Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What A Bummer, Man! The Psychedelic Revolution Wasn't Gonna Be Televised

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN NOVEMBER 2009)
Aldous Huxley's creative powers were at their peak in 1960, some three years before his death. The public lectures given by the author of Brave New World and The Doors of Perception were filled to overflowing and never had a parapsychologist been so acclaimed and had a larger following.

But Huxley was perplexed. As had so many other great minds before and after him,
becoming immersed in taking and studying the effects of psychedelic drugs had produced an embarrassing consequence: The more he tripped, the more he traveled to the so-called Other World and the more that he mused over the profundities of these voyages and how they could improve mankind's lot, the less insight he had to offer.

As Huxley confided to a friend: "To have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find that at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'Try to be a little kinder.' "

What Huxley was intimating is that while LSD, psilocybin mushrooms or peyote buttons could make individual homo sapiens better people, the psychedelic revolution would not make terra firma a better place.

It wasn't that people didn't try.

Albert "Captain Al" Hubbard, who is said to have given LSD to 6,000 people beginning in the early 1950s until it was outlawed in 1966,
believed that if he could provide a psychedelic experience to the executives of Fortune 500 companies, he would change the whole of society.

Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who had tripped on psychotropic plants in South America and later took psilocybin and LSD, declared that the psychedelic movement was an opportunity "to seize power in the Universe . . . not merely over Russia or America -- seize power over the moon -- take the sun over."

But as big thinking went, it was hard to top Timothy Leary, a psychologist and psychedelic avatar whose increasingly manic quest to get people to "turn on, tune in, drop out" more or less led to the federal prohibition against not just the possession of LSD, but a halt to virtually all research into promising uses of the drug in treating chronic alcoholism, psychoses and other illnesses.

* * * * *
If Leary hadn't led the way to LSD being outlawed, someone else's antics certainly would have. After all, how could the government not ban the use of a non-addictive substance that could do such wonderful things, let alone have astonishing curative powers?

Leary's initial foray into psychedelics was innocent enough -- the Harvard Psilocybin
Project -- which during its 15-month existence in 1960-61 showed convincingly that the comparatively mild psychedelic was a positive agent for behavioral changes even in prison convicts.

Writes Jay Stevens in Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream:

"Imagine the Humphrey Bogart of Angels With Dirty Faces suddenly transported into Alice in Wonderland and you will have some idea of what transpired. One of the newcomers [to the psilocybin sessions] became paranoid and decided the whole thing was a fiendish police trick to get him to all the crimes he had never been caught for. . . . But then his paranoia vanished, he forgot about revenge, forgot about his standing in one of Boston's Irish Mafia families; he started thinking about love, about how everyone was really the same, no difference between him and this Harvard boy, really."

The study did have a drawback. The prisoners were indeed changing, but they were changing in ways that made science uncomfortable. As Stevens puts it, "They were
getting religion. And if psilocybin could do that to hard-core cons, imagine what it was doing to members of the psilocybin project."

Indeed, the cautious optimism among Leary's professorial peers that the drug could be an extraordinary addition to the psychiatric tool kit turned to anxiety as Leary and many of his graduate students began binging on psilocybin and immersing themselves in mystical texts. What controls their experiments had went out the window and raw data was no longer being collated and written up.

The project's death blow came when the Harvard Crimson ran a story on a drug orgy at Leary's house with students that was picked up by the Boston papers and then the wire services. After confiscation threats from the feds, the Harvard administration put Leary's psilocybin stash under lock and key and promised that when the drug was dolled out in the future there would be close supervision. The scandal had been contained, but it was obvious to all that Leary's contract would not be renewed.

Leary rolled with that punch and soon he and colleagues Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner were deeply involved with LSD, a substantially more powerful psychedelic that for them was less about love than death and rebirth.

Some LSD therapists were showing remarkable results. Hubbard's work with
chronic alcoholics at Hollywood Hospital in British Columbia showed an 80 percent success rate, while a research program at the Veterans Hospital in Palo Alto, California showed promising results for psychotic vets. That also is where Ken Kesey, future leader of the Merry Pranksters, tripped while writing One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest.

These results notwithstanding, therapists struggled to figure out why LSD could do what it did.

Stevens presents this analogy in Storming Heaven:

"Imagine the self as an oxbow lake, which is formed when a meander is cut off from
the main body of a shallow, slow-moving river. Over time, unless fresh sources of water are found, the oxbow begins to stagnate, becoming first a marsh, then a swamp, as vegetation (thickets of received ideas, neuroses, etc.) starts to compete for oxygen. Psycholytic therapy, you might say, contented itself with removing the vegetation; psychedelic therapy, on the other hand, operated by dynamiting the obstruction and restoring the oxbow to what, in fact, it had always been: a lazy curve in a broad, flowing river."

Most of these therapists used small doses of LSD on their patients in charting a path to consciousness before any deep exploration began, but from the outset Leary administered massive doses to both patients and himself.

Perhaps inevitably a man with the brightest of futures in psychiatry began to think of himself as a prophet. By the spring of 1962 he was deeply into Tantric Buddhism and was referring to his acclaimed pre-psychedelic work as "antediluvian stuff."

Stevens:

"To hell with Harvard and psychology, Leary wanted to shout, to hell with boring old bourgeois science. To hell with boring old bourgeois religion. Mind-expanding drugs were going to be the religion of the twenty-first century . . . and he was going to be the chief avatar."

As Stevens notes, Leary's escapades, including the creation of a psychedelic circus known as the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF), highlighted what by 1963 was a turf war over who would control traffic to the Other World.

Medical doctors believed that mere psychologists like Leary and Al Hubbard, let alone an engineer like Myron Stolaroff, did not have the competencies to examine the extremes of consciousness.

The rap on Stolaroff was misplaced. He was an assistant to the president for long-range planning at Ampex Corporation, which was a leading maker of magnetic reel-to-reel tape recorders and an incubator for pioneering engineers.

Stolaroff was making big bucks but felt that his life was empty. It was through an
acquaintance that he learned of a new drug called LSD and an unusual man from Canada who was administering the substance to Aldous Huxley and others. Stolaroff was skeptical, but then one day in 1956 he looked up from his desk at Ampex to see Hubbard standing in the doorway.

Several weeks later, Stolaroff took 66 micrograms (a moderately heavy dose) of LSD-25 in Hubbard's Vancouver apartment that had been manufactured by Sandoz, the Swiss firm where biochemist Albert Hoffman had stumbled upon the drug's psychoactive properties in 1943.

Stolaroff found his first trip to be a deeply religious event that took him far into his own unconscious mind and he returned to California an LSD zealot. He soon founded the International Foundation for Advanced Study and over the next several years led several hundred people, including Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and 30 or so other young engineers in what came to be known as Silicon Valley, on trips closely supervised by experienced therapists.

The engineer was well aware of the dangers of LSD and was horrified when Leary
founded IFIF.

"It will wreak havoc on all of us doing LSD work all over the nation," Stolaroff correctly predicted in a letter to Leary. "The medical profession in this country has had these materials available for years. Yet outside of the Canadian groups, and a very few individuals in this country, no one has really learned how to use these materials and get the benefits from them in spite of years of trying. Tim, I am convinced you are heading for very serious trouble if your plan goes ahead as you have described it to me."

"In 1961," Leary's wrote of his master plan in High Priest, one of his two autobiographies,
"we estimated that 25,000 Americans had turned on to the strong psychedelics . . . at that rate of cellular growth we expected by 1967 a million Americans would be using LSD. We calculated that the critical figure for blowing the mind of the American society would be four million LSD users and this would happen by 1969."

After Leary and his IFIF cadre were kicked out of Mexico and two Caribbean nations they landed at Millbrook, a huge estate in Dutchess County in upstate New York.

Millbrook was many things, but to consider it an ashram as many IFIF adherents did is misleading insofar that the leader of a typical ashram doesn't ride around on a horse painted blue on one side and pink on the other and brag about screwing every woman who comes through the door, including his future second wife. Then there were the gold painted ceilings, mandala filled walls and antique furniture with the legs cut off so the residents could live on the floor.

The IFIF spun its wheels, beginning many experiments and programs but finishing none, before succumbing a year later. Out of its ashes rose Leary's next ego
trip, an organization called Castalia that was to set up shop on a tropical island a la Huxley's Island, a utopian counterpoint to Brave New World where a drug he called soma was used for enlightenment.

The name Castalia came from Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game. The IFIF crowd was convinced that the German author was a psychedelic adept from an earlier age who had succeeded where Huxley had failed in that his books were accounts
of the internal drama of the psyche.

The Millbrook era ended with a bang in April 1966 with a raid by a law enforcement team led by former FBI agent and future Nixon White House Plumbers unit operative G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate scandal fame, whom in but one of many bizarre plot twists in Leary's life was to become a friend who 15 years later would go on a national speaking tour with him.

Undeterred, of course, in September 1966 Leary segued to his next ego trip and created the League for Spiritual Discovery, a religion declaring LSD as a holy sacrament. The league also was, in part, an attempt to maintain legal status for the use of the drug, which was outlawed the following month.

Leary was arrested nine more times over the next two years, and while his craving for attention would not diminish until he drew his last breath in 1996 at age 75, he spent much of his last three decades dodging the law and doing prison time.

It is hard to tell whether Timothy Leary ever understood his role in outlawing a drug that he tirelessly advocated and ingested, but he carried some sense of irony into his dotage, so he probably did, although the Sixties certainly ended with a whimper and not a day glo bang.

Writes Stevens: "And so the psychedelic movement ground to a close. The drugs were still available, more so than ever, but it was a rare person who took them to push the envelope. For the kids, a trip to the Other World was like a trip to Disneyland, lots of scary rides and laughs, but no wisdom.

"Kesey, Owsley, IFIF, the Acid Tests, Castalia, the Trips Festival, the Harvard Psilocybin Project, the Be-In -- it had receded into memory so fast it was almost as if it had happened to an older brother, or an uncle, or maybe they'd read about it in some book or magazine -- it didn't seem real. Had they really thought they could transform Uncle Sam into the Buddha? The fact was, the good times were too painful to talk about because they always led to the bad times, to all the people who had been left behind, either burned out or in prison or on the run or irrevocably lost. . . "


PHOTOGRAPHS (From top): Timothy Leary (left) with Neil Cassady at Millbrook (1964); Aldous Huxley; Allen Ginsberg; Timothy Leary (ca. 1962); Richard Alpert (later Baba Ram Das); Ralph Metzner; Leary (ca. 1966); Al Hubbard; Ken Kesey; Martin Stolaroff; Hermann Hesse; Leary escorted by drug agents after 1966 Millbrook raid; Hermann Hesse; Leary and fourth wife Rosemary.

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Michael Ramirez/Investors Business Daily

Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010)

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LIBRARY OF PRAYER BOOKS
(Ladakh, India)
By Linda Connor
Hat tip to Woods' Lot

Monday, November 29, 2010

The New Cyberia: In Which Brains Are Rewired One Text Message At A Time

As I write this, the brains of the people around us who are addicted to text messaging -- and there are millions of them -- are slowly but inextricably being rewired. Their ability to focus on the task before them, whether something as mundane as preparing breakfast or something as serious as driving on a busy highway at 65 miles an hour -- is compromised by their compulsion to text.

This New Cyberia is on view whenever classes change at the university where I work. From my midday perch on the front steps of the main library, I can look out at the campus green and perhaps five hundred students at a glance, at least half of whom are texting.

Two years ago, the number would have been perhaps 10 percent, a year ago perhaps 20 percent, but so quickly has the addiction to texting grown that these students apparently no longer think that being prepared for their next class or a meeting with a faculty adviser is necessary as they traverse the green. It's "Did Buffy get back to me?" "Will Fred be at the fraternity rush?" "Did Mom get my text message about dropping Dad off my Guccis?"

What are we to expect from a generation that is going out into the world wedded to their smart phones, and Face Book, Twitter and email accounts?

For openers, a kind of "communication" that is deeply impersonal in a world already growing increasingly so, one in which dates are made and relationships ended with keystrokes and not face to face. For another, faux scholarship based not on using primary resources, but through Googling and YouTubing. For yet another, a world view based less on personal experience and interpersonal communication than the trill of a cell phone text message prompt.

While neurologists are just beginning to understand how the brains of up and coming generations are being altered, the Rubicon
was long ago crossed that is filling classrooms, study halls, bedrooms and seemingly every other nook and cranny of our lives with technologies that are supposed to make our lives better, but too often create the impression of doing something when you're doing nothing.

There is no going back. And while the world certainly will be a different place, it is difficult to see how it will be a better one.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Laurie 'Bambi' Bembeneck (1958-2010)

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WALKTHROUGH
By Jaka

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pass (Or Throw) The Cranberry Sauce

(Published in one form or another every Turkey Day week)
Without going off the deep end, I gotta tell you that this famous Norman Rockwell painting -- like Thanksgiving itself -- leaves me feeling conflicted.

On the one hand, it brings back fond memories of when my family -- grandmothers, aunts, uncles and sundry nieces and nephews -- lived close by and we would have big feasts like this one. In fact, the woman putting the turkey on the table looks a lot like Nana, my father's mother. (That's Rockwell himself in the lower left-hand corner.)

On the other hand, there is a bitter irony in the painting. Its title is "Freedom From Want" and is from Rockwell's famous Four Freedoms series, which also includes "Freedom of Speech," "Freedom of Every Person to Worship in His Own Way" and "Freedom From Fear."

Hallowed concepts all, but a little tattered, no?

When I was looking for an image to post, I found several with Pilgrim-Indian themes, but realized how hypocritical it would be to use any of them. The Pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious prosecution, made nice for about five minutes and then began the slaughter of Native Americans that continues today in more subtle ways.

Far be it from me to tell American visitors to Kiko's House how they should celebrate the holiday. Feel no guilt when you join millions of other people to shop at the mall this weekend or watch football. As it is, the DF&C and I try to keep it simple and view the holiday as a version of the harvest rituals practiced for millennia.

Just do me a favor: If someone tells you how proud they are to be an American this Thanksgiving, ask them if they voted for Republicans simply because they weren't Democrats. If they did, have the cranberry sauce passed to you and throw it at them.

Cartoon du Jour

Michael Ramirez/Investors Business Daily

Bittersweet Photograph du Jour

Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division share a Thanksgiving prayer before being served dinner at Forward Operating Base Airborne in Afghanistan.

Photograph by Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chris Christie Is A Big Fat Idiot

When last we visited Chris Christie, he was putting a stake through the heart of a desperately needed rail tunnel to Manhattan, the largest of a series of so-called cost-cutting measures that have made the porcine New Jersey governor a hero of the fiscal Scrooges of the right-wing.

But back in the Garden State, the view is rather different.

New Jersey is the most populous state and its northernmost counties among the most affluent. But despite having one of the heaviest income and property tax loads anywhere, the state has been in the fiscal doldrums for years, its schools are failing and its infrastructure collapsing. Jim Florio, the last governor who tried to raise taxes, was unceremoniously booted out of office in 1994 after one term. His successor, Christine Todd Whitman, was the last Republican in the statehouse until Christie's election last year.

Not surprisingly, Christie talks out of both sides of his mouth when it come to dishing out the pain.

Millionaires, for example, have been unscathed while public schools have been stripped of resources and personnel. The state lost federal matching funds for family planning because of a Christie veto, a precious $400 million was lost because of a bungled application for Race to the Top education money, and $60 million to weatherize homes evaporated.

Meanwhile, the state has had to return $271 million to the feds because of the canceled rail tunnel project, as good an example of Penny Wise Pound Foolish to come down the pike in some time. (Okay, Christie hasn't asked anyone to sell their kidneys.)

As anyone who has driven or taken a train into Manhattan from North Jersey knows, the region’s transportation infrastructure is stretched to the breaking point. Some 270,000 people make the commute each weekday and the region desperately needs a third rail tunnel under the Hudson River because Amtrak and regional trains are full during rush hours and the two existing tunnels, one of them a century old, are at capacity.

A new tunnel would have provided room for 70,000 more commuters, but would come at a hefty price: $8.7 billion with the feds, New York and New Jersey each contributing about $3 billion, but New Jersey would be saddled with cost overruns because the tunnel would mostly benefit Garden State commuters.

All that noted, the project would have created 6,000 construction jobs, as well as provide a much needed alternative if one or both of the existing tunnels would have to be shut down. It also would have positioned the region for future growth, and by one estimate, would have lead to the creation of 40,000 permanent jobs.

Christie probably could have saved the project by raising New Jersey's ridiculously low gasoline tax, which at 14.5 percent per gallon is the third lowest in the U.S. and hasn't been increased since 1988. But that would be political suicide, and the guv sure isn't willing to shoulder any of the pain that he is so cavalierly inflicting on others.

Meanwhile, Christie has continued his spendthrift ways as governor.

He regularly exceeded his travel budget while the top federal lawman in New Jersey, and has arrived this fall at football games at the University of Delaware, his alma mater and mine, in a four-vehicle motorcade with police motorcycle escorts. By comparison, some guy by the name of Joe Biden, who also went to Delaware, shows up in a single vehicle with two or three Secret Service dudes.

As The New York Times noted in an editorial, at least New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg "is thinking big about the region’s economic future."

His transit gurus are proposing an alternative tunnel at a mere $5.3 billion as an extension of the city's subway system into New Jersey. The deep discount is because much of the drilling for such a subway tunnel is already underway in Manhattan's Far West Side.

No word yet from Christie on whether he'll get on board.

Cartoon du Jour

Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

Chalmers Johnson (1931-2010)

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BOY RUNNING WITH A DOG
By Cesar Bermudez

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Science Sunday: Old Bones, New Theories

The eminent entomologist Edward O. Wilson writes in his seminal The Diversity of Life that the first rule of the history of science is that when a big, new idea is proposed, an army of critics soon gather and try to tear it down.

Such is the case in one of the more fascinating debates now raging in the halls of anthropology: When did our human ancestors begin to use tools?

The focus of the debate are the animal bones with slash marks shown in the images above. They were recovered from Dikitka, Ethiopia and studied by a team led by Paleolithic archaeologist Shannon McPherron, who believes that the marks are the handiwork of stone tools wielded by prehistoric hunters at least 3.39 million years ago, some 800,000 years before the earliest estimates of tool use.

Tha
t predates the emergence of modern humans, which means that the tool-users probably belong to one of our ancestral species such as the famous Lucy.

McPherron's findings, published earlier this year, prompted the inevitable rebuttal, in this case by another team led by another Paleolithic archaeologist, Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo.

This team argues that similar cuts can be produced when bones are gnawed by animals, trampled into rough ground, or even eroded by plants and fungi, and they conclude that trampling was the cause of the Dikika bones.

But McPherron stands by his work.

He says that he ruled
out alternative explanations such as trampling in his original paper on the bones and that Dominguez-Rodrigo hasn't examined the original specimens and his criticism is based solely on the photos in a paper that McPherron wrote for Nature.

McPherron also points out that two of the most compelling marks -- known as A1 and A2 -- are clearly not caused by trampling, and Dominguez-Rodrigo agrees. He writes that the marks are "compelling in their similarity to verified cut marks created by stone tools."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Palins Poison Yet Another Well

I wouldn't watch ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" is you paid me a million bucks, but plenty of people do for free every week. But some if not a goodly number of them are hopping mad because Bristol Palin, daughter of the former half-term Alaska governor and presidential wannabe, keeps getting votes to keep dancing despite the fact that she is a no-talent hack with two left feet. (Or so I'm told.)

So who are the voters keeping Bristol on DWTS? Sarah Palin sycophants who found away to jigger ABC's online voting system and voted, in some cases, hundreds of times for the little darling.

This has put ABC in . . . uh, a deliciously awkward position. It put Bristol on the show as a rating booster probably never expecting that she last beyond a single episode. Now the network's message boards are lighting up with people who have been hoodwinked and are threatening to never watch DWTS again. And one guy got so mad that he shot his television.

Serves 'em right.

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Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

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FALLING BRILLIANTLY
By Pedro Moura Pinheiro

Friday, November 19, 2010

This Just In: The System Still Works

Justice can be rendered calmly, deliberately and fairly by ordinary people, people who are not beholden to any government, even this one.
~ LEWIS KAPLAN
Those were the closing words of the federal district judge as he thanked the jury that on Wednesday acquitted the first Guantánamo Bay detainee to be tried in a civilian court of all charges but one, a conspiracy rap that nevertheless will probably keep Ahmed Ghailani behind bars for the rest of his life.

Much of the crucial evidence against the U.S. embassy bomber had been thrown out because it was coerced through torture, a salient fact lost of Liz Cheney and other Bush Torture Regime apologists who were apoplectic over the razor-thin conviction and railed against the Obama administration for letting justice take its rightful course.

Senator Lindsay Graham spoke for the torch-and-pitchfork brigade in bemoaning the Ghailani trial.

"We put our nation at risk by criminalizing the war," he said without a hint of irony.

The irony, of course is that the justice system isn't broken, as the Grahams and Cheneys believe. Rather, the trial is proof that it works.

Sketch by Jane Rosenberg/New York Daily News

Get Ready For The Battle Of The Blues

If you're a fan of small(er) college football and live in the Northeast U.S., the game of the year will be played at noon on Saturday when the defending national champion Villanova University Wildcats meet the five-time national champion University of Delaware Blue Hens.

While Villanova is best known for its legendary basketball and track teams, Delaware has set the standard in Football Championship Series (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) football for decades, as well as been a factory for pro quarterbacks, among them Super Bowl MVP Rich Gannon of the Oakland Raiders and Joe Flacco (photo below), who was taken by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2008 draft and is having a sensational third season. Meanwhile, Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin is expected to go high in next year's draft.

Delaware is 9-1 overall and 6-1 in Colonial Athletic Conference play, while Villanova is an atypical 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the CAA, which is by far the toughest conference in the FCS.

How tough? No fewer than six of the 10 CAA teams have been in the top 25 in national polls all season, and Delaware and three other CAA teams will qualify for the 20-team post season tournament, which unlike major colleges will not end in a flurry of overhyped, commercial-sodden and largely meaningless bowls with a computer-picked national champion, but real playoffs with a national champion who earns the title.

Delaware, not coincidentally my alma mater and employer, is favored by a touchdown.

The game is available for most Comcast and Verizon Fios subscribers, as well as on some satellite networks. It is not available for the chumps who are stuck with Cablevision. Post-season tournament games will be broadcast on the ESPNs.

ABOUT THAT WINGED HELMET

That's not the University of Michigan Wolverines coming out the tunnel in the photo above, but rather the Delaware Blue Hens. Both wear identical so-called winged helmets of blue and gold, arguably the most recognizable helmet in the college game.

The history of the winged helmet began at Princeton University in 1931 when legendary coach Herbert O. "Fritz" Crisler added the wing design, believing it made it easier for his quarterbacks to connect with pass receivers. Crisler moved on to Michigan and introduced the helmet there. Among his disciples was Dave Nelson, who was to go on to be a legendary coach himself and father of the Delaware Wing T offense.

Nelson took the helmet design with him to the University of Maine and then to Delaware. Meanwhile, Princeton football teams still wear a contemporary version of the winged helmet in black and orange, while several NCAA Division II schools and junior colleges also wear them in various color combinations.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Target (2008-2010)

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Indian Muslims attend morning prayers to mark the start of Eid al-Adha among the ruins of the Feroz Shah Kotla mosque in Delhi.

Photograph by Kevin Frayer/The Associated Press

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tea Partiers Eat Crow As General Motors Becomes The New Wall Street Darling

This [GM bailout] is somewhere in between Baghdad and fixing the flood in Louisiana. Obama has decided to take this over. He now owns it.
~ GROVER NORQUIST
I was all over the place on the Obama administration's decision to bail out General Motors because the executives who had thunk up the years of butt-ugly, rust-prone and unreliable crapmobiles that had pushed the once mightiest automaker to the brink of insolvency did not deserve a cent of my money. Or yours. But I eventually decided that the workers who made those cars didn't deserve to be thrown out into the cold, anti-union Republican rhetoric notwithstanding, nor could the Rust Belt stand another belly blow.

And so 16 months after Obama took over ownership of the General's shaky future, GM is the new Wall Street darling with an initial public offering expected to raise at least $16 billion.

But while tens of thousands of assembly line workers will be celebrating, the IPO is a bittersweet turn of events. This is because while you and I have recouped about $7 billion of the $49 billion bailout from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, will get back billions more in the coming months and make billions in interest on those billions, the entirety of the original bailout will never be repaid.

Although GM sales are way up, its product line is dramatically improved after it took the ax to several of its redundant model lines and it is the leading automaker in China, the world's biggest emerging market, the automaker has still has not completely turned the corner. But I too will be celebrating as Tea Partiers, Grover Norquist and their no-bailout ilk chow down on a big plate of crow.

The TSA Airport Debacle: In Which White People Suddenly Care About Civil Rights

The old saying that "Getting there is half the fun" went out with the advent of widespread commercial aviation. There was nothing fun about chronically late departures and arrivals, inadequate airport parking, cramming into a jetliner seat with no legroom and being fed abominable meals that tasted like cardboard.

Then came the chaotic response to the 9/11 attacks and creation of a bureaucratic sieve known as the Transportation Safety Agency that was supposed to be the first line of defense against terrorist attacks.

Over the nearly 10 years since that awful day, the TSA has proven itself time and again to be borderline competent and resolutely tone-deaf to passenger complaints. And it is now feeling the fury of frequent flying latter-day civil libertarians who are forced to choose between being irradiated through full-body scans (using machines that TSA employees at one airport call "dick-measuring devices") or having their genitals groped and, in one documented case, a woman's breast being exposed.

It is, of course, bitterly ironic that civil rights suddenly seem to matter an awful lot when the supposed victims are white businessmen, innocent white children and gorgeous women like the DF&C and her Australian girlfriend, who will opt to be felt up rather than irradiated when they board flights at Philadelphia International and New York Laguardia for a Thanksgiving holiday rendezvous in Miami Beach.

While I don't like the idea of my girlfriend and her friend being felt up, I suggest that it's time to take a deep breath -- or better still several deep breaths -- before considering the following:

Nearly 3,000 people had a very bad day on September 11, 2001 and their loved ones haven't had a good day since. Is being inconvenienced pre-flight in the service of increased security really too much too ask? And if it is, what alternatives are there that still offer a modicum of security?

Click here and go to the comments sectionfor an interesting, if somewhat politicized, discussion.

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Allan Sandage (1926-2010)

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I'LL WAIT FOR YOU
By KaliAkra

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Democrats' Liberal Malaise

I am proudly and fiercely liberal, the son and grandson of FDR Democrats who believed that no problem or social issue was too big to be solved. But implicit in that belief was that no problem or social issue was too big to be funded by Washington, and that simply is no longer the case in the new millennium, let alone with a lingering hangover from a deep recession gifted the Obama administration.

Problem is, although the White House finally seems to be getting the message, key liberal Democrats aren't.

There would seem to be a sizable dollop of hypocrisy in my point of view since I not only supported health-care reform, but believe the package that squeaked through Congress earlier this year did not go far enough. As it is, the added burden of HCR on the federal budget is more than made up for in the myriad ways it will begin to fix a dysfunctional health-care system and help the nation's millions of uninsured and underinsured in coming years, which in the long term is vital to an economic recovery.

Anyhow, the skinned cat howls from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her liberal fire brigade in reaction to the Simpson-Bowles proposals to return Washington to a semblance of solvency tell us all we need to know about their mindset.

Hey, I plan to max out my Social Security bennies by working until I'm 67 1/2 and probably am old enough to escape any big changes, should they be enacted. But I also recognize that the time has come to make the system more progressive, not the least because people are living longer. Simpson-Bowles does just that by decreasing SS benefits for the poor and decreasing them for the rich.

And if you're a liberal, what's not to like about a proposal that cuts defense spending while lowering taxes on the poor and protecting education funding?

The Republicans aren't getting a pass on any of this, and too many of them nurse senses of grievance greater than senses of the responsibilities of governance while continuing to act like they would prefer a government shutdown to jobs creation.

Yes, I know that it's Pelosi's job to rally liberals (and protect her own turf) in the wake of the Democrats' mid-term debacle. But somebody needs to break it to Madame Former Speaker that Simpson-Bowles doesn't roll back current spending as much as it limits spending in the future. It's not a blueprint for smaller government, but rather for saner government.


That's not just a good thing, it's a necessary thing.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Torture: Justice Is (Sort Of) Done

I'm not in the habit of praising the Brits, because their government also is going to hell in a hand basket, albeit not in the grand style of the U.S.

But it does get props for doing what the Obama administration has gone out of its way to not do: Try to make whole the citizens and others who sued the old Labor government for its complicity in American-led rendition and torture. One victim will reportedly receive $1.5 million.


More here.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You Know That Society Is Doomed . . .

When a wealthy fund manager avoids felony charges after running over a cyclist and fleeing the scene because the DA says the charges would be bad for the fund manager's business.

When a city bans the sale of Happy Meals.

When voters in one of the most conservative states feel it is necessary to prohibit their judges from using Sharia law.

When employers fire employees for testing positive for legally prescribed drugs.

When police use a Taser on a jogger wearing nothing but swimming goggles.

When we still have Dick Cheney to kick around.

When a bank robber offers to pay bystanders $1,000 for a getaway ride.

When a male shoplifter walks out of a store wearing stolen high heels.

When Campell's markets a line of halal-certified soups for Muslims.

When school snow days are no longer snow days.

When a man calls police to report that marijuana he bought tastes "nasty."

When a man dressed as Jesus is kicked out of church.

When a teen armed with a bottle of salad dressing tries to rob a store.

When a candidate for the U.S. Senate has his own private militia.

When a man wearing a Breathalyzer Halloween costumed is busted for drunk driving.

When 95 percent of Americans don't know that they got a tax cut.

When a strip-club customer is awarded $650,000 after being hit with a platform shoe with a metal heel.

When a man is charged with the sexual abuse of a miniature horse.

When a man waterboards his girlfriend in an attempt to find out if she's been cheating.

When a town council is accused of taking a leap toward socialism when it votes to hire a single trash collector and institute curbside recycling.

Click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for previous installments of You Know Society Is Doomed.

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Getting On The Shooting Brake Bandwagon

A Shooting Break is a three-door automobile body style with a squared-off rear, typically with a liftgate. The term term originated with custom built 2-door luxury estate cars (station wagons) altered for use by (wealthy) hunters and other sportsmen. Now Mercedes Benz plans to manufacture its Shooting Brake Concept, while Infiniti is pondering its own edition.

More here and here.