Archive for June, 2013

Lessons for Today From Anne Braden

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

When we think of prisons the images that usually come to mind are of barred cells, armed guards, and barbed wire. But Anne Braden, who devoted her life to the causes of civil rights and social justice, offered another perspective. Braden, who died in 2006 at age 82, observed that society builds prisons around people. She said she was born privileged in a class society and white in a racist society. And it was hard to break out of those prisons.

“The hardest thing was class,” she said. “I don’t know that I ever could have broken out of what I call the race prison if I hadn’t dealt with class.” The comment appeared in an article I read recently but it was the sentence that followed that really hit home as a reflection of life in the United States today. “It’s that assumption that is so embedded in you that you don’t realize it’s there—that your crowd is supposed to be running things.”

That was surely Mitt Romney’s assumption and that of those who paid $50,000 for dinner to hear his infamous “47 percent” speech deriding government “entitlements.” What other explanation can there be for the vehement opposition of millionaires to a modest increase in the minimum wage? It explains how people like Charles Krauthammer and Fox News (sic) commentators can ask what all the fuss was about when speaking of the sequester. They simply don’t know anyone affected by it.

And now that the Voting Rights Act has been gutted by the Supreme Court of the United States, it is how they can proclaim that racism is a thing of the past. We have a Black president don’t we? In reality the provisions of the Voting Rights Act should have been extended to include states it had not covered before (i.e., all states in which voter suppression plans were authorized by state and local legislatures). Again, words spoken by Anne Braden in 1980 ring true: “The real danger comes from people in high places, from the halls of Congress to the boardrooms of our big corporations, who tell white people that if their paychecks are eaten up by taxes it’s not because of our bloated military budget but because of government programs that benefit black people. If young whites are unemployed, it’s because blacks are getting all the jobs. Our problem is the people in power who are creating a scapegoat mentality. That is what is creating the danger of a fascist movement in America.” Today the scapegoat mentality has expanded to fuel right-wing extremist organizations and armed militias targeting undocumented immigrants.

Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 1,360 right-wing militias and anti-government groups, an eight-fold increase over 2008, when it recorded 149 such groups. The explosive growth that began in 2008 was sparked by the election of President Obama and anger about the poor economy, according to a report issued earlier this year by the center. And that growth is likely to continue as the groups recruit more members with a pro-gun message, the center’s senior fellow Mark Potok told USA Today.

“This country was built on white supremacy,” Anne Braden said in 2004, explaining that she prefers using the term “white supremacy” to “racism” because “it’s more what we really mean—you don’t have to get into endless arguments about whether Blacks can be racist.” And if you understand that the original wealth of this country came from slavery and the slave trade itself was based on the assumption of white supremacy, you can see how white supremacy was “built into the institutions, including the courts, from the beginning.”

“Anne pointed out that as long as race could be used to get a majority of white Americans to oppose efforts for a more just society, there will be no hope of ending poverty, homelessness, environmental destruction, inequality, or of making the kind of transformative change imperative if democracy is to be real in our nation,” wrote Janet Tucker in a review of Anne Braden: Southern Patriot, a documentary film about Braden’s life. Southern Patriot was the name of the newspaper Anne edited during the many years she and her husband Carl worked for the Southern Conference Educational Fund.

The Bradens are probably best known for a 1954 incident in which they purchased a house in an all-white neighborhood of Louisville and, in a pre-arranged transaction resold it to a black family. A cross was burned on the lawn, the house was bombed, and the buyer, Andrew Wade, decided to move his young family out of the house because of fear for their safety. Instead of going after the whites who planted the bomb, the Bradens were tried—and Carl jailed—on charges of sedition, attempting to overthrow the government of Kentucky. The conviction was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Anne encouraged white Americans to become active in the civil rights movement but not simply as “something we’re called on to help people of color with. We need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it because, in truth, they do.” Many, however, still need to break out of their prisons.

Michael can be reached at

Scalia Strikes Again

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Well, of course Antonin Scalia dissented in The Decision this week as the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and basically informed gay men and women that this really is one nation after all. Anyone who was surprised by Scalia’s vote was fooling himself.

For me, it was another Scalia moment that came to mind, the case in 2003 when the Supreme Court struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law that had been on the books for years and practically never enforced. The court essentially ruled that what happens in a bedroom between consenting adults is nobody’s business but their own.

At the time of the Texas case, the dissenting Scalia expressed great fear for the nation. He said, “The court has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.”

What agenda did Scalia have in mind? Was it the one in which gay people vow they will not tolerate the crucifixion of young gay men on frontier fences in Wyoming, the tortured end of Matthew Shepard in 1998?

Was it the one in which gay men and women say they will no longer accept being treated as semi-citizens?

Or was it the agenda in which they demand the right to marry their person of choice – just as Scalia did when he wed Maureen McCarthy in 1960.

Could it have been the agenda that notes the presence of gay people in the military and their objection to being kicked out because of sexual orientation?

Or was it the agenda that has as its basis a demand for strict interpretation of the 14th amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” It goes on to declare that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Equal protection; I could have sworn every judge from the Supremes down to traffic court knew the meaning of that.

Anything wrong with these agendas?

When we speak of Scalia, we speak of a judge who coined an ear-catching phrase a decade or so ago – “homosexual sodomy” – and has been riding it ever since. This is a judge who said that outlawing “homosexual sodomy” is “a no-brainer” when he must know somewhere in his soul that outlawing sex between men, women or a combination isn’t possible. Scalia may be unhappy that he has no control over this but it doesn’t matter. Government cannot outlaw that which nature has sanctioned.

“For 200 years, ‘homosexual sodomy’ was criminal in every state,” Scalia said last year as if to suggest that made the criminalization acceptable.

He forgot to mention that slavery became illegal 78 years after the Constitution was ratified. Did that make America’s 78 years of slavery acceptable?

But enough of Scalia. Let good people throughout the land raise a toast to the members of the court who did the right thing.

The Game’s Rigged; Revolution Time

Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Eric Snowden ... traitor or planned distraction?

Edward Snowden … traitor or planned distraction?

By Bob Gaydos

Edward Snowden, currently on the run and accused of being a spy, did more than reveal how much snooping our government does on its own citizens. For me, he provided a smack upside the head and a wakeup call to something I’ve believed for a long time but, being a bit lazy and self-absorbed, had dispatched to a dusty, unexercised corner of my brain.

To wit: The game is rigged. Put another way: “Dysfunction” has a function.

Consider this: With Congress’ approval rating at historic lows, with Republicans rejecting out of hand every proposal put forth by Democratic President Barack Obama, with a Democrat-controlled Senate unable to pass meaningful legislation because of archaic filibuster rules used by Republicans, with both major political parties staking out rigid positions on opposite sides of every issue, what is the one thing on which Republicans and Democrats suddenly agree? That Edward Snowden is a traitor.

That is the Edward Snowden who blew the whistle on the most sweeping, secret domestic spying operation ever conducted by an American government on its people. It is an invasion of privacy condoned — and now vigorously defended — by both political parties as necessary for the security of the people being spied upon. Yes, the politicians also read George Orwell. But they’ve been caught with their “bad-is-good” pants down and have demonstrated that, when their power is in jeopardy, they can find true harmony. All together now: Snowden is a traitor.

The threat to the power brokers, of course, is that a lot of Americans will awaken from their self-absorbed delusion that their elected representatives are actually trying to do something positive for their constituents, as opposed to the reality they are doing whatever is necessary to maintain their membership in the power elite. That’s the 1 percent who reap the fruits of the manufactured dysfunction.

Look at it this way: Democrats talk about jobs, immigration, education, the minimum wage, etc. Republicans talk about abortion, guns, rape, gay marriage, etc. The parties bicker and banter and do next to nothing about any of those issues. Dysfunction. Or so it seems.

But they also ignore issues that would actually fix much of the apparent dysfunction — campaign finance reform and revising the filibuster rules, for two.

It’s planned dysfunction. You keep your talking points; we’ll keep ours. We’ll all get re-elected anyway or, if not, move on to even more-lucrative lobbying jobs, book tours, top corporate positions or TV punditry. Rigged.

And it’s not just Congress. Having plunged the world into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, American banks and investment firms (which used to be separate entities) are now reaping the profits of their plundering of other people’s wealth, thanks to a government bailout and the failure of the political powers that be — who reap substantial campaign contributions from these financial institutions — to send any of the bankers to jail.

In the sequel to “Wall Street,” arch-villain Gordon Gekko says he was convicted of a “victimless crime,” as if no lives are negatively affected when companies go under because of shady, immoral behavior by financial companies.

At least Gekko went to prison for his misdeeds. But then, that was in the movies and even his creator, Oliver Stone, tries to find some redeeming traits in his main character in the sequel. Meanwhile, in real life, no one can make any money today putting money in banks and, as Gekko also points out in the sequel, the task of investing money in the stock markets, where profits may be made, has been made so complex, only “about 75 people in the world understand it.”

That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. Most of us need to trust the very people who have proven to be untrustworthy with our money to make investments.

There are other dots to connect, but for now I’ll limit it to major corporations that move top executives to influential government positions and back again, getting laws written to their liking (often by their own former employees), usually without a whimper from members of Congress. Think Monsanto and Halliburton.

Corporations pour tens of millions of dollars into political campaigns hoping to elect candidates who will then return the favor by promoting legislation that will improve corporate profits or opposing proposals placing restrictions on corporate power. The latter would include the public’s right to sue and to obtain information on corporate practices. This is serving the private, not the public, good. It’s part of the system.

Now, this rigging did not occur in a vacuum. There had to be at least an implicit acknowledgement from the rest of us that what the people to whom we had entrusted power and position was doing was right and proper for all of us. That may have simply come in the form of apathy or blissful ignorance. Don’t bother to vote. Don’t try to understand the issues. Hey, life is already too busy and complicated without such things.

But not for those whose motivation is accumulating more wealth and power. For them, an important part of the rigged system is making it seem so complicated and out of our control that it is impossible to change. That’s not necessarily true. There are people, even politicians, who recognize that things have been rigged for a powerful elite and who speak out regularly about it. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Jim Moran are three of the most outspoken. They need allies and support, vocal and financial.

So do the Internet activists campaigning for campaign finance reform and greater transparency in government and Wall Street. These are not obscure issues that don’t impact us. Indeed, they are crucial to ending the grip of the 1 percent on our national wealth and positions of power.

There are some simple steps that can be taken by individuals, groups, towns to begin to reclaim some control over our lives. Registering to vote and actually voting is a start. Getting informed on the issues that matter and working to raise awareness (think the Occupy movement and social media) is another. The movement to sustainability and buying locally grown food, as opposed to that offered by corporate growers, are not just “feel-good” green ideas. Like using alternative energy, they challenge the influence of large corporations (and they don’t come more influential than oil companies) and give people some control over their lives. People have even started turning their lawns into vegetable gardens. Seattle is planning the nation’s first public food garden. Take a walk, pick an apple. Eat it.

Some of this may sound simplistic and even ineffectual in the face of such entrenched power and wealth, but all revolutions have to start somehow. And make no mistake, nothing less than an all-out revolution will serve to unrig the system and dislodge those who thrive within it. Some noise must be made. The alternative is to do what many of us have been doing for a long time — complain that “they’re all crooked, so what’s the use?”

Some people are comparing Edward Snowden to Paul Revere. I won’t go that far yet. There’s too much information still unknown (and yes, the mainstream media stands suspect as being part of the system). But I’m not ready to call Snowden a traitor either, not when Republicans and Democrats somehow manage to agree that he is. That smells too much like the fix is in.





Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 6/26/13

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013
African Gray Parrot

African Gray Parrot

By Carrie Jacobson

So how DOES one paint a parrot? Well, after dancing around the question for a long time, and being scared about trying, I finally just dove in, deciding to paint a parrot the way I paint everything else.


And this brings up an interesting question: Is it harder to paint some things than others? An artist I respect greatly told me that it was just nonsense to think that way. If you can paint a dog, she said, you can paint anything.


I am not so sure. I can paint a dog, but I can’t really paint, say, a Victorian mansion – at least not in any way that looks – to my eyes – like a Victorian mansion, with all that makes it Victorian and lovely.


The issue, at least to me, is one of detail and complexity, and my skill and interest in those aspects of painting. I’m just not interested in finding and taking on the most complicated thing I can paint. To a large degree, I’m interested in finding and taking on the most simple.


In my paintings, I am forever editing things out – windows, porches, chimneys, trees, bushes, telephone poles, collars, backgrounds, roads. I try to paint the simplest part of what is. The core of the thing, not the fancy edges.


Once, I tried to paint a falling-down mill building along a river in Rhode Island. I’d known the building when it was more or less whole, but by the time I painted it, the roof had fallen in, and parts of the building had disintegrated. My painting, to my eyes, was a failure. I painted what I saw – but what I had loved about the building, what had attracted me to it all those years ago, was its wholeness, its proud and simple stance at the very edge of the river. And that was no longer there.


So for me, I guess, at least now, I seek the iconic, the unchanging, the core. And in that regard, painting a parrot is much like painting a dog.

Sex and the G.O.P

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Who can forget the weird Todd Akin running for the Senate (loser) from Missouri as he declared during the never-ending debate on abortion: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

And who can forget Richard Mourdock, running for the Senate (loser) from Indiana with a new interpretation of the wishes of the Almighty: “. . . even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape…it is something that God intended to happen.” (Incidentally, I don’t think Mourdock ever answered the question: If a rape is intended by God, isn’t it a little presumptuous for ordinary humans to try the rapist in a criminal trial?)

Some candidates and office holders just never know to keep their mouths shut.

Nowadays, Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general of Virginia, is running for governor. Recently he came along with a position he held 10 years ago when he was in the state legislature. His bold initiative: It is time, he said, to reinstate the anti-sodomy laws, but he began with a false assumption.

“My view is that homosexual acts – not homosexuality, but homosexual acts – are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong,” he has said.

No question Cuccinelli can kiss the gay vote goodbye, but after that business about homosexual acts, he seems to forget that there’s another group of people out there who would be affected by enactment and enforcement of anti-sodomy laws. That would be the estimated 96 percent of the population who are not gay but who nevertheless might enjoy anal or oral sex.

Cuccinelli also conveniently forgets that 10 years ago, the Supreme Court found Texas’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional because it deprived some people of their rights to such constitutional guarantees as equal protection and due process.

In another remarkable lapse of memory, he fails to remember that the Supreme Court ruled in 1965 that government cannot and must not intrude itself into the bedrooms of Americans. It ruled so while striking down a Connecticut law that forbade the use of contraceptives. That law violated an American “right to marital privacy,” the court said.

Speaking of Texas, one of its congressional representatives, Michael Burgess, says that abortion should be outlawed because boy fetuses like to masturbate.

“Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful. They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?” Burgess said.

The question of an abortion’s inflicting pain on a fetus has been discussed for years but never proved one way or the other. And the question of whether those little in-utero guys manage to make themselves happy with a well-placed hand is just too bizarre.

And what of little girl fetuses? Surely their little hands occasionally wind up between their little legs, just like the little boys. Does that bring them a little pleasure? Or is Burgess telling us that girls are not part of his sexual pleasure-and-pain theorem?

Science is not on Burgess’ side. “We certainly can see a movement of a fetus during that time, but in terms of any knowledge about pleasure or pain – there are no data to assess,” Jeanne Conry, the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told U.S. News and World Report.

So where does Burgess, who identifies himself as a “former” obstetrician and gynecologist, get his information? From watching X-rated sonograms?

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 6/19/2013

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
Jilly!  Oil on canvas, 12x12, commission

Oil on canvas, 12×12, commission

By Carrie Jacobson

The hot afternoon had rolled into dusk, humidity kicking up in its wake. To the east, over the ocean, the solid gray sky had cracked in places, showing blue. But in the field beyond our yard, a line of heavy, tropical rain made its way toward us.
Peter called me, and we stood in the doorway and watched it head across the field. It approached as a grayish line, looking almost like a living thing – a herd of deer, a flock of geese. The torrents slammed and bounced off the ground, and we could hear it coming, and then in an instant, the rain was pounding on the doorstep, soaking us, soaking everything, and passing then just as fast.
Summer starts on Friday, but it felt to me that it rolled in with this downpour, sudden, tropical, refreshing.
ON TUESDAY, I had a fantastic opportunity to do a podcast with Connie Mettler, on Art Fair Insiders, a site that would interest any artist – or fair-goer. Connie had read about the “Tubac and Back” trip, and thought it was an interesting idea.
She invited me and a wonderful artist named Scott Coleman to talk about our other-than-art-show projects. Among Scott’s many ideas and achievements, he did a project that involved painting a cupcake a day (well, six a week) for a year.  They are just fantastic!
You can hear the podcast by clicking here. Here’s the actual link, too:–part-i-two-painters

A Call From the Gallup Poll

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

One day last week I was at my desk writing a medical news article on a tight deadline when the phone rang and I heard the non-human, monotonous voice that says who is calling announce, “Call from Gallup Poll.” I tried to ignore it but when I heard it repeated I couldn’t resist. Was it really the Gallup Poll calling to ask for my opinions? How could I pass up the chance to tell them how I feel about drones, Afghanistan, cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? Guantanamo? I’d say “Close it!” Immigration reform? “Yes and without punitive restrictions.” Minimum wage? ”Raise it.” Health care? “Single payer.” Obama? “Disappointing.”

So I picked up the phone and a woman who said her name was Samantha said she was calling from the Gallup Poll and may she please speak to the nearest person in the household over 18. “Wait,” I said. “Do you mean the person over 18 nearest in age to 18, or anyone in the house over 18?” Once we’d established it was the latter I said I would be glad to speak with her but I don’t have a lot of time because of my deadline. She said it would only take about 15 minutes. I said okay. And for the next half hour or so it went something like this:

SAMANTHA: What is your religion?

ME: That’s a tough one. I kind of doubt the existence of God so I’m inclined to say I’m agnostic. Is that an option?

SAMANTHA: Yes. So do you want to say agnostic?

ME: I don’t know. I’m agnostic but I’m Jewish even though I’m skeptical about God. I respect the ancestors. I’m observant in my own way.

SAMANTHA: Okay, so do you want to say Jewish?

ME: Yes.

SAMANTHA: Where you live do you feel safe when you walk alone at night?

ME: Well, we live in the country and when I walk the dog at night I worry about coyotes, rabid racoons and even black bears. One time there was a big one standing on its hind legs and pawing at our garbage can right when I went out with the dog. And also I’m from the city originally so a lot of the noises at night seem a little scary. But I think that question is really about feeling safe with regard to other people….so I’ll say yes.

SAMANTHA: Do you think conditions in the town or area you live are changing for the better or for the worse?

ME: Worse….because there’s too much development and a lot more traffic now than when we first moved up here.

SAMANTHA: Are you planning to move to a different location within the next few years?

ME: No. We love it here.

SAMANTHA: In the past 7 days, how many times have you exercised for at least 45 minutes?

ME: Geez, I don’t know.

SAMANTHA: Do you want to just take a guess?

ME: Okay, four times. I walk the dog a lot but I was out of town last week so I…..wait a minute! I did a lot of walking there around the convention center and the streets in Chicago. Put five times.

SAMANTHA: How many times in the past 7 days did you eat at least four servings of fresh fruits and vegetables?

ME: Man, I don’t know! Just say three.

And so it went, with questions about my personal health and whether I have health insurance coverage, and whether I worry about finances (I wanted to answer that one with a question of my own: “Is the Pope Catholic?”) She never asked my opinion about Guantanamo or the drones or any of the other things I wanted to talk about.

But it is the one question I asked her at the start that made me stay on the phone: “Do you earn more money if someone takes the survey when you call?” She said she doesn’t think she is supposed to answer that question. So even though I never got to give my opinions and I almost blew my deadline I was glad to help Samantha earn a few extra bucks at her job.

Michael can be reached at


Biceps, Triceps, Deltoids, Oh My!

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Lots of bench presses add up to actual muscle.

Lots of bench presses add up to actual muscle.

I have muscles today. Deltoids, triceps, biceps, gluteals, pectorals, etc. They’re actual muscles, not flabby facsimiles occupying the space where muscles are supposed to be, like it was in my last report.. The change is good. I like it. I feel … more solid I guess.

This renovation project began about nine months ago following a visit to a doctor, some talk about my high blood pressure, a lack of vitamins B12 and D and a suggestion to lose weight and get some exercise.

Since then, I have lost about 40 pounds, significantly altered my diet (adieu Big Mac and fries, bon jour Greek salad) and begun an exercise regimen that has progressed as I have.

Full disclosure. The “exercise” began as labored one-mile walks, some work on a stationary bike, struggles with light free weights and what passed for crunches (sit-ups for you old-timers). It was and remains crucial for me that I have a coach who is both understanding and demanding. She recognized my weaknesses and physical issues when I began (overweight and a fused right ankle, the result of a severe break) and today knows my strengths and tendencies (saying “I can’t” when I mean “I don’t know how”).

I could not do a pushup nine months ago. I lay flat on the floor on my face, embarrassed, when I failed to do just one at my coach’s request. Today, I can knock off 15 pretty much anytime and recently did seven sets of 15 during a two-hour workout session. Lots of struggling bench presses went into that.

But that’s not the half of it. There turns out to be a world of exercises, each aimed at different parts of the body. Now, I knew this before; I just didn’t pay much attention to it, which explains why my coach insisted on a full medical checkup before beginning this program. Within that world there are front crunches, side crunches and reverse crunches. There are squats (which require a seated adaptation for me because of my fused ankle), leg lifts, leg lowerings, hollow rocks, front planks, reverse planks and, oh my god, side planks.

The real challenges for me today are lunges and what for me is a sadistic exercise known as the Superman. The lunges — basically exaggerated front and back curtseys — are challenging because of my right ankle issue and nerve damage in my lower left leg. I kept falling over every time I tried one. My coach had me adapt. Do it slower; land on the ball of my foot for more solid footing; bring my body to the leg. I managed to do one forward. Then I managed to do one without wobbling. (Better balance has come along with greater strength and more controlled movement.)

Today, I can manage a few decent lunges and some so-so ones in a set of 10 forward lunges. This is good progress. Backward lunges remain more problematic, but again, doable even in my awkward style. And yes, today there are muscles in my behind that ache after a set of lunges. Coach says this is a good thing.

The Superman remains the challenge du jour. It requires lying on my stomach, arms forward a la Superman in flight, then lifting the front and rear portions of my body, leaving only the middle on the floor. I barely got front and back up for 20 seconds, but I learned something in the process: to get the muscles to do their job I needed to engage them, to flex them. Aha.

These workout sessions, which include a lot of stretching as well, go on. Currently, it’s twice a week with additional workouts possible. I do this because I do not want to be an overweight, falling-down old man. I am far from finished, but also far from where I was a short nine months ago. I need a new wardrobe to fit my new body, but that’s what is called a luxury problem. Because my health has improved with my weight loss and exercise, my doctor is weaning me off the blood pressure medications she prescribed. I like the way I look and feel.

This was not easy at first, although changing my eating habits to include more vegetables and fruits, much less sugar, salt, fat and meat was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I have discovered the delight of frozen Greek yogurt with fresh fruit. I do not starve myself.

The exercise was a slower draw, but once some results started to appear (using heavier weights, seeing actual muscles sprouting, my shoulders becoming wider than my hips), I was hooked. Not in a negative sense. I will never be Mr. Universe. (As coach delicately pointed out, I could never be even if I wanted to.) But I like feeling and being stronger, so I will continue.

Coincidentally (or maybe not) with this image makeover (I trimmed my hair and beard and got new eyeglass frames as well), I recently took an online narcissist test on PsychCentral. I scored 12, which I am told is an average score, with 20 being required for narcissism. But I did come up with a 2 on exhibitionism and a 3 on superiority, which may be something for me to look at in relation to this makeover and the apparent need to write about it.

Then again, I had a zero on vanity. This suggests to me that, not only is my body stronger and in better balance, but my mind, like my muscles, is still not over-inflated. And so I will continue.


Limbaugh, Rand Paul, the ACLU and Me

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

We’re just the people. We go to a job or look for one. We pay the bills. We fight the wars. We die in those wars. We’ve come to understand that the only time politicians care what we think is when there’s an election. We’re all V.I.P.s around election time.

Nowadays we have special significance ever since word got out that all our telephone records are routinely made available for scrutiny by the National Security Agency. This, it is clear, could cost votes and shorten political careers so for a while we will be taken seriously.

But usually, we’re just the people. We voted for Obama the first time because, after eight years of Bush, he was like a fresh wind blowing in. We were a little less enthusiastic the second time. And now, five months into Obama’s second term, we find ourselves aligned with Michael Moore and the ACLU, also with Glenn Beck, Rand Paul, and Rush Limbaugh on the question of government snooping into our telephoning history.

We find something dangerous and suspicious about the NSA making notes on who we call on the phone, when we call, what numbers we call, how long we speak. Yes, but government isn’t listening in on the conversation, we’re told by the very same government. That’s supposed to reassure us. But you don’t believe it, do you? Nor do I. 

I’ve been thinking about the words of the great Ma Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath” as she tells the son she loves: “Why, Tom – us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people – we go on.”

I wonder if Ma Joad was just dead wrong, and that eventually them people – with their demands for lower taxes, with their specious argument that government should be run like a business (like Enron maybe?), and with their willy-nilly interpretation of the Bill of Rights – will win the war against us people. If us people lose that war, the nation will have been transformed into something unrecognizable.

As has been noted again and again, the framers could not have imagined the United States of the 21st Century. Maybe not, but it’s important to remember that the protections of the Fourth Amendment will live as long as people take the Bill of Rights seriously and do not allow it to become the plaything of those who see nothing amiss with keeping track of your telephoning.

The words of the Fourth Amendment are complicated only to the people who wish they did not exist: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Obama swore to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution and yet, as the ultimate the boss of the NSA, he seems to have done little or nothing to keep us protected from the big nose of government sniffing our affairs. It is not overly dramatic to suggest that never has the Fourth Amendment – and the rest of the Bill of Rights for that matter – been in greater jeopardy than now.

I’m 29 years late, but Happy New Year 1984 anyway.

A Power Play in Turkey

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Protestors in Istanbul struggle with tear gas deployed on them by police.

By Bob Gaydos

The question of the week is: Why would someone who has an entire country to run — to plan a budget, promote economic and social health, maintain an army, deal with leaders of other countries — bother with eliminating the last remaining park space in a busy area of his county’s largest city?

The answer: Because he can. Or, more accurately, because he thinks he can, and, even more accurately, because he wants to and doesn’t think anyone else can stop him.

It is, simply, the allure of power, perhaps the most cunning and pervasive of all addictions. In my limited exposure to the human condition, which includes writing about addictions, I’ve noticed that few are immune from the euphoria of the perception of absolute power. Which, of course, does not exist. Nor, as far as I know, does a 12-step program for those addicted to it.

In Turkey, where the power play over a popular open space area in Istanbul erupted into days of public protests, the demonstration of government power included an extreme overreaction by police, including widespread use of tear gas, arrests and efforts to shut down social media sites on the Internet. These are typical 21st century reactions to civil disobedience, as demonstrators in the United States, home of free speech, have also discovered. Even people who supposedly understand the necessary limits on it often abuse what power they have. Such is the addiction — do not dare to disagree with me, or else.

As this is written, the conflict persists in Turkey, but the rest of the world is well aware of what is happening, as it was when similar protests erupted in Turkey’s neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, recently. The Turkish protests seem to fall into the “last straw” category. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected fair and square, so to speak, in a democratic election. He replaced a military government, which many Turks found to be oppressive. Be careful what you wish for.

Erdogan, who insists on putting a shopping mall and mosque in a popular open area dotted with restaurants and shops (an issue mayors usually deal with), has turned out to be as intractable and authoritarian in his rule as any military type. In fact, perhaps more so because he seems to believe that winning the most votes gives him the right to do whatever he pleases, no matter how many of his countrymen and women it displeases. Compromise with a different viewpoint is not part of his makeup, nor, as events in Egypt suggest, is it part of the understanding of governing of other Islamists. Democracy in its truest sense will likely be slow to come in the Middle East.

But there are two sides to the power equation. Those in power can only remain there as long as those out of power allow. Where power is seized by force, obviously, the resistance and determination to alter the equation takes longer to materialize and succeed. But a tipping point eventually does come and revolutions happen. Turkey may be headed there today. If so, the aid and encouragement of nations that have a better grasp on the just exercise of power should pressure Erdogan to loosen his grip and allow all Turks to express their views without fear of violent repercussions.

It takes physical courage to take to the streets against an oppressive government, to stand in front of a line of tanks, to tear down a wall, to occupy a park, to declare independence. But it’s not always necessary to take to the streets to overcome abuse of power. The human voice when summoned and combined into a chorus of dissent can be a powerful weapon.

Today, the Internet makes it possible to martial tens of thousands of voices rather quickly. Find a cause, find a message, find like-minded people. Does Monsanto, the ubiquitous source of the world’s genetically modified food, have too much power over how the food is grown and packaged? The Internet is awash with the voices of those who believe so and do not hesitate to tell their elected leaders how they feel. Threaten those in position of political power with loss of their power and they may actually hear you. Complain to your friends and do nothing and the power remains with Monsanto and its money. (Example of success: Connecticut recently became the first state to require labeling of GMOs.)

I do not mean to suggest it is easy to redraw the power equation, that there are not sometimes very real dangers in trying to do so. But I do know that those who have power, however they come by it, seldom give it up willingly. And, like all addictions, it inevitably gives those afflicted a skewed view of the world and their importance in it.

Solidarity with the people of Turkey.