Jim Aikin's Oblong Blob

Random Rambling & Questionable Commentary

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Bank Shot

Posted by midiguru on March 21, 2014

For the past few years, Livermore has had a wonderful local theater, the Bankhead. Our local community orchestra performs there, as do the local opera company and theater company and a wide variety of touring professional artists. It’s a 500-seat hall, smallish (no balcony) with great acoustics.

Barring a miracle, all that will soon be coming to an end. The Bankhead will be boarded up.

I’m not on the inside; I only hear gossip. Some of what I’ve heard may be wrong, distorted, or incomplete. What I’ve heard is this.

The Bankhead has been operated by an organization called LVPAC (Livermore Valley Performing Arts something-or-other). Not satisfied to run the Bankhead, LVPAC has been hell-bent on building a larger “regional theater” in downtown Livermore. Nobody that I have spoken to ever thought the regional theater was a good idea. Traffic downtown is already bad enough, and if you want to see Lady Gaga on tour it’s not that hard to drive down to San Jose. Nonetheless, the land has been cleared, and LVPAC has spent millions on architectural plans.

At some point after that money had been spent, the State of California pulled the plug on its funding for the redevelopment agency. Suddenly, the state money was gone. LVPAC was left holding the bag. They sued the state. They lost.

LVPAC owes millions of dollars to a bank in New York, and there isn’t enough cash coming in to make payments on the loan. The gossip is Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in music, politics | 1 Comment »

Top Dogs

Posted by midiguru on March 16, 2013

After being away from the computer for a couple of days, I return to a big dose of crazy-making news clips, all at once. (And I haven’t even glanced at the bulletins from CPAC. I’m scared to.) As upsetting as these bits are, seeing them all in a compressed space of time makes it easier to notice the common thread that runs through all of the stories.

Rachel Maddow has new details on the Sandy Hook shootings, and lets us watch the freshman senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, try to lecture Diane Feinstein on the Second Amendment. Since Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco in 1978 following the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, it’s pretty clear Cruz picked the wrong antagonist, but apparently nothing is going to stop him. He thinks it’s just peachy for us all to own high-capacity automatic rifles.

Saving the lives of children doesn’t interest him. Unless, I suppose, they haven’t yet been born. Once they’ve been born, just mow them down. Ted will give you a medal.

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York¬†grills some generals about the entire failure of the military justice system to deal with rape. She tries to get the generals to say that justice hasn’t been served, and they duck and weave and tap dance to avoid admitting it.

Over in North Africa, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is forthrightly opposing a U.N. resolution that attempts (toothlessly) to prevent violence against women. Apparently these guys don’t even give a moment’s thought to how vicious Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by midiguru on February 24, 2013

The term “voluntaryism” has popped up a couple of times lately. This seems to be a new term for libertarianism, but perhaps lacks the leave-well-enough-alone facet of the libertarian ethic. If true, that makes it even worse.

Libertarians, for instance, tend to support decriminalizing the possession of drugs — and I applaud them for it. That’s a sensible position. A strict interpretation of libertarianism would also support the idea that a woman’s decision to have an abortion is between her and her doctor, and the government should butt out. I’m pretty sure a lot of libertarians have to grit their teeth while agreeing to that one, but it certainly falls under the umbrella of individual freedom, and libertarians vigorously support the idea of freedom.

In some other areas, libertarianism is blindingly stupid, but dogmatic adherence to the doctrine of personal freedom does have its sensible moments.

Voluntaryism may lack the sensible moments. We’re not sure yet. The ideas that I’ve heard from voluntaryists, to date, are: (a) No minimum wage should be set by law, because the negotiations between employer and employee are a private matter, and not one that the government has any legitimate interest in controlling. (b) Welfare payments should be abolished. All charitable giving should be voluntary. Government-administered welfare programs are charitable giving “at the point of a gun.” That is, if you decide Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, society & culture | 2 Comments »

Who Gets to Say What’s Right?

Posted by midiguru on February 16, 2013

Today I got into one of those annoying and unproductive discussions on Facebook — a disagreement with a complete stranger. It started with the question of whether a Christian florist (by which I mean, a Christian florist of the bigoted asshole variety) should have the right to refuse to provide flowers for a gay wedding, or whether the florist should be required not to discriminate as a condition of doing business.

As nearly as I can determine, my antagonist in this little debate was (a) in favor of equal treatment for homosexuals, (b) opposed to government sanctions of almost any kind. He raised the specter of California’s Proposition 8, and asked whether I support the right of the people of California to legally deny marriage rights to gay couples. To him, this is an example of the government mandating a moral principle, something he feels shouldn’t be allowed.

But this is not as easy a question as it seems. In each case — enforcing gay rights or forbidding them — the government is essentially stepping in and making moral decisions that are then binding upon individuals, so I can certainly see that there need to be limits on what the government can or should do. After mulling it over, I think a productive way to approach such questions may be to make a distinction between public morality and private morality.

A Christian of the bigoted asshole variety certainly has a right to cross the street in order to avoid coming into proximity with a gay couple that is holding hands, or to refuse to rent a room to them in his home. The right to avoid gay people is a private right. Likewise, a church is Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by midiguru on December 23, 2012

It appears we’re going to engage in some sort of impassioned public debate about the possession of firearms. This debate, while unlikely to change anything, is long overdue.

One of the talking points trotted out by the gun huggers is the idea that ownership of a gun is what allows ordinary citizens to stand up and oppose their government. Gun ownership is seen as a way to prevent tyranny.

Just to be clear: I’m as concerned as anybody about the assorted tyrannical abuses perpetrated by our current government. You and I might not agree in every instance about what’s a tyranny and what isn’t — I happen to think Obama didn’t go nearly far enough in the direction of socialized medicine — but I think we can all agree that the federal government is a hella dangerous mess. The point I want to make is simply this: Guns do not offer you any effective protection against tyranny. That idea is nothing but a fantasy. Gun ownership was probably effective 225 years ago, when the United States was a small, sparsely populated nation with a new and uncertain form of government, but a lot has changed since then. Opposing tyranny today is not nearly as easy as owning guns!

Thinking gun ownership provides you with some sort of political autonomy is right-wing bullshit in an especially naked and stupid form. Fortunately, crushing this argument is not difficult. It might even be fun. So let’s give it a shot.

The first thing that needs to be asked, since there’s already quite a lot of gun ownership in the United States, is, “How’s it working so far?” Now, I’m not fond of the way our governments (state and federal) operate, and I’m sure a lot of other people aren’t either — perhaps for different reasons. Conservatives tend to feel the government is trampling on their sacred rights far too energetically, while liberals tend to feel the government ought to be doing a lot more than it’s doing to rein in certain abuses.

The conservatives, of course, are the ones with the guns. So … how’s it working for you, guys? Is the fact that you own guns keeping the government off your backs? Are you enjoying Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, society & culture | 8 Comments »

Fabulous Conspiracies

Posted by midiguru on October 1, 2012

This weekend I got interested in the “9/11 Truth” movement. Watched a couple of video presentations. To be sure, there are all kinds of people in this movement, ranging from flying saucer nuts to Ph.D. engineers. I was looking at what seemed to be the more authoritative end of the spectrum.

My initial reaction was that the videos raised some troubling questions. On mulling it over, however, I’ve concluded that even the best educated and most cautious of the conspiracy theorists are building castles in the air. (And of course, we know only too well what can happen to castles built in the air….)

The contention of the Architects & Engineers for Truth is that the World Trade Center buildings (all three of them) collapsed as a result of controlled demolition. The implication, though they’re careful not to articulate it, is clear: Nobody but the CIA could have pulled off such an operation.

Now, I’m quite willing to argue that George Bush and Dick Cheney are capable of such monstrous evil. I don’t think they would have hesitated for more than 15 minutes, if they thought they could get away with such a scheme. But on close examination, the scheme doesn’t make sense at all.

The theory is that the towers were brought down by an application of thermite to the steel girders, which caused melting. And indeed, chemical residues that look like thermite are found in the wreckage. The difficulty with this idea is that the girders were vertical, and quite thick. When thermite is ignited, it melts steel, but molten steel, being a liquid, flows downward. Keeping the burning thermite in contact with the un-liquified surface within the girder Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, random musings | 9 Comments »

A Reasonable Debate

Posted by midiguru on August 21, 2012

Today I got embroiled in one of those pointless, demeaning, infuriating political discussions on Facebook. I can usually hold my own, but I started to feel ganged up on. There were three of them and only one of me, so I had to pull back, take a deep breath, and collect my thoughts. In any case, the one-sentence comeback style that predominates on Facebook is not conducive to reasoned discussion.

In an attempt (perhaps forlorn) to elevate the debate, I feel I should lay out the political and social situation as I understand it. Then, the next time one of these discussions is in the offing, I can simply say, “Please go read my blog. I’ve addressed that question there, in detail.”

To begin with, I think we all, both conservatives and liberals, have pretty much the same core desires. We all want to live in safe, pleasant communities. We all want our children (if we have children) to be healthy and well educated. We all want to have a few nice things, and to be able to pass on a decent standard of living to our children (if we have children). We all enjoy having the freedom to make important life choices for ourselves, free of government interference (though of course I’m tiptoeing along the edge of an abyss with that statement, because “freedom to choose” is a hot-button issue). We all want to be able to achieve our goals, whatever they may be, and to have a sense of accomplishment. We all want to be appreciated for the hard and sometimes unpleasant work we have sweated over on the way to achieving those goals.

Where we differ from one another, sometimes drastically and sometimes painfully, is in our understanding of how those desires can best or most practicably be met.

Second, I think we need to begin by acknowledging that the society we live in is very, very complex. Any action any of us takes may impinge on others, possibly in unintended ways. We are interdependent.

But already, at this point, we face a philosophical divide. There is a strain of conservative thought that Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, society & culture | 2 Comments »

Big Sky

Posted by midiguru on March 14, 2012

Today I’m toying with the idea that paranoid delusions are the only rational response to the world we live in. Attempting to understand what’s going on around us in a sensible, scientifically responsible manner is just too discouraging. I mean, how anybody in the Republican Party could possibly take themselves seriously, without either throwing up or collapsing in helpless laughter — there really is no way to make sense of it.

I’ve been forced, rather against my better judgment, to conclude that space aliens are doing something really awful to Republicans’ brains.

This theory has the advantage that it’s tidy. We can’t possibly understand the motives or methods of space aliens, so we don’t need to try to explain what they’re up to. It’s enough to grasp that they’re doing it. Because, really, what other explanation could there be?

You may say, “But Jim, there are no space aliens! All of those purported sightings are either deliberate lies by attention-seekers or the result of bad brain wiring. Those thousands of photographs of flying saucers — all of them are 100% fake.” That’s an interesting theory, of course, but it has difficult features. For one thing, it’s Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, random musings | 2 Comments »

Reality? Irrelevant.

Posted by midiguru on February 24, 2012

Pardon me while I fumble around a little. I’m trying to understand something that is fundamentally at odds with anything that I would normally concede as being possible. I may have to toss out a few untested hypotheses.

I’d certainly be happier if Rick Santorum were just “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato,” as Dickens put it. If there were “more of gravy than of grave” about him, it would be a cause for celebration. But alas.

I’m contemplating three or four bits of indigestible Santorum at the moment. In a 2008 public appearance, he asserted that Satan is attacking America. He is on the record as claiming that climate change is a hoax, a position in which he is supported and encouraged by quite a number of other highly visible opinion-makers.¬†According to a well-researched opinion piece by college president Brian Rosenberg in Huffington Post, Santorum wants to see fewer young people going to college, because colleges are “indoctrination mills”; in Santorum’s view, “The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.” The very act of educating young people is, in his view, dangerous. As if that weren’t enough, Santorum has stated in public (and quite erroneously) that forced euthanasia is practiced in the Netherlands.

We pause now for context: In the Republican debate this week, Newt Gingrich accused Barack Obama of infanticide. On what grounds? Who knows? Are rational grounds even needed any longer?

There’s no shortage of news items along these lines. I could go on for days. And that fact leads to the question I want to look at tonight: What’s going on here? How is it possible that a leading contender for the office of President of the United States can Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, society & culture | 3 Comments »


Posted by midiguru on February 17, 2012

Among the news flashes this morning, I read a report that the Heartland Institute, a Libertarian-leaning think tank in Chicago, is funding the development of a K-12 “science” curriculum that will tout the non-existent “controversy” over global warming. The Heartland Institute, according to this article, is funded by biggies like AT&T and Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Jon Carroll’s column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle discusses the End Agenda 21 movement. Agenda 21 is a United Nations white paper (that is, it’s not even a policy statement, it’s just a set of recommendations) on ways to promote sustainable growth. That is to say, attempting to curb the more disastrous of human enterprises so that our great-grandchildren may perhaps have something to eat besides sand and toxic waste. There are apparently people in the United States who feel that Agenda 21 is a vile encroachment on their individual freedoms.

What’s going on here? How can so many people be so disastrously and willfully wrong-headed? How can they be so evil?

I can see several contributing causes. Wrap them all up in a ball together, and the prospects are truly frightening.

First, freedomolatry. A significant slice of the Republican electorate worships individual freedom. They don’t simply value it — they worship it. Now, I value freedom too. I also value Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, society & culture | 2 Comments »


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