Newt Gangrene: America, America, America

“In America, religious belief is being challenged by a cultural elite trying to create a secularized America, in which God is driven out of public life.”

Never imagine that any kind of scurrilous, scumbag, divisive politics is beneath a Republican. Newt Gingrich has found Jesus. Just in time for 2012. Do even fellow Republicans buy this? Does anyone in the Republican Party ever acknowledge that the movement itself would be better off if it sounded a little less cynical and opportunistic?

Is there anything more that anyone needs to know about Newt Gingrich than that he is willing to stand in front of a crowd of Republicans and make the statement he made above, (at a gathering of the Ohio Right to Life) February 28, 2011?

Nobody can seriously believe that Newt actually believes this. If he does, America is far worse off than even I imagined. But it does magnify something that has become more apparent since 9/11: he doesn’t even care if you believe he believes it or not. It doesn’t matter.

How does one avoid being rude when observing what should be obvious but obviously isn’t? That New Gingrich, ready to make another run at the presidency, studied the polls and decided that Americans– actually, Republicans who vote in the primaries– want a leader with genuine religious convictions so, all right, we can do that. Here’s how: you say “In America, religious belief is being challenged by a cultural elite trying to create a secularized America, in which God is driven out of public life.” You say this in front of “Ohio Right to Life”. Just drink in the applause. Ahhhh. Feels good. It’s so easy. And the money keeps rolling in. And James Dobson is already behind you, on his knees, lips puckered.

It’s like “fiscal responsibility” and “no new taxes” and “strong military” and anything with “America” in the title, on a book– not that anyone will actually read it. They just need to know that you, like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and everyone else out there on the right, has not only read at least one book in your life but has also written one. Something like “Fighting for America”. Or “Finding the Real America”. Or, “America– the America of Americas”. Or “God and America”. Or “How Immigration is Ruining America” by Nancy McDougal and Sid Hofstetter.

Not that you could actually have ever been bothered to actually write the book. Gosh, that’s not time well-spent for God’s appointed leaders– that’s hack work, for what’s-his-name– the elite intellectual snob we hired just for this kind of work.

But conservatives don’t give a flying leap about whether you actually wrote a book you “authored”. That’s for those effeminate, liberal, snobbish eastern elites. People like Al Gore and Barack Obama. No, by God, a real leader just puts his name on it. Nor do they seem to give a damn about the rankest hypocrisy imaginable (see sidebar).

I suppose people should be reassured that Gingrich has discovered, thrillingly, if belatedly, that 2+2=4. We all look forward to the next miracle: how he will balance the budget, cut taxes for the rich, and increase military spending, without cutting any programs.

Aside from all that, isn’t Gingrich more or less openly saying that America should become a Christian Theocracy? If not, then what is he saying?

It’s really the Christians who have fallen down on this. Where are the church leaders who have any real religion? They would be standing up now, declaring that Christianity should not be exploited and tricked out in this way, and that politicians like Gingrich do more harm than good to real spirituality.

A lot of harm

Do Republicans ever hold any of themselves accountable for anything:

He [Newt Gingrich] also acknowledged having an extramarital affair with Callista Bisek, then a House staff member, while leading impeachment proceedings against Mr. Clinton for lying about his own sexual transgressions. NY Times, 2011-02-28

I don’t think they do hold themselves accountable. I think they believe they are special, touched by god, with wisdom so sublime and transcendent that mortal men cannot even begin to apprehend the audaciousness of their wisdom.

When you think you are so right that those who disagree with you are not mere political opponents but enemies of the state– nay, enemies of God!– foreigners, and subversives, consistency is truly the hobgoblin of little minds.

The Muslim Brotherhood: Egypt’s Revolution

Perhaps the most disturbing report I have seen on the Egyptian Revolution was also the least inflammatory, the least categorical, the least certain of what was happening.

Frontline (PBS) documents the low-key role played in the revolution by the youth wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. While the elders were clearly out of touch about what was happening, the younger leaders were not. Very savvy about technology and the media, the Frontline documentary revealed how the youth leaders carefully toned down any overt expressions of the faith in favor of generic, pro-democracy statements and ground-roots support for the secularist demonstrators. A number of well-informed reporters and human rights analysts thoughtfully dissected their role and wondered aloud just what their goals really were. They pointed out how the Muslim Brotherhood organized clinics and food distribution points and were the first and most courageous about confronting the pro-Mubarak thugs that tried to invade Tahrir Square at the height of tension.

Towards the end of the program, both the youth leader, Mohammed Abbas, and an elder, make more explicit their desire for an Islamic society.

This is not to suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will attempt to seize control of the country and build an Islamic state as in Iran. It’s not to suggest they are suddenly pluralists who want to share their message of spiritual enlightenment on Facebook and Twitter.

Frontline is unparalleled in its ability and willingness to suggest that the situation is complex and the outcome, at this point, is unknown.

And where does the U.S. government want to cut spending? The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. If they do and if these cuts prevent Frontline from continuing to produce documentaries like this, it will be as a great a crime as any committed by the Republicans since the days of Tail-Gunner Joe.

Tears of Rage: American Patriotic Hymns

See “Tears of Rage” by The Band.

Do I feel guilty?

I think I’m one of the ones who went out to receive all that false instruction that you never could believe.

But you didn’t “point us the way to go”. You gave us weapons and sent us off to get ourselves killed on behalf of your own masters, who deceived you into thinking they had something you should protect, and that they, in turn, would care for your interests. We lost our legs and arms and souls for you only to find out you didn’t even know the words to your patriotic hymns.

And oh you looked so manly with your hand on your brow, so solemn and pious in front of our gravestones.

I found it hard to forgive the totally unnecessary, contrived, phony crisis that you could see coming a mile away.

“Tears of Rage”, however, is a great song by the best rock band ever.

The Best Reactionary Rock’n’roll Songs:

  • I’d Love to Change the World (10 Years After Undead)
  • Who’ll Stop the Rain (Creedance Clearwater Revival)
  • The Night They Drove old Dixie Down (The Band)
  • Sweet Home Alabama (Allman Brothers Band)
  • My Way (Frank Sinatra/Paul Anka)

Why does “Having my Baby” not make the list: because it’s a piece of shit not worthy of being on any list..

Same goes for “Ballad of the Green Berets” and “Okie From Muskogee”.  See Haggard Haggard.

Another Forensic Fraud: Bernard Spillsbury

And another.

Another so-called “expert” on forensic science is unmasked as a fraud and a charlatan. Why is there no outcry for reform of the criminal justice system? Because they are not you and I?

It begins to sink in. All this forensic “science” is mainly about theatre. It’s intended to dazzle the average uninformed jurist with the illusion of scientific certainty, unassailable facts, the immutable truth: he did it.

Of course some forensic science is sound, but only when performed soundly. When blood samples have not been contaminated, witnesses uninfluenced (and even then…), records undoctored. In most real cases against real criminals there is no need for Dr. Blowhard to sit on the stand and state with categorical certainty that no other sweater could have provided this fiber to the exclusion of all other sweaters that I never tested.

This man died of excited delirium. Excited delirium, or ED (the acronym proves it is widely accepted as truth) was the only cause of death. The splatter pattern of the blood indicates that only a 5 foot 7 Polish electrician with a moustache could have committed this murder. Oh, what the hell, let’s just give his name and address to Dexter.

Can you be a fan of the show Dexter without being a serial killer and torturer yourself? But I didn’t do anything! It’s my favorite show! And they deserved it!

They always do.

“Some confidently assert that the government has the power to arrest and detain or restrict American citizens for months on end, in sometimes primitive conditions, not because there is evidence that they have committed a crime but merely because the government wishes to investigate them for possible wrongdoing,” Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote in 2009 for a divided three-judge panel.

From NY Times, Feb 18, 2011;

You could reasonably debate the value of Obama’s compromises on many issues, but this is one that I do not wish to forget: he has instructed his Justice Department to defend exactly this power: to arbitrarily arrest and detain anyone they please.

Compared to Nazis

Probably can’t be done but it should really be illegal to compare one’s political opponents to Nazis in this country unless you can show that they actually advocate exterminating an ethnic minority.

If Americans are too stupid to toss these people– the politicians who can’t resist comparing their opponents to Nazis– out on their asses for this really, really appalling act of desecration of the memory of all those who died at the hands of the real Nazis, unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it except consider the credibility of some bone-faced politician who glides easily into these kind of hysterical slanders.

The Trapped Chilean Miners Get Nannied

According to “60 Minutes”, the Chilean miners nearly mutinied against their erstwhile rescuers when they discovered that their messages to and from their loved ones were being censored by therapists who were determined to maintain an upbeat, positive atmosphere in the mine.

In an age in which psychobabble repeatedly seeks to assert itself as a new religious orthodoxy (and in which heretics are as roundly punished as medieval free-thinkers), I found this particularly disturbing. Who decided to claim this authority? Who took control? Why did anyone think that that person had the authority to do this? What kind of psychologist would cooperate with this kind of emotional putsch?

Some answers: The plan, according to the rescue effort’s lead psychiatrist, Alberto Iturra Benavides, is to leave them with “no possible alternative but to survive” until drillers finish rescue holes, which the government estimates will be done by early November.

“Surviving means discipline, and keeping to a routine,” Iturra said.

So when the miners do get moments to relax, they can watch television — 13 hours a day, mostly news programs and action movies or comedies, whatever is available that the support team decides won’t be depressing. They’ve seen “Troy” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with Brad Pitt and Jim Carrey’s “The Mask.” But no intense dramas — “that would be mental cruelty,” said Iturra.

I cannot imagine mental cruelty more brutal than watching “The Mask” or “Troy”. However…

The news the miners see — which in Chile includes frequent reports about the miners themselves — also is reviewed first by the team above, said Luis Felipe Mujica, the general manager of Micomo, the telecommunications subsidiary of Chile’s state-owned mining company.

“Of course to do that you need to watch the news first and effectively limit access to certain types of information, or to put it vulgarly, censor it,” said Mujica. “This is a rescue operation, not a reality show.”

Though some miners have requested them, sending down personal music players with headphones and handheld video games have been ruled out, because those tend to isolate people from one another.  “With earphones, if they’re listening to music and someone calls them, asking for help or to warn them about something, they’re not available,” Iturra said. “What they need is to be together.”

So it was the mining company that made these decisions. But didn’t the worker’s rights take priority over this dictatorial impulse? What was the rationale? That the mining company owned the mine, and that the workers were their employees? Let’s just pass over that little detail about the negligence of the mining company causing the imprisonment in the first place…

I saw a website that questioned the strategy of the company psychiatrist, but not the essential point: who appointed this asshole to tell the miners what they would or would not be allowed to think or do while waiting to be rescued?

It is a stunning achievement: a discipline that has the success rate of witch doctors and palm readers has succeeded in appointing itself as an authority over mental/emotional issues. They have succeeded in convincing timid, gutless managers everywhere that they have some kind of magical authority that entitles them to decide what adult men and women may or may not see and hear.

Authoritarianism lurks all around us, just below the skin, even in so-called free societies. Even Hollywood movies adore it, giving us, time and time again, some asshole who “takes charge” and is supposed to be our hero because he tells people what to do, breaks the rules,  and because, in the fantastically rigged outcomes of Hollywood blockbusters, he’s the hero, the only one who can save us.

Mujica says “to put it vulgarly” as if it is only vulgar if you have to describe what it actually is, and as if his mind is not at least as vulgar as anything the miners could hear or see if someone was not trying to nanny them.


Have You Drugged Your Kid Today

Tara Ashburn, a secondary school teacher in Surprise, Arizona, was fired– surprise!– because she refused to either remove a bumper sticker from her car or park the car somewhere where offended parents could not see it.

Why were the parents offended? There is nothing offensive about the bumper sticker. It said: “Have you drugged your kid today”. But some parents were offended. I can only presume they were offended because they were ashamed. And the shame came from within themselves because the bumper sticker itself merely says “have you drugged your kid today”. It does not say:

you are lazy, inadequate parents who cannot cope with reality and therefore you try to drug your child into oblivion for your own convenience

The bumper sticker did not say that. It did not say:

our society can’t possibly spend the money required to actually help our young people cope with the increasing demands placed upon them by parents and schools and friends so we prefer to simply supply them with legal drugs to hammer them into a pleasant lassitude and hope they won’t notice that we haven’t solved any of their problems

The bumper sticker did not say,

our social workers, psychologists, and therapists are so damn clueless about how to help young people that they almost immediately resort to cheap, ineffective, but powerful psychotropic drugs to hold our children over until they are old enough to blame for their own problems

All the bumper sticker said, essentially, was, did you remember to do it.

The rest of the controversy was supplied entirely by the parents who are obviously completely aware of what they are doing. The teacher has broken an implicit social contract: we will ban drugs like marijuana because kids like it and it’s not patentable and no corporation owned by their middle-aged fathers and mothers can possibly profit from it. Then we will quietly drug everybody– and I mean everybody– every single teenager, and most adults– with drugs that cost almost nothing to make and generate huge profits for the pharmaceuticals so mommy and daddy can retire on their profitable investments and wonder why the next generation seems to have no character.

It is possible that some drugs are appropriately prescribed and do help and don’t produce side-effects that are worse than the original “symptoms”, but there is no way in hell that there is any rational explanation for why we drug almost everybody, and why, when the side effects are worse than the original symptoms, we simply prescribe more drugs.

The drugs sometimes quieted her voices, but they brought on obesity, uncontrollable trembling of hands and arms, hair loss and other side effects. These led to more troubled behaviors, like punitive exercising (an attempt to lose weight), hair-pulling and narcotic use.   Mind and the Moon, Daniel Bergner

At one time, Aldous Huxley imagined an insane, fantasy world wherein all adults were drugged– it was called “Soma” — so the government and corporations could exploit them without endlessly without consequence.

If you are wondering why my blog is not more popular– here’s why.  Almost every potential reader is either on a psychotropic drug or a parent of someone who is on a psychotropic drug and I just said you probably made a bad decision.  Sorry.

The Black Swan

“Joan Crawford would have killed to play her. ” NY Times, on “Black Swan”.

And noted: “Dancers often spend more of their time in front of the mirror than before an audience”.

Okay– first of all I do want to say this: I think Natalie Portman is one of the most enlightened, smartest actresses working today. You may not want to see her as inspiration for your acting technique, but she is model of wisdom in every other respect. I’m not kidding– check out what she does and says in her non-Hollywood life. She’s very, very wise.

I’m going to add to that– Natalie Portman is at a priceless, searing stage of her life. She is smart enough to perceive the twisted effects of celebrity (the perverse obsession with her role in “Leon: The Professional” for example and the sexualization of her image as a boyish naïf from all of her movies), but not old enough yet to resign herself to it. She expects better. But she is pleasingly reflective and down to earth and astute and it will be sad when she stops commenting on it and it becomes a part of her permanent emotional armour and we will have lost something.


The biggest problem with “Black Swan” is that director Darren Aronovsky and star Natalie Portman– who, by the way, is really a terrible actress– never really shows you the payoff: a talented dancer at work. They don’t know how. Watch fifteen minutes of Mike Leigh’s “Topsy Turvey”, or even “The Red Shoes”, and then try to tell me it’s not possible. It absolutely is. “The Black Swan”, in fact, makes the worst mistake a movie of this type can make: it wallows in the suffering without even hinting at the reward, and in this kind of narrative, the only satisfactory explanation for the suffering– aside from pure monotonous psychosis– is the glory of the reward.

Just one example: at one point the director threatens to take the role away from Nina because she hasn’t demonstrated sufficient passion (which, cringingly, is linked to the director’s sexual fantasies). We are left clueless about just how wrenching, in real life, a decision like that would be. We are left with the impression of a parent threatening to take dessert away from a child if she doesn’t do her homework. We are left with the impression that the director actually chose, as his star of this production, someone he clearly believes is incapable of performing it.

It’s not really like he realizes he made a mistake. It’s like this: the viewer realizes that the director could never really had a good reason for choosing her in the first place, and the story loses all sense of believability.

We are left with the impression that someone else could just step into the role, precisely the opposite of what the director thinks the audience will think as Natalie Portman crinkles her face unpleasantly and weeps to tell us instead how much she suffers for her art.

I’ve said it before– the rule about showing a believable drunken man is to produce a man trying (and failing) to stand straight– not someone trying to look like he is falling over. Natalie Portman, for 90 minutes, looks like she’s trying to fall apart.

Joan Crawford or Bette Davis could have played this.

Why was Leslie Manville from “Another Year” not nominated for a “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar?  Well, aside from the obvious– no powerful Hollywood machinery working on her behalf to get her the nomination– well… that’s about it.  That’s why she doesn’t get the nomination.  That’s why so many mediocre actors and actresses do get nominated.

So when Natalie Portman gets all tearful in a few weeks, convinced that her peers really chose her for this award, for her acting, for her dedication, for her unremarkable impersonation of a ballet dancer in a few select shots….   think about that last shot of Leslie Manville in “Another Year” realizing that whatever it is Tom and Geri have…. she doesn’t.

That is, simply, truly great acting– not the showy pseudo-method business that wins you Oscars.

Egypt and the freedom nazi: No Democracy for You

At least one BBC reporter on the ground in Egypt insists that the Islamic Brotherhood is not a significant factor in the protests — they are just a canard offered by Mubarak consistently for 30 years to scare the Americans into blindly supporting his dictatorial regime.

So the 85 million people of Egypt– no democracy for you! The U.S. has several important interests in the Middle East– your freedom and prosperity don’t figure into any of them.

No doubt the Obama Administration is giving considerable thought to Iran these days. The U.S. backed the Shah’s despotic regime for 25 years. When protest rallies spun out of control in 1979, the Carter Administration appears to have backed away from their proxy. There was short struggle for a secular, constitutional government, but when Ayatollah Khomeini was allowed to return, the radical Islamacists succeeded in wresting control of the government away from the moderates.

It could be argued that the lesson to be learned is that repression by the Shah would have been better. But you could make an equally cogent argument that the extremists were able to take control because long-term unconditional support for the Shah had weakened the moderates.

It is possible that if Mubarak leaves, the Islamic brotherhood may succeed in eventually seizing power. It wouldn’t be the end of the world. Iran today is really not the caricature that the U.S. likes to present to the public, and Afghanistan and Iraq are not exactly sterling models of the kind of alternative society the U.S. has in mind. But it also may be the result of the U.S. supporting Mubarak for 30 years without pressuring him to democratize gradually, to allow the establishment of a moderate opposition with real power, and to cultivate the institutions of society that moderate political power, like labour unions, universities, and regional governments.

The long sad history of U.S. support of anti-democratic regimes.  [Sorry– the website has been taken down, but my comments still apply.]

I don’t totally buy the list. Yes, we know that U.S. corporations like Standard Oil and ITT continued to do business with the Nazis during the war, and that Henry Ford was a big fan of Adolf Hitler, and it is clear that the U.S. allowed many Nazi war criminals to escape responsibilities for their crimes so they could be used elsewhere for American interests, but I think those complaints are more in the nature of the world being an unjust place than a steaming indictment of U.S. foreign policy.

At a national, policy level, Roosevelt clearly opposed Hitler. That’s different from George Bush Sr. cozying up to Marcos, or Jimmy Carter welcoming the Shah of Iran to the U.S. for medical treatment or Nixon instigating the coup in Chile.