Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

I meant to post this yesterday, in order to show my EDUSolidarity, but WordPress was having some issues and I couldn’t log on to finish it. Well, better late then never.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, when I first entered the field of education, I was skeptical of unions, but was coming to appreciate the protection from short-sighted policy and budgetary broadsides that a union affords. One of the benefits of the events in Wisconsin is that it has served as a clarifying point to many people like me who may have been on the fence or uncertain about their support for unions. It forced me to examine whether I really supported the collective bargaining rights of a union, as well as to consider more broadly whether I felt the field of education might even be better with the power of unions subverted. As I considered these issues, I realized that the tactic which Republicans and businessmen were calling for was not surprising, given the values of management and capitalists in general, but that it brought to the forefront a major issue with untrammeled access of private interests in public education. Education in our country is based on the ideals of a working democracy, and if we can’t handle the messy debates and political process that such democracy entails via a system of checks and balances, then we will be cutting out the legs from under the efforts of education reform, even as it might momentarily appear that we would be gaining greater efficiency.

Simply because our economy is suffering due to misguided policies that benefit the wealthy few does not mean that we should begin slicing away at the very foundations of our democracy. The Economist is heralding the demise of unions, and they sound so eminently reasonable, don’t they? Problem is, they’ve forgotten that they are discussing real human lives in their equations.

Unfortunately, our society likes to pay lip service to our soldiers, our teachers, our firemen, our policemen, etc. But if the issue is ever broached that we would have to raise taxes to pay for those essential services, everybody clams up. And they hide away in their protective ideologies and behind their pacifying Fox news blather and tantalizing talk show hate radio. I don’t care what the situation with the economy is. We should NEVER cut essential services such as education or social services in our budgets. Because those services are the cornerstone of a functioning democracy, and when we cut those services, we cut into the lives of those members of our society who need them the most. We can talk about accountability, sure! I’m all for it. I’ve seen too many of those federal and state dollars go to waste sitting in a closet. We need to invest that money smarter and track the effects of contracted programs in districts. Definitely! But should we be laying off teachers, subverting the roles of unions, and eliminating some of the few incentives and protections that teachers have in a highly challenging role that produces a product (competent students and citizens) that is of utmost value?

We need unions to protect the interests not only of teachers, but of the children who are raised in poverty. When we cut services or diminish rights in the interest of efficiency or economic duress, we cut directly into those children’s lives. Unions serve to balance the power of government and private interests. That doesn’t mean unions are saints or that I agree with all their policies or organizational structure. It means that I believe unions are a necessary counterbalance to bring the interests of various stakeholders to the bargaining table.

Geography of the Mind

Why can’t we look at people based on the color of their minds, the fruit of their perspectives, their intriguing meshed inner map of happenstance and outward trajectories of decisions, the varying shades of individualism interwoven within the living fabric of all that exists? We’ve got people convinced that somehow the color of their skin defines their capability and outlines their personality. That the accoutrements of one’s gender defines their ability to succeed or perform. That we’ve got to talk a certain way, act a certain way, perform a certain way.

It’s now been proven that sexual orientation is a formation of the brain before thought. There is no will, no choice in the matter. What appears can and often will contradict what is.

In the United States, we have furthered and maintained the myth of an identity known as the ‘black’ or ‘white’ person. Is the type of genes that one possesses relevant to anything but one’s healthcare provider? The color of one’s skin only becomes relevant outside of such concerns in a society that has bigotry at its core. The classification of black and white should not be used to subdivide cultural identity. We are all citizens of our country, with common goals and standards. Our perceived differences should merely lie in geography and ideologies, not in genes.

We live in a world based on diaspora. The identity of the citizen of a country is no longer based on the color of one’s skin nor even necessarily on the language one speaks. We create artificial subdivisions based on wealth and seclusion, and use excuses like racial identity to explain away inequity.

There is no escaping the conclusion that we all share common goals and agree to accept the standards of capitalism and democracy and human rights. Beyond that, why are we divided? Beyond that, why are we afraid? Beyond that, why do we classify ourselves as limited due to our appearance, when all of the evidence around us points not to what we look like, but where we happen to live, or what we happen to belief in?

All this hullabuloo during the presidential campaign has revolved around race and gender politics. What a petty misdirection of our attention from the issues that truly matter, and what concerns us all. It’s like everyone is patting themselves on the back because a woman and a black man are finally considered viable candidates for president of the United States. But guess what people? Wait to pat yourselves on the back until the day comes when we dismiss race and gender as completely irrelevant to the realm of politics—and to any other realm of public domain.

Let Obama Stand for What He Truly Represents: US

Well, corporate media has done it, you gotta hand it to them: they’ve consistently portrayed the presidential campaign as completely boring, distanced from all real issues, and overblown so many small dramas out of proportion that most people are sick of it all already. Good job guys! Way to promote apathy!

And guess who the winner will be if this environment of apathy and disconnect continues to be so convincingly portrayed? Why, the party that appears to best benefit from voter apathy, ignorance, misunderstanding, bipartisanship, and bigotry: the Republican party.

I don’t want to see this happen. So I’m urging you to please bear in mind when scanning your newspaper or Google news or whatever source you use to get your information that politics is not simply about soundbytes, allegations, and big media-backed rebuttals. Politics can be whatever people demonstrate concern about. We don’t have to allow ourselves to be steered into gossip politics, where the “hot topic” revolving around Barack Obama is something that his pastor said. Who cares what his pastor has said? (Heard what some of McCain’s spiritual advisor has said?) What about what Obama himself is saying, or any of the other candidates, for that matter? Have you been listening to any of that? Well, the media sure ain’t. They are just looking to sell drama and sensationalism. Apparently they don’t think that issues that actually matter will mean anything to the masses.

What’s frustrating is that the whole national discourse has changed, and politicians are reflecting this change, but the big media is still desperately plugging away with the same routine. Haven’t they gotten it yet? I want to see headlines describing the environmental policy stances of the candidates. I want to see investigative articles about long-term plans the candidates will have to combat our country’s educational system decline, global warming and carbon emissions, and suburban sprawl.

What’s especially interesting when it comes to Barack Obama is that they are obviously looking for some weakness in his armor, something they can use to bring him down. But the worst they can find is something his pastor has said. The worst they can find is the fact that he is calling for trying diplomacy first before wildly dropping bombs and invading all enemies (remember why we ended up in Iraq in the first place?). These tactics must be seen as the pathetic diversion that they are: attempts to keep the public from concentrating on the real issues that matter that Obama and Hillary have been bringing to the fore, such as increased coverage of health care, working together across party lines to create a common plan and vision for the future, dealing with climate change, and attempting to address the problems in Iraq in a more healing manner than simply throwing contracting money and troops at it.

I’m going to keep bitching about big media until I consistently see important issues reflected in the presidential campaign, not just squabbling, gossip, and smear tactics.

Overplayed Songs on the Radio

We all know how radio stations have been sterilized and homogenized by large conglomerates such as Clear Channel. It’s almost pointless to even bother turning it on, unless it’s a last hold-out local station or NPR. I think part of the blandness of radio is also the simple, aggravating annoyance of having to always hear the same old perennial favorites played over and over and over and over and over again every single day. Whatever value of freshness and wonder that these songs may have once possessed has been completely ruined by overplay. How many times can you listen to U2′s One or Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing (wait, I guess I could listen to that one again) or EMF’s Unbelievable or Eagles’ Hotel California , etc, before it just sounds like, well, like the same song that it was the last time that you heard it. . . like yesterday, for example. I think that there should be a quota for songs, world-wide. A song can only be played so many times before it must be shelved until a certain amount of tasteful time has elapsed, like a few weeks to a month. After all, there’s plenty of good music out there to play, other than Nirvana or Queen or Nickelback or Jessica Simpson or whatever crap they’re looping as we speak on a station near you.

Here’s a suggestion for how to attain this goal: have a centralized database of songs (operated by the UN or something) that must be accessed by commercial radio stations and advertisers, which logs how many times a song has been accessed and begins to impose a tax after a certain number of plays, with the tax increasing incrementally until no one will have any reason to play it anymore, whereupon it will begin to incrementally decrease until it is free again. Or impose some kind of cap and trade system on songs like they do with carbon emissions. Something. Anything. Anything to end these endless loopings of the same old songs. Anything to force commercial radio stations to start rotating something new and interesting instead.

Alas, I know, it’s a pipe dream. But wouldn’t the world be a much better place?

Sick of Partisanship

As the whole presidential race idiocy begins winding itself up in the media, I grow increasingly agitated at the state of politics in this country (the ol US of A for those of you who stumbled acrost this page randomly). The whole nature of all interactions here, whether political, economic, or legal, all seem to have to be made on adversarial terms. It’s always A vs B. It’s never A working with B to produce C. It’s Democrats vs Republicans. It’s capitalism vs socialism. It’s environmentalist groups vs corporations. It’s good vs evil. Etc, ad nauseam.

The problem with this state of affairs is that when it comes to issues where all parties involved need to work together to create any kind of real solutions to major problems, such as in the arenas of public health, or reducing carbon emissions, then there is never any progress made until things attain such a state of degradation that it is undeniable to everyone that drastic measures must be made. And by that point, of course, it’s just a little too late. It’s “damage control,” instead of “preventing catastrophe.” It’s “rebuilding from the ground up,” instead of “retrofitting existing structures.” Aside from those of us who subscribe to neither liberal nor conservative, nor Democrat nor Republican, most Americans are quite happy to delimit their perceptions to one side or the other. Once you’ve picked a side, most issues resolve themselves rather conveniently into black or white. And you will never understand the perception of the “other side.”

If you’ve read any of my political rants in the past, then you know that I obviously don’t hold much patience with Republicans and conservatives of most any stripe. I really don’t have any interest in seeing their point of view, because it dominates enough of the political and cultural scene as it is, even as “liberal” as Americans pretend their major cities might be. But I also despise Democrats and people who blindly adhere to notions of liberalism as simply ideological opposition to Republicans, while mostly, in action, still just big-business economic ass-kissing just like conservatism. But ultimately, I really don’t give a hang about Republican or Democrat. I care about issues that truly affect the world and the nation, and that truly need to be addressed, one way or another. Issues such as revitalization of the economy, global warming, and public health. And the only way that such issues will ever get addressed is if people in positions of leadership put their fat heads together and work out the nitty-gritty details as a team, instead of squabbling over ideological issues that they will never resolve simply so that they can maintain political supremacy.

And this is the exact point where the pseudo-Democracy of the United States begins to look a bit out-dated and inefficient. Because it seems to be in the very nature of our economic, legal, and political systems to be adversarial, partisan, and privatized and individualized. Any kind of notions of “teamwork” seem to invoke knee-jerk allergic reactions to the ideologies of socialism and communism. But addressing and resolving trenchant issues such as those embedded in public health and global warming require a social cohesiveness that will not be achieved through mere partisanship. We must somehow go beyond ideologies, whether political, economic, or otherwise, and attempt to look at issues through a cumulative scattered cohesion of lenses, the liberals and conservatives and goods and evils all sewn together into a temporary visage of futurity. A rainbow quilt of different perceptions, meshed into a higher vision, beyond that which could have ever been achieved through the simple antagonism of isolated fragments. Such a networked collectivity of expression can still be competitive, aggressive, and progress oriented. But it must necessarily demolish the currently seemingly intractable obstacles of factions squabbling over (largely irrelevant) ideological issues.

A Friendly Note to the Cars that Tail Me

One of the joys and wonders of Southern California is the excess amounts of asphalt that are slathered all over the desert floor, chock full of giant steel reinforced jalopies driven by nannies, soccer moms, ‘working’ stiffs, teenagers (a car for every one!), and all other sorts of uncoordinated fools. Having to drive absolutely everywhere I need to go on mile-wide streets is one of those small delights that I’d slightly forgotten about while living in a smaller northern Californian town. So herein follows a little diatribe written from the build-up of this past week of being re-introduced to this great car ensloshed culture:

Alright listen, assholes. When ya drive right up in your oversized SUV and start riding my ass, I am NOT GOING TO SUDDENLY START SPEEDING EXCESSIVELY. First and foremost, because I am already going over the speed limit. Secondly, because I am just following whatever the cars in front of me are doing; I can’t go any faster if there’s a line of cars ahead. But most importantly: because you are PISSING ME OFF. And so I am going to do everything in my limited power, as the object in your moronic path, to piss you off. This will include: 1) driving more slowly; 2) staring directly at you as I drive slowly in my rear- and side-view mirrors; 3) mouthing “fuck you douchebag” to you in my rear- and side-view mirrors as I drive slowly staring at you; and 4) flipping you off as you finally pass by when I either turn off onto another road or it changes to two lanes.

Look, I will ride someone’s ass if they are driving ridiculously slow myself. And if that doesn’t wake them up to the fact that other people have somewhere to go, then I will use my horn. Yes, that’s what those things are for. But if they are going at a reasonable speed, even if it might not conform to my ideal race-car driver speeds, I am not going to ride their ass. Firstly, because it’s fucking stupid, because if they have to slam on the brakes cuz some dog ran into the road or they misapplied their mascara into their eyeball or something, then I’m screwed. Secondly, because it’s just fucking rude. You don’t rub your dick against people’s asses while you are waiting behind them in line, do you? Well, then learn the concept of personal space and apply that complex thought to the area around the immediate vicinity of your spotless little luxury vehicle then, genius.

I just really don’t get it. Either people watch too much NASCAR and think that they are cutting down on their fuel consumption by drafting your ass, or they just suddenly become giant fucking rude assholes the minute they step behind the wheel of their supersized station wagons and pick-ups. And the stupidity of these giant sized cars is whole other rant that I’d like to delve into, if I may, while I’m in the mood for belittling idiots and their stupid cars. Just what purpose is served by driving a pick-up the size of a swimming pool? What is it that these people are trucking around in these things? Is it just egos that require all of this extra room?

Anyway, if you happen to be the kind of person who just mindlessly and automatically begins tailing whosoever is unfortunate enough to be in front of you when you are driving, please, try to alter your behavior. It’s bad enough that getting a driver’s license is easier than beating the first level of Mario Brothers on the old Nintendo. At least people could just demonstrate a little human decency in their cars, even if they can’t drive a gigantic motorized vehicle worth a lick. (I’m privy to the idea that during the driver’s test, all drivers should be forced to demonstrate a working knowledge of the exact dimensions of their vehicle. There would definitely be a lot less people on the road. And hence, a lot less carbon emissions. Reducing carbon emissions and reducing idiots on the road: two birds with one stone!) Getting into a car does not void suddenly all politeness and other normally unstated (because commonsense) laws of human decency. Show a little respect for the other people trying to get to where they are trying to get to. If we all drove with a little more respect for each other, why, maybe traffic might even flow better because then people wouldn’t be trying to cut other people off, and they wouldn’t be tailing too close, and no one would have to keep slamming on their brakes! Yeah, right. I’ll keep dreaming. And I’ll very happily leave all of the driving to you Californians and go seek out a living somewhere where there’s less asphalt.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright law is an interesting field in this day and age of internet decentralized flows of international information. Back when things like music, knowledge, and systems were all packagable and distinct, it was easy to delineate the producer, an audience, and a middle-man marketer. In order to get their music out there and heard, musicians mainly had to get their advertising and packaging done through big name record companies, who of course took all the profits. And the dislocated audience had to pay fees to buy the record, the tapes, the CDs, whatever.

Phish might have been one of the first big names in the music industry that heralded the power of word-of-mouth in the medium of cyberspace. Suddenly, hippies and college music aficianados were re-united, through a grassroots movement amplified by friends e-mailing, chatting, and sharing music on-line. This new undefined medium of word-of-mouth is also demonstrable in the slow but steady growth of homegrown record labels started by artists such as Hieroglyphics (Hieroglyphics Imperium) and Ani Difranco (Righteous Babe). These artists demonstrated that they could make money much more directly themselves by producing their own CDs, self-advertising, word-of-mouth, and live shows.

During the rise of Napster, Kazaa, Gnutella, and all the other various forms of information-sharing networks, the major record labels immediately reacted in panic, fear-mongering, intimidation, and other acts of regressive dinosaurism. For anyone with any clear view of reality, the recording industry is run by a bunch of numbnuts. I’m speaking as someone who was 19 years old at the time, when the free-music-downloading bonanza was at full bore, and I was saying back then that if the record labels were smart, they would start an easy on-line service that charged people to download music. It isn’t exactly rocket science: there is no way of controlling information on the internet; however, there is a way to make some information more easily accessible, and you can charge for it. Just like idiots still shell out doe for AOL when you can get all of that shit for free, all without the “You’ve Got Mail!” annoying ass voice. There’s always a market for lazy people. But of course, the morons that run the recording industry were too greedy and corporate dulled to note that. Instead, they quoted figures of how much money they were losing to on-line music piracy. But what was not calculated in such a figure was: 1) the money they could have been MAKING if they stopping whining and started utilizing the new on-line medium; and 2) the fact that most people don’t have such a large expendable income that they can buy all the music they’ve ever wanted to, and would never have shelled out the doe for many of the songs they downloaded for free.

What’s amazing is that now, almost 10 years later, the recording industry is STILL using Gestapo-like tactics and trying to instill fear in the populace, desperately attempting to save their toppling edifice of an industry. It’s pretty pathetic to watch, knowing that there is absolutely no way that they could ever stop people completely from sharing music on-line. It’s simply impossible. And this leads us to some interesting topics: in a time in which information is easily transferred and accessible, where do we draw the line between producers, and audiences; and where are new spaces opening for evolutionary collaborations, new economies, and a whole new way of thinking?

The fact is, not many people out there feel guilty about ripping free CDs. But nobody would argue that artists and sound engineers shouldn’t be paid for their efforts. It comes down to what one thinks about something like music, art, and all acts of creativity. Isn’t it a community thing? Isn’t it a social thing, at root? Yet somehow such simple acts as creating music have been disassociated from what they are really about, and it has become focused primarily on money. On projecting a marketable image. Such “artists” are pretty easy to discern: just turn on the radio, and there you are. A bunch of manufactured bullshit bent on appealing to the broadest possible lowest common denominator, just like McDonald’s. And the recording industry harvests giant profits off of these namebrands.

I think what is becoming apparent here is that simultaneous with the rise of the new medium for music distribution, there needs to be a new economic medium for artists and producers to make their money, that will hopefully enable them to make money directly, rather than having money be made off of them by corporate douche-bags. In connecting an artist directly with their audience, the internet may open new realms of possibility for music making that were hitherto unforeseeable. And it may just turn out to be a disguised boon for smaller artists who would be more than happy to see their music shared on-line for free to bigger multitudes of people. Suddenly, artists that before would turn out maybe 15 people in a distant city from their hometown may now be turning out 115 due to on-line file sharing.

One thing is for sure: those people who are innovative and creative will rise to the top of this new medium, and all the reactionary dinosaurs (like Metallica, for example) will settle on down to the bottom with rocks tied to their legs.

Reclaiming Christianity

Some watered down, politicized form of Christianity has swept across the nation, and it’s about time that real Christians began reclaiming it from the fundamentalist conservative “Evangelicals” who are tainting its name.

There is a basic and fundamental insecurity behind the so-called faith of these Christians, these hypocrites who dare to label themselves as believers without any attempt at understanding the bible for themselves, or any real faith in god. The only way that such people can pretend that they are good Christians is by surrounding themselves with other people who will pretend along with them. It’s a big collective fantasy, wrought with hysteria and fanaticism. They have created some idea of Christianity, filled with politicized propaganda and half-baked idealogies, that has little to do with any teachings to be found in the bible, and even less to do with any practical application of thought. These people are shallow, and dangerously susceptible to pointing fingers at anyone who might threaten their fragile illusions.

It’s pretty easy to tell a real Christian from these fake ones. When you discuss theology, God, etc with any real Christian, they are open to having their beliefs challenged, because they seek to find a way to deeper communicate these beliefs. They have a faith and deep-seated seeking for spirituality that will not be unsettled by such discussion, and they have an ability to articulate what they believe. When you talk to a fake Christian, they will not tolerate any challenges. They will either be attempting to “convert” you to their way of thinking, or they will simply not want to talk to you at all, except to label you as an enemy and shut their hearts and minds to you. This is because they do not truly know what they believe, because they have been told by their “group” what kind of beliefs they should hold, and have not gained these beliefs through their own seeking.

There is a reason that Church and State have been separated in the United States, and it’s a good one. But Republicans and the Christian Coalition, with their onslaught of Evangelical cheerleaders, have been attempting to render this separation null, claiming that the United States is a “Christian” nation. It is irrelevant what religion the majority of the people of the United States adheres to. Religion and politics are a dangerous and volatile mix, and the only reason that Republicans and any one else might attempt to harness it is for the simple, greedy cause of increased and absolute power. These power hungry “Christians”, voiced so loudly and crassly through firebrands and hypocrites such as Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Ted Haggard, have colonized the name and image of Christianity in the United States, and tainted it, bitterly, with blood, bigotry, and money.

When you watch the news in the United States, all you see in the world are the latest doings of Islamic extremists, and the media has built up this distorted image of Islam as defined by terrorists and fringe groups. Similarly, you can imagine how the rest of the world must be viewing the United States and its brand of Christianity. It has become defined by bullies, blasphemers, and intolerant unilateralism. Is this really what Christianity is about? Money, power, and absolute greed? Absolute intolerance? Of course not. And it’s about time that real Christians began speaking up for themselves, instead of allowing their faith to be dominated and distorted by political propaganda and a militant small-mindedness.

Justice! Decency! Speak up for Yerself!

You know when a full-grown adult cuts you in the Southwest line when it starts moving, after you’ve already been standing there for a half hour, and then some dipshit that’s been sitting there next to the line suddenly gets up and decides that just cuz he’s been sitting there on his lazy hindquarters for an hour that he deserves to cut in front of you? You know what I’m talking about? This is the time when it comes to do your civic duty. People are always talking about saving the planet by feeding Somolians or reducing your intake of hydrogenated oils and stuff like that. But really, what it comes down to is that when you’ve got to step up and defend the common good in your everyday life, you’d best step up and lay down the discipline good. Cuz we all know there’s a lot of motherfuckers out there that just have never been smacked a good one cross their face by their mommys. They’ve whined and cheated and gotten their spoiled way all of their lives, and they think they deserve to cut you in line. Oh no they don’t. They don’t deserve nothing. And how many times have you watched these spoiled little brats getting their way, with nary a peep from the rest of the sheep? It’s about time that people like you, citizen, began speaking up for your rights and human decency and defending justice and laying down the smackdown. Because if you don’t, then who will?
I’m even privy to outfitting Honda Civics and Subaru Legacies with bullhorns and electronic scroll banner signs and speaking your mind publicly and in an amplified manner when other drivers, especially douche-bags with small penises in their Hummers and SUVs, drive in an undignified and idiotic manner. It’s about time that people understood how stupid they were.
I mean, really. The fact that most Americans are inane, docile, and completely oblivious is simply due to the fact that not many people ever openly criticize them. It’s rare, other than in NYC, that you hear complete strangers ripping you a new one. It’s edifying to be criticized by your peers, to be reminded of when you are stepping out of line.

All of this stems, of course, from the raising of the children. I’ve witnessed a lot of interactions of rich moronic parents with their spoiled children, and I can guarantee that these moronic parents are dooming their spoiled children to a life of further indifference and waste. All because these parents were too prissy to use the smackdown when it became necessary. They allow their children to become tyrannical monsters, and these very same children will someday cut you off in line, or move into your lane without signaling, or build a 3 story house that cuts off your ocean view. Yes, all because they were never told, firmly, and with authority, “NO.” If we all started speaking up more often, then we might instill a little decency and commonsense ethics into the populace. Bit by bit. Supermarket by supermarket. Freeway by freeway. It’s time that we stood up for our rights.

The American Justification

The polls have demonstrated again and again that Americans are sick of the Iraq ‘war’ and disapprove of George W. Bush. As well they should. But as in most politics Americana, these are for all the wrong reasons. Both Democrats and Republicans disapprove of the Iraq war because it failed, not because they disbelieve in the root causes of going to war over “freedom and democracy”. In other words, if we could see some kind of signs of possible success in Iraq, then there would be nothing for Democrats to criticize, because they would never challenge the deep-rooted American belief in fighting for a ‘good’ cause. They know that this would be political suicide. Who would challenge the belief in fighting for a just cause? Would argue against sending troops with guns into other countries for “humanitarian” reasons?

And this is the very problem. That Americans think that we are somehow gifted by God to rule and dominate the world. We use this line of reasoning in not only going to war for resources, but in seeking to give our corporations free reign in the world economy. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian or not: chances are that at some level, you agree with the premise that America should use force when necessary to defend just causes. And those just causes are what are defined by America.

So at root, George W. Bush was not the cause of the problem. He was just as much a puppet to American fundamentalism as was all of the American people. We were not fooled by W. Bush simply because of propaganda and deceit. We were fooled because we WANT to believe, so desperately, that America is God’s country, or the best country in the world, or the most powerful, or whatever designation you want to worship it by, and that we are performing acts of justice, in the defense of freedom and human rights.

We are all fools, if we would so easily allow ourselves to be blinded to doubt and reason, if we would so easily subvert morals in favor of power, wealth, and a self-created superiority. And as I watch the lead up to the 2008 presidential campaigns, I am struck by how mindless most of us are to the real reasons of why the Iraq ‘war’ was a bad decision, and the real reasons of why George W. Bush is misguided.

Whatever cause which commits us to action without discussion of opposing points of views is misguided. America needs to doubt itself. America needs to criticize itself. And so I am criticizing you, if you are a fellow American. I challenge you to challenge yourself, and question your commitment to your country. I challenge you to question this on the grounds of your commitment to the world, to the planet, to humanity. I challenge you to question what kind of world we would live in where we would justify war not because we feel it to be right, but because we think things are “more complicated than that.” Because “sometimes we have to go to war.” Because we need to spread the gospel seed of “freedom” and “democracy”. And I would further challenge those of you who are “anti-war” to question what kind of world we would live in where the reason people are in opposition to certain wars is not because they feel war to be fundamentally wrong, but because they feel that we fought the wrong way. Because we “failed.” Because we are “losing.”

As long as Americans continue to think in such limited terms, then yes, perhaps the world is doomed, because as we all know America is so friggin important. Apparently, if the U.S. goes awry, then noone else in the world has the capability to get anything right. Well. We’ll see on that point. In any case, one thing is for certain: if Americans continue to allow themselves to be misled so easily by fundamentalism, then more wars will occur, and more terrorist attacks will occur. And on and on and on the wheels of war and righteousness will go. All we have to do is watch the interaction of Israelis and Palestinians to know how that one goes. . .

Fed Up with Food Research

Anyone else other there get fed up with the constant research detailing specific vitamins and other nutrients that can be found in different fruit or vegetables? Oh, look there’s Vitamin K in leafy greens! There’s lycopene in tomatoes! And so on, ad nauseum. Then they start putting little exclamatory snippets on products like cereal saying “heart healthy omega-3s!” or on ketchup like “contains lycopene!” as if these little magic scientific phrases are supposed to make you leap into the air with joy at the utter healthiness backed up by research that you are consuming.

Who cares what specific nutrients are contained within fruits and vegetables, and which ones benefit your colon, and which ones benefit your eyesight, and which ones enhance your spleen? Isn’t it sufficient to say that it is rather obvious that a healthy balanced diet consists of natural things, as in food that grows in real soil? Isn’t it obvious that animals that eat healthy food and lead a healthy life provide better meat?

Why do we need research to back up commonsense? Sometimes I wonder about all the money that is going into this “research.” Couldn’t they be studying something more useful . . .  like how to save humanity from itself?

Zealotry and Fiction: Not So Distant, It Seems

If extremist fanatics wish to make their religious zeal look any more despicable and ridiculous to the rest of the world, I really do not know how they could do it: the continued fatwa on Salman Rushdie’s head, and the renewed furor against him caused by his recent knighting, serves only to make these religious zealots look like murderous retards. Have any of them read and understood The Satanic Verses? It has little to do with blasphemy, and much more to do with understanding (and damn good storytelling). But of course, such people can only read all things completely literally, and are unable to fathom depth, complexity, nor challenging themselves with differing perspectives. And they read the Qoran in just such a manner as well, and are thus able to find justification for blatantly murderous and bigoted responses to everything. Just as Christian religious extremists dig through the Bible to hunt for random verses that will support their prejudice and hatred of all perceived evils.

What I continually fail to comprehend is how people who claim to believe so strongly in something could have their faith shaken so easily by such misperceived and unimportant slights as contained within a book of fiction. While this may attest to the power of the written word and of ideas, it also attests to the fear and insecurity lying so close to the heart of fanaticism. If these people truly believe in their God and in his prophet, then they would know that this God is untouchable by insults from nonbelievers, or blasphemy by outsiders. What is important is the knowledge and faith that they have in their own hearts. But quite obviously, many of them do not have knowledge and faith in their hearts. They only have a slinking overprotective fear that turns quickly to bristling anger and direct attack in the face of any challenge.

What these so-called religious zealots fail to realize is just how apparent their own inner blasphemy is made to the rest of the world when they react in such a manner. These are not men of God. These are hypocrites and blasphemers of the worst sort, who proclaim and beat their chest about their beliefs to the world while all along they do not actually believe them in their own hearts. These are idolaters, murderers, and bigots, who have created a desperate farce of a show to demonstrate that they are righteous, that they are faithful, that they will get into heaven.

Such people earn nothing but disdain from the world, and if there is a God, then they are undoubtedly plowing themselves a direct path to Hell. This is what I think of the people who would uphold a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and of those unsavory and hypocritical businessmen who have posted bounties on his head. This is my sentence on you.

Standardized Tests as Soul Deadening Exercises

I’ve been taking a look at the GRE lately, as I consider graduate school as a potential future direction. The GRE, as far as I can tell, is just the SAT with more writing involved. And just like the SAT, the testing seems to have nothing to do with your intelligence, grasp of basic subjects such as grammar or math, or with any kind of general understanding of anything real at all—it is simply to test your endurance and stamina for 3+ hours of wading through questions designed to numb your soul and trick you into being misled by hazy wording or vague comparisons. It’s like all it is really testing is your ability to study and take that specific test. It has no application in reality, other than garnering you a score so you can apply to expensive schools. It does not demonstrate your intelligence nor capability to achieve.

What is it with our nation’s obsession with standardized tests? The very fact that they are standardized ensures immediately that they will have no relevance for anything other than gauging how much a student is capable of sifting through academic bullshit. Because that’s all it is—academic bullshit. I don’t think the test is hard at all, nor did I think the SAT was hard either. It’s just so tedious and dry that it deadens your brain and soul to the point that you just stop caring a third of the way through the exam and stop applying yourself to it at all. At least, that’s my problem with these tests. I can score adequately on them, but I don’t apply myself enough to score excellently. I have no interest in “studying” for this test. I have no interest in taking bullshit classes on taking a bullshit exam. What a waste of time, in my opinion. This is time that can be spent actually learning something useful, such as how to make a seed ball, making your forehand topspin stronger in Wii Sports tennis, or how to be mounted by a loa and eat hot coals.

Oh sure, I’m going to touch up my math a little bit, because I never actually did learn any math in school. I never considered it worthy of my attention. When I worked as an instructional aide at a high school, and I had to work with students in algebra and geometry, and demonstrate to them how to do it, I suddenly discovered that math wasn’t very hard at all. So I think that I’m OK, if I go over all the basic stuff that I was supposed to have learned in elementary school. But that’s all the studying I can handle. I have never been able to study anything that I have no interest in. In college, I discovered that when I had to take classes that I could care less about, such as a general biology course, all I had to do was buy the reader the night before the final and flip through it. Then it was fresh on my mind, and I could score adequately on the final enough to pass the course, without having attended any more than 2 or 3 classes. See, that’s what I call intelligence. But I don’t think that most graduate schools would agree, unfortunately.

Americans and their right to kill each other

OK, so yet another school massacre has occurred. And what I’m wondering is, what idiot out there still thinks that American citizens should have the right to bear arms?

We allow the NRA to terrorize our country. You would think that the frequency of these occurrences would kind of wake people up to the fact that no one has a right to carry weapons manufactured to kill people. You would think that maybe people would wake up to the fact that the US is the biggest arms trader in the world. You would think that maybe people would wake up to the fact that people ain’t using these guns to kill deer. You would think that maybe the fear, despair, and homegrown terrorism we’ve generated right here on American soil would be enough. Enough to feel sickened enough to do something about it.

Honey Bees Be Dyin’

Have you heard about the honey bees? That they are dying in vast numbers, and nobody knows why? That’s kind of scary. First and foremost, because I love me my honey. Second, because they pollinate most of our flowers, fruits, and food plants.

There’s endless speculation as to the cause, such as that the bees are getting “stressed out.” Whatever. More like “they’re getting bombed with toxic chemicals.” Let’s face it, the agribusiness in this country essentially grows its plants on steroids and antibiotics. And it’s like we’re surprised when suddenly all the adults start getting cancer, all the children are born with some kind of disorder, whether physical or mental, and all the food tastes like crap unless you add some of that manufactured “natural flavoring.” And we’re in the midst of what is quite soberly termed an “obesity epidemic.” So the human signs are quite readily visible, if you realize what you’re looking at: the cumulative effects of years of growing and serving food based on business instead of health. And so I guess it shouldn’t be all that surprising that now we’re beginning, inevitably, to see the devastating effects on animal, plant, and insect life. And microbial life, such as the growing amounts of “superbugs” that are completely resistant to any form of antibiotic. Forget global warming. I think this complete disassociation of human life from natural cycles is what constitutes the greatest danger to our survival as a species. We collectively have only the dimmest awareness that we are wholly dependent on biodiversity and connectivity with animals, plants, insects, microbes, and the soil.

In order to survive, we have to understand just how connected we are with everything around us.

Rant Against the Good Ol Boys

Don’t you love the way our government’s dirty hands are smeared all over the spectrum—from Enron, to false documentation on WMDs in Iraq, to Valerie Plame’s exposé, to abuses at Abu Ghraib, to the firing of appointed attorneys across the nation, to deliberately misleading the public on global warming, to [fit whatever scandal you can remember here]—and yet, mysteriously, none of the people truly responsible are ever held to account. There’s always a fall guy. This is, of course, the name of the political game. Like how Bush Senior had his hands deep in the Iran-Contra affair as VP under Reagan, and yet only a bunch of underlings took the fall, and then there he was later, serving as President of the United States, happily fucking up the world and the nation.

And all of this stuff is headline news. And yet nothing is done. The White House says it has done nothing wrong and destroys documents and cuts loose some people and that’s that. Just some headlines, maybe some panels, some investigations, even damning evidence, memos and statements released to the public. But the source of all of these unethical dealings is never dealt with. On and on it goes. The spokesman for the White House or the Pentagon, or robotic hearted Cheney himself, just says that the dudes in power had no idea such dastardly goings on were going on. My goodness, they say, what a surprise! I didn’t command them to do that! I had no clue! Let’s burn those evildoers at the stake!

Yet take those denialists at their word, and you still arrive at a rather disturbing conclusion: if the guys supposedly in seats of extreme power, with myriads of diverse daily information at their fingertips, had no idea what was going on within their own administration, within their own minions, within their own corporate moneyed interest ties—then doesn’t that mean that these guys who are supposedly running our country are not fit to run our country? Because they should have known what was going on in all of these situations. That’s their job. That’s what we hired them for.

So in other words, one way or the other—whether you believe all of the quite clear and cumulative evidence that points to the fact that our government is deliberately deceiving and cheating its own people (not to mention all of the rest of the world), or whether you believe that they are indeed pristine and clean of all involvement in the exponentially growing list of scandals—the basic summary of the situation is that we have either A) evil rich arrogant pricks, or B) clueless rich arrogant pricks, running our country. So why, oh please tell me why, my fellow American citizens, are these rich arrogant pricks still in office? Could we not at least get us some intelligent scrupulous rich arrogant pricks at the least?

More Billionaires, Great, Just What This World Needs

Forbes magazine just released its annual list of world billionaires, and the number has jumped from 793 last year to 946. Yippee! “‘In the last five years… despite all the turmoil in the world, all the conflict in the world, the global economy in real terms expanded over 25%,’ said Steve Forbes, the magazine’s editor-in-chief.’ So let me get this straight. The “global economy,” in very “real terms”, has expanded. Despite “all the turmoil.” So a bunch of stinky filthy rich bastards are getting even more super rich. I don’t call that a global economy in any terms: I call that corporate colonization. Because while this list of billionaires is expanding, the list of people living well below poverty is also expanding.

As long as there are people who control music, who control information, who control seeds, who control access to medication, then there’s going to be a select group of very rich people at the detriment of a large mass of very poor people. I don’t understand why anyone still subscribes to this bullshit Reagonomics trickle down theory. The fact is that this supposedly thriving middle class is only connected to their limited wealth by a umbilical cord hooked on a speculative bubble. Once that bubble bursts, the super rich are still chaffeured comfortably along to their social dinners while all the once climbing middle class, complacent and spoonfed drool from above, will suddenly find themselves sunk down with all the rest of the masses of people out there who never could climb out of 9 to 5 minimum wages.

I want to see the list of world billionaires diminish, year by year, until there is no one single human being out there who is ever estimated at a net worth of 56 billion dollars. I want to see all the rest of the world, “all that turmoil,” become rich. I want to see no one living at or below poverty. Is that too much to ask? Cuz I think it seems pretty feasible if all the accumulated riches of the super rich were actually put towards something more productive then some motherfuckers collection of Humvees.

Concert Rant

Being as it is that I live in a small resort mountain town–in which the greatest variety of culture and arts on any given night is to go down to the casinos and listen to a black guy on a synthesizer crooning to washed up old white gamblers drinking at the bar and talking to each other out of their throat holes, or to go clubbin’ (in the same casinos) and rub up against imported South Americans/Aussies/Kiwis/Eastern Europeans who come to drink excessively and snowboard and provide cheap labor–I guess it really isn’t all that surprising that there is a general dearth of good live music. And then I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised either that whenever a somewhat decent band does happen to come rolling through, they don’t seem to feel compelled to play a good show–they come on late and leave early and just kind of half-ass it. I guess I further shouldn’t be surprised that even when maybe they do kind of play a decent set, then of course the sound guy fucked it up and you can’t hear the mics or the guitar is too loud or something is fucked up enough so that you can’t enjoy the music at all.

But it had been a while since I’d seen a live show, and I used to be someone who would go into major depression if I didn’t see live music at least once every two weeks when I lived in a city, so when I heard a couple of good underground MCs (Zion-I and The Grouch) were coming through, I decided to shell out the $20 and see the show. And true to form, it was a waste of money and time. Let me run through the problems, which exemplify any given concert in this shitty tourist town: 1) flyer says the show starts at 9; I show up at 9, and they won’t even let anyone into the bar until 9:30, which means standing in the freezing cold; 2) opening act doesn’t even come on until 10-10:30. And they suck. I generally feel that if you are white and are attempting to MC, then you had better come up with some good flows if you don’t want to sound like just some white dude attempting to MC–but these guys just sounded like dorks trying to MC–maybe it might get them laid at house parties in Reno, but it didn’t do much for my ears; 3) these opening act guys thought that the crowd loved them, because some other dorks in the front row were bobbing their heads, so they have to keep doing just 2 more songs; 4) after one more act, the headliners finally take the stage, and they were good–but they only did several songs, and left with almost an hour more before the bar closed–and by that point, I was too drunk to even really enjoy them anyway.

That’s some bullshit. I paid and came out to see the headlining act, not have my ears abused by idiots. I just don’t understand why concerts these days has to be like going to the doctor’s office: you make an appointment at a set time, but then you just sit in the little room for hours, until the doctor finally deigns to come through, and then they just check you out and send you out the door as if you weren’t paying any money for it. Same thing with concerts: you show up and the thing always starts too late, and then when it finally does start, you’ve got to sit through a string of shitty amateurs–so that by the time you finally get to the whole point of being there in the first place and the headlining act comes on, you’ve drunk one too many Jameson on the rocks and there isn’t even much time for them to play anyway. That’s bullshit.

And I know that the crowd in this little town isn’t exactly cream of the crop, especially when it comes to hip hop. There’s maybe one or two black people in the crowd, if you’re lucky. It’s mostly skinny stoned snowboard bum wannabes with black baseball caps and pants too big for their methed out bones. Not too much is going to register on these guys beyond a steady bass beat and some hands waving in the air. Keep the hands waving and they’ll think its a great show.

But despite all of that, I still think that if you have any kind of self-respect as a musician, and truly consider yourself an artist, then it is your responsibility to always rock the house, no matter the crowd. Even if you might only be getting through to one person out of that whole audience, that’s still one person more who is going to come away with some light and energy. Otherwise, you’re just a whore playing a show for money.

Hypocrisy & Politics

OK, so all that is in the media about Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid is that she voted for the Iraq ‘war.’ And she is refusing to apologize for it. Good for her. I would hereby like to remind all the liberal Democrats out there who are getting all righteous and angry about this particular piece of news that they themselves probably were supporting the invasion as well back then. Maybe they didn’t vote for it, but they weren’t blocking weapons factory trucks from making deliveries. They weren’t attempting to stop the shipment of troops over to the Middle East. Most Americans, let me remind you, according to the polls, were quite supportive of the war, due of course to misinformation in the media and ignorance of the situation in general. So now that the tide has turned and suddenly its fasionable to be against the Iraq invasion, and George W. Bush isn’t even really a topic of conversation anymore because he’s passé even while still in office, the media and righteous Democrats jump on Hillary’s back and make it into a huge issue. If the media is going to get so worked up against Hillary about this, why didn’t they get worked up about facts and do a little investigative reporting when the invasion was being proposed? Why don’t they get worked up against the American people, who by and large supported the war and support any and all wars until they start to realize that the casualties aren’t worth it?

I don’t like that Hillary supported the invasion. But the fact is that she is a highly intelligent woman, and she’s got a lot more going for her if people could get past some legislative act from years ago. Try listening to what she is saying NOW rather than harping about shit that you didn’t do anything about at the time.

“Winning the Iraq War” and Other Myths

I think it’s interesting that when political figures–most notably the always loquacious President himself–discuss the Iraq “war,” it is always in terms of “winning.” And the media just runs along with it, as if an occupation of a middle eastern nation–which, just a reminder, never was justified on any grounds–is a situation where something can be “won.” Does anyone ever stop to think about this? What exactly is it that one can win in any war? And if something is won, is it simply resources and strategic power? And does this ever balance out with the lives lost on both sides and the devastation of the land where the battles took place? Did we “win” anything in Vietnam?

It disturbs me that this idea of winning something, anything at all, through militant attacks can be so blithely accepted by the media and general society. Such an outlook basically accepts the very premise of war as a completely logical and acceptable course of action, because if one can “win” something by attacking a foreign nation and killing tons of innocent people along with our own soldiers and devastating that society and destroying its history, well, I sure as hell am confused about it.

So all they talk about–both Republicrats and Democans–is whether or not we are “losing” or “winning” the Iraq “war.” Shit man, how many lives have we lost now? Almost 3,000 American soldiers, and an untrackable and probably horrific number of Iraqi citizens and “dissidents.” And what else have we lost? Respect and credibility from the rest of the world. Now let’s see what we’ve gained: an ever increasing drain on the national budget and a whole new generation of young militant Islamic extremists. I’m searching desperately here for any reason, any at all, to be found that could even remotely justify this occupation of Iraq–but just like when the whole bullshit propaganda campaign leading all the way up to the “shock and awe” bombing in Baghdad was started, there ain’t no good reason at all. It was never a matter of winning or losing. It was a matter of complete idiocy and short-sightedness based on an idealogical Neocon conception of “A New American Century.”

George W. still believes that “we’re going to win” in Iraq. That’s charming that he’s so naive and faithful. I just can’t believe how much this country still just rolls along with it, with no seeming skepticism beyond a gentle prodding at him about the polls. This guy is a moron, and anyone who for a second is hem-hawing about how “history will be the true test” of whether the Iraq invasion was a “success” or not is one as well. We invaded a country, a civilization, a society, and we tore it apart with guns, bombs, and ideologies that have no application in that world, nor in any real world. You want to know what’s going to happen to Iraq? Take a look at Vietnam now. Remember that country? Yeah, it once was a country, and not just a name for a “war,” before we went in there and fucked it up. Take a look at Afghanistan now. Remember that place? We went in there to warm up for Iraq. We were supposed to be making all of these places better, we were freeing them from their antiquated mentalities and governing systems, we were giving them the wonderful joys of Democracy and IMF Bank Loaned Capitalism. Ah, yes, we Americans are indeed honorable and God lovin’ folks, as long as the God lovin’ comes floating down on a green back note. We’re winning all kinds of battles, and all of them completely imaginary. But as long as the media keeps spinning those sweet songs of mindless numbing acceptance, will any of us ever really know the difference?