Monday, January 31, 2011

Other Notes on The Egypt Thing

I'm watching the Al Jazeera coverage at 5:30AM PST. Several of their personnel have been arrested and their operations in Egypt have been shut down. Well, sort of. Al Jazeera English has never stopped broadcasting from the scene, and they have been running feature stories without let up. As for their Arabic service, it seems to be available intermittently to Egyptians through satellite services.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Egyptians are gathering in Tahrir Square in Cairo, with continuous calls for the end of the Mubarak regime and now calls for a general strike and "million man march" as soon as tomorrow.

The Egyptians are accomplishing their uprising without access to the internet, without reliable cell-phone and text messaging service, apparently without banking services (supposedly all Egyptian banks are closed), and under the watchful eye of the military.



How can they possibly organize anything without the internet? Without their cell phones and text messaging? Without their social networking? How are they communicating without the electronic and technical props the whole world relies on?

Clearly, there can be no uprising without Twitter, without WikiLeaks, without endless blogging and opining. So... what we're seeing in Cairo isn't really happening.


Seems to me that the absence of the internet and all the other electronic/technical props the rest of us rely on for social networking is actually a blessing to the Egyptians. And they're accomplishing their uprising in the face of relentless propaganda from the captive media. How can they do it?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Antiquities

Yesterday, we started seeing video on Al Jazeera of vandalism at the Cairo Museum. Display cases were smashed, some objects damaged, thrown on the floor, a few may have been stolen, but reports at first were that nine, then two, vandal/looters were apprehended in the Museum and apart from the damage to the objects, mummies, and cases, the Museum was secure. Protesters had joined with the army to cordon it off. There were also reports that the vandals were found to be members of the NDP acting as provocateurs to discredit the protests.

The link goes to a discussion of what was damaged at the Museum, and two of the objects shown (in the header picture above) appear to be part of the Tutankhamen collection. However, it is my understanding that these objects are on tour in the United States, the exhibit set to open in St. Paul on Feb 18. I'm not absolutely sure the objects shown broken in the Museum images above are in the current exhibit, but I recall them being in the exhibit that toured the US in the '70's, and they are such iconic objects from Tut's tomb it's hard to believe they would not be in the current exhibit.

I suspect, therefore, that the broken objects shown in the Museum video were reproductions -- which are certainly common enough in the Egyptian antiquities field.

It's hard to believe that proud Egyptians would have anything at all to do with destroying -- let alone looting -- their artistic and historical legacy. But I thought the same regarding the treasures at the Baghdad Museum after the invasion. The Iraqis were too proud of their history to destroy it, weren't they?

Which is where we may find a cultural fault between peoples who have been living under a long-term brutal dictatorship -- such as those in Iraq and Egypt -- and Americans, who are merely getting a taste of what a real police state is like.

It's quite possible that pride in the past may not be as strong as we Americans think.

On the other hand, the damage to the Cairo Museum is relatively light.

Meanwhile, the protests in Egypt continue, indeed appear to be intensifying. Al Jazeera is operating under unspecified restrictions (for example, their correspondents on the scene cannot be named; communications are sketchy at best) but they are still covering the protest action as fully as they can. It's obvious to me that the United States is a major player behind the scenes, doing its best to "manage" the situation, keeping at least the appearance of pressure on Mubarak while prattling about "democracy" and so forth. Clearly, though, the Mubarak regime is being propped up at the same time.

And in Tunisia, even though the ruling clique was driven from the country, the replacement "government" has obviously tried to maintain the strong CIA/American ties the previous one had, and it seems to be maintaining the same ridiculous and counterproductive globalist economic policies that got the previous government overthrown.

So we can easily imagine that even if the Mubarak regime falls, nothing -- much -- will change.

The Status Quo will be maintained.

At least for now.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

On the Egypt Thing

I spent most of yesterday watching the uprising in Egypt live on Al Jazeera, really the only comprehensive and reliable English language coverage available, and for most Americans, it is only available on the internet.

I was mezmerized.

It's very important, of course, to convince Americans that these kinds of Street Insurrections don't work, and to convince them that they better not try it, no matter how bad things get in this country. Jibbering natives overseas may be able to pull off something like this, but no American should ever think that something like this can work in a civilized country like the Good Ol USA.

From what I've seen of American media on the Egypt Thing, that's been pretty much the universal message: "Don't you get uppity and try this yourself. It will not work."

Back to the coverage; there is anxious anticipation that Mubarak will indeed give up the Pharaoh's Throne in due time, which may be very soon indeed.

And as Egypt falls, attempted American hegemony in the Middle East will fall to pieces. There are uprisings in Jordan too, the Yemen, Lebanon, Algeria, etc. The paranoiacs in Israel must be shitting bricks.

And they've got nukes.

This is no time for popcorn.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Random Notes -- Something's Happening Here

I think most people who are paying attention know that something really strange is going on with regard to the Authorities stemming from the incredible overreaction to protests at the Denver and St. Paul political conventions in 2008.

Yes, still. The Authorities are on a rampage against peace activists.

In Memphis the other day, a SWAT team and the FBI anti-terrorism squad showed up at a meeting of the the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center -- at a church -- to... they said... "protect" the good folks gathered there from... unnamed and unidentified antagonists.

This is absurd.

It's simple harassment meant to intimidate. Like the Authorities have been doing with the peace activists in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago and elsewhere for years. It's still going on.

In this instance, activists refused to comply with the subpoenas to appear before a grand jury investigating terrorism related charges, and for the time being the subpoenas were canceled.

But of course, the whole point was to harass and intimidate.

This is an investigation, by the way, being carried out by Blogger Hero Patrick Fitzgerald, he of the endless cries of "Fitz!" and "Fitzmas!" when he was investigating the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame business back in the day, but there is nary a word about any of his actions against peace activists in the so-called "progressive" blogosphere. Obviously some First Amendment issues are "important" to "progressive" bloggers while others, clearly, are not.

[As a side note, I suspect the nearly complete lack of interest in what "Fitz!" is up to with the peace activists in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago has to do with the fact that he is a Hero among the loudest "constitutionalists" in the blogosphere for going after Libby. If he's doing something contrary to his Heroic stature, it's best not to say anything about it at all. That's how propagandists work.]

Meanwhile, the assault on the 14th Amendment continues. This assault is supposedly about doing an end run around the "birthright citizenship" clause in the amendment so as to ensure the offspring of illegales born in this country are not themselves citizens.

Steve King has introduced a measure in the House and Lindsey Graham Rand Paul and Jim DeMint David Vitter plan to do the same in the Senate.

But ultimately, this is about undoing the "equal protection clause" in the amendment, something that has sat in the craw of Southern Rebs for generations, and something that plenty many of the rich and powerful -- along with their not-so-bright hangers on -- find meet to press at this time.

And once again, our dauntless "constitutionalist progressives" are all but silent on the matter.

It do make you wonder sometimes whose side they're on.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More Movies -- the Musicals

1958 was a surprisingly good year for wretched excess in the movies, and I probably saw all the most excessively overwrought pictures released that year. Excess was the zeitgeist. Just look at a 1958 Buick to catch the spirit of the year!

One of the highlights of the 1958 movie season was the release of Rogers' and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," one of the all time movie musical excesses.

For example, "There is Nothin' Like a Dame"

But we could easily pull out any musical number from the film and revel in its cinematic and musical excesses. "South Pacific" was the climactic movie musical. After that, everything was anti-climax.

But before the innundation of the senses that was "South Pacific," another Rogers and Hammerstein movie musical entranced audiences (including me) in 1956: "The King and I."

As overdone as "South Pacific" is, "The King and I," though lush and exotic as can be, is by contrast restrained.

In 1961, "West Side Story," by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim took the movie musical to another level altogether. I had been listening to the music from the Broadway show for years before I saw the picture, so I was pretty familiar with what it sounded like, but the movie experience it has stayed with me ever since. I love the show, I think it is great, one of the highest achievements of the American Musical Theatre bar none, and one that stands alone. There has been and is nothing else like it.

Well, except for this: "Web Site Story:"

In 1963, a simple little movie musical called "Bye Bye Birdie" was released, and I can't count the number of times I must have seen it. It was a delight, and I was a young teenager at the time, so... I could relate. Heh.

Then in 1964, audiences were treated to what is very nearly the penultimate American musical (before the form imploded and became a specialty entertainment for connoisseurs): "My Fair Lady." I didn't much care for it, to tell the truth, but it was nicely done, so any objection I might have had was mild.

From that point on, at least until the release of "Cabaret" in 1972, the American Musical Theatre and the films that were made from those musical plays, were darned near dreadful. Despite occasionally interesting attempts, the art for has not recovered. That's my opinion. And I'm sticking to it! ;-)

The Rabbit Hole Paradox -- The Pervasiveness of Propaganda (2)

Tom Tomorrow has an excellent cartoon over at Salon that describes some of the problem of "Knowing and Not Knowing" in our political and social context these days. Here's a corner of it; go over there to see the whole thing.

There are multiple layers in this observation: People know what they know because of who/what told them, not because of their own individual, critical ability to independently ferret out Truth or to sort fact from opinion. People don't want to know -- and will often vehemently reject -- any information from "taboo" sources without bothering to assess it for Truth or insight because they don't want to know whatever it is the "taboo" source has to say. In many cases today, knowing what one knows and refusing to let any contradictory information (especially from "taboo" sources) enter one's thinking is standard on all sides of the political and social spectrum. One adopts a rigid -- and essentially unalterable -- viewpoint against which no alternative or contradiction can be allowed to penetrate.

This is how propaganda works. It destroys one's ability to think critically and assess contradictory information honestly on the one hand, and it provides a safe and comforting justification for one's ignorance and inability to think critically on the other.

We saw how the process works on spectacular display during the roll-out and run-up to the Iraq invasion, when Bush Regime propaganda was pervasive, and any contradictory information at all -- and any protest against the looming catastrophe of the Iraq invasion -- was simply "disappeared," much like the successful disappearance of the protests at the Bush installation. The ruling faction and its war-loving propagandists essentially blanketed every information outlet with blizzards of falsehoods, fabrications, and lies and asserted them as "what everyone knows." A Global Truth. Any contradiction whatever, and any protest, was made to go away. They simply were not allowed to be (widely) considered. They were, of course, considered on the fringes, but only there.

Another aspect of the pervasiveness of propaganda during that period was the largely successful effort by the Busheviks to control opposition and determine what was and what was not "appropriate" opposition, where and when it could be expressed, by whom, and under what conditions. The caged "free speech zones" for the fringe opposition was one aspect. But more importantly, the Busheviks actively carried out a campaign to discourage (and even, in the case of Scott Ritter among others, prevent) the mainstream expression of dissent about the Iraq invasion and occupation especially by people who knew the truth.

The Truth was intolerable and had to be suppressed. It was suppressed in the mainstream, though how much of that suppression was "voluntary" remains somewhat mysterious, given that the mainstream mass media has long been, for all intents and purposes, an arm and branch of the Government -- or at least of a faction thereof.

Among the suppressive techniques successfully employed was endless mockery and derision of anyone who questioned or challenged the propaganda. One popular technique was for Bush officials to declare they ignored questions and challenges of "that kind." Or that they "didn't know" who was questioning them, and so would not respond. Another was declaring, usually falsely, that dissenters and opponents numbered only a few malcontents and bitter-enders. Another was misstating and misrepresenting the evidence and arguments presented by dissenters and opponents. There were still other tactics: implying "political" motives to dissenters and opponents as their sole reason for objecting to the course of events leading to the Iraq invasion and occupation. Falsely accusing dissenters and opponents of being 1) paid by Saddam to oppose the invasion; 2) falsely accusing dissenters and opponents of supporting dictators in general; 3) falsely accusing dissenters and opponents of being Communists bent on the destruction of America, and so on, from a whole catalog of false accusations.

These propaganda techniques for suppressing dissent and opposition are successful -- at least temporarily -- because most people simply have no ability, or in many cases, inclination, to find the facts and the truth on their own. It's so much easier to believe what one is told, and as importantly, to disbelieve what one is told by "taboo" sources. Every successful propagandist, no matter what side of the political and social spectrum they are on, understands that.

Repetition is a key to propagandists' success. Repeated lies become the Truth; and it works. For a while.

These techniques and many more are still being employed relentlessly, by Rightist Reactionaries in office (spend some time listening to Congressional Republicans... or don't), by the White House and its many flacks (and the surprisingly extensive media propaganda support they receive), by television and radio personalities, particularly on the right, but sometimes on the purported "left" as well (try listening carefully to Randi Rhodes sometime ...yeek!) and extensively by bloggers, right, left, center, libertarian and counter-libertarian.

There is no escaping the pervasiveness of propaganda in the American political and social context today. It's everywhere, and practically everyone with a public platform employs it. Almost none admit it. Propaganda is the New Normal.

That's what happens when a whole society falls down the Rabbit Hole. At bottom there is a cacophony of chaotic voices all screaming Their Truth as the Only One, demanding that you accept their Only Truth or "off with your head!" But as the Cheshire Cat noted to Alice, they're all mad.


But the paradox is that at the bottom of the Rabbit Hole, Fact is Opinion, Truth is False, Sanity is Absurd, Ignorance is Strength, and everything is Arbitrary. And despite all efforts to bring reason and rationality to the fore, in the Madhouse, Madness rules.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Rabbit Hole Paradox -- The Pervasiveness of Propaganda

This post is something of a continuation of the two posts I've done this year on the absence of critical thinking skills among huge numbers of Americans, even among some who might once have had such skills.

The relentlessness of propaganda, especially since the lawless installation of the Bush Regime following the 2000 election*, has done a remarkable job on ordinary Americans' ability to tell fact from opinion and to rationally consider options.

[Note: *For those who really can't tell, my use of the term "lawless installation" is an opinion, an informed opinion to be sure, but it is not a fact, in that there was allusion to the 14th Amendment in the SCOTUS ruling that put Bush in the presidency. That "one time only" clause, you know. However, I'm well aware that I use the phrase "lawless installation" as a propagandist would, deliberately obscuring the line between fact and opinion.]

Since the 2000 election and the dispute over the results, the pervasiveness of propaganda -- much of it simply false, but a good deal of it "kinda sorta true, if you look at the question from the proper perspective" -- has increased to the point of practically overwhelming even the most basic rational facts.

We saw it during the recount, when the "sides" argued their case in the public square, doing what lawyers do -- which is to advocate the interests of their clients -- whether on the assumption the public knew what tactics lawyers use or not is unknown.

But then there was the "disappearing protest" at Bush's inauguration. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Washington to protest the usurpation* and managed to stop Bush's motorcade briefly, but there was essentially no news coverage of this protest at all that day. Most Americans had -- and have -- no idea there even was a protest. That's Propaganda by Omission, something our major -- and some of the minor -- media has become expert at.

Propaganda surrounded the installation of Bush to the point where it was not even permitted to discuss the disgust many Americans had for what was happening. Online, especially, almost all discussion that involved arguing against the installation was shut out of the mainstream media. Where it was allowed, on the fringes, made the issue "irrelevant." As we were ordered to celebrate the "peaceful transition of power."

In fact, celebrations of all things Bush were the command of the day, every day, in most of America's media. We would have huge tax cuts, responsible budgeting, extraordinary economic growth. Paradise would ensue. Anyone who expressed doubt was just a bitter whiner who needed to get over it. Some were traitors.

Down the Rabbit Hole?

Absolutely. This was the state of affairs in the Public Square right up to the attacks on Sept. 11, when all the previous propaganda efforts went into sheer hyperdrive.

It hasn't stopped to this day, and in fact, the pervasiveness of propaganda has expanded, very much in line with the famous "2+2=5" signs in Orwell's 1984 (which, FWIW, are based on real signs in Moscow during the first -- or second -- 5 Year Plan, the import being that Soviet Comrades could accomplish the goals of the 5 Year Plan in four, if they really put their backs to it.)

This is a very dangerous and ultimately unsustainable path, but one we can't seem to get off of.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Mental Health Issues -- Follow Up

I was going to end this series on Mental Health Issues with the "do the right thing" post labeled "Final", but I see that today's paper is full of "5150" stories and editorials on the crying need for adequate mental health care locally and beyond.

There are a lot of statistics involved and quite a lot of law that I had not considered more than tangentially. I know -- empirically -- that the over all mental health care issue is dire and getting worse for many, many patients. But as the situation worsens and the calls for improvement escalate, Americans aren't yet at the point of recognizing the need for complete overhaul and reform. It's getting closer, but we're not there yet.

I will try to have a more complete post covering the topics in today's paper later today.


The 5150 story is just insane -- as a friend described it this afternoon as we discussed the mental health (lack of care) situation in this area. There has been a 40% drop in 5150 incident reports since 2008. The patient described in the first few paragraphs was cowering under a therapist's desk, refusing aid and threatening to kill herself when the therapist decided to call the police hoping they would take the patient to the hospital for a 5150 commitment -- the involuntary commitment of a suicidal or dangerous person.

The therapist said she was told by the police officer who responded that the patient had to be standing there with a knife to her throat to be "5150'd" -- and left.

Commitments have dropped from over 2,000 in 2008 to less than 1,400 in 2010, while the seriously mentally ill population has remained essentially stable at roughly 74,000, including 27,000 children. Calls to the police for help have stayed pretty much the same during that time period, too.

The reason for the decline in involuntary commitments is budget cuts that have closed almost all the public mental health care outpatient clinics and inpatient facilities in the county. Now, the only open facilities to handle mentally ill patients are the overcrowded ERs at general hospitals, and because it may take a long time to find an open bed, police are simply refusing to take patients for treatment. Of course, if they cause trouble enough, they'll be taken to jail or killed on the spot.

The myth is that even with the lack of facilities for care and treatment of the mentally ill, "the most serious cases" are still being committed, and private community organizations are "stepping in" to fill the gaps left by the closures of the public clinics. This is simply not so.

There are numerous cases detailed of severely mentally ill individuals in the county who could not get care because there is none available.

That's the reality in this county and this country.


Carla Jacobs and Dr. E. Fuller Torrey opine on the necessity of the county to deal with its dangerously mentally ill or face the consequences. In their opinion piece, they detail what happened when Ronald Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act in 1969, effectively ordering the deinstitutionalization of the severely mentally ill, and changing the standard for involuntary inpatient commitment from a court finding of "need for treatment" to "danger to oneself or others." Now no one can intervene legally unless a patient is predictably imminently "dangerous." Knowing just where that line might be is almost impossible.

According to Jacobs and Torrey, the problem is that 40-50% of the severely mentally ill have a syndrome that prevents them from recognizing their own condition, which means, ultimately, that they get no treatment. At all.

Nationwide the statistics are staggering: in 2007 DoJ reported that 56% of state prisoners and 64% of local jail inmates were suffering from mental illness. Why do we let this situation continue and worsen year after year?

"Freedom?" For whom?

Because of chronic overcrowding in California's state prisons, many low level prisoners will have to be transferred to local jails, and then released. Many of them will be mentally ill, and there will be no treatment access for them.

This is not a sane policy.

There are laws in California and Arizona which make access to mental health care much more available than it usually is, but these laws are not implemented in either California or Arizona. Consequently, despite the need, there still is no adequate access to treatment and what little access there is is being even further restricted.


We need reform of the entire system. Now.

Movies, Movies, Movies -- And A Few Plays

When I was searching for a clip of the "Mendacity" scene from "Cat on A Hot Tin Roof" the other day on the YouTubes, of course I ran across all kinds of juicy, melodramatic interludes from movies of yore. I got to thinking about how immersed I must have been in movies when I was little (though at the time I didn't think so), and I got to thinking about which ones made a lasting impression on me -- even thought I might not have known it at the time.

"Cat on A Hot Tin Roof" (1958) is the first Tennessee Williams film I remember seeing, and it made a huge impression on me. Not that I understood it. Nope, not a bit. What I saw, though, was incredible, wild people just tearing each other apart, wreckage of lives scattered everywhere, all in glorious color and spoken in a language that was literally poetry. It left me breathless.

That same year, 1958, there was another Southern Gothic melodrama starring Paul Newman called "The Long Hot Summer" that was nearly overwhelming in scope and sweat and fire. It was in Cinemascope, and absolutely saturated color, and was another extraordinary emotional roller coaster. Watching the clip, I actually had a visceral negative reaction to the character played by Anthony Franciosa, just as I did when I saw the picture so many years ago, and the barn burning scene is still searing. I haven't seen the picture since 1958, and yet there are parts of the trailer that can still get a rise out of me. Who says movies don't influence people in ways they aren't even aware of.

The entire James Dean oeuvre (1955-56) left another big impression on me. I was very young when I saw "Rebel Without A Cause," no more than seven years old, and it was fascinating, not just for the pumped up melodramatic story, but because it was filmed in Los Angeles in locations I recognized, and the climactic scene at Griffith Park Observatory felt so strange. I had been there not long before I saw the picture, and I couldn't for the life of me imagine how these horrible events could be taking place at that site. One of the things that happens when you're very young is that it is difficult to separate truth from illusion, and what a kid sees on a movie or television screen is in some sense "real" even when the frame and the screen tell you it's "make believe." Yes, make believe, but...

So imagine how "East of Eden" must have struck me. What I recall is that I didn't understand it. It wasn't visceral enough for me. Too cerebral, and yet there are so many scenes that stuck with me for years and years afterwards, especially Cal's complete frustration in trying to please his father. I may not have understood the picture, but I sure understood the emotion -- when it was there.

Oh, but then there was "Giant." Another of those super-saturated, wide screen melodrama-epics that was overwhelming in scope and raw emotion. It was another one I couldn't understand -- except for the feeling of it all. What's stayed with me are the visuals, especially the oil gushing and the flat, empty plains of Texas. It was strange. I was familiar with "oil" as I'd lived my early childhood in Santa Barbara County oil country, and there were wells all over Los Angeles County when I lived there, though none of them I knew of were gushers. The flat, empty plain was something else again. That was something I don't recall ever seeing before, at least not as starkly as limned in the movie. And yet even now, I'm strangely drawn to that kind of landscape. Interesting.

Another one that made a lasting impression was "The High and the Mighty," (1954) which I saw for the first time again last year. I was struck by how much of it had stayed with me all these years. It was all very glamorous and exciting, scary and funny at the same time. At yet I was only six year old when I saw it the first -- and until last year -- the only time.

One of the first plays I produced independently was Tennessee Williams' "The Two-Character Play," one of his more obscure works, to be sure, and one that he wrote when he was pretty fucked up on drugs, but an astonishing piece of theater just the same, with absolutely compelling characters in conditions that raise them well above the ordinary.

Williams has a whole raft of "obscure" works, all of them astonishing in their own right. Try "The Red Devil Battery Sign" sometime. I dare you. Our production was not the best, but... boy! Something to remember.

I do like Williams, and I like him because he knows what real drama is and he knows how to create true-life characters that are way bigger than life, and thus he knows how to move an audience as deeply and cathartically as any modern playwright has ever been able to do. Even as he himself became consumed with sex and drugs and liquor, he could still bring to life iconic, believable and strangely sympathetic characters that stand as some of the highest achievements of dramatic art.

As I was trolling for the "Mendacity" scene from "Cat" the other day, I came across a long clip from a production of the play at a small, non-professional theater outside of Chicago (the Circle Theatre) in 2009 that I thought was just brilliant. To see these characters created so well and so fully on such a tiny stage by actors who clearly understood who these characters were and how to communicate the depth of feeling and power Williams imbued them with was thrilling. So I'll close this post with that clip.


On Mental Health Issues -- Final

The ostensible goal of most modern mental health care providers is for the mentally ill to be able to function at the highest possible level the individual is capable of and to live as rewarding and productive a life, preferably integrated within the general society, as possible.

In pursuit of this goal, many providers rely on medications that control or partially control symptoms of many mental illnesses. As a consequence, the United States is often called the "medicated nation." Such a large percentage of the population, starting at a very young age, is on some highly psychoactive drug or another, to control one or more symptoms of mental illness that it's not too much of a stretch to wonder if the whole damn country is bonkers.

This reliance on medications, in contrast to the previous reliance on an in-place system of custody and treatment, is partly the result of a belief that "mental illness isn't real." Instead, the manifest symptoms of mental illness in many if not most cases are the result of chemical/hormonal imbalances in the brain, and correcting those imbalances will correct the symptoms. From a purely physical perspective, there's a good deal of truth to the belief that many symptoms can be controlled or corrected with medication. The millions of Americans taking psychoactive medications and carrying on "normal" lives is testimony to that. The question then arises of how so many Americans became mentally ill enough to require constant medication.

When conformity was an important social value an entire mental health care infrastructure was built up in response. It was dismantled when conformity was no longer considered such an important social value. Now, instead, many more millions of ordinary Americans are medicated with chemical "re-balancers" than were ever served by the mental health care system that used to exist, and yet many of the mentally ill get little or no care or treatment at all but are left to fend for themselves on the streets or however they might, and if they act up, they're either jailed or summarily executed.

The goal of reintegrating mentally challenged and mentally ill individuals into the broader society was and is one of the more laudable goals of the dismantlers of the earlier system of custody, treatment and care. There was no reason, in many cases, to segregate mentally challenged and mentally ill individuals in out-of-the-way asylums. Segregation had long been the rule, however, so it didn't occur to the powers that be that there might be another way until it was forced on them.

There was and is no reason for a separate ("but not even close to equal") mental health care system distinct from the physical health care system. Mental health care should be available, just as physical health care should be available, to all, without the kinds of hurdles to access we have today.

So ultimately what the issue boils down to is accessible care, which is a problem for millions upon tens of millions of Americans, whatever their health care issue is, and it is a problem that would only be partially remedied by the Health Insurance Reform measures passed last year (and now under fierce assault from the Rightist Reactionaries).

Until we have a single-payer comprehensive health care system, together with the educational and other support systems necessary to keep it functioning -- the only kind of health care system that will provide universal care in a large and complex system like this one, the problem of access will continue, the problem of grossly disparate care for the mentally ill on the one hand, and over-medication on the other will get worse, and ultimately the concept of "care" itself will be inverted to mean its opposite.

We may not be able to control what our ruling class does about these matters, as they seem intent on governing contrary to the public interest at all times, but we can control what we do as individuals and in groups.

Never relent on advocating and doing what is right.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Mental Health Issues -- Cont'd Again

[Performance by The Cramps at Napa State Hospital in 1978.]

What we need, of course, is to a return to valuing people, society and the common interest enough to restore access to mental health care services, as part of access to all health care service, to anyone who needs it without so much coercion or complexification that the patient is either forced into inappropriate care or is unable to get care because he or she can't figure out what to do.

But for that to happen, Americans have to once again believe it is in everyone's interests to care for the most vulnerable among us, without basing that "care" on concepts of punishment.

Right now, such mental health care as there is in America is largely chopped up into innumerable clinics, non-profit operations, emergency observation facilities, and so on, each an independent fief, operated first and foremost for the purpose of maintaining funding and personnel. Client services are secondary at best, and that's why this non-system -- as expensive as it is -- doesn't work. It operates for the convenience and profit primarily of administrators.

That has to change.

But it cannot change so long as our value system is continuously demanding the least service for the mentally ill while protecting the providers, and so long as our values are based on punishment and neglect, and not just for the mentally ill.

After the Revolution comes, indeed....

On Mental Health Issues -- Cont'd

I don't want to make it seem like the mental health care system in this country in the '50's and '60's was all violets and rosewater. It wasn't. Care of the mentally ill was essentially custodial, treatment was largely based on ignorance. In operation, it could occasionally be extremely cruel.

The point I make is that there was a system of mental health care in place that did not rely on theories of punishment and neglect. There is no such system now. By design and by policy decision.

For all the faults of the system when time was, progress was being made in correcting elements that didn't serve the interests of patients, on eliminating abuses, and on improving custodial conditions. Still, there were huge numbers of patients in the system at any given time, about twice the number now held in America's domestic jails and prisons, but at the time, the ratio between the number of mental health care patients and prisoners was astronomical, many millions vs a few hundred thousand.

An obvious question arises: why were so many people "in the system" back in the day? And why are so relatively few in it today?

The answer isn't quite so obvious, but I'll give it a shot.

One of the chief organizing social values in the United States -- at least from the '20's onward -- was conformity. Americans were obsessed with being like one another, knowing and adhering to custom, deviating as little as possible from the expectations of family, friends and neighbors, submitting to authority, and on and on. As the catastrophes of the 20th Century mounted, first the Depression, then WWII, the need to belong and to conform became almost overwhelming for most people. Eccentricity was not encouraged, often it wasn't tolerated at all. "Alternative lifestyles" were impossible for most people. During the '50's and up to the early '60's "conformity" was practically an absolute demand.

There were very limited "non-conformist" outlets (Beaniks, artist communities and so forth), but they, too, were internally very conformist.

Mentally ill individuals, by definition, didn't and most often couldn't "conform" to more and more rigid social standards. What to do?

That was the question. Because people believed at the time in common social responsibility and that the government, as the agent of the common will, had the authority to act on that responsibility, the result was an extensive public mental health care system. Many people used it -- voluntarily and involuntarily -- which was the point of having it in the first place. This would seem to be an obvious concept, but strangely it is not.

Many of those who utilized the system (voluntarily or involuntarily) did so because they either wanted to conform or their social context required that they do so.

We can opine as we will on the need for conformity in those days. I myself saw how destructive it could be, but it was possible to see the social value in conformity, too. It seemed that people could be designated "mentally ill" on the basis of little more than an eccentricity or two, and that could be very abusive. On the other hand, it didn't happen that often, not nearly as often as one might believe.

Nevertheless, the social pressure to conform was intense, and the level of stress on the people who had difficulty doing so, for whatever reason, was just as intense. For some of them, utilizing the mental health care system was a way to cope.

All that said, because treatment was based on so much ignorance -- ignorance that's still a real problem in the field -- results of treatment were not necessarily desirable or benign. Suffering people continued to suffer. On the other hand, there was treatment or at least care available, which simply isn't the case now, at least not on the scale and level of access there once was.

I'm not inclined to go all the way back to the system as it was, but it's long past time for the recognition that the current underfunded and balkanized non-system that is extremely difficult to access and maintain any sort of consistency of care within is not in the public interest.

Friday, January 21, 2011

On Mental Health Issues

I haven't really gotten into this topic much, preferring to rant rather than delve into it to the extent I could, but I've left hints here and there that there have been many -- severe -- mental health issues among members of my family. I've lived with the consequences all my life. It's not an easy topic to broach or to discuss.

But the recent upsurge in interest in mental health issues following the dreadful shooting in Tucson has opened the door a crack. I realize that most people have no idea what mental illness is -- let alone does -- and they see it as a relatively trivial matter that doesn't concern them. In fact, mental illness, and the price all of us pay for the lack of mental health care services in this country is an ongoing catastrophe.

The shootings are only part of the picture, a relatively small part -- though they are the ones that get the most attention. My impression is that far more mentally ill individuals wind up getting shot, either by Authority or by others, than they shoot, and most people are just as happy it is so.

Punishing and killing the mentally ill -- or simply "allowing" them to die -- is the way things have been in this country for many a long year.

To review: My brother was autistic; my sister suffered from a serious bi-polar condition. My mother became more and more demented as she got older -- but there were signs of serious trouble from early on. My father was an alcoholic who suffered from severe -- untreated -- depression most of his life. And I myself have struggled with alcoholism and depression and various forms of PTSD most of my life.

Oh yes, I had a very traumatic childhood, one that I can recall with both joy and horror -- depending on circumstances recollected -- in almost too great of detail.

That said, when I was young, mental health care was available through public health agencies as well as private providers, and while there could be stigmas to utilizing mental health care services, it wasn't that big an issue for most people. If you needed to get your head shrunk -- or thought you did -- you did it. If you were acting out, the 'van men' came (the term is from an Edward Albee play, "The American Dream") and took you away for a while, sometimes a long time, in a public facility, and you would be provided with at least minimal care and treatment, not necessarily based on "The Snake Pit," either. Millions of Americans were housed or treated in the mental health care system -- when there was one -- in this country.

Involuntary commitment was relatively rare, though it did happen with somewhat more frequency than I believe was necessary. Voluntary commitment was far more common.

Treatment, unfortunately, was primitive when it wasn't downright barbaric. Professionals in the field did not know what caused mental illness and so they often did not know how to treat it effectively. Often it seemed that the basic premise of mental health care and treatment was "This too shall pass." In truth, that's how it sometimes works out. Provide the mentally ill with a safe and positive environment, listen to them, provide therapeutic activities and wah-lah!, something approaching a cure. Well. For a while anyway.

That was the easiest, and in my experience, the most common approach, but if a patient did not improve through utilization of simple methods, there were others. Electroshock. Cold and hot baths. Insulin shock. Other means of "forcing" the patient to get better. If nothing else worked, there was always the lobotomy. That worked real good. Oh yeah.

As I say, primitive if not barbaric. But most patients did not go through those treatments. Too many -- far too many -- did, but most were treated as simply as possible, and many who could not recover for whatever reason (ie: brain damage, dementia, Downs and other syndromes, autism, etc.) would be housed, as safely and comfortably as possible either in a public facility or with local providers for the rest of their lives.

Yes, there were abuses, terrible abuses, and in too many cases, those abuses were not addressed adequately -- or at all -- until very late in the game, indeed, not until the policy decisions were made to shut down the entire public mental health care system as it once was. Abusing the mentally ill was sport for the sadists who all too frequently had free rein in public and private facilities. Sadists on the street could be just as cruel if not more so. Too often, they got away with it.

But the effort to dismantle the entire system of mental health care was based on truly horrific concepts that should not have ever been allowed to prevail.

The basic premise: "Let them fend for themselves; let their families take care of them. If they make any trouble, punish them or kill them."

And this was marketed far and wide as "liberation!" "freedom!"

It was and is a grotesque perversion of the terms.

But you see, I'm getting into rant-mode again. And I don't want to stay in that place, so I'll have to stop for a little while.


Rant mode off for a bit.

My brother had the most severe long term mental illness in the family, and he was cared for at first by family members; when that became impossible, he was cared for by friends of the family; when they could no longer care for him, he was transferred to a state facility where he did not live much longer, not because of any neglect or abuse that I'm aware of but principally because he couldn't handle the change and lost his will to live.

My sister became a mental health care professional and worked in the field for forty years. She died as a consequence of being caught in the middle of a take down of an obstreperous inmate at Atascadero State Hospital -- really a prison for the criminally insane. Her injuries required surgery. She got a blood clot. She died the day after surgery.

She suffered from what was eventually diagnosed as "Manic-Depression", now known as "bi-polar disorder." She voluntarily committed herself to a private, locked facility several times, and she received repeated courses of electroshock therapy. I wouldn't say it helped. It just gave her another set of challenges and problems to deal with. She was put on lithium several years before she died, and it really did seem to help. She was somewhat distant due I think to the shock therapy, but she was highly functional to the end.

My mother went untreated for many years, though she knew there was something wrong in her head. She saw a series of therapists when it became harder and harder for her to get along in the world, and she was put on high doses of psychotropic drugs. They helped in a sense. She was much calmer and able to function, which she and everyone else appreciated, but she became more and more unfocused and to my eye at any rate she became more and more unhappy, until finally she decided to stop taking the medications. Mistake. It took several months to clear the medications from her system, and the person who emerged was all but unrecognizable. That's why I posted the "Nan" videos. My mother had become someone very much like "Nan." One can cope with people in that condition, but it isn't easy. She deteriorated, moved north, could not take care of herself, was looked after by one of her granddaughters and finally died of lung disease -- for she never stopped smoking right up to the end.

My father's depression started soon after his first wife's death. It wasn't really recognized. It was never treated. He tried to self-medicate with alcohol -- which had the effect of making him a drunk. As he got older, he completely withdrew from the outside world. The only people who even saw him toward the end were some religious nuts who had moved into his house. They... didn't help, and by the time he was taken to the hospital suffering from cancer, it was really too late to do anything to save him. He died within a week.

I've seen counselors and psychiatrists for some of my own issues, but strangely, they've tended to say I'm "fine" -- or at least doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. I've never taken drugs, but for a time, I was drinking very heavily and came to understand, when I hit bottom as they say, that drinking was my attempt at self-medication. Getting better took a long time, but I haven't had a drink in almost 20 years, I keep working on recovery, and I certainly don't miss the sauce ;-). I have developed a lot of coping strategies when depression comes over me, most of them suggested by one or another counselor, and for what it's worth, in a halting way, my ad hoc efforts work. I still get occasional panic attacks, but far fewer than before I retired.

That's the nutshell version of my own private nuthouse.

While I recognize that my family's situation is unusual, it's not that unusual. At one time, help was available -- even if it wasn't the best -- and it was utilized by most of us at one time or another.

It is not the case that "help is available" any more. I read over and over that people who are trained in dealing with mentally ill people are trained to call the police if there is any suspicion that the individual might be a threat to the safety of himself or anyone else. Time after time, when the police respond, they kill the suspect. It is always justified homicide. Always.

Why do people call the police? They think they are supposed to on the one hand, and they literally have no other choice on the other. Mentally ill people acting out -- or even threatening to -- are "always" a matter for Authority and too often summary execution. There is no other option.

If they are not killed on the spot, they are taken away either for a 3 day observation, or if a law can be found that they have broken, they are taken to jail, where they are likely to be beaten and abused by the guards for sport. I could go on and on and on detailing what happens to the mentally ill caught up in the grip of our punishment obsession and the absence of appropriate mental health care services.

I can't help but think what would have happened to members of my own family if this regime of mal or non-treatment of the mentally ill had been in place when they were diagnosed and suffering.

It's appalling.

Which is why I tend to rant about it rather than calmly consider.

It all goes back to Reagan, his wife Nancy, and her (step) father. Well, that and the series of lawsuits filed by the ACLU to "liberate" mental patients.

I'm getting back into rant mode, so I'm going to stop for the time being, maybe look up some links to include here later, and consider more deeply what it is we really need in this country to provide for mentally ill people.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Bradley Manning Action I Can Support

While I tend to share Solitary Watch's ambivalence toward the "left" blogosphere's sudden devotion to Human Rights -- when it comes to Bradley Manning and his conditions of custody at Quantico -- while essentially ignoring the plight of the tens of thousands of prisoners held in similar or worse conditions, even children held awaiting trial, some for more than a year, there was an action at Quantico the other day, a demonstration initially focused on Freedom for Bradley Manning, but one that eventually took up the cause of all the unjustly held and those held under the same sort of conditions (or worse conditions) Manning is being held under, and I can really get behind that.

It brings the spotlight to America's punishment obsessed "rule of law," that is for many, many of those it holds nothing but a human rights crime. Bradley Manning hasn't yet become a symbol of the many thousands who are held under similar conditions domestically and in our gulags overseas, but he could become that. And as the demonstration at Quantico showed, more and more people -- but not yet the "left" blogosphere -- are recognizing that.

It's a good thing.

Over at dKos, there is an eyewitness report of some of that was going on, and the lesson here is that -- sometimes -- Authority will back down.

It's a lesson that Americans have to learn again, though. They have forgotten so much.

On the Absence of Critical Thinking


There's been a study done that tracks the development of critical thinking skills among some 2,200 college students which finds that... many don't learn critical thinking skills in college and university.

This ties in with a post I made at the beginning of the year discussing what I regarded as the very deliberate determination by the Powers That Be (specifically Reaganists) toward the end of the Sixties to disable the critical thinking capabilities of public school students once and for all -- so as to make it impossible for public school students every to rise up again.

It's been successful.

One of the interesting aspects of the study is that, apparently, the researchers assumed students entered college and university without critical thinking skills, and they were supposed to learn them while in college/university.

The point I tried to make was that these skills were taught in public schools, at least in California, well before college, in my recollection beginning in junior high school. By the time I got to high school, practically every course reinforced and expanded critical thinking as part of the fundamental process of education.

There was a problem, however. If students as young as seventh or eighth grade could at least begin to apply critical thinking to what they were being taught in school and to what they were being told in the News, they would shortly come to the conclusion that they were being lied to, propagandized, and manipulated to become willing little servants of the Corporate State. (Yes, even then, we knew what and who was really in charge.)

And that would generally lead to rebellion, as it did among America's students throughout the mid-and-later Sixties.

So. What do you do if you want to suppress rebellion? You make it difficult or impossible for students to learn critical thinking skills.

Sure enough.

One of the key factors of the study is that:

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn't determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Read more:

Indeed. That's the point.

If someone is incapable of sorting fact from opinion or speculation, then "all things are true, all things are false." This is where the "he said/she said" false equivalence reporting so beloved of the Post-Modern Press comes from.

I found it interesting too that business, social science work, and communications majors had the most difficult time understanding and using critical thinking skills.

It does explain a great deal about why so much of the "discussion" these days is so strange and so pointless.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Well, well, well. According to the Twitter, Baby Doc was just arrested

Taken from his luxury hotel by police. Well, well, well.

Of course, it's Twitter. So you can't ever be sure.


As we say, things may not be what they appear. From the Twitter:

Decoy! UN soldiers cleared a path to the waiting police truck, then took Duvalier out a different door. less than 20 seconds ago via tweetymail

Stay tuned!


From "Showroom of Compassion." First new album in 7 years.

John is getting gray.

The creep of time.

"Sick of You:"

Whole album still available for streaming at Rolling Stone.

Support local music!

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK Double Teamed on the Mike Douglas Show in 1967

I may have posted this interview before, but it is always worth a reminder and review.

As for the Tunisia Thing

I haven't been following it much, for there is always the undercurrent in these things that tells us what we see -- or are allowed to see -- is only a superficial gloss on something much more deep-seated. I would not take anyone's word for anything about the "Revolution" in Tunisia.

What I find interesting, though, is the attempt to inject WikiLeaks into the action, on the basis of some cables that came from somewhere, which purport to show that the US State Department knew that Tunisia was ruled by a kleptocracy and that things would have to change.

Nobody knows exactly where the cables came from, whether they are authentic, or anything about them, but there they were being touted by all sorts of mainstream media (Business Week, Foreign Policy, and... of course... Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic) and you've just got to wonder.

I've never thought that things are what they seem to be with WikiLeaks, but at the same time, it's all so slippery and slimy, I don't know how anyone can untangle it. It is certainly convenient to think that Revolutions can be triggered by the revelations in the WikiLeaks docs, but the problem with that notion is that at this time, WikiLeaks isn't releasing the State Department docs until after they have been vetted and scrubbed by its Media Partners and the State Department. In other words, the State Department doc dump is being performed strictly by the Rules of the Game, and nothing that makes it into the public domain is anything except what the Powers That Be want.

Furthermore, back in December, Julian gave an interview to ABC News -- which he overly dramatically flounced out of after being questioned about the Sex Crimes allegations in Sweden, at the very end of a long interview (ed note: obviously a set up) -- in which he stated that by golly, WikiLeaks was working with a number of smaller news organizations to get the State Department docs out more quickly. Then, in January, he repeated this claim. There's been no evidence of it, however. What there has been, at least according to some reports, is the acquisition of WikiLeaks leaks, in whole or in part, by (apparently) unauthorized media outlets. What they do with them remains to be seen.

Meanwhile back in Tunisia, it seems obvious, to the extent anything is "obvious" about what's going on there, that the People have known full well of the corruption and self-dealing at the top, and the issue for them has always been about the obscene levels of exploitation and oppression they have been under. There is no sign yet that that's going to change. This appears to be yet another Neo-Liberal coup, not a Revolution at all, which will have the effect of tightening the screws.

How convenient.

And have you heard? Baby Doc has returned to Haiti from his luxury-exile in Paris. I wonder if Bill or Hillary gave him a call...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Haiti a Year On

A year after the earthquake, Haitians are still in desperate straits: almost no rebuilding, a dreadful cholera epidemic that was not prepared for or anticipated in advance, a non-functional central government, a million residents still under tents and tarps, and more than 10,000 NGOs delivering "aid" -- but every one of them protecting their turf and their funding first and foremost.

What's happened in Haiti since the earthquake is a tragedy for the Haitians, and a shame for the world community that pledged so much assistance to rebuild.

What's happened is a descent into Modern Medievalism.

There is no central government in Haiti except in the abstract, much as was the case in Europe during the Dark Ages; one doesn't even know who the president might be, and it hardly matters given the fact that the "government" -- such as it is -- is essentially non-functional having suffered so many losses during the earthquake.

Consequently, a proliferation of NGOs are filling a vacuum of authority and power, but only partially, and only to the extent they are protecting their turf and their funding. They are doing as little as possible for and with the Haitian people, while they primarily look after their own interests and affairs in competition with all the other NGOs.

There is no coordination of effort, no common interest, no more than minimal "service" to the Haitian People. It is private interest every step of the way, and that is a huge reason why there is no progress at all. "Oh, but it could be so much worse without us!" cry the NGOs. Maybe, maybe not. But the Haitians are rightly fed up with the state of affairs they are subject to, and given some of the violent incidents in response to the cholera epidemic especially, they are on the verge of general insurrection.

This is pretty much what everyone's future will look like when government is reduced to an abstraction and competing private interests are left to their own devices. Each NGO becomes a kind of independent fief, struggling with all the others, using the People as pawns, providing them little or nothing, but always claiming that their efforts have kept things from getting worse.

Haiti should be a disturbing lesson for all of us, but strangely, the most obvious lessons are lost on most Americans.


lea-p adds links to a Film@11tv documentary "Where did the money go?" to help round out the picture. Four of five episodes are on line now, the fifth and final episode should be posted soon.


Episode One:

Episode Two:

Episode Three:

Episode Four:

Thursday, January 13, 2011


There were two Big Speeches yesterday, one from Herself, Sarah the Momma Grizzly, and one from His Serenity, the President of the United States of America, LLC, Imperial, Barack Obama, on the matter of the The Shooting in Tucson.

Herself spoke first in a Facebook posting. [Note: This obsession with communicating through Facebook -- whether by Sarah or anyone else -- has long been a curiosity to me. What's up with that? Especially with all the security and privacy issues Facebook has had. And now with Goldman Sachs, the leading looters of the American Economy becoming a prime investor in the Facebook enterprise, one has to question the wisdom of entering Facebook-land for any reason. But that aside...] She denounced and condemned and hurled invective at those who were persecuting her with "blood libel." Jeebus Christmas on a bowling ball, WTF? But there you are. Six people are dead, more than a dozen wounded in a shooting spree in a congressional district "targeted" by Palin unsuccessfully in the election, and the congresswoman who won against Palin's rage is gravely wounded, and all Herself can think of is the dreadful fact that SHE Herself, of all people, is the Real Victim. It was a stunningly self-obsessed turn by the Rightists' favorite, and it did not sit well with much of anyone.

Later, Himself went to Tucson and presented what many interpreted to be a "healing" oration honoring the (real) victims of The Shooting and the (real) heroes of the day, and much to the chagrin of some observers, the crowd of some 24,000 cheered and whooped and hollered at practically everything he said. How inappropos! "This was a solemn occasion," intoned the purse-mouthed Puritans. How dare they express positive emotion! The very idea!

Surprisingly enough, most of the Puritans on this occasion were on the (supposed) "Left." Some of them were -- rightly -- concerned that the occasion would be "Wellstoned", ie: become a Rightist "Bloody Shirt" to wave in condemning Obama and The Left, but that, somewhat strangely, didn't happen except on the fringes of the Right where all things Demon live and flourish.

In fact, much of the Rightist media gave the President's speech a respectful hearing and many Rightist commentators offered at least mild praise for its "tone."

Meanwhile, the frustration over "What To Do" about all these repeated incidents of mass killings by untreated mentally ill shooters -- and others -- continues. There is still an ideological lockdown that makes it difficult or impossible to approach the problem rationally. An ideological lockdown that makes it difficult for many to recognize there is any problem beyond their narrow ideological concerns.

But there is an attempt to break through, and that ultimately may be a sign of hope. I'm not holding my breath, but neither am I in despair.

This is, believe it or not, progress.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Doubling Down

As is their wont when on the Firing Line -- so to speak -- the Rightists and their Libertarian and media fellow travelers are doubling down rather than retreat in the face of withering condemnation from The Other Side over their super-heated violent political rhetoric.

Things are about to get a lot more super-heated and hyperbolic. Denunciations and vitriol are only the beginning. We're about to enter a phase in which "Liberals" -- which means anyone in opposition to Rightists on any matter whatsoever, even other Rightists -- are going to become a completely demonized class, not just demonized individuals to be "taken out," but an entire class to be destroyed, utterly.

This is getting close to genocidal territory.

But rather than genocide, there will be acquiescence, submission, and complicity from the "Liberals". To save themselves, they will simply go along with whatever the Rightists want.

As I've said before, no matter the denunciations of Herself or Rush or Beck or any of the other Rightist figures, there is no downside whatsoever to the Right in pushing their current advantage -- and it is an advantage, as it is after every "event" like the one in Tucson -- just as hard and as long as they can.

This is a huge opportunity for them, and they will not let it go to waste.

As for the Demonized Liberal Class, the best response they can come up with is hanky wringing and "Oh dear no!"

The only saving grace is that not all Rightists are monsters, and not all of them want to exterminate all opposition.

They just want to control it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stochastic terrorism

This article by dKos writer G2geek is getting a lot of coverage or at least exposure, and it seems to fit in with my notion that these routine killing sprees are actually "triggered," in G2geek's view by cultural and media contexts, they are not the accidental outcomes of "lone wolves" or "psychotic nuts" gone inexplicably rogue.

They are "triggered."

G2geek doesn't discount the possibility that the triggering may be intentional, but seems to shy away from it nonetheless. In such a toxic cultural and media environment, one can assume that some people will be triggered to act out their fantasies and kill. One doesn't have to trigger them intentionally; it happens automatically -- and regularly. And yet, if those who do the triggering are aware of their power to set the killers in motion, why not do it intentionally, at particular times and places, if it's possible to do so?

I can understand shying away from the Tinfoil on a topic like this, but often enough the conspiracy you suspect is actually real, or some version of it is.

One of the aspects in Loughner's case that I find very intriguing is that he really does seem to be trying to communicate (in those videos) what is happening to him. All the talk about mind control and how it is being done may not make sense on the surface but if you think about it in the context of Stochastic Terrorism, you start to realize, "OMG! He's trying to tell us!" I think we'll see that with a lot of the other Shooters out there, too. They understand that they are being "driven" by a force or forces completely beyond their control, and in so many cases, they can point to something in the media that has triggered their rage.

I've noticed who's been out defending the "vitriol" and denying that it has anything to do with the creation of these shootings, each of which, of course, is a singular event with no connection to anything else.

It is the entire Republican political establishment. It is the entire Rightist media complex. It is most of the Mainstream Media plex. It is almost all the Libertarian media -- including the "progressive" blogosphere (Jane and Glenn have become especially shrill in defending the vitriol.) And I noticed last night with a kind of horror that Ezra Klein has taken to defending the vitriol too. Though he rattled on at great length, he was not making a coherent argument; he was all over the map, flailing. And when he was confronted, by another commentator, he practically had a meltdown right there on the teevee.

A case can be made that he wasn't actually defending the vitriol, only the freedom to be vitriolic without being blamed for shoot-em-ups, but the case being made for Stochastic Terrorism is that shoot-em-ups are the inevitable consequence of the kind of media vitriol that Americans are soaked in.

I'm reminded of something from years ago. I think most people who read this little corner of Cyberspace know that I live in Sacramento -- when I'm in California! -- and have lived here for quite a while. Most people know that Rush Limbaugh got his major media start here when he was given a regular show on KFBK Radio. It was at the time a very provocative, even shocking show, but not a whole lot different than his national show now. One of the targets for his vitriol was gay people. It was early in the AIDS epidemic, and he railed against gay people day in and day out. All of a sudden, "incidents" started happening. Gay men -- and suspected gay men -- were being attacked all over town, some badly injured, and I believe one was killed. People were horrified. The police were stymied. The mayor, however, recognized that these attacks stemmed from Limbaugh's constant raving against gay people on his radio show, and she called on him publicly to desist. Of course he denied any mal intent -- as he always does -- but he did tell his followers that he never wanted any of them to attack anyone and if any of his followers were involved in the attacks, he wanted them to stop.

Sure enough. They stopped. At least for a while.

In this case, it wasn't "unstable" people who were being influenced to attack targeted outsiders mindlessly. It was pretty ordinary folks exposed to a constant diet of media rage and outrage, with the implication, always, that they had "permission" to act out their rage violently. This is little different than the talk radio influencing, aiding, abetting and enabling the genocide in Rwanda.

At some point, Americans and their media have got to come to grips with the pervasiveness of hatred and rage and gun violence as the "solution" that they purvey and absorb all the time. People ARE triggered to act. And the outcome gets worse and worse.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Bit More on "The Shooting"

Jane performs cartwheels to try to explain the Shooter's motivations through analysis of his writings (on the YouTubes) which say to her that he was mentally ill and angry about being expelled from Pima Community College, and so became violent because of that, not for any political reason at all. Just because he shot up a constituent meeting with a congressmember, in the process killing a federal judge and a congressional staffer, it doesn't mean he was acting on any political impulse. When people suffer from untreated schizophrenia, as the Shooter apparently did, they do crazy things. No politics involved at all.

Well, I don't agree with her rather superficial analysis, but I think she has a point nevertheless. As I see it, it's probably less than useful to focus on a political motivation, though it might be worthwhile to understand the overall political melieu.

No, for some time, I've had the sneaky suspicion that these repeated "psychotic break" shootings are potentially not motivated at all. Instead, I see these repeated "shocking" Shootings as "triggered" events, the shooters being effectively acting on someone else's command, without any consciousness of what they're doing.

Manchurian shooters.

Which may be less far fetched than random psychotics who snap.

It would be great to find out, but I have no idea how that might be accomplished.


I'm quite the fan of Catherine Tate. She's a brilliant comedienne whose characters are absolutely true to life as well as hilarious.

In this sketch, Tate plays Nan, an older woman barely holding on from the grip of dementia. Nan is sarcastic, funny, cruel, sweet, and often impossible, and yet she is beloved both by those in the sketches with her and by the public. She behaves like many older British women who are holding on to their independence in a more and more difficult period of their lives.

She reminds me of my mother. And this sketch is very close to what a partial family get-together at Christmas might have been like 30 years ago or more. At that time, my mother was in her 70's late 60s, my sister in her late 50's 40s, her son in his 20's. My sister was married at the time to her third husband, but he was never entirely accepted by my mother as one of "us." He was an artist rather than an East Indian, but to my mother's eyes, he was just as exotic if not more so.

My mother looked a lot like Nan. She dressed the same way, had the same frizzy hair, sat with her legs apart as Nan does. She behaved erratically, cursed like a sailor, laughed like a banshee. She told tales about those who weren't around, and as Nan does in the sketch, she would attack her own daughter when she left the room, only to smile becomingly when she returned. Her daughter was happy to return the favor.

So, apart from the British accents, this sketch is a little scene out of what might have happened in my own life -- if I had been around for a Christmas get together 30 years ago, but I was not.

My mother was a very unique person, fiercely independent, bright, when she was younger quite beautiful, clever, cruel, deeply distrustful of people in general, an animal lover, and as she got older, quite addled.

I had never encountered anyone quite like her until I read D. H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers" and there was a scene in the midlands during which a proud middle-aged woman (character name I can't remember) who essentially has a raging fit. And I thought, well! Isn't that something. Yeah, I recognize that!

I learned later that my mother's grandmother had emigrated from Nottinghamshire in the 1880's. Her ancestors had been Irish and moved to England to escape the Potato Famine. My mother's grandmother had come to America alone. And she made her way in America on her own. Whether she was ever married, I don't know, but she had a daughter, my mother's mother, who instilled a sense of fierceness and independence in her daughter, my mother.

And so we get to Nan.

May the circle be unbroken.

Just as an aside: My mother was born in 1911 and would be 100 years old this year (she died when she was 74). My father was born in 1901 and would be 110 this year (he died when he was 69).

What's Just Being Called "The Shooting"

[From the Arizona Star]

Yesterday in Tucson, some young fellow with a gun went Medieval on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and shot her in the head. Then, according to witnesses and news reports, he opened indiscriminate fire on the people who had gathered at the Safeway store to see her and killed a Federal Judge, a little girl, assorted bystanders, and one of Giffords' staffers and injured a dozen more.

Just another shooting in America; they happen every day. Of course, like all the other political shootings in this country, there is now a Big Fight over who -- whether the "Left" or the "Right" -- is responsible, and endless calls for "all sides" to tone down The Rhetoric. It goes this way every time. And the next time it will go this way the next time, too, for it is taken for granted that there will be a Next Time. There always is.

Political shootings and assassinations are as American and Mom's Apple Pie to the horror of most of the rest of the world, but that's the way it has always been in this country. Frustrated Americans, sane or crazy, from time to time take their frustrations out by violently assaulting or assassinating political figures.

And the rhetoric of violence and political assassination is so deeply rooted in the United States, though often denied or sublimated, that it is hard to imagine an America without constant allusions to gun play to satisfy one's anger, frustration or hatred. It's not just political rhetoric that's the problem. Gun play and killing is the foundation rock of so much American entertainment. No one remembers "The Sopranos?" Sure.

[Note: I only saw "The Sopranos" once, during which episode who knows how many poor sods were tortured and killed. I was horrified and disgusted that this television program had become the television program for all with it people to watch and enjoy and discuss endlessly. It was considered such a wonderful metaphor for Our Times, and so very well done. To my way of looking at it, "The Sopranos" was a celebration of violence, murder, torture and gangsterism and a relentless attack on any and all countervailing sense of morality or even common courtesy. It was monstrous. And it was a form of "permission" to those who wanted to behave that way.]

The Government will respond as it always does: retreating further behind its barricades and security apparat and expanding its surveillance of the rest of us. The media will go through its endless routine of "blaming both sides." The public, by and large, will go on as if nothing happened at all.

It's not unlike a scene I saw the other day of a security guard (an off-duty policeman) clubbing and pepper-spraying a citizen before dragging him off to a police substation (?!) in the gas station while the victim's friends (?!) watched placidly or stepped around the violence to retrieve things from the car beside which the beating and pepper spraying were taking place. They were simply too self involved to be concerned with what was happening right in front of them.

So it will be with this shooting.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but one of the things that Nazis did (and it wasn't just them, but it was more common with them) in Germany and especially in conquered territories was the spectacle of the public shaming, public beating, public summary execution or what have you. There were incidents of random summary executions on the street, of accused partisans being beheaded as passers by went about their business, of people being strung up to gallows or tied to posts and whipped or forced to parade around with signs around their necks describing their multitudes of crimes. This was one of the tactics used to frighten ordinary people into submission and compliance. And it worked remarkably well for a remarkably long time. The atrocities weren't just in the camps. They were on constant show in the streets. And people went right on with their business as if nothing was happening. But of course, they had witnessed what could happen to them or anyone if Authority so desired. So they kept their heads down and noses clean so as not to gain the notice of Authority.

That's very much what the American penchant for violence, shootings and assassinations is all about. Inculcating a herd mentality in the majority, while predators run free.