Saturday, March 30, 2013

Towards A Poor... (Life)


Living in New Mexico, one is confronted with the reality of poverty all the time. It is inescapable, a fundamental fact of life. This is poor country. It's a hard land for one thing. The persistence of the drought, and more federal government budget cuts, are making things harder -- among many other factors contributing to poverty in New Mexico.

Now and then, I feel a pang of guilt because we're not that bad off, all things considered, and some people around here think that because we came out from California, we must be ricos. Well, no. Far from it, but at least for now, we're not struggling financially. It's nearly the first time in our lives that that wasn't so.

Of course, one of the reasons we're not doing so badly now is that we tend to "live poor" -- because we've been poor. Oh, very poor indeed. We have known hunger and near-homelessness from time to time, sometimes with seemingly nowhere to turn for assistance. We can look back from our relative comfort today and easily think it is a damned miracle we've survived at all. It often wasn't easy.


This time of year, pilgrims are marching toward their various destinations, be it Tomé Hill or Chimayó or wherever else they are impelled to travel as a sign of their faith during Holy Week. There was a modest but very faithful procession yesterday passing by the cemeteries and cattle pastures near our place, headed out to the spare tin-roofed adobe Catholic church that serves this area. Periodic pilgrimage is a way of life.

Most of the pilgrims are poor people or the descendants of poor people, often Indios or Hispanos -- or as sometimes happens, they are not poor people at all but simply more well-off Anglo seekers of something that's missing from their material lives. The pilgrimage experience gives them an opportunity to be in touch with the Divine for a moment, or at least to sense the Spirit That Abides.

We have not gone on pilgrimages as such, though we have attended some of the solemn processions and the more cheerful Fiestas in various parts of New Mexico, and we have been to El Santuario and chatted with Father Roca -- who kindly blessed us and insisted we take with us a scoop of Holy Dirt and a vial of Holy Water for our travels.

The hike up Tomé Hill is one of the (many) destinations we've put on our bucket list. Unfortunately, we couldn't do it this year due to health issues, but maybe next year. Of course that could turn into something like our endlessly delayed plans to attend the Burning of Zozobra.


Despite the fact that Santa Fe is awash in ricos, there are lots of poor people, too, as there are everywhere else in New Mexico. In our area, there are a few very rich and prominent ranchers, an assortment of more or less middle class suburban pseudo-ranchers (most of them government drones), and lots of poor people getting by as best they can. It's not easy. Some may get benefits of one kind or another, but the amounts are typically so miserly, they must count every penny, and despite the existence of food pantries and a lot of generous charity through civic and religious institutions they may go hungry during the month or go without heat during at least part of the winter. I know of people who don't have electricity or running water in their self-built homes because they can't afford it, not because they are trying to live off the grid or aspire to recapture the essence of primitive living. We may live in a pioneer house, but it's on a paved street (in some areas a rarity).

There are people who have these luxuries, plus a car or maybe two and a connection to cable or satellite teevee and a cell phone, maybe even a computer, who are barely getting by just the same. One of them lives down the street from us. He was injured in an on-the-job accident years ago, hit on the head by a falling roll-up door, brain damaged, but he was not able to get disability until late last year. Once his minimal savings were gone, he had to rely on others to help him, and so they did. Neighbors and relations chipped in, took care of him, made sure he was fed and cleaned, paid the bills that had to be paid while letting other things go; they even took care of his dogs. He hated being a burden on others, but he didn't have a lot of choice. Finally, he was approved for disability after years of being denied, and he will now have enough (he thinks) to pay his own way. No one expects him to pay back what they spent and did on his behalf.

This sense of community and looking after one another is part of the reality of poor living, something that ricos are forever trying to thwart or interfere with. They hate the fact that poor folk are often far more willing to look after one another, without any expectation of reward or return, than are the ricos themselves. They don't understand it, and they are afraid of it.

We live in a community that is tightly bound to one another in many ways, and to an extent -- because we're from California -- we're still not fully a part of it. I suspect if we were from Texas, on the other hand...;-). Some of the locals are suspicious, some try to figure out an angle for profit, others think we're just so rich and uppity we wouldn't want anything to do with them. Some have become fast friends.


During the Papal Festivities, Francesco, Il Papa, expressed his wish to have a "poor church for the poor." Yes, well, I have my doubts about that, but the impulse is probably genuine, at least as genuine as anything gets at his level in the Church hierarchy. His insistence that he took the name Francesco from St. Francis of Assisi is interesting (I would have thought Francis Xavier, he being Jesuit and all...)  and quite charming, but... well... it's a little hard to imagine the princes of the Church, led by the Pope, actually following the Little Poor Man's path. No, I think they wouldn't. They've (Gosh Almighty!) worked way too hard to get where they are and have what they have (sucking up to Ratzinger, come on!) to go the Poor Man's route, but you never know.


Of course the Church is mostly theater, always has been, as is obvious in its Protestant evangelical kindred, though the Catholics are no slouches when it comes to Spectacle.

Theater can be accomplished on a fairly low budget though, and if the Church wants to, it can reflect on the Poor Theatre of Jerzy Grotowski -- as well as many others over the years -- as a means to explore what a Poor Church might be.

The pilgrimages and acts of the penitentes in New Mexico are examples of Poor Church theater, at least the way I look at it. We were at a Christmas event last year where a version of a penitente chapel (morada) was displayed. "Notice the bloodstains still on the doors?" Uh, yesss.... and the point would be...? What I was intrigued by was not the blood, it was the images, the retablos and bultos, that covered the walls of the shrine and decorated the altar. They were all native New Mexican made, some very old, though most probably dated from the 1950's or so. They were beautiful in their simplicity and naiveté, so much so I wanted to take some home -- though our own nicho does not lack for sacred images and statuettes. It's just that our nicho has so few actual New Mexican items. Most of them come from varied sources in California, though the pressed tin Our Lady of Lourdes is originally from France, and some of the santos and other images are from (Old) Mexico. 


We have a lot of New Mexican made pottery, however, mostly from Acoma Pueblo, so there is that! Of course most of it is still in boxes... somewhere... There are unopened moving boxes stacked in the house and out in the storage building beside it. There are more in the garage and the shed and the studio. There are some still in California, too. Sometimes I ask, "Where is... X or Y or Z?" And the answer is usually, "Oh, it's probably still in a box somewhere in storage." Any idea where, exactly? "Well, no. Not exactly. It might still be in California...;-)."

I've been meaning to go back to California since February but haven't done it. I figure three or possibly four trips in the van should empty the storage unit there, or I could rent a truck and do it in one trip though I'd have to figure out the logistics of getting there and back without flying. I would rather not fly again if it can be avoided. My last couple of experiences with airports and airlines were so annoying I swore off flying for good.

Of course the fact that I can even mention these sorts of conundrums and annoyances indicate how far from actual poverty we really are.

That could change at any minute though, due to the fact that I don't have health insurance (yet) and because of any number of uncertainties. You never know.


Jerzy Grotowski's "Towards A Poor Theatre" was a big influence on my thinking about and doing theater. And on living, too. I think it's telling that Grotowski's approach is still considered "experimental" or "radical."  But his ideas and methods came out of a long tradition of theatrical artists breaking free of convention, using what was at hand -- and particularly their own bodies and voices -- to create a living partnership with the audience. One of the keys to this approach is to dissolve the boundaries between the stage and the People, or if the boundaries must be maintained, to make them strict and obvious.

Breaking free of convention became the central idea of the kind of theater I wanted to do and eventually did do. But when you are fighting against convention and expectation in theater, you are almost by definition doing and living Poor Theatre.


Friday, March 29, 2013

OT: Been Kinda Busy

Jerzy Grotowski's "Akropolis" c. 1968 -- a sample of the kind of theater that kept me spellbound back in the day...

What with Spring trying to spring and all... Working on several outdoor projects and some delayed household things. Plus getting one of us doctored -- which has turned into quite a project in itself. Not a bad thing, though.

I'm [also] working on a somewhat lengthy blog-post that ties up a whole bunch of loose ends pivoting on the concept of "Towards A Poor..." (Something), that weaves together New Mexico, the Church, the several pilgrimages going on for Holy Week (eg: Chimayo up north, Tomé to the south), Jerzy Grotowski's theories of "a poor theater" and the influence his ideas and practices had on my own theatrical impulses and career, Meyerhold, the Becks and The Living Theatre; veering off into the spreading enforced poverty due to economic policies, and so on and so on and so on... it all runs together, but I'm finding that writing it down in any sort of coherent fashion is elusive (to say the least!)

A pause is likely to sort these things out... spring cleaning?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Divorcing the Finance Economy From the Will of the People

"Democracy" has always been a fiction in the developed world, of course, despite what we are propagandized to believe. The idealized form of representative government, whether on the anachronistic and increasingly nonfunctional model of the United States or on the more usual (but also dysfunctional) European parliamentary model, was never meant to be particularly democratic, and in the case of the American model, it was never meant to "represent" everyone. In fact, it is purpose-designed to exclude vast swaths of the population and their interests from representation, even as it undergoes centuries of modification to expand representation.

For some time now, we've been in a situation in which a certain privileged segment of the population has quite consciously and successfully placed itself outside the confines of responsibility, accountability and law, while it has more and more successfully taken economic -- and in some aspects, political -- control of  nation after nation.

The latest being Cyprus.

If the financiers who are pulling off these deals were half as smart as they think they are, they would know full well that continuing to foul their nests as they have been doing is not going to end well. For them.

On the other hand, they really seem to relish the suffering of the People under their austerity lash, so there is that.

A moment's pleasure before the fall.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"And Service to the Poor"

Towards a Poor Church

More and more Americans are pushed into or are kept in poverty every year. The American poverty rate is a scandal -- or it would be if anybody was paying attention.

So we now have a Pope in Rome waxing lyrical about a "poor Church" and "service to the poor."

Yes, well.

It's a good thing in a way, because no world leader has given a good gott-damb about or for The Poor for many a long year, not since the expiration of the Soviet Union, and the marginal leaders like Hugo Chavez and a handful of others who actually did something to lift the poor from the depths are excoriated and denounced as some kind of evil.


A Pope in Rome making these noises about the Poor, after all these years of focusing on papal piousness and saintliness (well, and Prada) is a breath of fresh air.

But take it with something like a barrel of salt. What we have is a situation in which government policy throughout the west and much of the rest of the world is making more poor people every day. And let's face it, the creation and perpetuation of Teh Poors is good for the God Business. Oh, very good indeed!

Over at dKos, Betty Clermont has penned a devastating take down of the Papal Show we've been treated to the past few days. It is not, she assures us, what it appears to be. A Pope like Francis who appears to be too good to be true probably is. And we'll be in for even more duplicity, deception and despair, no doubt, as the rituals of the Church, the acts of the Pope, and the realities of living in the material-world-as-it-is gain an even tighter grip on our collective throats than ever before.

Nothing, fundamentally, will change for the better. Much may well change for the worse -- at least for the many millions whose toil and travail continues to boost the wealth of the diminishing few. We've been down this road before...


Ask any of our Third World neighbors; most will tell you they've never left this road, and it would seem that it is the intent of our neo-Fascist rulers to ensure that there will be many more poor and far fewer (but much wealthier) rich in perpetuity.

The Church may serve its solace on Earth and hope for reward in Heaven to the masses once again, with the benign Francis dispensing alms, serenity and beauty.

St. Francis was a young man when he was called by the Divine. He died at the age of 44 or so. His ministry on Earth had lasted less than 20 years. Pope Francis is old and most likely will not survive anything close to 20 years on the Papal throne. His work will have to be quick, therefore, and the changes he is expected to make in the Church will by necessity be superficial.

Matters of style, not dogma.

"Junkyard Dreams"

Cowboys! Scrape the shit from your boots before entering!

I'm reading a novel by Judith Jeanette Boyer called "Junkyard Dreams" set in and near Santa Fe during the height of the real estate bubble. Of course, the bubble burst and many people lost their homes in the crash. Some of them were our neighbors.

The real estate bubble in New Mexico was mostly confined to certain areas -- particularly to the tonier districts of Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque. Prices went up everywhere, but not to the extent they did in these fancy places, and not nearly as much as they did in Arizona, Nevada, and California, so when the crash came, the effects, while devastating to those who lost so much, weren't as widespread in New Mexico as elsewhere. We bought our home during the height of the bubble so we didn't get any sort of a bargain to speak of; yet our place has not lost much value. The recent appraisal for refinancing came in a couple of thousand dollars or so less than we paid to buy the property and renovate the ruined adobe house in 2005. According to the appraiser, historic houses in this area have held their value pretty well, and ones in decent shape like ours (though I think it still needs work) are selling at a premium. There is some comfort in that, but even if our place had lost much more of its value during the bust than it did, it would still be a welcoming home, and that's really the point of owning a home, isn't it?

The drought is causing much more widespread devastation than the real estate boom and bust cycle, and there is really nothing much anybody can do about it.

Yesterday, we had a taste of what is likely to come: a veritable dust storm, the first we have experienced in New Mexico. It wasn't like the Phoenix Habibs. There was no edge to it, no looming cloud of dust roiling over the landscape like a strange brown wave. Instead, there was a persistent strong cold wind, and the air just filled with dust lifted from the plowed fields in the area. The sky turned brown-gray and smelled strongly of the distinctive aroma of the local dirt.

Today, there is a thin layer of dust everywhere. Clean up will take a while.

This dust storm was predicted. There has been a lot of plowing throughout New Mexico to get ready for planting corn and hay and beans and chilis; the bare soil is easily raised into clouds of dust under the right wind conditions. There's been little rain or snow for years now, and the soil's scrub cover is very light where it exists at all. Dust is inevitable. Old timers remember with dread the dust storms of the 1950's drought, and they wouldn't be surprised if it gets that bad again. There is much muttering in town that we're headed that way.

The weather conditions in "Junkyard Dreams" are similar to the current drought, and I remember the earlier one during the bubble quite well. The trees on our place were badly stressed, and many of them have not recovered. It proved impossible to get anyone to come out here to trim the deadwood, though the electric co-op sends trucks out from time to time to make sure their power lines are clear of tree limbs, so some of the deadwood got cut that way.

My own chainsaw broke. I got a new one last year, but I didn't use it much before winter came on, so this spring, I'll be doing some fairly extensive tree trimming. It's been so long delayed.

We have a small greenhouse, and we put out seeds at the dark of the March moon. They're doing pretty well, but I had to bring them in because of the cold. Temperatures fell precipitously last night and we expect at least one more hard freeze by April before there actually is a spring to speak of, but with no rain, it's a little hard to anticipate whether anything we started in the greenhouse will actually grow once planted in the ground.

We haven't got our raised beds yet. Permaculture is still on the agenda, but managing it in the midst of a severe drought is something we haven't really thought through. Our remaining neighbors have not planted gardens for a couple of years now, in part because of the drought, but the farmers round about are preparing for what looks like a regular planting. One of them, in fact, has expanded his planting for this season. Of course, they'll use irrigation water when the rains fail.

We still have a feral cat colony, though there don't seem to be quite as many of them as there were when we were trapping them for neutering last fall. We counted 25 at that time; we were unable to trap one of them. Now the maximum we've counted is 19; usually, we only see 15 or 16 at a time. They love to stalk the local bird-life, but the birds are wary and smart. And they love to taunt the cats.

Another Sunday morning in high desert....

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An Absence of Empathy

We've all known people like this:  people who seem incapable of any sort of empathy for others, whether human or animals. Anyone who's been around the internet more than a little bit in the past few decades encounters the absence of empathy among posters and commenters in internet fora all the time. Being as unemotional and un-empathetic as possible online is often considered the mark of a logical mind...

The most striking thing to me about Tim Sappington's snuff video of shooting a horse -- he says for food -- while cursing animal activists as he does so -- is his utter lack of empathy for "that thing" (the horse) let alone for the people he sees as his enemies.

Of course, a lot of farm and ranch folk are not brought up to have empathy for farm animals. They are not pets, after all, they are livestock, and the animals represent a significant portion of the household's -- and often the community's -- livelihood. It can be counter productive to have empathy for the livestock, especially when the animals are raised for food and profit. Many people of those who raise animals are quite consciously encouraged to resist any empathetic feelings for their animals -- in part because emotion just gets in the way of profit. It was no different during slavery-time regarding the chattel out in the quarter. For some people, it is never different.

Last month, there was a traditional pig kill and barbecue nearby for the benefit of the 4-H. "Traditional" in this case means that the pigs are killed by cutting their throats and leaving them to bleed to death in squealing agony -- which is not a comforting thing to do or to witness.  It is not quick and it is not easy, and the pigs do not like it. But the blood is traditionally saved and used, and every part of the pig is used or preserved for later use. So there is that.

Of course, sheep and goats are often killed on the farm or ranch the same way, and kosher and halal slaughter of cattle requires that the the throat of conscious cattle be ritually cut and the animal bleed to death without stunning beforehand.

The only way to be able to do this, it seems to me, is to become so inured to the crisis of the animal(s) being slaughtered, to so completely suppress one's natural empathy for the suffering of creatures great and small, that the process of killing them is simply something you do, not something that "means" anything to you or that affects you at the time in any way. The animal must not have any sentience as far as the killer is concerned. The animal is an object, no more, no less. And one is not supposed to have feelings for objects.

I realize that some people are not suppressing their natural empathy in the face of suffering animals, they have no empathy for animals or any other living thing to begin with. It's not "logic," it's the absence of feeling.

And that's pretty much what I would say is the case with Tim Sappington and quite likely with his boss at Valley Meats, Rick de los Santos. They have an absence of empathy for other living things, be they human or animal.

Whether they came into the world without the capability of empathy or they had it but it was trained and conditioned out of them, who knows?  But the fact is that they can kill without conscience or any feeling at all -- except perhaps glee? -- whatever is in front of them. Worse, perhaps, they can casually order others to keep right on killing without conscience. The Other is nothing more than an object for whom they have neither respect nor concern. The Other is their Ultimate Enemy.

The Busheviks were masters at it, especially that ogre, "Darth" Cheney. His evil spawn for that matter as well. But Gee Dubya was no slouch when it came to demonstrating his absence of empathy. Just ask Cindy Sheehan and those who camped out with her on the road to the Bush "ranch... "

Thus it has been with our valiant soldiers whether at home sitting in front of computer monitors, their fingers on the triggers of far away drones, or in the field in one of our nation's various war-theatres awaiting the opportunity to kill the Enemy or roaming the country-side looking for targets. They have no feeling of empathy for the Enemy or apparently any comprehension that said Enemy is another human being -- or for that matter, a "being" at all. The Enemy is fully objectified, and the extermination of the Enemy "means" no more than the elimination of a weed or the removal of a particularly inconvenient rock from their path.

Those who can't overcome their sense of empathy with the Other don't last very long in the all-volunteer military. But I think back to when there was a draft and empathy was not self-selected out but had to be incompletely trained out of the soldiers -- and still, most soldiers wouldn't fire on the designated Enemy du jour. Back then, there was a certain level of respect and honor attributed to the Enemy. And a certain persistent empathy that could not be eliminated.

No more.

It's not just the troops that no longer have the ability to empathize beyond their immediate circle -- if they can even empathize within it.

We've seen many years of entirely unempathetic elite private and government sectors, led by men and women who seem incapable of recognizing let alone empathizing with the plight of anyone not in their circle -- if they can even empathize then. If they cannot empathize with other human beings, what must they think of dumb animals? Or the Earth itself?

That can sometimes surprise us. There are people -- plenty of them -- who have no concern whatever for other humans but who are devoted to animals, and sometimes vice versa. In the case of people like Sappington, a driving factor in their absence of empathy for other living things seems to be fear -- which they try to conquer through their threat or demonstration of god-like power.

The casual and callous killing of a horse, for example.

I've been brought up with the idea that all life is sacred, and I can't imagine acting without empathy toward any other person or creature -- though I can and have cut myself off from particularly unpleasant (and unempathetic) people. But not everyone is raised that way, and a lot of ranchers, farmers, soldiers, and others are deliberately and specifically brought up or conditioned not to have empathy for livestock or other humans.

Empathy is treated as a sign of weakness.

We can easily see where an absence of empathy can be highly valued in our society. I once knew a judge, for example, who was proud of his strict adherence to "law" -- and a complete absence of any empathy toward any person appearing before him whose status was less than his own. He didn't care that he was despised; he had and exercised power. He relished the harm his rulings could cause.

The Busheviks likewise. But it's not just them; we see the same phenomenon throughout government service, regardless of political party or ideology. We see it in the predatory nature of capitalism and those who serve the beast of greed.

Empathy is discouraged everywhere we turn.  And the absence of empathy is what has led to spasms of social discrimination, racism, genocide, and casual murder. It has very nearly led to the destruction of the planet.

It's time to reverse the trend.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Horsemeat Saga

Sappington shoots a horse for show
 (I would rather not link to this or any other video of horse-slaughter)

Living in rural New Mexico, one is around livestock -- including horses -- all the time. We don't have a ranch, but there are good-sized ranches all around here, some of them running cattle, others fallow because of the drought. Lots of people have horses, whether they are ranching or not.

Given the drought and the cost of feed, it's getting tougher to hold on to any livestock these days, though some ranchers are managing. They say that this is the worst drought since the 1950's, and that was the worst since the Dustbowl in the '30's; it could get a good deal worse before it gets better. Climate change and all.

Meanwhile, outside of Roswell, a fellow named Rick de los Santos has been trying to get USDA approval to re-open his shuttered (cattle) slaughterhouse as a horsemeat slaughterhouse, and it's been just one thing after another for him. Trouble. Compounded recently by the now-viral video of his one employee shooting a horse -- just because he can -- and saying "Fuck you, animal activists!" as he does so.

Slaughtering horses for human consumption was banned in the US in 2007; the EU has banned the importation of US slaughtered horsemeat in any case. Supposedly, de los Santos intends to sell his horsemeat to Mexico, but there is little likelihood of it happening, given the fact that the meat of horses slaughtered in Mexico is sold to the EU. There is no foreign or domestic market for US slaughtered horsemeat, and yet for some time there has been a strenuous push to revive US slaughtering of horses for meat, and the saga of Valley Meats out of Roswell has become the showpiece of the story. (The ban was lifted by President Obama in 2011.)

Valley Meats used to slaughter cattle but apparently got into some difficulty when the USDA inspector became aware of cruelties to livestock and unsanitary conditions and suspended inspections, thus shutting down the plant in February of last year. Supposedly, there was a plan to correct the problems, but it was never put into effect, and the plant stayed closed. So far as I've been able to find out, de los Santos decided to switch to horse-slaughter instead of cattle and has been trying to get inspections and a permit to operate since last April. The permitting and inspection process has been delayed time and again.

There has been plenty of political pressure to deny any permits for horse slaughterhouses in New Mexico, and there is surprising unanimity by state officials against opening the Valley Meats plant outside of Roswell for horse-slaughter. Of course, as always, the counter-argument is that those against horse-slaughtering for human consumption are "just being emotional," and shouldn't be listened to.

After all, "emotions" mean nothing...

What will happen ultimately is anybody's guess, but at the moment, both the Sappington video and the many death threats against him and de los Santos are being investigated by the FBI.

It's out of control.

And of course this situation provides plenty of grist for the civil libertarian and propertarian mills, as Sappington's statement ("Fuck you, animal activists!") as he shoots the horse is both condemned and defended, while his right to shoot the horse -- and say anything he wants to -- is highlighted and declared quintessentially "American". De Los Santos's right to slaughter horses or cattle or any other livestock he wants to without interference from the Nanny State will be debated ad nauseum, while safety and legal issues will be nit-picked to death (so to speak) ad infinitum. This is the way these things tend to go. Even in New Mexico.

But there's another layer to all of this. Sappington seems to have some real power issues which he gives vent to by killing a horse on camera and posting the video on his Facebook page, while cursing and denouncing "animal activists" -- who have done what to him, exactly?  They've interfered with the re-opening of the Valley Meat Co. slaughterhouse to be sure, and they've made a big deal over resumption of horse-slaughter in the US -- including New Mexico. But there is no prohibition -- that I know of -- against horse owners slaughtering their own horses for food for themselves, nor am I aware of "animal activists" interfering unless the situation is egregious. In this case, it is egregious because of the video which was clearly intended to provoke, shock and enrage. So Sappington is taking shit for it. Gee. Who'd a thunk? He's demonstrated for all the world to see that he has the power to kill at will, and he seems to want to have that power confirmed to him without consequence or responsibility. He wants the absolute right in other words, apparently to do anything he wants with his property and then put the video on display for anyone to see.

De los Santos seems to following a somewhat different script. From what I've seen of him, he seems to be more interested in the profit potential of slaughtering horses and selling the meat than anything else, but there is no real market in the US or abroad. US slaughtered horsemeat is banned in the EU, and there is so little domestic demand for horsemeat outside the EU that it is hard to imagine that there really is a profit potential. So I can only assume that he and the other advocates for the resumption of horse slaughter for food in the US intend to create a market, probably domestically since restrictions abroad are so severe. Who would want US slaughtered horsemeat? Few people would eat it, though it might wind up in pet food or...

What happened in Europe could be instructive. Horses were being slaughtered in Eastern Europe, and somehow the horsemeat wound up in the commercial beef supply chain. Hm. How could that have happened? It wasn't sold as beef, it was incorporated into beef used for commercially prepared food such as frozen lasagne and such. In other words, it was like "pink slime" -- an extender of sorts, though apparently in some cases, all the meat was horsemeat. Controls were lacking, it seems, and without sufficient regulation and inspection, there is nothing to prevent horsemeat -- or any other "surprise" meat -- from being used this way. If it's cheaper, commercial preparers will buy it, no? Profits! 

I tend to doubt that US slaughtered horsemeat would be cheaper than beef, but you never know. The point is to have a market and exploit it to the hilt. If that means creating a market for horsemeat -- even a fraudulent one -- that's what will happen.

So far as I'm aware, there is no humane way to slaughter horses in a slaughterhouse environment. They panic and fight, and the whole process is gruesome and dangerous for both horses and workers. Horses are not like other livestock commonly slaughtered for food -- which probably has more to do with why they aren't commonly slaughtered for food than any other issue, such as "emotions."

The push to revive commercial horse-slaughtering in the US now that the ban is lifted seems to be driven by something other than a market need -- there isn't one in any realistic sense. Is it more a power-thing? Sadism? Or something else? I've heard the complaints that it has become so expensive to keep horses that there is a need to have some way to dispose of surplus or unwanted -- or unaffordable -- horses that doesn't cost an arm and a leg itself or lead to unnecessary cruelty or neglect, but this argument fails miserably as a rationale for reviving horse-slaughter. The treatment of horses being held for slaughter is appalling, and what happens to them at the slaughterhouse is worse. The fact that a kill-buyer will pay a small amount for a horse to be taken to slaughter shouldn't compensate, but maybe it's enough for those who can no longer maintain a horse. I don't know.

It typically costs an owner several hundred dollars to euthanize and dispose of a horse that's sick or injured or can no longer be cared for, so it may be that being paid a small amount by a kill-buyer instead is worth it.

On the other hand, horses are not raised for food in this country, and simply selling them off to a slaughterhouse is a dead end. Someone winds up paying... Unless, of course, that market for horseflesh is created.

So that's what I think is behind the current push. The viral video of Sappington killing his horse will quite likely delay -- but probably not prevent -- the development of that market.

Shedrow Confessions is a good resource to follow the saga. There is much more to it than just the New Mexico story...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Wounded Vet's Letter to the Neo-Con Punks Who Engineered the Iraq


To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

Tomas Young
 Thanks to NeonLX at another site for pointing me to it.


Tomas Young appearing on Democracy Now! March 21, 2013:


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Francesco vai..."

Francesco vai, ripara la mia casa!

Someone was carrying a huge banner with that phrase on it at the Papal Installation yesterday. The crucifix at the ruined church of San Damiano near Assisi where St. Francis had gone to pray is said to have spoken to Francis, saying, "Go, Francesco, and repair my house."

Francis is said to have interpreted this to mean that he should repair the ruins of the church of San Damiano where he was, something he set out to do forthwith. The church which stands today is said to be the one Francis repaired with his own hands. A replica of the crucifix that spoke to him hovers over the simple altar at San Damiano. The original one is now in the basilica of Santa Chiara (St Clare) in Assisi, she being the founder of the Order of the Poor Clares, ordained by Francis himself.

We have a bulto of St. Francis here in what we call the "Jesus Room," and there is a larger statue of him (with animals) at the front door. Were I inclined to the Church in my dottage, it would be in honor of St. Francis, with whom I may share a certain spirit. But I am not so called at this point of my life, the Church and I having parted ways too long ago now for a rational reconciliation.

St. Francis, though, I hardly consider a churchman at all. He's a spirit of nature.

This Pope has taken Francis's name, the first to do so, and I'm cynical enough about Vatican politics to think he's intentionally committed a sacrilege. After all, Francis shamed the sacred and secular institutions alike in his own day, and he preached to the birds and animals.

On the other hand, at least in the first few days of his reign, this Pope Francis seems to be doing everything right -- and sincerely, too.

Maybe he will repair his spiritual house.

Enroning Iraq and America

Ten years on, yes. Ten years since the Bushevik invasion and aborted occupation of Iraq. The question raised in the aftermath should be: "Was it right?" Instead the question raised throughout the media, including most of the New Media, is: "Was it worth it?"

Ie: did the interests that rule the United States of America and its allies in the Mesopotamian Adventure gain from the exercise of Imperial power, and if so, was it enough to outweigh the losses? Let us examine the Balance Sheets of Empire.

There is no doubt the interests gained enormously, they gained by the trillions of dollars, and their risk in the adventure was practically nil. I remember back in the day that there was a single voice on the Internet, one Bartcop who some may recall, who was saying about the looming war, "This will mean trillions for the corporate interests," and he was right. He was I think the only one at the time who had a real and comprehensive understanding of what this adventure would cost (trillions), who would be paying (you and me) and who would benefit (the corporate powers that ruled us.)

It was obvious as sin to Bartcop because of Enron.

Nothing that's happened in domestic or world affairs since 2000 makes any sense without understanding the influence of Enron on changing the course of American and ultimately world events. Once that change was made, Enron could be made to go away. Poof! As if it never was. But like an incubus, its influence remained -- and remains -- as strong as ever. You could almost say it is a spiritual thing.

Ken Lay, after all, was a preacher's son who was always after the salvation of souls -- by robbing them, plundering the commons, and forcing people to believe in some clap-trap about "rewards" in the end.

Oh, there was much more clap-trap than that. Enron was built on a tissue of lies, fabrications, and fantasies of "rewards" that would come -- in the end -- from faith in the goodness of the Company and its leadership. It was no different in its own peculiar way than an evangelical church run by an entrepreneurial pastor -- of which the United States has been abundantly supplied from the get.

The Prime Directive of Enron was robbery. Fleecing of the sheep, if you will. In a way that the sheep like it and come back for more.

It worked like a charm -- for just as long as it was necessary. And then Enron... vanished. But it never really went away. Its Way became ingrained in the day to day ethics ("") and operations of the Highest of Our Mighty. Enron became the model. Surely someone should be able to make it work in perpetuity.

And I would argue that we are very close to that point now, if we haven't actually passed it.

As some wags have been able to fathom recently, the whole -- and really the only -- point of the Iraq invasion and occupation was for the money, not so much what could be stolen from the Iraqis (they didn't have that much after all), but for what could be pried out of the US Treasury -- all our pockets, individually and in toto -- for the sole and complete benefit of certain favored corporate interests. It worked like magic.

Within a few years, trillions and trillions were looted from the pockets and stored wealth of Americans, not to pay for the Imperial War of Aggression in Mesopotamia, but simply to take the money, to have (see), because it could be taken. The sheep were ripe for fleecing after the trauma of 9/11, and they willingly went to the shearing. Some, of course, went to the slaughter. That was the point.

The Imperial War of Aggression, still hasn't been paid for, and in realistic terms it never will be.

Was it worth it? For those who collected the riches and the rent, of course it was.

They never dreamed they could have such easy money so fast, money for nothing in many cases, and yea verily, all the chicks and cocaine they could consume at the same time. It was magic.

I've long been fascinated that the Imperial War of Aggression in Mesopotamia and the mindset -- as well as all the looting -- that went with it is almost never considered as a fundamental part of why the rest of us -- but not the Imperial Elite -- are in a permanent economic recession from which there appears to be no exit.

This disastrous war doesn't figure into the equations, apparently not at all, any yet it was and is fundamental. The economic tribulations most Americans (and many, many people around the world) are facing are supposedly the result of systemic financial collapse due to poor regulation, leading to real estate bubbles, and so on. Uh, there's more to it than that. Everything that led to the global financial collapse is to be found presaged at Enron, and the lies, the frauds, the violence, and the looting that was fundamental to Enron was played out on the battlefield that was Iraq.

It all links together. It's derived ultimately from cultic religious beliefs that require certain events be played out -- apparently in certain locations -- for the fulfillment of Prophecy.

One of the things that was so striking about the Iraq invasion and occupation was that the soldiers and the American people had no idea where this drama was unfolding and who the people were "we" were at war with. None whatsoever. Mesopotamia is not just some dusty corner of creation, after all. The whole of Iraq is filled with Biblical sites, from the Garden of Eden, to Ur of the Chaldees and Sumer/Shinar to Babylon and Nineveh and all the rest. The troops didn't know this (at least they didn't learn it from their leaders) and Americans by and large still don't know it. Mesopotamia was where civilization as we know it began; the people of Iraq are at least in part the descendants of the Sumerians, the Babylonians, Assyrians and so many of the others who were the very peoples of the Bible.

Even more striking to me was that there was -- and is -- absolutely no interest in learning any of this remarkable history, at least no interest by Americans. American troops set up camp outside the walls of Babylon, for example, with apparently no idea where they were, nor any interest in finding out, and during their stay, they destroyed a significant part of the archeological record without a concern in their heads. How much of the overall archaeological record in Iraq has been looted or destroyed as a consequence of the invasion and occupation is still being assessed, but it is not slight at all. When the museums were looted in Baghdad and elsewhere following the invasion, Americans -- led by Rummy -- simply shrugged. "Oh well!"

It was bizarre to witness this complete obliviousness to the people, the culture, and the history of Iraq during the American blitzkrieg and occupation -- that seemed to me to be more an echo of the German invasion of Poland than anything else -- and the murderous contempt with which the invading troops regarded the natives. It was shocking to learn of the casual way our valiant troops murdered Iraqi civilians with complete impunity simply because they were in the way, or as often happened, because the troops were... afraid. Even some of the troops were shocked at casual murder they witnessed, the utter disregard for the lives and property of the people they had conquered. Some knew deep in their souls that what was going on was wrong. Fundamentally wrong.

But as horrifying and disgusting as the behavior of the troops often was, it was matched and frequently exceeded by the behavior of the mercenaries brought in for "security." Casual murder and worse were the order of the day. And when the natives rebelled, the Death Squads were deployed, just as in Central America, and before that in Vietnam.

If there hadn't been a civil war before, the invaders made sure there would be one. The invaders' mindless cruelty made the horrors all that much worse.

The arrogance, the cruelty, the mind-numbing ignorance, and the greed that characterized the Iraq War and occupation can all be found in analog running like a river through Enron and all its projects and works. There is no way to separate the Busheviks -- and especially G W Bush himself -- from the corruption that was Enron.

Ten years on, our rulers have learned no positive lesson at all from either Enron or Iraq. The only lessons they've learned are negative: specifically how to manage the looting of the masses and Imperial Wars of Aggression with more finesse....

Surely these lessons can be put to the test with a nice and tidy obliteration of Iran, yes?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Continuing Fascist Fascination

How is it that some version of neo- or theo- Fascism appears to be the dominant political/economic faith in the world today? It is really quite stunning.

The point of Fascism, after all, was to serve as a reactionary counterweight the looming triumph of Communism. Remember when all the world was thought to be "falling" to Communism On The March? I do.

Well, what I remember is Post-War anti-Communism and all the propaganda and conditioning that went with it. In those days, though, one had no truck with Fascism, either. The wounds of World War II were still too recent and raw, and the memory of Mussolini, Hitler, Tojo and all the rest of the Fascist dictators and militarists who had been storming all over the world for the past decade and a half was too deeply seared into consciousness -- and conscience.

What wasn't really clarified during the Post-War period, and what really didn't become clear until the 1970's, was the present-day persistence of Fascism in Spain and Portugal and throughout Latin America and its development and growth in parts of the Middle East (the Ba'athists who became such a thorn in the side of Americans in the Middle East were/are old line Fascist nationalists; the Pan-Arabism of Nasser, on the other hand, was a more universal form of ethnic Fascism). Fascist juntas were frequently encountered in various parts of the world, from Greece to Indonesia. And many of the newly-liberated former colonies of European Powers adopted Fascist -- rather than, say, "democratic" -- governing principles upon independence.

In other words, Fascism per se wasn't really defeated in World War II; it remained almost as prevalent after the War as before it, though its profile was much lower after the War, and its centers in Italy, Japan and Germany were... "cleansed" of the taint of militaristic Fascism and of the more outré aspects of genocide and so on. 

So long as there was a perception of a "Communist Threat," Fascism and Fascist dictatorships were sponsored, tolerated, or installed by and on behalf of the United States and the political and economic interests of its elites.

But then the "Communist Threat" disappeared with the evaporation of the Soviet empire. The first wave of "color revolutions" in the late '80s and early '90s included heady revolts against Fascist dictators (such as in the Philippines) as well as nationalist revolts in Soviet satellite states.

Dictatorship and totalitarianism were themselves the targets of these revolts. Doing away with them was human nature -- or so it seemed.

And yet here we are twenty some-odd years since the end of the "Communist Threat" and for reasons I cannot fathom, Fascism seems to be resurgent as never before. It should have disappeared with the "Communist Threat" it was designed to counter. But it didn't. It adapted and evolved, mutated and metastasized and became a nearly universal operating system for governments around the world, even many of those which espouse -- or formerly espoused -- Social Democratic principles.


What is the fascination and appeal of Fascism?

I don't have an answer. Perhaps it's not even the right question. The neo- and theo- Fascism of today is not the same thing as the rightist populist totalitarian movements of the past. In fact, Fascism of the moment barely acknowledges "the People" in any way -- except as resources to be corralled, exploited and disposed of.

No, today's Fascism is almost entirely a phenomenon of the High and the Mighty, a tool of the rich and powerful. It follows Mussolini's classic dictum and possibly apocryphal definition of Fascism:

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."
We've certainly seen the progressive merger of state and corporate power in the United States since the advent of the Bushevik reign, but it was apparent well prior to the judicial coup of 2000.

Many of the Busheviks appeared to openly emulate Fascist principles of rule, and some, like Rumsfeld, were enthusiastic admirers of the Wehrmacht and other aspects of Nazi unpleasantness. The invasion of Iraq was certainly evocative of the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

I think that perhaps the key to understanding the continuing fascination with Fascism -- when there really isn't any need for it -- is to be found in the typically adolescent mind-set of so many of the rich and powerful.

Not all adolescents are susceptible to Fascism, not by a long shot, but some, especially boys, are attracted to and mesmerized by it. The ideal of imposed order and the belief in natural superiority are strong among some of the young.

Is the fascination with Fascism due to the extended adolescence of some of those in power? Could be.

But I'm sure it's more than that.

Today's Fascism is not the rightist populism of the past, to be sure. Nevertheless it is as dangerous and destructive today as it ever was. Given the absence of any realistic challenge from Global Communism, the survival of Fascism (in its neo- and theo- guise) and the continuing fascination with its principles among the High and Mighty is bizarre.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Francesco, Il Papa

Liberty for whom? To do what?

"I demand the liberty to impose my authority on you."

It seems that Il Nuovo Papa was selected for the Triple Tiara from among such an august conclave of worthies in part due his excellent service on behalf of the fascist military dictatorship that ruled Argentina during the Unpleasantness often referred to as "The Dirty War." Which was part of the murderous rightist dictatorships and rampages throughout much of Latin America during a particularly unfortunate period of history. Not so very long ago.

I don't have all the details by any means, but the outline of Bergoglio's complicity in the disappearances, torture and murder of thousands of Argentinians is crystallizing, and it ain't pretty. Oh no. Not a bit.

Say what you will about Ratzinger's Nazi associations -- Hitler Youth and all, but of course renounced after the War when he went into the priesthood. This Bergoglio was not committing the typical youthful indiscretions. He was apparently actively upholding "liberation" -- of the Argentine military and its dictatorship in order to stamp out the Evils of Leftism, the Very Devil Himself as it were, in Argentina and wherever else on God's Green Earth it was to be found.

No matter its cost in the blood and treasure of the innocent. They will, after all, receive their reward in Heaven.

Yes, he loves the poor, every one of them, let there be more of them, let the Church Itself be Poor, world without end, amen.

Liberation? For whom? To do what?

It is being bruited about in rather appalling detail how opposed Bergoglio has been to the error and heresy of Liberation Theology, once embraced by the Church, especially in Latin America, but now renounced in no uncertain terms. When priests at mass, bishops on their rounds, nuns in their cloisters, and Catholic laypeople of all sorts are brutally shot down, their bodies dumped where the feral animals can feed on them, and when civilians are tortured and murdered en masse, entire villages put to slaughter, it seems to concentrate the minds of hierarchies of all sorts, not solely that of the Church, to dwell on the errors of their ways, and for the Church Universal, the error identified was the very Liberation Theology that had done so much and gone so far to raise up the People from their abject state toward the Light of Heaven.

Liberation? For whom? To do what?

When I witnessed the rapturous crowds in St. Peter's Square cheering the sight of white smoke pouring forth from the Sistine Chimney, then screaming accolades to their new and relatively unknown Pope, simply because he had been chosen, I reflected on the summer of '63, and the first papal transition I remember witnessing (I probably saw the television coverage of the transition from Pius XII to John XXIII in 1958, too, but for some reason I don't recall it.) The pomp and ceremony was mesmerizing. I'd never seen anything like it. The wildly cheering crowds of Faithful. The full pageantry of the Church on display. Those were the days when the Pope was still carried around in his gilded and red velvet throne by husky young Italian Men of Faith,  fan bearers on either side slowly wafting their ostrich plumes to cool His Holiness's tiaraed brow and ensure the ample distribution of the Holy Spirit among the multitudes (so I interpreted it, anyway).

John XXIII had been a champ, but this Paul VI, eee, what a sourpuss. Not the same at all, and his benedictions didn't carry nearly the warmth and charity of his predecessor. From his throne carried high on the shoulders of his litter bearers, he seemed to be a throwback to the Church of yore, a Church full of cobwebs, empty ritual, and corruption. In those days, one never mentioned the unmentionable goings on in the sacristies and cloisters. You mean it was happening then, too? Ohfergawdsake, yes.

I've been told since then that Paul VI was actually quite a forward thinking progressive prelate -- at least compared to more recent heirs to St. Peter -- and that while he may have lacked the common touch and charisma of John XXIII, he was no slouch when it came to opening up and airing out the mustier corners of the Church. There have even been claims that it was he who put the Imprimatur on Liberation Theology, though my own recollection was that he was not in favor of it and tried to suppress its growth and development.

Well. It was a long time ago, and as one ages, one's memories fade and combine with unrelated snippets of this or that occurrence or story from times gone by.


In the context of the Church? One must think it through. So many millions have given up the Church, consciously separating themselves from its tender mercies and for good reason, one of which is their dawning liberation from its stultifying embrace.  My father was excommunicated for daring to defy his bishop and marrying my mother (A Divorced Woman), but he thought of his dismissal from the Bosom of the Church as his own liberation from its more ridiculous strictures. "Picking and choosing" as it were. A Cafeteria Catholic -- as most typically are. When a priest was sent to administer the Last Rites after his heart attack, my father is said to have revived and practically drove the poor man out with a stick. At any rate...

There has been much to-do over the fact that Bergoglio is a Jesuit, something no Pope has ever been, but I wouldn't make too much of it. The Jesuits and all the rest of the many Orders have long since been absorbed into the Borg (to coin a phrase), and there is no independence of either thought or action among them, especially not at the level of Cardinal. They are a unit.

No, what seems to make Bergoglio the unique and chosen one to be Pope is his antipathy toward anything modern, let alone anything "leftist."

From the World Socialist Website, we have this:

But some of Bergoglio’s harshest critics come from within the Catholic Church itself, including priests and lay workers who say he handed them over to the torturers as part of a collaborative effort to “cleanse” the Church of “leftists.” One of them, a Jesuit priest, Orlando Yorio, was abducted along with another priest after ignoring a warning from Bergoglio, then head of the Jesuit order in Argentina, to stop their work in a Buenos Aires slum district.

During the first trial of leaders of the military junta in 1985, Yorio declared, “I am sure that he himself gave over the list with our names to the Navy.” The two were taken to the notorious Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA) torture center and held for over five months before being drugged and dumped in a town outside the city.

Bergoglio was ideologically predisposed to backing the mass political killings unleashed by the junta. In the early 1970s, he was associated with the right-wing Peronist Guardia de Hierro (Iron Guard), whose cadre—together with elements of the Peronist trade union bureaucracy—were employed in the death squads known as the Triple A (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance), which carried out a campaign of extermination against left-wing opponents of the military before the junta even took power. Adm. Emilio Massera, the chief of the Navy and the leading ideologue of the junta, also employed these elements, particularly in the disposal of the personal property of the “disappeared.”

Yorio, who died in 2000, charged that Bergoglio “had communications with Admiral Massera, and had informed him that I was the chief of the guerrillas.”

Yes, well... It gets much worse.

The collaboration with the junta was not a mere personal failing of Bergoglio, but rather the policy of the Church hierarchy, which backed the military’s aims and methods. The Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky exposed Bergoglio’s attempted cover-up for this systemic complicity in a book that Bergoglio authored, which edited out compromising sentences from a memorandum recording a meeting between the Church leadership and the junta in November 1976, eight months after the military coup.

The excised statement included the pledge that the Church “in no way intends to take a critical position toward the action of the government,” as its “failure would lead, with great probability, to Marxism.” It declared the Catholic Church’s “understanding, adherence and acceptance” in relation to the so-called “Proceso” that unleashed a reign of terror against Argentine working people.

This support was by no means platonic. The junta’s detention and torture centers were assigned priests, whose job it was, not to minister to those suffering torture and death, but to help the torturers and killers overcome any pangs of conscience. Using such biblical parables as “separating the wheat from the chafe,” they assured those operating the so-called “death flights,” in which political prisoners were drugged, stripped naked, bundled onto airplanes and thrown into the sea, that they were doing “God’s work.” Others participated in the torture sessions and tried to use the rite of confession to extract information of use to the torturers.

This collaboration was supported from the Vatican on down. In 1981, on the eve of Argentina’s war with Britain over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands, Pope John Paul II flew to Buenos Aires, appearing with the junta and kissing its then-chief, Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, while saying not a word about the tens of thousands who had been kidnapped, tortured and murdered.

Now of course, Bergoglio was only the Jesuit Provincial back in the day, he was not even Archbishop of Buenos Aires, a mitre he did not receive until 1998.

A Provincial takes orders, you see.

Whatever could he do?

Liberation? For whom? To do what?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papem -- Placeholder?

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From what little I've been able to learn about His Newly Minted Holiness, he's a nice man who lives simply, speaks well, observes the pieties and tells the rest of us to do likewise -- and who does not stand in the way of Bad Things

During the Dirty War and military dictatorship in Argentina, where his Italian family had previously emigrated, Archbishop Bergoglio was quiet as a mouse; nay, some are saying he was actively supporting their bloodthirsty rule of torture and murder and disappearance -- and advising his flock to do thou likewise. Others point out that the Good Archbishop assisted parishioners, priests and others to escape the clutches of the State, so no matter what he and the rest of the Church said during those dark years, what he and others did is what matters. And what he did was protect the vulnerable, shelter the hapless, and win release for the persecuted. Well, some of them.

What a mensch.

From reports (whose veracity is unknown)  he may well have been a good man acting on deeply held values of charity and mercy who occasionally intervened on behalf of persecuted Argentinians, but as an Archbishop, he was bound to the political positions and teachings of his Church, and in those days -- today as well -- the Church reserves its harshest criticisms for "leftist" regimes, generally tolerating when not actively assisting the death squads of rightist regimes -- even when its own people are gunned down, put to the screws or dumped out of airplanes.

The fact is, the Church has long maintained a kissing-cousin/cozy relationship with some of the worst human rights violators and neo/proto-fascist dictatorships on earth, while virulently excoriating "leftists" of all stripes. The political ideology of the rightists almost never elicits a rebuke from the Church (economic ideology sometimes does) while socialism and communism are treated as the Devil's Workshop to be denounced and destroyed forthwith.

Oh, but Bergoglio took the name of Francis! So there is that! Stop saying those things! Francis was a saint, for doG's sake!

Yes, well. Which Francis are we talking about here? Francis of Assisi or Francis Xavier? People are quite naturally thinking Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy and the very most wildly popular saint among the People world-wide. But Bergoglio is a Jesuit, and Francis Xavier is a founder of the Jesuit Order. Ahem.

Surely even non-CatLicks understand that they are very different characters in Church history, and their legacies are quite different as well. On the whole, I'm very fond of Francis of Assisi and his message (though not that "obedience" part). Except for some episodes of unpleasantness in the Americas, the Franciscans have been far and away the most appealing cloistered order the Church has going for it.

As for the Jesuits, well.

I don't have quite as high an opinion of them as some people do. Let us say they are far more worldly than the Franciscans (again, by and large), and they tend to be far more conscious of their role as leaders (or indeed, shapers) of men rather than followers of God.

It's the old "Jesuits I have known" issue.

So which Francis is Bergoglio evoking with his choice of Papal Name? My bet? Francis Xavier. But he and the Vatican certainly want you and me to think of Francis of Assisi when we hear the name of the Pope. And of course the Holy Father can shift back and forth as he sees fit.

Whatever the case, it seems to me that Bergoglio was chosen to play a public role as the Church undergoes an internal revamp of some sort. Exactly what sort of revamp is hard to tell. For many years, the Church in Rome has appeared to be under the spell of Opus Dei, as have many governments world-wide. Certainly JPII and Ratzinger were creatures of the cult, and who knows how many of them have wormed their way into the Vatican and Church hierarchy? The recurring scandals of corruption and abuse and wild sexual escapades that have characterized the Church for the past thirty years and more might make one suspect that the institution itself is rotten to the core. What institution isn't, though?

But the sex scandals, the financial corruption, and much of the other peculiar business that has come to characterize the Church in modern times, let alone its abandonment of Liberation Theology and the Church's absurd positions on questions of women's reproductive health (not just abortion) and the Homosexual Peril, among so many other things, have driven many tens of millions out of the Church, to the point where -- at least in the West -- its presence and future are in some doubt. Of course we're talking about the Roman Catholic Church here, the oldest and one of the largest institutions in the world. It's been through many episodes of relative decline only to revivify somehow. I have my theories, but I won't go there just yet.

On the one hand, we have Giotto's image of St. Francis (of Assisi) holding up the corner of the church in Pope Innocent's Dream:

On the other, there is the sight of lightning striking the dome of St. Peter's soon after the announcement of Ratzinger's "retirement:"

Let us pray...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What's It All About -- The Vortex Visonary "Controversy"

I was over at Bad Astronomy checking up on the comet I haven't been able to see due to storm clouds in our area, and I stumbled upon one of the classic "scientific debunkings" of our time.

At issue: a YouTube video. Well, two of them, actually. One showed the video artist's rendering of his interpretation of the motion of the sun and planets in the solar system -- a helical motion or a vortex, he said, not the stately clockwork of Copernicus, et al; the other depicted the motion of the helical solar system in orbit around the galactic center.

My, the Scientific Outrage!!!™

Over a couple of videos? Really? What was going on?

Well, it appears these videos have been seen by plenty many people. 700,000 and change in the case of the Solar System video; 150,000 in the case of the galaxy video. They are darned nice. Very well done, by someone who clearly has high caliber video animations skills.

And these videos have led to questioning the Standard Model of the Solar System, the heliocentric model of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Newton and the rest, who, after long cogitation on the mighty problem of the motion of the spheres came to the startling conclusion that the Sun must reside at the center of the Solar System and the planets must make stately progress around the Sun year by year.  Like clockwork.

Indeed, the clockwork model of the Solar System is still with us, though long ago rejected in the planetary sciences, because we always see the Solar System depicted thus:
The Wikipedia solar system diagram at several scales

In the Standard Diagram, the sun is stationary at the center of the planetary system, the planets "circle" the sun in a counter clockwise direction, and the whole is enveloped in spherical ball of comets called the Oort Cloud.

The video artist attempted to demonstrate that essentially none of this is true or factual. First of all, the Solar System is not horizontal like a dinner plate with reference to the galactic plane, it is tilted at a severe angle -- which he depicts at ninety degrees in the solar system video, sixty degrees in the galaxy video. The sun is not stationary but is moving quite rapidly in orbit around the galactic center, and thus the planets cannot and do not orbit in neat (and ever-so-tight) little ellipses, very nearly circular, as is always depicted in Solar System diagrams. Their orbital motion is helical around a moving target, if you will. All of which has long been known to planetary science, but it is rarely depicted, partly because diagramming it is difficult (though Sky and Telescope Magazine somehow manages to do so every month in its sky charts)  and partly because doing so can mess with people's innate understanding or what they've been taught about the way things are.

The dinner plate/clockwork diagram has sufficed for hundreds of years, anyway, so why upset the apple cart? We're just getting past the notion that the interiors of the Outer Planets are "icy," after all.

Where the video artist commits heresy, however, (at least as stated by Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy) is in his depiction of the sun leading the planets in their helical journey through space, and in his outrageous claim that heliocentrism is itself in error.

Heresy! Burn him!

How many people, after all, went to the stake because they believed in heliocentrism? Well, at least one.

So clearly, anyone who would dispute this fundamental of planetary science after such sacrifice should go to the stake himself. Burn him!!!

This tendency for scientists to become overwrought when their supposed fundamental beliefs are challenged, especially by untrained and probably unwashed people outside the field, has long been one of the least appealing behaviors of those in scientific practice. It suggests a violent streak on the one hand, and very tightly closed minds on the other, both of which, unfortunately, strongly resemble the mindsets of deeply religious and even cultic Believers.

As he explains in his blogpost responding to his Bad Astronomy thrashing, what he calls "heliocentrism" is the Standard Diagram, which literally everyone learns is the way the Solar System works, and it's wrong. Simply wrong.

That is not the way the Solar System works. True enough. Every planetary scientist will acknowledge as much. Well, they would, except many of them won't in this case, not because they don't know the difference between the Diagram and the reality, but because an upstart outsider has made point -- rather stunningly and beautifully, too -- that they themselves feel little or no obligation to bother with from their own scientific perspective.

As many commenters say to the debunkers, "If the artist's rendering of the actual motion of the Solar System is so very 'wrong,' why don't you depict it correctly?" This they will not do, no way, no how. Not their job. Their rejoinder is, "Why doesn't the artist get it right in the first place? Harrumph!" As they flounce off to their enervating projects -- not necessarily what they want to do, but what they have to do to maintain standing in the field. Harrumph! Indeed.

How dare he?!

That's the basic attitude on display. It's highly evocative of the attitude of Ptolemyists  toward Galileans back in the day. "Everyone knew" the geocentric model proposed by Ptolemy was correct, and these snotty upstarts putting the sun in the center were simply out of touch and out of their league. How dare they?! 

In this case, though, the issue is a relatively minor one of definition of terms and accuracy of animation,  not "fundamentals."

So the big deal that is being made of it is somewhat, shall we say, manufactured?

DjSadhu is objecting to the diagram of the Solar System that everyone learns. He is calling it "heliocentric" -- which it is -- and is objecting to "heliocentrism" as depicted in the diagram. His alternative vision, as illustrated in his animations, are far closer to the reality than the heliocentric diagram is, but they are still not quite right according to findings of scientists -- oh, and good luck finding those findings, given the difficulty of public access to scientific papers thanks to the lock JSTOR still has on so much of it.

The main objection to DjSadhu's animations that Phil Plait brings up at Bad Astronomy (once you figure out what he's really objecting to) is the fact that some of Sadhu's insight about what the real motions of the sun and planets are and what it really looks like comes from the work of Pallathadka Keshava Bhat. Bhat was less a scientist than he was a spiritualist, and that is anathema among real scientists. Obviously, the man knew nothing.

Therefore, DjSadhu's animations are teh suxor. Even though they are gorgeous, and even though they more accurately depict the motions of the sun and planets than the Standard Dinner Plate Diagram, they suck and cannot be redeemed for they are based on the ravings of a heretical madman.

Unfortunately that is the way too many arrogant and egotistical scientists approach challenges from "outside."

On the whole, I thought Phil Plait's debunking of DjSadhu's animations was pretty hilarious and typical. His objections were least of all on substance, because for the most part Sadhu got the (helical motion) substance pretty much right. Plait's objections revolve mostly on matters of definition of terms, perceived insults and lack of decorum, and minor adjustments to his helical models of motion (which he inflates into massive errors). There is no basic objection to the helical model itself. The objection is mostly over who is proposing and describing it.

DjSadhu is objecting to the dinner plate model of the solar system and its motions and he is illustrating an alternative model -- which is more accurate, despite its errors. Neither Plait nor any of his supporters acknowledge that the dinner plate model is fundamentally wrong, though they do acknowledge that a helix is a more accurate description of planetary motion.

What would be useful at this point would be for planetary scientists to work with computer animators to illustrate what they believe is the correct understanding of the helical motion of the planets and solar system. 

But I won't hold my breath.

Friday, March 8, 2013


James Steele, Operator

Well, not in the sense that one didn't know that these things -- and much worse -- were going on during our continuing warriorism in the wastelands of the former Turkish Empire, but in the sense that another name and face have now been put to a throughline of atrocity that characterizes so much of the American Imperial Ambition. From the get go.

Many Americans, of course, will claim not to have known about any of it, and not to believe it now, for the simple reason that America is Good and Doesn't Do These Things -- unless necessary. You understand.

Therefore, the Wogs (Must) Deserve It.

What I saw, though, in this BBC/Guardian co-production (apart from the use of so much unrelated and uninformative video) was something I doubt many Americans are even remotely conscious of:

Steele and his ilk are operatives throughout the American corporate-government realm. So far as I can tell, they don't actually run things themselves; they carry out the directives of and report back to their Betters -- who are actually in charge. It was very obvious who was who during the Bushevik Reign, but it's not so much so now.

The exception to this rule is in the American prison industry and their gulag offshoots -- where the ilk does run things, and in many cases, they are free to do whatever sadistic shit they want. And they'll lie about it, too.

While it doesn't touch on America's domestic imprisonment industry, focusing instead on the development of Iraqi interrogation centers and death squads modeled on previous counter-insurgency wet work done in the fields of Vietnam and Central America under the guidance of Steele and people like him, Americans should long ago have come to the realization that this sort of thing comes from domestic American experience with prisons and prisoners. It has never been confined to "over there" somewhere in wartime.

Brutal interrogation -- torture -- has long been routine in America's domestic law enforcement practices. False confessions. Summary execution. Round ups of the innocent. Intrusive and constant surveillance. Property seizures. For all I know, "disappearances" as well. This is going on domestically and has been going on for many years. There has long been a synergy between what goes on domestically and how these things are done overseas by client states. None of it is happening in isolation or in a vacuum.

It's all linked together.

What's revealed in the BBC/Guardian production is actually not that much, and strangely a name that is strangely never mentioned in it is John Negroponte, perhaps the pre-eminent American Lord of Darkness, of torture and death squads. Once he was assigned to Iraq, the wet work commenced in earnest. Everyone knew it, too. Many cheered.

But putting other names and faces to what was happening Over There is useful. The bloody business of the day wasn't some aberration, it was intentional. Considered necessary. Effective. For a time at any rate.

The scale and the style may be somewhat different domestically. There are far more domestic prisoners, after all, most of whom are simply warehoused and rarely used for interrogation purposes since few of them have any information the government needs or wants. There have been exceptions, however. Round ups and street justice ("") are typically confined to particular jurisdictions and wards therein, generally neither witnessed nor even recognized by most people. Out of sight, out of mind.

Unless of course the Authorities want their cruelties and brutalities and their occasional street executions to be seen and appreciated by the rest of the herd -- in which case very public displays are made. This happens all the time, but many people don't seem to understand the deliberate nature of these displays. They are intended to induce fear leading to submission and cooperation. They generally do it well.

The problem is that eventually people become so inured on the one hand and fed up on the other that they revolt. Revolts that can lead to revolution. Ultimately, for example, even the client officials in Iraq revolted against the American intrusion, just as the Afghan clients are doing. Empire done so bloodily and brutally cannot last. The British should have learned this back in the day, but apparently they still believe they can impose their rule by main force forever, particularly if it is done through their far more brutal and bloodthirsty American proxies.

It doesn't work.