Monday, December 31, 2012

"Over the Cliff!"

Of course the teevee is breathless with anticipation that a "Deal" will be made "at the last minute," yadda yadda, but I've been arguing for years that we went over that Cliff long ago, and all we've been doing since is deciding who will be able to grapple their way back up the Cliff face and how fast.

That's it.

Nevertheless, the media has such an investment in their Cliff Narrative (and that includes the self-proclaimed "new media") that they're not about to give it up now.

What exactly happens if no "Deal" is brokered is anybody's guess. Taxes on the working and middle classes will go up no matter what, and benefits for the poor, the sick, the halt and the lame will be cut, no matter what. Military spending will not be reduced and may actually be increased no matter what.

And the Security State will be secured ever more.

That's what will happen regardless of any "Deal" and I think by now we know that -- or at least we should.

The People don't matter in these kinds of things. All that matters is that the Highest of the Mighty receive an ever greater share of whatever "good" there may be.

So let it be written, so let it be done.


Snow For the New Year

Our Place in Snow

That's actually a picture I took last Christmas.

It looks about the same outside now except that the clouds haven't cleared yet, though the sun is starting to poke through on the east.

I spent a winter in Anchorage and several winters in Upstate New York, so snow is not entirely unfamiliar to me, but it's still a treat when it happens, especially around the holidays.

Happy New Year!

The Occupy Surveillance Doc Dump

I've been reading through some of the Occupy Surveillance Doc Dump during the past few days when I get a chance. It's not surprising, and it's not pretty.

What's been released are what look to be some -- by no means all -- the raw field reports from the FBI on their monitoring of OWS and related encampments from prior to the Zuccotti/Liberty encampment until the early spring 2012 break up of remaining Occupy outposts.

There have been plenty of expressions of shock and outrage that Teh Gubmint was actually spying on Occupy back in the day -- as if it wasn't obvious from the get. It was taken for granted that something like COINTELPRO would be launched against the Occupy Movement, and so it would be -- as these and many other documents reveal. Yes, and...?

Raw field reports are not typically very useful for civilians because of their nature. They are "raw," produced in abundance, and not intended as actionable items. They need to be analyzed and put into some kind of coherent form to be useful; further, the noise they contain needs to be suppressed as much as possible.

It's obvious to me at any rate that these documents represent only a fraction of what was produced during the hey-day of Occupy. They skim the surface of what was/is going on regarding the surveillance and eventual suppression of the Occupy Movement. It is the picture of an American Stasi operation, and it's one that most Americans seem to be inured to and to accept.

Those of us involved in Occupy -- even as peripherally as I was -- sensed that this sort of thing was going on, expected it to be, and mostly really did not fear it. As I've written elsewhere, some of the "spies" actually introduced themselves and attempted to make nice with the demonstrators. We knew they were reporting back to some HQ somewhere (police departments and fusion centers), and we expected there would be consequences. Legal tended to assure us that whatever those consequences were, they would be "mild" -- based on assurances Legal seemed to be getting from the Authorities.

On the other hand, there was a lot of paranoia about what could  happen, and these documents provide a clue to the source of the paranoia. Occupy was officially classified as "Domestic Terrorism" and much of the effort to surveil, control and suppress it came from that particular nexus. Occupy was considered to be "Domestic Terrorism" not because it was engaged in any sort of domestic terror activities or armed insurrection of any kind (please), but because its impetus was overtly revolutionary, even if the "revolution" was more of spirit and mind than of physical rebellion and overthrow.

Most of what I've read so far indicates there was little official interest in suppressing Occupy until there were disruptive actions, primarily port shut downs and general strikes. But this image of official indifference doesn't jibe with what was actually happening in the streets, particularly in New York, Oakland, and elsewhere as early as mid September, 2011, soon after the advent of the Occupy Movement. Official efforts at intimidation and police violence against Occupy demonstrators were almost immediate, despite the fact that there was no violence from Occupy.

It didn't matter how non-violent Occupy was in other words. Police suppression, often violent, would become routine, coordinated, destructive, arbitrary and vicious. The whole question of "nonviolence" with regard to Occupy was absurd on its face and a distraction from what was really going on. The brou-ha-ha over the issue (infamously via Chris Hedges' meltdown over Black Block)  highlighted how easily a movement which was nonviolent by definition (regardless of Black Block) could be paralyzed by the fear of violence.

The whole point of the official response, at least from what I gather, was to paralyze the Movement before it could become a serious threat to the existing power structure. The primary weapon would be fear. Fear of violence, whether internal or external. There were plenty of willing tools within and outside the Movement who were more than capable of spreading dissension, fear, uncertainty and doubt, and the periodic application of police violence on top of it was sufficient to paralyze and eventually disperse the Movement -- to the extent that now it hardly seems to exist any more.

The strategy may have been ad hoc, but it worked. On the surface, at least, it worked.

Interestingly, there are a number of documents in the dump that indicate what looks to be official sympathy with the Movement and its aims and goals -- such as they were. One, starting on page 90, goes to great length stating the Movement's interests objections and principles as if they were perfectly legitimate in the eyes of Authority. Another, beginning on page 88, deals with "protester safety" and "first amendment rights." Of course given events, much of this is probably eyewash, but nevertheless, it's surprising how comprehensive and apparently sympathetic some of the official interest was.

Possible assassination of Occupy leaders has received a good deal of attention, thanks to some documents out of Charlotte and Jacksonville (regarding Houston) (pg 61 and 68-69) that indicate someone had a bright idea to deploy snipers against protesters. Exactly who that might have been is impossible to determine from what's been released, but the implication is or was that there was some sort of official interest in exploring/exploiting the "assassination" option. The documents themselves are murky on this issue (deliberately so, given the redactions) but it's not surprising that "assassination" might be factored in as a tool of suppression.

If the official view is or was that Occupy is or was a Domestic Terrorist operation, then any tool to suppress it could be and no doubt was considered. Again, this is not terribly surprising... and there is no way to tell from the documents who was considering deploying snipers in Houston (and elsewhere?) to take out Occupy "leaders." Some of those who have taken a look at this part of the doc dump suspect its release is strategic, in an effort to maintain an atmosphere of fear and dread at what could happen should Occupy return to public prominence. Yes, well...

Yves Smith highlights how intimately banks were involved in the official surveillance and suppression actions against Occupy. Again, there's no real surprise here, but merely confirmation.

Naomi Wolf gets into some of the real sophistication of the surveillance and suppression actions.

As I've said many times, we live in an increasingly regimented and restrictive police state. There's still a lot of denial about that fact, much of it within what passes for the "progressive" community, in part based on the premise that "it's not as bad" as the Soviet or Nazi examples -- not yet. But I would go somewhat further and say that in the physical sense it's not as bad as it used to be in this country. Instead, Our Rulers learned many lessons from previous Movements and the often failed efforts to suppress them. They don't intend to let any Movement ever again overcome their authority and rule. Period.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking Backward -- 2012

Jebus, what a year.

It's been full of change for us, some of it really positive, but for millions of Americans 2012 was yet another year of misery and disaster as the now Perpetual Recession became institutionalized, the New Normal as it were, the Way Forward universally accepted by Our Rulers. We re-elected Mr. Obama for another term as Our Redeemer, but as before, he has no intention of redeeming anything but an option.

This has been the strangest thing about the constant immiseration of the American People by Their Betters. There is literally no one among the Better Class who is willing or able to stand up for the People and for doing the right thing.

No one.

I can't recall any previous period when that was so, when no one among the High and Mighty would stand up for the People or insist on fostering the Better Angels among the Upper Classes. But that's where we are now, and it's bewildering.

The signs that we'd get to this point were clear enough when institutional failure and collapse became obvious, starting with the failure of institutions to oppose the Supreme Court's lawless interference in the election of 2000 and the institutional acquiescence to the Bushevik usurpation, followed not surprisingly by the institutional acquiescence to the New Normal of Constant War.

Institutional opposition simply evaporated, and it was up to the People as individuals and in temporary groups to mount whatever opposition they could to the predation and horror they witnessed all around them.

Over the last decade and more, the People have taken upon themselves a gigantic burden as one after another of the institutions they created and/or relied on for sustenance and succor collapsed followed in turn by the collapse of whatever was passing for the economy putting many millions out of work and eventually out of their homes.

This was all happening due to strict policies adopted at the top -- policies which protected and enhanced the position of those in charge, advancing their wealth and power, and diminished the position of those not so lucky. It was all very obviously going on, but because of the nature of our argumentative and rationalizing and highly atomized society acknowledging and acting on the important and the obvious is often the last thing on anyone's mind.

Yet in 2011, a Movement got going that started to deal with some of what's been going on by pointing out the root of the problem in the grifter-financial sector. Occupy Wall Street stunned the Powers That Be with its strategies and tactics of "occupation" and its persistent calls to action against the depredations of the grifter-sector. Soon enough it was being subjected to some of the most violent suppression by Authority that we've seen in more than a generation; the contrast between the official suppression of Occupy and the official accommodation to the Tea Party could not have been more acute.

But it did help clarify the situation for many.

In 2012 the official suppression of resistance continued, even expanded, while at the same time a handful of bones were thrown to the masses in the hope that they would distract or tame the ravening hordes outside the gates. Efforts to further plunder what little remained of the assets of the working and middle classes were put on temporary hold, and every now and then there would be a bump in the employment figures -- so that there were fewer idle workers or indigents who might be inclined to raise a ruckus.

And of course there was the "election." To my mind the entire election process has become a cruel joke when it isn't a complete farce, and the re-election of Barack Obama and a compliant congress merely means that the plunder and immiseration will continue unabated.

Nothing will change.

For the People, this is a downward spiral from which there appears to be no escape. For the Masters and those on top, nothing could be better.

How much longer this situation will endure is anybody's guess; as we know, things can change in an instant, and the Counter Revolution put in place by the Busheviks and continuing under the Obamanauts could be overturned in an instant. I see no sign of it, though.

What I see is a continuing effort by the People to find and build alternatives to the status quo while maintaining as much as they can of a familiar way of life. Sometimes it all seems like teetering on the point of a pin. Massive change is being imposed rather quickly from the top; the People, on the other hand, are working on their own alternatives and in the process becoming the change they've sought for generations. We're in uncharted territory in many ways.

The Earth itself is going through a change as Climate Change accelerates. None of us can really know what the upshot will be, but we can be certain that nothing substantive will -- or now can -- be done to forestall or reverse the global climate catastrophe (if that's what it will be) that's been predicted for decades. Our Rulers simply have had no intention of fixing things for our benefit, though they may do some tweaks here and there on their own behalf. Modeling has been done to describe what the Future will be like, and Our Betters are well aware of where the Safe Places are expected to be and how they may live well and profit under whatever physical regime there may be.

 The rest of us? Oh well! Poor devils!

It is my sense that the institutional failures of the last decade and more, along with the critical failure of conscience among the most privileged people is due at least in part to the fact that they believe there is no longer a Future in the classic sense to look forward to. The dynamic changes under way in the natural world are too vast, and the Future as it used to be is simply not part of the picture that is emerging.

Without a sense of a Future, there is no longer anything binding people and generations to one another. The lifeboat has sunk. We're on our own.

That's the image I get based on the behavior of the Ruling Class toward everyone beneath them. Cruelty to the point of sadism is now assumed and accepted by Authority. Plunder is fundamental. Living standards for the masses are declining, wealth continues to evaporate, poverty is increasing, and all the markers that we once regarded as Progress are vanishing. Without a Future, why should there be progress?

I've been reading a book written by the Works Progress Administration in 1940 about California's Central Valley Project, a huge undertaking that was just then beginning, one that literally transformed California's Central Valley's water regime and provided a Future where one was previously seen to be absent. It's almost impossible to imagine that point of view, the "Yes, we can!" faith and belief in gigantic projects to ensure a Future, these days. There is obviously so much that needs to be done and can be done but won't be done on behalf of the Future well being of the People of the United States. Nothing like the vast projects of yore -- whether the Central Valley Project, or the Interstate Highway Project, or the Space Program, or some of the more ill advised programs like Urban Renewal -- can even be imagined these days.

Not because we can't do them. They can't be imagined because there's no Future any more. Why bother, then?

I'm an optimist by nature, so I see the little efforts underway to transform our vision and way of life as the answer to the absence of any kind of Big Picture Future. All this small scale activity -- characterized most clearly by the Permaculture Movement, but not solely by that -- has a spontaneity and cumulative effect that produces the Future all by itself.

It's not at all what was done before, it's something else again.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The So-Called Housing Rebound

There was such a cheery story on NPR a few minutes ago about the apparent 'housing rebound' -- foreclosures are down! Prices are up!

We're in the money! Come on my honey!

And yet, every now and then -- even in these silly little stories that are practically filler -- a hint of what is really going on comes through. Foreclosures are down and prices are up a tiny bit -- a few percent over last year or the year before that or whatever -- because foreclosures are being delayed temporarily and prices are up because foreclosures put on the market are being bought in bulk by "investors" who bid against one another to snap up valuable assets at pennies on the dollar.

This is a version of how this Perpetual Recession works, and why it persists.

Wealth and assets are being stripped from the working and middle classes at a furious clip, while the leisure class and those above it see their portfolios swell with whatever they can hoover up from the increasingly impoverished masses.

They see it is good and they want this game to go on forever. Talk about "money for nothing," regardless of chicks for free.

These economic activities have been going on for years now, bolstered by government policies that ensure the forced impoverishment of millions every year, people whose assets -- whatever they may have been -- are acquired at fire sale prices by the plutocrats and their hangers-on.

As I've said many times, this Recession doesn't end -- and austerity is imposed on the masses to boot -- for a very simple reason, one that should have been obvious at the outset: some people are getting richer than their wildest dreams because others are in such dire straits and distress.

That's how our predatory economy works.

There is no real rebound in housing, nor is there any end to the recession for most people. In fact for many, the economic situation gets worse year by year, and millions and millions more Americans will be forced into poverty before there is an economic turnaround -- if there ever is one. After so many years of the same old thing, it must be dawning on even the densest American that under the current political and economic regime, there will never be a real recovery. As long as there are enough people getting rich off the continued distress of others, there can't be. As long as there are policies which encourage continued wealth and asset stripping from the working and middle classes, there can't be any real recovery.

With regard to the housing rebound, I have meant to write a bit about the situation in our neck of the woods. There have been a lot of foreclosures in this area over the course of the Perpetual Recession, and some of these properties have gone on the market for literally dimes on the dollar, offered at $10,000 or $15,000 or $20,000. Of course they are snapped up by "investors" at these distressed prices and held for the inevitable time when prices rise. Sometimes they're rented, but often they're kept vacant with a property service caring for them sort of until such time as they can be sold again at a profit.

The two properties on either side of us have been vacant for some time. The homeowners on the east tried to sell but were unsuccessful and as far as I can tell, they went into foreclosure and the bank now has the property back. It's on the market at somewhat less than the lowest price the bank would previously accept on a short sale when the homeowners tried to sell. But it's a HUD auction-type sale now, with the price reduced week by week until the property sells.

The homeowners on the west just disappeared one day, never to return. No one knew where they went or what had happened. The property has been vacant for well over a year. The homeowners had been in the mortgage business, and the house was purchased by them in a distress or tax sale for something like $5,000 about 15 years ago. Since then, they had lived in it periodically and rented it out periodically. After the last tenant left, they moved back in for a while, and then disappeared.

A couple of weeks ago, some men in suits came by to let us know that the homeowners had apparently abandoned the property and it was now in foreclosure. That gave us a clue to what happened: our former neighbors took as much money as they could out of the property and strategically defaulted -- and then disappeared. 

In a way, the neighbors played the lenders' game against them -- and at least for now have won. But so many people have lost. More of them all the time. Our rulers ensure as much.

So all the cheery stories about the Housing Rebound can't amount to more than year-end fluff.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve On Canyon Road

Canyon Rd Christmas Eve 2012

One of the holiday traditions in Santa Fe is an evening stroll along Canyon Road on Christmas Eve. Practically the whole town turns out, and we'd been told it's quite festive if a bit crowded...

We had never been to this particular event due to factors beyond our control. It's kind of like the Burning of Zozobra or Balloon Fiesta. We might have been in New Mexico when these excitements and get togethers are in progress, but for whatever reason, we've been unable to hie ourselves hitherwards to participate.

Yesterday we made our way up to Santa Fe on a blustery and cloudy afternoon, nonetheless, found a dandy parking slot, and set out on foot, bundled up like ticks about to pop, to see what was up with the farolitos  and luminarias and hot cocoa mongers and gallery proprietors and all the people decorated like Christmas trees -- and not yet too drunk -- out for a stroll on Canyon Road on Christmas Eve.

Oh what fun...! Really. People were arriving from all over and every direction even before the fires were lit. They were wrapped in their Christmas lights or jangling their Christmas bells, some bundled up appropriately for the weather that was predicted to come, some looking far too underdressed for even the early evening chill in the air. Some were overdressed, in the Santa Fe Style sense, even though it didn't seem like they were wearing nearly enough to keep warm. Oh well!

One of the complaints we've heard about Santa Fe is that "it's nothing but galleries", or it seems to be so when you're in the heart of the town around the Plaza or -- especially -- on Canyon Road not too far away from the Plaza to the east. Yes, well. When you're in Santa Fe, you're going to be surrounded by, indeed immersed in, art, both public art scattered around, and art for sale at a plethora of galleries that are literally bursting from every little cranny, nook, plazuela and plazuelita you can find. And there are hundreds of them.

Gallery going can be a great deal of fun, or it can be a tiresome chore, depending. If Santa Fe had a gallery problem it was that in the past, they tended to show pretty much the very same things, often seemingly by the very same half-dozen or so "prominent" artists, along with a bunch of "ehn" dreck for the tourists. That's changed, thank goodness, and the scope of art available in the galleries or on view at the museums seems much broader than it once was. Overall quality has always been high, but these days it's even higher, much of the work is by people I've never heard of, doing really remarkable and appealing  things in a wide variety of media. This is good.

Canyon Road, which once served as a route into the Sangre de Christo mountains heavily utilized by wood cutters and travelers up to Taos, is now "nothing but galleries" and restaurants catering to the stylish and expensive crowd.

I think I've pointed out in the past that I have bought a lot of paintings and other art over the years, and our house in New Mexico, though larger by half or more than our house in California, is much too small to display it all. So we have to rotate, but I'm kind of lazy at doing that. We change paintings less often than we should, to say the least. While I was moving things around after we arrived to settle here in October, for example, I ran across a whole series of paintings I'd pretty much forgotten about, and I'm still puzzled about what to do with them, as we've never displayed them, many were obviously impulse purchases, and tastes have changed. We also have a lot of paintings and other art that we brought from California (though we gave away quite a lot in the final flurry of moving) that sits stacked in the outbuildings. I've actually thought of adding another wing to the house and finishing off the attic in order to have room to display more of the collection, as well as to have the space to take care of it a little better. Good doG!

Naturally, we like looking at art, owning it, and at least at one time, we didn't mind creating it, either. The creation part is still on hold, but it's impossible to keep us away from galleries and museums and artists' studios where we naturally gravitate. And from time to time we still buy pieces to add to the overflow.

But we were good on Canyon Road, only visiting one gallery and picking out about five pieces for further consideration and possible purchase one day. The outdoor displays were quite sufficient, truth to tell. Somewhat surprisingly, most of the galleries appeared to be closed anyway. Our impression had been that the galleries would all be open for the evening's processional, but no. Not so. In a sense, it was just as well. The crowds were so thick at the galleries that were open it was not a particularly conducive situation for art appreciation.

In any case, the evening was not so much about art as it was about Christmas, and that became very clear as the little bonfires were lit along the street, and the farolitos/luminarias glowed softly on sidewalks and the adobe walls and rooflines. The farolitos/luminaria are something special in New Mexico and some other parts of the Southwest at Christmas time. They are nothing but brown paper lunch bags with a bit of sand or gravel in the bottom with one tea light for illumination. They are very subtle lights compared to standard Christmas lights, so subtle they can almost disappear when combined with brighter electric displays. But on their own, farolitos/luminarias are enchanting. And Canyon Road had plenty of them -- one display at Morning Star Gallery was breathtaking.

(Note: definitions are one of the subtler aspects of the season; depending on where you are -- and perhaps your mood at the moment -- the paper bag lanterns are called either farolitos or luminarias,  just as the bonfires are called luminarias  or farolitos. In fact, the terms are used interchangeably, and it's always best to keep a sense of humor about what to call the season's fire lights.)

The little bonfires, luminaria/farolitos, became stations for carolers, which we joined from time to time as we proceeded up Canyon Road. And then it began to snow. We knew that snow was predicted, but there was no certainty about just when it would come or how much there would be. It snowed as we were rendering "Jingle Bells," so we shifted seamlessly into "Let It Snow" as we stood around the fire marveling at the sight and the timing. People were happy enough beforehand, but the snow turned the whole event into something truly special. The children were amazed, and the dogs loved it. Smart people were wheeling their chihuahuas and children around in Radio Flyer wagons, the less smart stuck to their strollers -- which unfortunately would get stuck here and there along the route. Some thoughtfully provided booties for their big dogs to wear in the snow, but the bundled up chihuahuas were the evening's star animal attractions.

There was hot food and hot drink along the route, so no one need get too chilled. I heard someone looking for freebies say "No one's drunk enough to start giving stuff away, but they will..." and I thought, yes, of course. They will. The accordion player at one stop along the way saw some bicycle cops cruising through the crowds and started singing, "Police Took My Car" to the tune of "Feliz Navidad," which of course got the crowd into an even merrier mood.

As the snow started coming down more heavily, we decided it was time to head back, not knowing how much there would be and with a fifty mile drive ahead of us. I don't mind driving in snow any more, but I wouldn't say Santa Fe  has the best public snow-services. Streets are not plowed with any sort of dependability, nor are they necessarily salted before they ice; ice is allowed to build up at intersections and wrecks are fairly commonplace as a result (that or sliding off the road....)  At night, it can get a little chaotic as drivers try to avoid hazards and thread their way around the ice patches...

We walked through the snow back toward Paseo de Peralta, not really fretting about anything, though. The temperature didn't seem to be that cold and the snow wasn't that heavy. It was pretty and very appropriate for the mood, the evening, and the season. As we got closer to our parking place, the crowds headed toward Canyon Road got thicker and thicker, and I wondered how they could pack any more people in; the street crowd was already nearly wall to wall, and it was still early.

The snow stopped by the time we got to the van, and the roads back to our place were all ice free. Yay.

I'm usually not that good in crowds, but the evening's festivities were yet another real treat in New Mexico, one that, like so many others, we'll not soon forget.

Canyon Rd Christmas Eve Wagon Wheel 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

When Words Have No Meaning -- the Continuing Threat of DomesticTerrorist Outfits Like Occupy

Freedom of Information Act requests by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund have led to the release of a trove of FBI documents related to the surveillance and violent suppression of Occupy and related groups during this year and last, including not-surprising references to them as potential "criminal" and "domestic terrorist" groups, despite the fact that Occupy organizers professed nonviolence and called for peaceful protest.

Wouldn't you know.

It's no surprise. Those of us who were involved with Occupy, even peripherally, during the heady days of occupation and demonstration were well aware of the constant surveillance by various representatives of authority -- some of whom were pleased and proud enough of their duties to introduce themselves to us.

Furthermore, as soon as the police actions began the appearance of squadrons of police in full riot gear was something of a sure indication that the Occupy demonstrations were officially considered primary threats to civic order and domestic peace. Once the official "snatch and grab" actions began (ie: targeting, kidnapping, and arresting seemingly random Occupy participants) it was clear that the police considered the Occupy activities per se to be criminal.

Nevertheless, the use of terms like "criminal" and "domestic terrorist" to describe or define Occupy and the activities and demonstrations in any official context shows how debased our language has become, and that in turn helps us understand how debased our government and its official representatives have become.

"Crime" and "terrorism" have become meaningless terms, bandied about to describe any activity at all.

Here's a link to the PCJF report:

And here's a link to a really great interview with Scott Noble:

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

And So To The Ballet

Yes, well, it's Christmas Season, and we have tickets to "The Nutcracker in the Land of Enchantment." A new production by the Festival Ballet Albuquerque.

We are not ballet aficionados to put it mildly. The last ballet we took in -- must have been 20-25 years ago now -- was a rather turgid Swan Lake that was notable for the thunder-footed corps, and we have never been involved in ballet production though we have had many associations with ballet company personnel; it's inescapable in the non-profit performing arts realm.

It was a ballet executive in California who informed me that New Mexico was "the most racist society" she had ever encountered, and this after a significant career at the NEA in DC. After the NEA she went to Santa Fe to run a dance company, and she said she had never - ever experienced the kind of racism she found there anyplace else, not even in Texas. She was horrified.

And of course this particular Nutcracker, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, would probably be characterized by her as deeply, fundamentally "racist" because of its reconception as a New Mexican story -- that has Indians and Spanish in it, along with some Anglos, even a cowboy or two -- rather than a Russian reconception of a German story. Or something.

We'll see.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

(No more snow is predicted here till Christmas Eve, when we're planning an expedition to Santa Fe...)


What a delight!

Having seen some Nutcrackers on the TeeVee over the years, and having heard the music since I was little (my parents both being Tchaikovsky-addicts) we had something of a familiarity with the story and the score and the various dances. We avoided attending "the Annual Nutcracker Ballet" wherever we were, however, because too often it was seen as a kind of Dreary Christmas Ritual to be endured rather than enjoyed. Sad to say, but when these things are done over and over and over again (like the endless stage productions of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol") it becomes less a tradition and more a Holiday Fright.

So when we arrived at the National Hispanic Cultural Center -- where we'd never been -- last night it was with both anticipation and some dread. I was quite taken with the facility. It is gorgeous in a very spare and simple contemporary way, not at all what I expected. The balconied Albuquerque Journal Theater is comfortable and accommodating for a maximum audience of 691. Despite its spare though rather grand appearance, it's actually fairly intimate, which we soon realized as many members of the audience made their way down to the pit to chat amiably with the musicians below.

As we waited for the curtain, our sense of anticipation overcame any sense of dread at all. As the house filled up with the family and friends of the dancers and musicians as well as many eager ballet-goers, we sensed that this would be a special night, not just for those who had ties with the show but for Albuquerque's arts scene in general.

Patricia Dickinson Wells, the choreographer, introduced the evening, and the conductor, Guillermo Figueroa gave a brief talk on the genius of Tchaikovsky's music for this ballet, a project he really didn't want to do but could not very easily turn down as the commission came from the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, so you don't send your regrets. He explained that the score is easily one of the most intricately designed and brilliantly conceived of any ballet scores, and that Tchaikovsky had used the story as a vehicle for some extraordinary technical musical exploration. It isn't something that one has to have technical knowledge to appreciate, because you feel it as you hear it. And so it was.

The orchestra under Figueroa's baton was marvelous. From what I could see of them -- which wasn't much -- they were, like the dancers on stage, mostly very young, and they played eagerly, with both skill and authority. It was a real pleasure to hear them.

On to the dancing, which was remarkable in so many ways. The production was a hybrid between the "traditional" version based on whatever artistic model was being used at the time and a specifically New Mexican artistic idea. It was not, to my mind, fully realized; there was a lot farther the designers and choreographer could have gone with the New Mexican theme, and I suspect that as the production develops, they will. This was a first try, in other words, and I suspect that, given the enthusiasm with which it was greeted, it will become the Standard Nutcracker for the region, and that as it does, it will become "more New Mexican."

The principal dancers were mostly very young, some still in high school and younger, and they were for the most part remarkably good. The Clara -- renamed "Maria" -- was not showy at all, but she was a sensitive and appealing dancer who was perfectly cast and beautifully rendered. Her Nutcracker/Soldier was equally remarkable for his assurance and skill, though he is, apparently, still a senior in high school.

The opening party scene was a treat, most of the cast assembling for festivities set in a 19th Century New Mexican hacienda. The choreography was intricate and lovely to watch. The costumes were an adaptation of Victorian holiday wear as it might be interpreted on the New Mexican frontier. Charming.

The Nutcracker himself is not my favorite character in the entertainment firmament as his personality is rather wooden as those things go, and he's not all that engaging. On the other hand, I've always found Clara/Maria kind of selfish, treacly and given over to emotional outbursts and so not a particularly pleasant character. So this pair, danced by Justine Flores and Garrett Dellios were really quite refreshing. Both are young and neither was as self-absorbed as I've often seen the characters (and dancers, for that matter) be. They danced well, with no lack of self-assurance, but that's not the same at all as self-absorption. But of course, they are not the ballet's "stars."

"The Nutcracker" presents a series of set-pieces as Clara/Maria's dream unfolds, starting with the Battle of the Toy Soldiers, in which the Nutcracker character is transformed into a soldier (toy, of course) who vanquishes the Rat King who is carried off by his rat-comrades. The scene is meant to be funny, and the cast played it both for laughs and menace Friday night. The rat's eyes glowed fiery red in the rat-heads worn -- surprisingly comfortably -- by the rat-corps, made up mostly by the younger dancers, with the very youngest dressed as mice, really very cute. The Rat King himself, in this version, was portrayed as a kind of Pancho Villa/Mexican Outlaw sort, with serape and bandoliers, which I'm sure would be considered "racist" -- well, at least if this production were at Popejoy Hall rather than the National Hispanic Cultural Center. This was, after all, a comic scene. I thought the Rat King had a rather feral cat effect going with his headpiece though, and it struck me as a bit odd. Someone in the audience said he thought the Rat King's head was supposed to resemble Coyote, and I thought that was interesting, but I didn't buy it.

The scene was next set in "A Pinon Forest in Winter" for the Dance of the Snowflakes. Though there was no sign of a pinon tree -- or any tree at all -- in this forest, there was plenty of fog and snow, so much fog in fact that many in the hall burst out in a coughing fit. Wrangling the fog machines is always something of a cursed task, and when the stage-fog insensibly fills the hall, it can have a very strong psychological effect on the audience. The stage-fog itself is generally not the cause of the reaction (though it sometimes is, especially if it is not mixed right.) People start coughing because they sense that they are being enveloped in smoke -- but it's not smoke. In New Mexico, I think I've said, many people heat their homes with wood during the winter, and pinon wood is prized and favored for heating -- as well as for the distinctive aroma of its smoke. Pinon is burned in street bonfires known as farolitos (or luminarias, depending on where you are) and the smell of pinon smoke in winter is as characteristic of New Mexico as the aroma of roasting chile during harvest season. Sometimes when stoves and fireplaces start smoking inside houses and buildings (La Fonda in Santa Fe occasionally has this problem, it's old, after all) and rooms fill with smoke, you either have to go outside in the cold or stay and cough and wipe your eyes until the problem is resolved. That's what I think was happening when members of the audience reacted to the stage-fog first encountered in the pinion forest scene for the Dance of the Snowflakes.

I went on at such length about this incident because it was perhaps the most "off" note of the production. Then I thought, "Well, I've been caught in ice-fogs here that were worse!"

The Snow King (Louie Roccato) and Snow Queen (Natalee Maxwell) were very nicely, albeit "traditionally," rendered as was the case with the Waltz of the Snowflakes. This is one scene that could have been a good deal more "New Mexican," but it might take some trees and more adventuresome staging that makes it more of an adventure than a set piece. Of course, here I am trying to direct something I had nothing to do with... ;-)

In the second act, the angels were rendered in a much more "New Mexican" manner, the costumes being ballet adaptations of folklorico wear, and it worked really nicely.

The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced by Julie Cobble and Dominic Guerra, were without doubt the stars of the ballet, and they made the most of it through the rest of the second act. These were two very talented dancers who quite naturally took command of the stage, in solos and duets of both charm and power.

The interludes included a remarkable performance by Jennifer Boren as a "Spanish Snake." She was for that little scene the ballerina assoluta. It was a treat to watch her. The "Chinese" interlude would no doubt have to be classed in the "racist" category, for it was simply some stereotype hopping around by dancers dressed like Chinese dolls. Again, it was supposed to be funny.

The "Fandango," though, was nicely realized. The choreography evoked something of Agnes De Mille's "Oklahoma!" which made me smile.

The "Borreguero" and "Las Pastoras" interludes were sweetly done perfectly appropriate for a New Mexican idea of the Nutcracker ballet. Of course, it helps that Tchaikovsky included Spanish dances in the original! The children who got to play mice in the early battle scene got to play sheep in the later interlude, and it was adorable.

The next interlude, that of the "Storyteller and Children," gave me a bit of heartburn. It was a good idea -- even an excellent one -- but I question the execution. The Storyteller was portrayed by a bearded middle aged Anglo man... uhhh... and the children were dressed and choreographed as if they were part of  "Indian Day" on the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950's. (I'm so old, I remember...). No, I thought, no. This could be so much better. So much better! Adapt actual Indian dances, use Pueblo -- or even Pow Wow -- costuming ideas; and how about a Native woman rather than an obviously Anglo man  as the Storyteller? Hm? Maybe integrate some Native symbolism into it all. The music works for the Native idea, and I'd really like to see it carried further.

The "Waltz of the Flowers" made up for any reservations (heh) I might have had about the Indian interlude, however. It was gorgeous, and beautifully danced, an exquisite climax to the ballet, more than fulfilling every expectation of what this production could be.

The finale was a little rough, but once the kinks are worked through, I'm sure it will be fine.

The audience, for its part, was enchanted, despite the occasional off note or bobble -- though not from the orchestra which played superbly throughout.  There might have been some uneven or imperfectly realized moments in this "Nutcracker," yet it was on the whole an extraordinary production, much more than we anticipated at the outset.

Such a young cast, dancing so well in a difficult but creative, beautiful production, and an orchestra of such youth and caliber playing the familiar classical/romantic music of the season so brightly in such a welcoming and comfortable facility made for a remarkable and memorable holiday outing.

This "Nutcracker" was no tired or dreary production to be endured. It was instead an enchanting evening to be enjoyed. And we did.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Instant Incineration vs The Endless String of School Shootings

I grew up in the 1950's under constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Children were drilled and propagandized to thoroughly fear accept the coming holocaust which we were essentially told was going to happen sooner or later, and we'd better be ready. Stockpiles of food and a home shelter were just part of it.

We were shown movies and filmstrips that showed in gory detail the results of a nuclear attack, using film from Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as from the tests out in the desert that were nearly daily occurrences. In those days, they were open-air tests. Though we weren't particularly close to the Nevada Test Site, for some reason I carry a memory of at least one "flash" from a test (we may have been in Las Vegas or even Palm Springs...)

We did Duck and Cover drills frequently enough that the procedure of pushing desks against the wall under the high windows and crawling beneath the desks and waiting with arms crossed over our necks until the All Clear was sounded was second nature. We cannot forget the high-pitched wailing of the Air Raid Sirens, nor the voice on the CONELRAD stations: "This is a Test. This is only a Test..."

On the other hand, there was no "security" as such at schools.  There was neither call nor need for it, at least so it was believed.

I attended many brand new schools, and few of them had any fencing at all when classes first assembled. Later, chainlink fences were installed on the perimeter of the school yards, mostly to keep the kids in, but so far as I can recall, none of the elementary schools I attended had fencing in the front on the street side. Schools that I attended in Southern California, and most of those I attended in Northern California were planned and built on the open model; classes were held in free-standing wings connected by unenclosed corridors which were roofed but open-air. Generally, there were high windows on one side of the classroom and essentially a wall of glass on the other side. If the bombs ever came, we would be cut to ribbons even hiding under our desks, and we knew it, too. We had no illusions about our supposed "safety" during a nuclear attack. We knew where the likely targets were as well, and we calculated distances and potentials for surviving a direct hit on these targets. They weren't reassuring. My schools were usually within 10 miles of a primary target. And that meant, realistically, when the bombs came, we were not going to survive, or that so few of us would survive, it would hardly matter.

That was the atmosphere in school in those days. It wasn't one of fear so much as fatalism. Realistically, there wasn't anything we could do, and if our rulers decided to launch the missiles, oh well. We didn't have much choice in the matter anyway, did we? Looking back, of course, it was obviously an atmosphere of learned helplessness. We went through the rituals of Duck and Cover, because it was required and everybody did it, but there was really no thought of surviving.

And truthfully, I don't think that when you are 7 or 8 or 10 years old, you even think about something as abstract as "survival." Truthfully, I don't think you fear death, either. At least I don't recall actually fearing the Bomb or instant incineration until much later, when I was in junior high or even high school and started questioning all this bullshit.

Questioning would come, for sure, but not in elementary school.

We were conditioned, however, to expect the worst.

We had no concern or even thought of someone coming on the school grounds armed to the teeth playing War with our lives and those of our teachers and office personnel. It never entered our minds. I had a very active fantasy life in those days which I shared with quite a few of my friends, and we played War and Cowboys and Indians and all sorts of variations on the school grounds and through the neighborhoods, and never once did we think that someone would actually start shooting up the school.

There was shooting, however. As idyllic a time as it may have been (ha), people -- many of them veterans of WWII and/or Korea -- did have guns and they did fire them, sometimes in anger, and sometimes people we knew, or on occasion even we ourselves, were wounded or killed. It wasn't that we didn't know about this possibility. We most certainly did. People snapped, they had psychotic breaks, just as they do now, and the episodes of people barricading themselves, holding hostages, sometimes killing them, or gun rampages especially within households were not that rare. They happened. There were also gruesome murders. It seemed like the victims were often women, chopped up, shot, burned or what have you, that happened with horrible regularity. The press and media loved these murder/mayhem stories.

I was shot myself. It was not in school; it had nothing to do with school. It was a neighborhood teenage bad boy out target practicing with a gun he got for Christmas and I was his target, little did I know.

"Security" in school consisted of the authority of the adults, the teachers and the office. And "security" was primarily a matter of keeping us, the students, from running completely wild. In other words, WE were the primary security issue, pre-juvenile delinquents that we were considered to be. We were considered monsters by nature.

I suppose in a sense we were.

So. Security in school in those days consisted of keeping us in line, following the rules, behaving properly, and so on, and punishing transgressions swiftly and surely. In Southern California schools as I recall, there was no corporal punishment (there was in Northern California, and at least in my experience, it was completely arbitrary, but I digress). There was all manner of psychological persuasion, however, and most kids learned pretty quickly what was expected of them and how to behave appropriately.

The idea that someone would bring his arsenal onto the school grounds and start firing on the boys and girls was unimaginable. It wasn't so much that it couldn't happen, it was more like, "Why would anybody bother...?"

How to put this? Children in those days -- at least in my experience -- were not considered "precious treasures." Nor were they typically indulged at all. Animosity toward JDs -- juvenile delinquents -- was rampant, and showing any sign of deviance from the norm or "delinquency" was suppressed. Conformity was the persistent demand. That demand applied to adults as well.

Schools were not the way they are today -- little mini-prisons. "Lockdowns" were unheard of. The whole point of the educational theories of the time was to make school as pleasant and open as possible, to encourage -- and if necessary enforce -- conformity with the social norms of the era, and to educate the young in the necessary topics of learning. The school was the place to take the "wild" out of the child.

That's what parents expected, and that's usually what they got.

But I don't think that we (elementary school students) had any illusions that school was somehow "safe" from the perils of the outside world. How could we when we were constantly being told of our impending doom from nuclear attack?

The emphasis now, of course, is on the "security" of the schools, with all that that entails, and it has been so for decades. High fences, locked campuses, armed guards, arbitrary searches and seizures, cameras and surveillance everywhere. Suspicion. Schools are operated like prisons, not so much to enforce conformity (though there is that) as to ensure security.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Killing the Warrior Mentality

The United States has been suffused with a warrior mentality for its entire history. It's long past time to kill it.

Yes, I'm using the rhetoric of violence in an effort to spur an end to the overarching violence of the warrior mentality that leads directly to the outrageous levels of gun-mayhem that are unique to this country in the developed world.

Kill the warrior mentality, bring the constant low-level civil war in this country to an end, and make acquisition of private arsenals difficult if not impossible. The level of gun violence in the United States will drop, slowly at first and then quickly enough to startle the many chatterers and observers who are convinced "we are a violent society" and "nothing can be done."

The key is to undo the centuries of conditioning that tells Americans that they are ALWAYS at war with one another and with some external enemy -- which in an earlier post I characterized as the fictional Bug Planet of Klendathu.

It's neither normal nor natural to believe that warriorism is a requirement for living. But for America, war-making is the constant ethic, baked in to every fiber of society.

Stop the wars. Stop the war thinking. Stop the warrior conditioning. Stop celebrating killing. Stop the killing.

Stop it NOW.

Here We Go

Noises out of the White House and Congress, funneled through their ever reliable water-boy Ezra Klein (as well as many others), tell us that a Fiscal Cliff Deal is nigh, and one of its components is the adoption of the so-called "chained CPI" for calculating Social Security benefits (and possibly other Federal benefits) going forward.

In other words, a cut in future benefits.

It's not a trivial cut, either, as Social Security recipients have already felt the economic blow of low or no COLAs since the advent of the Permanent Recession (for you), while prices of goods and services used by seniors have continued to rise at a smart clip and profits to providers have never been higher.

The chained CPI assumes seniors can just substitute lower priced goods and services, and will do so, when their accustomed goods and services become more expensive, as they will. Ergo, the cost of living index need not reflect the full cost increases faced by older people. It can be jiggered in such a way that COLAs are diminished year by year, cumulatively, such that old folks will receive an ever lower monthly benefit than they would under the current, let alone an appropriate, cost of living index -- which is itself wholly inadequate.

Of course the tragedy in Newtown has consumed most of the attention lately, and with Christmas coming up shortly, there will be little opportunity for the public to consider and digest, let alone oppose, this move to put even more of the forever economic burden on the old, the sick, the halt, the lame and most especially the poor.

Oh, and supposedly, the White House is prepared to agree to the expiration of the payroll tax cut on workers come January. Now, the payroll tax cut was not a very good idea to begin with, but once it was instituted, the the $60-100 a month it provided to households for immediate spending rather than for future retirement became the difference between getting by for the moment and falling off the household fiscal cliff. Millions of households are being forced into poverty every year as it is; the moves to cut benefits and raise taxes for those least able to absorb further economic blows simply ensures more poverty and suffering in America in the future.

Of course, the correct approach is to raise benefits -- substantially at the lower end, not so much at the higher end -- lower the retirement age (55 or lower), provide Medicare for All (eliminating private profit health insurance companies), and establishing a full employment policy, putting everyone who can work to work in peacetime endeavors to repair and rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure while transforming America's energy regime.

All of this and more is doable, should have been started years ago, and as time passes is farther away than ever. Our Ruling Class simply has no intention of allowing any such thing in the near future, either.

We are locked in a political prison with no apparent escape...

But at least we're not Greece! Yay!

Monday, December 17, 2012

"A La Machina!" -- Sh!t New Mexicans Say and Don't Say


I think I've mentioned in the past that New Mexico has a definite/distinct accent -- actually there are a number of them -- that's sort of a cross between Tejano/Texas and Rez Talk. I think I've also pointed out that New Mexican Spanish is not quite like the Spanish typically heard and spoken in California, to the point where it is sometimes more difficult for me to make out what someone speaking Spanish in New Mexico is saying. (On the other hand, so much of New Mexico Spanish is highly idiomatic, and anyone who wasn't brought up hearing it is going to have trouble...)

Anglos are just as likely to speak with the distinctive New Mexican cadence and accent as anyone else, and sometimes they'll even be fluent in Spanish. You hear Native languages quite a bit, too, on the radio especially. Navajo is widely heard and spoken; Pueblo languages (Tewa and Tiwa primarily, Hopi too) are also fairly common.

We live on the side of New Mexico that was long claimed by Texas, and there's a fairly strong Texas influence -- culturally and linguistically -- in this region. Some of our friends speak with what I think is a strong Texas accent, but they don't think so. They think they speak "regular New Mexican," or in a pinch, "regular American." My ear says, "No way."

 (I've thought about why we were attracted to this area rather than, say, the Santa Fe area, and I might discuss that a bit another time.)

During 2012, a number of videos have been produced and put up on the YouTubes that hilariously display things Burqueños do and don't say. Burqueños, of course, are residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico's one Big City. What they say and don't say influences the rest of the state, though many areas outside Albuquerque maintain distinctive slang and speech patterns of their own. The two "Sh**t Burqueños Say" videos made by "Lynette of Albuquerque" -- Lauren Poole of the Blackout Theatre Company in Albuquerque -- have had quite a run,  together accumulating more than a million hits. It hasn't been without controversy. Some people are offended that this Anglo actress ("who isn't even raza"), "full of white privilege," is making a name for herself by mocking and satirizing the way Hispanics speak, inspiring contempt and ridicule for the common people of New Mexico.

To this, she and many others respond, "BS, okay?" She points out, I think rightly, that people in New Mexico should be -- and many are -- proud of the way they speak and having fun with it is not even a crime. It helps everyone to feel even more pride. She also pointed out she's half raza, not Anglo, and was brought up speaking that way and has no problem with it. She's satirizing with a great deal of love and respect.

The result is hilarious, particularly if you grasp some of the subtler elements in the videos. For example, a number of the interior shots were made at the Frontier restaurant, an institution in Albuquerque as integral to the city as the University of New Mexico that sits across the street. It's almost impossible to imagine ABQ or Burque without the Frontier and its world famous (if you're from New Mexico) breakfast burritos and carne adovada.

The "Wanna Coke?" sequence is perhaps the most famous (and as many say, "true") of all the gags in the videos. In it, "Lynette" is shown at the refrigerator holding up one soft drink after another, none of them Coke, and the last one a Pepsi, asking her guest "Wanna Coke?" According to those in the know, "that's so true!" for in New Mexico, all soft drinks (and some say "even bottled water") are called "Coke," and if you ask for a Coke in a restaurant, the waiter/ess will ask "What kind of Coke? We have Sprite, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, and Orange Crush."

On the other hand, there are a lot of things you won't hear in New Mexico, and in the video made by KOB radio's Carlos, Kiki and Danny, they run through the gamut, such as "New Mexico drivers are awesome!" And "I love the cops!" (APD is under scrutiny by the DOJ for any number of lapses, particularly the high number of officer involved shootings...)

Some of it goes by too fast or too quietly, but the upshot is still darned funny.

Aw heck, we're easily amused.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Mental Illness Equation and Induced Helplessness


One of the consistent narratives regarding the numerous mass shooting incidents in the United States is that of the "incomprehensible" and "senseless" actions of someone who suffers from some treated or untreated mental illness. In the case of the Sandy Hook School Shooter, Asperger's Syndrome has been brought up.

(Caveat: almost nothing at all reported about this incident or the alleged shooter has turned out to be accurate or true; the level of misinformation is higher in this incident than in some of the previous ones, but misinforming the public about what has happened, who is/was involved, and what factors may have played a role is the common narrative approach. Thus every one of these incidents take on a legendary aspect which is very difficult to break afterwards.)

The idea that "mental illness" is behind these incidents is easily digested by a gullible public, few of whom actually know anything about mental illness and what is -- and isn't -- actually being done for and about the mentally ill in this country.

Some people are subject to what used to be called psychotic breaks, and they can go on uncontrolled rampages. This has been true throughout human history, and by this time, it's not really a mystery that it can and does happen.

Sometimes these psychotic breaks and rampages can be induced by various drugs and medications. The meth monster and the speed freak are well known and mythologized variants of the psychotic break rampager-berzerker, but there are apparently quite a few other illicit drugs and licit medications that can bring on episodes of psychosis and rampage.

Claims that somehow the shooters in these seemingly endless incidents fit into one or another of the mental illness categories that can lead to psychotic breaks and rampages or that they are taking one or another drug or medication that can do it (or that they stopped taking a drug or medication) are fairly commonplace. It may even be true. And there are arguably far too few effective mental health services available in this country.

The problem is that if we know that incidents of mass murder can -- and do -- result from such things, and we ostensibly don't want mass murder as a routine part of our daily lives, it's probably not wise to continue to make guns so easily available to people who might be victims of this sort of mental illness, no?

But somehow that logic step is never taken among our High and Mighty. It simply doesn't register as an appropriate thing to do...

Instead, what we constantly hear about is the need for ever greater levels of "security" in our daily lives, whether it be at school or shopping or going to the movies or church. In other words, rather than dealing with the problems of treated and untreated mental illness, we must position armed guards everywhere, and an ever-expanding surveillance apparatus everywhere, in order to identify and track potential mass shooters and ideally prevent them from acting in the future.

Alternatively, we are told that "arming everyone" would make the likelihood of a mass shooter taking out more than a few people less likely because an armed bystander would then take out the shooter. This is fantasy, but oh well.

Then there is the notion that the problem is not guns or access to firearms at all; the problem is mental illness and lack of treatment. Or the wrong kind of treatment. Or alternatively, the problem is "bad people" and the proper response to bad people (summary execution) is not employed with enough rigor.

Yes, well. In the case of the mentally ill acting out, summary execution is SOP; dozens if not hundreds are killed by police every year. "Bad people" on the other hand often as not aren't dealt with quite as lethally.

The idea that mentally ill or bad people shouldn't have access to firearms is widely accepted, but in practice restricting access is an abstraction. Put another way, it's a good idea with no means of implementation without restricting access to firearms by "normal" people. We don't want to do that because of the all-important Sacred Second and Freedom.

So there's nothing we can do about it.

Just as there is nothing we can do about the unemployment problem. Nothing we can do about the growing economic inequality, either. Nothing we can do about the looming Fiscal Cliff except to "cut entitlements to show we are serious." Nothing we can do about anything that would make life better.

Helplessness in the face of crisis. Indifference in the face of suffering. Violence in the face of misery.

Get the picture?

The current emphasis on "puzzle pieces," heightened security and  "mental illness" provides us with many clues to how this incident will be resolved in the minds of authority and subsequently in the minds of the public. Just like every other mass shooting incident, the shooting will be deemed "senseless," the shooter's motivations will be deemed "incomprehensible." He was a "loner," "mentally ill," "easily picked on," so on and so forth. We must protect ourselves from these people. We will do so by heightening security at schools and all other public places; we will heighten surveillance of everyone, but our specific focus will be on "loners" and the "mentally ill."

There will be little or no effort to restrict access to firearms. Nino won't allow it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Homicidal Cruelty

These mass-shooting incidents are so frequent and so similar, is it any wonder some people think they may be... intentional?

Yesterday was a whirlwind of snow and cats and ice and hail and biscohitos and all sorts of peripheral things that had to be done or got through somehow (snowy/icy mountain passes in blizzard-like conditions aren't the most fun to drive, etc.) so we missed yesterday's Big Story of the mass slaughter of school kids in Connecticut until well into the afternoon.

We sat stunned and horrified as the news trickled in through our computers and then came to dominate the television for the rest of the day and into the night.

Once again America is subjected to the bloodfest and slaughter in supposedly safe and sanitized public spaces -- in this case an elementary school in an upscale suburb of New York. Almost 30 are dead now, most of them children in a kindergarten class -- a class that was initially reported to have been taught by the shooter's mother who was reported to have been killed in the massacre.

Some truly idiotic woman was on the NBC news feed that we were watching, counseling America on how to talk to your children about this incident, pointing out how rare they are, how "this has never happened before" and how everyone is doing everything they can to "keep our children safe," and how important it was to make sure children were not exposed to the wall-to-wall coverage of this "very unusual" incident.

It was just bullshit. Even the anchor was dumbfounded by her counseling crap. As if children today don't have access to news.

This is the second mass shooting in a week, in an ostensibly safe place, by a young adult shooter who apparently had mental health problems before he went on his very public rampage using very lethal (and legal) armament. Then killing himself. Conveniently exiting the scene, in a manner of speaking, before the investigation even gets under way.

 The usual suspects are now hammering away at one another on the internet and in the media over the question of when is the "right time" to discuss gun control and the problem of gun violence in this country -- assuming, of course, that you believe that gun violence is a problem. Apparently some Americans don't.

The President's spokesmouth cautioned the assembled media flacks that "now is not the time" to open a discussion about... well... this.


It is literally never the "right time."

I've been using the term "homicidal cruelty" to describe the attitude of Our Betters toward the rest of us, particularly in the context of the entirely out of touch -- and embarrassing -- Fiscal Cliff arguments going on in DC. The entire political and media class has been obsessed with a singular objective for months now:  how to ensure that social insurance programs and benefits are cut enough that there is significant "pain" among the recipients -- to show the "markets" that the politicians are "serious" about deficit reduction.

People are dying and death rates -- among seniors especially -- will increase as a result. That is supposed to be an "unfortunate but necessary" consequence of "getting serious about the debt." It's shameful, and the spectacle of Our Betters nattering on endlessly about the "necessity" of this "shared sacrifice" is sickening.

But there you are, that's the American ruling class today. They are intent on imposing their homicidal cruelty as extensively as possible on as many people as possible as their bounden right and duty. They are obsessed with doing it. NOW!

So here's another mass slaughter essentially in the backyard of the New York media market (which has helped generate the kind of wall-to-wall coverage of it we've seen) and the upshot has been strange and ugly.

The slaughter itself is horrifying. Here we are -- again -- with another young man who has mental health issues and access to high powered weapons who somehow snaps and goes on a shooting rampage killing however many he can (in this case, including his mother and dozens of elementary school children) before killing himself.

The upshot is not to try to "fix it" -- or even to discuss what happened from the standpoint of "fixing it" -- but to instead celebrate the militarization of the police, the lockdowns of schools (just like they were prisons), and to reassure one another that even though these incidents are inevitable -- due to "freedom" -- we can rest assured that the authorities are doing everything in their power to keep us safe.

Yeah, right.

No, what they have been doing for a long time now is essentially allowing these incidents to occur on a regular basis. They have such a salutary effect on the public, after all. The mass shooting incident, which is practically unique to the United States, has the effect of inspiring ever greater numbers of the People to fear and dread, panic in some cases, and that effect enables their acquiescence and dependency on authority for their "safety." Except they aren't "safe." Anywhere. Ever. For there will be another mass killing soon enough, and another and another. And still more.

Because it is never the right time to discuss or do anything about the orgy of bloodletting in this country. Never.

Bloodlust and bloodletting is the price we pay for "freedom," you see.

Ending the slaughter means the end of "freedom..."

Got it.

No other country has anything close to the American level of constant slaughter and bloodletting -- unless they are engaged in a civil war (or in some cases resistance against invasion, aggression, and occupation.)  Of course the marketing and easy availability of firearms makes the constant killing remarkably simple to accomplish if that's what someone wants to do. There is really nothing standing in the way, certainly not social opprobrium or more than minor legal impediments. Guns and their marketing are among America's major industries, after all. It's considered rude and unpleasant to dispute the value of the personal armament industry, and any attempt to curb the industry and the resulting bloodletting is met with fierce resistance and ever greater levels of financial support for candidates who support the industry.

The tens of thousands killed and injured by gun violence and gun accidents in this country every year are victims of a low-level civil war that seems to be maintained relentlessly... and we might ask why. Who benefits? Apart from the politicians and the gun industry, of course.

Why do the People permit it? Or do they have a voice and a choice?

I'd say no.

Most Americans have nothing to do with guns, but they can't ultimate avoid gun violence -- whether the vicarious sort that comes via the media or for real -- because of the relentless determination on the part of some of Our Betters to ensure and enable it, and to make sure that it is glamorized in entertainment and publicized extravagantly.

"Freedom" you see. But freedom for whom to do what? Freedom for a certain category of predator and/or mentally ill individual to go on a rampage and cause mayhem and misery. How very useful.

It is, isn't it?

And aren't we lucky that it can only be curbed by curbing American "freedom."


[And in case you didn't notice, everything you know about this incident -- or knew yesterday, anyway -- is wrong. Where does all the early misinformation come from...?]

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Bradley Manning Thing and Starship Troopers

Klendathu -- It's an Ugly System, a Bug System

"Starship Troopers" has been on heavy rotation one of the broadcast movie channels here, and I watched it the other day and had a good hoot over it. When the United States went to WAR!!! some years ago -- good heavens, more than a decade now -- I and others made many comparisons between the propaganda that suffuses Paul Verhoeven's film and what Americans were being subjected to in order to whip them to a frenzy of Muslim-Bug-Hate, and we commented about how much the images of the WAR!!! ON TERRA! and the WARR!!!! ON KLENDATHU! resembled one another. It was as if we were being made to live out this mockery of Heinlein's adolescent fantasy as re-configured by Verhoeven. Truth was stranger than fiction.

The book was published in 1959; the movie -- the original, not the sequels -- was released in 1997 not long after the Bosnia campaign; the WAR!!!! against Klendathu, er, Afghanistan was initiated in 2001 and quickly spread to Iraq and has now embroiled much of the Middle East and parts of Africa with no end in sight... here we are, so many years down the line, and so many young people can't really remember a time when we weren't fighting Klendathu/Bugs for some reason.

We have always been fighting Klendathu/Bugs in a way.

A young soldier named Bradley Manning is to be court-martialed for turning over massive amounts of military and State Department documents and communications, some of it classified, to WikiLeaks some years ago (we've lost track of the exact timelines now), a trial that has been delayed for an extraordinarily long time as the sides prepare and maneuver. The most recent phase involved a hearing on the conditions of Manning's confinement at the Quantico brig, conditions which were ridiculous when they weren't appalling, but conditions which are faced by tens of thousands of domestic prisoners, including children, every day. The hoopla over Manning's confinement conditions seemed to me to be over the top, in part because so many prisoners in America face similar conditions, and many of those prisoners have not been convicted any more than Manning has been convicted. There simply is no outcry, there's hardly any recognition that atrocious, indeed torturous, confinement conditions are standard operating procedure in America's vast and expanding prison/industrial complex.

Confinement conditions in Marine brigs have been notorious for brutality and psychological terror for decades. What was done to Manning, while atrocious, was actually mild compared to the treatment of some prisoners held in the brig for various offenses both pre and post conviction. I've reported previously that a relative faced far worse conditions, and for far longer, than Manning when he was held in the brig for four years on what I believe was either a completely bogus or completely political (ie: Marine Corps politics) criminal charge. This is how a formidable and corrupt system works and has worked for many long years. Where is the outcry?

Quite simply, there is no outcry beyond the highly select cohort of individuals who truly care about these things. Manning should not have been treated the way he was at Quantico, nor should anyone else face such treatment and worse in any part of the American Gulag, but the conditions faced by those not named Manning wasn't part of the general conversation and still isn't. Americans by and large are in complete denial about the prison/industrial system that holds millions of its citizens and foreigners under often appalling conditions, day in and day out, year in and year out. It is an out of control punishment system that gets more out of control and brutal as time goes by.

The hearing over Manning's confinement conditions has concluded; it was covered by Kevin Gozstola over at FDL and a few other reporters, notably not including the New York Times until a public outcry (and a rather harsh column by the paper's public editor) embarrassed the Gray Lady's Powers That Be enough to send someone to witness part of one day's testimony -- and then write inaccurately about it. There might be a ruling on the manner of Manning's Quantico stay sometime in January, but I won't hold my breath because this case has been delayed so many times for such a long time over all sorts of things, while Manning himself cools his heels at the Ft. Leavenworth facility awaiting a disposition that may never come.

Manning is accused of releasing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, some of which were classified "Secret" and above, but many of which were unclassified. The intranet system from which this material was obtained was not secure; there was little effort to make it secure for months after the alleged leak allegedly via Manning and his all-purpose thumb drive. Consequently, part of the defense argument has been that Manning's actions really couldn't constitute such a big security breech -- because there was so little security to begin with.

The argument of many of Manning's defenders has been that Manning is a Hero and therefore should not be subjected to... well, what, actually? Accusation? Trial? Law itself?

The central document that was released through WikiLeaks as a consequence of the actions Manning is accused of is the "Collateral Murder" helicopter gun-camera video of the slaughter of some dozen or so Iraqis gathered on a street that took place in New Baghdad in 2009 (October, if I recall correctly). It is classic "Death From Above" war-porn and could have been straight out of a movie like "Starship Troopers." It was hideous and disgusting to anyone with a shred of conscience. And it was run in heavy rotation on all the propaganda news outlets for weeks in April of 2010, in a sort of orgy of bloodletting visuals that led to fist-pumping celebrations of American Might.

As I pointed out at the time, this video, while horrible to witness, is one of any number of similar extermination-porn videos, American "Death From Above" videos, many of which were proudly released by the military itself. They're available on YouTube for anyone with an internet connection to view anytime they want. They are all very similar, very hideous, and very disgusting. Yet they caused little sensation and no general outcry when they were released. Like the "Collateral Murder" video, they inspired pride not revulsion in many if not most of those who saw them.

It was only when Manning allegedly provided WikiLeaks with the "Collateral Murder" video that a small but vocal segment of the public spoke out, claiming War Crimes and perfidy in the conduct of the Iraq Occupation, and by extension in the conduct of the various imperial wars of aggression in general. The vocal segment that spoke out against the slaughter depicted in the "Collateral Murder" video is now mostly focused on the outrage of the Drone Campaigns that have been expanded under Obama. While the outrage is not misplaced, the focus may well be far too narrow.

There are almost too many individual incidents of "Death From Above" during the constant WAR!!!! against "Klendathu" to count. The incidents are grotesque, but at some point the underlying issue needs addressing.

These incidents are happening because Our Government is intent on pursuing an Imperial Expansion objective, one that has been determined by those few individuals and interests that own and control the Government. The People never agreed to this Imperial Project; they are largely ignorant that it is going on. The People have no say in these matters in any case.

"Klendathu" has always been Our Enemy, and so it is today. If we want the incidents to stop, we have to stop the objectification of our Bug-Enemies, and furthermore we must stop the Imperial Expansion Project that allows and requires this endless horror to go on.

I don't know whether Manning had or has any of that in mind. He's a complex character whose motivations have never been entirely clear. At one time, it was claimed that his "torture" at Quantico was undertaken to extract information from him regarding WikiLeaks. That tack seems to have been dropped as it became clear that his treatment at Quantico was done because it could be done and not for any other reason at all. The brig commanders are brutal and not very bright thugs. Hello? This is news somehow?

WikiLeaks has largely faded (which is a whole other story). The Manning Thing was ostentatiously ignored by the New York Times, which was the exclusive US publisher of the WikiLeaks trove (allegedly from Manning) at one time. Coverage of the Manning Thing is still spotty. Imperial wars of aggression continue with occasional adjustments.

We are still at war with Klendathu. The Bugs are Still Out There...

"Death From Above"

[Sorry about the absence of links, have to see if I can add some later...]

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Class and Class Mobility in America

This 1957 McGraw Hill educational film -- which was no doubt shown in high schools back in the day, but I don't remember seeing it while I was in school at any time -- is one of the kinds of things that served as propaganda on behalf of the status quo and the Ruling Class in the 1950's. It's a form of indoctrination which I believe grew out of the military practices during World War II, practices which themselves grew out of the Bernays-theories of marketing that got going during the 20's and 30's.

I suppose we can claim to be more sophisticated about these things nowadays, but the propaganda is relentless, and it helps to be aware how Americans have been propagandized and conditioned to believe all sorts of nonsense for a very long time.

It didn't start with the 1950's or World War II; it's been going on since forever.

What I find remarkable about the film posted above is the acknowledgement that you're born into a certain social and economic class and you'll probably stay there the rest of your life no matter what you do -- or don't do -- and that crossing class boundaries to date or to marry or even to socialize more than very casually and superficially is all but forbidden. These truths were self evident at the time, but they weren't publicized, and they absolutely weren't part of the myth of American social and economic mobility.

Since the 1950's, the American class structure has apparently fossilized into one of the most rigid on the face of the earth. The gap between the elites and everyone else has widened into such a gulf that it's essentially unbridgeable, despite the fact that individuals from among the Lower Orders are picked out from time to time and brought aboard the elite yacht -- whether to entertain Their Betters (it's primarily sports and entertainment figures, after all, who manage to reach the upper decks...) or simply as a means to leverage bloodlines -- so it's not true that there is no class mobility at all in America

In fact, there is a great deal of downward mobility that is never mentioned at all. This has been made startlingly evident with the decimation of the middle class during the present economic calamities and unpleasantness. Literally millions upon millions of Americans have been forced into poverty year by year since the collapse of the real estate bubble, and there is little or no hope that any of them will ever rise from their fate. Instead, they continue to be joined by others who have been forced more recently into poverty. This is the New American Class Mobility: down, not up.

The door has been shut, the ladder has been pulled up. And that as they say is that.

Although the film above is propaganda, it's the kind of propaganda that relies on truths (in this case, about the American class structure) to make its point (which is for you to be content with your lot because there is little or nothing you can do about it*). More fashionable propaganda today relies on lies, the bigger and bolder the better, to make its point, often to the point of sheer madness.

Our Betters show themselves more clearly than they realize in the fashionable propaganda of today. They show themselves to be not too bright on the one hand, homicidally cruel on the other. They have no apparent "redeeming qualities," qualities of responsibility -- primarily--  that provided the High and the Mighty of the 1950's some legitimacy, even if they were often off the mark or very deep in error. The whole Cold War fantasy, for example, was an elite invention which appeared to have originated as a fundamental misconception of the reality of the post-war world. The Soviet Union was not a threat. If they had realized that from the outset, there wouldn't have been a Cold War, and much of the insanity among Our Betters today might have been alleviated or avoided. But oh well, blood in the water and water under the bridge...

Downward class mobility is an unprecedented phenomenon for most Americans, and it isn't yet recognized as the only class mobility available to the masses these days. The situation during the Great Depression was similar in some ways, but it was countered by many efforts both high and low to reverse the downward trend.

Now there are essentially none. There is no government effort at all, for example, to reverse the trend of downward mobility. There are no jobs programs, few retraining programs, nothing beyond minimal -- and temporary -- support programs for the unemployed, there are constant -- and quite cruel -- reductions in programs for the destitute, and entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are under continuing threat and assault. The critical absence throughout this Endless Recession (which is turning into The Permanent Recession) has been the absence of any sort of comprehensive employment or re-employment programs. They simply don't exist, and because they don't, unemployment has remained at cripplingly high levels for years and years -- forcing millions and millions of Americans into a poverty they will never get out of.

This is not simply a lost decade, it's turning into a lost generation. The consequences of the many policy decisions that have made this so are only dimly seen. We don't yet know just how bad it will be in the future. (The apocalyptic visions of climate catastrophe and whatnot are not to be taken lightly, but they largely leave out the human capacity for adaptation.)  For all the whining the elites do about "uncertainty," it is the common people who are facing an uncertain future, not those at the top, and nothing is being done to alleviate the uncertainty of the masses, nothing. In fact, policy decisions at the top have the effect of worsening the uncertainty below.

(* I remember a time when country music was full of outlaws and rebels. No more. Popular country music has long been all about how lucky and grateful one should be to have a beer now and then and to be working at a job at all, let alone be working long hours for a pittance. It's depressing.)