Swans Commentary » swans.com October 9, 2006  



Blips #42
 From The Martian Desk


by Gilles d'Aymery




"The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness."
—Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes, 1911


(Swans - October 9, 2006)  SOMEHOW, THESE BLIPS should be listed under our "Patterns Which Connect" rubric, because when you think of it, you can find a heck of a lot of patterns in the slow destruction of the American experiment -- an experiment that the world would have been better off not experiencing.


SEX AND POLITICS: What a week it's been. Pedophilia, gay bashing, will the Reps keep control of the Congress, will the majority leader of the House lose his job, and on, and on, and on. Meanwhile, out of the news are a few impediments to the well being of the once Republic. The Iraqi disaster is off screen, but for calls to either stay the course or get on with a new strategy -- the latter never being defined, mind you. More important to the future of the country is the "Military Commissions Act of 2006." No worry, this one passed handedly through the House and the Senate (welcome to the 21st century corporo-fascism). A lesser-known legislation passed the Congress, the Public Expression of Religion Act (PERA). This one did not even make the evening newscasts (theocracy crossbred with corporatism...we'll have to coin a new word, say theocraporatism or theocorporatism, corporatheocracism -- fascism does not seem to have a leg, nowadays.).

PERA "[forbids] awards of damages, and awards of attorneys' fees in cases involving the Establishment Clause. As a result, such lawsuits [will] end, at most, in injunctions -- and plaintiffs' lawyers [will] have to accept the cases on a pro bono basis, or not at all," says Marci A. Hamilton, the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University (read the full article). Knowing how costly litigation in the U.S. is, if you can ban the financing of attorneys, you have it made. Well, they -- Congress -- made it nicely and the news was deflected toward yet another alleged sex scandal.

WILL AMERICANS vote in the coming elections on issues that are seriously affecting them -- the war in Iraq, the Military Commissions Act, PERA, jobs, healthcare, etc.? If the following informative tidbits are correct (they are), the answer is pretty obvious. They won't. There's too much sex appeal in Mark Foley.

IMBECILES can be summed up accordingly. Just follow the thread.


CITATION FOR THE AGES: "Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
--Robert O. Paxton


AMERICAN VALUES: In his latest book, Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006), Sam Harris cites statistics from PEW, Gallup, and Newsweek regarding Americans and religion. Here are a few:

87% of Americans say they "never doubt the existence of God."

83% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. (11% disbelieve - 6% don't know)

80% of Americans expect to be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for their sins. 90% believe in heaven. 77% rate their chances of going to heaven as "excellent" or "good."

65% of Americans believe in the literal existence of Satan. 73% believe in the existence of Hell.

44% of Americans think Jesus Christ will return in the next 50 years (22% are "certain" that he will, another 22% think he "probably" will.

28% of Americans believe that every word of the Bible is literally true. 49% believe that it is the "inspired word" of God.

More than 50% of Americans believe that the universe was created 6,000 years ago. ([Comments Harris:] This is, incidentally about 1,000 years after the Sumerians invented glue.)

More than 50% of Americans have a "negative" or "highly negative" view of people who don't believe in God. 70% think it important for presidential candidates to be "strongly religious."

Only 28% of Americans believe in evolution (and two-thirds of these believe evolution was "guided by God"). 53% are actually creationists. 60% want creationism taught in schools. 44% want it taught exclusively.

YEP, FRIENDS, this from a country whose president answers to a Higher Authority, and who was told by that Higher Authority that he had to invade Iraq; a president who's readying himself with his usual resolve to take care militarily of the non-existent Iranian nuclear threat. The world should be very afraid.


TWO FACTS TO CONSIDER: 37 million people live at or under the poverty line in the U.S. That's just about 12.5 percent of the total population. However, according to Forbes, America's 400 wealthiest didn't average $1 billion in wealth until 1996. Today, they average over $3.1 billion. Number of billionaires:
1982: 13
2000: 267
2005: 400


WELCOME TO NEXT GEN CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS: According to a study, Coming Crisis in Citizenship, based on a multiyear research process and commissioned by the very conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute (see names of the trustees), "America's colleges and universities fail to increase knowledge about America's history and institutions." In its major findings the study shows that:

* College seniors are also ignorant of America's founding documents. Fewer than half, 47.9 percent, recognized that the line "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," is from the Declaration of Independence. And an overwhelming majority, 72.8 percent, could not correctly identify the source of the idea of "a wall of separation" between church and state.

* More than half of college seniors did not know that the Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits the establishment of an official religion for the United States.

* Nearly half of all college seniors, 49.4 percent, did not know that The Federalist Papers -- foundational texts of America's constitutional order -- were written in support of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Seniors actually scored lower than freshmen on this question by 5.7 percentage points, illustrating negative learning while at college.

* More than 75 percent of college seniors could not identify that the purpose of the Monroe Doctrine was to prevent foreign expansion in the Western Hemisphere.

* Even with their country at war in Iraq, fewer than half of seniors, 45.2 percent, could identify the Baath party as the main source of Saddam Hussein's political support. In fact, 12.2 percent believed that Saddam Hussein found his most reliable supporters in the Communist Party. Almost 5.7 percent chose Israel.

THEY HAVE POSTED a short American Civic Literacy Sample Quiz, five questions that were part of the 2005 American Civic Literacy Program survey. Take the test and let me know your score (full disclosure: I was 100 percent correct!).


HERE'S ANOTHER QUIZ: In 1994, when Hurricane Edward hit Florida, 50,000 housing units were destroyed. The last of the 50,000 rebuilt units was completed in 2005. Last year, 300,000 housing units were destroyed along the Gulf Coast. Question: How long will it take to see the completion of the last rebuilt unit? 11 years, 25 years, 50 years? (Answer at the end of the Blips, before the "Boonville News.")


SCHOOL SHOOTING, a prelude to the future of our great, peace-loving country? On October 2, 2006, a milk truck driver from the town of Bart, Pennsylvania, Charles C. Roberts IV, 32, drove to the West Nickel Mines Amish School with a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol, two shotguns, a stun gun, two knives, two cans of gunpowder and 600 rounds of ammunition. There he gathered 10 young Amish pupils, age 6 to 13, and shot them all before killing himself. At time of this writing, five are dead, three remain in critical condition and two are improving. Here is a reminder of some other fatal shootings in US schools in recent years. The list was compiled by Jill Tucker and John Koopman in "Girls lined up and shot in Amish schoolhouse," SF Chronicle, October 3, 2006.

Sept. 29, 2006: Eric Hainstock, 15, took two guns to a school in rural Cazenovia, Wis., and fatally shot the principal, a day after the principal gave him a disciplinary warning for having tobacco on school grounds, police said.

Sept. 27, 2006: Duane Morrison, 53, took six girls hostage at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo. Morrison sexually assaulted them and used them as human shields for hours before killing one girl and himself.

Aug. 24, 2006: Christopher Williams, 27, went to an elementary school in Essex, Vt., looking for his ex-girlfriend, a teacher. He couldn't find her and fatally shot one teacher and wounded another, police said. Williams also killed his ex-girlfriend's mother, according to authorities. He shot himself twice in the head after the rampage and was arrested.

March 21, 2005: Jeff Weise, 16, shot and killed five schoolmates, a teacher and an unarmed guard at a high school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota before taking his own life. Weise had earlier killed his grandfather and his grandfather's companion.

Nov. 22, 2004: Desmond Keels, 16, is accused of fatally shooting one student and wounding three others outside Strawberry Mansion High in Philadelphia. The attack apparently was over a $50 debt in a rap contest. Keels is to stand trial for murder later this month.

April 24, 2003: James Sheets, 14, shot and killed the principal in the crowded cafeteria of a junior high school in south-central Pennsylvania, before killing himself.

May 26, 2000: Nathaniel Brazill, 13, killed his English teacher on the last day of classes in Lake Worth, Fla., after the teacher refused to let him talk with two girls in his classroom. He was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a 28-year sentence.

April 20, 1999: Students Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 23 before killing themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

May 21, 1998: Two teenagers were killed and more than 20 people hurt when a teenage boy opened fire at a high school in Springfield, Ore., after killing his parents. Kip Kinkel, 17, was sentenced to nearly 112 years in prison.

March 24, 1998: Two boys, ages 11 and 13, fired on their Jonesboro, Ark., middle school from nearby woods, killing four girls and a teacher and wounding 10 others. Both boys were later convicted of murder and can be held until age 21.

Dec. 1, 1997: Three students were killed and five wounded at a high school in West Paducah, Ky. Michael Carneal, then 14, later pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder and is serving life in prison.

Oct. 1, 1997: Luke Woodham, 16, of Pearl, Miss., fatally shot two students and wounded seven others after stabbing his mother to death. He was sentenced the following year to three life sentences.


STRANGE, NO, that the connection between school shootings and the militarization of culture is never highlighted in the media and the corridors of power. You have the military directly recruiting in high schools, many TV daily shows all about taking care of business through violent means, video games targeted at kids that are all about killing the enemy. Games, TV, military -- don't forget the NRA -- and "society" is oh-so-surprised that school shootings crop up. The response to the conundrum: Avoid the root causes and advocate arming the teachers and/or post armed guards at the entrance of each school. In other words, answer violence with more violence -- shoot to kill. In many ways, this kind of thinking so encapsulates the American psyche that it's becoming comical...and deadlier year after year.


ANSWER TO THE QUIZ: None of the above. The answer is NEVER. There is no intention to replace all the units that were destroyed. Many were housing poor, black people. In the Orleans Parish alone, 80,000 units were destroyed but as a recent survey commissioned by several state agencies indicates, the population of New Orleans has decreased by almost 60%, from 454,863 pre-Katrina to 187,525 currently. White gentrification will prevail. Small units will be replaced by bigger ones to house nice middle-class Americans.


BOONVILLE NEWS: I still recall with a mix of sadness and fondness the time Bruce Anderson passed the editorship of the Anderson Valley Advertiser into the hands of the friendly David Severn and with wife Ling moved on to Eugene, Oregon, where they launched their new weekly, the AVA Oregon! Three months later, drown "in Visa-Master's frigid seas," Bruce pulled the plug and folded the paper. Then, he pretty much disappeared from public view. I learned through the grapevine that they had sold their house in Eugene and moved back to California, somewhere in Marin County, north of San Francisco, and is working on some kind of memoirs. Apparently, he cancelled his online account and is no longer hooked to the Internet that he loathed and railed against so often. The Web, to be fair, has not been gentle to the printed press as the tribulations of newspapers all over the world amply exemplify.

THESE TRIBULATIONS have reached the shores of the Anderson Valley Advertiser as well. To be sure, the character of the paper has evolved; its editorial tone, reflecting David Severn's temperament, has become milder; its content is more locally focused. In short it has lost a bit of its edge but gained in friendliness. Some months ago, however, the publisher -- also David Severn -- decided to cut the pagination down from 12 to 8 pages. According to David, the paper was not generating enough revenues to even get a modicum of finances to the crew. He could not, of course, reduce the personnel -- his daughter Saffron Fraser in the engine room, long-time volunteer Mark Scaramella running all around to cover county news, and himself at the helm. The ship was taking in water dangerously. The only line item that could be touched was the printing cost. Unfortunately the main result from a reader's perspective is that the paper has lost one third of its content -- actually it's closer to 40% when one factors in the number of ads, which has remained unchanged or may have increased slightly. I wondered then how this cut would bode for the paper's distribution. I wonder no more.

By law, the USPS Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation must be published once a year. It showed up in the September 27 issue. Comparing the prior issue to this year's average, total paid distribution is down 12.88%; total distribution is down 13.40%; and total distribution beside mail is down 19.75%. Of course, averages do not tell the whole story. The paper's distribution may well have gone down by 30% from January to September. From the outside one cannot figure out the incidence of the pagination cut on the paper's distribution and whether the savings in print and paper cost offset the paid readership that has been lost. I can only hope that these trends can be reversed. As I wrote in "AVA Oregon!, RIP,"

Look around you. We are drowned into conformism, surrounded by the blandest of the bland so-called "news," mostly infomercials, held hostage by commercial interests -- the tyranny of the purse. Local papers in small-town America are practically all corporate owned, often by out of state interests. Open one and you've opened them all, from Bangor, Maine, to San Diego, California; from Key West, Florida, to Bellingham, Washington -- same insipid news, same ads, same pr, same bromide... Journalists have become politically correct robotic bureaucrats regurgitating the party line, the most persistent falsehood of our times, that all you need is money (and profits). As Progressive Review's Sam Smith, one of the few remaining iconoclasts and truly independent journalists, puts it, "Gone is the ground rule that once required social and political change to be covered -- even if the publisher didn't approve of it. Gone is the notion that if you made news, they would come. In an age of corporatist journalism, in which Peter Jennings has become the professional colleague of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, it no longer matters. News is just another item in the multinational product line with little value outside of its contribution to market share and other corporate objectives."

I'd hate to see the Anderson Valley Advertiser go the way of the AVA Oregon! (I renewed my sub last month.)

A READER asked why so many arrests around town, as reported in the last Boonville News, and whether one could imagine more creative solutions. Here's what I wrote in a Letter to the Editor of the AVA:

Hey Severn,

You've certainly noticed the trash that is accumulating along the sides of our local roads. Have you gone to the dump lately? Here is a suggestion for the oh-so-friendly constables: Instead of arresting people and booking them in the county jail on a $$$$$ bail -- most often Latinos who are time and again put between the rock and the hard place -- why not making a deal with them? When arrested on whatever flimsy reason, give them a bargain: Spend the weekend cleaning the roads or spend the night in jail with the recurring blurbs on their record and the $$$$$ spent to enrich the bureaucratic bailers. The constables' machismo may take a slight beating, but reason would prevail, and our roads would be much cleaner.

The editor did not comment.

MONDAY, A WEEK AGO, two bi-engine planes started circling over the house at very low altitude. Being a bit paranoid of late I wondered what it was all about. What were those guys after? They were not black helicopters, mind you, but who knows what the Secret Service was up to. I got my answer within a few minutes when I first observed smoke filling the Valley and then the smell of fire got up my nostrils. Darn, there's a fire out there and it has to be close by, moving in my direction (fortunately it was a low-wind day). What to do? Take the suitcase packed with important papers, grab the dogs, the cats and the chickens, put them in the truck and drive away in a hurry? The only way in and out is a single dirt road situated between the fire and the house. If the fire reached the road I would have no way to escape. Pretty sobering situation. Fortunately, by the time I had begun readying the evacuation, the fire was under control and the smoke was dissipating.

ANYWAY, the two Secret Service planes were fire retardant bombers that were dropping their loads in several passes. Within minutes, a copter with a big water bucket was going back and forth between a pond located on a vineyard on the other side of the Valley and the fire area. I learned later that six CDF engines and five Anderson Valley Volunteer engines had responded to the fire as well as a large bulldozer. The AVA editor was on the scene too (the fire was also close to his home). Two kids were playing and accidentally started the fire. Seven acres were burnt, just about 1.5 miles from the house. No wonder I always respond positively to the annual fundraising of our local firefighters and I am glad that some of our taxes pay for the CDF (though I hear their budget has been under attack for quite a few years now). Crisis averted, but a bit too close for comfort...

FINALLY, A SPECIAL WORD OF THANKS to the deer hunters that discarded the spoils of their hunts in the creek that runs through Vista Ranch. Our new dog, Mestor, proudly presented us with daily gifts over the past couple of weeks: three perfectly sawed-off legs (we're still awaiting number four); two backbones with ribs attached; numerous pieces of hide; and otherwise unidentifiable bone fragments. Even Priam became inspired and joined the treasure hunt, finding some venison steak tartare and choking on a small bone. I don't know what hunting etiquette dictates (if such thing exists) but I'm glad the season is over for another year. It's much more pleasant to watch those beautiful deer roaming the hills serenely than to find their legs and such scattered on the deck.


Ç'est la vie...

And so it goes...


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La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.
Supporting the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a 
difference for Swans.

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Internal Resources

Blips and Tidbits

America the 'beautiful'


About the Author

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



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Latest Banana Republic - Gilles d'Aymery

The Global War On Negative Sentiment - Jan Baughman

Achh, Arghh And What? - Milo Clark

On the Suspension of Habeas Corpus - Poem by Gerard Donnelly Smith

State Of Nature, II - Martin Murie

Noam Chomsky's Failed States - Book Review by Charles Marowitz

A Phone Call - Short Play by Michael Doliner

Total Refusal - Peter Byrne

Letters to the Editor

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Published October 9, 2006