Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Gay Marriage, Bain Capital, Entitlements, deficits, Westboro Baptist Church, children murdered execution style in Syria…

… but stop for a moment to look at the photograph below – It was taken by the Voyager I spacecraft, the first man-made object to leave our solar system, shortly before it turned it’s camera toward ‘home’ to snap one final photograph before continuing it's journey.

 “Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” - Carl Sagan

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Plan

There seems to be little doubt that, throughout the world, and particularly in the US, there has been a monumental transference of wealth from the Middle Class to the very highest levels of the Upper Class. Substantiation of this trend is readily available from a wide variety of sources – it is reflected in tax rates, real estate and equities ownership, valuation of net worth, salaries and bonuses. It is happening – it is real. But is this the result of some sort of diabolical plan, a grand conspiracy?

A few years ago I heard a story on National Public Radio’s “ThisAmerican Life” (Act 2, ‘The Plan’) which told of gentrification of neighborhoods in Washington DC. Here predominantly Black neighborhoods were slowly being replaced by upwardly mobile middle class Whites. In one specific instance, an academically well performing school was condemned in order to make room for new housing – housing which was marketed to mostly higher income (White) people.
The synopsis of The Plan: “American cities have gone through a massive wave of gentrification in the last few decades. To some people, it's not a natural ebb and flow of the real estate market, but a plot, by rich, mainly white people, to take over the neighborhoods of poor, mainly black people.”
But it turns out there was/is no “Plan”, at least, not one that can be attributed to a designed conspiracy, that is. These sorts of changes are, of course, happening in neighborhoods all over the country. My own kids recently bought and renovated an old home in an inner city Portland, Oregon neighborhood. Now known as the Alberta Arts District, the neighborhood is frequently the subject of articles in Sunset Magazine featuring its eclectic boutiques and restaurants. To people of our kid’s generation, integration of neighborhoods such as this is a positive for society. But are these changes the results of specific planning or the result of other perhaps not so obvious forces?

In Europe “Austerity” looms threateningly over the customary way of life. In Greece, people experiencing shortages of food.for the first time in their lives. Here in this country the social safety net is being targeted as the source of both our moral and economic decay. Erstwhile CEOs pull in salaries and bonuses that would make the Vanderbilt’s, Carnegies and Rockefellers of their day looking like chumps.

We read that the Koch brothers have convened secret meetings including influential business and political leaders; even Supreme Court Justices. But do these individuals truly have the power to coordinate a conspiracy on such a monumental scale?

Many now grudgingly accept (I among them) that the boom times after WWII in this country was more of an economic aberration than an linearly upward trend into future decades. Is the flow of culture, for that matter, designed or driven through it’s own momentum? Consider the attitude changes over the past decade regarding Gay Marriage, for example. Was this progress cooked up in some elaborate plan or the result of some sort of cultural evolution?

I recall observing large flocks of hundreds of individual birds flying in undulating, random patterns; the whole of which appearing to have some direction. Scientists studying this behavior were curious if, among the individual birds, there might be a “leader” directing the movement of the flock.
Such movements are a prime example of emergent behavior: the behavior is not a property of any individual bird, but rather emerges as a property of the group itself. There is no leader, no overall control; instead the flock's movements are determined by the moment-by-moment decisions of individual birds, following simple rules in response to interactions with their neighbors in the flock. [1]
Rising consumer prices, falling standard of living, the rich becoming richer, may more be a product of individuals or groups taking advantage of opportunities and situations, than any sort of detailed conspiracy – Cultural Evolution through Emergent Behavior? Perhaps.

1. How does a flock of birds wheel and swoop in unison?, March 2004, TheStraightDope.com

Friday, May 18, 2012

Made in the USA

Well at least some things are still being manufactured in the USA. Though I'm thinking that, if the GOP takes the White House this year, these products will probably comprise a significant share of the Export Market... once the Conservatives make their use illegal here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Photography is Not a Crime

I have recently become increasingly concerned over the apparent of “militarization” of the police in this country; I trace this rise back to the events of 9/11. Though the Patriot Act granted sweeping enforcement authority to our federal government, it is my understanding that there is nothing in this law which gives any additional powers to local police.

In the news this past year in particular with the Occupy Protest movement; there have been increasing incidents of police using force, coercion, arrest and confiscation of people photographing and/or recording police. In some cases even journalists have been subject to harsh treatment. As a filmmaker, I find this trend particularly disturbing.

Here is official clarification from the ACLU – It is not a crime to photograph or record police in public while in the process of carrying out their duties when it is done openly and where there is no expectation or presumption of privacy.

Yet even though police have been trained regarding this issue, incidents are still rampant of police arresting people recording them; and in confiscating phones, cameras, film and other the like.

I have seen video of police asking a videographer if their device is recording audio; taking the device from the photographer if answered in the affirmative. From the ACLU:
Another disturbing trend is police officers and prosecutors using wiretapping statutes in certain states…to arrest and prosecute those who attempt to record police activities using video cameras that include audio. (Unlike photography and silent video, there is no general right to record audio; many state wiretap laws prohibit recording conversations if the parties have a reasonable expectation of privacy — which is never true for a police officer carrying out his or her duties in public.) [1]
Some states like Illinois have passed laws making it illegal to photograph or video police; it is not likely that these laws would pass Constitutional legal challenges under the First Amendment.

With the prevalence of high quality video recording devices in simple cell phones which are carried by almost everyone today, the potential exists for more people to be subjected to the capricious actions of questionable police practices.

Know your rights and be prepared to defend them. Refer to some of the links below, or Google “Photography is not a crime” and follow the links.

1. You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop, ACLU.org

Photography is Not a Crime, Carlos Miller, Pixiq.com

7 Rules for Recording Police, Steve Silverman, FlexYourRights.org

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Death By A Thousand Cuts + One

Remember this picture? You may recall my blog post back in February 20, 2012 “Death By A 1000 Cuts” where I revealed evidence uncovered by my wife (an ever vigilant and tireless whistle-blower for the latest consumer shams perpetrated on the public) about how we consumers are being shorted on the toilet paper we buy. The company had just started delivering toilet paper on shortened length cardboard tubes – resulting in your receiving 12% less product than what you previously paid for.

Ingenious to be sure; but surely, what more could Corporate America possibly come up with that could top this nifty little rip-off on we unwary consumers?

Well I have apparently again underestimated the innovative thinking of American companies; Check out the following latest scam my consumer detective wife just uncovered:

Yes, now not only is the cardboard tube SHORTER in length, they have also now slightly INCREASED the DIAMETER of the tube! With a larger and shorter spool, they can sell us even that much LESS product for the same price!

No doubt that these little “tricks” fall under the radar when Washington is calculating the Consumer Price Index or Rate of Inflation. After all, the actual prices for consumer goods show no noticeable increase, we all simply get less product for the same dollar.

We may try to be savvy consumers, but really, at some point, who has the time to sort through a shopping cart full of products to determine the extent to which we are increasingly being scammed?