Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bye Bye Barack

At a recent "Town Hall" event it was noted that a question that ranked high among those asked by the online audience was ""With over 1 out of 30 Americans controlled by the penal system, why not legalize, control, and tax marijuana to change the failed war on drugs into a money making, money saving boost to the economy? Do we really need that many victimless criminals?"

In a video he ignored the real thrust of the question and proceeded to act like a right-wing demagogue by playing the whole thing as a joke - and because of the nature of the in-person audience got the cheap laugh.

The question was serious, not to be flipped off by ancient religious superstitions that demean the importance of getting high. He, for God's sake, smokes cigarettes, and likely imbibes caffeine and perhaps the ethanol he thinks is going to provide relief from imported oil. But then those things have all been kept mostly legal and the Calvinists, etc. have managed to put our magic herb on a proscribed list, as if it were a poison - like tobacco/caffeine/alcohol.

Marijuana is the #1 Cash Crop in California! To pretend that it's not an important key to helping stimulate the economy (the taxes could be as punitive as those on cigarettes and yield billions in revenue) - after all it can be grown for pennies and sells for lots o' bux. And for whatever absurd political reason, he chose to break our hearts with demagoguery.

Shame on him.


Make Love, Not War

Our illustrious president said something to the effect that "the key to Peace is War in Afghanistan"!!!

Yet another victory for Orwellian newspeak.

From the history of France in "French Indo-China" and our own quagmire-testing there in Vietnam we didn't learn that military adventures and imperialistic designs were particularly problematic when our supply lines must cross oceans. The Soviet Union didn't have nearly so far to send their awesome weaponry, but a bevy of tribes in a fairly desolate land not only thwarted their being ruled from afar, but actually played a major part in the destruction of the original "evil empire".

I guess it should be a possible consolation that we could dissipate all of our renewed stock of good will and a generation of young Americans and Afghanis and perhaps create, almost as a side effect, a genuine revolutions: change we can believe in?

Maybe we can also resurrect the Shah and really get loco?


But What Can I Do?

One of the most frequent questions asked of people proposing various Utopian schemes designed to "improve the world" is usually preceded by "I completely agree with your proposed solution to humanity's problems..."

The questioners display impatience with the enormity of the task of achieving some lofty goal like World Peace or Universal Health Care or a Basic Income Guarantee (my current favorite). The most frequent response is to "keep on keeping on" and hope/expect Dr. Time to be an ally.

Because I've reached "dotage" it's clear that, at the very most we are vectors pointing to said aspirations - the idea of a "turning point" or some historically vital landmark (usually a pariah) is pretty vain. Tim's book is almost self-deprecating in a field replete with "fathers of the Web Age" who claim primacy, be they Ted Nelson or Doug Engelbart or Gates/Wozniak and now Wales.

Each took part but so did we all either leading, following or staying pretty much out of the way.

But how about Ghandi or Dr. King or perhaps Jackie Robinson? Weren't they true differnce-makers? Yes, in a way and they had certain aspects in common that may lead to an answer to the Sermon's theme: although they talked extensively, they also walked with a certain affrontery towards the institutions they sought to change. Trouble is they all died before their goals really were attained.

So, I guess that in general the answer is, as usual, to think globally and act locally, i.e. seize command of what you can reach. You too can be the mayor of Podunk and maybe shake so much that the ensuing rain of shed water will float us towards "The Promised Land"! Worth a try.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Relief from Palinism

As a sort of latter-day Dan Quayle, Sara Palin furnished already-formed comic bits too numerous to catalogue. Maureen Dowd remarked that Ms. Palin was welcome to satirical columnists as well as a bevy of late-night talk show hosts and, of course The Daily Show's Jon Stewart.

Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live now has an instantly recognizable guffaw-getter and the Republican Party has been essentially destroyed by the pimping of this incredibly, near unbelievable emergence on an already absurd political canvas.

I was manager/director of San Francisco's improvisational theater, The Committtee, a largely political satire undertaking, in the '60s. We evolved from Chicago's Second City company, which in turn was a turnout of the UK's The Establishment, and ultimately the form called Comedia del'Arte; and the usual suspects in the field.

Saturday Night Live was spawned by, among other influences, our brand of irreverence, quite appropriate for the UCBerkeley Free Speech Movement and all the familiar "Summer of Love" activities.

All this to refer to the question we always got: "How will you get material to mock when ____ (fill in the blank with Nixon/Johnson/Bush) is no longer available for you to kick around?" Well, there's always Geithner/Bernanek/Frank - an endless array
of easy targets.

But there was something special about Gov. Palin: she's a fox and even a MILF. When Jon Stewart first opened up on her he kissed the side of her picture in a lewd way and the audience "got it" - no matter what she ultimately stood for, she is "hot"

Her running dog, Ann Coulter is also in that category to some extent but she is so mean that it doesn't really pose any problem for "the left", she's just another nut case, but Sara is in another realm. If she had any brains, she would be seen as a Gracie Allen caricature of herself and that's what Tina Fey revealed so

After the debacle of the election (if we factor out the racist votes, it would have been an epic landslide) she kept on working to wreck what was left of her party. My problem is that on the way, she made the unforgivable act of using her baby as an electoral ploy, much as Jerry Lewis and MDA have routinely done with "poster children".

Following the debate with Biden she had "it" placed on her shoulder as she did what looked like "burping" it - possibly to show that in addition to being a heartbeat away from a position of great power, she was a loving mother, although she didn't
go all the way and start breast-feeding on live TV.

While she and McCain were attempting to ridicule the calling of "Community Organizer" and making "eloquence" a pejorative (as they had long since done with "liberal"), all of them, Obama included completely missed how absurd the term "special needs", and how counter-productive to inclusion is its use.

The legacy of Sara Palin is that she appears to nurture her "special needs" child while, in her role as governor has prevented IDEA's furtherance in her state. This unmitigated hypocrisy is beyond deplorable - all the way to full-blown prostitution, using a baby to further ideas that have no basis in reason.


History may be repeat

As I do research into my ancestry I am often struck dumb by matters of genocide or other things that are very disturbing.

My grandfather commanded a contingent of "colored regulars" who were at various times in the forefront of the Spanish-American War in Cuba and the Philippines, as well as being the famed "Buffalo Soldiers" of the Indian Wars.

His oldest son, my father was a founding member of what has become one of the biggest insurance companies in the world, USAA. At an early meeting of the group of officers who organized the company it was almost casually remarked that (paraphrased) "If it hadn't been for Lieutenant Loughborough's skill with the machine gun, most of us wouldn't be alive."

My grandfather died before I was born and my father passed when I was 4, so I have almost no personal recollection of him, but throughout my childhood I was constantly told what a wonderful man he was.

The patriarch of the Loughboroughs was my great-grandfather, Nathan who served as an official in John Adams' government and whose plantation included what is now Georgetown in the District of Columbia. I think he and his son were Confederate Citizens, whatever that meant. It's quite likely that they owned slaves.

I have to say that these findings are disturbing, but of course out of my control.

I hope that the Filippinos don't hold me responsible for my forebears traveling thousands of miles to commit genocide, but I can see how they might in view of the fact that our nation is doing quite similar things today. We elect a president to end the warring and he increases the troop level in Afghanistan.

We march in protest and rail against the destruction of our economy by our continuing funding of military adventures all over the world under the pretext of defending ourselves! But reform of the Defense Budget is piecemeal and totally inadequate to the necessary task of dismantling the Military-Industrial Complex.

We don't need cluster bombs, spent Uranium-tipped shells and armor, or hydrogen bombs to protect us from terrorists. The hypersonic airplanes are an incredible burden to bear when we have 20% of our people without health care provision and still far too many going hungry or being without shelter.

My pathetic efforts to solve all this by enabling "Everyone/Everything/Everywhere/Always Connected" seems quixotic in view of the bloodlust that pervades our foreign policies.

Any useful ideas, anyone?


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Us Popes are a diverse lot

The closest I came to a Pope was Vasken I who was the chief prelate of the Armenian Catholic Church, but he was called "Catolicos" instead of "Pope".

The Dalai Lama has a certain "popeness" about him, but not the title.

So as far as I know it's just me and some guy in the Vatican who are actually called "Pope".

It would be nice if we could all confer from time to time so that Bro. Benedict might try to convince me (and me him) about such issues as the sanctification of holocaust-deniers and the scientific nature of condom use to stop the spread of AIDS.

But then his organization didn't acknowledge that Galileo (or was it Copernicus?) was actually onto something until the 1990s after a few absurdist centuries of the sort of denials that plagued thought - and still do.

So this here Pope says to spread condoms/truth/peace not the so-called moral alternatives. We don't need all those millions of dead babies just because some pretender to truth flaunts reality in deference to a superstition not dissimilar to "step on a crack, break your mother's back." I had to (at first gingerly) step on cracks and then check that my mother wasn't yet paraplegic before I realized that I had been led astray by my peers. I didn't worry about "step on a line and twist your daddy's spine" because he was already dead by the time I heard about that particular danger. I'd bet that it's also just the same kind of superstitious balderdash that "The Pope" (they still haven't noted that because of my ascendancy to that title, he is actually "A Pope" now) espouses.

I'm just saying...


Ain't gonna study war no more

This is the 36th anniversary of the last American troops evacuating Vietnam.

I hope it's not that long until such an anniversary concerning "our boys in Afghanistan (and Iraq, and...)" come home.

I was one of those boys in the Phillipines in 1946 (World War II), as was my father in around 1916 (Phillipine "Insurrection"), and my grandfather around 1900 (Spanish-American War). And I don't think there's a "makewar" gene in the family tree.

War, what is it good for: absolutely nothing.

The just-elected administration, chosen in part because of opposition to war upped the commitement to continue/expand the war on Afghanistan for no discernible purpose. We should instead abolish the War Department (euphemistically renamed the "Department of Defense") and start a Secretariat for Peace.

Why not?


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Three who changed the world

The interesting thing about the trio in today's sermon is that at the level of win/lose, they all actually lost!

There are certain epic points in our history that revolve around the "Rule of Law" as a paradigm for sane governance. Possibly the most famous was the Dred Scott Decision wherein the august judges ruled that this man was not a person and could not use the courts to gain his freedom.

Although not at the same level of significance, today's subjects reveal similar total absurdities in the workings of "justice" - or at least justices.

The first was John Thomson, who energized the rather academic "Free Speech Movement" featuring Mario Savio at UCBerkeley in 1965. He wandered onto the campus (he was not a student) carrying a sign that had one "illegal" word on it: "FUCK". By the time the media mavens had finished, the chancellor of the UC system had resigned, the faculty was divided 'twixt satirists and absurdists and the Sixties as we remember them were in full throat. Thomson, and later several students (who read aloud from "Lady Chatterly's Lover") were arrested for something like public indecency.

The next was Dan O'Neill a satirical cartoonist who, with several others came to be known by the name of "Air Pirates", the comic book using Mickey Mouse as pretty much a figure to be ridiculed, while being admired. Disney was not amused and although it never got to the Supreme Court, Dan finally settled and promised to be good. But the precedent was a blow to parody/satire that has been a rallying point for such efforts since. A recent South Park episode has the mouse beating up the Jonas Brothers and blatant "Disney Presents" messages. Apparently their lawyers feel they're on firmer ground than Dan's felt they were.

The last is sort of in the same vein and elicited full-blown nonsense from the Supremes. 18-year-old Joseph Frederick unveiled a banner at a parade (off-campus) reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" and the Supreme Court struck down the First Amendment in some really tortured "logic".

Ultimately those who lost (not, so far the last one) actually prevailed and the culture has changed so you can say "fuck" in a movie or live performance (though it still gets bleeped on TV as George Carlin spins in his grave), and poking fun at a mouse won't get you jail time.

It's a good thing I got to be around for some of these vindications, in fact I feel that my standing as a prophet has been enhanced. However, women still don't have the protection of the Equal Rights Amendment, though we have come a long way, baby!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

CSUN's Greatest Hits

"Curran and Teh" could be a firm of solicitors or perhaps a comedy team. Instead they are the brilliance that illuminates the Open Source - Free Software culture.

They've created a software program that makes it possible for blind guys like them to have their own screen reader without needing it obtained for a bunch of bucks or through the bureaucracy of Rehab Agents.

The dominant screen reader is JAWS and it costs several hundred dollars - more than the computers it runs on! Its vendor has made a decent product but it's out of reach for lots of blind folks.

Although MicroSoft might be able to simply include such a thing in their operating system's application suite, they would be seen as the "evil empire" stamping out the little company that serves the blind community. And EMac Speak is operable almost exclusively by Geeks who use Linux.

The young programmers are way thin, almost anorexic looking, but extremely articulate and poised. They were the center of attention throughout the conference and their product (NVDA) was extremely well received.

It was a pleasure to talk with them. I am the better for having done so.


Saturday, March 7, 2009


We hold that Connectedness is a human right and a "good thing" expressed as:
Everyone/Everything/Everywhere/Always Connected

The objections to and avoidance of methods/processes/techniques that further this goal are often excused with: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity (or ignorance)."

Are people who provide materials for the Web, but ignore the "everyone" part ("after all, I'm not writing this for blind people") bigots, or just uninformed, but well-meaning?

In the end it doesn't matter. Violating human rights because of the convenience of not having to consider some excluded pejoratively-named group is inexcusable.

When we are in a position to affect the process, whether it be segregation, institutionalization, or Web Accessibility, we should act, much as many react to insults to their kin.

After all, we are all members of one another.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

In a Tim Bray blog there's a quote from photographer Will Connell: "...too many budding neophytes learn to speak the language too long before they have anything to say.”

Of course I was pulled up short by how, in so pontificating, he establishes himself as an arbiter about what anyone else has to say, or how good their photographs are.

What it evoked in me is the memory of a Sunday afternoon about 50 years ago when I got a chance to play a tune with the Miles Davis Quintet during a Sunday matinee at the Blackhawk in San Francisco. All five of the legendary jazz players in that group are dead, so I'm the last remaining person who had that particular experience, which is a major signpost of my life in music.

I wasn't all that bad a player and the fact that my instrument was so unique (boobams) made it acceptable and in fact some of the things I recorded with Chet Baker aren't at all embarrassing.

It's not impossible that Miles thought I was a "wannabe" but there was no indication of that at the time and he always treated me with respect, but the fact remains that those five had put in many years of intense practice to get to the level they'd reached and I taught myself to play in a few months and wasn't exceptionally proficient.

We mustn't be unaware that when we judge somebody's efforts as inept, we keep in mind that it's all relative. Not too many Mozarts around, but a lot of people get a lot out of writing/playing music even if it goes unheard/unappreciated - at the very least they dig it.