Category Archives: Social Commentary

Weasology Entry – “High Quality Educaton”

Might be a good idea to have a Weasology Handbook. To his credit  Today Chris Hayes on his show “UP” signaled a problem with the words “high quality” as in “high quality charter schools” after one of his guests, Darrell Bradford of something called “Better Education For Kids” praised some charters in Chicago.  Yeh, of course high quality charter schools are just great, he laughed.    He was right to warn us about this phrase.   But he let the phrase  “high quality pre-school  education” be defined by his guests without analysis.  As defined by most of his guests this morning, high quality pre-school education was about learning…get this…”persistence, “discipline” and my favorite, “finishing things.”  The professor (and to my chagrin a woman) also emphasized how spongy little brains are at 4 years old.  Ugh. Continue reading

News From the Saloon – No Safe Harbor For the Hoarders

Wikimedia creative commons . Photo by Juddo.120px-Fat_cat_1

At the bar last night were some of the regulars.  My friend Phil just got back from a trip to the Caribbean paid for by his wealthy older brother.

“The harbor was packed with yachts.  I mean hundreds of them, ” he said shaking his head. “Some of them are only there for a couple weeks a year.  What it costs to run one  for a week is more than my salary for a year.  Why don’t they just rent one?”

“They don’t know what else to do with the money, ” I sighed, “They Hoover it up from the rest of us. Or as Taibbi says, they stick their blood funnel into everything that smells of money” and then they stuff it into these floating mattresses among other things.”

And surprise, surprise, this morning on “Up” with Chris Hayes, Hayes asked Paul Krugman the same question concerning the hoarding of profits by the 1%.  Profits are way up for the few and companies like Apple have gobs of cash.  You could blame it on no demand, he mused.  But then he added: Continue reading

Remote, But Not Alone

Going to the Movies“House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey which started yesterday on Netflix is, from what I’ve seen so far,  on the money, so to speak, regarding our corrupt crony capitalist system .  It was a hit in the UK and everybody loves a good political thriller, so Netflix decided to gamble and produce it themselves.  They got David  Fincher and the guy that wrote “Ides of March”, Beau Willimon, to write the scripts.  You can watch all 13 episodes at once too. But   Variety calls that “binge viewing”  and will lead the company to ruin while Netflix calls it viewer autonomy and believes it can bring in new viewers because of it and make a nifty profit.   Hollywood and Silicon Valley rarely see eye to eye, so no surprise at Variety’s harumphing.  Whatever!  I heartily recommend it.  Delicious in its evilness.

As to whether people will cotton to watching one episode or all thirteen, it’s probably just a matter of psychological type or simply how much time you’ve got.  When I read, I finish a chapter and often pause because the author does.   But just as often I can’t help myself and I have to start reading into the next chapter until I realize that I have to get some shut eye.  That is a singular pleasure.   On the other hand with a TV series whose episodes only air one at a time, there is the joy of seeing the current episode of a series and then discussing it at the water cooler or water hole the next day and speculating about where the story is going with others.    Watching all 13 episodes in one sitting or even half one night and half the other is a more solitary experience and more like reading a book. Watching an episode per week as with normal TV series is a bit more communal.  Not quite  like going to the theater and sitting at a cafe afterwards and arguing about it, but a not bad second best.

I remember way back when my friends and I were young actors.  We went through every detail of Sunday night’s Brideshead Revisited” on Mondays .  Now “Downton Abbey” has become the latest “Brideshead” as the characters become part of many of our lives,  resist as we might. (What a twit that Lord Grantham is!)  So is the new “Netflix” idea going to lead to more community or more aloneness, I wonder? Continue reading

“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”

Watched “Les Miserables” last night.  Hugo described his novel as “a progress between good and evil, from injustice to justice….  Even after  bad reviews when it first opened, the musical went on to become the   4th longest running Broadway musical.  I’ve never been much of a musical  buff and when I was a NY talent agent had to go to “Les Mis” several times to see clients.  So I grudgingly sat down to watch it.  But like every time, half way through I get sucked into the revolutionary fervor.  The whole idea at the start of the musical of Valjean being imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family is unjust.  Stealing  by the nasty innkeeper is juxtaposed against stealing for someone else’s good.  The film resonates also because of this fantasy of revolution and how the young and gorgeous take to the barricades to fight for justice.

But this particular revolution was largely forgotten until Hugo used it for his novel.  When people talk on the blogs of “taking to the streets”, they have a vision of Liberty carrying the red flag amongst beautiful blondes.  But in reality most revolutions are much more mundane.    But an image is important and I now have a image of a brave young man, Aaron Swartz taking on the Bourbons and their Javerts of today. Right now there is an empty chair in the cafe where Aaron should be.  But with people like Ian Welsh still at the table in the corner of that  cafe talking about ways to right the wrongs, the mundane and ordinary work of revolution goes on.

A Way Out

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There was  something strangely thrilling about making it home Sunday night through 10° temperature, blowing snow (wind gusts of over 66 mph) and snow drifts that can stop a truck dead in its tracks.  It’s the thrill of quite simply “braving the storm”.  And sometimes when things seem really bleak and you are feeling quite numb from tragedies both near and far, a bit of courage is a rather awesome thing to feel.

Last night I decided to go into town to find somebody to watch the totally frivolous red carpet goings on for the Golden Globes.  Watching frivolity is a way I can stop my mind from  dwelling on bad things happening to good people  and bad people getting away with crimes.

I decided to wear my sister’s mink because it was bitter cold and I wanted to be a little “glam” for the Globes even if nobody else around here was in this business but me and could care less. The coat doesn’t have very good closures.  Just some hooks.  Not good in the wind.  But I only had to walk a few feet from the car to the bar,  so I should be fine, I thought.  Silly me.  I forgot about Montana winters since it’s been unusually warm. Continue reading

News From the Saloon – Bang for Your Buck

The bar has been rather quiet lately.  There weren’t as many Christmas parties as in the past.  Not as many people bellied up to the bar.  It’s always a little quieter after the end of the main hunting season that ends at Thanksgiving.  Not as many strangers dressed in camouflage, their orange heads bobbing as they  exchange stories of bagging that elk.  For that I am always thankful at Thanksgiving.  I am thankful that my neighbors have meat in their freezer for the year, yes.  But I am also  thankful that it is the end of dead animals on hoods of trucks season.

And now we have settled in for winter with mostly locals and the occasional travelers on their way across the state on I-90.  They mostly have tales of snow and woe.  There is still talk of hunting but it has to do with what the hunter got for Christmas.  This year’s present seems to be an electronic animal distress call.  And a young man at the bar had just received one.  What in the world was that, I asked.

“Well, it mimics an animal in distress like a rabbit so the coyote or wolf will  come to it and you can get your shot,” the young man replied.

The young woman with him remarked, “He can make all the sounds himself, so he doesn’t really need one.  His sounds are better than the recordings and, yes, quite distressful.”

“I learned those calls when I was a little guy watching the hunting shows on TV, ” he added.  “My mom would just shake her head as I did my best one, the dying rabbit.”

Now I was under the impression that most youngsters were forced to watch Sesame Street with Miss Piggy or cartoons about rascally rabbits.  Instead  I find out that there are little boys out there mastering the fine art of imitating dying bunnies and ‘lil Miss Piggy squeals.  Indeed, life is strange.  But having just see the magnificent “Life of Pi” by director Ang Lee, I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way of explaining the food chain to a kid. Sesame Street or Outdoor Living?  Whose to say?

So this is where the tale gets even stranger for me.  The young man said that he couldn’t really use his present much in Montana as they have rules about such things.  You can’t use electronic devices to lure or bait your prey.

Okay, I don’t hunt.  My sister does.  My uncles did.  My husband used to but hasn’t in 20 years.  He is a rancher and only uses his gun to shoot coyotes that come near his cows and calves.  So I don’t know much about it and usually only half listen to these hunting conversations which I find as tedious as they might find my conversations about life expectancies in the industrialized nations.

So I asked, “I don’t understand. What’s the difference between you making a distressed “lil piggy” and a gizmo doing it?”

“I guess it’s not fair,” he shrugged.  And this, by and large, was the answer I got from about a half dozen people I asked over the course of the next two days.

“Not fair?  Not fair?” I declared each time.  “You are going off to kill something.  I don’t get it.  What difference does it make how you do it? Why are there all these rules?  I get that there is a quota.  I get that hunters are used to thin the herds since there is very little feed around and it is better than having them starve.  Okay.  I get not shooting near a house.  I get asking permission of a rancher to come on his place.  But what is this “not fair” stuff?  It’s not like the deer and the hunter meet at the center of the field and agree on a set of rules and shake paws or hooves or hands and go back to their respective corners waiting for the gong to sound.  The deer and coyotes are not part of this deal.  They did not even designate representatives in the capital to speak on their behalf in making these rules.   I don’t get why it’s a sport at all, I guess.   Is this how an idea like “The Hunger Games” begins? Somebody decides who is predator and who is prey and what’s “fair”?”

The young couple were polite as I finished my rant.  They had no answers for me.

The next day I was having my nails done and I asked the question at the salon.

“Angie, come over here,” Melissa said.  “You hunt.  Why are there these rules about electronic animal sounds?”

“Well, you can’t bait them.  You can’t use a bucket of guts and you can’t use electronic calls.  It’s not fair, I guess, ” she replied.

“But what is all this “fair” stuff?” I repeated.

“Well, if you break the rules you have to pay a fine.  Maybe it’s a way of collecting money,” she pondered.

Okay, that’s an idea I can wrap my head around.  That might be a rationale for those rules.  Maybe it’s the only way a state can figure out revenue.  But there is something more.  Something deeper. The underlying idea is that hunting has come to be viewed as a sport and not something of a necessity.  And “sport” is an idea that has been around for thousands of years.  “Sport” is what keeps the plebes occupied while the elites steal everything in sight.  The elites have always resorted to “bread and circuses” to keep the rabble from cutting off their heads.  Until one day it stops working.  And that’s when the prey becomes the predator.  It is forever thus.

“Sooie!”

Power to the Apathetic! Why Not Voting Might Be a Sign That You’re Smart!

Or so Dimitri Orlov wants us to ponder.  It’s not a new idea, but it is an idea that doesn’t get much play in the media and in our discussions with neighbors.  We are told over and over that voting is the patriotic thing to do.  People died for the right to vote. We get little flag stickers to put on our coats like the purple fingers of Iraqi voters.  Very conventional wisdom.  So why do so many Americans sit the elections out?   And at the same time, if Americans do participate why do we hear over and over from pundits and comments on the blogs that those folks in Kansas and other reddish places just don’t get it. “Why do they vote against their own self interests? ” progressives ask.  The wags note that these voters are like chickens voting for Colonel Sanders.  But on the other hand, vast numbers of people including women and minorities vote for the blue team and get nothing substantial out of that too. So what’s up?  And yes, why do they even vote at all?

Orlov is a linguist and an engineer who has a blog called Club Orlov.  He has also written several books, one of which, “Reinventing Collapse”, I am reading for advice on how to survive such a collapse besides our two month’s supply of Nalley’s Chili and two generators.  He emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-Seventies and made several trips back to Russia during the Soviet rule and then after the Soviet collapse.  He believes that there are many lessons we in the U.S. can learn from the collapse of the other late 20th century super power.  That there are more similarities than differences between the two super powers, as Orlov describes them, gave me pause. It’s always interesting to look at a common question through a different set of glasses.

Both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. derived their identities from being either capitalist or communist and the “extreme adherence to one or the other” as opposed to healthier countries that mix it up is what Orlov believes led to the doom of one and the coming doom of the other.  Ideologies are all well and good, he says, if they actually work.  But when it becomes clear that the average working citizen is not doing so well, the legitimacy of the rigid system begins to unravel and finally collapse.  He points out that Albert Camus made the observation that the two superpowers were more alike than not back in the 1950s.  Camus said that a specific failure of both systems was their inability “to provide creative, meaningful work.”  This Orlov says leads to mass depression.

 The chief reason why the U.S. is still hanging on, he speculates, is that the ruling elite and their spokespeople keep the people thinking that the system is legitimate by hawking that old chestnut “The American Dream”.  He actually calls this idea of working hard and playing by the rules getting you a good chunk of the pie as “a pathological fiction” promoted by the media. “Masquerading as hope, it gains its effectiveness from a perversion of pride, a psychological trick people use to play on themselves to obscure their powerlessness”.  They can sense that they are oppressed and so their last prideful stand is to pretend that their failures are of their own making, even if they have been most conveniently arranged for them by their oppressors.

And so half of them thinking it’s their own damn fault anyway get sucked into the games called elections because people can further obscure their powerlessness by picking a team or picking a horse in a two horse race, wearing their team colors, plastering their cars with stickers and then cheering on their favorite.  The Soviet Union, Orlov points out

had a single, entrenched, systemically corrupt political party, which held the monopoly of power. The U.S. has two entrenched, systemically corrupt political parties, whose positions are indistinguishable and which together hold a monopoly of power.  In either case, there is, or was, a single governing elite, but in the United States it organizes itself into opposing teams to make its stranglehold on power seem more sportsmanlike…The Communist Party offered one bitter pill. The two capitalist parties offer a choice of two placebos.  The latest innovation is the photo finish election, where each party pre-purchases exactly 50 percent of the vote through largely symmetrical allocation of campaign resources and the result is pulled out of statistical noise, like a rabbit out of a hat.  It is a tribute to the intelligence of the American people that so few of them bother to vote.

Interesting times call for interesting ideas and interesting discussions.  Not same old, same old.  In the small community  I now live in, anybody that disagrees with the free market idea of economics is a “socialist” or is “Russian”.  Time to ask what is the difference between their grey boring slabs of concrete towns and our strip malls and industrial parks?  What’s the difference between their former Gulags and our prison system?  How do our bureaucrats differ from their apparatchiks?  Why are we now emulating the Soviets tight control over information and technology when our tinkerers in garages were the envy of the world?

There is more than one political system out there.  There is more than one story humankind out there.  If you belong to the “game is rigged” gang,   don’t worry about being a tad depressed about that story.  Orlov says that depression is a sign of unconscious rebelliousness.   If you are powerless in the present American system, why legitimize it even more by participating, says Orlov.

In Soviet-era Russia, intelligent people did their best to ignore the Communists: paying attention to them, whether through criticism or praise, would only serve to give them comfort and encouragement, making them feel as if they mattered.   Why should Americans act any differently with regards to Republicans and the Democrats?  For love of donkeys and elephants?

Looks like Americans who still believe in a mom who bakes apple pie rather than one who packs a Luger participate in the sedative called elections.  And those who acknowledge their depression by proclaiming that the hunger game is rigged are the rebels that we need when collapse comes.  It will be their skills in working with alternatives to this rotten system that will be of great use.

Further information on Orlov’s  “Collapse Party” and its platform and practical info on how to survive collapse is in his book.