Thursday, December 31, 2009

2000-2009: Good riddance to bad rubbish

The past decade was arguably the worst in US history, due almost entirely to the stolen presidential election of November 2000 and the subsequent reign of terror on the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United States on the part of a group of people who called themselves "patriots" and "defenders of the homeland," but who were in fact, literally, psychopaths and sociopaths. I am not talking about Al Qaida or the Taliban, though they probably fit the description; I am talking about Cheney, Bush, Wolfowitz, Perle, Kristol, Rice, Rumsfeld, Feith, Rove... I don't even know where to stop. John Nichols describes the theft of American democracy in a brief essay at Common Dreams. Worth reading.

Some other things I learned about the US in 2000-09:
  • This is a pathologically stupid country. I say that because, in 2004, after nearly four years of Cheney/Bush proving themselves incapable of being higher primates, let alone governing a democracy, "the people" voted for this pair of troglodytes in sufficient numbers that, once again, the Party of No was able to steal the election and maintain its orwellian death grip on government.

  • This is a viciously uncaring country. I say this because our "elected" leaders just spent months working over a health care "reform" bill that does not contain what the majority of their constituents want: single-payer or at least a strong public option. And the grip of the health extortion insurance industry is maintained, at least so far, despite the fact their only reason for existence is to make a profit by denying coverage. Meanwhile, thousands of lives are terminated every year at the hands of the corporate death panels known as Blue Cross, AvMed, etc.

  • Speaking of not caring, a story on NBC News last night featured the plight of college students, some of whom are having to resort to food banks, and most of whom will be up to their eyeballs in debt for years paying for education they sought to make themselves more worthy and productive citizens of this farce of a country. Why can't we have education without fear of eventual bankruptcy?

  • For that matter, why can't we have a country in which people who work a full-time job make a living wage? Why doesn't one full-time job have that much social worth?

  • And finally, can't we end the culture of war that has gripped us since at least WWII, and actually earlier? Is this really the only way we can keep our country's economy moving along?
 Is there any chance that we will better in the coming decade? Frankly, I doubt it; history is against it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thanks to the Commies, a little less cranky

Leave it to a Communist web site to take a reasonable perspective on our political goings-on...

Like some others, including former Vermont governor Howard Dean, I've been complaining about what's not in the so-called health care "reform" bill just passed in the Senate. Things like Medicare-for-All, or at least a reasonable public option, and so on. I've also been complaining about some things that are in the bill, like prohibitions against using federal funds to pay for abortions (why not prohibit the use of federal funds to treat people with smoking-related illness?). Anyway...

A post by Sam Stark at People's World puts some of this into perspective by calling attention to the original Social Security legislation passed in 1935 under probably our most progressive president ever, Franklin Roosevelt, and with large numbers of progressives in the House and Senate. Even so, the legislation was far from what these people really wanted, thanks largely to southern Democrats who made sure that the bill would disturb their antebellum world view as little as possible. It would be several decades before Social Security would look like the program most of us are familiar with.

The point, which this essay makes nicely, is that the legislation started out less than adequate and got better with time. Perhaps health reform will, also (Paul Krugman agrees). Perhaps someday the US will be a truly moral country, a country in which anyone who needs medical care will be able to walk into a facility and get it, no questions asked, no money changing hands, and  no health insurance industry death panel holding their life in its hands.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

'Tis the season to be cranky...

It's another holiday season, and I have many things to be happy about: a loving wife of 35 years, a son back safely from Iraq, a daughter with my love of animals, and lots of good friends, a reasonably satisfying career. But there is something that's been bothering me the last few Decembers, and Tom Englehart of TomDispatch has posted an year-end essay that fleshes out my vague and somewhat diffuse unease.
My unease is rooted in our (and by "our" I mean the US's) apparent state of perpetual war. Every holiday season, especially around Christmas time, I am reminded of this by the seemingly countless stories about families here at home coping while a mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, or son is "on duty" somewhere. The most poignant of these stories involves the family at home having the chance to communicate, perhaps over tv or videophone, or some other way, with their far-off military relative, while the country looks on. We forget for a moment that in almost every case, the far-off soldier, sailor, or Marine is not in fact "defending our freedoms," but instead providing a raison d'etre for the bloated, greedy, and insatiable Military Industrial Complex.

Or, we try to forget. My problem is that I am getting the impression these feel-good moments are designed to distract us from the enormity of our addiction to sending our people into harm's way in far-off places. I even wonder, at times, whether the wars themselves are intended to provide a reason for providing these moments. So what if thousands have to die so we can have a few special moments, moments that, I suspect, are manufactured for the purpose of damping down whatever dissent might be mustered against our addiction to war.

Too cynical? Maybe. Near the end of his essay Englehart offers this:
None of what’s happening in the world of American war may make much sense any more, not even in terms Washington’s foreign policy power brokers understand, but no matter.  They -- and so all of us -- are already in the grip of a nightmare, and nothing, it seems, can wake us.  So, for the last days of this year, as for the days that preceded them, as for all the days of next year, it’s full drone ahead and damn the torpedoes.  That’s our American world, and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.   
So, I will enjoy the holidays, but I will also remain somewhat cranky, and I will continue to sign petitions and write letters urging an end to our national addiction. I hope you will join me.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Cuban political cartoonist Tomy's view of the US role in global warming, from the Granma Digital website.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The AAAs

I had originally intended to blog from the American Anthropological Association meetings in Philadelphia, but that didn’t happen for various reasons. Herewith a few preliminary reflections:

  • Minor annoyance: Willy accompanied me to the meetings, and attended my and other sessions with no problem. However, when she tried to enter the publishers’ area she was stopped at the door because she didn’t have an ID badge. When I tried to take her in with me, they still wouldn’t let her enter. WTF? She might have bought a book from somebody, for Jebus’s sake.

  • Slightly less minor annoyance: We had to pay extra for internet service, and it wasn’t very reliable at that. But it seems to me that AAA ought to either hold its meetings in a place that provides internet at no extra charge, or include internet access in the registration fee. I mean, come on, it’s 2009, virtually everybody at the meetings had a computer and had reason to use it, as I did in keeping in touch with my university email, students’ activities on Blackboard, and so on.

  • Major annoyance: Only two sessions out of I don't know how many hundreds had “Caribbean” listed in the program topic index.

  • Another major annoyance: Not finding much of anything with a Caribbean theme, I searched the program for interesting sessions to attend and found.... almost nothing! And I’m a pretty eclectic dude. To be fair, I only had Friday afternoon, Saturday, and part of Sunday to work with, and there were a couple of sessions I would have gone to earlier in the week, but again, c’mon. I did attend an interesting session on Darwin and anthropology, which included Nina Jablonski doing her very smooth rap on the evolution of skin color. And I went to the memorial gathering for Dell Hymes; a moving experience, with a number of his former students and colleagues, as well as his wife Virginia, sharing memories and stories. Of course, maybe it’s just me, but so many session titles seem to be written in some kind of Doublespeak that’s, to me, impenetrable and off-putting.

  • I definitely prefer the meetings I usually go to, like the Society for Caribbean Linguistics and the Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics. Smaller, more focused, more opportunities for interaction and feedback. I wonder whether smaller section meetings (Society for Linguistic Anthropology, etc.) wouldn’t be more rewarding. Problem is, I like the opportunity to range outside my normal comfort zone from time to time.
Willy and I both did enjoy a couple of days in the Big City, and we practically lived on Philly cheese-steaks from the Reading Terminal Market, right next door to the hotel.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

From the AAAs...

So, I'm at the meeting of the American Anthropological Society, Philadelphia, sitting in the lobby of the meeting hotel. Surrounded by a bazillion anthropologists, almost none of whom I know. Too much going on all at once. My presentation is at 8:00 am tomorrow (Sunday). I bet there won't be very many onlookers...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama's speech

Senator John McCain just told NBC News's Brian Williams that he supports President Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. As far as I'm concerned, that is the best evidence I can imagine that Obama's decision is the wrong one.

Message to Obama: No, we shouldn't

If all goes as pre-reported, President Obama will announce tonight that he is recommending an increase of US troops in Afghanistan, a "surge" that supposedly will put an end to Al Qaida and the Taliban in that country. In what can only be described as a surfeit of symbolism, the announcement will be made at the US Military Academy at West Point.

If this happens, Obama will become, in effect, an accomplice after the fact in the war crimes and crimes against humanity initiated by the Cheney/Bush regime before him. And in doing so, he will have made the wrong choice in what might have been the transformational moment of his presidency. He could have turned the US away from its historical path of military interventionism and American exceptionalism. Instead, he will join the ranks of US presidents who, all else being equal, should have been tried at The Hague–that is, pretty much all of them beginning with Truman.

Some will argue that he has to do this to clean up the mess left by Cheney, Bush, Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld, and the rest; that to stop a forest fire, you sometimes have to light some fires. The analogy is not compelling for me. I still think that our response to 9/11 was, and continues to be, immoral as well as illegal, and I maintain that the best response would have been, should have been, one made through the courts, not by treating it as a "war" to be engaged in by armies.

Maybe Obama will surprise us, or maybe he can make us feel better about this action. But I don't think so.