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deformed love in a colonial or semicolonial society

3/17/10 02:31 pm - The Tea Party: A Long Geritol Commercial Interrupted Occasionally by the Banning of Guns

I fancy myself something of a collector of conservative paranoia. As a kid, I remember reading the lurid fantasies about one world government, the Gay Agenda™, and Clintonian schemes to propagate the Mark of the Beast in the pages of Texe Marrs newsletters and John Birch Society rags.

This tradition has continued with the various conservative listservs I subscribe to, most notably the American Family Association and the venerable Human Events (founded 1944). Their messages feature screaming subject headings and paragraphs of multicolored, bolded, italicized, and underlined text about the insidious deeds of Barack Hussein Obama. I’ve been saving the particularly juicy ones for several years.


11/19/09 01:05 am - The Aughts - Desomethinged, Defrosted

I am a sucker for decadism - the habit of arbitrarily assigning a certain personality to each decade after it has passed. The top ten lists, the gadgetry, the horrible fads and fashion trends that supposedly make the Seventies the Seventies or the Eighties the Eighties. I have often tried to figure out what would define the decades I've lived through as they were happening, to try to discern what the trends and tendencies of the time were, trying to size up the zeitgeist.

This is a risky business. In 1995 a magazine had a contest for its readers to define what the Nineties were all about, and the winner came up with "the Whiny Nineties." The memory of grunge and the recession and Thirtysomething was still painfully fresh, I guess. But then everyone took Prozac and got into ska and stock options and things were fine.

To a certain extent, the cultural cues of the 2000s haven't been hard to find. The iPod. Texting. Crocs. Trucker hats and ridiculous sunglasses. There's the embarrassing bric-a-brac of material culture. But was it a conservative era? The Republicans had an almost unprecedented lock on the White House, judiciary, and Congress for a significant part of the decade, and for a time the evangelical political movement seemed unstoppable. Fey, flimsy liberals looked helpless in the face of tax cuts, militarism, and (so-called) family values.

Despite the iron political orthodoxy that seemed to govern the country from 2000 to 2006, the culture as a whole did not feel stiff and conservative to me. If anything, people seemed to be growing more open-minded about sexuality, race, technology, and the wider world. (This is coming from someone who attended college, from 1999 to 2003, at a school where the Campus Crusade for Christ and the College Republicans were far and away the most dominant forces.) It still seemed to me that a greater openness was bubbling up in the submerged territory of the cultural unconscious. The anti-Muslim hatred that flared after 9/11, and which reappeared with the rise of Barack Obama, would certainly suggest otherwise. As would the passage of so many anti-gay referenda around the country, from Ohio to California to Maine. I still feel like these attempts to inscribe homophobia into the law are the last-ditch efforts of an aging, shrinking contingent of traditionalists, and the passage of time is their greatest enemy.

It is often said that seemingly conservative eras were less conservative than they seemed, and the same for the great periods of liberalism. The people who set the New Deal in motion were there all the while in the 1920s, before they got to take their ideas into the mainstream. The 1950s gave you the Beats, rock and roll, and the rise of the modern civil rights movement, while the supposedly radical 1960s might be best known for giving the world Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Liberalism made an unexpected comeback in the late 2000s, after having been pronounced dead and useless over and over again in the 1990s. The sprouts of this seemingly sudden shift were growing in the shadow of the conservative juggernaut all along.

We went from the dread and despair of watching a demagogic cult drag the country into invading Iraq, cheered on by the opportunists in the press despite a total lack of evidence of any security threat, to the euphoria of electing an optimistic leader who hailed from the Left, who was lifted to the heights of power by the youth, the unions, the netroots. One day, capitalism was flawless and Alan Greenspan was a minor deity; and the next thing you know we are fearing for the survival of the world financial system and pointing fingers at the free-market gurus who deregulated us nearly into oblivion.

I don't know how you characterize a decade like this. We may yet lurch back into fear and demagoguery for all I know. This long strange period, without a music to define it (reggaeton? Autotune?), or a politics to unify it, is very nearly over. TV got a hell of a lot better, in my opinion, and this despite the curious pop-sociological plague known as reality shows. The Dow is about where it was ten years ago, as if the financial whirring of the whole decade never happened. Perhaps today's young people -- I'd still include myself in that group, as a newly minted graduate and a hopeless job-seeker -- will be so spooked by the catastrophic economy that they will, like the Silent Generation of the early 1950s, seek the security and comfort of a quiet, conformist life, clinging to any sort of stable job. Perhaps the culture will continue to fracture along microtargeted lines, and we will have no shared experiences except for watching a cat flush a toilet.

Despite the inherent diversity of any culture, and the artificial limits of the decade as a unit of time, each period gets characterized in one way or another. The 1990s, more for the go-go capitalist optimism of its later years than for the gloomy counterculture of its early years. From today's vantage point it is hard to tell whether we are leaving the age of George Bush or George Michael Bluth. But you can't blame Newsweek for trying:

Top 10 Most Memorable Quotes

9/10/09 02:58 pm - A friend's letter on healthcare

Dear Senator Gillibrand,

I am writing to you today to ask you to support a robust public option as part of the health reform bill. When President Obama made his speech on health care last night, he gave a very good reasoning for why the public option should be included in the plan. Along with this he said that health insurance will be like auto insurance, a mandate. However, as far as auto insurance is concerned, I can choose not to buy a car and choose to ride the bus instead. Please provide me with a bus system instead of forcing me to buy a car.

I simply do not see how mandating health insurance without providing a public option is justifiable at all. It is essentially placing a fine on those of us who cannot afford to purchase health insurance. It is unfair and criminal to do that to anyone. Lower middle income folks will suffer the most without a public option, as they probably won't qualify for the minimal subsidy that is provided; they won't be able to afford health care and so will remain uninsured; and then at tax time they will be penalized for not having insurance. In addition, when they get sick, they will continue to show up at the emergency room and rack up bills they cannot afford to pay, which in turn will continue to contribute to the current problems of high medical costs. In short, this is no solution at all and is making an already bad situation worse. If I had wanted a handout to the insurance companies, I would have voted for the republicans.

I hope that you and your colleagues in the senate will stop this reprehensible bill from passing without a public option. I hope that we can count on you to do the morally right thing.

8/24/09 03:50 pm - The NPR Model of Healthcare

Why do we assume that the public and private sectors can’t coexist in healthcare, as they do in housing, broadcasting, and other areas of American life? I argue below that creating a public insurance option will offer real alternatives for Americans who fall through the cracks of the existing system. The free market has given us a stultifying oligopoly in commercial radio; if you want something other than Britney Spears or Rush Limbaugh, though, you can switch the station to National Public Radio (NPR), a lightly subsidized, nonprofit alternative. Similarly, the public option would create greater variety in insurance markets that badly need it.

Critics of President Obama’s healthcare reform have made some wild claims against the proposal, most which have nothing to do with the bills under consideration in Congress. The lurid fantasies of insurance industry lobbyists and town hall protesters tend toward the macabre: the elderly and veterans are said to be targets for ruthless, cost-cutting government bureaucrats. Like me, you might be surprised to hear that government bureaucrats were suddenly concerned about efficiency. But when it comes to killing old ladies, I guess they just can’t resist.

Americans of good faith, though, have raised legitimate concerns about these proposals. Some have questioned whether the creation of a “public option” – a government health insurance program, similar to Medicare, but available to anyone who wants to “buy in” to it – would bankrupt the public treasury and drive the private insurance industry out of business. Supporters of the public option say that it would be cheaper than private insurance, putting basic healthcare within reach for small businesses, freelancers, and those who are simply not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but still can’t afford the $12,000 a year price tag for family coverage. The plan would be cheaper because it would not turn a profit; it would produce economies of scale, covering a large pool of people nationwide; and it would spend less time and money trying to deny coverage to the insured. Most of us pay our insurance companies, through premiums, to pay people to spend the day figuring out how not to pay for our care when we do get sick. In contrast, Medicare has dramatically lower administrative costs than private insurers.

Critics say this price advantage will make it impossible for insurance companies to compete with it. In fact, they suggest that Obama is really trying to create a universal, “single-payer” system by stealth. My dentist told me the other day that the public option would instantly warp the playing field in the healthcare industry. Most employers would switch their employees over to it, since it would (presumably) be cheaper than private insurance, or employers would simply stop offering coverage and force their workers on to the public plan. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley captured the conservative mood recently when he said that government was not a competitor with private industry, but a predator.

Why do we assume that a public alternative would squelch private enterprise? These allegations ignore the many examples of coexisting private and public services – the city’s swimming pool does not make the YMCA’s business untenable. A city golf course doesn’t kill the country club. Similarly, PBS and NPR were created in the 1960s as needed additions to the menu of broadcasting choices. The FCC chair Newton Minnow famously described television as a “vast wasteland” in 1961; the idealists of the early 1950s, who dreamed that TV would be a tool for bringing high culture the public, were disappointed to see Ozzie and Harriet instead of opera on the air.

The dreamers always had a touch of elitism, but there was no denying that commercial TV had produced a lot of garbage. Minnow saw “mayhem, violence, sadism, murder… cartoons… and endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom.” With a little support from the government, new alternatives were created to provide the kind of programming that the private market did not produce. Hawaii Five-O and The Gong Show benefited from the company of Big Bird and Jim Lehrer. One did not drive the other into extinction, and the public option in broadcasting furnished sources of high quality news and entertainment that might never have survived in the commercial market. In this way, small groups of viewers whose interests might be ignored by the biggest networks got fare that was suited to them.

NPR is freely available to the public. It has a place on the radio dial next to Top 40 stations and right-wing talk. It offers jazz, classical, and independent music that might not survive on a for-profit basis. It receives a small amount of funding from the government, and has to be a responsible steward of its resources. Studies have shown that its listeners do better on factual tests about current events than the viewers of Fox News. And its programs are actually popular: more people listen to All Things Considered than watch Good Morning America, but public broadcasting has not strangled corporate media.

Unfortunately, President Obama has ignored these examples, instead using an incredibly self-defeating argument to defend his health plan. “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine,” he told a town hall audience. “It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.” This is supposed to be an argument for the public option? It is as if Obama wants to bolster those critics who threaten that public insurance would make seeing your doctor like going to the DMV. The Postal Service does not even directly compete with UPS on letter delivery. It would be better to find an analogy that clearly shows that introducing a public option to the marketplace would improve the resources available to Americans, without undermining the ones already in place.

Like public housing, public healthcare would serve those who are not well served by the market. The market is good at producing inessential, but very desirable, products like iPods at ever lower prices. The market is also good at turning out $400,000 houses for people with money to burn. But it is not especially good at creating decent housing that a single parent of three making $25,000 a year can afford. It just doesn’t pay to build adequate, safe housing for the person who works the register at Burger King. Contractors and developers understandably devote their resources to the most profitable projects, like the latest luxurious subdivision, so fewer modest homes get built. The person making minimum wage still deserves a place to live as the person who can buy the McMansion.

This is why we have a “public option” in housing: the government rents apartments and houses, and offers subsidies for the poor to rent private units. Although imperfect, some of these programs work fairly well. Most importantly, they make shelter possible for those who can’t afford what the market turns out.

In healthcare, programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and S-CHIP help people whose needs do not match up well with what the market profitably offers (the poor, the elderly, and children, respectively). However, there are also small business owners who can’t afford to buy insurance for their employees or even for themselves. They are not poor enough for Medicaid, and they lack the buying power that a large employer like IBM can leverage to get insurance at affordable rates. The newly unemployed find that stopgap solutions like COBRA are very costly and very temporary.

In typical American form, we have tried to respond to specific problems in piecemeal, pragmatic fashion, creating a cobweb of social programs that leave many unprotected. In fits and starts, we have tried to deal with healthcare for the elderly, the very poor, the disabled, veterans, children, and so on, resisting the sort of sweeping solutions chosen by Canada or the United Kingdom. This pragmatism is our virtue and our curse. We get to experiment with programs tailor-made to specific problems, on the local and national level; San Francisco, for instance, recently began its own public insurance plan, open to all San Franciscans, and the early results seem to be better care and lower costs. New York offers Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus, public insurance programs that are available to those who can’t receive Medicaid but who still make very little money. The nation can look to such programs as models of what works and doesn’t work. However, when it comes to the uninsured, and the ballooning costs of healthcare, it’s fair to say that we are tinkering while Rome burns.

The availability of a public alternative would mean that citizens and businesses anywhere in the country could choose a health plan that would enjoy large economies of scale and remain portable from job to job. If a private plan offers better prices or friendlier, faster service, a person can join that plan or a business can offer it to employees. The better-off will inevitably do so. For whatever reason, parents send their kids to costly private colleges even though a heavily-subsidized option exists in the public university system. Both options serve different people with different resources and different interests.

What is shameful right now is that the wonderful free market offers no product that 40+ million uninsured Americans can afford. The government is there to offer what people need but the market cannot provide. This is why we have public libraries, schools, nursing homes, Medicare, roads, national defense, and so on. Research shows that insurance companies in many parts of the company face next to no competition currently. In North Dakota, for instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield holds 91% of the market. Why wouldn’t they increase their premiums through the roof? Healthcare is one of those goods where economists would say demand is very “inelastic.” If the price of a stick of chewing gum rises to $20, you will readily decide to forgo the gum. If your physical survival is on the line, though, you are more likely to pay whatever price – which explains why insurance companies, oligopolistic at best, have been free to double their premiums in the last ten years.

Now is the time to institute a real choice to Americans all over the country, so we are no longer hostage to the insurance monopolies. We shouldn’t have to live in fear that catastrophic illness will bankrupt us, turning our final days into a morass of frustration and neglect. Every American is one diagnosis and one job away from abject poverty – unless that person happens to be a senior or a veteran, and can count on government insurance. The rest of us deserve a real choice. And history shows that public and private choices can prosper together.

8/24/09 06:07 am

A new 24-page report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, entitled "The Second Wave: Return of the Militias," notes that once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to "reconquer" the American Southwest.

The report warns that while the so-called "Patriot" movement may not have the white-hot fury that it did in the 1990s, it "clearly is growing again," and that Americans -- particularly law-enforcement agencies -- "need to take the dangers it presents seriously."


The SPLC's warning comes on the heels of an similarly alarming report released in April by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that warned that "The consequences of a prolonged economic downturn" -- combined with the election last November of Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president -- "could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities. . ."

Homeland Security's April warning was roundly attacked by conservative politicians and media pundits. Then came the attack in June by James von Brunn, a heavily-armed white supremacist, at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. Von Brunn went on a shooting rampage that killed a black security guard and sent hundreds of tourists fleeing for cover before he was shot and wounded by police...

The SPLC report doesn't shy away from naming names. It cites Ted Gunderson, a retired FBI agent, as telling a gathering of anti-government militiamen in Pensacola, Florida that the federal government "has set up 1,000 internment camps across the country and is storing 30,000 guillotines and a half-million caskets in Atlanta."

The report says that Gunderson told the militiamen that the materiel is being gathered by the government for the day it declares martial law and moves in to round up or kill its opponents. "They’re [the Feds] going to keep track of all of us, folks!" Gunderson is quoted as saying.

Outside Atlanta, a so-called "American Grand Jury" has issued an "indictment" of Obama for fraud and treason because he wasn’t born in the United States and is illegally occupying the presidency, the report says, with other self-appointed "grand juries" across the country -- none of them convened by any court of law -- quickly following suit...

In fact, threats and violence from the radical right already are accelerating, the SPLC report noted, including a spate of high-profile murders committed by white men "with anti-government, racist, anti-Semitic or pro-militia views," including the killings of three Pittsburgh police officers by a white man who had been stockpiling weapons in fear that the Obama administration would push for new gun-control laws.

In Maine, another white man, believed by authorities to be a neo-Nazi "very upset" with Obama's election, was stockpiling materials in his home to make a radioactive "dirty bomb" in what police believe was a possible plot to assassinate the president. But the man, identified as James Cummings, never got the chance to finish making his bomb -- he was shot and killed in February by his estranged wife.

In Tennessee, two neo-Nazi skinheads were arrested by federal agents last October on charges of plotting to assassinate then-candidate Obama as part of a killing spree, shooting or decapitating more than 80 other African-Americans.

Two months earlier, law-enforcement officers arrested two other white men in a suburb of Denver in an alleged plot to assassinate Obama while he delivered his acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium at the conclusion of the Democratic Convention.


The SPLC report also blamed right-wing politicians and media pundits for contributing to the rise in anti-government militancy. It singled out Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, for raising the prospect of his state seceding from the Union "several months after Obama’s inauguration," a notion that was first brought up a decade earlier by the militia group Republic of Texas following the Banch Davidian debacle at Waco.

The report also blasted Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) for her highly controversial comment that she feared Obama was planning "re-education camps for young people" reminiscent of those established by China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s; and Representative Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama), for "evoking memories of the discredited communist-hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy," who in the 1950s warned of 17 "socialists" in Congress.

CNN’s Lou Dobbs came under sharp criticism in the report for "treating the so-called Aztlan conspiracy" -- secret Mexican plans to "reconquer" the American Southwest -- as a bona fide concern and for giving airtime to "Birther" conspiracy theorists who adamantly insist that Obama is not a native-born U.S. citizen, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary -- and even his own network’s definitive debunking of the "Birthers'" claims.

Fox News host Glenn Beck -- whose show has become the target of an advertiser boycott after he called Obama a "racist" who "hates white people" -- was cited by the SPLC for having also called the president "a fascist, a Nazi and a Marxist" -- even giving airtime to militia conspiracy theories alleging a secret network of "government-run concentration camps."

While the SPLC report did not make any detailed recommendations on how to deal with rising far-right militancy, it did make clear the need for increased vigilance. The movement, the report said, "clearly is growing again," and that Americans -- particularly law-enforcement agencies -- "need to take the dangers it presents seriously."

6/5/09 07:39 am - our book is coming out in December

Sound in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

6/3/09 12:12 pm - wackadoodles, start your engines

6/1/09 07:06 am

Is it something
short of
music when
a neighboring mystery,
I pictured her rod straight, in a black bra
in the arms of a chair like a plush brown
stand up bass
chases the straight strings of
a cello to some meandering, pasta-
like point
on Sunday morning?

When the warm clarinet noodles to nowhere in particular,
oil in the path of coriander,
in the blurred bounds of what a variable could be –
less music to me than what my intestines
or a sine wave unfettered by all the old ups and downs
would sound like.

Is it less really music than the timbre
in a cellphone signal,
ignitioned, hot and fresh
out the kitchen,
or recorded reggaeton shaking the windows
from the fellowship hall to the linens in the hall closet,
or small talk inside a music
box, as the shop talk of batteries bandies from gear
to gear?

Or what about when we were karaoke, Gemini with Journey,
sheepish like
singing to Woodward and Bernstein in a cavernous car park,
as mannequins in the soundtracks
of sepia photographs,

with songs in our mouths that were
almost like singing,
against sounds that sounded of music...

5/22/09 10:44 pm - plea from a cat named virtue

So we should open up the house,
Invite the tabby two doors down.
You could ask your sister if
she doesn't bring her Basset Hound.
Ask the things you shouldn't miss,
tape-hiss and the Modern Man,
the Cold War and card catalogues
to come and join us if they can,

for girly drinks and parlor games.
We'll pass around the easy lie
of absolutely no regrets,
and later maybe you could try
to let your losses dangle off
the sharp edge of a century,
and talk about the weather, or
how the weather used to be...

5/21/09 08:54 am

All my family problems disappeared overnight
We're all taking Zoloft and everything is fine
My sister's teen angst just flew out the window
Mama's so happy she laughs all the time

We used to have trouble gettin' along with each other
Mama hated daddy, I hated little brother
Then the family doctor gave us all these little pills
Now I can't believe how great we all feel

The birds in the trees all sing happy songs
Everyone is smiling, we're so glad to be alive
Even my ol' pitbull don't growl anymore
He just watches that ol' tail wag from side to side

Now I used to be so unhappy, doin' songs about killing
Taking methadone and jacking off FOUR or FIVE times a day
Now I'm so happy... I'm so goddamn happy!
Who needs an orgasm when life's so fucking great?
All my family problems disappeared overnight
Mama's so happy she cries all the time
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