Sunday, June 04, 2006

It's been a while, ladies and gents. No apologies. No one reads this anyway 'cept the gubament. How 'bout that gubament, eh? Heck of a job, boys, heckuvajoba! But forget the murderous, incompetent, swindling gubament for a sec. Much hay has been made of The President's pathetic ratings. Something like 33 percent job approval rating at last check. But who the fuck are these 33 percent? Who - after this disastrous war(s), the pathological lying, the looting of the Treasury, the spying, the greed, the attempts to dismantle any vestige of either a "compassionate" or even for that matter "conservative" society - could possibly still support this administration? In my exhaustive research traveling the by-ways, highways, and gutters of the Lone Star State offer you three highly anecdotal examples of who these fair souls, our esteemed colleagues in this great experiment in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness we call America, might be:

1)AUSTIN - The gentleman, a counter-demonstrator, at an anti-war rally several years back who offered as a loudly-shouted rejoinder to all expressions of dissent this: "He's our Leader! He's our Leader!" He. Is. Our. LEADER. He? Are we talking the Lord here? Jesus? Nope: George W. Bush - drunk frat boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Put a brown shirt on this man - a Follower of the Leader - and he'd fit right in in Naz... Oh, nevermind.

2)HOUSTON - The two fat boys sitting in a Houston coffeeshop last month. One man, the younger and louder of the two, was talking about how much money the two were making. Construction business. Evidently they were bidness partners. Nothing wrong with that. But the WAY in which this man talked about his money! Straight out of Wall Street. He wanted "a driver" so that he could work on bids while en route to construction sites. "The driver could have a DVD player and watch movies and shit while I'm on site," he said. The other guy, more prudent, said "You can have that when we get to the $5 million to $10 million range." First guy: "Ah, come on, so-and-so had a helicoper he'd fly around the state with once he was at our level. All I want is a fuckin' driver." Older guy: "You're not getting a fucking driver. Go out and make some money and then we can talk." First guy: "All right, I'm feeling so good right now, I'm going out to rip some old lady off and swim in a sea of prosperity." Sea of Prosperity, he actually said that. Pretty poetic for a crooked construction man.

Now, I'm only assuming these men were Bushmen. But I'd bet my bottom dollar. This is one species of the die-hard Bush voter: Belives in the free market only so long as the powerful are free to screw the weak. Doesn't give a flip about moral values, family values, or any other piddle... so long as money's to be made. That shit's fine to finagle a few million votes out of the Christian saps who hate homos more than they care about holding onto their middle-class status. Plus, these dudes are the pitch-perfect Houston bidnessman, which pretty much spells R-E-P-U-B-L-I-C-A-N. Houston, "a place ambitious people go to make money" (Robert Bryce, Pipe Dreams).

3) TEMPLE - Mexican restaurant with pretty damn good enchiladas. Elderly white gentleman, who looked a little bit like a down-at-the-mouth barber from the 50s, is talking to a big Hispanic guy in his 30s. They're talking gas prices, $2.90 up and down I-35 at that time. The Hispanic guy is complaining that oil companies are getting rich while we-the-people are paying out the ass. Pretty self-fucking-evident statement. White guy launches into some bizarre paternalistic tirade about how "That's how business works. One thing and one thing only you're after in business: making the most money. Hell, if I was an oil exec I would be trying to make twice that much." Hispanic guy was all like, dude, I'm just saying that gas is too high. It's hard to make a living. White old crotchety weird bastard: "You have a choice. If you don't like the gas prices, don't drive." Then he went into some weird rant about how "one of your people", Hugo Chavez - "that South American dictator" - is the cause of high gas prices. (NOTE: Chavez, like all OPEC nations, takes its production quota from Saudi Arabia, which as we all know has no personal and business history with the Bush dynasty.) As Tom Frank might say, "What's the matter with Texas?" It's like this old man, surely a fantasically insignificant bit player in the drama called history, reveled in being a loser. He applauded a Darwinian game in which he, the little fish, got swallowed whole by the big fish. What's it like in the belly of the whale, old man?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Perhaps the most indelible image so far in the Abramoff scandal has been Jack Abramoff, an "observant Orthodox Jew," leaving the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. after pleading guilty to charges of mail fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy wearing a black trenchcoat and a black fedora. As the Washington Post wrote, he "has had a full-blown aesthetic meltdown," devolving "into an abyss of ill-fitting coats, mobster flourishes and Peter Pan headgear." "Mobster" was certainly the first thought that sprung into my mind.

But perhaps Abramoff - like another man he might bring down with him, Ralph Reed - is falling neatly back into the saddle of his religious convictions. The Jewish magazine Forward discovered that the hat Abramoff was sporting had been purchased from "Bencraft Hatters, a Brooklyn-based haberdasher that caters largely to Orthodox Jews." Indeed, earlier, in the courtroom during his plea, Abramoff told the judge that, "I only hope that I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and from those I have wronged or caused to suffer...I will work hard to earn that redemption." How precious! Here is a man who consorted with Mammon, who bartered his soul for venal things of this earth, for power and for sport, who made common cause with other men of God (Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed, Bob Ney) while engaging in the most ruthless and criminal behavior, and now he wants into heaven from his 11th hour good deeds!

And poor little Ralphie! He's made a career out of parlaying his innocent choir-boy looks and silken Christian bromides into cold, hard political power, but now he done got caught red-handed taking gambling money to fund his project to turn the U.S. into a theocracy and appoint himself Jesus H. Christ. Reed is currently running for Lt. Governor of Georgia, but chances are now he'll be running from the prosecutors instead, lying out his ass the whole time. We'll probably be seeing him beg for forgiveness from the Almighty sometime soon too. Reed once said that he wanted to be "invisible" in order to engage in "guerrilla warfare" and taunted his enemies that they wouldn't "know it's over until" they found themselves "in a body bag." Now, this wannabe eminence grise is looking like another skidmark on the road to the Apocalypse.

One is tempted to screech "hypocrites!" until one is blue in the face. In fact, this is exactly what a whole chorus of progressive types are doing, and rightfully so. But step back for a moment and consider: Why do we doubt Reed, DeLay and Abramoff's faith, their deep religiosity? Is it not reasonable to think that sincere religious faith aided and abetted their more earthy, cynical powerlust? Marx famously contended that religion was the opiate of the masses; in the case of a large part of the American ruling class, religion seems to be the elixir of the most rapacious, ambitions, and successful movers and shakers. It's not that the faithful showed up one day in Washington, D.C. - in some warped version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - and got corrupted. It's that the faithful took their already disturbed Heartland theology and melded it with the corporate-military cesspool that governs this country and, in the process, created an even worse beast.

However, cleansing our body politic of the likes of Abramoff, Reed, and DeLay and carting them off to the federal penitentiary (which I think is likely to happen) will do nothing to "redeem" this nation, no matter how comfitting such a narrative might be. The reality is that these men are little more than the momentary potentates that surely did their best to represent the corrupt and empty "moral values" of the lesser men and women of our United States. God bless 'em, every last one

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I can already hear the cry of "activist judge" emanating like so much pious filigree from the anointed mouths (They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance [Psalm 17:10, NIV]) of fundamentalist Christian rightwingers as they rue the decision today by a federal judge that Intelligent Design may not be taught alongside evolution in the classroom.

"Activist judge," they will shout in self-righteousnes. "Abomination upon the Lord thy God, ye of so little faith," they will say while pounding their Polo-shirted chests and rocking on their penny-loafers, looking in all their anger like creatures created in the image of an ape. "SAPEDIOURETSRBEADAOGIHITO," they will intonate in the amateurish phonemes of English-inflected tongues.

Pennsylvania Judge John E. Jones III, a Bush appointee, wrote in his ruling that Intelligent Design was nothing more than the "progeny of creationism"; that "it is ironic that several of [the Dover school board members], who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy"; and finally that "the breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop [of evolution]."

Judge Jones, anticipating the childish name-calling of the ID proponents that will surely follow in the wake of his verdict, also wrote in his opinion: "Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy."

Although it's unlikely, one can hope that the outcome of this Monkey Trial II will send certain Christians scurrying back into the comforting pages of Genesis where they can pick one of the six days in which God created the world. Perhaps they'll pick the seventh day and lay all this creationist bullshit to rest. Of course, many of these IDers will pick up where they left off in the high school science classrooms where they teach, turning another generation of American teenagers into scientifically illiterate drones. In my small high school in Central Texas there were two science teachers: one, who taught the advanced science classes - the ones I took - made it patently clear that although he was a Christian he would teach evolution as the solid, unifying theory of biology, and if anyone had a problem with that, tough luck; the other teacher, who taught the "regular" science curriculum, on the other hand, had bumper stickers on her podium which read, "Big Bang Theory: God Said 'Bang' and There it Was" and "You Can't Make a Chain out of Missing Links." She and some of her students were also fond of saying, "You may have come from a monkey but I sure didn't." After school, these poor saps, as you can imagine, were qualified for either selling real estate or being docents at the Creation Evidence Museum.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

[Me: Below is the statement issued to the world last week by a courageous conscientious objector who is currently kept against her will at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Katherine has been pleading her case as a conscientious objector - someone who is opposed to warfare - with the Army for nearly two years. The Army has plumbed her soul and found her to be somehow insincere, rejecting her application at every step in the process. Katherine has complied with all military orders, going to work, wearing the uniform, answering to the dictates of her superiors in the hopes that the military would do the right thing and allow her to return to the world as a free civilian, free to pursue the path of peace and social justice that she is firmly committed to. Now, she has been forced into the position of being a prisoner of conscience. Katherine has notified her commander at Ft. Benning that she will not participate in weapons training or deploy to Afghanistan. She faces a court-martial and possible prison time. Upon her release she will resume study at UT-Austin. It would only be fair to disclose that Katherine is my girlfriend and friend.]

My name is Katherine Jashinski. 

I am a SPC in the Texas Army National Guard.  I was born in Milwaukee, WI and I am 22 years old. When I graduated high school I moved to Austin, TX to attend college.  At age 19 I enlisted in the Guard as a cook because I wanted to experience military life. 

When I enlisted I believed that killing was immoral, but also that war was an inevitable part of life and therefore, an exception to the rule. 

After enlisting I began the slow transformation into adulthood.  Like many teenagers who leave their home for the first time, I went through a period of growth and soul searching.  I encountered many new people and ideas that broadly expanded my narrow experiences.  After reading essays by Bertrand Russel and traveling to the South Pacific and talking to people from all over the world, my beliefs about humanity and its relation to war changed.  I began to see a bigger picture of the world and I started to reevaluate everything that I had been taught about war as a child.  I developed the belief that taking human life was wrong and war was no exception.  I was then able to clarify who I am and what it is that I stand for.  

The thing that I revere most in this world is life, and I will never take another person's life. Just as others have faith in God, I have faith in humanity. I have a deeply held belief that people must solve all conflicts through peaceful diplomacy and without the use of violence. Violence only begets more violence.

Because I believe so strongly in non-violence, I cannot perform any role in the military.  Any person doing any job in the Army, contributes in some way to the planning, preparation or implementation of war.

For eighteen months, while my CO status was pending, I have honored my commitment to the Army and done everything that they asked of me.  However, I was ordered to Ft. Benning last Sunday to complete weapons training in preparation to deploy for war. 

Now I have come to the point where I am forced to choose between my legal obligation to the Army and my deepest moral values.  I want to make it clear that I will not compromise my beliefs for any reason. I have a moral obligation not only to myself but to the world as a whole, and this is more important than any contract.

I have come to my beliefs through personal, intense, reflection and study.  They are everything that I am and all that I stand for.  After much thought and contemplation about the effect my decision will have on my future, my family, the possibility of prison, and the inevitable scorn and ridicule that I will face, I am completely resolute. 

I will exercise my every legal right not pick up a weapon, and to participate in war effort.  I am determined to be discharged as a CO, and while undergoing the appeals process; I will continue to follow orders that do not conflict with my conscience until my status has been resolved.  I am prepared to accept the consequences of adhering to my beliefs. 

What characterizes a conscientious objector is their willingness to face adversity and uphold their values at any cost.  We do this not because it is easy or popular, but because we are unable to do otherwise.  Thank you.

Monday, November 21, 2005

I traveled to Boulder, Colorado last week to participate in two events related to the UT-Lockheed bid for Los Alamos National Laboratory. On the bus between Denver and Boulder I listened in on the woman's conversation sitting behind me. She was on her cell phone talking breathlessly to someone who she kept begging to stay on the line. "I've finally got to this place of peace," she said. The woman explained that she had just gotten back from a Yoga convention. "It was so great. I learned this new, radical form of Yoga. It was just what I needed. I was letting my intellect get in the way of my spirit, but now the weight I felt is lifted. I found what I was looking for! Oh, you know how I was so... so down, but now I feel at peace with my inner self. But I'm so worried that I will allow my intellect, my thoughts to interfere with my..." And so it went. At first I was annoyed. Typical rich Boulder new ager/hippie, I thought to myself. What a luxury this woman has to fly around looking for a "place of peace" in some bastardized Eastern tradition. On top of that, what an annoying, self-centered way of communicating, with all these fluffy words, these signifiers without a signified. Then I realized that perhaps I was so annoyed because I have little idea what it's like to feel the way she does. I mean, she was probably doing the best she could to express something internal that's nearly impossible to put into words. Who am I to judge?

I will judge cities. I love cities. I love to judge cities, to anthropomorphize them. Boulder is an interesting case. This was my third time (maybe the fourth) there. I've always left Boulder with the feeling that I've been had. Something about the strange combination of hippie and yuppie cultures, money and Rocky Mountain Buddhism. This time I put my finger on the ugly vein running beneath the beautiful scenery and pristine living. Several people - all women - told me about the horrific epidemic of rape among CU-Boulder students. Apparently, there are more than a few predatory men running around taking advantage of women in the worst way. The first time someone told me about this, I didn't necessarily disbelieve them but I thought it was probably the usual (and unacceptable) number of rapes that occur in college communities. But my friend I was staying with explained to me that two of her friends had been violently raped and that the Boulder PD had not only bungled the cases, but had the audacity to suggest to one of the young women that perhaps she had slid down a bannister instead of being penetrated by a rapist.

My question, then, was why Boulder? Why is there such widespread rape in this mountain redoubt? Sources say that they believe it's because of the rampant Greek culture and a genearl atmosphere - abetted by the Keystone Kops - of impunity. In short, the boyz club can get away with just about anything. It was just a few years ago that women in Boulder came forward with allegations that they had been raped by CU football players and the Buffalos Head Coach was accused of organizing "sex parties" for football recruits. Also while I was there more news was breaking on racist incidents on campus. A student government representative, who is black, had an email sent to her calling her a nigger and telling her if she ran for student government again she would be killed. Apparently, this is just the latest in a long string of racist incidents on campus, including past assaults on black men and swastikas spraypainted on the side of buildings. Boulder purports to be some shangri-la but to me it's an over-priced and over-hyped backwater.

That was Boulder. Then there was Colorado Springs, America's little Christian fundamentalist utopia. Against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks (think of South Park's setting), ostentatious mega-churches throttle the sky in some grotesque homage to a sick, egotistcal god. People I met kept referring to the "Heart of the Beast." It didn't take me long to realize that these folks were the equivalent of town atheists - liberals living in James Dobson's Narnia. Speaking of Narnia, when we went to the Focus on the Family headquarters Doug Gresham, CS Lewis' stepson (guess that means there was a divorce in the family), was having a booksigning at the FOF bookstore. Gresham's book is called Jack's Life and the back cover boasts "[CS Lewis] was the best man and finest Christian I have ever known." Apparently FOF thinks so too. There is Chronicles of Narnia crap everywhere in the bookstore and in the Visitor's Center. I loved CS Lewis when I was a kid too (who wouldn't dig Aslan-the-cuddly-Jesus-Lion?) but seeing some Christians pump the Hollywoodization of Lewis' tales in the same way they hyped the ridiculously reductionist Passion of the Christ makes me want to boycott the movie.

The FOF "campus" is imperial. I get the same feeling there that I get when I visit Washington, DC or giant corporate headquarters or watch the US military in action on the TV. Which makes total sense - the American Empire is a melding of corporate, state, and religious power working together but in different veins. We only had time to see the bookstore and the visitor's center but the size and scope of the campus was breathtaking.

The most heartening thing to see in Colorado Springs was the small, but bold lefty community. I met activists who, despite living in the shadow of Rapture enthusiasts, were willing to challenge the religious right head-on. My friend from Colorado Springs also pointed me to an awesome independent newspaper and website that hilariously bashes the local religious nuts. The paper is called appropriately enough, Toilet Paper and their must-see website is Just go there and laugh.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Four suggestions and one summation

Palm your prayers

and shake hands

with the sheik,

trustee of things

rusty and rare -

hope, hate, horror.

Become a wing,

solo and solemn,

flutter an arabesque

pointless and perfect

into the ether.

Ask around

for entropy

as you

gather yourself


and throw yourself


Meet strangers for dinner,

don't keep the date.

You are right so long as I am wrong.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

It's time for the grumpy old man to get mean. Based on keen observation and withering insight, I've deduced that the countercultural species known as the "hipster" is long overdue for extinction. And what is a "hipster"? Answer: You know one when you see one. Or, to use a cladistical system, they are defined by their slipshod amalgamation of pop culture trends in the last, say, 50 years. Confusion and lack of originality is dressed up as some postmodern and ironic fashionability. They tend from bland suburbs or mid-size semi-urban Texas wastelands, landing in Austin for college or early 20-something grooming prior to a much-heralded move to New York or San Francisco. A shallow creativity obscures dull predictability. Usually, the hipster is marginally employed in a branch of the "new economy" or a service job, the earnings of which are alchemized into small quantities of cocaine or liquor. The hipster tends to be "liberal," at least socially, but since he or she prefers all things surface disdains the thought that politics might undergird their life and livelihood. The hipster loves more than anything Image, especially Image of Oneself (witness the proliferation of websites that post snapshots of hipsters doing what hipsters do best - debauch). Second to Image is ephemera. Oh, how the hipster loves the ephemeral! Music, bars, sexual experience, fashion - here today, gone tomorrow. (Aside: it seems the only thing that persists among them is black bangs and tight pants [A certain strain of modster-ism carries through the ages]).

The hipster sees himself set apart from society, an elite that rises above the masses by dint of his discriminating tastes and anti-puritanical values. But nothing is more fearful to the hipster than the thought of being alone? Why else, besides youth and the desire to live out rock'n'roll, does the hipster love parties so much... those orgies of momentary social interactions and narcisstic energy. Rather than living on the edge of mainstream society, the hipster culls the commodities and momentary magic of capitalism and turns himself into a monument of surface desire and identity-less existence.

Now, you must excuse me, I'm going to see ...Trail of Dead.