Jan 28, 2014

Goodbye Pete Seeger. Many Thanks to this Great American Patriot

At the Strawberry Festival, Beacon 2013
The machine that kills hate! Pete's banjo
Sad news today that a symbol of civic activism and engaged citizenship has died. Yet, Pete Seeger lived a full life, inspiring several generations of Americans (and not only) to affect change to benefit the poor and the middle class. I met the man several years ago, when I moved to the Hudson valley and kept bumping into him at various events. He lived in Beacon, NY, where he had built his own cabin decades ago.

I wasn't really surprised the see a 90+ year old man to lead one march of the Occupy Wall Street when that movement sprouted a few years ago in NYC. It was Pete's kind of thing to support such causes.
I took this picture at the Strawberry Festival in Beacon, 2012

A self-described communist (with a small "c") and a people's advocate, he was often persecuted by various authorities in the US. We like to think that our country always had the best democracy and copious amounts of freedom, but it ain't true. Pete was given one year sentence for contempt of Congress after he refused to cooperate with Congress's witch hunt of those engaged in "un-American activities." Later this sentence was overturned. But, he was blacklisted and
"Backstage" but always ready to perform

barred from radio and tv for many years because of his political beliefs and activism. No matter, he continued to perform all over the country to big audiences. At it is often the case, radicals of one era are venerated later and recognized for their contributions. In 2009, Pete performed at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

The Hudson river is one of the great rivers in the US. I live by the beautiful Hudson so I take the time to look at it every day from my house, and of course sit by it for long periods at various locations up and down, on either bank. Pete loved the river and helped many efforts to clean it up. He supported the Clearwater Sloop--a boat and an organization devoted to the preservation of the river. The Clearwater Festival takes place in Croton on Hudson, usually in June; two days of music and awareness. Great place to be. Pete was there last summer. Pete liked to tell lots of stories and I'll always treasure those and our brief chats about political activism.

We'll miss him. 

*Click on the pictures above to make them bigger. I retain the rights to these pictures.

Jan 20, 2014

The Problem We All Live With. Some Thoughts on This Martin Luther King Day, 2014

Norman Rockwell's "The Problem We All Live With"
On the occasion of the MLK day, I've read and heard several speeches of the slain civil rights leader and, of course, most of us today wonder why American society was so opposed to equal rights, or more specifically to blacks having equal treatment under the law and equal opportunity like anybody else.

It's conservatism! Being conservative is a disposition--an attitude towards change and something new. Conservatives exist in all political parties. This was particularly true in the 1950s and 1960s in the Democratic party. Many of the opponents to the Civil Rights acts, most from the old South, left the party and joined became Dixiecrat Republicans. President Lyndon Johnson said that the South would be lost for his party after he signed the CRA. It's been certainly true, but a couple states like Virginia and North Carolina may be trending the other way now.

There's a difference in disposition between conservatives and liberal-progressives. I think we have a better imagination and we are more confident over all. Why is imagination necessary? To evaluate abstract scenarios, to imagine change, whereas a conservative prefers the "tried and true," tradition, familiarity and can't imagine a different world. Blacks having same rights as whites? Oh, goodness, traditional society would collapse, a way of live (which included either slavery or later discrimination and separation of the races) of the old was preferable to a new order.

PBS's documentary, Slavery By Another Name, is a must-watch *

Confidence? Well, sameness is comforting. Confirmation bias, solidarity of thought and action is soothing to a conservative.  We all have this trait to some extent. We like to see our choices, thoughts, beliefs, customs, etc, confirmed; it validates our life...   Yet, some of us are willing to accept correction; we're open to revision, and seek the truth even if it's uncomfortable. Confidence doesn't mean stubbornness of a closed mind, but it means that the new, the different doesn't necessarily make us uncomfortable. And we can image a world with all races, creeds, and sexual orientation.

Isn't the same approach and the also the difference between the conservatives and liberals when it comes to same-sex marriage? My heterosexual makeup isn't threatened by homosexuality. My heterosexual marriage or relationship isn't threatened by homosexual unions or marriages. The right to marry a person of your choosing is having equal opportunity and treatment under the law. End of story (for a liberal).

Speaking the Tongue of the Natives

MLK was a great leader and even a better orator and thus motivated lots of people to meaningful action for civil rights. He spoke like a preacher, which, for me, isn't my favorite elocution. I don't want to be preached at. I don't want to be told that a certain action is good because it has the blessings of a god, or the God.  However, MLK spoke the language of religion in a deeply religious land, whereas both sides had used religious language to justify their positions.

But, many people on both sides were practicing confirmation bias--using the Bible to justify their positions. Guess what? The Bible has a little for every one. Am I glad that MLK's Bible quoting and religious messaging worked to help bring about change? Certainly! Because, this was a much-needed change. 

However, it should be noted that the Bible condones slavery! [source]  I would expect a messiah to preach against the evils of slavery, but Jesus didn't. The Gospels in the New Testament don't advocate for a slave-free world. On the contrary. Women's status? Subservient. We're talking about divine morality here. The word of God, good then, good today, and unalterable in the future!

Anyway, we have a long way to go despite our advances, many of which have been forcefully opposed by conservatives of all types. We're still very primitive in how act, think, and often treat each other. 

 * This PBS documentary examines the conditions of servitude that existed until the second part of the 20th century in the US. It's definitely worth a watch.

Jan 15, 2014

Is Net Neutrality Dead? Who Says You Should Have the Freedom to Move About Freely? Stop Complaining! We Live in the Most Free Country in the World!

This past Tuesday a US Court of Appeals closed the door to the free internet and gave a huge victory to the telcos, which now could control the flow of information and commerce on cyberworld. But, this situation can be reversed if enough citizens mobilize and pressure the FCC and Congress to change this. Net Neurality ought to be the platform for the internet; common carriers shouldn't be monopolies or oligopolies.

Amazingly this is an issue--for net neutrality--that has attracted a very diverse coalition, from the conservative to the liberal side, because most people appreciate the equal access to the world wide web, without restrictions. In the past, there has been such large coalition that beat back the telcos efforts, but due to the lax and politicized FCC, the issue wasn't settled in favor of the consumer and for the citizens.

It is about good citizenship when anyone could go to any site at the same speed, through the same toll road. I could even argue why access to the internet should be completely free--as it is in some cities who have such networks. Nowadays, the internet is essential to finding a job, being informed, communicate, organize, know what our government is doing, and enhance the notion & practice of citizenship.

Tolls, bridges, roads

Imagine if a bridge is built, especially with government initiative, subsidies, and other beneficial regulations. Now the bridge is private and the owner can allow certain vehicles/people to cross it. And, that if you're allowed on the bride, you're put on a very sloooooooooow lane. Oh, yes, much, much slower that any other place in the advanced industrialized world. [the US lags way behind other countries in internet speed & infrastructure]

Let the free market operate, is the mantra of many talking heads on Fox and CNBC (and I'm sure elsewhere). How would companies invest if they don't know how much they'll make because of regulation?... they add. Bullshit, I say. Unregulated capitalism leads to monopolies (NO competition), child (slave) labor, no consumer protection, etc. It's been tried before you know. Any serious advanced country regulates the market place. American sports franchises do this to ensure competition. The NFL divides its huge media profits in 32 equal ways--a communist practice if you asked me. But, it works!

Imagine if you were told that once you paid the toll to get on the highway, you couldn't just take any exit, or that some exits cost more than others. Or, that you could travel on certain roads as a package. You know, like when you have the choices (not) of cable tv. It's an oligopoly at best--whereas there are two choices available. Where I've lived in the last several decades when cable tv was available, I had NO choice. One provider, and an expensive one at that.

Free Press has more information and course of action, but be alert in the near future. We have to retake this freedom from the telcos, so please mobilize and engage in active citizenship. It is about freedom, political and consumer. Everybody who uses the internet is affected.

Jan 8, 2014

Arctic Vortex Has Laid a Frozen Blanket in the Northeast. However, It Has no Effect on the Frozen Brains of Conservatives.

In the last several days it's been very cold around here, but it gets my blood boiling when the willfully ignorant keep arguing that this situation disproves climate change/global warming. Of course, the usual suspects are conservative voices, like their hired gun, Fox News, which has no credibility other than to reliably serve spiked coolaid to the already converted. 

Jon Stewart effectively mocks the stupid opinions of Fox News

When 97% of climate scientists say that the globe's weather has been adversely affected by human activities, it's most likely true; and it's prudent to act now in order to save our own species. How about the other 3% of doubting scientists? Many of them are paid by the fossil industry and rely on dubious studies or may have a good counter-argument. But, what should a prudent person do? Which advice should they take? At any rate, we cannot afford to be wrong in case our planet goes into a convulsion because of our activities. The opposite scenario, if true, doesn't have the same consequences.

Much of the United States was in the grips of the arctic vortex, or whatever voodoo magic libruls have conjured up.

As far as I'm concerned, I do not like the cold, but I don't like extreme heat & humidity either. Besides, with cold weather, even this deep freeze, there are remedies for most of us who can generate warmth and dress in warm layers of clothing. Personally, I can fight this cold, though it limits my activities outdoors.

On the other hand, extreme heat and humidity, say close to or over 100F makes it unbearable. Many hot days are very uncomfortable, almost suffocating. I read somewhere that subconsciously people prefer the very hot to very cold because of other associations, like vacations, longer daylight time, etc. OK. I'll buy that. 

Here are a few pictures I took in my neck of the woods in the last week or so. I checked today, and there's lots more ice everywhere. My fingers almost got a frostbite while taking these pictures as the wind was gusting at 30-50 mph.

The Hudson river, looking south. It's more frozen now.

Ft Montgomery area, where the river is relatively narrow, thus heaving a stronger flow, but still there's lots of ice.

The widest part of the Hudson river, looking north.
It's going to warm up in the next few days. Tomorrow it'll be around the freezing mark and go up a bit over the weekend. I missed my chance to throw a hot water in the air to see it vaporize. Ah, well. Stay warm.