Conspiracy

Conspiracies against progress: why the rise of the modern conspiracy theory should concern us all

by David Lambert

Contrails are the wispy white clouds of frozen water vapor that streak across the sky in the wake of jet engines. But according to 17 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds—my generation—contrails are actually “chemtrails,” poisonous chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons. As the world becomes an increasingly scary and complex place with no simple answers, the temptation to create narratives explaining all of its evil will grow. And here lies the heart of the modern conspiracy theory. Yet when fantasy overtakes reality, progress suffers.

Whenever anything bad happens in the world today, from September 11th to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there is a growing gaggle quick to cry, “wake up sheeple!” Continue reading

Journalism

Washington Post ed board to stop using racist NFL team nickname. FINALLY. But what about the sports dept?

Two decades ago the WaPo condemned the use of “Redskins.” A generation later, by god they’re doing something about it. Sorta.

Way back in 1992 the Washington Post concluded that “the time-hallowed name bestowed upon the local National Football League champions — the Redskins — is really pretty offensive.” (Emphasis mine.)

A rough estimate based on occurrences of “redskin” in a WaPo site search going back to 2005 suggests that they have since deployed the offensive term ~83,000 times.

Today they announced they will no longer use the term. By “they,” I mean the editorial board. The news and sports divisions will carry on being pretty offensive.

Small victories are better than none at all, huh?

On the one hand, it’s nice to see someone as influential as the Post ed board doing the right thing. On the other hand, well, how many of you take 22 years – more than a goddamned generation – to stop doing something once you conclude that it’s wrong? They wrote that piece when George Bush – the Elder – was still president. Continue reading

Headline news nearly everywhere: Bergdahl transfer broke law – except at The Wire

Why the softball headline?

As I understand it, the purpose of a headline is to quickly and briefly call attention to a story. One of the biggest stories today ran the gamut left, right, and center could almost as well have been written with the words “GAO Bergdahl swap broke law” in no particular order:

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CATEGORY: BusinessFinance2

How do you know the collector you’re paying really owns your debt?

You don’t.

Just in case you don’t have enough to worry about already, here’s just one more thing: debt collectors and the twisted games they play. Trust me, you’ll want to invest the few minutes it takes to read this article from The New York Times Magazine. Odds are good the plot twist will surprise you, maybe even leave you a bit more sleepless than you already are. And for good reason.

Sure, those of us who have mastered the art of living within our means *ahemcoughsplutter* will never know the joys of being contacted by debt collectors. More power to you. May you never have an unplanned misfortune that changes that state of affairs. For the rest of us, debt collectors are a reality. An ugly one.

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Music and Popular Culture

Popular Music Scholarship IV: Pop Stars and Politics

Q: Should pop stars express their political opinions and take political action? A: Only if they’re informed, concerned citizens…

 

Bono of U2, pop star and political activist (image courtesy Wikimedia)

(For previous essays in this series, look here, herehere, and here.)

For the period covered by the book of essays I’ve been discussing over the last few weeks, The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Protest, the “post-Classic Rock Era” we might call it, the political/protest activities of pop stars have not had the same resonance or gravitas as they did during that era of protests against segregation, the Vietnam War, and environmental pollution/destruction (the role of classic rock era stars in the women’s movement is, at best, questionable – unless those stars were women, of course).

This week, in the next to last essay in this series, we look at four essays, all in one way or another related to the idea that, to contradict one of the major singers of that classic rock era, sometimes it’s about  the singer, the song – and something else entirely .

The essay titles themselves reveal much about what their authors think of the last 35 years or so. Deena Weinstein’s “Rock protest songs: so many and so few”; Jerry Rodnitsky’s “The decline and rebirth of folk protest music”; Mark Willhardt’s “Available rebels and folk authenticities: Michelle Shocked and Billy Bragg”; and, finally, John Street’s “The pop star as politician: from Belafonte to Bono, from creativity to conscience” offer us a range of explanations for why pop or rock or folk singers have/have not gotten involved in protests against social or political injustice. Some, like Weinstein, take the long view, others, like Willhardt, look closely at a couple of artists. In all of these essays, however, much the same conclusions are reached: in one way or another protest has, too often, been subsumed or marginalized by the co-option of the protester – especially if that protester is a musical celebrity. Continue reading

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance

Zuckerberg donates $10K to anti-gay politician: time for a billionaire lesson

Somebody needs to teach Facebook’s CEO how to wield wealth and influence.

This started out as a brief comment on Frank’s post about leaving Facebook. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so now. It’s an important piece of writing and gods would America be better off if we all followed his lead. Ello, you can’t arrive soon enough (and you better not suck when you do get here).

My first thought on the Zuckerberg/Reyes donation controversy was that it reminded me of the Target/Minnesota Forward debacle back in 2011, which I wrote about in some detail at the time. In both cases, you have biz folks ponying up to support “pro-business” candidates who also happen to not believe in things like basic social justice, fairness, equality, etc. Continue reading

Facebook - Unshare

Goodbye, Facebook. Supporting anti-gay marriage, anti-human rights candidate was finally too much.

After all Facebook has done, there’s only so much a person can take.

And kittehs. Can’t forget about the kittehs.

By now, anyone who has been paying attention is well aware of Facebook’s general user-unfriendly shenanigans, with the possible exception of Facebook’s support for net neutrality, to say nothing of all the minor aggravations users put up with on a daily basis…continually refreshing advertisements, live video popping up in the news feed, a news feed that doesn’t show you everything you mean to see, a newsfeed that occasionally reverts to Top Stories in spite of your every wish and command. Oh, but hey, there’s kittehs!

What kind of user-unfriendly shenanigans, one might wonder?

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Where is Governor Nixon in the Ferguson nightmare?

When government won’t govern, the people need to lead

Step up or step out, Governor (so-called).

Business Insider reported on Wednesday:

While Ferguson Situation Goes Out Of Control, Missouri Governor Tweets About School Board Meeting

Oh, but aside from tweeting about 4H and the school board, Governor #WhereisJayNixon did make time Tuesday night, with prepared comments, to address a community meeting (see link in the above referenced article. How very gubernatorial of him. Okay, so he requested a DOJ investigation. That’s barely doing the job. Where is the leadership? Unless by leadership we’re to understand his hands-off approach to the St. Louis County PD as tacit approval, that is.

Here’s what I want to know. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: The Price of Ignorance by Fred Skolnik

Americans do not know very much about the world. Historically this is partly a result of distance and isolation and partly a result of arrogance. The arrogance comes into play when Americans consider the importance or relevance of what other people are doing, since it goes without saying that Americans do everything better than everyone else. Why individual Americans find it necessary to identify with the idea of America’s greatness may be sought in their need to bolster their self-esteem in the absence of personal distinction and in their feelings of insignificance in the shadow of the American Dream. The consequence of this arrogance and the ignorance it engenders may be found in the results of America’s involvement in armed conflicts around the world. Continue reading

Open letter to the United States Department of State

Post-Citizens United, if money is speech, then where does the Hedges v Obama case lead?

And by device, I mean government.

Sent via web form this date, August 12, 2014 (san links)

Dear Sir or Madam,

As concerned citizens are prone to do, we discuss matters of world import. Occasionally we come up with ideas, sometimes even good ones. To the extent that a proposal has arisen from one of those conversations, I would like to offer it for your consideration. Pending your response, I’ll postpone contact with the office of the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, pertaining to the same proposal.

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Music and Popular Culture

Popular Music Scholarship III: Music as a Function of Place

Music serves as a comment on culture – and, interestingly, that commentary can be both culture specific and universal at once…

Bob Marley in concert, 1980 (image courtesy Wikimedia)

(For previous essays in this series, look here, here, and here.)

This week’s look at the excellent scholarly discussion of popular music and protest, The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest, addresses the importance of place in the emergence of specific types of music. This section of the editor Ian Peddie’s book consists of three essays on places and music as diverse as one could ever want them to be: Jamaica and reggae, the Australian Outback and aboriginal rock, and England’s “Black Country” (the heavy industry and mining country) and the emergence of “escapist” music represented by artists as diverse (at first glance) as Led Zeppelin and drum and bass pioneer Goldie.

In some ways the most interesting, if most esoteric of these essays is “‘We have survived': popular music as a representation of Australian Aboriginal cultural loss and reclamation.” This essay explores the emergence of Aboriginal rock bands, in particular the work of a group called the Wirrinyga Band. The essayist, Peter Dunbar-Hall, notes two important things about the Aboriginals bands in Australia: first, the bands serve an important cultural function in keeping alive aboriginal languages – in fact, music from Wirrinyga Band and other Aboriginal groups is used in schools to help Aboriginal students learn their native languages and cultural history; second, the Australian government actively supports its artists and offers grants and other financial supports to artists such as the Wirrinyga Band so that they can develop, and more importantly, record their work to make both the subject matter of their songs (they sing of traditional Aboriginal subjects such as spiritual and philosophical beliefs – the “Dreamtime” (a central concept in Aboriginal Animism) and the relationship of Aboriginal groups (the Wirrinyga Band are members of the Yolngu) to mainstream Australian culture.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

For your consideration: Jimmy Carter on ending the war in Gaza

An article from Foreign Policy

Ending this war in Gaza begins with recognizing Hamas as a legitimate political actor

I know. Right off the bat, even the idea of recognizing Hamas rankles. Here’s the thing, though. In 2006, as a result of a thoroughly monitored election, the people put Hamas in power. That is the definition of self determination. That is the definition of legitimate political actor. The hazard of democracy, especially when it works, is that we won’t like who the people put in charge. If we can’t live with those outcomes, then we just need to accept that we really don’t care for democracy at all. Further, that what we do believe in is hegemony of one people, one culture, over others. Naturally, that would mean ours and not theirs. This, in spite of the fact that anyone would be hard pressed to seriously and legitimately make the case that we are one people, one culture, and that our chosen version of that should be the one that calls the shots.

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Politics

The Obama administration’s latest dose of political irony

Campaigned on transparency, had a Bush administration assist, and still drops ball

In 2006, Congress passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. President Bush signed it into law. From the USASpending.gov website, the law:

requires that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) establish a single searchable website, accessible to the public at no cost, which includes for each Federal award:

  1. the name of the entity receiving the award;
  2. the amount of the award;
  3. information on the award including transaction type, funding agency, etc;
  4. the location of the entity receiving the award; and
  5. a unique identifier of the entity receiving the award.

USAspending.gov was first launched in December 2007 to fulfill these requirements.

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CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

Amanda Marcotte moves the goalposts. Is a little consistency too much to ask?

Goalposts moved. GTFO.

Amanda Marcotte had me right until the end of her article. As a writer who occasionally *ahem* goes a bit off the rails, I think I’m qualified to notice when another does the same. She had such a compelling case, then derailed it by essentially lambasting all conservatives on the anti-science front and establishing a pattern on the left predicated on two examples. That was just silly.

Even though these arguments get derailed and digressive with various people moving goal posts and refusing to stay on-topic (because they know they will lose the argument if they do), the fact of the matter is that the willingness of liberal thought leaders to stay firm about science in the face of panics that are based on deep-rooted but irrational fears about “purity” and “nature” demonstrates a real integrity that the left has that the right is simply missing.

Now, didn’t she just moments ago suggest that when someone moves the goalposts, it’s argument over, GTFO? Why, yes. Yes she did.

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CATEGORY: WarSecurity

How else should a people defend itself when provoked?

Time and again I hear this question, a question consistently asked by pro-Israel policy apologists. Hamas is bad. They fire rockets into Israel. What are we supposed to do? The answer, apparently, is to engage in a decidedly one-sided battle, killing indiscriminately, with the mightiest armed force in the region. Shelters are bombed, because Hamas uses human shields. Children die, because Hamas uses human shields. We just need to look back to Golda Meir to learn that there never was a Palestine, and that Israel will never forgive the Arabs for forcing Israelis to kill Arab sons.

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Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Is it time for Justice Ginsburg to retire?

Is going strong, going long good for the country?

Having just read this article from the Washington Examiner, I find myself a bit perplexed and asking not only whether Justice Ginsburg should retire, but why won’t she of her own accord?

“I will do this job as long as I can do it full-steam,” Ginsburg said. “When I feel myself slipping, when I can no longer think as sharply, write as quickly — that will be the time for me to leave the court.”

The article concludes, and fairly at that:

The nightmare scenario for liberal court watchers would be a replay of 1968, in which a liberal justice, Ginsburg, dies or is forced to retire under a Republican Senate and president. If this occurs, the court’s swing vote could move one member to the right, from the unpredictable Justice Anthony Kennedy to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is conservative. A six-member conservative majority would thus be cemented for decades to come, ushering in a dark age of Borkian proportions in the minds of liberals.

“If a Republican president selects Ginsburg’s replacement, that justice easily could be the fifth vote needed to allow the government to prohibit all abortion,” Chemerinsky notes darkly.

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Since we’re just supposed to trust Israel every time they make a claim

Israel jumps to conclusions, Palestinians die

Consider this:

The Israeli military said early Sunday morning that an officer thought to have been captured by Palestinian militants during a deadly clash Friday morning, which shattered a planned 72-hour cease-fire [emphasis added], was now considered to have been killed in battle.

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Obama-Nope

President Obama thinks you’re sanctimonious for insisting torturers be charged with felonies

The President of the United States still shows no signs of seeking justice against war criminals

The President of the United States, by way of giving the world a Friday heading into the weekend presser in hopes that we’ll miss it and just ignore it to death, finally leveled exactly the kind of allegations we’ve been waiting for for six years now. Then he clarified his position by saying that we shouldn’t be sanctimonious, but let’s see it in his own stammering words:

I understand why it happened. Uh, I, I think, ah, ih-, it’s important, uh, when we look back to recall how afraid people were, uh, after, uh, the tow-, twin towers, uh, fell, and, and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know, ah, whether more attacks were imminent, uh, and there was enormous pressure, uh, on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this, uh, and um, hyuh, i-, i-, i-, it’s important for us not to, uh, feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those have and a lot of those folks, uh, wuh, uh, were s-, s-, working hard, ah, under enormous pressure, and are real patriots but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that repor-port reflects, and that’s the reason why, after, uh, I took office one of the first things I did was to ban, uh, some of the, in-, extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

 

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The Arts

Arts activism in small-town America, and confessions of a half-assed photojournalist…

U.S. Department of Arts and Culture “Imaginings”: wonderful event, even if my coverage leaves something to be desired

Back on July 13th, I volunteered to photograph an event in Brisbane, California called “Imaginings”. This event took place in 17 locations across the United States, hosted by an organization called the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC). Despite its official-sounding name, the USDAC is not affiliated with the U.S. Federal Government.

I found this disappointing, because I thought at the time that the USDAC was a new Obama Administration initiative for encouraging citizen activism through the creative arts. And I liked the idea of participating in a government program which the GOP, Tea Party, and Christian right wing would have regarded as an unholy liberal waste of government spending.

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