June, 2013

Jun 13

Save Lou Reed’s Old Liver for a Museum!

Thinking about Lou Reed’s liver. You know, he just had a liver transplant, and what I want to know is, WHAT HAPPENED TO HIS OLD LIVER? Incinerator? I fear so. But I’m a fan of Lou Reed’s old work, and I think his old liver, if still intact in a jar somewhere, should be sent to the Rocknroll Hall of Fame and put on display. I mean, hey, it should be preserved (so should Charles Bukowski’s), for posterity. Consider all the dope that went through that liver; consider all the amphetamines, liquor, amphetamines, liquor, alternating, through his amphetamine years. That liver saw him through Rock n’ Roll Animal, Berlin, Street Hassle and so on, most of his stuff till a little while before New Sensations…

Imagine how grizzled, how scarred, how much interesting surface texture there is on that liver? Perhaps you could work out a way to associate certain scars with certain Lou Reed albums.

That was a liver that worked HARD for rock’n'roll! If it’s in a fridge somewhere I say, SAVE LOU REED’S OLD LIVER for a museum.

Jun 13

True Blood–Are They Being Hugely Racially Insensitive?

One shouldn’t take True Blood too seriously. Few television series should be taken seriously. True Blood is fun and interesting and often creative but it’s also pretty silly. Still, I am annoyed enough by the newest one to say, I think they’ve crossed a line with their analogy between vampires and racial (and sexual) minorities. My wife, a big fan of True Blood, does not agree with me about this. But: They’ve been making the civil rights for vampires analogy all along–though they had a series of shows in which there were vampires quite flagrantly ignoring the “artificial blood only” prescription for acceptance, and then a whole cult of vampires going wild with Lilith worship and tearing humans to pieces. But now they’ve gone too far: they have a vampire who was dragged to death behind a truck by rednecks for being a vampire. The scriptwriters think they’re clever, do they? A black man was dragged behind a truck, dragged to death in Texas about five years ago, by white supremacists. For being black. So what are we saying here, in True Blood? That this is really analogous? That vampires are a racial minority? Well–no. They aren’t. They’re not human. They really aren’t. They feed on human beings. They’re parasites, predators. So are you saying that blacks also are not human? That blacks feed on human beings? What are you saying here? I know that “blacks feed on us” wasn’t in the writers’ minds. I’m suggesting that *not very much* was in the writers’ minds. I’m suggesting that they didn’t think it through. They didn’t care enough. All they cared about was their Cool Idea. “Hey what if they dragged a vampire to death like that black guy in Texas…” That’s a pretty inappropriate use of that man’s death. A man named James Byrd. Just five years later…

Jun 13

–Lost entries from the journal of the author of THE TIME MACHINE (attributed to HG Wells)

Journal entry. Having departed the year 1895, I thought it sensible to stop about a hundred years later. However the brakes on my time machine are not entirely efficient, and my stop over was a little later, in 2013. I was dismayed to see nearly the entire population endlessly caught up in staring into small rectangles, which they carried about with them wherever they went. They walked insensibly into lamp posts as they stare into the little screens. Worse, their children begged for their parents’ attention in the most pitiful manner, to receive, at best, a distracted, muttering response as the parent continued to flick their thumbs on the “smart phone” with metronomic repetition. The child will presumably turn to these “smart phone” rectangles for a substitute family, inevitably becoming even more conditioned to the devices than their parents…

I looked over the shoulders of some users of the mesmeric rectangles, in the hopes of seeing vital information on the small screens, but was dismayed by what appeared there. Much of the transmission seemed taken up with images of frowning cats, and bits of text complaining of this and that in a media known as “twerping” or something of the sort….

I am leaving this time for the farther future in the hopes of a general improvement in the human condition…Later entry: Much farther in the future, have discovered the subterranean Morlocks, atavistic cannibals whom I prefer, actually, to the residents of 2013. At least they are aware of their surroundings, and attend their young, feeding their offspring a quite passive and conditioned race called Eloi. The Eloi rather remind me of the “smart phone” people…

Jun 13

The internet troll state of mind

I heard Tom Brokaw complaining again about people who hide behind idiotic screen names to blare out misogynistic comments about women in the news; to snarl racist lies and other forms of low slimy troll stuff. Brokaw is right of course…And it seems to me that screennames can sometimes be a psychological key to the troll. Their screen names often have a hint of self loathing in them. “BrainSlug”, say, or “FUifUDon’tLikeMe”… People using them step into the troll state of mind as easily as slipping into a Halloween costume. It’s a wanking, self spanking state of mind that they descend into. It resembles the dark side of childhood…

Internet trolls demonstrate the transience of real self, in people generally; their comments are a purely unconscious printing out of a low state of mind: a frightened rodent state of mind squealing with pain in its trap.

Jun 13

Combine Religion and Politics to Get Nerve Gas

Religion mixed with politics, or, worse, with nationalism, is like nerve gas. Religion is a key ingredient in a deadly toxin, in that combination.

In chemistry, there are many chemicals that are harmless until combined; the bombardier beetle has a harmless chemical stored up in one area, a catalyst in another; only when the catalyst is added to the stored chemical does the organism create the toxin sprayed by the beetle.

Sometimes only two or three normally harmless ingredients are needed to make deadly gas used in warfare.

Most religion can be harmless, even a useful consolation, if kept separate from politics or nationalism. Politics is already somewhat volatile; nationalism even more so.

But they will usually play out innocuously…unless you add in the catalyst; unless you mix in the key chemical that makes them into deadly toxin. And then we get the Crusades, we get modern Jihad, we get religious persecution: deadly as poison in a reservoir or a slowly spreading cloud of nerve gas.

Jun 13

Massacre Conspiracy Babblers Hurt Innocent People

Millions of people have seen the moronic video claiming the Boston bombing was faked; millions have been exposed to idiotic “memes” on fb and elsewhere suggesting that the Aurora massacre was unreal, Newtown Sandy Hook murders staged, etc. I wonder how many would maintain that the Columbine massacre was faked? Who do they ultimately blame for this imaginary conspiratorial agenda? Obama. Maybe they wouldn’t be so eager to challenge Columbine as we didn’t have a *black* President then.

But I also lump these people in with 9/11 Truthers who are suspicious of Bush/Cheney–I can understand being suspicious of Bush/Cheney, but 9 11 theory is without foundation.

But conspiracy theories of this kind are not harmless speculation. They hurt real people: the families of the victims. The thousands who lost family in the WTC attack. They slander them, they create misery and uncertainty around them; they create misery and calumny. Sandy Hook/Newtown families of victims were threatened by anti gun-control fanatics for their part in “the hoax”. This is cruelty heaped on cruelty.

There are two kinds of persons (with much overlap) who engage in this stuff:

One kind is racist and NRA-conditioned, they imagine their precious guns are going to be taken away by The Black Guy.

The other group seems to really be about frisson–about thrills. They thrill at being the ones pointing the finger at what they imagine is a conspiracy and *they don’t care who gets hurt* and what lies are fostered in people’s minds, as long as they can have the self aggrandizing thrill of their meme, their pseudo documentary on youtube…

Jun 13

Do You Have A Choice…in Anything?

One of the great questions is, how much real choice do we have? Are we entirely predetermined? Is there free will at all? Is there a smidgen, a bit, a fillip of it?

Sometimes it seems as if some people simply have more choice than others. Some are damaged by birth defects, by bad “neurological wiring”; lead poisoning, trauma, extreme inescapable poverty, truly bad parenting, and other factors–it’s hard to see much choice for them. People blithely point to those who came up in negative circumstances and yet “made good”–if they’re indeed as good as they seem, we may assume innate advantages in intelligence or some other interceding factor. Others are given all the benefits, good parents and education, and turn out dreadful anyway. Genetic predisposition is part of it.

Sometimes I think, though, that nearly everyone has choice, or the potential for it; it seems to me that we all have the possibility of deciding to go one way, or another, at critical moments–but many just don’t know they have it. Every time I made a really bad decision–many times!–I did know it. I could feel it. But I was swept along by neurosis or fear anyway… It took years to build up something that could go from knowing I was wrong to making better choices. It wasn’t just maturity, it was also effort, moving toward the inclusion of that additional dimension that makes choice come alive: a little more consciousness, a little more self-observation, self knowledge; a little fuller feeling, more awareness of the moment. I didn’t fall into this possibility of more choice. I had to head that way on purpose–a long slow slog I’m still trudging on.

What I’m suggested is there is a way to free choice. Something in us wants to get there. So if we go with that something–our first free choice–the other choices become possible…

I’m a long ways from having consistent access to that added dimension, that fourth dimension of character. It’s so very easy to fall asleep and I do fall asleep, while thinking myself awake, more often than not. But at least I have hope…of having choices.

Jun 13

Bradley Manning – What the President Should Do

The AP reports that prosecutors aver Bradley Manning, who released sensitive military material to wikileaks, “Dumped classified mlitary info into the enemy’s hands”; his defense attorney says, ‘Manning was “young, naive, but good-intentioned….”‘ and ‘selectively leaked material he believed could make the world a better place, mentioning an unclassified video of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack that killed civilians, including a Reuters photographer.’ I believe Manning should be pardoned, but this is not simple: I’m a believer in the necessity of military intel, and some classified intel; complete transparency is not possible in this world. Not yet. And Manning *violated laws* and I’m also a believer in rule of law. But suppose you’re a soldier in combat and your see your sergeant commit an atrocity. What’s the right thing to do? Bust the guy or worry that it might help the enemy to bust him?

Vigorous prosecution of Manning could have a chilling effect on situations of that kind. Soldiers could feel even more pressure to look away from a war crime, pretend it didn’t happen, even cover it up. Manning believed he was exposing war crimes, and in some instances he certainly was.

Ultimately, out of respect for the concept of classified intel and out of respect for rule of law, I think he should be convicted, and then he should be pardoned or, more likely, his sentence commuted to time served, since clearly he was exposing a war crime or crimes, and acting on good conscience. Probably only the President could do that.

The political cost would be high…

Jun 13

Bull Pizzle and Paying a Premium for Non-Poisoned Food

At Trader Joe’s they sell a “dog treat”, I bought one for my dogs to try it out–soon as I took it out of the package I noticed it smelled really bad. Dogs DID NOT want it. I returned it, they gave me another. Turns out “they always smell like that”. It is a single piece of some kind of smoked flesh, a wizened up dried out thing. I finally looked at the ingredients. There’s just one: “Bull pizzle” – I kid you not. It’s the penis of a bull they’re selling for dogs to chew on. Not ground-up penis. A PENIS. You’d think they could at least treat it so it doesn’t smell awful. But no.

It just seems like it’s all in the spirit of Trader Joe’s:

Why is that cashier wearing gloves? That nice young fellow with the tattoo on his forearm and the earring; that smiling, “Hi how are you today, beautiful day out, I like your shirt” cashier—why is he wearing gloves as he handles my groceries? The others aren’t wearing gloves. I ask him why the gloves, suspecting I know and hoping I’m not embarrassing him over some phobia. He looks uncomfortable and I lower my voice and prompt, “Is it the receipt?” He looks furtively around to be sure management’s not listening, and then nods.


The Trader Joe’s cashier nods again and, not offering to put the receipt in my ungloved hand as they usually do, he tucks the glossy strip of paper into the bag, giving me a knowing look.

Last year, alarmed by the reports of the effects of the chemical BPA, I emailed Trader Joe’s, asking about its use in their products and receipts. BPA, you see, is Bisphenol-A, which puts people at risk for diabetes, cancer, and general endocrine disruption. This toxic material lines most canned goods and many bottles, is found in baby products, and you can certainly count on having some floating about in your body right now. The Environmental Working Group tells us the amount of BPA in receipts is vastly more than cans or bottles: “Retail workers carry an average of 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than other adults”.

To my surprise, Trader Joe’s customer service responded to my email, saying that yes, BPA is in many of their canned goods (not quite all), and on their receipts, and they are “aware of the concern about it. Many researchers are feverishly looking for alternatives.” I wrote back and said that everyone already knows what alternatives there are; Eden Organics has a commonly used alternative costing only a couple cents more per can, and there are others, so why don’t you just switch to one of those? No response to that.

The truth of course is that it would cost them a lot of money to switch over. Oh once the switch is made, it won’t cost so much. But the process of switching, yes, that’s fairly costly, though not an amount that would significantly hurt their profitability. So they’re “feverishly” looking for an alternative that doesn’t cost them a penny to implement.

They’re a superficially chummy, scaled down chain store carrying bags of “organic popcorn with olive oil”, a thin selection of organic produce, various oddball food items that have novelty appeal, some reasonably palatable premade frozen California cuisine style dinners and hand-lettered signs—but while they’re friendly, they’re not actually your friend at Trader Joe’s. They have frozen fish sealed into enough plastic packaging for its own Pacific garbage vortex, and they dump sugar into juice, sauces, and frozen dinners that simply don’t need it; diabetes encouraging, calorie inflating sugar. If they were really interested in the welfare of customers they’d have gotten rid of all BPA by now.

False retail chumminess is an old friend we all grew up with it, but outfits like Trader Joe’s and the more upscale Whole Foods (which also makes excuses about BPA), have refined it into a kind of weary smile, a hipster wink, a rueful “we’re all part of the alternative in our own way” façade. They don’t allow unions but they’re more employee friendly than some franchises–they claim to offer better than union wages, at least to some employees, and they do offer some benefits. They’re straddling the worlds of “green” business, and corporate consciousness, getting bigger and bigger, and more corporate as time passes. Yes, I find them preferable to Safeway. I just think that having tissue boxes that offer words of comfort and chipper employees doesn’t make up for their toxic footprint.

Trader Joe’s does offer some organics, at slightly better prices than the egregiously overpriced Whole Foods, but the organics still cost more than “conventional” produce.

Of course, before the invention of pesticides, everything was organic. It is one of the piquant absurdities, one of the “soft cruelties” of modern life, that we have to pay extra to not have our food poisoned. We pay a surcharge for so-called organic food. You have to pay extra to have food that was never sprayed with nerve toxins, and for other kinds of healthier fare. Non-processed meat? That’ll be extra, please. If they were honest about organics, it would go like this:

“Sir–would you like that poisoned or not poisoned, on the produce?”

“Uhhh…not poisoned.”

“That’ll cost 28% more…Now for your meat products, would you like tortured or non tortured?”


“Yes sir—tortured is the designation for animals raised in the standard agribusiness conditions, confined to tiny cages and so on, non-tortured is free range, grass fed, that kind of thing.”

“Uhh…Non tortured, please.”

“That will be an additional 32% on the price…”

I often wonder how Whole Foods and their ilk would react if threatened with a national law that required all produce to be organically raised. If it were possible for everyone to raise fruit and vegetables organically without high prices, to raise chickens and beef without cruelty, would Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s quietly lobby against the law requiring it? Quite possibly they would. They are more profitable when most produce is raised conventionally. So they’d want to keep soil-toxifying, pesticide-soaked, tortured produce around, somewhere, so they could still charge more for what was once the 19th-century norm.

That is—they like the fact that they are alternative. It’s their draw. They really wouldn’t like it if Safeway was a friendly organic store with novelty food and whimsically happy tissue boxes. Trader Joe’s would have to do something to set themselves apart—possibly they’d be forced to offer a free piercing with every hundred-dollar purchase, Ayurvedic foods, and on-the-spot high colonics…

[most of this piece originally appeared as an article at The Raw Story: Culture Clutch]