4 05 2010


(or, “Limbaugh lower now!”)


Denunciation, is the hardest of all rhetorical expressions to do credibly. You may start out with a truly, terribly Bad Thing to denounce for it’s badness, and, before you know it, carried away by your pure disgust at the Bad Thing, find yourself unintentionally descending into mere invective.

On the Right side of contemporary US politics, for example, Rush Limbaugh has made a fortune from his zestful daily invective against everything and everyone to the left of himself and his Dittoheads. George Orwell, in the 1930s and ’40s, did a better job of staying in the denunciation mode as he excoriated the most evil absurdities of the political movements of his time, both Right and Left. And the poet Alexander Pope, in 1729, wrote a whole long narrative poem of pretty effective denunciation that is still read with great appreciation by lovers of English literature. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The Dunciad

On the Left in the USA of today, though, far too little good denunciation, or even invective, is written. This is probably because people on the Left in the US are usually not true leftists but rather liberals, and a central tenet of classical liberalism is  to leave the maximum possible room for the working out of many points of view in society. But these days the Right could clearly do with a bit of lambasting both in the form of denunciation and invective, because, among other things, the long hegemony of its worship of “the self-correcting free market” over American politics just recently kicked the whole world into a Depression from which emergence is still uncertain.

One denunciatory voice of satisfying acerbity is beginning to surface in  the pages of the New York Times, where every day one amazingly good writer after another makes public comments following the columnists’ opinions.

Here’s what one of these posters, who has become* my favorite new Denunciator, said** recently in the public comments section following economist Paul Krugman’s column of May 2, 2010, on the explosion of  a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He does descend to invective, true, but it’s such satisfying invective:


Phil in the mountains of Kyushu
May 2nd, 2010
10:39 pm
“Yes, Prez O. needs to take on the “Drill, baby, drill!” crowd.Taking on these obvious ignoramus-savages, however, also obliges taking on savages of another ilk — the smarmy, apparently-well-educated, but above all cynical, breed that ever keeps enrolling in and graduating from the U.S.’s swarm of biz and law schools.It’s these, more superficially genteel, sorts who pose the greatest menace to civilized life — as they on their cynical quests for the quickest possible buck want no regulations, no safety devices, and no accountability to any parts of the otherwise civilized world.

These educated savages got their cynicism and sociopathy in systematic ways — in all the amoral, ethics-free forms of  specialization training in which  Corporate America indulges. It’s a massive, deadly world that operates in and from all those biz and law schools — relentless in their view of life as simply a set of venues for the smoothed, greased, and padded robberies that their corporate world practices and they enable.

Destroying thousands of square miles of international and national waters? And beaches, and wetlands, and fisheries too? No problem for this educated form of humanity that has learned no humanity in all their education. So, sure — let’s hope Prez O. reverses on his earlier cave-in to the “Drill, baby, drill!” savages. Let’s hope he reverses on lots of caterings and cave-ins he’s made all across the spectrum of Corporate America. But the odds of this happening aren’t great, given, on the one hand, Prez O.’s wish to be liked by the powerful  and, on the other, the ongoing massive tilt toward savagery by the educated ilk that comes from too many schools that teach mere technique shorne not only of morality, but even of the most superficial kind of reflection on consequences.”
Keep up the good work Phil!
*   See my first “Damn, This Is Fine!” blog entry, reprinting a particularly
astringent Denunciator outpouring, here:
** Text slightly improved by me. For a great putdown, a trope closely related to “denunciation”, see the Bob Dylan song Positively 4th Street.


19 01 2010

There may only be a fading myth born of a 500-year spree. The West found a whole new continent to exploit in 1492—a once-in-a-millennium event. The glorious promise of wealth inherent in that event has drawn people who transcendentally love money here from all over the world continuously from then ’til now.

Like a vast Darwinian juggernaut, this uniquely American situation has selected for that type of person to become our citizenry over all those many generations. It’s a wonder we have anything here at all but  businesspersons and bankers! The long, long influx of the acquisitive has expressed itself most endearingly as “the American dream.” Time is running out on that dream, what with all our national wealth going into mad wars, and China rising fast and all.

So what’s left is a nation of some very bewildered people. They were sure they were all going to get rich. Now lots of the ones near the bottom of the middle class are coming to realized they’re headed down, not up.*

At times when a society’s foundational myths are crumbling they are clutched at all the more passionately. Or, as one smart commentator said in response to today’s New York Times column by David Brooks:

Milwaukee, WI
January 19th, 2010
10:14 am

The reason for disillusionment [with President Obama and the Democrats] is because most Americans are still clinging to the delusion of their own specialness. A fake narrative endlessly peddled by the conservative dream makers to keep the pocket picking endless.

“Oh yes, stout American, you are a giant of your time. A hero. Admired. Individual. Listen to our rousing conservative homage to your ego.”

But of course it’s fiction. Fiction lapped up like sweet water in a desert, but still fiction.

Americans, haven’t reacted [to the recent and perhaps continuing Depression and the Obama’s resulting election] with a “deep, vestigial sense of proportion”. They’ve reacted with a tantrum, ticked off because the fiction is exposed and they can’t accept it. They can’t accept that the riches they were promised by the free market and housing boom was in fact a shell game. They’ve been Bushwacked.

The problem with Obama is that he’s actually trying to tie solutions to his rhetoric and, politically, Americans aren’t used to that. Don’t want it. We are not prepared and are still addicted to our delusion. Right now we resemble teenagers on a school day morning who don’t want to get up and face the test they haven’t studied for. ‘I’m sick’.

Wake up America and face the music.”


*For evidence of how and why they are headed down, see my earlier post,  “So THAT’S Why You Both Have to Work” at


Globalization and the resulting export of once-well-paid working class job is likely to make all this worse in future.


8 09 2009

Conservatives haven’t given up trying to kill the remnants of the New Deal and the Great Society–i.e., Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare (what’s left of it), Food Stamps, and maybe even unemployment compensation.

In the coming 20 or so years, as the baby boomers (one of whom I am) age and die, Conservatives can be expected to step up that struggle, since only people boomer age and older remember the kinder world America was before the Reagan Age.

And when we consider that everyone who turned, say, 15, in 1980 when Regan was elected is 44 now, those conservatives might succeed handily. I believe that most people absorb their basic political assumptions around the time they develop favorite songs — and then remain loyal to them for a lifetime.

The best way to kill all those New Deal and Great Society programs, of course, is to pretend to be a pragmatist and declare that we can’t afford them. Here’s one of the first such  shots over the New Deal’s bow:


And here are the three liberal arguments in response (which ought to work but may not, given the aforementioned loyalty humans have to stuff imbibed as teenagers):

1. It’s Republicans — largely that last, most inept President — who have been the most wasteful:




2. Hey, why don’t  we cut that huge military budget first?


(The US military budget is now about 1/2 of all the military spending in the world combined.)

and, finally, liberals should make the following point, which would be unanswerable but for the existence of the strange doctrine of American exceptionalism:

3. How come all the major European countries can have lots more benefits for their people then the USA does, and they don’t build up huge deficits?

See my earlier post, “Is it True What They Say About Sweden”, here:



The answer to liberals’ question number 3 is implied in question number 2, about our mad continuation of the military spending that our government, and especially conservatives, justified during the Cold War as necessary to deter the Evil Empire…

…and then just kept up, unabated, for some strange reason, indefinitely.

Even if we need a strong army to fight in Afghanistan and future similar places full of Muslims who hate us, we don’t need all those super weapons we bought to deter the Soviet Union from launching a nuclear war or a conventional State v. State war. These are two very different kinds of war, requiring different approaches. Fighting irregular troops like the Taliban requires boots on the ground, and only enough air power to maintain control of the air, which is pretty easy when dealing with folks who don’t have an airforce. We don’t need a new line up of super-duper and super-expensive airplanes, missiles, etc., every few years.

But hey, we need to keep those defense contractors fat and happy, right?


6 06 2009

TV functions as the modern equivalent of the fire that thousands of generations of people sat around each evening for as long as we were us. My guess is that a lot of storytelling always went on in that setting. Most of the stories were probably told by the elders. The stories would be funny or dramatic or sad or uplifting, and many times they would be instructive about how to live in the surrounding society — even if the lesson was only implied. And other members of the family could tell stories too, even the children — getting to be the center of attention and feel important in the family in the process. Storytelling explained the world and passed cultures on in a warm, community-building way.*

Commercial TV, as practiced in the United States since the 1950s, took all that away from us. A brand new kind of mesmerizing ever-changing light for the family to stare at in the evening darkness, it might have been a worthy replacement for the old ways, except for the differences in motivation of the old and new storytelling. American TV has always told stories that were motivated by one single desire — the desire to grab and hold your attention in order to sell you stuff. That means that every aspect of the storytelling art became meretricious. There is little or no “art” per se, left, in fact, because creators don’t get to make decisions freely about what will be in their stories. Choices are dictated mostly by the need to sell, sell sell!

The worst aspect of this is that TV stories have increasingly tried to show the most extreme aspects of everything, because that’s what the manipulators behind them know will grab your attention. That’s why we have so many shows about inherently disgusting things, like serial killers, and how to figure out who killed decomposing dead people. (“CSI” comes to mind.) Cumulatively, this has the subliminal effect of making people believe that crime is much more of a danger to them than it is. We become nervous, ever-watchful, and ever more eager to buy guns to defend ourselves from the unlikely “dangers” that have been made to seem to surround us on every side.

TV stories also routinely misrepresent society, because no-one will be in a buying mood if he’s reminded that he lives in an economically perilous society that cares nothing about him.  So all stories on American TV take place among the upper middle class or the wealthy. Poor people are never mirrored positively, and the reality they live is therefore marginalized. On TV they are nothing, zeroes. That is not good for their self esteem. And their excision from the TV world also subliminally mirrors our society to us in a falsely positive light, promoting right-wing politics.

In the last and worst place, by taking over all storytelling, traditional, non-Internet TV took away from children, and in fact all “everyday” people, the chance to shine in an extended, creative way by successfully telling complete stories. There are only so many pleasures to be had in the course of a human life. We couldn’t afford to lose one that cool.

Now, luckily, the age-old gathering around the fire has been rekindled in the form of the Internet. On sites like YouTube, Twitter, and untold millions of blogs, we can all participate in telling stories again. True, the people who want to “drive” us (as they are tellingly fond of saying) to their selling sites still predominate, but before we could not turn away from their offerings without turning off that hypnotizing central light — a very hard things to do. Now we can flit away in a moment to another web page or video. It is a golden age of information, interaction, and participation.

But unfortunately, in the USA at least, the “driving” power of greed is immense and ever-renewing. We’re seeing ever more elaborate ways being developed to track us as we navigate the Internet, so that, though we may now escape junk programming as we never could while watching TV, we cannot escape advertising**. In addition, watch for sites like YouTube to be increasingly morphed toward the top-down model of program creation. The history of American electronic media is a story of ever-increasing narrowing of the fare that the people who run the media will offer us. (Listen to commercial radio — a selection of stations — for a few days, and you’ll get the idea. In the early years of broadcast radio it offered everything from farm reports to soprano recitals.)

This narrowing reflects the practice of “programming to the lowest common denominator” — meaning only providing stuff that the most unsophisticated viewer could love, on the assumption that everyone else will turn off half his brain and watch it too, rather than have nothing to watch at all. The great virtue of this approach for content producers is that they only have to produce the entertainment equivalent of burgers and fries, yet they will still get big audiences.

For the foreseeable future there will be tremendous pressure from powerful interests to control the Internet and narrow its options so that this time-honored approach can be used on us again. I will fight against that, and I hope you will to.

The best way to do so, IMHO, is to support net neutrality.


* See this review of a really interesting book:

Review: How storytelling shaped humanity

  • 25 May 2009 by Kate Douglas
  • Book information:
  • On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction by Brian Boyd
  • Published by: Belknap Press
  • Price: $35/£25.95



** That is, unless you use Firefox with the add-on called AdBlock installed, in which case you don’t have to see much advertising at all.


24 05 2009


by Michael Franti and Spearhead

Here’s the YouTube video:


(which takes this very strong rap and visualizes it perfectly. But don’t watch it if you’re a right winger!)

Now the Lyrics:

A revolution never come with a warning

A revolution never sends you an omen

A revolution just arrive like the morning

Ring the alarm we come to wake up the snoring

They tellin’ you to never worry about the future

They tellin’ you to never worry about the torture

They tellin’ you that you’ll never see the horror

Spend it all today and we will bill you tomorrow

Three piece suits and bank accounts in Bahamas

Wall street crime will never send you to the slammer

Tell all the children in the arms of their mammas

The F-15 is a homicidal bomber

TV commercials for a popping pill culture

Drug companies circling like a vulture

An Iraqi baby with a G.I. Joe father

Ten years from now is anybody gonna bother?

Yell Fire, yo, yo, yo

Here we come here we come

Fire, yo, yo , yo, yo

Revolution a comin’

Fire, yo, yo, yo, yo

Fire, yo, yo, yo, yo

Everyone addicted to the same nicotine

Everyone addicted to the same gasoline

Everyone addicted to a Technicolor screen

Everybody tryin’ to get their hands on the same green

From the banks of the river to the banks of the greedy

All of the riches taken back by the needy

We come from the country and we come from the city

You play us on the record, you can play us on the CD

All the shit you’ve given us is fertilizer

The seeds that we planted you can never brutalize them

Tell the corporation they can never globalize it

Like Peter Tosh said Legalize it

Girls and boys hear the bass and treble

Rumble in the speakers and it make you wanna rebel

Throw your hands up, take it to another level

And you can never, ever, ever make a deal with the devil

Yell Fire, yo, yo, yo

Here we come here we come

Fire, yo, yo, yo, yo

Revolution a comin’

Fire, yo, yo, yo, yo

Fire, yo, yo, yo, yo

Kind of reminds me of Alan Ginsberg’s poem Howl! Or the leftest ferment of the 1960s. But none of that did any good. Nothing changes. Did the serfs ever manage to revolt against the feudal lords?


21 05 2009

As a pessimist and reasonably observant American, I am prone to think that in the USA almost no one will expend major effort to produce anything that doesn’t make money. And that’s an assumption of many online commentors as well. In a recent discussion of advertising on the Internet, one post after another said, essentially, that there would be no content on the Internet without advertising. And those commentors weren’t displaying pessimism, either. They simply knew their culture from within, and expressed the truth of it as they knew it.

But I have reason to know that what they and my pessimism say is nonsense. I have multiple interests, and in pursuing them on the Internet I’ve seen the most stunning, informative, long-lasting web sites be built by people who simply have a hobby, or by organizations that want to inform or delight us. Here are five examples. I realize you aren’t likely to be very interested in the subject matter of a couple of them, but take a look at the depth and quality of the sites!

1. Phil’s Old Radios:

2. JavaJune’s Blog:

3. Loveyoutodeathbut’s YouTube Channel:

(And permit me to recommend one of the videos:


4. Astronomy Picture of the Day:

5. Steve’s Supreme Instruments Collection:

An additional amazing thing about this last site is that both the site and the test equipment presented on it are unusually fine-looking, almost beautiful. This is all the more amazing when you consider that the test equipment items presented by Steve were designed and sold in the 1930s for a completely utilitarian purpose. As you can imagine, most other contemporary electronic test equipment was NOT physically attractive :-).

I think people who do things for love instead of money are givers of wonderful gifts to those around them. Laboring away quietly in the interstices* of this Tower of Babel of Greed, they are not sufficiently honored.

*I got to use this word yesterday and I liked it so well I’m using it again today!


15 05 2009

Things are looking up in an area of the law that has become so blatantly and creatively exploitative that just about EVERYONE has now had some experience of being screwed by it:


Some of you will know the kinds of thing I’m complaining about from personal experience. If you have been spared, here’s a site, chosen almost at random, that gives some examples of some of the ripoffs they subject us to:


Another bank’s nefarious acts:


And here’s a way to reach your Senator, who may be one of those who are quaking in their boots at voting on set of credit card law reforms that will piss off the mighty banks:


I’m betting there are enough royally pissed-off credit card holders out there that this reform might pass.


17 03 2009

From The Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

“In a powerful passage, he blames his violent outbursts on the unbearable contradictions of modern life. Brainwashed into that each of us is an individual of inestimable value with an individual destiny, that there is no limit to what we can attain, we set off, each of us, in quest of individual greatness. Inevitably we fail to find it. Then we begin to hate immoderately and punish ourselves and one another immoderately. The fear of lagging [behind] pursues and maddens us…. It makes an inner climate of darkness. And occasionally there is a storm of hate and wounding rain out of us.”

— J. M. Coetzee in Inner Workings, paraphrasing page 63 of the novel