Friday, November 29, 2013


St. Francis of Assisi by Cimabue (detail) c. 1280

This Pope in Rome continues to cause a ruckus by speaking out about the heretofore Unspeakable matters of inequality, money and greed, destruction of the planet for profit, and so on. Matters best left to those who Rule us, not to those who merely Reign.

This Pope is a Jesuit who took the regnal name of Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint for whom I have long expressed a certain affinity.

Now that I'm in New Mexico full time, I discovered it was sometimes difficult to find images of the Umbrian saint for devotional or decorative purposes, for he seemed often to be absent from shops and museums. Even at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis in Santa Fe, where we often go -- though not generally for religious purposes -- it's surprising how low-key representations of the Saint are. There are a few statues of St. Francis and a ceramic tile mural, but they are off to the side, out of the view of parishioners and tourists who come up the steps to the magnificent bronze doors of the Cathedral. There are a handful of statues of St. Francis scattered around the city of Santa Fe, but unless you're eagle eyed, you may miss them.

One finds San Pasquale, San Ysidro and of course the Virgin of Guadalupe practically everywhere, but St. Francis? Not so much.

It took me a while to realize some of the reasons why.

St. Francis, and particularly the Franciscan missionaries who came to New Mexico with the Conquistadores, have at best a mixed reputation in these parts. At best. In some respects they are widely admired, but just as surely, they are likely to be despised and held in contempt. The Catholic order in charge of my local parish is Carmelite. Franciscans tend to be almost in the shadows.

Part of the reason has to do with the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 triggered in part by abuses committed by Franciscans against the Pueblo Indians, abuses which I won't catalog here but which were too frequent, too horrifying, too often inexcusable. Franciscans did this to the Native Peoples? Yes they did, and they were rewarded with massacre when the revolt came. A monument to the martyred Franciscans stands on a height above the city to this day.

But after the reconquest of the territory from 1691 to 1695 or so, the Franciscans, while returning to minister to their savage flock, stayed out of the spotlight and ultimately lost power over the Natives, as their continued resistance and the mood of the Spanish Crown toward the Franciscans led to their decline and near-demise in the New World, not just New Mexico.

Other saints were far more immediate for the Spanish colonists, and the Indians had little regard for Francis thanks to the depredations of the Franciscan missionaries. Only fairly recently have Franciscans returned to New Mexico in significant numbers. Most of them serve the poor and dispossessed.

We pass by a Franciscan friary in Albuquerque practically every time we go to town, so today I made a modest donation to their work. The least I could do.

Meanwhile, His Holiness continues to ruffle Vatican feathers and American bishops face a dilemma.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"The Problem is Civil Obedience"

Matt Damon reads excerpts from a speech Howard Zinn gave in 1970.

Matt Damon reads from Howard Zinn's speech "The Problem is Civil Obedience" (November 1970) from Voices of a People's History on Vimeo.

More info:

On Climate Change...

We got ourselves pretty much buried in snow the last couple of days, something we haven't seen in these parts to such an extent in a couple of years. The drought, it appears, has broken, at least for now.

Clearing the snow hasn't been that much of a problem, thankfully. So much snow is a treat for the eye, too. Blinding sometimes, but... nice.

The drought was terrible, though I'm told other recent ones have been worse. Hard to imagine, but there you are. The dust storms that arose last spring and summer for all the world resembled the Dust Bowl era, and folks were saying they hadn't seen anything like it in these parts since the Fifties, but it wasn't as bad back then as it was last spring and summer. The drought in the Thirties, though, lasted 17 years, they say, and it produced a mini Dust Bowl in this area that rivaled anything in Oklahoma and Texas. I've seen pictures. It was bad.
Dust to dust
The population understandably declined , in some localities to practically nothing, and the abandoned buildings, townsites, and farms and ranches still dot the area. They constitute some of the ruins I occasionally write about.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Give It Away

Ordinarily, I don't watch '60 Minutes,' haven't for years. Problems with their coverage have been noted many times in other venues, so I won't go into them here, but I happened to catch a rhapsodic segment featuring billionaires and their 'giving' in a previous episode that has me gobsmacked. It was an episode which included a piece on the Recycler Orchestra of Paraguay. Simply bizarre, and really, why should we care?

I know that these days the billionaires who own our governments and rule us with rod and staff are looked to as near-divinities by many of the Rabble, just as many of said billionaires expect groveling and supplication by their inferiors. It is their due.

It is a strange and disorienting circumstance for someone who grew up as I did, a rebel, who came to understand that no human, let alone any 'god,' was owed a god-damned thing simply for being. This attitude, which I still hold, didn't sit well with my Betters, of course, but there you are. There simply is no situation in which I find that anyone is intrinsically worthy by reason of wealth or status -- or for that matter religiosity.

Thus it was with some amusement at first that I watched the segment about billionaires and their 'giving pledge' hoo-hah, a commitment to give half their fortune -- at least -- to... erm... "charity".

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Kennedy Assassination -- Fifty Years On

Official Portrait of John F. Kennedy

Yes, I remember where I was and what I was doing when the word came over the high school loudspeakers that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, and then, a little while later, that he was dead, and we would be sent home for the rest of the day.

Though it was quite a distance, I walked home because they said the buses wouldn't come for several hours -- at the regular time. I was in a daze pondering the meaning of what had happened, pondering, too, whether it could be true.

At the time, the very idea of assassination was almost beyond comprehension. Oh, in the dim and distant past, there had been a number of presidential assassinations, but to hear of one now was simply out of the question. We Americans didn't do those sorts of things. Not any more. We were too advanced for such crude and shocking methods of political change.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Hiatus of Sorts

I'm working on several fairly elaborate posts, including one dealing with "Subversives," one on the recent spate of New Mexico Police Peculiarity stories, and one on the Billionaires and Their "Charitable" Giving.

In the meantime, fall is keeping me hopping between Albuquerque and Santa Fe for much of the next week or so. I doubt I'll be able to finish any of the posts-in-progress before the weekend or later.

So many things, so little time. Ciao!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Israel - Iran - PalestineThing

Israel's government is apparently having a nervous breakdown -- one of many it's had over the years -- due to the US government's insistence on negotiating some sort of rapprochement with Iran's government over the Iranian nuclear energy program.

This has led to a deep division between Washington and Jerusalem, one that observers say is unprecedented.

And then come chastisements of Jerusalem from DC over the continuing provocations from the Israelis over settlements in the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

Harrumph says Jerusalem, harrumph on the lot of you.

Yes, well.

We'll see if there is a sustained breach between the capitals; I for one don't think there will be one, but you never know. Things one thought impossible are routine in Washington - Jerusalem relations (or should we say Washington - Tel Aviv relations, since Washington, like every other nation on the face of the earth, refuses to recognize Jerusalem as the Jewish State's capital, regardless of the will of the Israeli government.)

Israel's government wants war with Iran and no peace with the Palestinians, and it appears they won't rest until they achieve their objectives. The problem seems to be that the Israelis are afraid the Iranians already have nuclear weapons (could be), and the Palestinian Question keeps getting them into more and more trouble with their American partners.

What, one may ask, are they to do?

They're having a nervous breakdown, and that seems to be their preferred resolution to this and so many other self-created problems . Meanwhile Washington has its own problems to deal with.

More on The Ruins

While rummaging through my collection of National Geographics after writing the previous post on "Ruins", I came across the September 1925 issue which featured  reporting on the NatGeo's archeological dig at Pueblo Bonito, and there was a rather startling color photo of the ruins as they were during the 1923 season, after quite a bit of archeology had gone on but before there had been much or any restoration.

This is a picture taken around 1940 (or as late as 1960; the caption wasn't clear) taken from approximately the same viewpoint. The picture below it was taken recently:

Friday, November 15, 2013

On the Topic of Medicare for All (aka "Single Payer")

Some of what's being spitballed around these days, thanks to the uncertainty of the Health Care Transition mess, is a revival of the notion of Medicare for All, previously known as "Single Payer" (a term only a handful of people ever really understood.)

The objections have been coming thick and fast from plenty of so-called "progressives" who are desperate to make the ACA "work." Ah, willing dupes for the insurance cartel are everywhere, aren't they?

Of course it is asserted that they're all Obots, but that doesn't make sense. I don't know that anyone online who is constantly yowling about "Obots" has ever examined their premise. This being the internet, I suppose questions of that sort aren't asked in polite company, but I don't mind saying there is a distinct whiff of racism in the claim that Obama loyalists are mindless Obots for defending this or that indefensible element of his policy prescriptions and political acumen. Obviously, it was a mistake to give black folk and wimmins the vote, right?

One has to ask "who benefits" from these indefensible policies, and they examine the defenses presented, and all of a sudden, the mindless 'bot argument pretty much falls to pieces. The defenders are, in most cases, those who stand to benefit, and they are not mindless at all; they are engaged in a propaganda campaign to ensure they continue benefiting, and for the most part they aren't black folk at all. Even if they were, it wouldn't matter. The issue is the pitch, what they're selling, and who benefits.

The so-called Obots are those who are benefiting the most from these indefensible policies, such as representatives of the hedge-fund, insurance and banking cartels above all. Mindless? Hardly. They know what they are doing, and they know that way too many so-called "progressives" are too gullible to believe. They are easy marks for con artists.

And many of them will defend the con till their last breath. It's sad.

That said, it's obvious who is benefiting from the cock up of a Health Care Transition that's under way, and it isn't We, the Rabble. It is Our Rulers, in all their glory. They are making money, hand over fist, on the cock up itself and on the really terrifying uncertainty that is being deliberately generated thanks to the cock up. Make no mistake, this was all planned months if not years in advance, and from all appearances, things are going as planned. A lot of people are panicking. Many others have been convinced to blame the victims. The Crisis is building to a crescendo. And you know what the neo-libs say about Crises: never let one go to waste, for they are all opportunities to for ever more creative destruction. Here we go again.

And in the background, some of the hippies who were advocating for single payer/Medicare for All (wonder why it took so long to adopt that slogan; if it had been adopted in the first place, a lot of the confusion about "single payer" could have been avoided. But it wasn't adopted till almost the end of the game....) are raising the issue again.

Of course, it would have been much simpler to go that route, and there has even been some chatter that it might have passed if it had ever been offered on the House and Senate floors. (There are bills, but the measures were never offered for a vote that I know of.)

This really isn't rocket science. The simplest way to do it is to gradually reduce the eligibility age to zero, and when the eligibility age reaches zero, everyone born that year and thereafter is automatically enrolled in a comprehensive health care program -- one like Medicare, but one that provides more and better coverage, rather like the supplements or Medicare Advantage do -- and everyone else is made eligible for expanded Medicare if they want it, which most would, it seems to me.

It could be a two year transition or a ten year one, it hardly matters; what matters is creating a universal health care system that eliminates the insurance cartel's hold on the system. It doesn't mean that private health insurance necessarily goes away -- though it should -- it means that the cartels can no longer control access to and the provisions of the health care system.

If the current mess continues -- and it will continue, guaranteed, as long as important people can make money from it -- the calls for Medicare for All will get louder and louder, and if the revolt against the insurance cartel that's brewing gains steam, we may actually see the insurance cartel throwing in the towel and advocating for Medicare-style universal coverage themselves.

It could get that bad.

We'll see. There are powerful forces intent on ensuring that never happens, but these days you never know. Sometimes Our Betters actually give up on something they thought was going to make them so gosh-darned rich without them doing a thing (such as ACA was intended to do.) Then, when they find it is more trouble than it is worth, they drop kick it into oblivion, and what should have been done in the first place looks like a winner.

We'll see.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Circling the Drain Again

I don't pretend to know what's really going on with the various political disasters for the Obama Regime brewing in various corners of the world -- such as the health care thing and the Israel thing and the Iran thing and the TPP thing, but man, it's a super-storm these days. We'll take them one by one, mercifully in separate posts.

Health Care Transition: The launch of the Health Care Transition appears to have been deliberately sabotaged, apparently by the contractors hired to implement it, apparently for more money. But there's more going on as well, much more involving the perfidious insurance cartel directly in what looks for all the world like racketeering right out in the open, something they've been loathe to practice heretofore, though everyone knew it was going on, but now they don't seem to care at all about being found out. I wonder why. Hm. Needless to say, the Rs are taking full political advantage of the mess that's been made of things, but they have no interest in actually destroying the thing. Their political interests are to serve the insurance cartel as certainly as the Dems' interests are. As much as the Rs are accused of the sabotage, they aren't really the ones who did it, nor was it ever in their interests to do it. Their fussbudgeting of it is really minor compared to the rising chorus of complaints from the public -- who are being royally, fiercely screwded.

The only faction of the elites who actually have an interest in said sabotage are those who believe they aren't guaranteed enough money via the ACA/HCR/Obamacare. Given what's been going on, it's fairly easy to figure out who they are, too: the insurance providers, the IT contracting firms, and the various medical industry suppliers. They want more, lots and lots more -- guaranteed -- or they'll keep right on throwing stink bombs.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


House in "La Tijera" c. 1937 -- probably similar to our own place before it was remodeled in the 1950's

Every now and then, I post something about the ruins that are found all over New Mexico, dating back to the legendary Anasazi period and right up to today. Buildings and ranches are being abandoned all the time. Some of them will eventually be reclaimed, but most will melt back into the ground, only to be dug up again one day -- perhaps -- to be studied by scholars of the future, puzzled by whatever this or that ruin used to be.

Our house here in New Mexico, of course, was an abandoned ruin when we found it and made it our own. It may well have repeatedly fallen into ruin, been abandoned, and then restored. Houses all along our street and others nearby have been abandoned, some for years, before somebody comes along and puts them back in shape for rental or resale or tears them down and leaves the land bare for the next generation to come along and build something else. Or not. As the case may be.

The Abandoned Cement Plant on Hwy 41

The most massive abandoned structure around here is the cement plant that looms huge and seemingly whole along what once was the rail line (that itself was abandoned half a century ago or more). While the cement plant looks operative, it has actually been abandoned for decades. There are abandoned diners, trading posts, motels and motor courts, gas stations and so on, all along the remnant portion of Route 66 that we travel frequently into Albuquerque.  On the way to Santa Fe, practically the whole town of Stanley is abandoned and melting back into the earth. The former town of Otto is gone; there is a lone Ionosphere Communications Experiment Station -- yes, ICE Station Otto (it may be abandoned, too, but we're not entirely sure) -- to mark where it was. Some of these abandoned places will probably be allowed to weather away to nothing, whereas others are being reclaimed for re-use or as in the case of the Red Top diner in Edgewood (that used to be in Magdalena), some are now being used solely as "attractions," decorative elements for some other enterprise (in the case of Edgewood, the Red Top is now fronting for an RV Park.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strike Debt Rolling Jubilee Progress

As those who have been following this story are aware, Yves Smith and her buddy Lambert have taken Strike Debt's Rolling Jubilee to task in some extraordinarily long and detailed posts that can be summarized by saying that she doesn't like what they are doing and doesn't want them to do this.

The idea of buying uncollected [medical] debt on the secondary market and cancelling it rather than trying to collect it makes her nervous enough to shit bricks. She insists that doing this jeopardizes debtors in ways that cannot be fully anticipated, and that this is a clear and present danger to life and liberty -- and must be stopped forthwith.

The Nations and Their Future -- The New Imperialism

There seems to be no escaping the New Imperialism that is being created as we write and debate about these things endlessly. The New Imperialism is global rather than regional, it seems to involve all the major nations (as in the G20) as almost equals, but as subsidiaries to the transnational corporations that are demanding and getting freedom from law and justice as they were once conceived and are asserting an independent "right to rule" without hindrance by government. Further, they demand that governments -- to the extent they are permitted to exist at all -- become the enforcers of corporate will against the interest of the People.

The nation-state as we have known it for the past several hundred years may disappear as a functioning governing body -- certainly national sovereignty will disappear as it is already doing -- in the interests of corporate hegemony, but what, exactly, will take its place (perhaps something like sports teams, many of which already have global followings) is anybody's guess.

I argue that the nation-states as we know them today are the legacies of imperial constructs of yore; they are not for the most part coherent geographical or common human interest groupings. They are at root arbitrary creations intended to instill loyalty to a distant ruling elite through nationalism.

They can disappear almost as quickly as lines on a map can be erased.

Europeans found that out for themselves as the first the Soviet Union and then the imperial constructs of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia fell to pieces, the latter not without considerable bloodshed and destruction.

If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere it becomes useful to certain interests -- not always popular ones -- to dissolve the larger nations and carry on with the "liberated" pieces. That's how the dissolution of nations has been sold, as "liberation" for... someone.

But anytime "liberation," "liberty" or "freedom" is placed up for bid, I always ask, "Liberty for whom to do what?"

I've never been a great nationalist. I'm more a tribalist. As I've argued in the past, de-tribalization is a prerequisite for the institutionalization of nationalism, and not everyone, even in the most nationalistic environment has actually been de-tribalized. The irony of forced de-tribalization -- which is often what takes place in the effort to forge a national identity -- leads inevitably to re-tribalization, perhaps differently aligned (for example, new-tribal groupings based on professions or neighborhoods or something similar)  but they are still socially the same thing.

I think of my Irish and German ancestors as strongly tribalized before they emigrated from the Old Countries in the mid-19th Century, and I believe they maintained their tribal identities when they got to this country. Their tribalism dissipated a bit as the generations wore on, and some individuals became highly nationalistic as an alternative to maintaining close tribal ties. But the essence of the tribalism they brought with them is still operating -- whether on the surface or below it. We see the same phenomenon among all sorts of peoples here and abroad. Organizing into tribes is human nature; it is how human society is designed to operate. Denouncing tribalism as some sort of mindlessness or inferior social structure is absurd; not only is it human nature, tribalism will assert itself no matter what "rational" argument is made against it.

As we've witnessed empires and larger nations dissolve during the past several decades and generations, we've seen a concomitant reassertion of tribalism. At the same time that nations and empires have dissolved, we've seen the rise of predatory corporations, some of them apparently organized specifically to loot and pillage the carcasses of the former republics and Imperial provinces.

Does this mean that we will ultimately see corporate brands and logos replacing national identities?

That's certainly been the view of many futurist and science fiction writers for decades, and we seem to be coming ever closer to that reality.

The future-present is not to be found in 1984, in other words, it's Blade Runner.

Or something else again.

I mentioned over at Ian's place the other day that he's apparently advocating for a New Imperialism based -- I think -- on the premise that there can be a "good" global authority that will act in the best interests of humanity as a whole and the planet. On a mission from god? I don't know, all I know is that the British and other European empires were constantly defended on the basis of "mission" -- a mission that was by definition "good" and was often argued to be God-given. The colonized peoples were simply too immature and irresponsible to be allowed to continue governing themselves; they had to be taken in hand by their Betters and put on the right path, much as British children were schooled in the fundamentals of knowledge and deportment. Well, some of them were, others were cast aside. Much as surplus colonized peoples were routinely disposed of.

But we won't go into that aspect of Imperialism right now.

The point right now is that I see us entering a New Imperial age, dominated once again by the private exploitative and extractive interests of corporations, for which governments are instituted and enabled as a means to enforce and enable the smoothest extractions possible. As in the past, unless thwarted somehow, this will not end well, as inevitably corporate wars for dominance will overwhelm every other interest at all.

A question for further consideration in this series is whether there truly can be a "good" Imperial overlord.

At the moment, I think not, but there are counter examples... aren't there?

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Nations and Their Future -- a continuacion

I've argued in the past that de-tribalization is a necessary per-requisite for the adoption and sustenance of nationalism. Tribal societies do not -- on their own -- become "nations" (though some American Indian tribes are called "nations" in both law and custom. The one I'm most familiar with is the Cherokee Nation, but that's another story for another time.)

My premise for this series is that what are known as nation-states today are a concept and construct of Imperialism, dating back at least to Rome, and probably to well before the advent of the Roman Empire. The purpose was to establish local/regional loyalty to the distant Palace or to the Crown. The Nations might begin as Imperial Provinces, but over time the Provinces assume quasi-autonomous status and eventually, if they aren't absorbed by another Empire, they become independent of the Imperial thrall, nation-states, yet they still may be loyal to the ideals of the former ruling power.

As the Western Roman Empire disintegrated, the ruling concepts were maintained in the East, and periodic revivals of the Roman Imperial idea would occur in the West. While the disintegration of Roman rule in the West opened Europe to invasion and conquest by tribalists who had been kept outside the gates, as it were, by Roman Legions, and thus opened Europe to de-nationalization, re-tribalization in many respects, the Roman idea was never actually lost. Many of the elites of the conquering hordes from the East had already been Romanized before the fall of the Imperial state, and most of the conquered peoples were as thoroughly Romanized as any in the Empire.  The Church, too, preserved, protected and defended the Roman ideals of governance, pomp and state.

Consequently, while re-tribalization did occur subsequent to the end of Roman rule in Western Europe, there was also a counter influence tending toward de-tribalization and nationalism -- a counter influence that eventually triumphed with the establishment of nation-states more or less derived from and patterned on Roman prototypes. Of course the hundreds of years that this process took meant that very little of the nationalism that emerged in Europe after the reintroduction of the nationalist concept (beginning, I would say, in the 16th century, but accelerating in the 18th and reaching a climax in the 19th century with the unification of Germany and Italy) looked like "Rome." And yet, without the influence of the Roman Empire, nationalism might not have taken root in Europe at all. For Europeans, it seems to me, are at root as naturally tribal a people as any on Earth.

But being de-tribalized, they could be and were subject to nationalism, which is a form of enforced loyalty to a nation-state rather than to a tribe, nationalism which under certain conditions can become an impetus toward Empire.  Which was certainly the case in Europe from the 16th Century to the 20th until the whole enterprise exploded in World War II.

It was the End of Empire(s), something that is still assumed to be under way today, but I suggest that we're seeing essentially the opposite today, a reversion to Empire, but it is perhaps taking place under such an unfamiliar guise that it goes unnoticed or is not seen for what it is.

The key to re-Imperialization has been the numerous trade agreements that basically subvert and in many cases eliminate the concept of national sovereignty except to the extent the nation-state is loyal to a distant legal framework -- in effect, loyalty to a Palace and Crown, only now we're not dealing with crowned heads and their governments, we're dealing with corporate heads and their boardrooms. Much of the initial thrust during former Imperial periods was, of course, a product of the same institutions: corporations and their boardrooms, supported and defended by the Palace and Crown. The nation-states that emerged from post-imperialism remain in place, not as independent and sovereign entities but as dependencies of the sovereign corporations which assume the positions of the Imperial Palaces and Crowns of yore. The nation-states are not simply dependencies, they are factories of loyalty to their corporate overlords as well, much as was the case during previous periods of Imperial ascendency.

We're not quite there yet, but that's the trend I see emerging, and just as former Empires were imposed on both willing as well as unwilling subjects, I see a remarkable and somewhat unseemly tendency among some of those who should know better to pledge their loyalty and encourage the loyalty of others to the emerging corporate empire(s). It is as if reversion and devolution has taken hold of their minds.

Of course, I realize that a big part of my view of these trends -- and my revulsion -- is due to my age and the fact that I was socialized during the Post War de-imperialization period. To see a younger generation adopting a re-imperialization framework, and to see it happen through corporate entities which control governments, and to see it passed off as a Good Thing, is disheartening at best.

A counter movement is under way, in opposition to this trend toward corporate imperialism, but at this point it seems incredibly weak and powerless. The anti-globalist movement is certainly large, but because its foundations are for the most part based in the "non-violence" teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, it seems to be getting nowhere. Of course King and Gandhi didn't seem to be getting anywhere for a long time, either, so I don't put too much emphasis on the ultimate weakness or powerlessness of the anti-globalist movement. We can't say yet whether "people power" will be unable to thwart this new imperialism.

On the other hand, we might ask what are the positive goals of the anti-globalists; do they ultimately want to revert to a status quo ante, a return to nation-state sovereignty as it was conceived post World War II, or do they envision something else? If something else, what?

That's where I'd like to carry this consideration next time.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Nations and Their Future

I've compared the period we've been living through for the last few decades to the transition of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

The parallels are far from exact, of course, but my argument has basically been that the Republic of Our Founders has gone extinct. It is not revivable at this point, any more than the Roman Republic could be revived post-Augustus. Of course, the Republican forms continued long after the expiration of the substance of those forms. There was a Roman Senate (in Constantinople) eight hundred years after the advent of Augustus, and it would last in Rome itself almost as long. But it was an institutional survival with no useful function or -- more particularly -- no useable authority.

Elections continued to be held for Roman state and local officeholders, but they were meaningless as well. The Empire was run from the Palace based on the Palatine Hill in Rome, but it could be anywhere the Emperor designated and was moved periodically, by a large bureaucracy under the direction of the Emperor and whoever controlled him.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Jeremy Scahill with Tom Englehardt at the Lensic in Santa Fe, Oct 30, 2013

I found out about this particular appearance several days after the event.

I am on Lensic email list, but got no notice of this event; I've had "issues" with the Lannan Foundation and so I don't get notices from them; Jeremy was also at the Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe on October 31 at a screening of "Dirty Wars," and to sell and sign books, but interestingly, even though I was at the CCA a couple of weeks before, for a screening of "The Cherokee Word for Water," and I picked up lots of literature at the time, there was no mention of Jeremy or "Dirty Wars" in upcoming schedules. As we're not (yet) CCA members, we didn't get any online or mail notices of it, either. It is the way these things tend to go in Santa Fe. My understanding is that the Lensic appearance sold out within days of tickets becoming available in September, and I don't doubt there was a complete sell out at the CCA shortly after the announcement of "Dirty Wars" as the theater is tiny. Ultimately, there may have been little point in announcing these appearances more broadly. Nevertheless, here are the videos that Lannan has posted of the Scahill/Englehardt event at the Lensic:



[I haven't had a chance to watch them in their entirety yet...]

Extended: One of the critical thing that Jeremy points out in the second video (I've still not been able to watch all of either of the videos) -- almost in passing -- is that as bad as the NSA abuses are and have been, "they are eclipsed" by the abuses of the FBI and local police forces, something I have been trying to point out from the beginning of the hysteria over the NSA's domestic surveillance.

What he doesn't say or even allude to (at least so far) is that bad as those abuses are, they are eclipsed by the private sector's abuses. Of course, now that he's got a billionaire to fund his intrepid journalism, a billionaire who is as deeply involved in private sector surveillance as any one, maybe it's not in his interests to say anything about it.

But ultimately all this surveillance apparatus is folded in together, whether government or private, it's basically the same. People like to argue that the private sector can't compel obedience nor does it threaten you with guns, which is simply ignorant, foolish, or deliberately deceptive (my vote is that it is all three simultaneously, as this government we are supposed to dread so much is OWNED, lock, stock and barrel by the corporate sector which writes the laws which the government then enforces against the Rabble. Hello? Furthermore there is a whole private system of police forces, courts, and private prisons, which can and do use lethal force against citizens.

It is stupid -- or deliberately deceptive -- to claim that somehow corporations are benign while government is evil.

However, that's another discussion for another time.

"We shoulda toined left at Albuquerque..."

The running gags in Warner Brothers cartoons got burned into my brainstem when I was little, being as that I, along with hundreds of other young'n's was plonked down at the Kiddie Matinee at the Covina Theatre every Saturday morning so that the grownups could have some free time.

The cartoons on the teevee back in the '50's tended to be of the dancing flatware and teapot sort, or dancing bones and such. Warner Brothers burlesques were saved for the big screen.

Some of the locations Bugs was getting lost trying to find -- Coachella, Pismo Beach and the like -- are places I knew pretty well; in fact, as I wrote "Pismo Beach" I could virtually catch a whiff of the piquant aroma of the bracing wind at the pier and beach, and easily imagine picking up a rope of kelp from the sand. We never did clamming there that I can recall (the clams were probably all gone by the time I was making pilgrimage), but "going to the beach" was a regular routine when I was a kid. I thought it was great that Bugs wanted to go too!

This place called "Albuquerque," though, was something quite exotic to me. Where was it, anyway? My mother knew it, or knew of it, having been through it on the train and driving on Route 66, and probably having stopped at one of the many motor courts lining neon-draped Central Avenue back in the day. Route 66 originally went through Albuquerque along 4th Street and Broadway, after heading down from Santa Fe and the torturous La Bajada Hill, but in 1937 the route was shifted to bypass all of that and turn Central Avenue into an iconic traveler's paradise. Of sorts.

Well, Albuquerque has its reputation to consider after all.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On the Resurgent "Great Man Theory" and Sarah Harrison's Harrowing Heroism

One of the most interesting factors of the current series of crises afflicting the human species and the globe is the resurgence of the Great Man Theory of socio-political operations.

Now, I've never been much into the Great Man notion, though many, many people are. They seem to believe -- sincerely -- that the only way out of our predicament is through the agency of a Great Man, and they go to extreme lengths to identify and promote likely candidates. They also interpret history as if only the actions of the Great Men of the past mattered. It's a pernicious concept in my view, one that leads to authoritarianism at the least, totalitarianism if taken to a logical conclusion.

The Great Man, of course, could be a Woman; there may be a lot of lingering gender inequality, but when it comes to Leadership, women are now thought to be almost as capable as men. Almost.

Recently, Jesselyn Radack produced a somewhat shocking piece of Great Man propaganda and posted it over at dKos. It turned my stomach. But this is the kind of thing that happens routinely when the objective is to drive adherents away from one set of elites and toward another, by fostering extreme levels of truly mindless loyalty toward individuals -- selected by other Great Wo/Men.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Plumbers Were Here

Laundry room drain pipeage pulled out of Casa Ché; center pipe shows the rusted out end at top.


When we bought this house in 2005, it appeared to be relatively complete though it was close to ruin as it had been abandoned for several years -- no one knew exactly how many -- and the interior was in pretty sad shape. There were broken windows, plaster was falling off some of the walls, the pine wood floors were badly deteriorated, there was smoke damage, the kitchen was in pretty awful shape and so on. The previous owner had replaced all the water pipes with plastic, due to the freezing and bursting of the galvanized ones, and she'd updated the electrical service (but not the wiring, bless her heart, some of which seems to date to the early 1900's.)  But apart from that, it was up to us and our contractor to make the place habitable. Eleven months after Mike started the work it was officially done. But we keep finding things that need doing.

There is a laundry room with connections for a washer and dryer, but we didn't have a washer or dryer here until we bought new ones this summer. We left the ones we had in California as we didn't relish the thought of bringing them with us and they were quite old (though functional) anyway. I believe that one of the people who helped us pack up took them, but I honestly don't remember!

So we got a washer and dryer this summer, and when the installers tested it, the drain pipe backed up pretty quickly. We rigged up a gray-water system to put the washer water outside in the beds in the side yard. The plants loved it; it was the greenest section of the property, no surprise.

But with winter coming on, it seemed to be time to figure out what was going on with the actual washer drain in the laundry room. The Roto Rooter man came -- same one we had to clean the roots out of the sewer line soon after we moved in -- and he climbed up on the roof and ran his snake down the vent pipe, but no matter what he did, he couldn't get it around the 90 degree bend at the bottom. We'd have to have "the plumbers" come, because he couldn't fix it.

"The Plumbers." Oh. My. God. Long time readers may recall my reports on The Plumbers who repiped our house in California after the water heater blew out and all the trauma that ensued. It was operatic. Would we have to go through the same thing here? Please. No.

The Plumbers came yesterday and started opening up walls and digging trenches and having a grand old time. We gritted our teeth.

Finally, Anthony came around and said, "Welp. We think we know what's going on. Want it fixed?" Sure, I said. What's it going to cost? "Oh, I'd say we could do it all for about $2,500." Eek. That's about twice what I figured. But then, this is plumbing, and that's what happened in CA, too, a $5,000 job turned into $10,000 in no time flat. And that didn't include all the wall repairs and repainting and fixing all the rest of the damage left behind.

So after taking a great big deep breath, I said, "Proceed." Anthony smiled a charming little grin; his young little partner -- who would actually have to do the heavy work -- looked glum, or was it appalled? Despondent?

I can't always tell.

They got to work, digging some more, sawing this and that length of pipe, and after a while, they found the real problem. It wasn't just that they couldn't snake the washer drain line, it was that it didn't go anywhere.

Oh. Well. Who'd a thunk?

After quite a struggle, the little guy, Caleb, pulled out a rusted closed T fitting from the ground under the laundry room. It had been on the end of the rusted out pipe that connected to the drain inside the house. The washer drain never did connect with the main household drain. It had never been connected to anything. There may or may not have been an intention to connect it to either the kitchen sink drain or to the main sewer line, but it had never been done. I could easily imagine that whoever had installed it decades ago started digging in the hardpan and said, "Eh, forget it." Filled up the trench and that was that. Until the pipe rusted out, the drain wouldn't have worked at all. After it rusted through, though, it may have simply drained the washer water under the house. While the house was abandoned the whole interior of the pipe had rusted so much that it was effectively blocked completely, so when we tried to use it, the water backed up promptly.

There was no way out.

Then Caleb said, "Man, you know it's crazy down there?" Where? "Under the house, the laundry room. There's almost headroom, and it's concrete at the bottom." I said, "The kitchen, laundry and dining area were built by enclosing an open porch. Maybe that's what it is?" He shook his head. "No, this is beneath that. There are steps going down. It's like a basement. A whole basement down there."


I looked but it's hard for me to bend down and my glasses fell off and it was dark, so I really didn't see what he was talking about, but the way he described it, there probably is a basement under the west wing of the house, or under part of it. There are steps under the laundry room floor that lead into what he said was a filled in area that was even deeper than the area under the laundry.

What fun. As I've said before, this house was self built, largely of adobe, around the turn of the 20th Century when this area was opened to homesteading after decades of court challenges by rival grantees. The railroad came through about half a mile away in 1903. The tracks were torn up in the 1950's, but we can still trace where they were. This was a ranch house until the 1950's when the land -- maybe 160 acres altogether  -- was subdivided into suburban-style lots, and this place became the oldest and largest house in this quadrant, an area hardly distinguishable from a typical suburb -- with the exception that it's out in the country, and down at the end of the street, two blocks away, there is an open prairie that stretches for about ten miles.

A basement, eh? Well, why not? I figured it was probably built as a root cellar or a storm cellar or both. Probably only goes under the west bedrooms, and maybe only one of those. But who knows? We'd have to dig out the fill at the bottom of the steps to find out. Like an archeological dig. Tutankhamen's  Tomb -- or "Motel of the Mysteries."

Maybe one day...

Meanwhile, what luxury. We can now do laundry without leaving the side door open for feral cats to get in and frolic until we chase them out. There is a very elaborate drain and clean out -- and a big ol' hole in the wall -- behind the washer, but the contraption does drain; they tested the whole thing for a good hour and pronounced themselves pleased as could be. They filled in their trenching so that you can hardly tell it was there, and they cleaned up after themselves so well, the laundry room was cleaner than when they started.

So I'm fine with it.

I asked Anthony about an outside freeze proof hose bib. "Oh, yeah," he says. "We can do that. How many do you want? Prolly run you about $1,100 each, plus however much trenching we'd have to do."


"And what about water conditioning? We're interested in using a chelating system with citric acid. Do you know anything about that?"

"Oh yeah," he says, "it's a tube that goes on the main water line and there's this cartridge with these little beads and shit?"

"Yeah, that's the one" I said. 

"Yeah, we'd do that. Cost about $2,000-$2,100 depending on how difficult it is to find a place to put it. You don't have much room in there. Oh, and your water heater was put in wrong." Yes, I know, but I figure as long as it works we'll leave it. But just on the off chance...

I said, "Another $600, right?"

He said, "Nah, about $750, but we'd get it right for you."

Mirth and merriment all around.



Strangely, the Election News From Yesterday Is All About Christie

And nothing else.

Well, other results are mentioned between the Christie Hagiographies, but it seems to me he's hardly all that in a global sense, and  the obsessive media focus on his victory in a gubernatorial election in New Jersey, while pretty much ignoring the greater margin by which de Blasio won the mayoralty of New York just across the river, after decades of imperious rule by fiat from the financial above, is remarkable.

What makes them focus so heavily (in a manner of speaking) on Christie?

Of course, he is supposed to go toe to toe with Hillary in '16 to put the finish to the Clinton experiment in excess, right? Something like that.

At any rate, Christie is a whacked out bully if you ask me, able to secure political position because he's willing and eager to bull his way through -- and he seems pretty skilled at it. Trouble is, that kind of thing can only get you so far, and ultimately it will come a cropper.

If I were Christie -- thank the stars I'm not -- I wouldn't want this sort of media worship of the ground he walks on.

It generally comes to no good end.

Are We Nearer The Point of Rethinking the Apparatus Which Rules Us?

From time to time, I still run into the online meme of the "end of empire" -- referring to the United States and its faltering dominance in the world. I have long challenged that premise.

The American Empire is by no means ending; if anything, it's been revitalized since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and today the Imperial USA is as strong or stronger than it has ever been. It has shown itself to be remarkably adaptable to a changing world and has taken advantage of the changes to extend its influence, power and reach without necessarily putting more boots on the ground (though there is no lack of them).

What we've been seeing instead is the "end of the Republic" -- such as it was. It was a pretty anemic Republic all along, riven as it was with factionalism and dominated by the interests of money. Oh. Well.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ian Welsh and Others Ruminate On the Past, Cogitate On the Future and (Hopefully) Push For Something Better

Ian Welsh has been doing a bang-up job over at his place lately putting forth some fairly extensive notions about where we are, what went wrong with the "Progressive Blog Movement" (aka Netroots), and what we need to think about doing and where we need to think about being in the future.

Ian tends toward glumness, partly I'm sure because he lives in one of those winter-cold and winter-dark countries known as Canada, but there are other reasons and factors as well, including his own sometimes bitter experience with the human species on and off the intertubes. He's never been as dour and hopeless as Arthur Silber, but he's been pretty negative all in all just the same.

The parts of the recent series I've been most closely following are those that deal with the Failure of the Netroots Movement. Ian seems to focus on 2008 and the election of Obama, which occurred  without the Netroots by sidestepping it, ignoring it, paralleling it with an Obama roots political machine. That's as may be, but I pointed out that the problem goes back to the Dean campaign and what came after it, starting in 2002 and 2003; in other words, the problem was there at the beginning of the Netroots "movement."

The problem was, it wasn't a "movement" in more than the abstract sense, or at best, it was a "movement" of the very, very few "players" -- quite distinct and separate from a ground-level movement -- on behalf of a muddle of interests and candidates. Which, to the extent it still exists, it still is.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

NSA Back In the News

Young Snowden has been photographed pushing a shopping cart at the Moskva Target (or its equivalent, one assumes) and sailing on the Moskva River with Sarah Harrison (one assumes). Of course they may not be Snowden, just a look alike. They appear to have been taken during the summertime, which doen't mean a whole lot, since Young Snowden was said to have been freed from his airport captivity sometime during the summer, but that these pictures would only now surface, and on what's said to be a sleazy tabloid news site in Russia as opposed to prim and proper FOX News in America, makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Of course this is nicely timed with the story of Greenwald finding  his billionaire and leaving the Guardian for greener -- much greener -- pastures to play in with his buds Laura and Jeremy.  With the addition of Froomkin and Segura, it's a media empire-in-process. All they'll need to add now is Michael Hastings. Oh, wait.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Too Bad, So Sad -- The Continuing Impoverishment of the Millions

Yesterday marked a reduction in food stamp benefits for tens of millions of recipients; this is on top of the rigorous impoverishment of millions upon millions of people each and every year of the seemingly endless Recession. Obviously, the poorer you are, the less you need to eat, and if you're not working because there are no jobs available, you benefit from eating less. Extra calories would just be turned to fat as you laze around on your unemployed ass, as everyone knows.

I saw my own congressional rep on the teevee yesterday (Michelle Lujan Grisham, someone I don't know and have never had any contact with, as opposed to her predecessor, Martin Heinrich, who was either calling or having staff call all the time, and who held district constituent meetings regularly, something I don't think Lujan Grisham has ever done). Interesting that while she decried the current cut to food stamp benefits, she was quite eager, she said, to "work with Republicans" to cut food stamp benefits "responsibly." In other words, "too bad, so sad" for those who were just barely getting by as it was with their meager benefits intact. Let's cut them anyway! Responsibly. Of course.

New Mexico is a poor state, never mind all the rich folk who live here. One in five New Mexicans receive food stamp benefits, a number that has grown since the onset of the Endless Recession (endless for the proles) and since the Recession won't end, the number of beneficiaries doesn't decline. Food isn't cheap here, either. So those who are seeing a cut in benefits are essentially shit out of luck. Too bad, so sad.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Today marks the forty-something wedding anniversary for me and Ms Ché, closer to fifty than forty these days. We're a bit vague on which anniversary year it is because we lived together for several years before we were officially wed, and  whether we count those years or not depends on mood as much as anything else. At any rate, we're getting closer and closer to fifty years together, and it feels fine.

Of course we've had quite a life together and many, many adventures over the decades. We've always lived relatively simply, never -- till rather late in our lives -- aspiring to what's taken as normal and expected by most folks. Even as we adopted some measures of a more or less typical middle class lifestyle -- what with government employment, a little house in a fancy neighborhood, two cars, cats and dogs in the yard, computers and devices and so forth (and we had enough disposable cash to buy another house in New Mexico where we now live in "active retirement") -- we were and to a large extent still are, rebel hearts.

We were hippies of a sort when we were young, but even hippie-dom had its own set of norms, some of which we simply couldn't accommodate. Use of substances was one of them. We just couldn't do it. Marijuana puts me right to sleep, and practically every other substance I tried made me squirrely as heck. No good. Ms Ché had no better experiences than I did, so... no drugs for us.
Later on in life I was around and often working with people were either in recovery from substance abuse or were badly fucked up by one substance or another -- meth being the worst I saw -- and I was glad we didn't fall into that realm.

I'm not anti-drug-use so much as I am for living "high" without them. "High on Life" is cliché, but there is an element of truth and possibility to it. On the other hand, not everyone can handle it!

The communitarianism of hippiedom was always in tension with liberationism, and after a while, the liberationists predominated in the public eye while the communitarians faded. Rather than face that quandary head on, we opted to go for a life in the Theatre, one that required extraordinary dedication and hard work, but which was -- for us -- both liberating and community-based.

Our lives in the theater are subjects for another post, though, so I won't go into detail now.

We moved to New Mexico and our present day "active retirement" a year ago, so we're celebrating that as well today. We had really amazing experiences in New Mexico for decades before we moved here, and since we've moved here, it's really been astonishing for both of us. We knew we would be entering a very special and unique world here -- we'd already encountered many aspects of it in our many past visits and vacations. But we really didn't understand how thoroughly it would penetrate our beings.

I feel like I'm far more a New Mexican than I ever was a Californian, but at the same time, I know that since I'm still a newcomer here (!), I'll never be taken as a native -- although I have been by all kinds of people already. Because of her Indian heritage, it's a little easier for Ms Ché to be taken for a native New Mexican -- except for the fact that her tribe (Cherokee) is not a local one. Oh well...;-)

As rebels, we feel like we fit right in!

Today we're off to Santa Fe for some adventures and maybe a quiet celebration dinner. We have much to celebrate, much to be grateful for, much to reminisce over...

What a long strange trip it's been...

Who Is Really In Charge -- Of What?

Uhhh.... guys...

T've heard rumblings that the "Health Care Rollout Cockup" was an act of sabotage deliberately staged by certain interests -- either in the government or in the contractor sector, or by both working hand in glove -- for some nefarious purpose, testing, perhaps, the levels of anxiety and endurance the public can be subjected to over basic matters like access to something.

In other words, how difficult/impossible can we make something a significant portion of the public will be compelled to do before they snap? I hate to use Nazi allusions, but this is was something the Nazis were masters at in their conquests of Europe. They would institute orders for compelled actions by selected populations that could not be obeyed rationally, but only in a kind of mindless stupor could part of an order be complied with. This had profound psychological effects that helped enable the mass murder to come. People went on command -- and essentially willingly -- into the ghettos, the cattle cars, the camps and the gas chambers, in part because they had been pre-conditioned to do irrational things and to follow irrational orders simply to survive. They believed sincerely that if they didn't do what they were told, or they unimaginably rose up against this madness, they wouldn't/couldn't survive for even a moment longer. At least they had a chance if they complied...

Well, yes, some did survive all of it. A handful.

During Occupy Wall Street actions in New York, I saw (via livestream) people herded onto the Brooklyn Bridge and corralled there, arrested, hundreds of them, maybe more than a thousand, and I saw how they willingly submitted themselves to the authorities who had basically tricked them and trapped them in this pen over the East River, and I was gobsmacked and horrified at what I was witnessing. It wasn't so much what the police had done -- though that was itself horrifying and inexcusable -- it was the immediate and instant compliance of the crowd. Oh. My. God. When I saw a handful of people escaping the trap by climbing up to a higher level of the bridge and slipping away, I was momentarily cheered. Some knew not to comply. But for most? Jesus. They should know deep in their bones where this sort of thing leads.

And thankfully, later, it was clear that many of them did know. And they weren't about to fall into this kind of mental trap and follow these sorts of orders and commands again.

So. Is the Rollout something of the same sort? Perhaps. I don't know. I have some knowledge of relatively huge government projects and how they go "live" and how badly they can be bolloxed initially. If there is sabotage involved, it appears to be the result of contractors (sometimes with the assistance of government functionaries) figuring out how to squeeze as much more money as possible out of the system before it either works or collapses. That's what this cock-up looks like to me from the outside. It wasn't ready, the hundreds of millions poured into it already were not nearly enough to satisfy the contractors who built it -- they want double the money, triple or more -- and so it will be "difficult" for as long as it takes to satisfy them, which could conceivably mean forever.

At least in Iraq they were shipping over pallets of hundred dollar bills, as well as seizing all the hundred dollar bills stashed away in the Republican Palace villas along the Tigris (said to be about a billion and change worth) for the grand par-tays being conducted by the military contractors, some of whom turned around and carried the loot home in sacks and suitcases.

We do these things a little differently in the Homeland, yes?

So from my view, the cockup is deliberate, but it's a money issue, not some nefarious scheme to pre-condition the population to OBEY. On the other hand, we've been immersed in that conditioning for generations, haven't we? We are being conditioned all the time, in addition to being spied on and exploited and everything else.

But then I saw part of the Sebelius hearing on "what went wrong" -- and it was so scripted, I thought, "Wait a minute, this is just for show and sound bites. We are finding out nothing, nothing at all from this hearing. It's just show business."

Oh. So something IS going on. OK. What?

The only thing I could come up with was that the Rollout occurred during the Shutdown, when much of the federal government that the People would ordinarily deal with -- like the parks and such -- was inaccessible (something made plain on the teevee at the monuments in the Mall). The Shutdown was something planned months in advance, a cooperative venture, not spontaneous at all, and I wondered... why?

The Rollout was planned, months (actually years) in advance to occur simultaneously. This was no accident.

It was a coordinated bollox. Was it intentionally planned and coordinated to show the government as useless, incompetent and ultimately "not there" in any case? Had somebody really been thinking things through like this? Oh please.

Who? Who is fucking in charge here, and what exactly are they in charge of?

During the Shutdown and the Rollout, the NSA stories seemed to go on hiatus. But as soon as the government reopened we were told that Glenn had found himself a billionaire and he would be leaving the Guardian to establish a new media venture that he would be in operational and editorial control of, funded by Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay. Oh. Well. Isn't that special. (My reservations about that are another story altogether...)

After all the hoo-hah in Yurp and particular parts of Latin America over spying on the people and the political leaders, we were treated to the information via the WaPo and a little pencil sketch that the personal/private information held by Google and Yahoo (one assumes others)  is accessible by the NSA (one assumes other agencies as well) through various "sekrit" means, and oh, my isn't it a terrible thing, though! And of course Google and the others had no idea, OMG! We are being spied upon!

Jesus. This is such complete bullshit.

The pencil sketch was the tell, if it wasn't for all the other signs that this was yet more "conditioning" to accept the previously unknown/unacceptable.


 I'm sorry, if this is how Our Rulers are conducting their business, on the back of a napkin, then it's a wonder anything works at all, isn't it? Well, isn't it?

Who is in charge of this muddle? What are they really in charge of?

Not only are we pretty fully through the looking glass, we're deep in outer space without a pressure suit.

Wheels within wheels is putting it mildly.

Celestial Wheels