children. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, but breast cancer is voluptuous whereas a brown ribbon for colon cancer is not.

In India, the Pink Chaddis Campaign (“chaddis” means “underwear”) recently had women throwing their panties at the ‘patriarchy’ in response to right-wing conservatism. Sound familiar? Like their sisters, they too think throwing their delicate “parts” at a problem will solve it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Fountain of Youth

by Lee Waites

It does not matter what kind of alcohol you choose. Inside of that bottle is magic, a veritable Fountain of Youth .

From your first sip you start to feel a little younger. As you drink your first beverage you feel youthful, full of energy, like a 16 year old. You can do anything, talk to girls, shoot a great game of pool.

Your second and third drink you are still fine, coasting along in youthful bliss. Everything is wonderful, you spend your money freely as if there is no tomorrow.

By the time you reach your fourth drink you're getting quite young. With the mentality of, let's say a 13 year old, you stumble through your words not knowing quite what to say. You begin to get a little socially awkward not walking smoothly, stumbling slightly, bumping into things, awkward. If only you were self aware enough to know.

A few more drinks, you're a toddler. You don't walk well at all, don't speak well at all, don't have any idea where you're going, what you're doing. You bump into people, trip over things, grope at unknown ladies. Unfortunately it is nowhere near as cute in this situation as it was when you were actually 2 or 3 years old.

The smiles that you once received have been replaced by jeering and sneering. They just don't understand.

If only others could simply realize your state of mind. If only they could appreciate what you have achieved. Reaching the pinnacle of your journey you slobber, drool, spit up and attempt to nurse at the closest source.

The Fountain of Youth. I'll drink to that.

The G-Babes Return Home

by Glenn A. Griggs II

Today my mom informed me that Kobe and Kori would be returning home to their biological family. Three years have passed before I could bat an eye good. The sperm donor of the boys couldn’t be found in a game of hide and seek, which is way too common within the Black community. Their mother was drifting in the streets of Birmingham, searching for that feeling. Rather than see the boys be bounced from home to home and school to school, my mom and dad enrolled into foster care parenting classes and received their certification. They took the boys in.    

Naturally, the boys cried when they were removed from their familiar surroundings into a safer and more stable environment. At the ages of two and four, you couldn’t separate them. They bickered amongst themselves yet came to the conclusion that I was an easy target to get sweet treats. What a beautiful bond! They wouldn’t let “G Momma” out of their sight. And I can still hear my Pops telling the little G Babies to stick together through thick and thin because if they didn’t have each other, what did they have?

Kobe and Kori brought life back to our family and street. They raced their dirt bikes up Nassau Avenue like Nascar. Later a game of Church would break out as one little girl played the preacher, Bible in hand. Kobe and Kori shouted as they imitated the adults they just saw on Sunday. “Hallelujah!” One lil' one screamed, “Amen!”

My parents gave the boys exposure to different cultures and cities, including Orlando, Dallas, and New York. Speaking of New York; I can recall my brother Malcolm having a party and some of his female friends were in attendance. Kobi and Kori couldn’t go to sleep that night. Too much was going on and the pretty girl wouldn’t let their eyes rest. They entertain the ladies as only lil' boys could, by showing off toys. Kori even changed and got into his favorite Spiderman pajamas. For sure, these PJs will work their magic, he must have thought, to give him the super powers to charm his date. The four year-old said with great confidence to the 21 year-old female, “How bout we go to New York, eat at PF Chang and see the Statue of Liberty.” Who could say no to that? Playboy Hugh Hefner better watch out for this young one!

I would like to commend my parents for stepping up to the plate and giving these boys a solid foundation, guidance, and love, and also for expressing the importance of character. They easily could’ve said nope we don’t have the time; there are not enough hours in the day. Besides, our work is done; we have raised four kids and all have graduated college. But that would be selfish, and G Daddy always taught Kobi and Kori to share. My Pops would call giving me reports on Kobi’s reading ability. The excitement in his voice was one of a proud father.

We didn’t expect the G Babies to stay with us forever, but at times it seemed as if they would. Their chitter chatter will be greatly missed. Almost 7,000 kids in Alabama are in foster care. Give a kid a chance; it might change your life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Good Deeds Punished: The Sequel

by Jim Reed

In my previous column, City employees L.G. and G.L. were busily coming up with suggestions to present to their bosses—ideas on how to improve revenue. This is a transcript of their second meeting. – JR

L.G. and G.L. are meeting in the musty conference room for a follow-up on their “Make More Money for Birmingham” project. G.L. is still on the payroll, because L.G. has not yet found a way to isolate this employee, who just a week ago was asking too many questions.

L.G. slurps some coffee and ponders the scrawls on the legal pad next to the cup. “Well, what’s the progress on pleasing the Big Bosses?” L.G. inquires, without looking G.L. in the eye.

“Good news!” says G.L. “Revenue is up because of the penalties we’re enforcing on shoppers, tourists, visitors, loft dwellers, merchants, professionals and the like.”

L.G. wrinkles a brow. “What penalties does that cover?”

G.L. consults note cards. “There’s the fine we imposed on people who park on the street and stay more than two hours.”

“You mean the SHOPPING PENALTY?” L.G. is a very specific person.

“Yeah. We chased away a lot of rule-breakers this month,” chuckles G.L. “Like parkers who didn’t know you can’t feed a meter all day and stay in the same spot. We don’t post the rules, so we get to give out more tickets that way. They don’t know they’re breaking any rules, so we rake in even more dough. They’ll never come back downtown again!”

L.G. likes the sound of this. “What else are we doing to the rule-breakers?”

“You know those Loading Zones, where everybody thinks that you can stop for ten minutes and load or unload a car?” G.L. becomes more animated. “We made sure we don’t post any rules, so lots of people are getting big fines for parking there. They don’t know it’s wrong so they are sure to get tickets!”

L.G. doesn’t like G.L., but it looks as if some progress has been made. “What else can we do to increase revenue without spending any money on public relations or promotion?” L.G. asks.

G. L. is stumped. This is as far as the thinking has gone so far.

L.G. is patronizing. “Have you thought about beefing up the patrols? You know, for 40 years, meter maids have stopped giving tickets for on-street parking after 4:30pm. Why don’t we change their hours and have them give tickets up till 6pm, at least?”

G.L. likes this. “Yeah—and why not give tickets all night and on weekends?”

L.G. doesn’t want to work more than the four-day week on the books, so this doesn’t seem like a good idea right now. “Let’s think about that one for a while.”

G.L. is disappointed but wants to get in good with L.G., so he makes one more effort. “Why don’t we increase the $15 parking fine—uh, shopping penalty—to $50 and really teach those overtime shoppers a lesson?”

L.G. likes the punitive feel of this suggestion but needs to think about whether the Big Bosses would consider this to be a bit much right now, politically speaking.

G.L. is trying to be helpful, so he makes one more stab. “By the way, I did some research on what other cities are doing about on-street parking.” L.G. awakens, hoping there’s some more good news. “There are no parking meters in just about every downtown area I can find. There is slanted parking in lots of places, which means people can park quickly and efficiently. There are some places where police officers actually feed the meters of overtime out-of-towners and leave a note welcoming them to the town and hoping they’ll come back to shop.” G.L. has a long list. “And in these towns, Loading Zones are really Loading Zones, and no-one gets a ticket.”

L.G. says, “Yes, but if we went to those systems, we’d lose penalty revenue.”

G.L. says, “But my research shows that a lot of these places are booming with new retail, new loft dwellers, new professionals, more tourists and the like, thus bringing in more tax revenue.”

L.G. has never thought about tax revenue being a greater boon than penalty revenue. Some pondering must be done, and in the meantime, G.L. must be calmed down and encouraged to share these radical ideas with no-one. “Well, I don’t know whether the Big Bosses want more tax revenue. They seem to be happy with doing little and penalizing more,” L.G. says.

“Have you run this by them?” asks G.L.

L.G. Frowns and looks down. What an idiot! he thinks. I’m not going to be the one to run this by the big bosses. They’ll probably think I’m crazy, trying to shake things up by doing more public relations and less penalizing. L.G. finally gains some composure. “Well, let’s keep this under our hats for now. As long as we don’t change what we’re doing, we stay out of trouble. We’ll just keep on handing out tickets, and wait for an opportunity to bring up these new ideas—at the right time.”

G.L. is discouraged, because of the long list of things not brought up. maybe at the next meeting, he thinks.

To be continued.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tweeting Wolf

by Gendanken

Here's a little story, written while tropical storm Lee promised to rejuvenate the drying carcasses of local television careers with the promise of another April 27—that “unprecedented development” that keeps developing unprecedentedly. It ends with how the meanest hick can grow up to wear bowties on television and how people named “Cleetus” employ him. It begins with Iowa peasants gaping at their televisions.

Midwesterners in the late '60s were enraptured by a recent technological wonder known as the Weller Method. You had to warm the television up to channel 13, darken the screen with the knob, then turn to channel 2 for a dazzling feat of human ingenuity: the screen would suddenly glow white, and there, in the mouth of an electromagnetic god in Cletus’ own kitchen where granny skinned marsupials on Sundays, a man could predict tornadoes by assuming one was within 20 miles of yonder. It was believed that channel 2, at 55 megacycles, was sensitive enough to detect lightning in tornadoes; this obviously made it Truth and was therefore superior to granny’s superstitious wallop of feeling “shooting corns, coming storms” in her bloated varices.

Weller’s method had circuitry. You could be modern using words like “frequency” and “megacycles” when referring to your share of That Scientific Method because your little piece of Industrial Progress had an antenna, F connectors, and aerial plugs with electrons zooming through a cathode tube.

Never mind that tornadoes don’t always yield lightning or that some televisions actually had filters weeding out signals. Never mind that granny could easily thwart the growing hysteria with a knuckle—no, the entire Cletus household had to run like chickens because the television said so.

This is why half a century later, with the Facebooks and the Twitters and all the little Birmingham articles praising the “most advanced communications web” in the world, you still found yourself caught in a storm because you thought it was “only raining” until that piece of insulation splattered on your windshield.

This is what happened to a lot of us on April 27, 2011.

We’re like Cletus drunk on Technology and the Cult of Personality— a dangerous hybrid ripe for doing stupid things because we believe people on television are actual people, and now that loveable but stupid weatherman has cried wolf on storms so long that a tornado has snuck up on your lawn.

Why? Because we love that fuzzy-wuzzy Mickey Ferguson, he who makes weather cute and user-friendly with his bowtie. We loved watching James Spann shrieking out tornado warnings—never mind that millions had no power. We loved the science of it all, with him on his MacBook juggling video from Skywatchers while, like a good housewife, simultaneously tending a million Tweets. But when Skycam zoomed in on the giant funnel eating Tuscaloosa, the light caught on spittle foaming on Spann’s lip. Cletus could never appreciate what this man actually said at that moment when the blackened wind loomed darkest on the screen: that this was a “once-in-a-career” phenomenon.

It was a moment plucked from Dickens, glossed with a mucus of subterfuge and clammy hands wringing in anticipation. While homes were being destroyed, this weatherman was frothing over its significance to his career. He’s like the yenta delighting in the transport of a little piece of gossip.

Christopher Lasch, an American historian, wrote of the “public men” that our society markets like cereal and deodorant: “Public men fret about their ability to rise to crisis, to project an image of decisiveness, to give a convincing performance of executive power . . . Public relations and propaganda have exalted the image and the pseudoevent”- Changing Modes and Making It

The token symbols for that pseudoevent are Crayola-coded “terror alerts” and sleeves rolled up to the elbows, like all the weatherboys wear after pulling 5 hours on a cut-in, and people like that need people like Cletus to keep them in sleeves.

If Cletus were alive today you’d find his little cowlick in the crowd of thousands stalking Ferguson on Twitter.

So keep in mind that these ‘scientists’ are performers, under-educated peons who in Spanish broadcasts actually report the weather in stilettos bracing a swollen décolletage of eye candy (in Russia it’s an actual striptease), actors pantomiming the ancient noise of commerce, malcontents unworthy of the hosannas scribbled out for them in local papers.

Man prides himself in not being the earth’s cuckold, delighting in his secular ability for words like ‘networking’, ‘megabyte’, and ‘tweet’; he will mutate the last quark in the universe if it meant putting that much distance between himself and a savage divining gods in excrement and that much moral height above granny’s corns, yet he’s still the peddler he’s always been selling beads in Rome.

Is it any wonder, then, that another one of American’s sweethearts, Mr. Lewis Black, states the definition of ‘meteorologist” in the English language means “liar”?