31 December 2009

Robert Fisk

Before President Reagan bombed Libya in 1986, he announced that America "has no quarrel with the Libyan people." Before he bombed Iraq in 1991, Bush the Father told the world that the United States "has no quarrel with the Iraqi people." In 2001, Bush the Son, about to strike at the Taliban and al-Qaeda, told us he "has no quarrel with the people of Afghanistan." And now that frightening mantra was repeated. There was no quarrel, Mr. Bush said--absolutely none--with the Iraqi people. So, I thought to myself as I scribbled my notes in the UN press gallery, it's flak jackets on.

Robert Fisk, The Great War For Civilisation, pp.888-889

Mars and Venus

In the Mars-and-Venus-gendered universe, men want power and women want emotional attachment and connection. On these planets nobody really has the opportunity to know love since it is power and not love that is the order of the day. The privilege of power is at the heart of patriarchal thinking. Girls and boys, women and men who have been taught to think this way almost always believe love is not important, or if it is, it is never as important as being powerful, dominant, in control, on top--being right. Women who give seemingly selfless adoration and care to the men in their lives appear to be obsessed with "love," but in actuality their actions are often a covert way to hold power. Like their male counterparts, they enter relationships speaking the words of love even as their actions indicate that maintaining power and control is their primary agenda. This does not mean that care and affection are not present; they are. This is precisely why it is so difficult for women, and some men, to leave relationships where the central dynamic is a struggle for power. The fact that this sadomasochistic power dynamic can and usually does coexist with affection, care, tenderness, and loyalty makes it easy for power-hungry individuals to deny their agendas, even to themselves.

bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, p.152

The Place of Love in Life

Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in life, they have made it into play and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure was more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work.

Rainer Maria Rilke: quoted in hooks, p.183

22 December 2009


As long as women are not more involved in physics, they cannot play a significant role in determining the directions and goals of the science itself. This is a particularly crucial issue because in the last few decades the physics community has become almost fanatically obsessed with a goal that I suggest offers very few benefits for our society. That is the dream of finding a unified theory of the particles and forces of nature--a set of mathematical equations that would encompass not only matter and force, but space and time as well: what physicists call a "theory of everything," often simply referred to as a TOE.

Even the most ardent TOE proponents acknowledge that this theoretical synthesis is unlikely to have any application to daily human life--not even for military purposes. Physicists seek the knowledge, not because they believe it has the potential to improve the concrete human condition, but simply because they yearn to see what they believe is the mathematical plan of Creation.

The problem is, such a theory cannot be obtained by thought alone. In order to pursue their quest, TOE physicists during the last two decades have had to build increasingly expensive particle accelerators. The sheer expense has thus transformed it into an issue for society at large--because it is our taxes that would have to pay for these machines. In expecting society to provide billions of dollars to support this quest, TOE physicists have become like a decadent priesthood, demanding that the populace build them ever more elaborate cathedrals, with spires reaching ever higher into their idea of heaven.

I believe we need a new culture of physics, one that does not place so much value on quasi-religious, highly abstracted goals; a culture that is less obsessed with particles and forces, and more concerned with human beings and our needs. One of the roles I believe women might play in physics is to encourage a shift away from the present obsessions. I am not suggesting here that women are innately uninterested in theories of particles and forces, or that male physicists have inherently different interests from females, but rather that modern physics has evolved in such a way that it now tends to attract only people, of both sexes, with certain kinds of interests and proclivities.

Let me stress, then, the problem is not that physicists use mathematics to describe the world, but rather how they have used it, and to what ends. Mathematical Man's problem is neither his math nor his maleness per se, but rather the pseudoreligious ideals and self-image with which he so easily becomes obsessed. He does not need a sex change, just a major personality readjustment.

Margaret Wertheim, Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars, pp.13-16

08 December 2009

American War Crimes in Vietnam

Discussion of American war crimes in Vietnam is often sharply criticized as dishonest, or even as a form of self-hatred, if not "balanced" by an account of the crimes of the "enemy." Such criticism is at best thoughtless and at worst hypocritical; how would we respond to the claim that that discussion of the acts of the fascist aggressors in World War II must be "balanced" by an account of the terrorism of the resistance in occupied countries?

Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State, p.230

Assata Shakur

"No," the guard said, "you're wrong. Slavery was outlawed with the exception of prisons. Slavery is legal in prisons."

I looked it up and sure enough, she was right. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution says:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Well, that explained a lot of things.

Assata Shakur, Assata, p.64

bell hooks

Ultimately, cynicism is the great mask of the disappointed and betrayed heart.

bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, p.xviii

01 December 2009

Jim Hightower

By defining business in the narrowest terms of global corporate interests, we sublimate all else to their bottom line, leaving only incidental room for the multiple goals of our community, including:

Time for family and friends

Personal satisfaction of workers

Encouragement of creativity

Promotion of discourse

Welcoming of dissent

Building of strong, local relationships

Good stewardship

...and, dare we add,



The pursuit of happiness

A sense of shared purpose and belonging

A feeling of being respected and valued

The common good

Why should we give up all that? As individuals and as citizens of a country, why should we let a cabal of greedheads and boneheads define society's goals?

(And away we go, Hightower, with another of your leftie, hate-America screeds, trying to rouse the rabble with all that pursuit of happiness crap. You know what your problem is, doncha, Jimbo? You're just antibusiness, that's what! Hey, that old president, Calvin Coolidge, got it right years ago: "The chief business of the American people is business." Get over it.)

Me, antibusiness? Hardly. I grew up in business. My parents, "High" and Lillie Hightower, owned and ran a small wholesale magazine business, along with the Main Street Newsstand, in Denison, Texas. My first job was wrangling bundles of magazines into my daddy's delivery truck.

Antibusiness? I saw and deeply admired the entrepreneurial gumption and the hard, hard work my parents put into their business. I saw them respect and fairly reward the employees who worked with them. I saw how much they enjoyed their customers, always shooting the breeze and joshing with them, thereby making a visit to their store much more than a mere commercial transaction.

The essential question to ask is this: What kind of business? Today's corporations like to cite old Cal Coolidge's business-of-America line, but they conveniently leave out his follow-up thought, which came only three lines later: "Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence." Coolidge continued with "It's only natural that people seek some level of wealth, but there are many other things we want very much more." Then he garnished his point with this flower: "The chief ideal of the American people is idealism."

You don't hear that uplifting thought quoted very much, do you? Yet in terms of business alone, there are many ways to organize commerce--so unleash your idealism!

Jim Hightower and Susan DeMarco, Swim Against The Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow, pp.11-13
additional source: Calvin Coolidge, "The Press Under a Free Government," January 17, 1925

23 November 2009

Rosalind Franklin

You frequently state, and in your letter you imply, that I have developed a completely one-sided outlook and look at everything and think of everything in terms of science. Obviously my method of thought and reasoning is influenced by a scientific training--if that were not so my scientific training will have been a waste and a failure. But you look at science (or at least talk of it) as some sort of demoralising invention of man, something apart from real life, and which must be cautiously guarded and kept separate from everyday existence. But science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, for me, gives a partial explanation of life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience, and experiment. Your theories are those which you and many other people find easiest and pleasantest to believe, but so far as I can see, they have no foundation other than they lead to a pleasanter view of life (and an exaggerated idea of our own importance).

I agree that faith is essential to success in life (success of any sort) but I do not accept your definition of faith, i.e. belief in life after death. In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining. Anyone able to believe in all that religion implies obviously must have such faith, but I maintain that faith in this world is perfectly possible without faith in another world.

It has just occurred to me that you may raise the question of a creator. A creator of what? ...I see no reason to believe that a creator of protoplasm or primeval matter, if such there be, has any reason to be interested in our insignificant race in a tiny corner of the universe, and still less in us, as still more insignificant individuals. Again, I see no reason why the belief that we are insignificant or fortuitous should lessen our faith--as I have defined it.

quoted in Brenda Maddox, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, pp.60-61

13 November 2009

Martin Newell

I was one of the inventors of the cassette underground. Being pretty much an average dumbshit Spinal Tap-type pop musician, which I was, I was interested in haircuts and girls and drugs and quite a lot of music really. I had no knowledge of politics. But I suddenly started reading anarchist tracts. I'd always been rebellious. But in this case I suppose I did have half a brain, and it started germinating about this time. I started reading. And I thought, hang on a minute. No one's so zealous as the recently converted. I became a fully-fledged agit-prop anarchist, let's buck the system, let's tear it all down, let's slash it up. I thought, the best thing is not to join in. You know that slogan that Lennon and all the others had about '70: "What if they had a war and nobody came?" Well, this was "what if they started a record company and nobody signed?"

So we said look, the equation is this: we want to make music, and there's people who want to listen to it. So how do we get our music out of our hearts, through our fingers, into people's ears without this plethora of basically parasites interfering with it? 'Cause there were parasites. And I thought, I know. As the technology improves--they'd just invented four-track portastudios--we could have the same facilities in theory as the Beatles had, in our living rooms, and we could send the stuff out. We could just mail it out to people. But Lol [Elliott, fellow member of Cleaners from Venus], who was well-staged in anarchism, said, "Look, do we have to take money for it? Can't we just do a direct swap--music for groceries?"

But I thought, there's perishables. Obviously, the thing has a self-limiting factor inasmuch as if you start sending melons or oranges and stuff. We're vegetarians, so there wouldn't be any rotting meat or anything being sent to us. But it would have to be dried goods. I think somebody did actually send us some tea bags. But that's as far as it got. Then we realized that we couldn't swap tea bags for stamps, so we couldn't mail the stuff out. So we had to modify it a bit. So in the end we just charged the lowest prices we could.

It began to get quite successful, so I got in an argument with a businessman one day, who said, "Martin, blah blah, this thing seems to be taking off for you. What happens if you become successful? You'll have to become a capitalist." So I said "No, it's not anti-capitalism. I'll reduce the prices." He said, "You can't do it." I said, "I can." He said, "What happens if it gets really really successful?" I said, "We'll give it away." He said, "What happens it gets really global? " I said, "We'll pay people to take it with the money we've made." And he got really angry, and I had to leave the pub before he hit me. People who are interested in money get very emotional about it. They don't like the idea of anyone giving it away. It contravenes some essential law in their heads.

Please read the complete Martin Newell interview with Richie Unterberger

Gram Parsons

The core of Gram's art was his courage in the face of emotional pain. While his life was consumed in fleeing or blunting that pain, his music addressed the most awful loss with singular clarity. For Gram, transcending pain meant staring it in the face, describing it in detail, owning the hurt without flinching.

David Meyer, Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music, p.444

Gram Parsons II

Years spent sifting through Gram Parsons' life, tracking the course of his years, listening to those who knew him, becoming ever more immersed in his music, make it clear to me that Gram's death offers not the slightest trace of romance. It was sordid.

Meyer, p.455

12 November 2009

Moses Fleetwood Walker

Moses Fleetwood Walker's promising baseball career was pounded to dust not by ownership but by the white players themselves. In 1887, future Hall of Famer Adrian "Cap" Anson refused to allow his team to play against Newark unless Walker and George Stovey were benched. Anson's team issued the following letter:

"Dear Sir,
We the undersigned, do hereby warn you not to put up Walker, the Negro catcher, the days you play in Richmond, as we could mention the names of seventy-five determined men who have sworn to mob Walker, if he comes on the grounds in a suit. We hope you will listen to our words of warning, so there will be no trouble, and if you do not, there certainly will be. We only write this to prevent much bloodshed, as you alone can prevent."

Billy Voltz refused to concede, and even sent Walker, who was scheduled to have an off day, to right field. Anson backed down and the game was played.

At a game in Syracuse, Walker took the day off and sat in the dugout in street clothes. The Toronto manager asked Walker to leave the stadium. Heated words were exchanged. According to one account, Walker was surrounded by fans and allegedly brandished a loaded revolver and threatened to put a hole in someone in the crowd. He was arrested but released, and the next day he was in Syracuse's lineup.

But Walker--even though he is now a baseball footnote and most fans think Jackie Robinson was the first African American player--didn't fade into obscurity. The son of an Ohio doctor, Walker went to Oberlin College, a school with roots in the abolitionist movement, and later went on to both run a hotel and become an inventor of early movie cameras. He was also a spokesperson for the idea that the only way blacks could escape white supremacy would be to secede from America. Walker called for a mass exodus to Liberia: the only solution to "the Negro problem or if you prefer, the white man's problem" is "the wholesale emigration of the Negro from America.... We do not believe in the wholesale deportation of the Negro at the present time....But the time is fast approaching when the Negroes at the very least must leave the Southern states." In Walker we see a precursor to the Garveyite movement of the 1920s. In other sections of Walker's work, he writes bracingly about everything from the effect of white dolls on young black girls to the inhumanity of lynchings. The sham of baseball's "level playing field" created a man with no illusions in the promise of America. His baseball experience produced enduring scars.

Dave Zirin, A People's History of Sports in the United States, pp.22-24


There are things human beings have known for most of our time on earth. For at least 500,000 years of human time we have known them; for about 5 billion years of earth time we have known them; for a good 13 billion years of galactic time we have known them--and, no doubt, longer than that. Set against this long galactic, terrestrial, and human time of knowing our oneness, the past four thousand years of patriarchy's institutional and doctrinal denial of our oneness, once we see it for what it was, will appear a mere aberration. Just a brief forgetting.

Monica Sjöö & Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, p.424

09 November 2009

Abner Doubleday

It was thought for decades that baseball's creator was a prominent Union general named Abner Doubleday who in his pre-martial days was said to have invented the sport. But this was myth. Neither his personal effects (letters, notes) nor his 1893 obituary in the New York Times makes mention of baseball. The tale was born when Albert Spalding, of Spalding sporting goods, put together a panel to declare how the sport began. Spalding, a former pitcher, team owner, and antiunion zealot, trumpeted that the game's roots lay in Cooperstown, New York, a bucolic All-American postcard of a place. Doubleday, a veteran who graduated from West Point and fought Indians, Mexicans, and Confederates, seemed as good a choice as any to be the founder. The myth was powerful enough and repeated enough that Cooperstown is now the site of the baseball hall of fame. There is no evidence Doubleday ever even set foot in Cooperstown.

Dave Zirin, A People's History of Sports in the United States, pp. 15-16

Please see The Doubleday Myth to read about this story in more detail.

02 November 2009


You might not think there would be that many people in the world prepared to devote lifetimes to the study of something so inescapably low key, but in fact moss people number in the hundreds and they feel very strongly about their subject. "Oh, yes," Ellis told me, "the meetings can get very lively at times."

I asked him for an example of controversy.

"Well, here's one inflicted on us by one of your countrymen," he said, smiling lightly, and opened a hefty reference work containing illustrations of mosses whose most notable characteristic to the uninstructed eye was their uncanny similarity one to another. "That," he said, tapping a moss, "used to be one genus, Drepanocladus. Now it's been reorganized into three: Drepanocladus, Wamstorfia, and Hamatacoulis."

"And did that lead to blows?" I asked perhaps a touch hopefully.

"Well, it made sense. It made perfect sense. But it meant a lot of reordering of collections and it put all the books out of date for a time, so there was a bit of, you know, grumbling."

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, p.353

27 October 2009


The POW/MIA myth must be understood as a symptom of a profound psychological sickness in American culture. One path back toward mental health would be through an honest self-examination of how and why a society could have been so possessed by such a grotesque myth.

The bones of many Americans have mingled not just with the earth of Vietnam but also with the bones of many Vietnamese. Those who are still missing are just as dead as the husband and son of Nguyen Thi Teo, and the Vietnamese dead are just as missing as those dead Americans. When we recognize and confront all that we--and the peoples of Indochina--have truly lost and that will remain forever missing in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, perhaps we can at least recover some of our lost moral and psychological health.

As for the bone fragments recovered the first day, they were taken away by the Americans and sent to the U.S. identification laboratory in Honolulu to determine whether they were remains of "American MIAs." There is no hint in any press report that anyone considered the possibility that they might be the remains of Vietnamese MIAs, such as the husband and son of Nguyen Thi Teo.

Bruce Franklin, M.I.A. or Mythmaking In America, p.170,175

We Remember Their Names

All the while, we wrote poems, we painted, we told stories. Many women who showed great creative promise did not continue. Some were forced to stop. Some went mad. Others died. We know who they were; we remember their names.

Ana Castillo, Massacre of the Dreamers, p.94

20 October 2009

Clair Patterson

Later in 1953, his main work done, Patterson turned his attention to the nagging question of all that lead in the atmosphere. He was astounded to find that what little was known about the effects of lead on humans was almost invariably wrong or misleading--and not surprisingly, he discovered, since for forty years every study of lead's effects had been funded exclusively by manufacturers of lead additives.

Patterson quickly established that we had a lot of lead in the atmosphere--still do, in fact, since lead never goes away--and that about 90 percent of it appeared to come from automobile exhaust pipes, but he couldn't prove it. What he needed was a way to compare lead levels in the atmosphere now with the levels that existed before 1923, when tetraethyl lead was introduced. It occurred to him that ice cores could provide the answer.

What Patterson found was that before 1923 there was almost no lead in the atmosphere, and that since that time its level had climbed steadily and dangerously. He now made it his life's quest to get lead taken out of gasoline. To that end, he became a constant and often vocal critic of the lead industry and its interests.

It would prove to be a hellish campaign. Ethyl was a powerful global corporation with many friends in high places. Patterson suddenly found research funding withdrawn or difficult to acquire. The American Petroleum Institute canceled a research contract with him, as did the United States Public Health Service, a supposedly neutral government institution.

As Patterson increasingly became a liability to his institution, the school trustees were repeatedly pressed by lead industry officials to shut him up or let him go. According to Jamie Lincoln Kitman, writing in The Nation in 2000, Ethyl executives allegedly offered to endow a chair at Caltech "if Patterson was sent packing." Absurdly, he was excluded from a 1971 National Research Council panel appointed to investigate the dangers of atmospheric lead poisoning even though he was by now unquestionably the leading expert on atmospheric lead.

To his great credit, Patterson never wavered or buckled. Eventually his efforts led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and finally to the removal from sale of all leaded gasoline in the United States in 1986. Almost immediately lead levels in the blood of Americans fell by 80 percent. But because lead is forever, those of us alive today have about 625 times more lead in our blood than people did a century ago.

Clair Patterson died in 1995. He didn't win a Nobel Prize for his work. Geologists never do. Nor, more puzzlingly, did he gain any fame or even much attention from half a century of consistent and increasingly selfless achievement. A good case could be made that he was the most influential geologist of the twentieth century. Yet who has ever heard of Clair Patterson?

Bill Bryson, A Short History Of Nearly Everything, pp.157-160
additional source: Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Prometheans in the Lab


Silent and proper and modest and self-contained, a perfect Senator's daughter: you had to know Astano very well to know how warm-hearted she was and what unexpected thoughts she could think.

Ursula LeGuin, Powers, p.11


Space, let me repeat, is enormous. The average distance between stars out there is 20 million million miles. Even at speeds approaching those of light, these are fantastically challenging distances for any traveling individual. Of course, it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely.

Bill Bryson, A Short History Of Nearly Everything, p.27