Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Wisconsin Matters: Naomi Klein

Chris Hayes and Naomi Klein on MSNBC. This is totally worth watching. In the second half, she says some important things.

I was raised in a union family in West Virgina. My father worked at the telephone company (one of the Bells) and was a member of the CWA (Communication Workers of America). There is no doubt in my mind, NONE, that my family benefited massively—our lives were made a lot better—because of my father’s union and collective bargaining. I was actually able to have a special allergy medicine that was no longer manufactured made up for me a batch at a time and our insurance paid for it. I had to have special lenses made for my glasses. My sister was able to have braces, etc. How many American jobs have benefits like that anymore? Today, you’d practically have to pull a fucking John Q if your kid got really sick, even if you have health insurance!

When my father retired (he was bought out at age 62) he was extremely bitter about the wages the telephone company was paying the younger hires. He saw the writing on the wall and it wasn’t pretty. Outside of the medical profession I doubt that there are any decent paying jobs with benefits in my hometown anymore.

Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans are the lowest of the low. Traitors to the American middle class. The Wisconsin GOP are ready to knife these people to prove a point! Scum. I spit on them. If it’s not already obvious(!) we here at Dangerous Minds stand firmly with the pro-labor demonstrators in Madison. They’re heroes, these people. Good citizens. May they prevail. For their sakes and for all of our sakes.

from Richard Metzger at DangerousMinds

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Noam Chomsky on Wisconsin's Labor Protests

America’s most important intellectual, Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now on the rebirth of America’s labor movement and how absurd it is to blame teachers and working people for the state of the economy, AS IF Wall Street’s actions had nothing to do with it! (No it was the middle-school teachers in Wisconsin, definitely, who drained your 401k account...)
From DemocracyNow (via Richard Metzger at DangerousMinds).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jay Boy at 50 - Same As He Ever Was

I hadn't seen Jay Adams for over 25 years face to face, but i finally did Thursday. Unfortunately he had a slight injury and didn't want to skate the pool, so i just shot a few portraits for old times sake.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm part of a group show opening tonight in Echo Park (Los Angeles)



Original flyers, posters, set lists and more from Bryan Ray Turcotte (Fucked Up + Photocopied)

Opening Reception:
Friday, February 25, 2011 / 7-11PM
Musical Performances at 9PM

Exhibition Dates:
February 25th - March 26, 2011

TOO FAST TO LIVE, TOO YOUNG TO DIE is a selection of photography, art and ephemera from the California Punk and Hardcore scene with an emphasis on the explosive period of the late 70's and early 80's. This exhibition features creative pioneers who were present for the detonation of the Southern California scene and whose imagery helped capture and craft it's angles, attitudes, music, fashion and sub-culture. Additionally, reflections of other punk scenes throughout California and contemporary collaborations will be presented that were inspired by one of the most potent and relevant periods of individual expression in California history.
I've got around 5 or 6 photos in the show, and an original copy of MY RULES will be on display (A few mint copies with the original envelopes i used to mail them out in will also be offered for sale to serious colectors).

I'll be there.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Budget Baloney (1): Why Social Security Isn’t a Problem for 26 Years, and the Best Way to Fix It Permanently

from Robert Reich
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican presidential hopeful, says in order to “save” Social Security the retirement age should be raised. The media are congratulating him for his putative “courage.” Deficit hawks are proclaiming Social Security one of the big entitlements that has to be cut in order to reduce the budget deficit.

This is all baloney.

In a former life I was a trustee of the Social Security trust fund. So let me set the record straight.

Social Security isn’t responsible for the federal deficit. Just the opposite. Until last year Social Security took in more payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits. It lent the surpluses to the rest of the government.

Now that Social Security has started to pay out more than it takes in, Social Security can simply collect what the rest of the government owes it. This will keep it fully solvent for the next 26 years.

But why should there even be a problem 26 years from now? Back in 1983, Alan Greenspan’s Social Security commission was supposed to have fixed the system for good – by gradually increasing payroll taxes and raising the retirement age. (Early boomers like me can start collecting full benefits at age 66; late boomers born after 1960 will have to wait until they’re 67.)

Greenspan’s commission must have failed to predict something. But what? It fairly accurately predicted how quickly the boomers would age. It had a pretty good idea of how fast the US economy would grow. While it underestimated how many immigrants would be coming into the United States, that’s no problem. To the contrary, most new immigrants are young and their payroll-tax contributions will far exceed what they draw from Social Security for decades.

So what did Greenspan’s commission fail to see coming?


Remember, the Social Security payroll tax applies only to earnings up to a certain ceiling. (That ceiling is now $106,800.) The ceiling rises every year according to a formula roughly matching inflation.

Back in 1983, the ceiling was set so the Social Security payroll tax would hit 90 percent of all wages covered by Social Security. That 90 percent figure was built into the Greenspan Commission’s fixes. The Commission assumed that, as the ceiling rose with inflation, the Social Security payroll tax would continue to hit 90 percent of total income.

Today, though, the Social Security payroll tax hits only about 84 percent of total income.

It went from 90 percent to 84 percent because a larger and larger portion of total income has gone to the top. In 1983, the richest 1 percent of Americans got 11.6 percent of total income. Today the top 1 percent takes in more than 20 percent.

If we want to go back to 90 percent, the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security tax would need to be raised to $180,000.

Presto. Social Security’s long-term (beyond 26 years from now) problem would be solved.

So there’s no reason even to consider reducing Social Security benefits or raising the age of eligibility. The logical response to the increasing concentration of income at the top is simply to raise the ceiling.

Not incidentally, several months ago the White House considered proposing that the ceiling be lifted to $180,000. Somehow, though, that proposal didn’t make it into the President’s budget.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New York City in the year 1977

this is a really great documentary i first saw a few years ago on VH1 when i still had cable and they still played a few music related programs.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Malcolm X assassinated on this date in 1965

On February 21, 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated by three members of the Newark chapter of the Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammed.

The New York Post published this eye witness account by reporter Thomas Skinner on February 22, 1965:
I Saw Malcolm X Die.

They came early to the Audubon Ballroom, perhaps drawn by the expectation that Malcolm X would name the men who firebombed his home last Sunday, streaming from the bright afternoon sunlight into the darkness of the hall. The crowd was larger than usual for Malcolm’s recent meetings, the 400 filling three-quarters of the wooden folding seats, feet scuffling the worn floor as they waited impatiently, docilely obeying the orders of Malcolm’s guards as they were directed to their seats.

I sat at the left in the 12th row and, as we waited, the man next to me spoke of Malcolm and his followers: “Malcolm is our only hope,” he said. “You can depend on him to tell it like it is and to give Whitey hell.” Then a man was on the stage, saying: “. . . I now give you Brother Malcolm. I hope you will listen, hear, and understand.”

There was a prolonged ovation as Malcolm walked to the rostrum past a piano and a set of drums waiting for an evening dance and stood in front of a mural of a landscape as dingy as the rest of the ballroom. When, after more than a minute the crowd quieted, Malcolm looked up and said, “A salaam aleikum (Peace be unto you)” and the audience replied “Wa aleikum salaam (And unto you, peace).”

Bespectacled and dapper in a dark suit, his sandy hair glinting in the light, Malcolm said: “Brothers and sisters . . .” He was interrupted by two men in the center of the ballroom, about four rows in front and to the right of me, who rose and, arguing with each other, moved forward. Then there was a scuffle in the back of the room and, as I turned my head to see what was happening, I heard Malcolm X say his last words: “Now, now brothers, break it up,” he said softly. “Be cool, be calm.” Then all hell broke loose. There was a muffled sound of shots and Malcolm, blood on his face and chest, fell limply back over the chairs behind him. The two men who had approached him ran to the exit on my side of the room shooting wildly behind them as they ran. I fell to the floor, got up, tried to find a way out of the bedlam. Malcolm’s wife, Betty, was near the stage, screaming in a frenzy. “They’re killing my husband,” she cried. “They’re killing my husband.” Groping my way through the first frightened, then enraged crowd, I heard people screaming, “Don’t let them kill him.” “Kill those bastards.” “Don’t let him get away.” “Get him.”

At an exit I saw some of Malcolm’s men beating with all their strength on two men. Police were trying to fight their way toward the two. The press of the crowd forced me back inside. I saw a half-dozen of Malcolm’s followers bending over his inert body on the stage, their clothes stained with their leader’s blood. Then they put him on a litter while guards kept everyone off the platform. A woman bending over him said: “He’s still alive. His heart’s beating.” Four policemen took the stretcher and carried Malcolm through the crowd and some of the women came out of their shock long enough to moan and one said: “I don’t think he’s going to make it. I hope he doesn’t die, but I don’t think he’s going to make it.”

I spotted a phone booth in the rear of the hall, fumbled for a dime, and called a photographer. Then I sat there, the surprise wearing off a bit, and tried desperately to remember what had happened. One of my first thoughts was that this was the first day of National Brotherhood Week.”
Gil Noble, producer and host of the public affairs program Like It Is, directs and narrates this heartfelt documentary on Malcolm X.

From DangerousMinds

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spanish Castle Magic: living towers made of humans

Video by Mike Randolph:
n the city of Tarragona, Spain, castellers gather every two years to see who can build the highest, most intricate human castles. This uniquely Catalan tradition requires astonishing strength, finesse, and balance. Not to mention courage.
from Xeni, at BoingBoing

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chris Rock on Tea Party Racism

In the March issue of Esquire magazine, Chris Rock is interviewed by Scott Raab and manages to put a hopeful spin on the Tea party movement:
“Like many nice Caucasians, I cried the night Barack Obama was elected,” said Raab. “It was one of the high points in American history. And all that’s happened since the election is just a sh—storm of hatred. You want to weigh in on that?”

“I actually like it, in the sense that—you got kids?” asked Rock. “Kids always act up the most before they go to sleep. And when I see the Tea Party and all this stuff, it actually feels like racism’s almost over. Because this is the last—this is the act up before the sleep. They’re going crazy. They’re insane. You want to get rid of them—and the next thing you know, they’re f—-ing knocked out. And that’s what’s going on in the country right now.”
A sage perspective, indeed.
Thanks, DangerousMinds

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why Obama's Budget Sell-Out to Republicans Threatens Our Economy

By Robert Reich
Obama's budget proposal hinges on major cuts that ensure that Republicans get to control the conversation on spending.

President Obama has chosen to fight fire with gasoline.

Republicans want America to believe the economy is still lousy because government is too big, and the way to revive the economy is to cut federal spending. Sunday Republican Speaker John Boehner even refused to rule out a government shut-down if Republicans don't get the spending cuts they want.

On Monday, Obama poured gas on the Republican flame by proposing a 2012 federal budget that cuts the federal deficit by $1.1 trillion over 10 years. About $400 billion of this will come from a five-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending -- including all sorts of programs for poor and working-class Americans, such as heating assistance to low-income people and community-service block grants. Most of the rest from additional spending cuts, such as grants to states for water treatment plants and other environmental projects and higher interest charges on federal loans to graduate students.

That means the Great Debate starting this week will be set by Republicans: Does Obama cut enough spending? How much more will he have cut in order to appease Republicans? If they don't get the spending cuts they want, will Tea Party Republicans demand a shut-down?

Framed this way, the debate invites deficit hawks on both sides of the aisle to criticize Democrats and Republicans alike for failing to take on Social Security and Medicare entitlements. Expect Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of Obama's deficit commission, to say the President needs to do more. Expect Alice Rivlin and Paul Ryan, respectively former Clinton hawk and current Republican budget hawk, to tout their plan for chopping Medicare.

It's the wrong debate about the wrong thing at the wrong time.

To official Washington it seems like 1995 all over again, when Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich played a game of chicken over cutting the budget deficit, the hawks warned about the perils of giant deficits, and the 1996 general election loomed over all. Washington politicians and the media know this playbook by heart, so it's natural for them to take on the same roles, make the same arguments, and build up to the same showdown over a government shutdown and a climactic presidential election.

But the 1995 playbook is irrelevant. In 1995 the economy was roaring back to life. The recession of 1991 had been caused (as are most recessions) by the Fed raising interest rates too high to ward off inflation. So reversing course was relatively simple. Alan Greenspan and the Fed cut interest rates.

In 2011 most Americans are still in the throes of the Great Recession, which was caused by the bursting of a giant debt bubble. The Fed can't reverse course by cutting interest rates; rates have been near zero for two years.

Big American companies are sitting on almost $2 trillion of cash because there aren't enough customers to buy additional goods and services. The only people with money are the richest 10 percent whose stock portfolios have been roaring back to life, but their spending isn't enough to spur much additional hiring.

The Republican bromide -- cut federal spending -- is precisely the wrong response to this ongoing crisis, which is more analogous to the Great Depression than to any recent recession. Herbert Hoover responded the same way between 1929 and 1932. Insufficient spending only deepened the Great Depression.

The best way to revive the economy is not to cut the federal deficit right now. It's to put more money into the pockets of average working families. Not until they start spending again big time will companies begin to hire again big time.

Don't cut the government services they rely on -- college loans, home heating oil, community services, and the rest. State and local budget cuts are already causing enough pain.

The most direct way to get more money into their pockets is to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (a wage subsidy) all the way up through people earning $50,000, and reduce their income taxes to zero. Taxes on incomes between $50,000 and $90,000 should be cut to 10 percent; between $90,000 and $150,000 to 20 percent; between $150,000 and $250,000 to 30 percent.

And exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes.

Make up the revenues by increasing taxes on incomes between $250,000 to $500,000 to 40 percent; between $500,000 and $5 million, to 50 percent; between $5 million and $15 million, to 60 percent; and anything over $15 million, to 70 percent.

And raise the ceiling on the portion of income subject to payroll taxes to $500,000.

It's called progressive taxation.

The lion's share of America's income and wealth is at the top. Taxing the very rich won't hurt the economy. They spend a much smaller portion of their incomes than everyone else.

Sure -- take some steps to cut federal spending over the longer term. Cut the bloated defense budget. Tame the growth in health care costs by allowing the federal government to use its bargaining clout -- as the nation's biggest purchaser of drugs and hospital services under Medicare and Medicaid and the Veterans Administration -- to get low prices. While we're at it, cut agricultural subsidies.

But don't believe for a moment that federal spending cuts anytime soon will get the economy growing soon. They'll have the opposite effect because they'll reduce total demand.

The progressive tax system I've outlined will get the economy growing again. This, in turn, will bring down the ratio of the debt as a proportion of the total economy -- the only yardstick of fiscal prudence that counts.

But we can't get to this point -- or even to have a debate about it -- if Obama allows Republicans to frame the debate as how much federal spending can be cut and how to shrink the deficit.

The President has to reframe the debate around the necessity of average families having enough to spend to get the economy moving again. He needs to remind America this is not 1995 but 2011 -- and we're still in a jobs crisis brought on by the bursting of a giant debt bubble and the implosion of total demand.

Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama's transition advisory board. His latest book is Supercapitalism.

© 2011 All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Facts? We don't need your stinking facts! Why right-wing Americans are so stubbornly ignorant

There’s a transcript of a speech that Bill Moyers gave in January to History Makers, an organization of broadcasters and producers who make factual programs, posted at Alternet. It’s a very interesting talk, but ultimately depressing. He cites an July 2010 article from the Boston Globe that sets the tone for his remarks and I’d imagine that most of the people listening to what the saintly Texan had to say that day had the same thought “Wow, that sucks.” It’s certainly what went through my mind as I read it. Quoting Moyers:
As Joe Keohane reported last year in The Boston Globe, political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency “deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information.” He was reporting on research at the University of Michigan, which found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in new stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts were not curing misinformation. “Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

I won’t spoil it for you by a lengthy summary here. Suffice it to say that, while “most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence,” the research found that actually “we often base our opinions on our beliefs ... and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.”

These studies help to explain why America seems more and more unable to deal with reality. So many people inhabit a closed belief system on whose door they have hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign, that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths. Any journalist whose reporting threatens that belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists (say, the fabulists at Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the yahoos of talk radio.) Remember when Limbaugh, for one, took journalists on for their reporting about torture at Abu Ghraib? He attempted to dismiss the cruelty inflicted on their captives by American soldiers as a little necessary “sport” for soldiers under stress, saying on air: “This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation ... you [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?” As so often happens, the Limbaugh line became a drumbeat in the nether reaches of the right-wing echo chamber. So, it was not surprising that in a nationwide survey conducted by The Chicago Tribune on First Amendment issues, half of the respondents said there should be some kind of press restraint on reporting about the prison abuse. According to Charles Madigan, the editor of the Tribune’s Perspective section, 50 or 60 percent of the respondents said they “would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, particularly when it has sexual content or is heard as unpatriotic.”

No wonder many people still believe Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, as his birth certificate shows; or that he is a Muslim, when in fact he is a Christian; or that he is a socialist when day by day he shows an eager solicitude for corporate capitalism. Partisans in particular - and the audiences for Murdoch’s Fox News and talk radio - are particularly susceptible to such scurrilous disinformation. In a Harris survey last spring, 67 percent of Republicans said Obama is a socialist; 57 percent believed him to be a Muslim; 45 percent refused to believe he was born in America; and 24 percent said he “may be the antichrist.”
What’s even worse is that the most misinformed people (the most gullible, the most fanatical, perhaps) are the ones who vote the most reliably. The Creationists. The people making $40,000 a year who support tax cuts for billionaires to the detriment of their own lives and their kids’ schools. People with no healthcare who protest against it at Tea-party rallies. An entire voting bloc of people who do not believe in what others would deem objective reality. THAT, dear readers, is at base, what we are dealing with in America today and it’s a problem that’s here to stay. You might say it’s the red, white and blue brontosaurus in the room that no one wants to talk about: The willful ignorance of America’s right.

The Boston Globe article that Bill Moyers cites, Joe Keohane’s “How facts backfire: Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains” is an absolute must-read. I’m surprised that there wasn’t a bigger fuss made of this information by the liberal media when it was published last year. Here’s a link to the entire article, and some highlights:
This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.
Yup. And then we vote. Yikes!

Here’s another passage from the article that will wipe that smirk off your Blue State face:
“Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be,” read a recent Onion headline. Like the best satire, this nasty little gem elicits a laugh, which is then promptly muffled by the queasy feeling of recognition. The last five decades of political science have definitively established that most modern-day Americans lack even a basic understanding of how their country works. In 1996, Princeton University’s Larry M. Bartels argued, “the political ignorance of the American voter is one of the best documented data in political science.”

On its own, this might not be a problem: People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”
The persistence of these political misperceptions is perplexing, but can be summed up as “Americans, but lets get real for a second, especially those who have a tendency towards “conservative” opinions, will only listen to you if you are saying something that sounds like something they already believe.” (No, I don’t think that all progressives are open-minded, but xenophobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, racism, being anti-science and a general “fear of the other,” are not exactly hallmarks of the “liberal” personality the way they tend to be on the right. You’d have to be Andrew Brietbart to “believe” otherwise).

What’s worse is that when someone is feeling threatened or is economically insecure, the mind closes down even more. That’s how demagoguery works. It might explain why some dumb old white people think Glenn Beck is so wonderful. It might also explain his success as a pitchman for gold coins during his program. The more threatened someone feels, the easier they fall in line, and the less likely they are to dissent from the party line when it comes to “taking back the country” from a socialist Kenyan. Fear and gullibility go hand in hand, as we see daily.

But these are the dummies, we’re talking about, right? The ignorant people. Not so fast, smartass, because researchers at Stony Brook University found that the people who were the most politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to “new” (which is to say a fact) information that challenged their belief systems, than the statistically ignorant! Quoting again from Joe Keohane’s article: “These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong. Taber and Lodge found this alarming, because engaged, sophisticated thinkers are “the very folks on whom democratic theory relies most heavily.”

How facts backfire: Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains (Boston Globe)

from Richard Metzger over at DangerousMinds

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

B Movie: a short film about Banksy

This short film from Robin Gunningham takes a deeper look into the origin and formation of Banksy as an internationally renown artist. Think of it as a 2nd-half to Exit Through The Gift Shop.

thanks, Doug

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Twilight Landing At LAX (Cockpit View)

Landing at Los Angeles International Airport via the SADDE Six Arrival. A SADDE Six Arrival is an arrival route from the north used by pilots when landing. The song is whack, but the video is pretty damn cool.

thanks, The Presurfer

Monday, February 14, 2011

Let's Get This Straight: There Is No Progressive Equivalent to the Right's Violent Rhetoric

from AlterNet By Melissa McEwan, Shakesville

The shooting in Tucson was not an anomaly. It was an inevitability, and as long as we play this foolish game of "both sides are just as bad," it will be inevitable again.

Both sides are, in fact, not "just as bad," when it comes to institutionally sanctioned violent and eliminationist rhetoric.

An anonymous commenter at Daily Kos and the last Republican vice presidential nominee are not equivalent, no matter how many ridiculously irresponsible members of the media would have us believe otherwise.

There is, demonstrably, no leftist equivalent to Sarah Palin, former veep candidate and presumed future presidential candidate, who uses gun imagery (rifle sights) and language ("Don't Retreat, RELOAD") to exhort her followers to action.

There is no leftist equivalent to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a group which was created from the mailing list of the old white supremacist White Citizens Councils and has been noted as becoming increasingly "radical and racist" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which classifies the CCC as a hate group—and is nonetheless considered an acceptable association by prominent members of the Republican Party, including a a former senator and the last Republican presidential nominee.

There is no leftist equivalent to Glenn Beck, host of a long-running nationally syndicated radio show, former host of a show on CNN and current host of a show on Fox, best-selling author, DC rally organizer, and longtime user of eliminationist rhetoric, including equating universal healthcare to rape, joking about victims of forest fires being America-hating liberals, comparing Al Gore to Hitler, condoning the murder of Michael Moore, accusing Holocaust survivor George Soros of being a Nazi collaborator, joking about poisoning Nancy Pelosi, equating immigration reform with burning US citizens alive, publicly endorsing violent revolution, and winkingly telling his viewers not to get violent, all of which amounts to a speck on the tip of a very big iceberg.

There is no leftist equivalent to Ann Coulter, best-selling author and syndicated columnist, who has been a panelist on Fox's Hannity 28 times and was on Hannity & Colmes an additional 18 times, who has been a guest multiple times on The O'Reilly Factor, Geraldo at Large, Larry King Live, Huckabee, Your World with Neil Cavuto, Hardball, and other cable news shows, has made appearances on The Tonight Show, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Daily Show, and Real Time with Bill Maher, and has co-hosted The View, and has also said that a baseball bat is "the most effective way" to talk to liberals, as well as: "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too." And: "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." And: "In [Clinton's] recurring nightmare of a presidency, we have a national debate about whether he 'did it,' even though all sentient people know he did. Otherwise there would be debates only about whether to impeach or assassinate."

There is no leftist equivalent to Bill O'Reilly, Fox News television show host, nationally syndicated radio show host, and best-selling author, who has appeared on The Tonight Show eleven times, The Late Show with David Letterman six times, The Daily Show six times, Live with Regis and Kelly five times, The View four times, Good Morning America three times, and Real Time with Bill Maher twice, among other national shows, and has lied about and stalked his critics, said that progressive bloggers should be dealt with "with a hand grenade," said Air America hosts were traitors and should be "put in chains," as well as: "And if Al Qaeda comes [to San Francisco] and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead."

There is no leftist equivalent to Rush "I tell people don't kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus—living fossils—so we will never forget what these people stood for" Limbaugh, nationally syndicated radio show host and invitee to the Bush White House.

There is no leftist equivalent to Pat "Hitler's success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path" Buchanan, a regular MSNBC contributor and syndicated columnist.

There is no leftist equivalent to Michelle "In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror" Malkin, a regular Fox panelist, best-selling author, and prominent conservative blogger.

There is no leftist equivalent to Pat "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians" Robertson, host of The 700 Club, who was a guest on Fox's Hannity & Colmes five times.

There is no leftist equivalent to Michael "Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war" Reagan, or Michael "Smallpox in a blanket, which the U.S. Army gave to the Cherokee Indians on their long march to the West, was nothing compared to what I'd like to see done to these people" Savage, both nationally syndicated radio show hosts.

There is no leftist equivalent to the Minutemen and other radical and eliminationist-spewing anti-immigration groups, some of whom have been subcontracted to work the border by the US government.

There is no leftist equivalent to radical and eliminationist-spewing anti-choice groups, who openly target doctors and call for their assassinations—and had a success just last year in the murder of Dr. George Tiller—and whose leaders get featured in whitewashing profiles in the Washington Post.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

This is not an argument there is no hatred, no inappropriate and even violent rhetoric, among US leftists. There is.

This is evidence that, although violent rhetoric exists among US leftists, it is not remotely on the same scale, and, more importantly, not an institutionally endorsed tactic, as it is among US rightwingers.

This is a fact. It is not debatable.

And there is observably precious little integrity among conservatives in addressing this fact, in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Palin takes the absolute cake for audaciously asserting that her rifle sight imagery was really "a surveyor's symbol," and not even having the decency to sheepishly acquiesce that, even if that were true (and not evident bullshit), it's understandable how a reasonable person could look at her "surveyor's symbol" alongside the word "target" and get the wrong, ahem, idea. No, it's all just a wall of total denial in the Palin camp, when she's not whining about being a victim herself of people who have the temerity to actually hold her accountable for her carelessly casual violent rhetoric. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. And then it's deny and play the martyr.

But it's not like Palin's ideological allies are covering themselves in glory, either. There's no call for accountability, no call for reflection, not among conservatives. Just the usual game of deflection and projection, as they desperately try to find a way to make this liberals' fault.

Bill Kristol took to the airwaves this morning to call criticism of Palin "a disgrace" and accuse liberals of "McCarthyism." Commentators on Fox News, meanwhile, blame President Obama for not changing the tone in Washington, like he promised. Which would be hilarious, were that redirection of blame not a key part of conservatives' strategy to dodge responsibility for the eliminationist rhetoric that certainly contributed to the tragic events of this weekend.

When, a few months ago, there was a spate of widely-publicized suicides of bullied teens, we had, briefly, a national conversation about the dangers of bullying. But in the wake of an ideologically-motivated assassination attempt of a sitting member of Congress, we aren't having a national conversation about the dangers of violent rhetoric—because the conversation about bullying children was started by adults, and there are seemingly no responsible grown-ups to be found among conservatives anymore.

Faced with the overwhelming evidence of the violent rhetoric absolutely permeating the discourse emanating from their side of the aisle, conservatives adopt the approach of a petulant child—deny, obfuscate, and lash out defensively.

And engage in the most breathtaking disingenuous hypocrisy: Conservatives, who vociferously argue against the language and legislation of social justice, on the basis that it all "normalizes" marginalized people and their lives and cultures (it does!), are suddenly nothing but blinking, wide-eyed naïveté when it comes to their own violent rhetoric.

They have a great grasp of cultural anthropology when they want to complain about progressive ideas, inclusion, diversity, and equality. But when it comes to being accountable for their own ideas, their anthropological prowess magically disappears.

Only progressives "infect" the culture, but conservative hate speech exists in a void.

That's what we're meant to believe, anyway. But we know it is not true. This culture, this habit, of eliminationist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum. It's happening in a culture of widely-available guns (thanks to conservative policies), of underfunded and unavailable medical care, especially mental health care (thanks to conservative policies), of a widespread belief that government is the enemy of the people (thanks to conservative rhetoric), and of millions of increasingly desperate people (thanks to an economy totally fucked by conservative governance).

The shooting in Tucson was not an anomaly. It was an inevitability.

And as long as we continue to play this foolish game of "both sides are just as bad," and rely on trusty old ablism to dismiss Jared Lee Loughner as a crackpot—dutifully ignoring that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators; carefully pretending that the existence of people with mental illness who are potentially dangerous somehow absolves us of responsibility for violent rhetoric, as opposed to serving to underline precisely why it's irresponsible—it will be inevitable again.

Let's get this straight: This shit doesn't happen in a void. It happens in a culture rife with violent political rhetoric, and it's time for conservatives to pull up their goddamn bootstraps and get to work doing the hard business of self-reflection.

This is one problem the invisible hand of the market can't fix for them—unless, perhaps, it's holding a mirror.

Melissa McEwan writes and edits the blog Shakespeare's Sister.
© 2011 Shakesville All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

some nice footage from Howard Hall

this is some awesome recent footage from the filmmaker.
This video is my "best of" collection for the past year. Image capture was with the RED One camera using Nikon lenses. Locations include the Maldives, Alaska, California, Cocos Island Costa Rica, and Mexico. Music was composed by Shie Rozow

thanks, Peggy Oki

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tolstoy's "10 Rules of Life"

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (a book about how to be more happy and grateful, which I enjoyed very much) ran this list of Leo (Lyev Nikolayevich) Tolstoy's "10 Rules of Life" on her blog:
[F]or happiness-project purposes, Tolstoy is particularly fascinating -- both because he wrote so extensively about happiness and because he made and broke so many resolutions himself. Spectacularly... Tolstoy wrote these rules when he was eighteen years old:
Get up early (five o'clock)

Go to bed early (nine to ten o'clock)

Eat little and avoid sweets

Try to do everything by yourself

Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for evry minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater

Keep away from women

Kill desire by work

Be good, but try to let no one know it

Always live less expensively than you might

Change nothing in your style of living even if you become ten times richer
Thanks, BoingBoing

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Latest Collaboration with Shepard
to celebrate Henry's 50th!

More than a year ago when Shepard Fairey and I were discussing some possible future collaborations, I came up with the idea of doing this one to celebrate, what would be, Henry's monumental 50th birthday. The quintessential punk Renaissance man, friend, and inspiration to many. It was easy for him to agree, Rollins through one of my classic photographs would be a great subject.

His actual birthday is 2.13.61, as is the name of his publishing company (who were the first to distribute my book FUCK YOU HEROES).

Henry is doing a special tour to celebrate as well. Go here to check for dates, he'll be in New York City tonight and tomorrow (i'll be there!), and in his original hometown of Washington DC on the 13th.

This limited edition collaborative poster, signed by Henry, Shepard, and myself, will be made available on his birthday, at the Obey Giant web site. They usually sell out pretty quick, so good luck grabbing one if you're interested.

Here's the original photo that appeared in my book FUCK YOU TOO.

Hank signing'em up

here's Henry speaking on WNYC about his 50th:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Savage Nomads and Savage Skulls: 1979 documentary on street gangs of the South Bronx

from DangerousMinds
In 1979, Gary Weis, known for his short films on Saturday Night Live, directed a documentary about South Bronx street gangs called 80 Blocks From Tiffany's . Weis came up with idea of doing the film after reading an article in Esquire magazine by Jon Bradshaw. The article, like the film, focused on two gangs: the Savage Nomads and the Savage Skulls.
Despite its role as an important and unflinching portrait of a profoundly interesting time in New York and, as pointed out by The New York Times, hip hop’s cultural history, 80 Blocks was, for many years, impossible to find, only briefly available as an educational VHS release in 1985. In the time since its initial release, the documentary has gained an overwhelming cult status. With little to no news coverage over the decades since its release dedicated fans continue to buzz about the film, especially now that the internet has provided fans common ground to fondly look back not only the documentary itself, but the era that it captured so vividly.
Here's 80 Blocks From Tiffany's in its entirety. If you dig the film and want to own a copy, you can purchase the DVD here. It comes with alot of extras, including interviews with the director, cinematographer, and a forty page book.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

24-Hour View of the sSky

from Earth Science "Picture of the Day

Photographer Chris Kotsiopoulos; Chris’ Website
Summary Author: Chris Kotsiopoulos

After wondering for some time whether it was possible to image the sky from one morning to the next where I live in Athens Greece, I decided to give it a try. After hours of planning and preparation, and a full day of shooting, the image above is the result of this labor of love. It took me about 12 hours to pull together and process a single image that included over 500 star trails, 35 shots of the Sun and 25 landscape pictures. My plan was to make the image on the day of the solstice (December 21) when the Sun’s stay in the sky was short (in the Northern Hemisphere) and the star trail durations were long. Of course, trying to find clear weather for a given 24-hour period is not an easy chore. However, I was patient, and the weather eventually cooperated (on December 30-31, 2010). I had to stay at the same place for approximately 30 hours. In addition, I was on location 2-3 hours before sunrise in order to make the preparations and test shooting. I also needed to stay an extra 2-3 hours the second day so as to shoot part of the Sun's sequence that I lost the first morning due to clouds. I chose Sounion (Temple of Poseidon) as the setting for this project. Click on image to see labels.

I began the shooting the morning of December 30, 2010, taking photos with my camera on a tripod facing east. The day portion of this shoot is composed of a dozen shots covering the landscape from east to west as well as the Sun's course across the sky, from sunrise to sunset. I recorded the Sun's position exactly every 15 minutes using an intervalometer, with an astrosolar filter adjusted to the camera lens. In one of the shots, when the Sun was near its maximum altitude, I removed the filter in order to capture a more dramatic shot that showed the Sun's “glare.” After sunset, I took various shots with the camera facing west-northwest in order to achieve a more smooth transition from the day portion to the night portion of the image. The night portion is also composed of a dozen landscape shots but this time from west to east. After the transition” shots, I took a short star trail sequence of approximately half an hour duration, with the camera facing northwest. At 7:30, I turned the camera to the north and started taking the “all-night” star trail shots -- lasting almost 11 hours. After accomplishing this, I then turned the camera to northeast and shot another short half an hour star trail sequence, and then finally, with the camera now facing east-northeast, I took a series of night-to-day transition shots.

(click on images to see larger and further info)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

This just in: Reagan presidency recalled accurately!

from DangerousMinds:

Paul Slansky is guest blogging at Dangerous Minds about life during the Reagan era.

This is the first in a series of posts reminding those who lived through it – and informing those who didn’t – that contrary to relentless media efforts to portray Ronald Reagan as a great President and his reign as an era of national bliss, he was actually a lazy ignoramus who couldn’t tell fact from fiction, and whose eight years of callous actions (and inactions) had disastrous and ongoing consequences for the country.  And here’s how it started:

11/4/80 At 8:15pm EST, with a mere five percent of the vote counted, NBC declares former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan the 40th President of the United States.  “I’m not bitter,” says President Jimmy Carter, who concedes the election hours before polls in the west have closed. “Rosalynn is, but I’m not.” Adds the First Lady, “I’m bitter enough for all of us.”

11/20/80 President-elect Reagan arrives at the White House to receive a job briefing from President Carter, who later reveals that Reagan asked few questions and took no notes, asking instead for a copy of Carter’s presentation.

11/27/80 At halftime during its Thanksgiving football game, CBS interviews President-elect Ronald Reagan, who reminisces about his days as a radio sportscaster and fondly recalls his penchant for enhancing the events by “making things up.”

12/11/80 Presidentelect Reagan’s first eight Cabinet appointments – including Donald Regan (Treasury), David Stockman (Budget Director), Caspar Weinberger (Defense) and William Casey (CIA) – are announced.  Reagan not only doesn’t attend the half hour ceremony but he can’t even be bothered to watch all of it on TV.

12/12/80 Denying a report that Nancy Reagan “can’t understand” why the Carters don’t move into Blair House during the transition so she can have a head start on redecorating the White House, a spokesperson explains that the First Ladyin-waiting merely suggested that she might do that favor for the next First Family.  Says one Carter aide, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to fend off the moving vans.”



12/31/80 Nancy Reagan is reported to be insisting that whoever is hired as her husband’s press secretary must be “reasonably goodlooking.”

1/17/81 The most expensive Inaugural celebration in American history – an $11 million four day parade of limousines, white ties and mink that prompts Reagan partisan Barry Goldwater to complain about such an “ostentatious” display “at a time when most people can’t hack it” – gets underway in Washington.

1/20/81 At noon, promising an “era of national renewal,” Ronald Wilson Reagan becomes the oldest man to take the oath of office as President of the United States.  In a stunning coincidence, just as he completes his speech, the 52 hostages held in Tehran for 444 days begin their journey home.  Suspicion lingers to this day about whether behind-the-scenes machinations by the Reagan transition team – machinations which would have been nothing less than treasonous – might have played a part in delaying this moment for days or even weeks in order that it might provide this spectacular opening to the surreal movie about to be filmed.

Later, President Reagan visits Tip O’Neill’s office, where the House Speaker shows him a desk that was used by Grover Cleveland.  Reagan claims to have portrayed him in a movie.  O’Neill points out that Reagan in fact played Grover Cleveland Alexander, the baseball player, not Grover Cleveland, the President.

1/21/81 At his first Cabinet meeting, President Reagan is asked if the Administration has plans to issue an expected Executive Order on cost‑cutting. He shrugs. Then, noticing budget director David Stockman nodding emphatically, he adds, “I have a smiling fellow at the end of the table who tells me we do.”

1/21/81 On his first full day on the job as National Security Adviser, Richard Allen receives $1,000 and a pair of Seiko watches from Japanese journalists as a tip for arranging an interview with Nancy Reagan.

2/2/81 At his hearing to become Under‑secretary of State, Reagan crony William Clark is subjected to a current events quiz. Is he familiar with the struggles within the British Labour Party? He is not. Does he know which European nations don’t want US nuclear weapons on their soil? He does not. Can he name the Prime Minister of South Africa? He cannot. The Prime Minister of Zimbabwe? “It would be a guess.” Despite his wide-ranging ignorance, he is confirmed.

2/5/81 Testifying before Congress, Interior Secretary James Watt – of whom President Reagan says, “I think he’s an environmentalist himself, as I think I am” – is asked if he agrees that natural resources must be preserved for future generations. Yes, Watt says, but “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.”

2/11/81 Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan eases requirements for the labeling of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.


3/18/81 Responding to charges that three Baltimore slums he owns should have been boarded up months ago, White House aide Lyn Nofziger says, “If I didn’t own them, somebody else would ... It’s much ado about nothing.”

3/30/81 Following Reagan’s shooting, Secretary of State Alexander Haig rushes to the White House briefing room where, trembling and with his voice cracking, he seeks to reassure our allies that the government continues to function: “As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the vice president.” Afterward, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger confronts Haig and informs him that he has misstated the line of succession, which actually places the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate ahead of the Secretary of State. Snarls Haig, “Look, you better go home and read your Constitution, buddy. That’s the way it is.”

3/31/81 An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that President Reagan’s popularity rating went up 11 points after he was shot, though not everybody suddenly adores him. One student writes in his college newspaper that he hopes Reagan dies of his wounds, prompting Nancy to inquire about the possibility of prosecuting him.

4/1/81 CNN airs a videotape of psychic Tamara Rand “predicting” the Reagan shooting on a Las Vegas talk show reportedly taped on January 6th. Rand said she felt Reagan was in danger “at the end of March” from “a thud” in the “chest area” caused by “shots all over the place” from the gun of a “fair‑haired” young man named something like “Jack Humley.” Four days later Dick Maurice, the show’s host, admits that this astonishing “prediction” was actually taped the day after the shooting. Still, she had it pegged pretty close.



5/11/81 Ed Meese calls the American Civil Liberties Union “a criminals’ lobby.”


6/12/81 President Reagan fails to recognize his only black Cabinet member, Housing Secretary Samuel Pierce, at a White House reception for big‑city mayors. “How are you, Mr. Mayor?” he greets Pierce. “I’m glad to meet you. How are things in your city?”

6/16/81 President Reagan holds his third press conference, where he responds to questions on the Israeli attack on Iraq (“I can’t answer that”), Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non‑proliferation Treaty (“Well, I haven’t given very much thought to that particular question there”), Pakistan’s refusal to sign the treaty (“I won’t answer the last part of the question”), Israeli threats against Lebanon (“Well, this one’s going to be one, I’m afraid, that I can’t answer now”), and the tactics of political action committees (“I don’t really know how to answer that”). As for skepticism about his administration’s grasp of foreign affairs, the President declares, “I’m satisfied that we do have a foreign policy.”

7/23/81 Invited by Treasury Secretary Donald Regan to join the negotiating session at which his tax bill is being shaped, President Reagan chuckles and says, “Heck, no. I’m going to leave this to you experts. I’m not going to get involved in details.”

8/5/81 The Reagan Administration begins sending dismissal notices to over 5,000 striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Union (PATCO). By week’s end, the union is broken.


8/13/81 President Reagan takes time out from his summer vacation at his home in Santa Barbara, California – which is oddly called a “ranch” though no livestock or crops are raised there – to sign the largest budget and tax cuts in history into law. When his dog wanders by, a reporter asks its name. “Lassie,” the President replies, then corrects himself. “Millie!” he says. “Millie. Millie’s her name.” Everyone laughs and laughs, because it’s just so funny when someone forgets his own dog’s name and confuses her with a movie dog.

8/19/81 White House counselor Ed Meese sees no need to wake President Reagan just to tell him the Navy has shot down two Libyan jets. Defending Meese’s decision, Reagan explains, “If our planes are shot down, yes, they’d wake me up right away. If the other fellows were shot down, why wake me up?”

8/31/81 Former movie actor Rex Allen, who spent 45 minutes with President Reagan after presenting him with four pairs of free boots, says, “He acted like there was nothing else in the world he had to do, nothing else on his mind.” Says an unnamed White House aide, “There are times when you really need him to do some work, and all he wants to do is tell stories about his movie days.”

9/4/81 The Agriculture Department proposes cutting the size of school lunches and offering tofu, yogurt, cottage cheese or peanuts as viable meat substitutes. Also, condiments such as ketchup and pickle relish would be reclassified as actual vegetables.

9/23/81 President Reagan plays host to welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard and his wife. “We’re very proud,” says the President, “to have Sugar Ray and Mrs. Ray here.”

9/25/81 President Reagan announces that he has withdrawn the proposal to cut school lunches. He suggests that a dissident faction in the Agriculture Department might have come up with the idea as a form of “bureaucratic sabotage.” And just to set the record straight, aide James Johnson explains, “It would be a mistake to say that ketchup per se was classified as a vegetable. Ketchup in combination with other things was classified as a vegetable.” And what things would ketchup have to have combined with to have been considered a full‑blown vegetable? “French fries or hamburgers.”

10/2/81 At a White House briefing with Caspar Weinberger, President Reagan is asked how his MX missiles will be deployed. “I don’t know but what maybe you haven’t gotten into the area that I’m gonna turn over to the, heh heh, to the Secretary of Defense,” he says sheepishly. “The silos will be hardened,” Weinberger says, then nods approvingly as Reagan ad-libs, “Yes, I could say this. The plan also includes the hardening of silos.”

11/13/81 The White House announces that the Justice Department is investigating a $1,000 payment given to National Security Adviser Richard Allen by a Japanese magazine after he helped arrange a brief post‑inaugural interview with Nancy Reagan. “I didn’t accept it. I received it,” says Allen, who explains that “it would have been an embarrassment” to the Japanese to have returned the money. He takes a leave of absence while the investigation continues, embarking on a doomed attempt to save himself by going on TV and taking his case directly to the people, who couldn’t care less who the National Security Adviser is as long as they’re not required to know his name. The President hails his integrity, then names noted foreign policy non-expert William Clark to succeed him.

11/13/81 Dismissing charges that Reagan economic policies are unfair, GOP finance chairman Richard DeVos scoffs, “When I hear people talking about money, it’s usually people who don’t have any.”

11/23/81 President Reagan vetoes a stopgap spending bill, thus forcing the federal government – for the first time in history – to temporarily shut down. Says House Speaker Tip O’Neill, “He knows less about the budget than any president in my lifetime. He can’t even carry on a conversation about the budget. It’s an absolute and utter disgrace.”

12/2/81 Following a four‑month investigation into William Casey’s business dealings, the Senate Intelligence Committee gives the CIA Director the rousing endorsement of being not “unfit to serve.”



12/22/81 As Christmas approaches, President Reagan authorizes the distribution of 30 million pounds of surplus cheese to the poor. According to a government official, the cheese is well over a year old and has reached “critical inventory situation.” Translation: it’s moldy.

1/8/82 The White House announces that President Reagan – who often wonders why people think he’s anti‑civil rights – has signed off on Ed Meese’s plan to grant tax‑exempt status to South Carolina’s Bob Jones University and other schools that practice racial discrimination.

1/12/82 President Reagan explains that there must have been some kind of “misunderstanding” regarding his efforts to grant tax exemptions to segregated schools, since he is “unalterably opposed to racial discrimination in any form.”

1/15/82 President Reagan phones The Washington Post to explain that when his new policy toward segregated schools was announced, he “didn’t know at the time that there was a legal case pending.” CBS quickly obtains a memo in which intervention in the Bob Jones University case was specifically requested, and on which Reagan had written, “I think we should.”

1/15/82 Press secretary Sheila Tate says that Nancy Reagan “has derived no personal benefit” from her acceptance of thousands of dollars worth of clothing from American designers, explaining that the First Lady’s sole motive is to help the national fashion industry. So, getting fabulous clothes for free should not be considered a “personal benefit.”

1/19/82 President Reagan holds his seventh press conference, where he claims there are “a million people more working than there were in 1980” (though statistics show that 100,000 fewer people are employed); contends that his attempt to grant tax‑exempt status to segregated schools was meant to correct “a procedure that we thought had no basis in law” (though the Supreme Court had clearly upheld a ruling barring such exemptions a decade earlier); claims that he has received a letter from Pope John Paul II in which he “approves what we’ve done so far” regarding US sanctions against the USSR (though no such approval was mentioned in the papal message); responds to a question about the 17% black unemployment rate by pointing out that “in this time of great unemployment,” Sunday’s paper had “24 full pages of ... employers looking for employees” (though most of the jobs available – computer operator, for example, or cellular immunologist – require special training, for which Reagan cut funds by over 30%); and responds to a question about private charity by observing, “I also happen to be someone who believes in tithing – the giving of a tenth” (though his latest tax returns show charitable contributions amounting to a parsimonious 1.4%).

2/16/82 The public is informed by an aide to Nancy Reagan that the First Lady will no longer accept free clothing “on loan” from top designers because “she really just got tired of people misinterpreting what she was doing.” In October 1988, her spokesperson, Elaine Crispen, confirms that, despite her pledge not to do it anymore, she has continued to receive free designer clothing throughout her husband’s presidency. “She made a promise not to do this again and she broke her little promise,” says Crispen, who points out – as Reagan aides so often seem to do – that no actual laws were broken.

2/24/82 Addressing the Voice of America’s 40th birthday celebration, President Reagan reminisces about making up exciting details while announcing baseball games from wire copy. “Now, I submit to you that I told the truth,” he says of his enhanced version of a routine shortstop‑to‑first ground out. “I don’t know whether he really ran over toward second base and made a one‑hand stab or whether he just squatted down and took the ball when it came to him. But the truth got there and, in other words, it can be attractively packaged.” No one questions his premise that embellishing the truth does not compromise it.

2/27/82 The Congressional Budget Office finds that taxpayers earning under $10,000 lost an average $240 from last year’s tax cuts, while those earning over $80,000 gained an average of $15,130.

3/1/82 Sen. Bob Packwood (R‑OR) reveals that President Reagan frequently offers up transparently fictional anecdotes as if they were real. “We’ve got a $120 billion deficit coming,” says Packwood, “and the President says, ‘You know, a young man, went into a grocery store and he had an orange in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other, and he paid for the orange with food stamps and he took the change and paid for the vodka. That’s what’s wrong.’ And we just shake our heads.”

3/1/82 In a speech to the Civil Defense Association, Ed Meese describes nuclear war as “something that may not be desirable.”

3/24/82 Agriculture official Mary C. Jarratt tells Congress her department has been unable to document President Reagan’s horror stories of food stamp abuse, pointing out that the change from a food stamp purchase is limited to 99 cents. “It’s not possible to buy a bottle of vodka with 99 cents,” she says. Deputy White House press secretary Peter Roussel says Reagan wouldn’t tell these stories “unless he thought they were accurate.”

4/15/82 Citing a favorite example of British jurisprudence, President Reagan says, “England was always very proud of the fact that the English police did not have to carry guns ... In England, if a criminal carried a gun, even though he didn’t use it, he was not tried for burglary or theft or whatever he was doing. He was tried for first‑degree murder and hung if he was found guilty.” White House spokesman Larry Speakes, on being informed that this fable is totally untrue, responds, “Well, it’s a good story, though. It made the point, didn’t it?”

4/30/82 President Reagan describes the Falkland Islands war as a “dispute over the sovereignty of that little ice‑cold bunch of land down there.”

5/10/82 Taking questions from students at a Chicago high school, President Reagan explains why his revised tax exemption policy could not possibly have been intended to benefit segregated schools. “I didn’t know there were any,” he says. “Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.”

5/21/82 Discussing Soviet weaponry at a National Security Council meeting, President Reagan asks CIA deputy director Bobby Inman, “Isn’t the SS‑19 their biggest missile?” No, Inman replies, “that’s the SS‑18.” “So,” says the President, “they’ve even switched the numbers on their missiles in order to confuse us!” Inman explains that the numbers are assigned by US intelligence.

6/17/82 Interior Secretary James Watt – one of whose semantic rules is, “I never use the words Democrats and Republicans. It’s liberals and Americans” – warns the Israeli ambassador that if “liberals of the Jewish community” oppose his plans for off‑shore drilling, “they will weaken our ability to be a good friend of Israel.”

6/20/82 Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger explains the Pentagon’s position on a “protracted” nuclear war: “We don’t believe a nuclear war can be won,” but “we are planning to prevail if we are attacked.” The difference between winning and prevailing is not explored.

4/14/83 President Reagan is asked if his administration is trying to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. “No,” he says, “because that would be violating the law.”

4/18/83 Seventeen Americans and 46 Lebanese are killed when a truck bomb plows into the US embassy in Beirut.

4/27/83 President Reagan asks Congress for $600 million for his Central American policies, pointing out – as if it had some relevance – that this “is less than one‑tenth of what Americans will spend this year on coin‑operated video games.”

5/4/83 President Reagan lauds the Nicaraguan contras as “freedom fighters” and observes that nuclear weapons “can’t help but have an effect on the population as a whole.”

5/18/83 During a speech to the White House News Photographers dinner, President Reagan sticks his thumbs in his ears and wiggles his fingers. Says the leader of the free world, “I’ve been waiting years to do this.”

5/28/83 Telling his aides that, rather than reading his briefing books, he spent the eve of the Williamsburg economic summit watching The Sound of Music, President Reagan says, “I put them aside and spent the evening with Julie Andrews.”

6/9/83 Addressing a forum in Minnesota, President Reagan is asked how the Federal Government plans to respond to a report on education that he has “approved ... in its entirety.” He is unable to provide anything more specific than that he is “going to have meetings,” and finally turns to Education Secretary T. H. Bell for help. “Could you fill in what I left out?” the President asks Bell. “I won’t be offended.”

6/10/83 Reacting to President Reagan’s claim that he has increased federal aid to education, House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-TX) says, “It embarrasses all of us as Americans to have to point out that the President of the United States is not telling the truth ... I want to believe that he doesn’t know any better. I want to believe that those who furnish him those spurious statistics are the culprits and that the President of the United States is innocently making these statements, not aware of their total untruth.”

6/16/83 Ariela Gross, a 17‑year‑old New Jersey student, meets with President Reagan to present him with a petition supporting a nuclear freeze. She reports that the President “expressed the belief that there must be something wrong with the freeze if the Soviets want it.”

6/29/83 President Reagan suggests that one cause of the decline in public education is the schools’ efforts to comply with court‑ordered desegregation.

6/29/83 President Reagan appears on a TV tribute to James Bond, where he speaks about the fictional secret agent as if he was a real human. “James Bond is a man of honor,” says the President, “a symbol of real value to the free world.” Says Tip O’Neill aide Chris Matthews, “This is the kind of thing we all thought Reagan would be doing if he had lost the ‘80 election.”

7/26/83 Reagan appointee Thomas Ellis acknowledges at a Senate hearing that he belongs to an all‑white country club, was a recent guest of the government of South Africa (where he has extensive holdings) and served as director of a group that financed research on the genetic inferiority of blacks. Still, he says, “I do not believe in my heart that I’m a racist.” He withdraws his name two days later.

8/2/83 Rep. Pat Schroeder (D‑CO) says that Reagan is “perfecting the Teflon‑coated presidency ... nothing sticks to him. He is responsible for nothing – civil rights, Central America, the Middle East, the economy, the environment. He is just the master of ceremonies at someone else’s dinner.”

8/22/83 Barbara Honegger resigns her job at the Justice Department after writing an Op‑Ed piece for The Washington Post in which she calls Reagan’s policies toward women “a sham.” Described by a department spokesman as a “low‑level munchkin,” she holds a news conference three days later to display a photograph of herself with President Reagan. “They called me a Munchkin,” she says. “This is me with the Wizard of Oz.”

9/1/83 A Soviet fighter mistakenly shoots down Korean Air Lines flight 007 after it strays into Soviet airspace, killing 269. George Shultz calls Tip O’Neill to tell him about the incident. “What does the President think about this?” asks O’Neill. “We’ll tell him when he wakes up,” says Shultz. Only after CBS shows President Reagan on horseback at his ranch as the crisis unfolds does he reluctantly return to Washington.

9/15/83 President Reagan wears his new hearing aid at a state dinner, prompting fashion‑conscious guest Merv Griffin to exclaim, “I think everybody’s running out to get them whether they need them or not.” Despite Griffin’s fatuous comment, there is in fact no surge in the purchase of unnecessary hearing aids.

9/21/83 Interior Secretary James Watt describes the makeup of his coal‑leasing commission to a group of lobbyists. “We have every kind of mix you can have,” he says. “I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple.” As a public furor erupts, a spokesman explains that Watt “was attempting to convey that this is a very broadly based commission.”

9/27/83 Polio victim Bob Brostrom arrives at the White House on crutches to present 120,000 pieces of mail supporting James Watt. If Watt loses his job for saying “cripple,” argues Brostrom, then hospitals for “crippled children” should change their names.

10/4/83 At a meeting with congressmen to discuss arms reduction, President Reagan – in office for almost three years – says he has only recently learned that most of the USSR’s nuclear arsenal is land‑based. This elementary information is essential to any rational thinking about disarmament.

10/9/83 Claiming that his “usefulness” to President Reagan “has come to an end,” James Watt resigns. “The press tried to paint my hat black,” he says of his troubled tenure, “but I had enough self‑image to know the hat was white.” He later assumes a crucifixion pose for photographers.

10/13/83 Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker is informed that President Reagan has appointed William Clark – as unqualified for this job as for all his others – to be the new Secretary of the Interior. “You’re kidding,” says Baker. “Now tell me who it really is.”

10/19/83 Asked at a press conference about the safety of the US Marines in Beirut, President Reagan says, “We’re looking at everything that can be done to try and make their position safer. We’re not sitting idly by.”

10/23/83 A truck bomb at the US barracks in Beirut kills 241 Marines.

10/24/83 In the face of political strife on the island of Grenada, White House spokesman Larry Speakes calls press speculation about a US invasion “preposterous.”

10/25/83 Claiming that US medical students there are in grave danger, President Reagan diverts attention from the Beirut fiasco by launching an invasion of Grenada. Lest there be any doubt about Presidential involvement in this decision, photos are released showing a pajama‑clad Reagan – up at 5:15 a.m.! – being briefed on the situation. Curiously, reporters are prevented from covering the invasion.

10/26/83 American students from Grenada kiss the tarmac upon landing in South Carolina. Scoffs school bursar Gary Solin, “Our safety was never in danger. We were used by this government as an excuse to invade Grenada.” President Reagan says US troops “got there just in time” to prevent a Cuban takeover.

11/3/83 President Reagan explains that the military action he ordered in Grenada was not an invasion but was, rather, a “rescue mission.” As for a UN resolution deploring this action, “It didn’t upset my breakfast at all.”

12/3/83 Concrete barricades are erected in front of the White House to prevent truck bombers from cruising in as easily as they seem to in Beirut.

12/6/83 The Israeli newspaper Maariv reports that during a meeting with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, President Reagan – who spent World War II making training films in Hollywood – claimed to have served as a photographer in an army unit filming the horrors of Nazi death camps. Shamir says Reagan also claimed to have saved a copy in case there was ever any question as to whether things had really been so bad. When asked just that question by a family member, Shamir quotes him as saying, “This is the time for which I saved the film, and I showed it to a group of people who couldn’t believe their eyes.”

12/6/83 Revealing his rather disturbing view about the “coming of Armageddon,” President Reagan says, “[Not] until now has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this.”

All entries are excerpted from the “Reagan Centennial Edition” of my 1989 book The Clothes Have No Emperor,

available here as an eBook. Much more to come.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is There Life Out There?
—The Most Thrilling Question We Can Answer

"Science—knowledge—only adds to the excitement, the mystery, and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts."

That's one of the first comments the late, great physicist Richard Feynman makes in a wide-ranging interview from the 1981 television documentary, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. I recommend you watch it, if you have the time. The title comes from Feynman's description of the visceral thrill that accompanies discovery, a thrill that intensifies in direct proportion with the discovery's profundity and certitude.

I was reminded of Feynman's documentary and quote one day in 2009, during a hike on a telescope-studded Chilean mountaintop with the astronomer Debra Fischer. Fischer is a planet-hunter, one of a handful of individuals around the globe who have discovered dozens of alien worlds, and who are bent on finding more planets like our own. She was using a telescope there to search for terrestrial planets around Alpha Centauri, the nearest neighboring stellar system to our own Sun.

It was a clear, sunny afternoon, with only a single condor spiraling in the sky—a good omen for telescope work, since more soaring condors would have meant hot, rising air, atmospheric disturbance, and muddy views of the night sky through the telescope. We also found an apricot tree, improbably laden with fruit in the midst of what was essentially high desert. Barely touched, the ripe apricots fell into our open hands, and as we paused and ate, we speculated on how the tree had come to be there, and how it had managed to grow and bloom and bear fruit. (The explanation turned out to involve a beneficent groundskeeper who had planted the tree and hooked up an irrigation line, but bear with me.)

You can, of course, trace such a question back to the rarefied abstraction of why there's anything at all rather than nothing whatsoever, but I prefer the more concrete consideration that, without a rocky, warm, wet planet to support a complex biosphere, neither Fischer's apricot nor Feynman's flower could have existed in the first place, let alone be savored and appreciated.

Science is filled with big questions, and astronomy and its subfields are blessed with some of the biggest. For example, where did the universe come from? How is it that its expansion is accelerating? Why is it that time only moves in one direction? These are great, worthy mysteries ... but no matter how many billions of dollars we throw at them, I'm not at all convinced that we'll be definitively answering any of them anytime soon—or that we even know how to properly address them yet.

Looking for other habitable or inhabited planets is different, partially because we already have such a well-characterized template to guide us: Earth, and its defining, life-enabling properties.

Many of our planet's most salient features—its liquid-water ocean, its atmospheric composition, and its global population of living things—appear relatively straightforward to remotely detect across the vast distances of interstellar space. That's largely why I believe that, quite possibly for the remainder of my lifetime, the most profound question that can be answered with reasonable certainty—the most pleasurable thing that can be imminently found out—is the frequency of living worlds around other stars.

I'm admittedly biased (just look at my Twitter feed—it's clear what my interests are), but my argument rests on facts: The research architectures and observational capabilities required to find Earth-like planets in our region of the galaxy, and determine whether or not some of them harbor life, are already reasonably well-defined. Public interest in (if not knowledge of) the search for alien life is high, and nearly universal. And, in comparison to tasks like finding the Higgs boson, establishing the precise nature of dark energy, or experimentally validating string theory, completing much (though not all!) of this "planetary census" simply isn't that expensive.

Imagine if we eventually discover tens, even hundreds of potentially habitable planets within a few hundred light-years of our solar system. Or, instead, imagine that we somehow find no worlds remotely suitable for life as we know it. Either result, and all those in between, would constitute a shocking revelation.

What if we are cosmically alone, on a planet as anomalously unlikely and fertile as a fruit tree flourishing in an arid wasteland, or a flower blooming in a desert? What if worlds like ours are common as grains of sand? Does the universe hum and throb with life, or does eternal silence and sterility reign outside of our small planet? The truth is, no one really knows. But that will soon change. And when it does, this knowledge can only fill our lives, our world, and our future with more excitement, mystery, and awe.

This week, NASA is releasing a new batch of discoveries from its premier planet-seeking spacecraft, Kepler. The editors at BoingBoing have kindly invited me to come aboard to blog about these discoveries, and other insights from exoplanetary research. My goal is to take you on a journey through the past, present, and future of the search for habitable exoplanets, so that you can better understand—and, potentially, even get involved in—this exhilarating scientific frontier.

Some rights reserved by NASA Goddard Photo and Video