Thursday, January 25, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bernie Sanders on Corporate Control of the Media

     Democracy Now! has a good video of Bernie Sanders speaking at the National Conference for Media Reform. Sanders highlights the centrality of the media issue saying

If you are concerned, as been said, about healthcare, if you are concerned about foreign policy and Iraq, if you are concerned about the economy, if you are concerned about global warming, you are kidding yourselves if you are not concerned about corporate control over the media, because every one of these issues is directly controlled and directly relevant to the media

Video here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Socialism Defined

     Mookie of Meme Processing has a interesting post on socialism that some of you might be interested in. He talks about a number of issues, including the negative connotations of the word and of its true definition, common misconceptions and arguments made against socialism, whether violence is necessary to achieve fundamental change, discusses the apparent paradox of a free market which supposedly protects individual liberty and responsibility while at the same time is not controlled by people but by an "invisible hand" which is independent of human control and thereby relieves people from responsibility for anything that the market affects, among other topics. If you're interested, regardless of your views, feel free to join the discussion.

    Also, I'd like to thank whoever ordered those 4 atheism books after clicking on one of my Amazon links. They give me 4% of the purchase towards Amazon gift certificates. I still haven't gotten to the $10 minimum redemption amount goal, but I'm getting close =)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pirates and Emperors

    Short cartoon from TayTV based on Chomsky's book Pirates and Emperors, Old and New.


Friday, January 12, 2007

What is the media reporting on now?

     Most days I check out the mainstream media and see what they're reporting on, just for shits and giggles. Today I wanted to see how the media was responding to Bush's call for an escalation in Iraq (20,000 more troops for the slaughter), the fact that polls show that 71% of Americans are opposed to Bush's plan, and also Bush's aggressive statements towards Iran and Syria. I remember back in high school we were told that we needed a President to make decisions because the process of democracy is often too slow to react quickly if the need arises. I don't remember the part where the the President gets to do whatever the fuck he wants, especially if public opinion is directly opposed to it. Withdrawal from Iraq? No, silly citizens, we're sending in more troops. Going to recall me? Too bad, you can't. Impeach me? Too bad, you don't control the Congress or House, and in half of the states you can't recall them. In fact, most of you didn't even have a choice to elect a peace candidate in November to begin with! As always, direct action is the only way to control our lives and our world. I may talk about this later, especially if a war with Iran starts to look imminent.

    Anyway, I just downloaded this great extension for Firefox which lets me save screenshots of the web pages I go to. I made some comments on the news websites I visited. As you'll see, the US media is utter bullshit. Al Jazeera, however, was quite impressive. You may want to click on the photo to make it larger and easier to read. Am I the only one who thinks that ongoing, escalating, and upcoming war is something that should be the focus of reporting in a civilized society?



CNN (morning)

CNN (hour later)

Fox "News"

Al Jazeera (my new mainstream news source)


    I usually don't promote movies on this blog, especially if they aren't documentaries. But Idiocracy is one that I think many of you would enjoy. Besides, if 20th Century Fox won't promote it, maybe I should pick up the slack. Let me borrow a fantastic review from John Patterson of the Guardian
It looks as though Mike Judge, the satiric mastermind behind Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill and Office Space, just got punked again. By his own studio. For the third time.

Seven years ago, 20th Century Fox dumped Judge's anti-corporate cri de coeur Office Space, but it became a bona fide smash on DVD, one of the studio's biggest sellers that year. Last year Fox unceremoniously cancelled Judge's animated hit King of the Hill, perhaps the most socially precise comedy on American television, before giving it a last-minute reprieve.

Now it's the turn of Judge's second feature, the splenetic, pitch-black satire Idiocracy, which wrapped nearly two years ago. Fox didn't screen it for critics, ran no print ads or trailers, and dumped it on 130 screens nationwide. Apparently the lesson of Office Space's success went entirely unlearned.

Knowing Judge's sterling track record as an American satirist, I had to find out what went wrong. Usually a film eliciting such utter contempt from its own backers is a disaster. Far less often, it's a masterpiece.

The plot: in the future, the educated and intelligent will be massively out-bred by moronic A-type prison-fodder and Nascar idiots, to the point that all knowledge of engineering, agriculture, medicine and literature will be lost to misty memory. Luke Wilson plays ordinary Joe Bowers, chosen to be frozen by the military in 2005, who accidentally wakes up in 2505 to find a broken-down, thuggish America where language has become a patois of football chants, hip-hop slang and grunts denoting rage, pleasure and priapic longing, where citizens are obese, violent, ever-horny and narcotised by consumerism, TV and fast food. Everything's branded, and people have names such as BMW, Mountain Dew and Frito. TV features the Violence Channel (its signature show: "Ow, My Balls!") and the Masturbation Channel ("Keepin' America 'batin' for 300 years!"). The President's a Smackdown champ and porno superstar, and there's a mulleted wrestler on the billion-dollar bill. And everyone in the future thinks that Joe Bowers, suddenly the smartest man on earth, "talks like a fag".

There is venomous anti-corporate satire throughout the movie, remarkable mainly because Judge names real corporations. I was astounded - and invigorated - by the sheer vitriol Judge directs at these companies, who surely now regret permitting the use of their licensed trademarks. Like fast-food giant Carl's Jr, which in 2006 sells 6,000-calorie burgers the size of dictionaries under the slogan, "Don't Bother Me, I'm Eating". In Idiocracy, this has devolved into "Fuck You! I'm Eating!" And every commercial transaction has been sexualised: at Starbucks you can get coffee plus a handjob (or a "full body" latte).

Idiocracy isn't a masterpiece - Fox seems to have stiffed Judge on money at every stage - but it's endlessly funny, and my friends and I will be repeating certain lines for months (especially while eating), a sure sign of a cult hit. And word got out fast: I saw it last Saturday in a half-empty house. Two days later, same place, same show - packed-out. There's an audience for this movie, but its natural demographic barely knows it's out there.

Behind the movie's satire lie long-term social changes like the stupidisation of the American electorate over 30 years through deliberate underfunding of public education, the corporate takeover of every area of public and private life, and the tendency of the media - particularly Fox News - to substitute anti-intellectual rage and partisan division for reasoned public debate.

Some will argue that Fox has also given us some of the best television of the last 15 years - true - and that if quality sells as well as garbage, then the bottom line is served either way.

So why was Idiocracy dumped? Perhaps because it taps a growing anti-corporate mood in the nation; perhaps because it expertly satirises the jingoistic self-absorption that now passes for public culture. Or perhaps because more people are sick of the modern America that Fox energetically helped to build than the Fox corporation itself is ready to admit.

    While I don't believe a trailer was ever made for it, here's something that someone put up on YouTube. If you watch it, let me know what you think.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

To Political and Social Consciousness

     We all grow up with the same idea that freedom, democracy, and justice are things that should be valued. Whether this is due to upbringing or due to some intrinsic desire of mankind is something I haven't particularly thought about, but just about everyone strives for these things in their politics. What type of politics comes out, however, is anyone's guess. Differences in perspective, due to an infinite number of factors ranging from religiosity to historical background, are the cause of such a vast difference in the believed paths to these commonly agreed goals.

    My personal story is one in which my politics changed drastically while at the same time I remained faithful to the previously mentioned ideals. I went from a very patriotic two-time Bush voter to a libertarian communist in less than a period of two years. Below I will try to outline my path, as best I can, to (what I hope) is a more socially and politically conscious position.

    As I described in a previous post, I used to be extremely patriotic. I bought into the lie that our country and our government, which I believed was strongly democratic, stood and fought for democracy, freedom, and human rights. I felt that we were a beacon of hope in a dark world and that we were doing the best we could to spread those fundamental ideals throughout the world. Having believed this,it made sense that I would support our military and hope for "us" to have an ever increasing amount of control over other nations and their people. For if we failed, then perhaps freedom would be extinguished from the human experience altogether. Sometimes we may act imperialistic (I didn't realize how prevalent this behavior was at the time), but it seemed justified to me because we had to make sure that our country got the natural resources and strategic leverage to sucessful fight for freedom and democracy. The reason I supported Bush twice was because he was "good for the military". I also believed that the American people were a unified body with more or less the same interests in how our country was run and what should happen in the world. At least this was how history is usually taught in the US. As Howard Zinn puts in his amazing book A People's History of the United States:
The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media

I bought into this. I didn't realize that capitalism, by the way it forces the interests of the buyer and seller, of owner and worker, to be in direct opposition to each other (and this basic relationship propagates to affect other relationships throughout the society) makes it impossible for there to be a "national interest". And if the citizens of a nation don't have common interests, whose interests do they favor?

    So due to these beliefs, I always supported the US military and its wars. I very much enjoyed watching bombing by US warplanes on the news because we were attacking the "enemies of freedom". I also supported very high tax rates, because that would go into improving our great country. I even somehow managed to think that if I were ever rich one day that I would donate a large sum of my money to the US government, as I thought that it would go to good use (I can't really defend myself here, but let me throw out the fact that I was in high school).

    So how did this view change? It's hard to be exact, as changes in politics or religion tend to be very gradual and in some respects the individual experiencing them may not have a good sense of what is happening. To see that our government represents only a small minority of the country whose interests are opposed to the majority's and that the US government, rather than supporting and nurturing freedom and democracy at home and abroad, actually suppresses it you need to be exposed to new ideas and history that isn't usually taught and never discussed in the mainstream media. The first step then was my disillusionment with the media.

     I used to live in the south, and there the standard news station is Fox News, so that's what I usually watched. They subscribed to the same jingoistic ideas that I did, and besides, they had nice graphics and special effects. It was actually my atheism that ended breaking me free from Fox News. I was in the kitchen washing dishes while I listened to Fox News one day. They had some people come on and they started discussing whether an atheist could be President. So I went into the living room to watch. Everyone on the show, the guests, the anchors (I think it might have been Hannity) all unanimously agreed that an atheist could not be President. Atheists simply just did not have the moral fiber to do so. If they didn't have the common sense to accept Jesus, how could they lead the country? I had never been so pissed off by watching the news before, and since I no longer had any respect whatsoever for the people over at Fox News, I stopped watching it altogther. I then started watching CNN and MSNBC and also the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I think the Daily Show may have influenced me in that I began to become increasingly critical of the Bush administration (his religiosity and opposition to stem cell research also affected this).

     But for perhaps 6 months after this it's hard to discern how my thinking evolved. Some idea can be had by looking at my posts on my blog. Looking at a post from April 2005 (the first month of my blog) I made my opposition to social conservatism well known, but didn't appear particularly opposed to economic conservatism. I know at some point in early 2005 I read a book called Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America. After reading that book, I classified myself as a liberal and felt, at least for a period of a few months, very supportive of the Democratic party. Perhaps it was this identification of myself with the minority party that allowed me to easily criticize the way that the GOP was running the country. In July I made a post to my blog titled Is Socialism Superior to Capitalism?. By the way I answered the many responses that I got it seems clear that I had answered this question for myself at least a few weeks earlier and had educated myself to some extent about socialism. Then in August I made a post about Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media called The Media-A Tool of Propaganda?. The realization that the mainstream media is essentially right-wing propaganda was the turning point which shifted my sources of learning and understanding of the world from the TV to more scholarly resources like books and documentaries. And then basically due to how intersting these topics are I began to consume new information at a very fast rate, always having (and still have) 2 or 3 books waiting in line to be read after finishing the current one. It's interesting to look through my posts indexed by month and watch my political transformation happen as I learn more about both current and historical events and get exposed to new points of view.

     As I said it's hard to really detail the thought process that I went through, but I hope this gives some idea. A good deal of credit also goes to many of you in the blogging community, whom I've had a great many educational conversations with and who've opened me up to new ideas. I look forward to more dicussions with you in our shared goal of understanding more about the world around us and affecting it for the better.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year

    Happy New Year everyone! I'm finally back from my holiday break. Both my parents and my fiancee's parents live in Texas, so that's where I was for the entire break. It was nice to see them and have some time off. But I'm very glad to be back. It's only been about two years since I lived there myself, but it's amazing how already things that previously I didn't even take notice of really bothered me while I was there and made me really appreciate living here in the Bay Area (around San Francisco). Of the smaller things was the lack of recycling facilities. Where I live I'm used to getting roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of my weekly trash volume getting picked up on the curb and is taken to be recycled. It seemed so strange to fill up trash cans with wine bottles and cans and just throw them away with the rest of the trash. It made me feel very wasteful and actually bothered me a lot more to not recycle than I would have ever imagined it to. But I think the biggest thing was the complete dominance of large retail and restaurant chains. Driving through Houston on the highway you almost wonder if you're going in circles. Best Buy, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Chili's, Olive Garden, Office Max, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc. just repeat over and over again. I must have (honestly!) seen a dozen Best Buys as I drove through one part of Houston. Coming from an area which has very few corporate chains and the only big box stores we have are on the outskirts of the city, I thought this was very depressing. And while it may just be because I live in a fairly urban area in which it doesn't pay to advertise in this way, I was also irritated by the fact that you could see advertising and billboards in every direction that you looked. Everything was an advertisement. Nothing was sacred. And people seemed completely complacent, even happy, about this situation and spent their days rushing about in their SUVs to the next occurrence of the corporate consumer troughs already mentioned. I know this is a generalization and not everyone and every place there can be described like this, but I felt isolated and surrounded in a completely corporate controlled area by politically and socially unconscious people who were fully content with living a "McLife".

    One of the exceptions was when I visited Austin. Austin, at least parts of it downtown, were very nice and reminded me very much of where I live now. I had some very good local Mexican food and one restaurant had the best margaritas that I had ever had at a restaurant. I was also lucky enough to meet up and talk with Mookie of Meme Processing. He showed me a little about the area around where he lives and then we had a beer and talked for a couple hours. It was certainly a pleasant experience and I thank him and his girlfriend (let's call her 'Tookie') for their hospitality and for taking the time out of their schedules to show me around.

    While I was visiting my fiancee's parents (who are divorced) I had a fun 3-hour long political discussion with her brother, her father, and his new girlfriend. All three of them are very conservative and read and listen to O'Reilly on Fox News. So you can imagine how lively the discussion was with someone who doesn't shy away from the word "communist" and who counters "Islam is a religion of death" with "yes, all religions are". I should really give thanks to the generous amounts of alcohol we all had for our discussion to be so candid. While I was certainly outnumbered it takes no time to refute GOP talking points and, as I expected, they hadn't even heard of the historical events which I cited to support my positions. At one point her father tried to argue that history isn't relevant, but at least her brother had the sense to disagree with him on that.

    Over the break I've been reading Homage to Cataloniaby George Orwell. It's an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War (and defeated social revolution). Orwell actually fought in this war against fascism and almost died from being shot in the neck and his experiences are said to have greatly shaped his outlook on the world before he wrote his famous book 1984. I'm not quite done with the book yet, but I think it's probably going to be one of my all-time favorites once I finish it. It's very interesting and I am very impressed with Orwell's understanding of the nature of capitalism, mass media, and the church that he displays in his writing. If you like the Spanish Civil War I think you'll really like this book. And if you don't know much about it, this would be a good introduction to it if you want to get a feel for what happened.

    I'm planning on having my next major post describe, as best I can, how I changed from being a jingoistic Bush voter (twice!) to a libertarian communist. I tried to write this post back in August but had to stop because I started getting ashamed and depressed writing it. So I'll try to approach it in a different way and see how that goes.

    It's nice to be back blogging again. I hope you all had (or are having) a great break.