Leaving The Matrix

undercovercalico yesterday – The American Dream: Time to Wake Up:

…the persistent and pervasive belief in the American dream is what undercuts both serious talk about class and it acts as a safety valve to protect our current system against peaceful but radical change.

It’s called a dream because… you have to be asleep to believe it:

UCC closed with

Until ordinary Americans can be pried away from the American dream and encouraged to formulate a new one, they will always view progressives with fear and distrust and our ability to build coalitions will be hindered. Ordinary Americans aren’t stupid or unaware. They know something is wrong. They suspect long held deals have been trashed, but articulating an alternative requires them to reject long held notions.

Anyone who’s read most of my comments knows that they all boil down to one thing: trying to remind as many people as possible that they are not powerless, that each of us, working together have the power to turn everything around, or from the politicians in Washington’s view – upside down.

You’ll know that I think, from the kind of comments that Democratic Party apologists post, such as this one for example, that one of the first steps we need to take en mass, is to make it as subtle as a ball peen hammer or a club between their eyes that we are no longer listening to them… that it is them that need to listen to us, or lose their power and position.

The election system is not yet broken and corrupted so badly that it cannot be used as that club…

They need to be terrorized into doing their jobs, or marginalized out of political existence if they will not.

There is still almost a year before the 2008 elections. And I know I repeat myself often, but I believe that the Congressional leadership and senators and representatives who are up for reelection next year, and Democratic presidential candidates, need to be placed in stark cold sweating terror of losing their congressional majority, and of not winning the White House, before they will feel motivated to make any substantial and fundamental changes at all…

As long as they remain confident that they will have the votes they need without doing what they were hired to do, they will continue to ignore the peasants, the, in their minds, “stupid ignorant fucks who don’t understand” real politics. The rabble who just are too dumb to get that If they were poor and they were sleeping on my sidewalk, they would be arrested for loitering, but because they have ‘Impeach Bush’ across their chest, it’s the First Amendment.”

They – democratic candidates – need to be told, and they need to be told NOW, they need to have it made as clear and forcefully as you can make it NOW, that they will have your support, that they will have your volunteer work, that they will have your money, you contributions, that they will have your vote next year.

But not just by promising to do something. ONLY by doing something.

Do what? Each candidate needs to be told that they must pressure the democratic leadership in Congress to do the things you want them to do, and they will have your vote WHEN those things have been done, and not before.

A radical concept? Vote for RESULTS. Not for PROMISES.

I’m talking to you here – not just the collective you of all readers – but YOU – the single person reading this right now… and I have two questions for YOU:

What is there to be afraid of?

Can things get any worse if you stand up for yourself when they call or knock on your door?


Don’t HOPE they’ll do what you want. TELL them what to do. And MAKE them do it.

Never Give An Inch

Because they are not giving you even a millimeter.

The election system is not yet broken and corrupted so badly that it cannot be used as that club… YET.

But you know they’re working on it…


Pony Party: Sunday music retrospective

Together



The Youngbloods:  Get Together



Sly and the Family Stone:  Everyday People



Melba Moore:  Aquarius



Hugh Masekela and the Friends of Distinction:  Grazin’ in the Grass

Please do not recommend a Pony Party when you see one.  There will be another along in a few hours.

An open letter to the DCCC

(to kossacks and dharmaniacs – I’d like your help with this)

To whom it may concern:

You recently asked me for money.  You do that a lot.  This time, I gave you some. Very little.  Some of my friends on blogs like dailyKos and docudharma will be wondering why I gave you anything at all.  You, on the other hand, may be wondering why I gave so little.

The reason I gave so little is the same reason I might leave a tiny tip in a restaurant with really horrible service: I intend it as an insult.  Why?  

“Why” you ask “is XXXX, who has been a lifelong Democrat, who got beat up working for McGovern, who started working in campaigns when he was 6, and who has been  a generous donor in the past, insulting us?”

I am insulting you because you are insulting me.

Indeed, you are insulting not only me, but the Democratic Party and the entire United States.

“How,” you may ask “can we get him back on our side? How can we get him to donate generously again? How can we get him to ask his friends to donate, and to write diaries extolling us?”

I’m glad you asked.

It isn’t hard.  I have a seven point plan for you.  And I’ve gone to the trouble of making all the points win-win.

1.  Impeach Bush

2.  Defund the war

3.  Repeal the Patriot Stolen Freedom act

4.  End NCLB

5.  Pass an inclusive ENDA

6.  Eliminate the Department of Homeland Security Privacy Invasion

7.  Repeal all the changes Bush made to the tax code.

I hear you screaming “We don’t have the votes!”.  I don’t like to curse, so….. BALDERDASH!  Leaders lead.  They GET the votes.  Lyndon Johnson didn’t have the votes for Civil Rights…. until he got them.  

But you, evidently, are not leaders.  So, I will help.

1.  Impeach Bush.   This is easy.  Bush says criminals belong in jail.  Bush is a criminal.  QED.  Oh, although Bush and his conservatives don’t like the insanity defense, I’ll grant it, provided it’s public and provided he spends the rest of his life in a publicly funded mental institution.

Phrase to repeat: Criminals belong in jail.  

2.  Defund the war.  That’s right.  Democrats support the troops, Republicans support the war.  How is it ‘supporting the troops’ to let more of them die? How is it supporting the troops to fail to send them into battle underequipped and undertrained, and welcome them home to scam artists and inadequate care? How is it supporting the troops to send them to war with too little armor?  How is it supporting the troops to send the national guard to do work they did not sign up to do, or to hire unsupervised mercenaries?  The troops belong at home.  With a hero’s welcome and lifetime support.  

Phrase to repeat: Democrats support the troops.  Republicans support the war

3.  No patriot could pass that act.  It’s reprehensible.  It’s unAmerican.  It violates the constitution.  It’s stupid.  It’s costly. And it’s ineffective.  To allow the government to run rampant over the rights of all Americans in order to catch terrorists would be wrong; but this isn’t even that, because the Stolen Freedom Act does not work.

This act puts 4 year olds on ‘no-fly’ lists and lets people carry weapons onto planes.  This is the act that lets the government spy on anyone it feels like, and never tell anyone.  This is the act that makes borrowing a library book a suspicious act.  

Might terrorists change their names?  Get books from foreign libraries? Use throwaway cell-phones gotten from illegal sources?  Of course they might.

The Republicans  may say these laws are necessary.  I quote William Pitt (the younger):

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.  It is the argument of tyrants, and the creed of slaves

Phrase to repeat: Bush wants to be a tyrant, but we will not be slaves

4. No Child Left Behind should better be called “No child learns bull****”.  I am a psychometrician by training, and I can tell you, this act is abusing tests, forcing the creation of low-quality tests, misusing the results of tests, and testing the wrong things.  It seems to have been primarily designed to support companies that provide the tests and texts (and Bush’s family is involved in some of these companies…. coincidence?)

Phrase to repeat: Let teachers teach

5. A truly inclusive ENDA.  To remove transgender people from this bill was a travesty of justice.  But the problem goes much farther than that, and this bill, even including transgender people, does not go nearly far enough.  There’s a better bill, and it’s an easier sell.  Make it illegal to make any workplace decision about a person based on anything other than how well or badly he or she does the job.  Not sex, not gender, not sexual preference.  Not race or ethnicity.  Not disability or learning disability.  Not political opinion or religion.  Just how well they do the job.  Simple, right?

Phrase to repeat: Reward performance

6. Eliminate the Department of Privacy Invasion. Has this department done anything to keep us safer?  Well, if it has, they won’t tell you.  It’s a secret.  Has it done anything illegal? It won’t tell you, it’s a secret.  Might it be spying on Rep. Pelosi? They won’t tell you, it’s a secret.  Has it cost us a lot of money? Oh yeah.  That’s not a secret

Phrase to repeat: If it’s not wrong, why is it secret?

7. Repeal the Bush tax idiocy. This was a boondoggle for the rich at the expense of young people and our children.

KOSSACKS and DHARMANIACS: ANYONE HAVE SOME GOOD NUMBERS HERE?

Phrase to repeat: You can’t balance the budget by stealing from our children

Docudharma Times Sunday Dec.16

This is an Open Thread: The Toll Booth is Closed

Headlines For Sunday December 16: Control sought on military lawyers: Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry: Obama is hitting his stride in Iowa : Balkanized Homecoming

USA

Control sought on military lawyers

Bush wants power over promotions

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is pushing to take control of the promotions of military lawyers, escalating a conflict over the independence of uniformed attorneys who have repeatedly raised objections to the White House’s policies toward prisoners in the war on terrorism.

The administration has proposed a regulation requiring “coordination” with politically appointed Pentagon lawyers before any member of the Judge Advocate General corps – the military’s 4,000-member uniformed legal force – can be promoted.

A Pentagon spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the reasoning behind the proposed regulations. But the requirement of coordination – which many former JAGs say would give the administration veto power over any JAG promotion or appointment – is consistent with past administration efforts to impose greater control over the military lawyers.

Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry

This article is by Eric Lichtblau, James Risen and Scott Shane.

WASHINGTON – For months, the Bush administration has waged a high-profile campaign, including personal lobbying by President Bush and closed-door briefings by top officials, to persuade Congress to pass legislation protecting companies from lawsuits for aiding the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

But the battle is really about something much bigger. At stake is the federal government’s extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime.

The N.S.A.’s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before, according to government and industry officials, yet that alliance is strained by legal worries and the fear of public exposure.

To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified. But in 2004, one major phone carrier balked at turning over its customers’ records. Worried about possible privacy violations or public relations problems, company executives declined to help the operation, which has not been previously disclosed.

Obama is hitting his stride in Iowa

The candidate once criticized for lacking specifics now peppers his speeches with policy proposals — and confidence.

By Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 16, 2007

MAQUOKETA, IOWA — It was an unusual question at the end of a long day. What, the fifth-grader asked Barack Obama, would you do as president if illegal immigrants staged a terrorist attack on the United States while you were pulling troops out of Iraq?

Without losing sight of his main purpose — convincing the 200 or so adults in the crowd to caucus for him Jan. 3 — the Democrat responded at length. He promised tougher border enforcement and a crackdown on employers who hired illegal immigrants. He called for compassion for exploited workers. He needled Republican candidate Mitt Romney for talking tough on immigration when, it turned out, illegal immigrants were tending his yard.

Middle East

Balkanized Homecoming

As Iraqi Refugees Start to Trickle Back, Authorities Worry About How They Will Fit Into the New Baghdad

By Karen DeYoung

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, December 16, 2007; Page A01

BAGHDAD

When the Iraqi government last month invited home the 1.4 million refugees who had fled this war-ravaged country for Syria — and said it would send buses to pick them up — the United Nations and the U.S. military reacted with horror.

U.N. refugee officials immediately advised against the move, saying any new arrivals risked homelessness, unemployment and deprivation in a place still struggling to take care of the people already here. For the military, the prospect of refugees returning to reclaim houses long since occupied by others, particularly in Baghdad, threatened to destroy fragile security improvements.

UK troops return Basra to Iraqis

British troops have transferred control of Basra province to the Iraqi authorities, four-and-a-half years after the invasion.

The handover marks a significant milestone towards Britain’s final withdrawal from southern Iraq.

Maj Gen Graham Binns, who led British troops into the city in 2003, said it had “begun to regain its strength”.

Iraq’s National Security Adviser, Dr Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said the “historic” day marked a “victory for Iraq”.

Africa

Inside Ebola’s zone of death

Uganda is gripped by fear of an epidemic ‘explosion’ as the killer virus develops a slower and potentially more lethal version

Anushka Asthana in Kampala

Sunday December 16, 2007

The Observer

It is a country where the President has asked people to stop shaking hands, where MPs have called for an end to public gatherings, market vendors wear gloves and Roman Catholic priests no longer give the communion wafers and wine by hand. Uganda is gripped by terror over a new strain of one of the world’s most deadly diseases. Ebola haemorrhagic fever, which is spread by touch, kills between 50 and 90 per cent of victims.

Briefing: ANC to choose South Africa’s next president

Battle starts today to find Thabo Mbeki’s successor

By Raymond Whitaker

Published: 16 December 2007

South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, begins one of the most important conferences in its history today.

What’s at stake?

The meeting could be crucial for the future of South Africa. It will choose the next president of the party: since the ANC holds an overwhelming majority in parliament, that in effect means the delegates will be deciding who becomes president when Thabo Mbeki steps down in 2009.

Who’s in the running?

Mr Mbeki, who is in his second term, is barred by the constitution from standing again. But he wants to retain the leadership of the ANC so that he can name his successor. He certainly would not choose the populist Jacob Zuma whom he fired as deputy president in 2005. But Mr Zuma has the endorsement of five of the country’s nine regions.

Asia

Pakistan lifts emergency rule but media curbs remain

Jason Burke in Islamabad

Sunday December 16, 2007

The Observer

President Pervez Musharraf yesterday lifted emergency rule in Pakistan but otherwise gave few signs of further concessions towards restoring democracy in the nuclear-armed country ahead of the 8 January election.

In a televised address last night, Musharraf said his objective of ‘saving Pakistan from destabilisation’ had been achieved.

After six weeks of emergency rule which have seen hundreds of lawyers, judges and opposition activists deposed and imprisoned, many, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, remained under house arrest and the purged judiciary continued in place. Some curbs will go on being imposed on the media, with a ban on live broadcasts.

Ousted Thai leader plots long-ball return

HALF a world away from their home turf, Manchester City are vying with Everton as Premier League clubs become political footballs in Thailand’s first general election since a military coup last year.

Since being ousted, Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister, has bought Manchester City and is turning his £81m acquisition into a trophy to win hearts and minds among Thai voters from his exile in Britain. Thaksin has used the club’s prestige among football-crazy Thais to stage a comeback, as the country prepares for a general election that will restore civilian rule next Sunday.

He dispatched Sven-Goran Eriksson, City’s manager, to Bangkok a few weeks ago to announce that City were signing three well known Thai players and setting up a football academy. For good measure, Eriksson said he found his proprietor “nothing short of amazing”.

Europe

Belgians stage big protest rally

Thousands of trade union members have protested in Brussels against rising prices and the failure of Belgium’s politicians to form a new government.

Belgium has been without a government since elections in June, as Dutch- and French-speaking political parties remain split over autonomy plans.

The trade unions say economic and social policy had been neglected because of the political paralysis.

They were also protesting against high food and fuel prices.

The trade unions say economic and social policy had been neglected because of the political paralysis.

They were also protesting against high food and fuel prices.

Kremlinology: Vladimir Putin has chosen Medvedev: the votes will follow

What does Russia’s third President have in store for the West, asks Shaun Walker

Published: 16 December 2007

A short, low-key man with a penchant for Black Sabbath seems sure to become Russia’s third president after the current incumbent, Vladimir Putin, announced last week that he supports the candidacy of Dmitry Medvedev to take over in March. That laid to rest speculation that Putin might seek to change the constitution so that he could serve a third term, but few doubt that, one way or another, he will remain in charge.

Mr Medvedev, the chairman of Gazprom, the state-owned energy giant, and a leading minister in Putin’s government, has long been seen as one of the favourites for the succession. His anointment was quickly described as a victory for the “liberals” in the Kremlin over the “hardliners”, even though the chairmanship of Gazprom hardly marks one out as an opponent of monopolies and state capitalism. In Russia, however, everything is relative. As one opposition columnist put it, “When you look at the other candidates, you think ‘Thank God! It could have been so much worse.'”

Bush League Justice — Dan Abrams, 11 Dec 2007

Hat-tip to RawStory via Dupa T. Parrot of DelphiForums.

December 11, 2007, Dan Abram’s MSNBC broadcast of Bush League Justice.

The video is on YouTube, but I’m not certain if it is there with or without permission. Submitted for your perusal in the meantime:



There is no extended text below the fold.

Crossposted at ePluribus Media as well.

Iglesia ………………………………………Episode17

(Iglesia is a serialized novel, published on Tuesdays and Saturdays at midnight ET, you can read all of the episodes by clicking on the tab.)



Previous Episode

.

Okay, something was definitely funny about that sky and those clouds.

Her eyes had snapped open this time. She was alert enough now at least, to know she wasn’t alert. There was an immense war waging within her. Half of her was doing everything it could to stay awake and alert. The other half was using everything but the kitchen sink to drag her back down into the darkness of …sleep?

But really the sky shouldn’t be that color, and those clouds definitely had square edges. She realized the clouds were mad out of tiles. She was confused, but she didn’t notice. She tried to turn her head and that is when she realized she wasn’t really in her body. Wasn’t really filling it up anyway…so she did. She turned her head and looked out the window…..sort of thingee over there.

Yeah. There was a different sky out there. She looked back up at the ceiling and…. realized it was a ceiling.

She remembered then that she could focus her eyes so she did that. It was a dome. She was lying on her back looking up at a vast dome that was somehow still quite close, as vast domes go. The top of the dome was covered in clouds. Fluffy bulbous Arabian Night looking clouds. That were very, very beautiful, now that she could see them. She was inside a dome that had been designed and tiled so very skillfully that it fooled the eye, the proportions were so perfect that from her vantage point….which seemed to be on some sort of platform, that it fooled the eye into thinking it was the shape of the real sky. The dome was a brilliant blue mosaic of tiny tiles, of a depth and hue of blue that was just darker than the sky had ever appeared. This made the subtle changes in the colors and textures of the cloud tiles not only make the clouds look impossibly fluffy, but also look like the were moving across the sky….or, like they had just stopped moving. Her eyes followed the curve of the dome outward and downward from the high white clouds, moving her gaze very slowly and slowly lower as the curve of the dome turned seamlessly into top of the wall of the round room. And as her eyes drank in the beauty of the blue she saw that the sky had gradually faded and blended into an even deeper and darker blue…until stars started to appear here and there in the darker blue, and the deep dark blue starry sky morphed smoothly ever darker into an inky black starry sky. Complete with galaxies. Some stars were made of silver, some of mother of pearl.

She turned her head more and and traced the inky black and starry sky slowly down the wall towards the floor, near the base of the wall it was the deepest of black, blacker even than the night from which she had just come. And then it creamily transformed as strikingly subtly as possible into a gloriously vibrant orangeish yellow and red that forced a reminder of an impossibly glorious sunset. The floor was gold radiating up. She was stunned… and transfixed and humbled by the perfect beauty that surrounded her everywhere she cast her eye.

So she shifted her gaze back to the window and the scene outside it, seeking contrast or relief. But the window, which now that she had truly perceived the star strewn black of the walls, was just incredibly strikingly beautiful as well. A perfect Arabian arch, it’s bright but subtle gold scrollwork frame provided a  needed separation from the brilliant black of the wall and the brilliant blue of the (presumably) real sky on the other side. There was a tree just outside the window. A small bare white tree who’s delicate branches strongly evoked the arms of women reaching to the sky while dancing in some sort of ecstacy. On one of them sat a small blueblack bird. On another, a single red flower. In the background, there were mountains. Above the mountains was the slimmest slice of ivory new moon crescent possible.

She raised up enough and turned enough to see that there were eight of these large archways in the round tiled room with the gold floor under the dome, and outside each of them was another scene of delicate impossible beauty through each of the passages. More mountains, closer. An orange tree. A peacock in full bloom. A waterfall. A forested hill alive in fall foliage rippling in the breeze like a sea filled two archways and a peak encircled crystal lake two more. All framed in black starry tile that made the colors jump at her from the outside. She had no choice but to receive them as gracefully as sh could. She was crying as her soul consumed a perfection of beauty it had been hungering for and longing for….forever?

For….as long as she had lived?

Sweeney Todd and cannibalistic Capitalism

There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit

And it’s filled with people who are filled with shit

And the vermin of the world inhabit it.

But not for long.

This past week I had the great luck to attend an advance screening of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, now the third (and a half) major incarnation of Sondheim’s 1979 musical, based on a 19th century pulp slasher.  Sweeney is the greatest of all musicals, combining sophisticated music and well-written characters in an almost impenetrably dark moral fog.  

What’s most interesting from our perspective is the way Sweeney Todd grapples with the problem of capitalism, an issue foregrounded in the classic Broadway staging and to some extent in the new film version.  Let’s take a closer look at a few moments that emphasize this critique.

Note: This essay contains spoilers, and plenty of them.  If you don’t want to know what happens in the musical/film, stop reading now.  

First, it should be noted that Sondheim himself rejects the anti-capitalist subtext of the play, although it should also be noted that he wrote neither the book nor the lyrics [edit: book alone by Hugh Wheeler; Sondheim did write the lyrics].  Hal Prince, the director of the first and most well-known production of the musical, went against the composer in designing the set specifically to emphasize the dehumanizing world of Industrial Revolution London, where factory machinery looms over unhealthy, pale workers.

That being said, the text itself does plenty to place capitalism in the defendant’s chair.  But first, a brief summary of the plot:

There was a barber and his wife…

Sweeney Todd begins as a classic tale of revenge: a barber, wrongly accused of a crime so that a crooked judge can seduce his wife, escapes from a life sentence in prison and returns to London to settle old accounts.  Many years have passed: his wife drank down arsenic in her despair, and his daughter is now the judge’s ward.  With the help of his old friend Mrs. Lovett (who nurses an unhealthy crush on him), the newly christened Sweeney Todd opens a barber shop on Fleet Street, hoping to give the Judge and his toady the closest shave of their lives…

Along the way the musical establishes a London that is sunk deep in economic depression, although the Judge certainly lives a life of luxury.  Meanwhile Mrs. Lovett can barely meet the bills, a rival barber exploits a young child worker, and the heavy fog of factories keeps the entire setting in eternal grey.

On the Movie: though gorgeously rendered, Burton’s film gets off to a choppy start, and it’s unfortunately clear at points that he did not read his own screenplay very carefully (some bizarre inconsistencies crop up here and there).  I was particularly disappointed that he cut Judge Turpin’s stunning “Johanna”, a song about the moral hypocrisy that people of power sometimes cram down the throats of the unempowered.  Though he condemns people to death for their moral ‘shortcomings’, Turpin’s lust for his ward is violent and disturbing (huge surprise in this world of closeted Republicans, eh?) Though Alan Rickman plays the character very well, it never quite reaches the terror of Turpin’s self-flagellation.

Epiphany

The musical’s key moment, and the climax of the first act, occurs when Sweeney fails to kill Judge Turpin because of an infelicitous coincidence of timing.  The already unstable barber explodes in a fit of rage, and vows to kill not only Turpin and the Beadle, but also anyone who crosses his doorstep, if not the entire world.

Why does Sweeney embark on an indiscriminate killing spree?

Because in all of the whole human race, Mrs. Lovett,

There are two kinds of men and only two:

There’s the one staying put in his proper place

And the one with his foot in the other one’s face.

Sweeney begins to see the world divided into two races of people: the haves, who deserve to die for their evilness, and the have-nots, who deserve to be put out of their misery.  What started as a revenge fantasy has now become an angry revolution against the whole system of class.

Like the economic system around him, the barber’s sense of vengeance greedily devours the limited resources around it:

Not one man,

No, not ten men,

Not a hundred can assuage me.

George Hearn’s performance of this number is outright terrifying:

This is important because it marks the point where Sweeney Todd ceases to be a pulpy little revenge play and becomes something much deeper and more disturbing: a play about a serial killer whose obsessions are linked to our way of living.  Sweeney is ready to devour his clients like an eternally hungry cannibal, so the next piece should come as no surprise:

A Little Priest

The most popular song in the whole musical, and justifiably so, is the disturbing comic duet “A Little Priest”.  Faced with a potentially mounting pile of bodies, Mrs. Lovett gets the bright idea to bake them into her pies, soon making her the most popular pie chef in all of London.

What’s easy to miss is that Mrs. Lovett doesn’t get this idea through any sociopathic tendencies on her own part: she very pointedly derives her criminality from the need for a competitive edge on the market.  Earlier in the play, she complains about her inability to sell pies because of a successful rival, Mrs. Mooney: Mrs. Lovett decries Mrs. Mooney’s use of stray cats for meat (though her disdain is laced with envy, since she’s too poor of health to catch cats herself).  With a fresh human body upstairs, the temptation is overwhelming:

Seems an awful waste…

I mean, with the price of meat what it is,

When you get it,

If you get it…

Take, for instance, Mrs. Mooney and her pie shop:

Business never better using only pussycats and toast,

And a pussy’s good for maybe six or seven at the most,

And I’m sure they can’t compare as far as taste!

Delighted, Sweeney refers to Mrs. Lovett’s plan as “eminently practical”, a damning compliment straight out of Dickens’ worst factories.  Just as the city around them grinds up and devours its citizens, the villains will now grind up their own clients to serve to other clients, allowing the people of London to get fat off the deaths of others.  It’s a heavy-handed metaphor for capitalism made palatable by the wicked humor they approach it with.

Sweeney in fact ties their venture not to capitalism per se, but to a brutally Darwinian worldview that’s in keeping with his recent epiphany: if this really is a dog-eat-dog world, why not feed the dogs to each other?

What’s the sound of the world out there?

Those crunching noises pervading the air?

It’s man devouring man, my dear,

And who are we to deny it in here?

The irony of their situation, feeding the lower classes on the flesh of the wealthier clientèle, isn’t lost on either character.  Far from being disgusted by the idea, they leap into cannibalism with relish: their disturbing little duet runs through a list of middle class professionals, imagining them as food for the masses:

How gratifying for once to know

That those above will serve those down below!

This number is when I fell in love with Angela Lansbury:

On the Movie: this is also the most unsatisfying scene in the movie, in part because Burton approaches it more seriously than Sondheim, whose dark humor has never found a better outlet.  A more serious approach is fine, but Burton doesn’t change the lyrics to match – this leads to acid punchlines that are either out of place or strangely disjoint from the action, and from two leads who don’t seem to be enjoying themselves nearly as much as the words would lead one to suppose.  The flat, over-literal direction doesn’t help the situation at all.

The overwhelming success of their criminality will also prove their undoing.  Mrs. Lovett becomes so enamored of her income that she proposes abandoning their original plans (justice against two evil men, though that’s never interested her much to begin with) in favor of buying a big house near the sea.  Whatever pretensions of do-gooding on their part are long gone; like a good capitalist, Mrs. Lovett begins to envision a life of luxury in a house built on the bones of her neighbors.  

By the sea, Mr. Todd, that’s the life I covet!

Of course at this point Mrs. Lovett’s dreams are so pathetically divorced from reality that it’s impossible to laugh: she loves a man who doesn’t love her, and she’s planning an idyllic resort getaway while tending to a basement full of corpses.

I probably don’t have to tell you how it ends, since the greedy devouring of limited resources can only end with autophagia – real or symbolic.  And this is ultimately one of the musical’s most powerful levels of critique, as the audience watches the best laid plans collapse slowly but inevitably, “like a flan in a cupboard” as Eddie Izzard would say.

Why?  Because nothing is sacred in this Darwinian world: one by one the main characters turn on each other, and the only one who doesn’t is driven to madness in the end.  Sweeney Todd is not a musical to buffer anyone’s faith in the human race, except perhaps through the power of art to turn even the darkest and most depressing of material into gold.

On the Movie: the last half hour is where Burton really shines.  Whatever the stumbling and flatness in the first half, he more than compensates in the finale.  One of his best decisions is the re-envisioned character of Tobias, who is older and a little slow in the stage version; Burton’s Toby is instead a Dickensian waif.  For one thing it puts Dickens (and all the accumulated connotations of child labor and factories) into the foreground; for another it leads to a conclusion that’s less disturbing but more brutal.  The ensemble finale is sorely missed, but otherwise Burton handles the second half of the film with stunning success.

For more, check out this excellent essay by Larry Brown about the political subtexts of Sweeney Todd in its 1979 staging.

Sweeney Todd and cannibalistic Capitalism

There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit

And it’s filled with people who are filled with shit

And the vermin of the world inhabit it.

But not for long.

This past week I had the great luck to attend an advance screening of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, now the third (and a half) major incarnation of Sondheim’s 1979 musical, based on a 19th century pulp slasher.

What’s most interesting from our perspective is the way Sweeney Todd grapples with the problem of capitalism, an issue foregrounded in the classic Broadway staging and to some extent in the new film version.

Epiphany

The musical’s key moment, and the climax of the first act, occurs when Sweeney fails to kill  Judge Turpin because of an infelicitous coincidence of timing.  The already unstable barber explodes in a fit of rage, and vows to kill not only Turpin and the Beadle, but also anyone who crosses his doorstep, if not the entire world.

Why does Sweeney embark on an indiscriminate killing spree?

Because in all of the whole human race, Mrs. Lovett,

There are two kinds of men and only two:

There’s the one staying put in his proper place

And the one with his foot in the other one’s face.

Sweeney begins to see the world divided into two races of people: the haves, who deserve to die for their evilness, and the have-nots, who deserve to be put out of their misery.  What started as a revenge fantasy has now become an angry revolution against the whole system of class.

Like the economic system around him, the barber’s sense of vengeance greedily devours the limited resources around it:

Not one man,

No, not ten men,

Not a hundred can assuage me.

George Hearn’s performance of this number is outright terrifying:

This is important because it marks the point where Sweeney Todd ceases to be a pulpy little revenge play and becomes something much deeper and more disturbing: a play about a serial killer whose obsessions are linked to our way of living.  Sweeney is ready to devour his clients like an eternally hungry cannibal, so the next piece should come as no surprise:

A Little Priest

The most popular song in the whole musical, and justifiably so, is the disturbing comic duet “A Little Priest”.  Faced with a potentially mounting pile of bodies, Mrs. Lovett gets the bright idea to bake them into her pies, soon making her the most popular cook in all of London.

What’s easy to miss is that Mrs. Lovett doesn’t get this idea through any sociopathic tendencies on her own part: she very pointedly derives her criminality from the need for a competitive edge on the market.  Earlier in the play, she complains about her inability to sell pies because of a successful rival, Mrs. Mooney: Mrs. Lovett decries Mrs. Mooney’s use of stray cats for meat (though her disdain is laced with envy, since she’s too poor of health to catch cats herself).  With a fresh human body upstairs, the temptation is overwhelming:

Seems an awful waste…

I mean, with the price of meat what it is,

When you get it,

If you get it…

Take, for instance, Mrs. Mooney and her pie shop:

Business never better using only pussycats and toast,

And a pussy’s good for maybe six or seven at the most,

And I’m sure they can’t compare as far as taste!

The American Dream: Time to Wake Up

(@ 12:15 – promoted by pfiore8)

An interesting article over at Alternet asks what happened to the American dream, and provides some evidence that it is exactly that: a dream. Essentially Americans are not increasing their social and economic mobility even as they believe they still can. I would argue that the persistent and pervasive belief in the American dream is what undercuts both serious talk about class and it acts as a safety valve to protect our current system against peaceful but radical change. Indeed any social/political movements that have been moderately successful ( and certainly I think we all have opinions about whether the goals have been achieved and not for lack of trying) in the post WWII era in the phase of American capitalism have been largely about gaining some acceptance, respect, and equality within the dominant culture not an attempt to dismantle it. Capitalism in the United States has survived to some degree by allowing moderate critique and limited rights for those who were previously denied them. Inevitably, once moderate gains were made those very groups have been forced to defend themselves against cultural reactionaries which might explain why some of the more radical notions that emerged from the activism of black, gay, the transgendered community and feminists that did challenge the structures of consumer capitalism were silenced. People are still fighting on the inclusionary front. It is ironic that issues like gay marriage, partnership, and parenting rights are very much about joining the American dream, the myth of harmony, not trying to disrupt or replace. Many on the cultural reactionary right are pushing back not against radicals who want to attack capitalism and American myths but those who to varying degrees might actually  embrace some of them. At least the myths that say we are a family oriented society.

Joshua Holland argues that free wheeling mobility does not exist noting that the greatest predictor of how much an American will make is what their parents make. Add to that one other factor Holland does not mention but is worth considering: fixed pensions are disappearing. Both of my parents have fixed pensions ( retired teacher and retired nursing college instructor), so while my income approximately matches theirs at comparable times in life even with adequate savings for retirement I might be lucky to equal them. I am not crying the blues, many Americans in my age group cannot set aside money in a 403B or something similar, nor will they have fixed company pensions.

According to a presentation by a member of the Brookings Institute at the start of 2007,

Americans have had a negative personal savings rate for six straight quarters, a figure that has been unmatched since the 1930’s. Despite our persistent belief in the American dream of getting ahead and making sure our children do as well, many of us cannot even put a little in savings, never mind retirement. In 1983, 88 percent of workers with pension coverage had a defined plan linked to earnings and tenure not the individual investment made by the worker. In 2004, the trend had reversed. About 80 percent of workers had a plan similar to a 401k in which the benefit would be determined by how well an investment fund performed, and about 37 percent of workers had a traditional company pension. Many well known companies are simply not offering traditional fixed company plans based on years of experience to new workers. Although, I am not an expert, I suspect that in the future world tales of defined company pension plans will sound as mythical as unicorns. After all, expensive retirement plans with expensive health care benefits have been cited by automakers in the US as one of the reasons for declining profits. Never mind the post WWII social contract between workers and capitalists, when workers aren’t working, they are a cost.

By 2006, 40 percent of American workers were working for a company that did not have any form of pension coverage. Workers who do are being asked to make complicated financial decisions with little guidance and subject to the whims of the so called “rational” market. A Brookings economist is quoted as saying,you shouldn’t have to be a mechanic to drive a car, and you shouldn’t need a PHD in financial economics to navigate the pension system.

Despite disappearing pension plans, negative savings, and some evidence that American are not doing better than parents and cannot offer that dream to their children we still persist and cling to infantile myths that make us feel good about ourselves and our country. While some research shows that this generation is doing better as a whole than the previous one the nation’s income is distributed less evenly than the prior generation. And much of that can be explained by the fact that household income has increased because women have joined the work force in higher numbers. It is not hard to imagine that effect has or will level off. In fact, several other countries enjoy more worker mobility than Americans including Canadians, Danes, the French and Norwegians.

A decrease in unionization, and a weak educational system also contribute to that stagnant or downward mobility. Americans  students tend to perform poorly on international assessments and colleges are often forced to do remedial work with freshmen and sophomores to make up for prior deficits. College has become more expensive at a time when jobs that pay a living wage for those who don’t go to college have all but vanished.

At the close of 2007, we have hit the iceberg and we still don’t have enough lifeboats and the wealthy are still making sure they grab them first.

Americans persistently project their own delusions, in surveys, they are twice as likely to believe that people get rewarded for intelligence and skill than workers in other advanced economies.

They are also less likely to believe that it is the responsibility of government to reduce differences in income. They were apparently unbothered by the fact that CEO salaries increased 35 times between 1978 and 2005 to be nearly 262 times the average worker’s pay. An overview of the mobility issues can be culled from this Brookings paper.

Why do Americans continue to believe? Perhaps, it is because consumerism has become prized above older quaint notions about freedom and democracy. Democracy and capitalism are no longer wedded to one another. China has provided a recent example of a country that has accommodated some acceptance of capitalism without much in the way of democratic expression.

Bruce E Levin asserts we live in a culture that demands happiness and that in itself has led to increases in depression. In a consumer culture such as ours we are constantly trying to buy our happiness. He notes that before pharmacology overtook the practice psychology and psychiatry philosophical and critiques on capitalism itself were often respected sources analyzing the state of man. Fromm in particular linked alienation and unhappiness with consumer cultures, the desire to have acquire and control ultimately alienated ourselves from authenticity. We are a fearful culture that clings to myths that leave us more fearful and paradoxically less economically secure. Consumer capitalism has left us both exhausted trying to prove the American dream is real and philosophically bankrupt. We believe if we believe it enough, it is true.

 America capitalism has been able to absorb protest, challenge, and minimal toleration of out groups by reluctant inclusion with a perpetual not withstanding clause. We have passed the time in which moderates can negotiate a workable peace between workers and elite classes. Moderates are not irrelevant in our political climate but disemboweled because they to believe in the myths of America. The problem is we have not reached our tipping point, I don’t know what radicalizes Americans any more, because while many of us like to see the cultural right as being radical themselves, they are fundamentally pre-democratic and actually incapable of being radical. Radicalism is participatory democracy, something the Democratic Party leadership actually recognizes which is why they are effectively shunning progressives, leftists, and even libertarians. Without an outright coup of the belief system of the Democratic party we will always be left asking why, why, why. We will always feel betrayal and we will never be able to mobilize for those general strikes many of us wish would materialize.

Until ordinary Americans can be pried away from the American dream and encouraged to formulate a new one, they will always view progressives with fear and distrust and our ability to build coalitions will be hindered. Ordinary Americans aren’t stupid or unaware. They know something is wrong. They suspect long held deals have been trashed, but articulating an alternative requires them to reject long held notions. In the end we are all addicts avoiding pain only to prolong it. No, I am not eternally pessimistic. I have guarded hope not in particular party or institutions but in the combustible arena of ideas. My guarded hope is that some of them will break free in a way none of us could ever predict.

Saturday Night Bike Blogging: The Joy of Winter Biking

OK, so I just back from a trip to the store.

Well, let me set the scene, courtesy of the online weather report for this part of NorthEast Ohio …

NOW … AREAS OF HEAVY SNOW … AND A MIX OF SNOW … SLEET AND FREEZING RAIN WILL CONTINUE THROUGH 8PM. THE MIX PRECIPITATION WILL BE ALONG AND SOUTH OF A MARION TO CANTON LINE. A INCH AN HOUR SNOWFALL WILL BE FROM AROUND MANSFIELD TO CANTON. UNTREATED SURFACES AND ROADWAYS CAN BE ICY AND SNOW COVERED AND SLIPPERY.

… indeed, my mum was trying to talk me out of my little trip, first downtown to the bank (like, eight blocks) and then down main street to the bargain supermarket, then back. Not far at all, and in the fall simply a pleasant little excursion.

But … oh my, oh no, there was sleety snow falling down! Oh my!

Oh … did I say joy? The joy, after the fold.



NB. Picture gleaned from the Intertubes … not taken by your humble scribe. Indeed, since it comes from Peninsular Far West Asia … Amsterdam, to be precise … and I’ve only been on the southeastern edge of that massive continent, it could not possibly be taken by your humble scribe.

In my last winter biking SNBB, I talked about successes and failures in layering for my two hour-ish ride to work. But this is a much shorter run, with two out of the weather breaks in the middle … a short one in the bank ATM foyer, and a longer one in the supermarket.

So I just threw on my winter coat, put on my gloves, plopped on my helmet, which has a raincover, and set off. On my Schwinn mountain bike.

Mind you, I would not recommend this thing for racing down the side of the mountain, whether in mud or snow or gravel or whatever … but by the same token, I’m not going to be doing any such thing soon.

However, for riding on snowy streets, its great. Indeed, its better than driving.

In a car, I am pushing a lever to make the drive train go, and guessing whether its gripping or not. On my bike, I am part of the drive train, and I have direct feedback that I have good grip on the snow.

In a car, I am sitting, shivering, waiting for the heater to warm up … and then probably fiddling with the level of the heater. On my bike, the further along I go, the warmer I get.

In a car, in weather like today, I am clearing off the windows at least twice, once to set out and once in the supermarket parking lot … on the bike, I just jump on and go. Mind you, my bike at home is sheltered from the snow, and at the grocery store, where I normally lock it up, is also sheltered … so it never looked like the bike in the picture.

… As an aside, once, Monday two weeks back, it did look a bit like that, since there is no shelter where it stands waiting for me to finish working … but then I realized that my rain cape would keep the snow off my bike as well as myself, and so I only faced that particular scenario that one time …

Hell, if I ever am back in a situation where I am forced to drive, I am going to consider having a bike with nice wide tires an essential emergency back-up, just in case the conditions are too treacherous to go out driving.

But even more than that, going out in a car to get groceries in conditions like today’s would just be a chore, with at least a slight risk of mishap attached. Going out and “braving the elements” for the errand was actually fun.

And is that any surprise? I removed the element that makes that trip a chore.

After all, there are people that go out skiing, whether downhill or cross-country, skating on ponds, sledding … getting out and doing something on a snowy day is not a terrible thing. And there is a special focus on going out and doing something with something designed to take you through the snow, like skis, or ice skates, or a sled … or, for the kind of snow on the road today, a mountain bike.

And of course, as always, this is also an open biking thread … even if the only biking you do in the winter is in your imagination …

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the end of the world as we know it?

(@9:30 – promoted by buhdydharma )

yes, that is a deliberately provocative title.  And I am afraid I have little of subgstance with which to support that question.  But in this, only my second post on this site, let me offer just a little bit of my current thinking.

I am not presuming the imminence anything catastrophic, like the immediate annihilation of the human race.  Nor do I presume that there will be seismic changes politically,even though one might well argue that such is what is required if democracy as we have known it is going to survive.

Instead let me posit something a wee bit different, and perhaps even arrogant.

The two-party system, mediated by the ‘gatekeepers’ of the main stream media, is now obsolete, dying off.    

It is possible that we will see a president elected who still fits the old models – after all, Hillary Clinton could still win Iowa, and if she does she is the likely next president.  But even that “success” would be little more than a last gasp of politics as we have known it.

Unless and until those currently in political office and those seeking higher office understand that there is a hunger for a different way of politics and governance, they will do little more than preside over the demise of an ancient and no longer productive system.  And either we will radically reform our current system to something that is truly democratic, or we can watch while we become either a fascist dictatorship or we degenerate into anarchy.

How do I know this?

Perhaps it is the young people who are no longer content to merely stuff envelopes and make phone calls.

Perhaps it is the many who have found freedom and empowerment through various electronic means.

It may even be some who straddle the divide between the past and the future, politicians like Brad Miller who recognize the importance of the netroots, not necessarily to the exclusion of the grass roots, but as a means of organizing and motivating people who are too often otherwise ignored, except for their votes and their money.

“We the people” is a noble sentiment.  For too long we have allowed others to tell us how we should act and think politically.

No more.  

Someone has to speak out.  Perhaps we need to lead our leaders.

When the response I receive from a sitting member of Congress after I speak out very forcefully is that s/he wished s/he didn’t so often go along to get along, there are things that need to be changed.

There is a hunger abroad in the land.  It is a hunger for real leadership, for those willing to stand for something, for people willing to put themselves and their careers on the line for something beyond themselves.   Why strive for power and control if you are not going to attempt to use it?  

Those who may by happenstance encounter these words can provide the examples of what I mean.  Certainly the cowardice of Schumer and Feinstein with respect to the Muaksey nomination is but one example, and even since there are many more to which all of us can refer.

I offer no list of particulars that have offended me.  There are too many, and I fear that should I begin I would inevitably offend by what I omitted.

I know this – it is not YET too late, whether we speak of civil liberties, of global warming, of tyranny, of economic disparity, of inequity, of increasing hatred towards this government and by extension to the people who have empowered it, which ultimately means all Americans.  It is not YET too late, but there is little time left.

I used to view myself as a raging centrist.  No more.  Consider me an extremist, and perhaps I will become little more than a nag, someone who annoyingly keeps pointing out that the emperor is naked.  But I will remain silent about nothing.  With whatever voice I may have I will ask why not?  What I do will not matter much, but as Gandhi has said it is important that I do it anyway.

What about you?

The Bali Agreement: Media Headlines vs. Reality

A lot of excited headlines are reporting an historic climate agreement, in Bali. Don’t believe the hype. This is what they want you to believe:

Agence France-Presse

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BBC

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CNN

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Guardian

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New York Times

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Reuters

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Spiegel Online

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Washington Post

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What did the U.S. give up?

As Spiegel Online reports:

The last-minute deal came on Saturday after the US delegation made a U-turn in a final negotiating session. The US had opposed a proposal by the G77 bloc, which represents developing countries, for rich nations to do more to help the developing world combat increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s it. The ostensible leader of the free world gave up its opposition to helping the developing world. Wow.

But, as the New York Times explained:

In all of this, the Bush administration did not, in the end, have to shift overall from its most staunchly defended goal, which was that it would only agree to a comprehensive new accord that maintained flexibility, allowing nations to agree on a rough goal for global emissions, but using any mix of means at the national level to get there.

Do, the Bush Administration made the supreme sacrifice of agreeing to help developing countries, but they got to keep their number one goal: to do nothing.

The Times continues:

However the roadmap does not include the firm emission reduction targets which the European Union and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had been demanding, although it does state that emission cuts are necessary. Environmental groups and some delegates criticized the draft for not going further, describing it as a missed opportunity.

So, they agreed to say that emissions are bad. Not that they’re going to mandate actually doing anything about it, but they’re saying that they’re bad. That’s what was accomplished in Bali.

And:

Under the roadmap approved at the Bali summit, nations will hold a two-year series of talks to negotiate a new treaty which will succeed the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012. According to the plan, the successor treaty will be adopted at a UN climate conference in Copenhagen in late 2009.

Oh, good. They’ll hold more talks. Probably in similarly exotic paradise vacation spots. Great work!

The Guardian:

The Bali agreement will trigger two years of intense negotiations over how to prevent a likely 4C rise in global temperatures this century. The rise would threaten the food and water supplies of billions of people, and drive thousands of species to extinction.

Yep. Better talk about it for another two years. That’s showing the leadership and the sense of urgency!

One of the last passages to be agreed, concerning targets for carbon reductions by rich countries, has in recent days proved the major obstacle to consensus.

In a move that was widely expected, Europe was reported tonight to have dropped its demands for a 25%-40% cut on 1990 levels by 2020, a proposal that was bitterly opposed by the US.

But remember those headlines: it was the U.S. that backed down.

One small quote, tucked into this Reuters article gets it right:

“At the end of the day, we got an extremely weak agreement,” said Sunita Narain, head of the Centre for Science and the Environment in New Delhi. “It’s obvious the U.S. is not learning to be alive to world opinion.”

And this final Guardian headline, from their environment editor, John Vidal:

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