Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween

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History of Halloween

As we go into Halloween Weekend, I thought I would share this video from the History Channel on the History of Halloween. Let us celebrate the holiday with a little perspective on its past and meaning:

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Senate Bill retains Public Option!

The Public Option will be in the Senate Bill! The compromise? States can choose to back out. So that means that you Rick Perry and you Bobby Jindal will be the ones who get to choose to harm the people of your states and sell them out to your insurance company overlords!! Ha!!!! In more sane states, we will finally have some relief from corporate villains who have been denying our claims!

Harry Reid announces the decision:

I think this is a reasonable move. Let states who fear "big government" refuse the option if they wish. They will quickly learn that they need and want a public option after all. In a couple years, the states that have a public option will being do much better with coverage and costs than those who refuse it.

To be honest, however, and despite the tea-baggers, I don't think may States will refuse the public option.

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The Origins of the Financial Crisis

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Water World: The Future is NOW

Bangladesh is on of the first countries suffering the worsts of Global Warming; it won't be the last.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Halloween Movies

As we approach Halloween I find myself watching the classic films of the holiday. Not Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers, but rather the Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and the Mummy.

These films are rather cheesy of course. The acting, largely the result of actors of that era being trained for stage and silent films, is poor by our standards, the effects far outdated, and the story lines are often rather weak - although I confess I find these films endearing for these reasons.

But these films have shaped what Halloween monsters are. The Draculas and Frankensteins we see trick or treating every year are the versions from these films. They have had a remarkable cultural impact. There are a number of factors that explain their enduring appeal.

These films are rather primal, touching basic fears and struggles.

First, each of the classic universal horror films deals squarely with death, fear of death and longing for death. The lines are a bit campy, hence Bela Lugosi's Dracula tells us "To die, to be truly dead ... that must be wonderful," and "there are far worse things awaiting man than death!" But most films of that or any era could not face death so head on. The fact that these are "monster films" gives them free leeway to actually explore our struggle with mortality.

Second, the power and danger of sexuality is strongly dealt with. Whether it's the Wolfman's desiring to "devour" his love interest, or the strongly implied lesbianism of Dracula's Daughter (an odd, but must see film), sex is presented as something bubbling below the surface. The characters try to control their libido, attempt to master it, but all too often fail as the force of their passions carries them to a dangerous place.

Third, there is a fear that science and technology may harm us. We hear again and again in these films that "modern science" does not permit the existence of this or that monster. Most tellingly, in The Mummy we are told that one must violate ancient graves because of "science you know." Each of these films fears that we have lost something ancient and essential because of our advances, and we are in real danger for having lost it.

Fourth, and finally, the classic horror films question and examine the notions of "normalcy" and "the other." In some, e.g. Dracula, "the other" is dangerous and must be destroyed. In many others - see Tod Browning's Freaks especially - , e.g. Frankenstein, the other is simply misunderstood and it is the "normal" people who are dangerous, vile, and destructive. The angry mobs in Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are eerily reminiscent of today's "Tea-baggers" who fear shout and hate.

Because these films are "horror" or "fantasy" they explore issues that more mainstream films at that time did not. They remain worth watching for this reason. They look at issues we must still examine, they wrestle with conflicts we still struggle to understand.

So, do yourself a favor and watch some of the classic Universal Horror films this Halloween.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I have not forgotten Health care reform

My readers may have noted that I have not posted on Health care reform for a while now. In part this is because I am attempting to finish the initial draft of my dissertation and also because I have started the process of applying for Tenure-Track jobs. Also, I've needed a break from the political battles of our world in order to restore a little sanity to my life.

I will return to the topic of health care reform very soon. For now I want to wait and see what the final bill ends up looking like. That Olympia Snowe voted for the Baucus bill does not encourage me. That bill does not encourage me. There is nothing in it to control costs or ensure that claims submitted to insurers are actually covered. A health care bill is not reform simply because a member of the other party casts a vote for it. Health reform in reality, and not merely in name, would actually lower costs and expand coverage; it would actually help the people.

Let us wait, however, and see what happens. The Senate HELP bill is far promising, as are the bills in the House. For now, let us call, email, write, sign petitions, and protest. Let our Senators know that we demand a strong public option, an employer mandate (with small businesses exempt), and real change for a broken system and an ailing populace.

More on this to come as the bills reach their final form.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ken Burns: Beauty is Democratic

I was unable to see all of Ken Burn's National Parks: American's Best idea on PBS, I watched 3 of the 6 Episodes. I did manage to see clips from the other episodes and plan to watch them all when the Public Library gets a copy.

I'm mixed on Ken Burns. His documentaries are far too long, too sappy at times, and can have long stretches of sheer boredom (The exception here is Burn's Baseball, which was fantastic from start to finish). On the other hand, his documentaries always include fine interviews, great images, and remarkable observations. They are always worth watching despite the problems. National Parks is standard Ken Burns in all respects.

Two things stood out for me. First, there was a great deal, particularly in the first episode, about finding God in nature. John Muir played a large part here. The nature mysticism in the first episode was never sufficiently developed, but it was quite well done. Americans like John Muir and Walt Whitman developed a particularly American theology in which God is to be found right here in the beauty, power, and sheer grandeur of nature. That Burns touched on this tradition at all is remarkable, for Americans have lost much of it. As the documentary stressed, finding divinity in the land is the defining feature of Native American spirituality. A continent as beautiful as North America naturally gives rise to such a theology of divine immanence.

Second, the major idea of the film is that "big government" is not always bad. In fact, Burn's documentary makes a strong case that only a strong federal government can protect the public good.

James Poniewozik, writing for time Magazine, captures this perfectly:

The miniseries starts in the mid — 19th century, when nature lovers began urging that the expanding nation set aside areas of wilderness to remain undeveloped and unspoiled. Their cautionary tale was Niagara Falls, which by the 1860s was "almost ruined" — overrun by hucksters and tourist traps, with nearly every good view privately owned. Unless the government acted, advocates like naturalist John Muir warned, Yosemite and Yellowstone would end up the same way. "To Europeans," reads narrator Peter Coyote, Niagara "was proof that the United States was still a backward, uncivilized nation."

Government intervention! Private-sector-bashing! Americans trying to impress Europeans! These and other pinko motivations would secure a permanent federal handout for Yogi Bear and his picnic-basket-redistributing comrades. You can imagine how the proposal might go down were the parks starting from scratch today. Socialized nature, controlled by tree czars?

And in the decades that followed, there were battles — with drillers, ranchers, developers — over and over (and over: The National Parks is gorgeous, but at 12 hours, it sometimes gives new meaning to the term geologic time). When FDR created Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943, a Wyoming Senator likened the plan to Pearl Harbor, while a local journalist compared it to Hitler's Anschluss.

Burns and writer Dayton Duncan make plain which side they're on. (The subtitle is a hint.) A section on the battle to create a park in the Smoky Mountains contrasts schoolkids collecting pennies for the effort with logging companies bankrolling ads and "frantically cutting the old-growth forests ... to extract everything they could before the land was closed to them." Speaking to critics this summer, Burns said, "If there were no national parks, [the Grand Canyon] would be a gated community."

The national parks — and The National Parks — are based on ideas that are classically, if not radically, communitarian: That the free market doesn't always act in the public interest. That it's good that every American shares ownership of and responsibility for the most exclusive properties in the country. And that it is right for people — through government — to protect them from business interests and even from the people themselves (like the early visitors who shot game and scratched their names on ancient rocks). A series on a public-TV network that calls a government program America's best idea? Has no one alerted Rush Limbaugh?

It is a good time to remind Americans that federal government is not always bad. To the contrary, big business is a serious threat to Democracy. Privatization puts power, wealth, and property into the hands of a few, public services and resources - like National Parks - spread power, wealth, and property to all of us. "We the People" own the national parks. This is a truly democratic idea. And that idea makes Ken Burns new documentary well worth viewing.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Saint Francis of Assisi: Make me an Instrument of Your Peace

I am officially late with this post. Sunday ended a couple minutes before I got to my blog. But this Sunday was the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. I've always honored the man.

People are fond of St. Francis for a number of reasons. For some it is Francis' "humble faith" in his God, for others it is his love of nature and animals. For still others it was the great Saint's commitment to love and peace. All of this is true to the man, and all of it meaningful.

But I want to focus on something else about Saint Francis: his vision of unity. Francis believed in a world where all things were united. All things, for him, were part of the same eternal reality to which they were forever linked. This "unity" is what inspired Francis' empathy and compassion for the sufferings others: for the lepers whom he strove to nurture, the poor whom he tried to comfort and even the wealthy and powerful from whose ranks he departed with joy.

One simply cannot live and love as deeply as Francis of Assisi unless one grasps the underlying unity of all creation. Too often we see divisions, separations, conflicts. Saint Francis saw past all of this, past the absurd and often tragic ways we break ourselves apart from each other. He was a man who saw all things as one, and who saw in everything the stamp of its Divine Creator.

Let us remember Saint Francis of Assisi; let us try to see something of the unity that he devoted himself to.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mr. Gandhi still speaks to us

Yesterday was the 130th anniversary of the Birth of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Let us remember the man, let us recall what he stood for, and let us hear what he still has to teach us.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Corporations are people too

We live in a country dominated by corporate power and corporate interests. Our corporate masters buy and sell our politicians (look no further than corporate prostitute Max Baucus), bombard us with advertisements that endlessly impact our behavior, and slowly but surely solidify and expand their power at our expense.

A sad reminder of how beaten down we are by corporate power is the legal fiction that corporations are persons. The Law allows corporations to be given all of the privileges of persons. They have the same legal protections; Corporations are legal persons.

This is, of course, absurd. And no less a right-wing hero than Milton Friedman has argued that corporations are not "folks." How could they be? I cannot arrest, kill, or harm a corporation, nor can a corporation vote .... or can it?!

A new case before the Supreme Court would radically change the way corporations operate. Corporations already own most our politicians. Current laws, however, forbid corporations from publicly opposing or supporting candidates. This means that corporate money cannot directly fund attacks on or praises for a particular candidate. Any person in the corporation can do, but the corporation itself cannot. This is a very necessary, and all too rare, check on corporate power.

The Average candidate and average voter cannot compete against the vast monetary power of corporations. If Corporations can directly endorse or oppose candidates, then democracy does not stand a chance.

Bill Moyers explains:

The Supreme Court is returning early from its summer recess to consider a potential watermark case that could overturn a century of campaign finance restrictions and clear the way for unregulated spending by corporations on political campaigns. The case, Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission, has grown from a limited question about a political documentary to a broad challenge to the government's right to restrict corporations from spending money to support or oppose political candidates.

Encompassing questions on First Amendment rights, the power of corporations and the influence of money on political elections, it's no wonder the case has created an assortment of strange bedfellows. Conservatives and liberals appear on both sides, either to defend the government's right to restrict corporate political advocacy or, on the other side, to argue that such regulations are a violation of the First Amendment.

A good description of the issue at hand. Moyers' continues:

At the center of this case is a 2008 political documentary, HILLARY: THE MOVIE, which sought to portray then presidential contender Hillary Clinton as a dangerous threat to the United States. The Federal Election Commission considered it an electioneering communication, funded by a corporation, and therefore subject to McCain-Feingold restrictions.

When the case appeared before the Supreme Court last session, in early 2009, the question was only whether HILLARY: THE MOVIE was an electioneering communication, but the case has grown in the re-argument. According to the NEW YORK TIMES' Adam Liptik, "some of the broader issues implicated by the case were only glancingly discussed in the first round of briefs, and some justices may have felt reluctant to take a major step without fuller consideration." The court asked for a re-argument, specifically as to whether the court should overrule two previous decisions that upheld the government's right to limit certain types of corporate political advocacy — the 1990 decision in Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce, which upheld a Michigan state law, and the 2003 decision in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, which upheld McCain-Feingold.

Let us step back for a moment. People have rights. We have the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. I would argue that we also have rights to a basic standard of living, including: food, water, shelter, and health care. Buildings, on the other hand, do not have rights; they cannot exercise them. Rocks, bricks, and cars have no rights for the same reason. But the Lawyer for the Corporations argues that Corporations - which are no more "persons" than rocks or bricks - are being denied their right to free speech under the current law!

I must say this loudly and clearly A CORPORATION IS NOT A PERSON. A corporation is a legally protected contract arrangement in which a group of individuals have come together and formed a charter which gives them limited liability and tremendous financial resources. The people forming the charter have rights, but a corporation exist only in the realm of legal entities and has no rights whatsoever.

But the absurdity factor is the least of our problems. Corporations have resources beyond even the imaginations of most real people. If Corporations are allowed to directly promote and support or oppose and attack particular candidates, then the real people cannot have a chance to compete. Democracy will have been utterly undermined and perhaps even destroyed.

At some point, we have to say enough is enough. We have to refuse to give up another one of our rights to make corporate profits larger and corporate investors and CEO even more absurdly wealthy. It is time to put our foot down. It is time to end the long process of Corporations growing full, vampire-like, on our weakened and violated bodies.

But why stop with campaign finance? Let's send a firm message to all the corporate stooges in government.

Begin with the most foul, the most vile, the most blatantly servile of corporate owned puppets; Max Baucus. This guy wrote a bill so generous to the health insurance industry that they could not have in their wildest dreams have hoped for it! Let the voters in Montana know, this guy is a whore for corporate cash. He has no shame and must be voted out of office. The man disgust me. He should disgust us all.

So there we are. After Baucus we know for certain that elected officials are nothing more than servants to their corporate masters; we shall see whether the Supreme Court is equally ready to sell out real people for imaginary ones.

Either way, the time has come to turn the tables on this "den of thieves."

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