Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Public Had A Right

I'm listening to Young Snowden's ARD interview for German television that was posted at Cryptome the other day. It's kind of repetitive given the multiplicity of stories already aired and published about NSA surveillance and the Security State, but it is one of the few times that Young Snowden himself has been seen/heard from in all the HooHah.

I watched a few minutes of the video of the interview and noted with interest that it seemed to be conducted in a very luxurious Russian hotel suite or possibly in a suite of rooms in an expensive new dacha, perhaps just outside of Moscow.

Regardless of whether it's a hotel or a dacha, if that is where Young Snowden is now being housed, rather than a place selected specifically for the interview, I wouldn't agree that he has "given up" much comfort in his (likely temporary) exile. It appears, in fact, that he is living in high style -- and very expensively -- in Russia. Moscow, after all, is one of the most expensive cities on Earth. It was pointed out that when he was supposedly trapped at Sheremetyevo Airport, the cost of one of the roomettes he was believed to be occupying while there was on the order of $600 a day (given that they rent by the hour), and people were wondering then who was paying for his upkeep.

Even in Hong Kong, where stories now suggest he was for weeks or even a month, he was staying in a very luxurious hotel at considerable expense -- for someone. Initially it was said that he was paying his own freight from his savings from his employment, but if you can sort through the confusing timelines that have been aired/published, each slightly different and some rather remarkably different, you see he had a rather spotty employment record, at least "officially." How long he was actually employed in his various contracted and in house positions (with the CIA, NSA, Dell, and Booz Allen, among apparently others) is something of a mystery. His postings were apparently scattered widely -- among them Switzerland, CONUS, and eventually Hawaii -- but none of them seem to have been for very long. A few months or a year tops.

There's nothing particularly amiss with that kind of record in the Federal Service. That's how they generally hire; employment is frequently intermittent, and it may be with a contractor rather than with the government itself. One's assignment, status, employer of record and posting location can change quite suddenly. It's not unusual to stay on this irregular status for years. This practice keeps the total number of FTE Federal employees lower -- following a Congressional mandate.

As I listen to Young Snowden speaking to the German interviewer, I'm reminded, very strongly, of some of the training personnel I worked with during my time in the Federal Service. It is as if he is conducting a training session to his interlocutor, and for a moment I wonder -- was that his actual job? Was he responsible for training staff to accomplish various spytech tasks, and is that a reason why his work was fairly intermittent and his employer of record went back and forth between agencies and contractors? I have no way of knowing, of course, but from what I've seen and read (and based on my own experience), I wouldn't be surprised. It would also help explain how he manages to "know" so much and yet... not.

Knowledge is compartmentalized in government and among its many contractors. While various low-level individuals (as Snowden apparently was) may have extensive knowledge of a wide range of programs and activities, as a rule, their knowledge is incomplete. They only know what they need to know for a particular assignment. Some of what they may see or have irregular access to as part of that assignment is likely to be incomprehensible because it's not something they have been briefed or trained on. That may be a reason why Young Snowden doesn't want to be responsible for releasing information about Surveillance/Security State programs and operations -- because he cannot "know" for sure what these slides and other information actually contain. So he (supposedly) leaves it up to journalists to vet it and make sense of it -- in consultation with... government. Yes, it's important to remember, as has been repeated fairly often, that every story that has been published or aired about these programs and operations has been done in "consultation with" government agencies and officials. Exactly what that means has never been clarified, of course, nor will it be. But given the repeated references to "legal" issues and potential "legal" jeopardy that reporters and Snowden may be in if they don't tread a very fine line (notwithstanding all the charges that have already been leveled at Young Snowden, though not -- so far -- at Greenwald or any of the other reporters and publications involved)  in releasing these top secret and other elements of the Snowden Trove, it seems to me that there is an ad hoc collaboration between the government and the publications and individuals involved in the stories to, let's say, limit the damage all around.

This is quite different than the situation with the Manning Trove and WikiLeaks, though there may be a superficial resemblance. Clearly, the participants learned from the mistakes made in that one, though so far as I could tell, there was actually nothing in the Manning Trove that was actually damaging to the government. Not even the "Collateral Murder" gun camera video. What the War Logs and Cables showed was military and State Department business as usual, much of which had already been reported, some of it extensively. What was odd  to me about it was that so many people -- literally millions -- had almost unimpeded access to the full trove, just as Manning did, and the Defense Department waited months before doing anything substantive to restrict access. (State, on the other hand, acted almost immediately). To me, this was bizarre behavior. A breach of this sort, had it happened in my agency, would have been acted on and plugged within hours. I had some experience with relatively minor security breaches in my agency and know how they were handled. It was nothing like the situation with the Manning breach. Nothing at all.

With the Snowden Breach, it's not entirely clear what has and has not been done by the NSA in response. There's apparently been a series of ongoing investigations, but beyond that -- and the "consultations" which take place before airing or publication of any story about NSA programs and operations -- I don't know.

I notice, as well, that Young Snowden refuses categorically to reveal any new classified information in this interview, referring to his preference that journalists do that. This is clearly part of the legal line he must toe -- but why, exactly? According to his legal advisers, and the DoJ, he's been charged under the Espionage Act, which strictly and severely limits the defenses he can utilize.

But wait. He is a guest of the Russian Federation, and doesn't actually need legal defenses against the United States in Russia. So what's going on?

Is this a case in which he adhering to an agreement he supposedly has with the Russian Federation not to provide any information that can harm the United States while he is a guest of the RF? I don't know. None of these supposed agreements he's made have been detailed for the public.

What he has detailed, however,  and what the various news organizations that have aired and published this stuff have reinforced, is that the various national and international surveillance agencies of the global security state (let's call it what it is) have the capability to "watch you" in real time, no matter who you are, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing. This capability is frightening.

Be Afraid.

Be Very Afraid.

The Government Is Watching You!!!!!!

Except that over and over again, it's pointed out and acknowledged that the government is (probably) not watching you at all, but in fact, private commercial interests are. They're not just watching, they're tracking and recording and monetizing everything you do, all the time. That is, they're doing it if they have access to you, which they do if you are using any kind of electronic communications.

Young Snowden is intent on letting us know that the government is surveiling one's activities, but he dismisses, with an airy wave of his hand, the fact that commercial interests are the major culprits in this more and more universal surveillance regime because he claims -- wrongly -- that commercial interests don't have the power of government to execute or incarcerate you. Either he's grossly ignorant or he is deliberately deceiving (as so many who make this bogus claim are). Private interests and corporation power more and more are indistinguishable from government power. Surely Young Snowden knows that. Later in the interview, he acknowledges that private companies -- like Booz -- should not be doing the kinds of surveillance and security activities that are properly a function of government. But they do.

Just to be clear, the government maintains massive databases on every one of us; they can, should they want to, discover just about anything on just about anyone, either through their own data collection or by purchasing data from commercial interests -- or just by using the Google, for criminy sakes. We are constantly under surveillance by government and private interests, almost without exception.

There is no doubt in my mind that the public has a right  to know these things. The question is whether they have a right to do anything about it. I think they do, but that makes me a troublemaker at the very least. Doing anything about the all encompassing and pervasive surveillance we are under means fugging up and taking down whole systems, and that is something Young Snowden has repeatedly claimed he has no interest in doing. What he has said over and over is that he wants the public in the United States and abroad to have enough information about the NSA's surveillance programs and operations to make informed decisions about their appropriateness and continuation. Apparently, he assumes that an informed public has any real say in these matters. Or... maybe he's assuming something else. That, as he's said and others have pointed out, the knowledge of this surveillance is sufficient to control people's behavior.

I got this notice in my email, about the February 11, "Day We Fight Back" demonstration,  and I have to ask, "Just what do they expect to accomplish?"

Aaron Swartz lost his life in pursuit of something bigger than himself, on behalf of open access to information people need or even might need in their lives.  The Day We Fight Back is supposed to be in honor of Aaron Swartz and his work to make information a common currency not the exclusive property of a handful of institutions.

I'm all for what he was trying to do -- and his death so shamed JSTOR that most of their millions of documents are now available for the public to read online for no charge as opposed to their previous practice of charging individuals and institutions a veritable fortune for access to almost any of their document trove.

If there were some substantive reforms of -- or preferably abolition of  -- the Surveillance/Security State as a result of the Snowden Revelations, then I would be all for it. So far, I have seen little or nothing to encourage me on that front.

But I have seen some people who realize they are being "watched" curb their activities.

That's worrisome. There are many ways around the surveillance/security apparat, but they seem to be the purview of a tiny fragment of the public. How will the general public come to understand and use them? Or is that not a matter we should be concerned with?

People will do what they will do, and no surveillance regime will keep them in check forever.

UPDATE: There is now a Vimeo video of the interview. One doesn't have to download a zip file. But according to Jonathan Turley, YouTube video versions, and apparently some other video versions are being taken down. According to him it is a concerted government action. I suspect it has more to do with ARD making copyright complaints, but that would be too unconspiratorial of me... heh.

UPDATE: And sure enough, the Vimeo video of the interview is now gone. Government plot? Ohhhhh... if Turley says it is, it must be, right?

The complete interview transcript is apparently available at the German NDR site. But the embedded video doesn't work for me, and it may be blocked in the US.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Only Christie News That Really Matters

Are you, like me, bored senseless with the horserace "news" about the portly governor and former Federal Attorney of New Jersey? He's up! He's down! We got a horserace now! Hillary is wiping the floor with him; the woman mayor of Hoboken is wiping the floor with him! Cat-fight! Cat-fight! Yaaaaaay!


All through this nonsense runs the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, devastation that lingers years after the event, just as the devastation on the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina (and others) still lingers -- and probably will never be fully repaired, nor will displaced populations ever fully return.

This is how these storm situations are being handled these days. Send money to the best off so that they can get their beach mansions up above the storm surge levels in time for the next event, and deny money to the least well-off and most needy -- so that they will Go Away.

From time to time I get updates from Occupy Sandy and from various Occupy efforts and their offshoots going on around the country and the world, and today's email brought news of the Occupy Christie efforts to shame and ostracize the Governor and all his minions for their deliberate and ongoing refusal to address the real problems of the people of New Jersey left in the wake of the storm. While the events have been going on since last Sunday, and I only got the update this morning (having been drop-kicked from one of the email lists I was on and only just got it restored) I thought it might be useful to post the contents of the email so as to give some idea of the extent of the problems for recovery in New Jersey:

Dear friends and supporters, 
 In light of the recent disturbing disclosures concerning Governor Chris>
 Christie's flagrant misuse of federal Sandy aid money, the collective of
> storm survivors and their allies who organize under the Occupy Sandy New
> Jersey banner are hereby calling on residents of New Jersey to join us in
> Trenton in Occupying outside the Capitol starting this Saturday, January
> 18th, at noon. We intend to maintain our camp through Chris Christie's
> re-inauguration festivities on Tuesday, January 21st.
> In particular we invite and encourage Sandy survivors to make the trip to
> Trenton (we'll help you get here if you reach out: call 609-318-4271 or
> email OccupySandyNJ@interoccupy. net) to tell your stories to the state
> and national media already camped out nearby. We know that the people of
> New Jersey have stories to tell, to Chris Christie and to anyone willing to
> listen, and we plan to provide a safe space from which to do so.
> Since our Sandy recovery work continues on a daily basis?indeed, some of
> our volunteers and organizers may not even be able to make it to Trenton
> due to responsibilities in the field?this will only be a four day
> Occupation. However, should the administration fail to quickly fix its
> broken response to the storm and shift its attention to the state's
> residents who are most in need, we will not rule out returning to Trenton
> again soon. Governor Christie must understand that the last people he
> should be bullying right now are Sandy survivors.
> #OccupyChristie starts at high noon TOMORROW at the State Capitol. Bring
> sleeping bags.
> To Governor Chris Christie, here is our one demand: do your damn job!
> In solidarity,
> Occupy Sandy New Jersey
> ________________________________
> WHEN: Saturday, January 18th, NOON to Wednesday, January 22, 9am.
> WHERE: 140 W. State Street, Trenton, NJ
> WHAT: Camp #Sandygate (see partial schedule below)
> RSVP:?https://www.facebook.com/events/490811191030334/
> ________________________________
> ?
> Why "Camp Sandygate"?
> ?
> Sandygate is the real big scandal of Chris Christie's administration. While
> the state and national media are fixated on "Bridgegate" -which indeed does
> make for a good story -the real story should be the thousands of New Jersey
> residents who have been failed by Christie and the state. This is not
> simply an issue of storm recovery being a long and difficult process, as
> officials are often heard saying, but this is an issue of discrimination,
> misappropriation, and lies. Sandygate is about callous state officials
> deciding that one group of people will get help, while another will be
> ignored.
> Frankly, Sandygate is a scandal about mistreating the most vulnerable
> among us.
> Below are just a few of the grievances we hear most often through working
> with both survivors and service providers. As the links below demonstrate,
> the NJ media has actually done quite a good job of telling the real story.
> Unfortunately, the national media has so far failed to put the pieces
> together:
> Racial discrimination: Blacks and Latino applicants have been
> disproportionately rejected for resettlement and construction grants. 14.5%
> and 13.5% of White applicants were rejected by the Resettlement and RREM
> programs, respectively. Contrast these rates of rejection to 20.4% / 18.1%
> of Latino applicants, and a shocking 38.1% / 35.1% for African-Americans.
> Regional disparities: South Jersey's battered Delaware Bayshore has been
> almost completely left out of the recovery process. Residents of Cumberland
> County, one of the poorest counties in the state, are ineligible to receive
> state-administered federal funds. This means that while a beachfront
> homeowner on Long Beach Island is eligible to receive up to $150,000 to
> repair their home (or even to jack it up on stilts so their flood insurance
> remains affordable), bay-front or marsh-front homeowners in Downe Township
> could have lost everything and yet be eligible to receive nothing from the
> state.
> Discrimination against mobile-home owners: Despite assurances from the
> state that the grant application process did not exclude mobile-home
> owners, the process was riddled with confusion. In October, 2013, only 10
> of 3,500 statewide applicants for rebuilding grants were given to
> mobile-home owners. In the devastated Vanguard and Metropolitan parks, in
> affluent Bergen County's working class borough of Moonachie, only 4 of 400
> residences were approved. The state website still contains language
> excluding "RVs and trailers," which is believed to be the main cause of the
> confusion.
> Mishandled recovery for renters: Rental property recovery was underfunded,
> and relief went to landlords based on demand, rather than need, leaving
> renters out in the cold. As a result, $2 million of the $4.5 million
> awarded through the state's Incentives for Landlords program ended up in
> Essex County, which did not experience nearly the magnitude of
> storm-related damage as did other Atlantic counties. Devastated Ocean
> County, by contrast, received a mere $47,484 from the same program.
> Furthermore, while the state has been focused on landlords, renters
> themselves have too often been ignored.
> Leaving people out in the cold: As a result of the systemic mishandling
> and inequities in the Christie administration's recovery effort, many of
> the most vulnerable among Sandy's survivors have fallen through the cracks.
> The state has yet to commission a comprehensive survey of survivors, nor
> assessed the needs of those who currently live crammed into motel rooms
> with their whole family, or by sleeping in the condemned ruins of their
> home, or in between the reeds hidden in sand dunes. These and countless
> other survivors are still in urgent need of assistance with basic
> necessities such as food, clothing, medical services and stable housing. We
> do what we can for them every day, but there is so much more work to
> do.
> With so many resources going to well-off people and businesses, even one
> vulnerable person left behind should be a scandal. Tragically?and due to
> the decisions of Chris Christie and the state of New Jersey?thousands have
> been left behind.
> This is Sandygate. Please join us in Trenton tomorrow if you share our
> outrage.
> ________________________________
> Day 1 - Saturday
> Noon - Occupy
> 6pm - Community Dinner & Assembly
> 8pm - Memorial Candlelight Vigil for Sandy's victims
> Day 2 - Sunday
> 9am - Breakfast
> 1 pm - Community Lunch & Assembly
> 7pm - Sunday Dinner
> Day 3 - Monday
> 9am - Breakfast
> 11am - Press conference
> 1 pm - Community Lunch & Assembly
> 7pm - Dinner
> Day 4 - Tuesday
> 8am - Breakfast
> 11am - Sandy Survivor Speakout
> 1pm - Lunch
> 7pm - Dinner
> Day 5 - Wednesday
> 9am - Breakfast and break down encampment
This is the real story of the Hurricane Sandy relief debacle. 
It's not about the mayors and the governor and Hillary and the polls
and the Rockefellers and all the rest, it's about the People and their struggle 
in the face of this ridiculous mess and media 
This issue is the real story all over the world. 
One day, we might come to know about these things in real time. 
Haiti, anyone? 

This is a test, this is only a test

"Pasatiempo" is one of the overabundance of local arts publications that we sometimes find overwhelming. 

This issue includes articles on Ol'Max Evans, a local character (oh, is he a writer, too?) we've come to know at least to a modest degree, whose company we enjoy, and whose writing we've long admired. The article features Ol' Max's story called "One Eyed Sky" -- which to my way of looking at it is as perfect a long-short story as anyone has ever written. Ol' Max probably agrees, though he would say it's only the most perfect he's ever written. All right.

Then featured on the cover and included in an article inside is the work of Harry Fonseca, an artist from California who we knew and who was one of the inspirations of our eventual move to New Mexico -- though not to Santa Fe. Oh please.

We love going to Santa Fe and attending whatever or doing whatever we need to do there, but to live there? No. It's a pleasant enough place as long as you don't have to get too far into its subcultures and the various competing interests shall we say. I think our first introduction to Santa Fe was among those interests and we thought then, as we think now, it is best for them to go their own way.

I've embedded this issue of "Pasatiempo" from last August as a test to see whether it will work or not and to have easy access to it later. If a reader enjoys it, too, great!


Note: Forgot to mention Nagel Jackson, who is mentioned in an article regarding the resurrection of "Shakespeare Santa Fe." We worked with Nagel on a number of plays including Shakespeare productions back in the day, 40-some-odd years ago now. So. Things keep circling around, don't they?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Kiev Is Burning

They tell me this is yet another Color Revolution in Kiev, Ukraine, like that in Bangkok, one in which a militant and rising middle class demands that the more or less populist -- though oppressive -- government aligned with the 'lesser people' be gone and neo-liberal "democratic" government and economic policies be instituted.

When Gene Sharp's manual for Color Revolutions was being promoted heavily at Occupy events, I read it, tried to understand Sharp's philosophy about these things, and looked deeper into their results, and I said, "Whoa! Wait. Is this what you want? Is this what you really want from Occupy or any other revolutionary movement?"

Few knew what I was saying, or why, because very few understood the nature and purpose of Color Revolutions, nor did it ever occur to most of them that there were particular -- and highly exploitative -- economic interests behind every one of them, interests that were perfectly delighted to use whatever discontents they could find among the People to get what they wanted out of them, at whatever cost to the People it took.

Those who did understand what I was asking wanted nothing more than to shut me and anyone else who questioned the semi-divinity of Gene Sharp up.

Where I saw the Sharp methods and revolutionary practices had value was in their systems and organization -- which any movement can adopt and utilize, even anarchist ones. The problem is that any movement can adopt them, and that includes counter-revolutionary and reactionary ones. Sharp's directives and directions for carrying out a Color Revolution, and the Revolution itself, are not required to be "leftish" or carried out on behalf of the People (though they are always "in the name of the People.")  Yet that's a marketing slogan. It doesn't have to be -- and typically isn't -- real at all. It's marketing. Bernays on steroids.

In fact, the whole "Color Revolution" schtick is marketing. That's what Sharp was selling. How to organize and market your uprising so it will be successful in the marketplace, how to sell it. Not, by any means, how to achieve the revolutionary ends most beneficial to the greatest number of People. Apart from some yammering about "freedom" and "democracy" the ends are never discussed in Sharp's extensive work. I even dared to ask why that was so. If you don't know why you're having an uprising -- apart from some vague concepts of "Freedom" (for whom, from what?) and "Democracy" (In what way?), then why are you having it?

So I glance every now and then at what's been going on in Kiev and Bangkok, and ponder the disasters in the aftermath the Arab Spring, the general failure of the populist movements in Spain and Greece (among other places), and I see a common pattern. We can go all the way back to the Philippines insurrection against Marcos, or the numerous "Color Revolutions" in Eastern Europe and the eventual destruction of the Soviet Union and any hint of popular resistance to the looming economic and political catastrophe Soviet citizens were being forced to endure,  and see a common thread: these "populist" uprisings were all -- every one of the them -- conducted on behalf of a nascent 'new' oligarchy which wanted to replace the sclerotic 'old' one, using the discontents of a rising but blocked middle class and the often suppressed longings of the poor to gain the leverage necessary to overthrow the Old Order and institute a New one -- a new one that is as bad as, or even worse than, what it replaces. Every. Single. One.

And it is always all about the marketing in Sharp's vision.

Of course, it's supposed to be nonviolent, with nonviolence used as a weapon against internal opposition and against the Old Order, but on the margins, these successful "revolutions" -- or reactionary movements, which is what I came to believe they were -- were remarkably not non-violent at all. The "peaceful revolutionaries" always -- ALWAYS -- held the threat of violence over the state or oligarchy they wished to replace, while simultaneously claiming otherwise, and they sought ways to precipitate or initiate violent repression by the police and authorities so as to gain sympathy for their cause. This is not non-violence; it's an embrace of violence. In Kiev -- and in many other sites where this sort of double-tracking goes on -- there is a lot of violence initiated by the state to be sure, but there is also sabotage and violence initiated by the reactionary-revolutionaries, whether it is burning down symbols of the regime (as happened over and over again in Cairo, for example) to actually burning members of the police force with Molotov cocktails (Kiev, Athens, etc.) .

By comparison to almost any revolutionary movement in history, Occupy was almost preternaturally non-violent. Yet it was met with extraordinary levels of state violence that was widely approved by the general population in large part because they were convinced that Occupations were dirty and disgusting hotbeds for disease, rape and murder.

That, too, was marketing -- by the authorities -- to ensure that Occupy could not become a successful Revolution against the oligarchy that rules the world with rod and staff. Many of the same tactics that were used in the United States (and elsewhere) against Occupy and similar demonstrations are being used against protesters in Kiev and Bangkok, whereas in Cairo, the authorities just shoot into crowds, killing and maiming many thousands so far -- with no apparent end to the mayhem in sight.

But what is it for?

Some loud and energized Ukrainians would would rather be under the thumb of EU Bankers, Neo-Liberals and Technocrats than be aligned with (ick) Russia? Oh Kay, then. Let's have a Revolution!

They say that this year will mark another in a series of years of rage and rebellion around the world. We shall see, shan't we?

UPDATE: This video has been making the rounds. It shows a phalanx of police in Kiev confronting a large and enthusiastic crowd, members of which are hurling rocks, bottles, paving stones, smoke bombs, and Molotov cocktails at the police who are arrayed behind barricades and shields. Someone in the crowd is driving a front-loader repeatedly into the police line and appears to break through at one point but retreats. The version that is going around stops as the front-loader retreats, but there is another one that shows the action from the ground level, and that's the second one posted here.

You'll note that members of the crowd are attempting to stop the driver of the front-loader and try to speak/reason with the more militant members of the crowd. Others have pointed out that if anything like this demonstration were to happen in the United States, the front-loader driver would be taken out by a police sniper, and the crowd would be gassed and bludgeoned and shot by the police who would promptly arrest any survivors.

Though we're given to believe that the uprising in Kiev has wide popular support, some observers and commenters in this country and elsewhere have noted that much if not all of the violence has been instigated by what amount to Neo-Fascists whose determination is not at all in the interests of the Ukrainian people. In addition, the Ukraine apparently has a broadly divided population, with Eastern populations widely supporting closer ties with Russia (many ethnic Russians live in the Eastern areas) while Western populations widely support closer ties with Europe.

Eventually, this may lead to the break up of the Ukraine -- which wouldn't be the first former Soviet sphere republic to split apart or even engage in civil war.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How To Beat the Surveillance Cams

Disguises the cams can't penetrate:


Via NYT, via Lisa Simeone at Ian's Place.

I like it.

Bill Gates on Charlie Rose

Last night I saw a few minutes of Bill Gates explaining to Charlie Rose how Good he and all the other 85 billionaires who own the world and everyone in it are. I had to click it off, it was so revolting. Ordinarily, I can at least stand to look at and even listen to Gates pontificate, but last night, he was in some sort of alternate universe, protecting his class at all costs ("You know, Warren and I are of the opinion that the rich could be taxed just a little more in this country without harming the economy....") and knowing he's full of shit.

Rose was trying to fluff him up with all this talk about the "expanding middle class" -- whereas he said nothing at all about the shrinking and vanishing middle class in this country and much of the rest of the world.

"Redistribution" got Gates's panties in a wad, so I said, "That's it," and turned it off.

Arianna is in Davos

That is All.

Carry on.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mark Morford Explains It All For You

Doing something about Climate Change has been the terrestrial general directive for decades. From time to time, something is done, but it's never-ever enough, not even close. The atmosphere continues to fill with carbon dioxide, the global temperatures and sea levels continus to rise, and crippling droughts, destructive storms, ice and snow, and heat waves beyond measure bombard us relentlessly.

I understand this is the third year of crippling drought in parts of California (after quite a few years of higher and higher rain and snowfall in many other areas). The situation is perilous for the farming areas, not much better in the cities.

Mark Morford has been writing an often hilarious and biting column at the San Francisco Chronicle for quite a few years now, while teaching yoga and other flexible body arts on the side. He's offered a commentary on the drought situation in California, and I'll just excerpt the following:

Which is to say: dramatic climate change is no longer even remotely preventable. It’s here. It will be here for centuries. And yes, most of what’s happening is very much our fault. It’s now only a question of severity, adaptation and survival.

That's where we are. There's no preventing any more, no going back. The open question is how bad it will get, what sort of adaptations will be necessary, and who among us will survive.

Welcome to the Future. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cheer Up! Nearly Half of Black Men Are Arrested by the Age of 23!

A story on the AP Wire is just sickening. (I won't link to the AP story because they have been idiotic in protecting their property rights against blog-links, so fuck 'em.)

According to a study published in "Crime and Delinquency," (pdf of the study in question) almost half of black men (49%) have been arrested for non-traffic related incidents by the time they turn 23. The comparable figure for Hispanics is 44%. For white men, the figure is 38%.

Now wait, think I, these are astonishingly high figures, catastrophically high for every group, most especially for black males, but in no way are they "better" for Hispanics or whites; arrest rates bordering on 40% or more are simply insane.

What kind of society are we producing in which so many men between the ages of 18 and 23 are arrested and placed in custody, regardless of their color or ethnicity?

The abstract of the study by University of South Carolina researchers Robert Brame, Shawn D. Bushway, Ray Paternoster, and Michael G. Turner titled
Demographic Patterns of Cumulative Arrest Prevalence by Ages 18 and 23  
states as follows: 
In this study, we examine race, sex, and self-reported arrest histories (excluding arrests for minor traffic violations) from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97; N = 7,335) for the period 1997 through 2008 covering cumulative arrest histories through ages 18 and 23. The analysis produces three key findings: (a) males have higher cumulative prevalence of arrest than females and (b) there are important race differences in the probability of arrest for males but not for females. Assuming that the missing cases are missing at random (MAR), about 30% of Black males have experienced at least one arrest by age 18 (vs. about 22% for White males); by age 23 about 49% of Black males have been arrested (vs. about 38% for White males). Earlier research using the NLSY97 showed that the risk of arrest by age 23 was 30%, with nonresponse bounds [25.3%, 41.4%]. This study indicates that the risk of arrest is not evenly distributed across the population. Future research should focus on the identification and management of collateral risks that often accompany arrest experiences.
These are appalling statistics that demonstrate as clearly as anything could that the United States is a desperately over-policed and under-socialized country in which the basic social contract simply does not apply -- especially if you are a young male, and most especially if you are a young black male.

I'm familiar with the self-reporting characteristics of such longitudinal studies, and from what I know, self-reporting tends to be accurate within the framework of the study, whereas crime and arrest reports from law enforcement agencies often contain more detail but may be inaccurate and incomplete overall. Consequently, a study of this sort is liable to be more accurate and complete overall than law enforcement agency statistics, though its detail may not be a fine.

Regarding the high rate of arrest for young black males, we need to recognize that there was an implicit trade off for the granting of civil rights to Negroes back in the day: they would be subjected to intense and unrelenting policing leading to large numbers of arrests and the imprisonment of large numbers of black males (especially, though black women have not been entirely immune) until such time as Authority deems Negroes are sufficiently "civilized" to be left to their own devices. A similar trade off occurred with Hispanic males. The trade-off for young white males was not all that different (let's not forget the panic over "juvenile delinquency" back in the '40s and '50's), it just happened earlier, and so the process lightening up on the oppression has gone on a bit longer.

Still, these are god-awful statistics, so appalling that anyone with a conscience would ask WTF?

And they go far to explain the astronomically high incarceration rates the United States has.

We owe ourselves, our young men, and the world much better.


Greenwald has said (December, 2013, via his very active Twitter account) that the purpose for the knowledge of the panopticon which he and Young Snowden and the others have been at some pains to reveal to the shocked and disbelieving world is to ensure and enforce conformity.... as was pointed out by George Orwell in "1984" and which was what Naomi Wolf said back in June of last year was her instinct about why the these revelations were being made in the way they were. She was pilloried for daring to raise questions about the motives and methods of those who were so prominent in this story and for pointing out the obviousness of some of it. To quote Wolf in June, 2013:

d) It is actually in the Police State’s interest to let everyone know that everything you write or say everywhere is being surveilled, and that awful things happen to people who challenge this. Which is why I am not surprised that now he is on UK no-fly lists – I assume the end of this story is that we will all have a lesson in terrible things that happen to whistleblowers. That could be because he is a real guy who gets in trouble; but it would be as useful to the police state if he is a fake guy who gets in ‘trouble.’

 Further, there have been recent headlines regarding the urge some outspoken members of the "intelligence" community (sometimes an oxymoron) have to "put a bullet" in Snowden's head. This recent headline grabbing exactly parallels the ArsTechnica examination of Snowden's online persona prior to his revelatory reconception.

Now that the President Has Spoken regarding "reform" of the NSA, and it is obvious to all sentient beings that there will and can be no substantive reforms of such an agency, it appears that the "debate" Snowden, Greenwald, et al, wished to instigate has concluded.

Those who questioned were correct. But it doesn't matter. Nothing (much) has changed, but now we know with perfect certainty that we can be watched at any time by those Machines of Loving Grace... and so, if we know what's good for us, we will conform and behave. Which is the whole point of letting us know about the watching and the watchers.

Those who denounced the questioners are left to ponder what's next on the agenda...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Some Additional Paintings As The Days Grow Longer...

Not very good photos, but some of the paintings are rather nice...

[Note: These paintings -- and the previous set posted a few days ago -- are in our home, not ones that Ms Ché or I have done. The first one of this set is actually a large framed art print from the 1940's, signed "Robert Wood, 1944." I have never seen another copy of this particular one, though I'm sure they must be out there. The second is an oil on what appears to be a heavy cardboard box lid, unsigned, no doubt done by an amateur sometime in the 1920's or '30's. It's really quite beautiful, though it was damaged somehow before I bought it. The damage can be seen on the edge of the vase holding the magnolia blossoms. The next two landscapes are cheery little things. The first is what I assume is an imaginary rural scene with a custard-colored sky in a kind of folk-artist style. The second is more sophisticated and the location is noted on the back: "Jack Tone Road," which is a rural road in California's Central Valley passing through miles and miles of orchards -- peaches and almonds and apricots and plums. Well, it used to. Times change. Many of the orchards have been ripped out and disposed of, replaced with suburbs or vinyards or bare fields. The last is just a bit of color and gorgeousness to brighten up the bedroom...]
Oh. One more. I was intending to post it earlier, but got distracted or something:

It's titled "Fogbound" -- a scene very familiar to me, somewhere on the coast of California, I'd guess anywhere between Santa Cruz Carmel and Mendocino. This is really the image of the Pacific Ocean I carry with me most of the time, of rocky headlands, fog, distant breakers, the sounds of seagulls and pelicans, the smell of herbs at my feet, kelp, seawater (sometimes petroleum, too, depending on where you are.)

It's cold, windy, not particularly pleasant. Evocative, though. Always evocative. And this painting, by an artist who lived in Boulder Creek  which is in the hills above Santa Cruz, so the site of this painting is probably along the coast there, always reminds me...

He Knew. We Knew. He Told Us.. Time to Listen Again... Now Let Us Begin Together...

Via Alexa O'Brien on Twitter (@Carwinb)

Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. excerpted in the video above:

"I Have a Dream"

"Beyond Vietnam"

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Post-Consumerism and Prosperity

[Note: This post has been delayed a bit due to the surprising complexity of the topic, new information, my own confusion about some of the issues involved, and -- unfortunately -- continuing physical issues that can make it difficult to sit for an extended session and read... Oh well!]

A while back I wrote a post called, "Full Employment and Enforced Savings = No Economic Depression Without War."  I'm sure the title confused a few people, because it may have seemed I was arguing that it's not possible to have an economic depression without war, but that wasn't it at all.

What I was trying to get at was that by implementing strategies and policies that ensured full employment and enforcing savings rather than spending of income, as was the case during World War II, the periodic economic depressions that afflicted capitalism -- including the current one -- could be and largely would be avoided. "Prosperity" -- of a sort -- would become institutionalized, and no one would need to suffer from want of anything necessary for material well-being. It was simple. Full employment began as the nation geared up for World War II, and it was the policy prescription after the war right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Enforced savings occurred during the war because there were limited consumer goods available -- most production being blown up for warmaking. That was stupid, of course, because it was perfectly possible to utilize production (and excess production) for positive ends, or not necessarily to produce so much excess, while still maintaining full employment.

I was making an argument against the policies that were maintaining the Endless Recession at that time, policies which are still in place and which still maintain a Permanent Recession economy for the many millions.

If there is anything positive about this Endless Recession is that it has begun to curb the rampant consumerism that has long been a hallmark of Western Civilization (that thing that Gandhi is said to have snarked "would be a good idea.")  The consumerist curve is bending downward, at least it is in the West; not so much in China and India and much of the rest of Asia. But for consumerism to be reduced in the United States is remarkable and it is clearly a matter of (unstated) policy decisions at the very top.

World War II provided essentially everyone who could work with employment, some of it compelled labor at risk in the military, but most of it in the civilian sector producing war materiel and modest amounts of civilian goods. Most civilian jobs did not pay that well, and military pay was a joke, but that hardly mattered as there was little to buy with one's earnings. Price controls and rationing meant that what was available stayed affordable. One saved one's earnings from employment whether through purchase of War Bonds and Stamps or by some other means. In those days, surprisingly enough, interest was paid on savings, something unheard of today, and so by the end of the war, many Americans had saved up quite a lot of money, typically in the thousands of dollars, something most had never been able to do before.

During the war, of course, civilian infrastructure had been badly neglected, as it had been throughout the Depression as well. The civilian sector was in tatters, falling to pieces, held together with bailing wire and Scotch Tape, when it was held together at all. Everyone longed for and looked forward to "The Wonderful World of Tomorrow," fantasy worlds to come that had a long history in popular literature.

With Victory, some of those fantasy worlds started to be realized. Suburbia exploded, the cores of whole cities were abandoned and raised, freeways criss-crossed the land, television became a reality for almost everyone, and the world was bright and cheery and sunny. If you were white. And if you conformed. Products -- consumables -- made for happiness. Being like everyone else and believing what they did was considered gracious and right.

The maintenance of prosperity during the Post War Era required consumption and destruction/disposal on a massive scale however -- much as World War II had done. There was no other operative paradigm at the time, and we really haven't developed an broadly based alternative since then.

The question now is whether a broadly based alternative is even possible. "Prosperity" as we commonly understand it requires things, having things in massive quantities, disposing of older things and getting new things, on an endless treadmill, one that can only be sustained for many -- perhaps most -- people by surrendering to massive debt. Incomes for the masses have stagnated and in many cases declined substantially in the last fifty years. The production and destruction/replacement of so much product has led to enormous levels of environmental degradation, some of which has been mitigated to be sure, but much of which remains toxic though out of sight for most of us.

The central global problem of climate change, of course, is exacerbated if not directly caused by the overload of carbon emissions incumbent upon the production/destruction of so much stuff. This leads to cries of Utter Doom Soon that we're hearing more and more of (and which will always gain an enthusiastic following on the InterTubes; I wonder why that is?) and calls to fucking do something about it, already!  from all the usual quarters and many not so usual.

Consumerism is clearly a big part of the problem, though more serious people than I sometimes am lay the blame squarely at the feet of Capitalism itself. In that view, capitalism requires growth, and one cannot have growth in capitalism without ever greater levels of consumerism, but I'm not so sure that's the case. There have been efforts to curb consumption by the masses while maintaining -- even expanding -- capitalist growth for decades. I'm not sure that's recognized in the general discussions of the topic. And the meaning of "growth-capitalism" in the midst of strategies and tactics that are ratcheting back consumption is a mystery.

I wouldn't say capitalism itself is a good thing but it seems to be able to sustain itself and expand its reach with rather low or lower levels of consumption; in other words, it appears that a highly consumerist economy is not necessary for the survival/success of the capitalist economic system. The system itself seems to be able to go on indefinitely almost regardless of the level of consumption of its plethora of product so long as... something (what could it be?) is available or in place.

Could it be access to resources (at little or no cost, this is important to the bean counters) and a nearly impervious (but not completely impervious) inequality/class system?  Resources include raw materials, fuel, and -- glory be -- money. Resources also include labor, workers, the lower paid and closer to homelessness and starvation, the better for the capitalists.

Is prosperity sustainable for the masses?

Or should prosperity be limited to the interests and well-being of the capitalist class itself, nothing more or less.

I realize I'm going far afield here and may have some difficulty circling back to the point.

The point I'm getting at is that we (in the West) are currently in a post-consumerist phase of a capitalist economic system. It has meant that the consumption of goods and services by the masses has been held in check for decades, and recently has been progressively reduced by such factors as the forced impoverishment of many millions of Americans due to the Endless Recession and the recent discoveries of the remarkable levels of vulnerability of digital transactions (the Target Hack, for example).

Production of goods has largely moved out of the United States to new homes in Asia, Latin America, various outposts of the Former Soviet Union and so on, wherever labor is abundant and (relatively) cheap, scared, and submissive. Whole cities and regions in the United States have been partially or extensively depopulated, whereas other areas have been packed tighter and tighter with refugees and residents competing for fewer and fewer scraps and benefits from their ever more authoritarian and arbitrary masters.

For more and more Americans every day, subsistence has become the economic standard, and relief from it or rising from the subsistence level of existence is becoming less and less possible. That's the reality that really isn't taken into account by those who are most panicked by climate change, for example. While they tend to become overwrought that "nothing is being done" about climate change, they tend to ignore what is being done and what the effects are on more and more people all the time.

I have little doubt that the economic policies which ensure such high and apparently permanent levels of poverty in this country -- let alone the effects of those policies abroad -- are integrated parts of a program to "address" climate change (say what you will about its effectiveness) by the High and the Mighty for their own protection, comfort and convenience, bugger the rest of humanity. Which has been their attitude all along, hasn't it?

Forced impoverishment means forced reduction in consumption, which in turn means less production, less environmental destruction, eventually less carbon emission, which -- maybe in a few generations -- will begin to mitigate greenhouse warming. Maybe. Maybe not. If not, what then?

One of the constant cries of Doomers is that "there are too many people!" -- and recently, they've become much more specific about what they believe the carrying capacity of the globe is.  No more than a billion humans; that's it. So what do they propose to do with the other 6/7th of humanity? Oh, they won't say, but because they are by and large humane rather than cruel about these things, I suspect they'd be delighted to have a global Game in which everyone on earth participates, draws straws, and the one out of seven who draws the short straw prepares the Kool-Aid and the mass graves for the other six -- who will then cheerfully and with much appreciation take their own lives. Is there some other less objectionable means of reducing global population by 6/7th?

And what, exactly, does such a precipitous drop in human population accomplish? Doomers say it will "save the earth" by reducing carbon emissions to tolerable levels and so on, which I suppose it will for a time, but there won't be, and can't be, an immediate turn around in climate trends due to feed-backs and so on. What it would mean is more space and initially at any rate more stuff for the survivors.

I suppose that's what some people really want more than anything else in the whole wide world. More space and more stuff. OK then.

But back to my question: is it possible to have prosperity for the many in a post-consumerist economy?

Depends somewhat, doesn't it, on definitions of prosperity. When the New Guinea Highlands were "discovered" in the 1930's, it was a shock to explorers and anthropologists at the time to find millions and millions of people living "primitively" but abundantly in these remote highlands, living really quite well without the trappings of capitalism and consumerism as it was practiced in the "civilized" world, without conquest -- though not without conflict and struggle -- without rapine and destruction, and under a surprisingly well-considered and thought out sustainability routine. For the natives, life was good, about as good as they could want it to be, and their ancient ways of life -- which had neither knowledge of or particular interest in the outside world -- were by their own standards quite egalitarian and prosperous.

Of course all that's gone now. Or rather, it's not the same. Now the Papuans are infected with the disease of consumerism, impoverishment, and all the rest.

But what they showed is that it is quite possible for human societies to live prosperously -- by their own standards -- without capitalism and consumerism, just as many Native societies have demonstrated over the centuries. Of course most of those societies were vulnerable to blandishment and conquest and were more or less destroyed with the introduction of capitalist economic ideas and the imposed necessity of adopting them -- or else.

Americans know very well how to be prosperous under a capitalist system, and how to become prosperous outside a consumerist context, but do Americans have any idea how to live prosperous, rewarding lives with neither capitalism nor consumerist props to prosperity?

So far, the signs aren't very encouraging.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How The Past Trembles in the Hands of Historians

Union Traction Company service map, Indianapolis to Muncie, c. 1910. (Clickage will make the image larger)

He was my mother's father, her natural father. She knew that he had died in Indianapolis when she was very young, died "in a streetcar accident," but didn't know the details until much later. She found out some of it from her mother, but she would find out most of the story from a half-brother she learned about when she was an adult -- but whom didn't meet until I was about 7 or 8 years old and she was well into middle age.

She found her half-brother when we were living in Los Angeles. He was living not very far away in San Dimas and came to visit. I remember one visit quite clearly and he may have come by several other times that I don't remember as well. His name was Frank King; his father's name -- my mother's father, too -- was Frank Olive. He said he'd taken a different name partly because of what had happened in Indianapolis. It wasn't his step-father's name, it was a name he had chosen himself. How my mother had found him, I don't recall in any detail, but it had something to do with military records and I remember she had been calling anyone with the same name she found in those records for years.

Frank Olive was a streetcar conductor for the Indianapolis interurban transit company, and he was also a union organizer who had had an increasingly important role in all the strikes that had hit the system since the early 19-teens. He was well-known to the company as an agitator and a troublemaker. He died on the job, yes, but it wasn't an accident (and he didn't die in one of the riots). After one of the strikes was settled, I believe it was around 1915 though the date was always a bit hazy in my mind, so it may have been earlier or a bit later, he was told that there was something hanging off the front of his car, and to go get it before he began his run. When he got to the front of the car, another conductor or motorman started the car moving forward and it struck the car ahead, crushing Frank between them, killing him. Everyone knew what had happened. He had been murdered in a way that made it look like a careless accident. As were a number of strikers and strike leaders who went back on the job that year.

His funeral was huge, apparently, and at that funeral, Frank's widow, my mother's mother, found out about his other widow, Frank King's mother. Oh. Yes, Frank had two wives who lived at opposite ends of the interurban line, in this case, one household in Indianapolis and one in Marion. Apparently the discovery was quite the scandal at the time. One of Frank's close friends at the transit company took it upon himself to marry my mother's mother quite soon after Frank's demise, and thus make her an honest woman again. He had been fired from the transit company due to the most recent strike, and figured it was the perfect time to move out to California and start over, which they did. He ran Flying A filling stations and sold Dodge cars on the Central Coast, then retired around 1940 and bought a motor court up in Willits where my mother's mother died not long after, and he passed within a few months of her death (or maybe the sequence was the other way around... I wasn't there, and my mother was always pretty anguished about it).

Frank King's mother also remarried fairly soon after her Frank Olive's death, but they stayed in Marion. Frank King moved out to California on his own after WWII. My mother didn't know about them at all until she was well into her twenties, and she said she was shocked when she found out her natural father was a bigamist who had another household and family. When she learned about her father's union activities and the strikes and the violence that went with them, and how her father had actually died, she was horrified. She had no idea it was like that, she said. But she developed a greater (albeit grudging) respect for him. She said she got a much greater understanding of why she herself felt the need to stand up for the downtrodden, to fight for her own rights, and to try to change bad situations she or others found themselves in -- though that didn't always include her own relations.

I didn't realize until much later myself how pivotal the Indianapolis transit strikes had been -- I hadn't even heard of them at all before my mother's half-brother told the stories to us at our house in Los Angeles in the 1950s. Much of labor history in this country has been suppressed or forgotten, just as civil rights history has been. We may have romantic notions of what happened and believe in stories and myths of "heroic struggles," but have no idea at all of what really happened. The Indianapolis and other transit strikes were essentially disappeared from history, just as so much of civil rights history was disappeared.

An example was just last night on PBS. We were watching the "1964" program -- it was a pretty big year for both of Ms Ché and me, after all. That was the year Ms saw the Beatles at the Cow Palace, and one doesn't forget things like that, and I was mesmerized by the Civil Rights marches and Free Speech Movement in Berkeley -- and for the most part, it seemed the program was pretty good. It tried to show how events were linked together and not just discreet incidents, the way so much "history" is presented. The premise was essentially: "Everything changed on November 22, 1963, and the '60s as we remember them really began in 1964." True enough. I've been saying pretty much that for years and scholars have been making the same point though somewhat less stridently than people like me. But it was odd how much was missing -- and who was missing -- from this program. One huge absence really stuck out to me (for reasons I may get into another time). Stokely Carmichael was never mentioned. Huh? Whut the...?  He appeared in a picture or two of civil rights events, and SNCC was mentioned briefly, but his name was never breathed.  I could not believe it. You cannot have a history of the Civil Rights Movement, even in 1964, without Stokely Carmichael -- but apparently he's been disappeared, as if he were a Soviet dissident.

Todd Gitlin was all over the place last night being interviewed about this and that, his title changing depending on the topic, but what he was doing in 1964 and where he was was never mentioned; it was implied he was at Berkeley in 1964 and had some role in the the Free Speech Movement, but so far as I know he wasn't there. He was at Harvard (or maybe Columbia, he moved around a lot back east) -- and he was running the SDS (which also was never mentioned.)  There was some well-coifed and manicured woman  (wish I could remember her name [looked it up, it was Stephanie Coontz, listed as a "Berkeley student," which I guess she was in 1964]) describing FSM events accurately enough but with little seeming interest, though she claimed she was part of the struggle, and "stood up and walked out of" [Sproul Hall] (though the iconic name of the administration building at UC Berkeley was never used) rather than being dragged down the stairs as so many were, and I thought it would have been more interesting if they'd had Alice Waters yakking "spiritually" about it instead. She may not have complete memories, but they're both more fun and more personal.

Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is that what we think we know about historical movements and events is definitely not the whole story, and in many cases, it's not even close to what was really going on. It's often a highly romanticized and cleansed version that leaves out many important aspects and people, and which declares "X" result, when the result was actually "Y". Or the result might have been something else altogether.

The Indianapolis and other transit strikes in the early 19-teens were pivotal in part because though they were declared to be settled in favor of the workers, they were failures, despite the huge number of people participating and supporting them. They literally brought the city and a good deal of transport in the region and the country to a halt, and though the official violence which was brought to bear against the strikers -- and the many murders that occurred as a result -- were widely condemned, the strikers did not win much of anything despite their enormous sacrifices. This was the pattern of the labor movement of the time. While discreet incidents may be recalled, and minor victories celebrated, the pattern of failures leading to tiny advances often isn't. I've read transcripts of the investigation into the conditions that led to the Indianapolis transit strikes, and it was horrible. It didn't get much better, despite the struggles, not until after World War I, and even then, victories were reversible. My grandfather lost his life in the struggle, but for what? A noble sacrifice? Maybe. But he was a flawed human being, and so, like the largely failed strikes themselves, largely forgotten.

1964 was a pivotal year for the American consciousness, but even as close as we are to it now, only fifty years on, it appears that key people and important events are being disappeared and whitewashed for some purpose, perhaps to enhance an official mythology, to simplify the record, to glorify certain aspects, diminish others -- on behalf of...? Well, that's the question, isn't it? Always the question. What are we being led to believe? On whose behalf? Or on behalf of what objective?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Silk Pillow Effect

Silk Pillow

I've been out for the last few days with an episode of sciatica, a recurring problem I've had for the last ten years or so. This is the first time it's happened since we've lived full time in New Mexico.

There was a precursor episode about ten days ago, when I knew a sciatic attack was underway, but the symptoms were mild enough that I wasn't particularly bothered. I could walk, sit, stand, and the pain was relatively mild, focused on the left side of my lower back. It felt as if a vertebral disc was protruding and pressing on the nerves that ran down my left leg. I've had this before, and it's annoying. Sometimes the leg goes completely numb, but more often, my left foot is numb which can make it difficult to walk without lurching and limping about. Usually the pain is mild and can be controlled with Advil or the like. Initially, too, I applied Holy Dirt from El Santuario de Chimayó, which caused immediate and lasting pain relief. Milagro! I can't explain it, but that's what happened. I knew that there was still a sciatic condition, for I could feel the disc protrusion, but the nerve pain was nearly completely gone, and I was quite in wonder at the miracle of it all. I think I then became somewhat complacent. Mistake.

On Friday I woke up in real agony, with intense pain in my left hip, so intense that I was unable to sit or stand or walk for more than a moment or two without experiencing excruciating pain, and so,  for all intents and purposes, I was confined to bed. This was the worst episode I'd had for close to ten years, and the evocation of what I went through back then was not pleasant. Something had happened during the night to force the disc out further and press even more severely on the nerves involved thus producing a constant intense pain. Movement of any kind was difficult. Sleep was impossible.

I came very close to calling Emergency Services, even though it would mean transport by ambulance over 40 miles to Albuquerque's Presbyterian Hospital emergency facilities. This was not an idea I enjoyed at all. Bad as I felt, the thought of an extended trip in an ambulance to wait in an emergency room for essentially little or no treatment and then a ride back home in the car (would that even be physically possible?) was daunting.

I would just have to tough it out somehow.

Sciatica is the set of symptoms signifying a nerve condition in the lower back and hip region often affecting one leg as well (rarely both). It can cause extreme pain and discomfort, numbness in leg and foot, and difficulty walking, sitting or standing normally. As it is right now, for example, although the pain is mostly gone, I can only walk with a very pronounced limp and may have to start using a cane. The cause, in my case, is a herniated and protruding spinal disc that presses on the sciatic nerve that runs down my left leg.

Yes, when it is bad, it hurts like almost nothing you can imagine. There is no escape from the throbbing, shooting pain that lies so deep in the tissue of the leg and hips that it seems to come from some mythic place you didn't know existed. In my case, it was impossible to sit or stand or walk for more than a moment or two, and even lying down could be fiercely painful. Adjusting positions could become an agonizing trial. 

As I say, I've had the condition for ten years or more, the first episode occurring when I was getting out of the car one day and twisted my back just so, causing the spinal disc to protrude. I knew something had happened, because I could feel the protrusion before the pain started. Once the pain started, I couldn't move without extreme pain, and had to be transported by ambulance to the ER where I was promptly seen and diagnosed, but apart from a cortisone injection (which really didn't help much) and some meds, there was nothing, they said, they could do. It would have to heal itself, which they said would happen in a few weeks -- or months.

True enough. The pain gradually dissipated to almost nothing, though leg and foot numbness was constant and relatively severe. In about three months, I felt the disc pop back into place, and the pain -- and most of the numbness I'd been experiencing -- promptly went away. But not completely. In fact, ever since, I've felt consistent numbness in my left leg and foot, sometimes mild, sometimes relatively severe, and I have had modest difficulty walking and have a slight limp favoring my left side. It's been very difficult for me to bend down to pick something off the floor, and there have been other issues, especially around driving long distances (which I used to do quite a lot). For all intents and purposes, sciatica is a chronic condition for me, sometimes debilitating, typically merely annoying. One learns to cope.

This was the first time a severe episode had happened in several years, and it was the first time I had experienced it since moving permanently to New Mexico. Now that I have Medicare Advantage through Presbyterian (one of the major health care providers in New Mexico) at least I have access to medical care if I need it. The problem is that Presbyterian's services are located in Albuquerque, and we live out in the country 40 or more miles away from the closest Presbyterian clinic or hospital. There are alternative services closer to us, but they tend to keep banker's hours and are not equipped for emergencies. If I were to use these out of network clinics, the financial consequences would be essentially the same as if I had no health insurance at all. One thinks long and hard before doing so. On the other hand, when we actually did have no health insurance, we had to use an urgent care clinic for a badly infected wound, and the cost was surprisingly modest, the service competent and quick. The really major expense was for antibiotic medications, not for clinic services.

In this case, since I knew what had happened -- oh yes -- and knew from previous experience that except for certain prescriptions (and possibly a cortisone injection), there was nothing that could be done about it except to grin and bear it and let it heal on its own, I decided to forgo medical treatment altogether. I had enough meds from the most recent episode, a nice cozy bed, and I'm always more comfortable at home than in the noisy, frantic atmosphere of a hospital, especially the emergency room, in any case.

I came to suspect my cozy bed itself was part of the problem. It has one of those memory foam mattresses, which at first was extremely comfortable but over time -- we've had it well less than a year -- began to develop rather more permanent depressions where we sleep than returning to shape as advertised. We have another bed with a more traditional innerspring mattress in the south bedroom, but that room isn't heated during the winter due to our energy conservation routine (we close off unused rooms during the winter, so as to heat the least amount of floor space we can. Still heating costs are quite high as energy is relatively expensive in this part of the country -- about twice the rates for gas and electricity we were paying in California, for example). There was no way we could exchange the mattresses between rooms in my condition. So, we had to figure out if there was something we could do to modify the foam mattress enough to support my hip rather than let it sink in.

This is where the Silk Pillow came into play. The pillow is usually on Old Joe's chair, the one item of furniture we retrieved from Joe's house next door in California after he passed away. Frank and Rosemary, who had been taking care of him, were clearing out the place preparing it for sale some weeks after he died. They thought the old chair was worthless and were grateful that we wanted to take it for the memory of him. It's a very '40's style rounded upholstered chair, beige, very much like Joe himself, and we treasure it. For a time, it was my main seat in the living room, but I traded it out for another old leather covered chair we have some time ago. Old Joe's chair became the "sickie-chair." When we are feeling under the weather or one of the cats needed care, we'd use Old Joe's chair because it was snug and comfortable, and we all seemed to heal better and faster there. The Silk Pillow was on top of the seat cushion as extra padding, just enough, it seemed, to make the chair quite soft and supple. We decided the Silk Pillow was needed on the bed to support my left hip, and that's where it went.

Relief began almost immediately, though the pain continued to be quite severe nevertheless. From Friday to Sunday, there was no let up in the pain, though I could tell it wasn't getting worse -- a good sign -- and I was gradually able to move somewhat more freely. By Monday, I was able to get up and get around, not exactly freely, but at least I could become physically more active and walk -- or hobble -- to the bathroom, that sort of necessary thing. I had a very pronounced limp, though, and nearly fell over a number of times. It was as if my left leg had shortened several inches. Sitting was still a problem, but as the day wore on, even that became less and less troublesome.

Finally, by the end of the day yesterday, I could say with fair confidence that the pain was gone, though numbness continued in my leg and I still have a significant limp. I can still feel the disc protruding, though not as much it did during the worst of the episode. Pressure on the nerve is mostly relieved, whew.

In the course of this episode of sciatica, I've used several tactics to control and relieve pain, some of them remarkably effective, if only for a short while. The Holy Dirt was the first thing I tried, and it worked -- miraculously -- until Friday when the pain became severe and the Dirt didn't work when I applied it. Well, I shouldn't say it "didn't work," because it did, sort of. The pain near surface level immediately vanished, but the deeper pain continued unabated. Something else would have to be tried. The medications I had included Darvocet, Vicodin, and Valium. I took them at recommended dosages, not really expecting much relief (as I'd used them before, briefly, and didn't think they helped much) but I was willing to try again. In fact, this time they did work surprisingly well though not perfectly. Pain was controlled for as long as a couple of hours, which was better than nothing and allowed some sleep. We used ice packs on the affected hip (actually frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel) which was a real, if temporary, relief. Thanks to a recommendation, I tried a topical analgesic "StopPain" -- which at first seemed to make the hip pain much worse -- OW! -- but after fifteen minutes or so, the pain was literally gone, and the effect lasted for about another fifteen minutes. Hmm. Success, modest though it was. The Silk Pillow continued to support my hip so that there was lessened pressure on it and thus less pressure on the nerves that were being squeezed by the protruding disc. And that, in the end, seemed to do the trick. As the pressure was relieved, the pain lessened to the point that it was practically unnoticeable.

And then there was the cat, "Girl" she's named, who recognized right off I was in distress and she wanted to help. Cats are very sensitive that way. Unfortunately, she wanted to help by curling up tight on my right arm -- which strangely made the pain in my left hip and leg flare up. So I told her, "No." She didn't understand at first, and then it occurred to her that she could help by lying closer to the source of the pain, but not actually on me,which she did. By golly, it did seem to help, and she seemed so pleased and proud of herself to have aided my recovery. She liked the Silk Pillow, too.

And so, there's the story of sciatica and the Silk Pillow Effect.

We do what we can... ;-)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

They Were Never Caught and Until Now Nobody Knew Their Names

An Example of Propaganda in its Pure State, No Competition At All

"Al Qaeda" on the Loose, Fallujah, within memory. Video from UK Daily Mail (Online).

The recent Fall of Fallujah to "Al Qaeda" is one of the most interesting propaganda efforts I've seen in some time. This time, there is no counter-propaganda or competing propaganda involved. Well, unless you accept the several staged and posed "Al Qaeda on the loose" videos and images as counter-propaganda. I see them as part of the original propaganda message, not "counter" at all.

Apparently, this most recent Fall of Fallujah has shaken Washington to its core. That's what they say, anyway. And further, most of the discussion and debate around this issue has to do with all the "sacrifices" Americans made back in the day to "secure" Fallujah from "Al Qaeda" and how all of that was being "thrown away."

They even trotted Old Man McCain out and his MiniMe Little Lindsey to piss and moan about it, and how Obama has once again shown how ineffective he is in battle with The Enemy.


Do any of us, including Old Man McCain, have any idea what actually happened? Who the players are? What any of it has to do with "Al Qaeda?"

Of course, there are stories buried on the back pages that tell of all the years of uprisings and torment of the people of Al Anbar province, of the repeated assaults on Fallujah and Ramadi, of the rounds and rounds and rounds of death and destruction wrought on the cities and towns and farmsteads of the region, in a futile effort to "pacify" the region (shades of Vietnam) and destroy rebel strongholds, yadda, yadda.

The stories are out there, but the propaganda assures us that the capture of Fallujah and Ramadi was a demonstration of the power of Our Enemies, ie: "Al Qaeda" -- sometimes with qualifiers, but usually not -- and how all the "work" we did -- American Troops, Glorious and Triumphant, did -- in Iraq has been frittered away by the No-Account Negro in the White House.

Sorry, but there can sometimes be a heavy racist tilt to the propaganda, which is often a clue to where it originates.

I saw a report that featured an image of the Masked Rebels in front of the Old Iraqi Flag, the one that Saddam flew. The report said the Rebels were flying the Flag of Al Qaeda (which I'd never seen, not that I could recall.) But they were standing in front of the flag of the Republic of Iraq (under Saddam), and what the rebels have to do with "Al Qaeda" (assuming there is such an entity) is nebulous at best. Non-existent, probably.

The propaganda machine is telling us ("us" being the peoples of the Anglo-American Imperial sphere of influence) that any successful rebellion is by definition an "Al Qaeda Terrorist" operation, as is the case with Fallujah in Iraq, where so very many Americans fought and died to secure the city when time was. "We" must be ever-vigilant against such rebels and "we" must seek revenge. Again. And again. And ever again.

Never mind -- or even acknowledge -- the Iraqi losses. They don't matter, and for propaganda purposes, they don't exist.

It is all about the Empire, failed pacification efforts, sacrifice of Our Valiant Ones (for Nothing) and seeking revenge.

If you've ever seen or read Starship Troopers, you know exactly what this is about...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Let Us Reason Together -- Competing Propagandas (or "Blame Bernays") (6)

One of our constant problems as Americans -- as humans trying to muddle through somehow and as participants in our own Fate -- is the persistence and predominance of propaganda in practically every aspect of our social and political lives.


We are exposed to it all the time, through constant advertising, through the entire entertainment realm and much of the academic realm, through the yapping and yammering of "balanced news" broadcasts and opinion writinh, and through the many elements of the Alternative "News" business. Don't even get started on the "elections industry" and their cadres of consultants and pollsters and what have you.

We are seeing such an explosion of competing propagandas over such a wide variety of issues these days, from abortion to domestic and international surveillance, to climate science, to the situation at Fukushima Daiichi, and on and on.

There is much smoke but little -- and often no -- light. At times, every topic seems to be the exclusive purview of propagandists, polemicists and provocateurs. It's little wonder so many people tune it out.

Most people seem to have become inured to propaganda and propagandists and it's understandable that they rarely bother to hack their way through the thickets toward some kind of truth. Instead, as intended, they either ignore it all or they adopt one or another of the competing positions as the functional equivalent of "truth" and go forth, oblivious to any fact contrary to their belief.

In some cases, one is all but required to adopt a side in a controversy and root for one's team in the supposed "marketplace of ideas." And if no side is arguing anything approaching "truth," but all sides are mired in falsehood or irrelevancy, what is one to do?

Obviously, such a one cannot be allowed to play.

Edward Bernays figured this all out generations ago, and our "marketplace of ideas" is one of his many questionable legacies.

The level of propaganda -- and competing propagandas -- we're mired in becomes very obvious when something like the Summer NSA Story hits the "marketplace." There is almost no truth or objectivity in the story, though apparently a good deal of the relatively few documents so far released are authentic enough. The story, however, has all the elements of a spy thriller novel or movie, tailor made to sell a product on the one hand, and to develop loyalties to a team on the other. Much heat, very little light.

As intended.

Let's face it, "reality" is often enough a created fiction. We get mired in these fictions, which we think of at least temporarily as "reality." But they are created, they come out of a shop, quite a cynical shop in many cases, and they are not in any objective sense "real." The Snowden/NSA Story is one of those creations, I have no doubt. What is really going on will probably remain an Inscrutable Mystery for the rest of my life, but the outlines of what may be taking place on the backchannels is fairly clear.

The NSA is having its wings clipped. It isn't being destroyed or nor is its primary work being interfered with. Instead, it is being exposed (as it has been before) by an insider -- peripheral though he may have technically been -- for its gross overreach of mission, an overreach that is being marketed as "The NSA is Spying On You; the NSA is Spying on Everyone!!!!!™ Well. Yes. And?

We knew this. Some of us knew that there are multiple layers of surveillance on practically everyone in the whole wide world, and it has been so for many, many years. We live in a surveillance society, and we know that this surveillance has only increased -- massively -- by law and practice since the events of 9/11/2001, which "changed everything." Yes, we know.

Having documentary proof that it is so is little more than gilding the lily. We now know the names of some of the programs and have (perhaps) seen sketches or charts of how they are organized and what sort of hardware/software may be employed. This is important historical knowledge for those who seek means and methods of thwarting some of this surveillance. It is historical in that what is in place and operating currently may well be quite different than what has been exposed, and it is knowledge useful only to a few adepts. And from what I've heard, they are complaining because the "knowledge" we've been given is far from sufficient to do anything about the surveillance tactics being employed. In other words, it appears that what we've been told is only enough to whip up OUTRAGE!!!!™, not even close to enough to thwart the surveillance/security apparat.

OK then. Every day that goes by, the hoard of material Snowden took with him becomes less and less current and timely. Much of what has been revealed was already many years old, and everything in the Snowden Hoard ages by the minute.

But even as history, the People should know what has been done to them, what has been done in their names, and who the major players are. We don't have more than a hint -- we've never had much more than that -- even after months and months of "revelations" and hot-as-the-sun debate and controversy over them.

That is a function of propaganda. There may be all kinds of truth carried along with the propaganda, but the point of it is to present a kind of pageant that persuades us to believe certain things and root for Our Team against the Other in the supposed contest between something and something else.

In my view, there is a contest, but it's not one that we're involved in.

From what I've seen so far, the contest is between factions -- "shops," if you will -- within the bloated intelligence community, a contest for dominance. Because of the way the NSA is organized and has typically operated outside the lines of its mandate, the NSA is seen as an internal threat to other aspects of the security/surveillance state, and so must be curbed. The way chosen to do it is to invoke a public debate about its means and methods and to generate reforms to be determined and implemented as quickly as possible to rein in a rogue agency.

This sort of thing has an extensive precedence, going back to the revelations of COINTELPRO, the Church Committee, and all the rest. Modest reform comes, but it is very quickly subverted. It doesn't last, and it has to be done again and again. Really, the only way to overcome the threat to democracy and liberty posed by out of control security and surveillance apparats is to abolish them altogether and start over, and so far as I know, no state has done that except in utter defeat after war and conquest.

The only upshot I can see from this Story of the Century is that the NSA will be pruned of its extraneous operations which will be folded into other agencies, some of which will be newly hatched, like poisons out of the mud, and the Security/Surveillance State will go on as if little or nothing had taken place.

I will add, however, that the State we're talking about will be less and less a matter of constitutional self-government and more and more a matter of corporate governance through a staff of employees that masquerade for a time as an elected government, and then, after a while, drop the charade and become what they are: "staff."

Meanwhile, the propaganda is relentless.