Swans Commentary » swans.com January 3, 2005  



Blips #9
 From The Martian Desk


by Gilles d'Aymery





"A man can believe a considerable amount of rubbish, and yet go about his daily work in a rational and cheerful manner."
—Norman Douglas, An Almanac, 1945


(Swans - January 3, 2005)  THE COST OF GENEROSITY: We started with 10 million dollars, courtesy of the US government, toward the "relief" of the victims -- those still alive -- of the tsunamis that hit the coastlines of some 12 countries. Stung by the criticisms of our stinginess, we upped the ante to $35 mil, thus repeating the Haitian belly dance we did last year when even Venezuela was sending more real money than we had pledged (and rarely delivered) and the dreaded Cubans were dispatching doctors galore. I hear we now are willing to commit $350 million toward the alleviation of this tragedy. Great. Will anybody document the real disbursement of the US government over time? That I know, talk is cheap...and talk is a biggy on the news show -- but talk it is. Walk? Show me. Where's the beef?


WHAT'S SO ENRAGING is that this loss of life, which will grow due to lack of potable water, food, and raging diseases, could have been easily -- yes, easily -- prevented or at least drastically minimized. What was required to save lives was to put in place -- so to speak -- "tsunameters;" buoys that, at $250,000 a pop, would register the changes in the ocean's behavior and send alerts to the concerned parties (countries). We have them in the Northern Hemisphere. They, in the non-white boonies of the world, do not. My understanding (and I can be incorrect) is that what was required was some 20 or 30 of those buoys. So, we are talking about an expense of $5 to 7.5 million -- just say $10 million to account for the installation and the salaries paid in the First World...


$10 MILLION that could have been spent to save lives. People, sorry, we cannot afford it; we are already spending some $200 million a day to bring life to Iraq.


SEE, YOU MUST keep you priorities straight, right?


RIGHT, we do keep our priorities straight. The entire world is day in and day out more firmly convinced by what they are witnessing: stealing, pilfering, destroying, killing, in the name of stealing, pilfering, destroying by the champions of "Freedom and Democracy." Thank you, Uncle Sam for your "generosity." Your $350 million pledge that you will not fulfill could have been spared for a mere $10 million... America, way to go...way to go indeed!


BUT DON'T WORRY, pbs.org had its customary New Year extravaganza on "Great Performances" -- the Vienna New Year's Eve concert -- all those gorgeous waltzes and kudos to our wonderful "civilization" (don't get me wrong, I listen to classical music on a daily basis...). They played under magnificent frescoes, the women ballet dancers were dressed in blue (like in Blue States). It was all dandy and so white (here again, don't misunderstand me, I too am "white"). It's just that it missed the Tsunami tragedy all together and, as always, completely disregarded the music of the other world that is non-white... I suppose PBS will soon ask for your money again...so that you can feel good about who you are, even though the world is falling apart. Hey, the world is a disaster by essence (cf. the fundies' beliefs); let's keep together in a chummy sort of way. Who cares whether all those frescoes and Michelangelos turn into dust, as all have in history, let's the fun keep going!


JUST A QUESTION about the Ukraine: Why is it that the entire American and British pundicracy have perorated on the exit polls and the great victory for democracy in the Ukraine but has remained conspicuously silent on the events in Ohio? Beats me! Check http://www.freepress.org/index2.php The Free Press (Madison, Ohio) for US democracy at work...


A FRIEND WRITES: "I think an anti-capitalist message, combined with 'buy my book at Amazon.com so I can get a commission,' sends way too many mixed signals and neglects the valid concerns people like you point out about supporting something like Amazon.com. Conflicting goals are unavoidable, perhaps. Amazon.com increases access to books at affordable prices; Wal*Mart increases access to affordable everything. This is important for low-income people, on some level, but the downside to these companies is overwhelmingly negative and impacts low-income people in often devastating ways."


WELL, FRIEND, it's been my understanding that the cheapest books one could read resided in a public library. Now that libraries are being shut down, I suppose Amazon.com is the next best deal in town, once you've got a computer and paid your monthly dues to your ISP... Evidently, you will get a great deal, dollar-wise, when shopping at Wal*Mart. You will also buy, once there, all that you do not need but want -- or so you think -- on impulse. I'm sure you have a credit card handy...


SERIOUSLY, when I see so-called progressive, self-defined leftist Web sites conspicuously place a graphical button to Amazon.com and ask their visitors to buy books there so that they can get a commission (kickback, that's what it really is), my blood pressure rises a couple of notches. Amazon.com bears much responsibility for the demise of local bookstores, places where everybody, including low-income people, can go and sit and read for hours -- can they do the same at Amazon.com? I read somewhere that Amazon.com had a one-day record of 2.8 million orders during the holidays, and their shares rose almost 10% -- that's what it is all about, no?


IF WAL*MART "increases access to affordable everything," then I wonder why there is no affordable housing and healthcare out there. Low income people can't pay for decent housing and many have little or no health insurance but, no worries, Wal*Mart will provide everything else affordably! Look, studies after studies have shown that when you shop in hypermarkets (Wal*Mart, Target, Carrefour, etc.) or huge hardware stores (Home Depot) you end up spending more money than when you shop in your local stores. Products strategically placed in the giant aisles (on both ends of them) foster purchases on impulse. It's true for everybody, myself included. I write down a list of necessities, go to, say, Safeway in Ukiah, methodically check the items on my list, and when I reach the other side of the check-out line, I more often than not find that I have purchased items that were not on my list. I get caught time and again by the game, kick my ass, get caught again, kick again, caught again... You know this as well as I do. These stores are not about providing inexpensive goodies, they are after your wallet, they are leeches sucking your blood. They should -- they must -- be boycotted!


TALKING ABOUT MY ASS, I am an "asshole" and a bitch, writes Sunil Sharma: Says the literary crétin at dissidentvoice.org, "Geez, what an insufferable asshole this puissant French bitch is. A wannabe Bruce Anderson with none of the original's class and wit, thundering from his insignificant corner of the web [sic] but too cowardly to send his targets an email [sic] -- or better yet, simply the much-vaunted hyperlink. Birdbrains like d'Aymery [sic, the d' is superfluous] aren't worth wasting the time to even spit at [sic, comma needed] let alone correspond with, a sentiment recently shared to me by a couple of Swans writers [sic, comma needed] no less."


COULD ANYONE afford an editor for this oh-so-civil whiner? And could someone direct him to Cyrano de Bergerac... Cyrano who? wonders Shamil. Anyway, as I always say, glad to contribute to someone's quality of life!


QUOTE FOR THE AGES (thinking of Mr. Sharma): "You can pretend to be serious; you can't pretend to be witty."
--Sacha Guitry

(Any idea who Sacha Guitry was, Mr. Sharma?)


ANOTHER QUOTE FOR THE AGES: "The past days few days have brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension."
--George W. Bush, having no clue about what the definition of the world is, or, in the words of Mr. Clinton, what the meaning of is is anyway... (Guess there's lot of "bushes" -- or is it bushies? -- to be cleared!)


BOONVILLE NEWS: Talk about bushes and boonies...

Rick Crabb and his friend and colleague, Bob, did a helluva of a job in replacing our electric main. Lemme tell you, when you need a responsive and professional electrician, call Crabb Electric in Ukiah at (707) 462-3982. First class people and fun too...yes, even republicans can be fun! Thanks, Rick!

And the very same day Rick and Bob were operating, Tad Kimbler of Lampson delivered our Kubota BX-23 tractor...so that we could begin our earth leveling project, though it started raining and it's been raining for the past week or so, night and day... So, we put a tarp over the tractor and another one over the split wood...and kept warm inside.

The AVA Oregon took a full seven days to travel from Eugene, OR, to Boonville, CA, courtesy of the USPS that must have gone AWOL. If I could drive, I'd just go the 600 miles and get my paper. It would only take me two days, back and forth!

Arlene's mother is soon to turn 90, but she is doing as well as a teenager, and I keep visiting her religiously (something she is attached to...the religion...).

Hey, it looks like half of the Valley's Mexican residents have gone south for the winter!

Rain or shine this place remains naturally gorgeous...

P.S. Priam, our faithful mutt, has just (7:22 p.m., January 2, 2005) been skunked again...the smell in the house is overwhelming, my eyes burning.... Time to walk to my cave! The fundies will assert it was a sign of god... Skunk the fundies!


MILITARY RECRUITMENT: One little-known provision of the No Child Left Behind Act is an obligation for high schools, if they want to receive federal funding, to let the military proselytize. So the Army drives a $1.3 million truck to the country's high schools. The huge truck is loaded with all possible gadgets like sophisticated video simulators of various combat equipment. The recruiters, engaging dudes, promote the positive side of joining the best and brightest... You'll see the world...you'll get an education...you'll represent your country... But, strangely enough, they never mention the killing part of this Faustian bargain. College recruiting is a long military tradition. Now they've moved into high schools. I wonder how long it will take before Congress finds a way to let them reach out in kindergarten...



According to the invaluable work of the Sentencing Project, "The number of inmates in state and federal prisons has increased more than six-fold from less than 200,000 in 1970 to 1,387,848 by year-end 2003. An additional 691,301 are held in local jails, for a total of nearly 2.1 million." ("Facts about Prisons and Prisoners," November, 2004.)

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, which helps the American state keep track of how well it is performing the task of disciplining and controlling the "dangerous classes," added in July the upbeat bit of news that the "nation's combined federal, state and local adult correctional population reached a new record of almost 6.9 million men and women in 2003," the so-called correctional population as defined here including "people incarcerated in prisons and jails as well as those on probation and parole." ("Almost 6.9 Million on Probation or Parole or Incarcerated in U.S. Prisons or Jails," Media Release, July 25, 2004.)

(I admit that I've yet to find comparable estimates for the correctional population among American children. Though the way things are going, I would not be surprised to learn that it is roughly equal in size to the total number of American kids in school, watching TV, or surfing the Internet, at any given moment. Please note, however, that I'd exclude streets, bowling alleys, and pool halls from my working definition of the aforementioned disciplinary institutions. (Though maybe this is just me speaking, after all.))

Now, if these kinds of estimates call to mind any of the historical precursors to the contemporary American state and civil society (e.g., Reich-this or Reich-that), all the better. One from among an earlier generation of escapees from the Third Reich wrote -- indeed, warned -- about the "science of the engineering of animal and human conduct" associated with this particular approach to living beings, a theory and a practice hardly invented by Prof. Skinner that places all of its emphasis upon "behavior" rather than the "behaving man." Is it any wonder that a state and civil society animated by this principle -- and would anyone care to defend the thesis that the United States of America is not? -- should issue forth not only in monstrous progeny such as Gitmo and Abu Ghraib (among god-only-knows how many others), but also in the most heavily incarcerated population in the world?

Perhaps what we need, then, certainly by the November 2008 national elections, is a new state policy in which the people who advocate incarceration, and who even accept the notion of punishment per se, are either kept from policymaking positions or, in a worst-case scenario, themselves detained?

Or, to rewrite Rousseau's celebrated question: Who will arrest the arresters? Judge the judgers? And incarcerate the incarcerators?

(And depending on how bad things get: Who will torture the torturers? Sterilize the sterilizers? Invade the invaders? And so on.)

But since I myself philosophically reject the notion of punishment per se, and therefore the practice of incarceration right along with it, I'll happily settle for the first option.

Sincerely Yours,
David Peterson


Controlling the Dangerous Classes, Randall G. Shelden, Allyn & Bacon, 2001 The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness
Erich Fromm, Henry Holt and Company, 1973 Ending Secret Detentions
Deborah Pearlstein et al., Human Rights First, June, 2004
The Sentencing Project
State and Federal Prison Population (Graph---needs updating, but dramatic nevertheless) Prison
Drug Offender Populations (Two graphs, federal and state---more dramatic representations)
Briefing Sheets (Thumbnail synopses of SP's work---great place to start)
"Facts about Prisons and Prisoners," Sentencing Project, November, 2004
"Probation and Parole in the United States, 2003," U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, July, 2004
"Almost 6.9 Million on Probation or Parole or Incarcerated in U.S. Prisons or Jails," Media Release, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 25, 2004
"Prisoners in 2003," U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, November, 2004
"U.S. Prison Population Approaches 1.5 million," Media Release, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 7, 2004


HAPPY NEWS: Who says that there is no money for education in the U.S.? Look Oklahoma football coach, Bob Stoops, makes more than $2.5 million a year (that's 10 tsunameters...). At least eight Division I-A football coaches make more than $2 million and it's predicted that 10 to 12 coaches will make more than $2 million by next spring and that the $3 million barrier will soon be broken. (Source: NYT, January 2, 2005.)


And so it goes...

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About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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This Edition's Internal Links

Things Evolve, But We Do Not "Change," Sorry... - by Gilles d'Aymery

2005 Predictions - by SWANS

Three Short 2005 Vignettes - by Milo Clark

Twenty News Stories To Appear In 2005 - by Manuel García, Jr.

Livin' The American Dream - by Jan Baughman

Boycotting the Hegemony -- Part One: Halliburton - by Gerard Donnelly Smith

Morality, Reason and Reichs - by Milo Clark

Let's Hear It for the Lyricists - by Philip Greenspan

Philosopher, Heal Thyself - Book Review by Charles Marowitz

A Parisian Con Game - Short Story by Joe Davison

Letters to the Editor

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Published January 3, 2005