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Bob Herbert: ‘America has lost its way entirely’
03.28.2011
02:01 pm

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Sad to see that the great New York Times columnist Bob Herbert hung up his Opinion page soapbox yesterday. With Herbert’s departure and of course, Frank Rich leaving as well, the editorial page gravitas of The New York Times will be greatly diminished. How do you fill shoes like theirs? Herberts’s final piece, I gotta say is pretty heavy:

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.

Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family.

There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.

Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be, and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.

The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.

This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

You can read the entire essay “Losing Our Way” at The New York Times

In a note following his final weekly essay, Herbert, who is now 66, writes that he’s off to “expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society.” Few writers in America could convey the plight of the working poor in America to the readers of the New York Times—in a way that they can understand—the way that Herbert has for nearly two decades. Obviously the NY Times Opinion page is no small propaganda platform from which to advocate for the good of the common man and it’s a disappointment, as a longtime reader, that he’s leaving this post. Isn’t the great Bob Herbert more effective here than he could be anywhere else?

Herbert in his high profile role at the Times editorial department, along with Frank Rich, has been at the moral center of that great organization, In my lifetime, I’ve read enough words written by Bob Herbert that I am convinced—and have been for a long time—that he’s one of the smartest and wisest people in this country. Herbert has been such an important contributor to the American group mind for decades. I hope he’ll write again for the Times, and soon. His career has been one spent in service of a better America and his voice will really—really, desperately—be missed in the current era of such wild historical shit and upheaval. around the world. I will miss reading Bob Herbert and I salute him. He’s a good man.
 
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A great interview with Bob Herbert from The Progressive

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
1989 Brian Eno documentary: Imaginary Landscapes
03.26.2011
02:47 pm

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Here’s a 1989 documentary/ impressionistic portrait of DM patron saint Brian Eno that I’d never seen previously entitled Imaginary Landscapes: A Meditative Portrait. Featuring some great in-studio interviews and lots of er, imagery to go along with the ambient soundscapes and charmingly wobbly VHS artifacts, this has some nice moments. Besides, previously unseen/ unheard Eno documents are always welcome here.
 

 
Courtesy once more of Network Awesome

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
Cats Quote Charlie Sheen
02.26.2011
01:21 pm

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Charlie Sheen should start a spoken word night… I’d be there. 

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More Charlie Sheen quotes after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Firesign Theatre: Duke of Madness Motors
02.23.2011
05:29 pm

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Peter Bergman and Firesign Theatre producer and archivist, Taylor Jessen, discuss the newly released box set of Firesign Theatre radio shows (1970-72), Duke of Madness Motors, featuring over 80 hours of MP3 audio on a DVD-ROM and a 108 page full-color book! Order your copy of Duke of Madness Motors today, because there are only 200 copies left and it’s unlikely to ever be reprinted.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The electronic sound baths of Eliane Radigue
02.21.2011
11:26 pm

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The wonderful Eliane Radigue now composes exclusively for acoustic instruments but here are a couple of her slowly unfolding and deceptively complex electronic works for your listening pleasure along with an utterly charming video portrait. These works, composed entirely on the ARP 2500, the same model that was used in Close Encounters to communicate with the E.T.s, and recorded to a consumer grade reel-to-reel are a mind-clearing delight and will reward the patient listener with layers of subliminal tones and rhythms. Listen carefully.
 
An excerpt from Adnos 1 (1975)

 
An excerpt from Σ = a = b = a + b (1969)

 
A brief visit to the home studio of Eliane Radigue and her beautiful (and keyboard-less!) ARP 2500:

 
With thanks to Justin Meldal-Johnsen !

 

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
Chris Rock on Tea party racism
02.17.2011
12:43 pm

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In the March issue of Esquire magazine, Chris Rock is interviewed by Scott Raab and manages to put a hopeful spin on the Tea party movement:

“Like many nice Caucasians, I cried the night Barack Obama was elected,” said Raab. “It was one of the high points in American history. And all that’s happened since the election is just a sh—storm of hatred. You want to weigh in on that?”

“I actually like it, in the sense that—you got kids?” asked Rock. “Kids always act up the most before they go to sleep. And when I see the Tea Party and all this stuff, it actually feels like racism’s almost over. Because this is the last—this is the act up before the sleep. They’re going crazy. They’re insane. You want to get rid of them—and the next thing you know, they’re f—-ing knocked out. And that’s what’s going on in the country right now.”

A sage perspective, indeed.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Facts? We don’t need your stinking facts! Why right-wing Americans are so stubbornly ignorant

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There’s a transcript of a speech that Bill Moyers gave in January to History Makers, an organization of broadcasters and producers who make factual programs, posted at Alternet. It’s a very interesting talk, but ultimately depressing. He cites an July 2010 article from the Boston Globe that sets the tone for his remarks and I’d imagine that most of the people listening to what the saintly Texan had to say that day had the same thought “Wow, that sucks.” It’s certainly what went through my mind as I read it. Quoting Moyers:

As Joe Keohane reported last year in The Boston Globe, political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency “deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information.” He was reporting on research at the University of Michigan, which found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in new stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts were not curing misinformation. “Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

I won’t spoil it for you by a lengthy summary here. Suffice it to say that, while “most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence,” the research found that actually “we often base our opinions on our beliefs ... and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.”

These studies help to explain why America seems more and more unable to deal with reality. So many people inhabit a closed belief system on whose door they have hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign, that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths. Any journalist whose reporting threatens that belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists (say, the fabulists at Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the yahoos of talk radio.) Remember when Limbaugh, for one, took journalists on for their reporting about torture at Abu Ghraib? He attempted to dismiss the cruelty inflicted on their captives by American soldiers as a little necessary “sport” for soldiers under stress, saying on air: “This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation ... you [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?” As so often happens, the Limbaugh line became a drumbeat in the nether reaches of the right-wing echo chamber. So, it was not surprising that in a nationwide survey conducted by The Chicago Tribune on First Amendment issues, half of the respondents said there should be some kind of press restraint on reporting about the prison abuse. According to Charles Madigan, the editor of the Tribune’s Perspective section, 50 or 60 percent of the respondents said they “would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, particularly when it has sexual content or is heard as unpatriotic.”

No wonder many people still believe Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, as his birth certificate shows; or that he is a Muslim, when in fact he is a Christian; or that he is a socialist when day by day he shows an eager solicitude for corporate capitalism. Partisans in particular - and the audiences for Murdoch’s Fox News and talk radio - are particularly susceptible to such scurrilous disinformation. In a Harris survey last spring, 67 percent of Republicans said Obama is a socialist; 57 percent believed him to be a Muslim; 45 percent refused to believe he was born in America; and 24 percent said he “may be the antichrist.”

What’s even worse is that the most misinformed people (the most gullible, the most fanatical, perhaps) are the ones who vote the most reliably. The Creationists. The people making $40,000 a year who support tax cuts for billionaires to the detriment of their own lives and their kids’ schools. People with no healthcare who protest against it at Tea-party rallies. An entire voting bloc of people who do not believe in what others would deem objective reality. THAT, dear readers, is at base, what we are dealing with in America today and it’s a problem that’s here to stay. You might say it’s the red, white and blue brontosaurus in the room that no one wants to talk about: The willful ignorance of America’s right.

The Boston Globe article that Bill Moyers cites, Joe Keohane’s “How facts backfire: Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains” is an absolute must-read. I’m surprised that there wasn’t a bigger fuss made of this information by the liberal media when it was published last year.  Here’s a link to the entire article, and some highlights:

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

Yup. And then we vote. Yikes!

Here’s another passage from the article that will wipe that smirk off your Blue State face:

“Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be,” read a recent Onion headline. Like the best satire, this nasty little gem elicits a laugh, which is then promptly muffled by the queasy feeling of recognition. The last five decades of political science have definitively established that most modern-day Americans lack even a basic understanding of how their country works. In 1996, Princeton University’s Larry M. Bartels argued, “the political ignorance of the American voter is one of the best documented data in political science.”

On its own, this might not be a problem: People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

The persistence of these political misperceptions is perplexing, but can be summed up as “Americans, but lets get real for a second, especially those who have a tendency towards “conservative” opinions, will only listen to you if you are saying something that sounds like something they already believe.” (No, I don’t think that all progressives are open-minded, but xenophobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, racism, being anti-science and a general “fear of the other,” are not exactly hallmarks of the “liberal” personality the way they tend to be on the right. You’d have to be Andrew Brietbart to “believe” otherwise).

What’s worse is that when someone is feeling threatened or is economically insecure, the mind closes down even more. That’s how demagoguery works. It might explain why some dumb old white people think Glenn Beck is so wonderful. It might also explain his success as a pitchman for gold coins during his program. The more threatened someone feels, the easier they fall in line, and the less likely they are to dissent from the party line when it comes to “taking back the country” from a socialist Kenyan. Fear and gullibility go hand in hand, as we see daily.

But these are the dummies, we’re talking about, right? The ignorant people. Not so fast, smartass, because researchers at Stony Brook University found that the people who were the most politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to “new” (which is to say a fact) information that challenged their belief systems, than the statistically ignorant! Quoting again from Joe Keohane’s article: “These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong. Taber and Lodge found this alarming, because engaged, sophisticated thinkers are “the very folks on whom democratic theory relies most heavily.”

How facts backfire: Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains (Boston Globe)
 
Thank you Steven Otero!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Einstein on the beach (in open-toed sandals)
02.14.2011
03:59 pm

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E=mcFAAABUloussss! Who knew Einstein had such wonderful gams?!
 
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Einstein and David Rothman, 1939

There’s actually great back-story to Albert Einstein and those open-toed sandals. The man pictured with Einstein above is David Rothman, and he was the one responsible for selling Einstein the fancy footwear back in 1939. From Chuck Rothman’s “Albert Einstein’s Long Island Summer”:

In the summer of 1939, Albert Einstein spent his summer on Nassau Point, in Peconic, NY on eastern Long Island. My grandfather, David Rothman, was owner of Rothman’s Department Store in nearby Southold.

One June day, Einstein came into the store. Of course, my grandfather recognized him at once. He decided, though, to treat him just like any other customer.

“Are you looking for something in particular?” he asked

“Sundials,” Einstein said in his thick German accent.

Now, Rothman’s has always had a large variety of items—just about everything from housewares, to fishing tackle and bait, to hardware, to toys, to appliances. But no sundials. Not for sale, anyway. But…

“I do have one in my back yard,” my grandfather said.

He led Einstein—who seems a bit bewildered—to the back yard, to show him the sundial. “If you need one you can have this.”

Einstein took one look and began to laugh. He pointed to his feet. “No. Sundials.”

Sandals. Those, he had.

(via reddit)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Enlightening Facebook conversation about evolution

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A very compelling argument they have goin’ on there.

(via EPICponyz)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Dangerous Minds Radio Hour Episode 15: The Return of Nate Cimmino
02.07.2011
12:26 pm

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Climb on and join your tour guide and now regular tri-weekly host Nate Cimmino for another virtual journey from point A to point B, where ever that is for you.

Or to quote Mel Lyman:

This is CONTEMPORARY music. In this new age whose keynote is the destruction of old forms and the birth of new spirit our ears are still constantly insulted with the musical establishment’s attempts to “hold on” to the old traditions whatever the cost.

Or to quote a myriad of different people, “It seems like a nice way to spend an hour.”
 
Playlist:
 
01. Bimbo Jet- El Bimbo
02. Klaus Doldinger- Sitar Beat (Nate-O-Phonic Edit)
03. Cristina- What’s A Girl To Do?
04. Ursula 1000- Urgent/Anxious- (Ladytron Remix)
05. Shocking Blue- Fireball Of Love
06. Hamilton Bohannon-The Pimp Walk
07. Act One- Tom The Peeper
08. Slim Gaillard- How High The Moon
09. Jocko Henderson- Blast Off To Love
10. Margaret Leng Tan- Suite For A Toy Piano Pts. 1&2
11. Rockabye Baby- Enter Sandman
12. Norah Guthrie- My Illness
13. The Lyman Family with Lisa Kindred- James Alley Blues
14. Fairport Convention- Matty Groves
 

 
Download this week’s episode
 
Subscribe to the Dangerous Minds Radio Hour podcast at Alterati
 
Video bonus: The Lyman Family + Mel Brooks = An interviewer’s hell
 

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
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