a fable: scraps from the king's table

Posted on: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 18:51 By: Tom Swiss

A fable:

Once upon a time, there was a king. As kings go, he was far from the worst his people had seen. He was of a kinder disposition than the tyrants of neighboring lands, and under his rule his people were more prosperous than their grandparents had been. (Though some people pointed out that this prosperity was based on chopping down the old forest, selling the wood, and cultivating more land, and what would the people do when the forest ran out?)

Still, he was a king. Because of an accident of birth, he lived a privileged life in a palace, worse the finest clothes, and feasted every night, while his people lived in rude huts, worse corse cloth, and ate simple fare. But being a decent king, he always left the scraps from his nightly feast for any hungry peasants.

Senate proposal to authorize torture and indefinite detention

Posted on: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 10:06 By: Tom Swiss

The Senate will soon vote on S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. The bill authorizes $663 billion in military spending for the fiscal year that began October 1. This is considered "must pass" legislation, since it funds the military-industrial complex and our endless war. (Probably the best thing for the nation and the world would be for it to fail to pass, forcing us to bring the troops home and freeing up that $663,000,000,000 for peaceful uses, but, fat chance of that.)

Two potential provisions of this bill threaten to return us to the worst abuses of the Bush era.

Reuters: "Obama voters, Muslims need not apply for gun course"

Posted on: Tue, 11/01/2011 - 10:48 By: Tom Swiss

<facepalm> I support the right to keep and bear arms. This doofus is not helping. (BTW, in my experience, socialists are more likely to own guns than the general population. As Orwell -- a socialist -- wrote, "That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer's cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.")

Obama voters, Muslims need not apply for gun course

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A central Texas gun dealer ran radio ads advising "Socialist" liberals, those who voted for President Barack Obama, Arabs and Muslims that they need not apply for his concealed gun license class.

"Girl to get $10M for amputations after ER delay" Tom Swiss Fri, 10/28/2011 - 22:28

This is what inadequate heath care looks like. This is what a system that puts profits over treatment looks like. Right-wingers will say this $10 million settlement shows the need for tort reform; sane people will say that the fact that a toddler lost her feet, left hand, and part of her right hand because of delayed emergency room care shows the need to real health care reform.

From http://news.yahoo.com/girl-10m-amputations-er-delay-185910406.html:

The family of a California toddler whose feet, left hand and part of her right hand were amputated because of a lengthy emergency room delay has agreed to a $10 million malpractice settlement.


The hospital instead told them to continue waiting, and it was five hours before Malyia was first seen by a doctor, the document said.

"Ryan Jeffers and Leah Yang saw their daughter get weaker and sicker hour after hour as (hospital workers) chose to delay treatment," the complaint said. "They saw the bruising on her body increase, affecting her legs, arms and face. They were afraid she would die in the waiting room."

Live blogging from the Occupy Wall Street site, Liberty Plaza, New York City

Posted on: Mon, 10/17/2011 - 16:58 By: Tom Swiss

I came down for an hour or so yesterday, just to see what was what. Danced to the drumming for a bit, and the playful and gentle nature of some of what's happening here (drumming, dancing, art, communal sacred space, giant potluck meals) reminded me of some of Kery Thornley's "yin revolution" and "counter-games" ideas in his book Zenarchy. The Occupy movement is not just a protest, but an experiment and a demonstration of an alternative to the hierarchical socioeconomic systems that have dominated our thinking for centuries.

I also ended up running into someone I knew years ago in Baltimore and fell into good conversation with her and with a high school girl she had befrended. Just hearing people's stories is also a big piece of what this is about, for as John Steinbeck wrote, "two men [or women] are not as lonely and perplexed as one".

Came down again this afternoon after my plan to visit the Statue of Liberty was derailed by a security snafu. (Apparently the US Park Service fears that I will use the awesome power of my Gerber multi-tool to disassemble the Statue of Liberty. There is, of course, no irony at all in the paranoia of the security state preventing me from visiting the Statue of Liberty. I gave up my ticket rather than have them take the $60 tool.) Ran into a few more Baltimore people (between OWS, and running into a woman who used to date one of my best friends in the Village last night, seems I can't even escape into anonymity in New York), and got into more interesting conversations with strangers, but spent most of today's time here just sitting at the community altar, holding space. (Photos to come.)

It's interesting how people react to the barriers the police have put up around the site. They don't completely enclose the space, you can move in and out freely, yet many people come up and stand on the other side watching, as if watching a parade or something. Perhaps a deliberate bit of police strategy to keep people from feeling like they can join or identify with the occupation -- establishing a boundary that takes a deliberate act to step across.

So I invite you to cross it. Go down to your local Occupy group and join them, even for an hour. Cross the lines that the power structure sets up to keep us divided.

multi-billionaire Steve Jobs, RIP

Posted on: Thu, 10/06/2011 - 11:40 By: Tom Swiss

So Steve Jobs has died. I was never a member of the cult of Jobs -- anyone pro-censorship hits a ratings ceiling pretty quick in my book -- but I don't care to badmouth the guy right now. Instead, in the spirit of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement, I'd like to point out a few things that his story illustrates about corporate capitalism and the concentration of wealth.

Perhaps first should be the fact that we are talking about his death now, rather than two years ago. Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, and had a liver transplant in 2009. The questionable circumstances around this transplant, including the fact that he was able to obtain the transplant surgery on the other side of the country from his home, are a perfect illustration of how the concentration of wealth is a matter of life and death. "Multiple listing" for a transplant is not something you or I would be able to do in Job's place

So Jobs's fantastic wealth -- estimated to be $8.3 billion as of 2010, making him the 42nd wealthiest American -- gave him a few extra years of life. Well, didn't he earn it? Look at his contribution to technology, after all!

But Jobs is getting a lot of credit right now for things he did not do.

He did not "invent the personal computer", as some headlines are putting it. There were PCs before Apple, going back to 1973's Micral N. The original Apple hit the market the same time as the Commodore PET and the TRS-80, with Commodore getting the nod as "the first successfully mass marketed PC", according to the wik. The technical genius behind the original Apple/Apple II was Steve Wozniak, Job's contribution was more on the business/marketing side. (According to Woz, Jobs "never programmed in his life, though that's a bit of an exaggeration.)

The Macintosh GUI was based on work from Xerox PARC. The iPod was far from the first personal digital music player around. Job's genius was in polishing existing ideas, and making designs that captivated people -- branding and marketing.

The "genius lone inventor" myth contributes to both our screwed-up patent system and our "winner take all" economics. I'll bet you some right-wing talking head has already used Jobs as an example of someone who "deserved" to have the wealth of 8,300 mere millionaires, or of 89,000 average American families. Allowing Jobs to have credit for the work of many, many others distorts important truths about the concentration of wealth in our society.

Finally, I ought to note that unlike Bill Gates (for whom I have no great love!), Jobs was noted for a lack of philanthropy during his life, including cutting corporate philanthropy programs at Apple. It will be interesting to see how Jobs directed his wealth to be distributed after his death.

Occupy Baltimore Tom Swiss Tue, 10/04/2011 - 22:48

When i first heard of the "Occupy Wallstreet" idea a few months ago, honestly, I thought it was silly, that about 20 people would show up.

On this one, I am glad to be wrong.

Tonight, I'm in Baltimore's McKeldin Square (Pratt and Light Streets) for the first night of Occupy Baltimore. I couldn't make it down before 10pm, and I don't know what I'll be able to do over the next few weeks; but I thought it important to be here tonight and do what I can.

I went to the planning meeting at 2640 on Sunday -- there were about 200 people there. Certainly the largest meeting I've seen run by a democratic/semi-consensus model.

So why am I here? I'm tired of three decades of worsening economic injustice, of the L curve getting worse and worse. I'm tired of the suppression of democracy by monied interests. I'm tired of a socioeconomic system that pretends that poverty and homelessness and lack of access to medical care is some sort of natural force, and not the result of human political decisions about how we share and allocate natural and human resources.

I'm here because I want to see some economic justice, and the reinvigoration of democracy. While I'd eventually like to see the dawn of a Thoreau-ean Zenarchy, in the mean time I'd like the constitutional democratic republic they told me about in school instead of the corporate authoritarian militaristic plutocracy in which I find myself.

Join us. See Occupy Baltimore or the Facebook page , or Occupy Together around the world.

Amercian murdered by U.S. for polticial speech -- so much for due process

Posted on: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 10:48 By: Tom Swiss

An American citizen who was never convicted, or even indicted, of a crime has been assassinated by the U.S. government. He is the first of a list of people personally targeted for murder by Obama in the name of "national security".

The U.S. claims that Anwar al-Awlaki, a native-born American citizen, was involved with Al Qaeda, and linked him to the Fort Hood shootings and to an attempted airplane bombing. But he was not a solider or an operative, but a propagandist. He was murdered for what he said.

Sure, what he said was odious -- he called for Muslims to murder any Americans they came across. That's bad. Anwar al-Awlaki was a nasty little man who advocated terrible acts. But free speech extends even to the right to call for violence, and the question of whether Al-Awlaki's speech went over the "imminent lawless action" line is not for the President to unilaterally decide, nor is it for him to impose the death penalty for such speech.

This is a continuation of Bush era policies that called for the the CIA and military to murder U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the U.S. or its "interests". As Glenn Greenwald wrote in January 2010 when the "hit list" first came to light:

Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests." They're entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations. Amazingly, the Bush administration's policy of merely imprisoning foreign nationals (along with a couple of American citizens) without charges -- based solely on the President's claim that they were Terrorists -- produced intense controversy for years. That, one will recall, was a grave assault on the Constitution. Shouldn't Obama's policy of ordering American citizens assassinated without any due process or checks of any kind -- not imprisoned, but killed -- produce at least as much controversy?

NYPD policing priorities

Posted on: Tue, 09/06/2011 - 10:52 By: Tom Swiss

Two interesting stories out of NYC today:

So, the NYPD's response to real shootings -- "you can't watch everything." Its response to the "threat" of Muslims praying and talking about politics: "get me the CIA, let's get some federal money and form a spy unit!"

Does anyone else see a problem here?

letter to the editor, New York Times: "Guns in the Exam Room" Tom Swiss Thu, 08/18/2011 - 12:19

The New York Times printed my letter to the science editor. (Any New York friends still have Tuesday's paper around and willing to hold page D4 for my scrapbook?) They trimmed it, of course, cutting out the good parts; the original version is below.

Amusing that some sort of automatic system apparently tagged "wasting" as related to muscle atrophy when they posted it to the web.

Re: "Gun Query Off Limits for Doctors in Florida" (August 9):

I'm fairly certain that firearms safety was not part of my doctor's medical training, and if she brought the topic up at my next appointment I'd be concerned about why she was wasting time on a minor threat to my health. More than four times as many people die in fires each year than in firearms accidents, yet I don't hear anyone calling matches a "public health issue".

So long as people like Dr. Marcus conflate murders and suicides by firearm with accidental deaths, people who understand the statistics will feel that they are being treated as potential murderers or suicide cases when doctors ask prying questions about firearms ownership. Firearms are just one of many potentially dangerous items in a home, and excessive focus on gun accidents reveals either ignorance of the facts or a political agenda.

Tom Swiss

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