Friday, February 28, 2014

Well, when you put it THAT way: Capitalism in a nutshell!

Good question.

Although this has a few too many words to qualify as a Hemingway-esque six-word short story, this sign still gets its point across louder than dozens of articles on the American economy do each week…

And while we’re on the topic, you might enjoy this: Why you’re wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism)

And this, Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For: Guaranteed jobs, universal basic incomes, public finance and more.

And this, I’m a Member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves’.

Thank You, from our friend Richard Metzger at Dangerous Minds

Thursday, February 27, 2014

hot outa the 80's you never heard
Z-3 MC's - Triple Threat - Beat Box Convention

This shit was deep kids...


Word of Mouth and DJ Cheese big track was "King Kut" which is part of the long history of basing songs around how great your deejay is.

The song features several recognizable samples and DJ Cheese definitely takes over the track. He won the World Mixing Championships in 1986. "Coast to Coast" was also a well known single.DJ Cheese was originally from West Virginia, but moved to Plainfield, New Jersey to perfect his deejay skills. He debuted on the Z-3 MC's only recording in 1985, produced by Duke Bootee.The Word of Mouth MC's were also from Elizabeth, New Jersey.They were produced by Duke Bootee of Sugarhill fame.DJ Cheese (born Plainfield, New Jersey) was the first DJ(USA) to win DMC mixing championship DJs and appeared in the UK tour with Run-DMC.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Birth of Youth Culture uncovered in a new doc

I was invited to a preview of the new "Documentary" TEENAGE. Here's a couple of things about the film that I didn't know, when it began, as I ate my popcorn, in the private screening room. First of all it's an incredibly enlightening, interesting and good looking film, based on a few of the narratives in Jon Savage's TEENAGE: The creation of Youth Culture. While I find the tagline "Rebellion Never Gets Old" a bit disingenuous, It uses excellent and authentic archival footage from the beginning of the twentieth century, up to the end of World War II in 1945. Then in it's conclusion, where they show a few fleeting seconds of a few highlights of the decades to follow, that's it. So don't get your hopes up waiting for something you are familiar with, because it's likely you won't know anything of the history that is presented so well in the film.

Other than that, the main drawback, confusion, or illusion that disturbed me was the liberties the director took with "re-creation and dramatizing" the narrative stories told by some of Savage's actual interviewees. While indeed compelling, the re-enactments, as good as they were, and as close as you can get to making them match film quality, were obviously shot recently. The hair styles, mannerisms, and camera work made this "new" footage both apparent and bothersome, as if it were an 'Instagram' effect. It was annoying to several of us in the theater, and we brought it up to the director in the Q&A afterword. He rationalized that it was his story to tell in his film and that's just how he does it. He had no qualms at all in mixing all that incredible archival footage with his re-enactments, in my opinion this detracted from the overall credibility of the film. But honestly, now that i've told you that there is some "fake" footage in the movie, knowing in advance, it shouldn't bother you too much. But not knowing as i watched distracted me over and over. It's has both good stories and good history and it's good looking, and it's beyond anything you've seen from this time in the history of youth culture. So now that you know some of the vignettes are re-enactments, you won't have to second guess if the director is trying to get over on you, you should enjoy this film even more than i did. Very worth checking out when it opens March 14th in New York, and moves around the country after that. Go here for the full schedule of theaters and screenings internationally.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The history of America spying on Black civil rights leaders

from our friend Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing:

"February is Black History Month and that history is intimately linked with surveillance by the federal government in the name of 'national security," writes Nadya Kayyali at an Electronic Frontier Foundation blog post today.
"Indeed, the history of surveillance in the African-American community plays an important role in the debate around spying today and in the calls for a congressional investigation into that surveillance. Days after the first NSA leaks emerged last June, EFF called for a new Church Committee. We mentioned that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the targets of the very surveillance that eventually led to the formation of the first Church Committee." "This Black History Month, we should remember the many African-American activists who were targeted by intelligence agencies. Their stories serve as cautionary tales for the expanding surveillance state.

Read: The History of Surveillance and the Black Community. []

Monday, February 24, 2014

Let's start the week with "The Damed"
playing NEW ROSE, as Lego's

I was inspired to post this not only because this is one of the greatest punk songs of all time, but I also took my son to see the Lego movie which was really enjoyable, nice moral tale with unexpected twists, not just a commercial for the toy, really more of a vehicle for a creative director and story teller. (Theater was practically full and 98% adults at 5pm on a sunday afternoon.)

OK, OK, you hate lego and animation, so here's the classic real deal, back in '76

And the entire debut album from THE DAMNED, for the uninitiated :


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mississippi, Is This America, 1962-1964

episode 5

Focuses on the extraordinary personal risks faced by ordinary citizens as they assumed responsibility for social change, particularly during the 1962-64 voting rights campaign in Mississippi. The state became a testing ground of constitutional principles as civil rights activists concentrated their energies on the right to vote. White resistance to the sharing of political power clashed with the strong determination of movement leaders to bring Mississippi blacks to the ballot box. In Freedom Summer 1964, tension between white resistance and movement activists climaxed in the tragic murder of three young civil rights workers.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What about the JUNKYARD BAND ?

Cameo of the band from Run-DMC's Tougher Than Leather

from Wikipedia:

The band was formed in 1980 by children, ranging in age from 8 to 13, living in the Barry Farm government housing project in Washington, D.C.. They were inspired to play after witnessing the performances of local go-go bands in their neighborhood. Not having resources to purchase traditional instruments, the children instead scoured their neighborhood in search of objects that could emulate the sound of real instruments: hubcaps, plastic buckets, crates, cans, and discarded pots and pans. After a few informal performances in Barry Farm, the group was dubbed the "Junk Yard Band" by locals. This is perhaps a reference to the animated television program, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, whose band "The Junk Yard Gang" also performed on improvised instruments.

With go-go music gaining in popularity, and the band gaining local notoriety, the band began booking performances at schools, recreation centers, fundraisers, and government agencies. The band was often seen performing for tourists on the streets of Washington, D.C. This popularity led to appearances in a 1984 Cavalier Men's Store television advertisement, the 1983 film D.C. Cab and the 1988 film Tougher Than Leather with Run-D.M.C. It was this interaction with Run-D.M.C.'s DJ Run that led to an eventual recording contract with older brother Russell Simmons' Def Jam Recordings.

DefJam released the band's song "Sardines" as a single in 1986. The song received considerable airplay, and the band embarked on a tour of the United States as an opening act for acts such as Guy, Salt-n-Pepa, Tupac Shakur, The Roots, and labelmates Beastie Boys and Slayer. No longer viewed simply as a novelty act, the group performed at such prestigious venues as the Kennedy Center and the Apollo Theater.
The group signed with Street Records, a Motown Records subsidiary, in 1992.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Astor Place Reconstruction is coming . . .

Just in case you were as freaked out as I was that they cut down the trees by the uptown Astor Place subway entrance, that I saw grow up from saplings to be nice size trees over the last 20 years, I did some research, made some calls, and this is what I found out:

(click to enlarge on each, the architectural "proposed design" images from Astor Place down to the bottom of Cooper Square)

the 6 trees will be replaced with somewhere around sixty! OK, i can live with that I guess . . .
More space for people and less space for cars, YEA!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Michael Moore
if you like the man or not.

In my opinion Michael Moore is a great American hero, without any doubt to me. Wether you like him or not this book and his story is incredible, A MUST READ! I bought it back when St. Marks Books was doing a fund raiser and Michael came down to this OG East Village outpost, and offered to sign books to bring attention to their plight. I bought a few copies and had a few words with the man, but never got to finish the book 'til yesterday, it's great and I highly recommend it to you to read.

try and buy it here at St Marks.

at your local book store

or at Amazon if you must.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This World Map Shows Where Press Freedom Is Strongest And Weakest

from Business Insider
Reporters Without Borders has published its 2014 World Press Freedom Index, which measures the freedom of information and journalists in 160 countries around the world.

Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, followed by Netherlands and Norway. The United States fell 13 places to 46th for various reasons (Here's a interactive list of the rankings).

The organization describes countries at the bottom of the list — Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea — as "news and information black holes and living hells for the journalists who inhabit them."

An interesting note: Edward Snowden told The Washington Post in May that he wanted to apply for asylum in Iceland or some other country “with strong Internet and press freedoms.”

The 2013 map of the global freedom of Internet is quite similar to the one for press.

(CLICK on image to ENLARGE)

via Presurfer

Sunday, February 16, 2014

No Easy Walk 1962-1966

episode 4

No Easy Walk explores a crucial phase in the civil rights movement—the emergence of mass demonstrations and marches as a powerful protest vehicle. In Albany, Georgia, police chief Laurie Pritchett challenged Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s tactics of nonviolent mass demonstration. In Birmingham, Alabama, school children steadfastly marched against the violent spray of fire hoses and were jailed as a result. The triumphant 1963 March on Washington, D.C. captured worldwide attention and garnered broad national support, helping to shift federal policy.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Answers for Creationists

After writing yesterday about the now-famous/infamous debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I don’t want to make this blog all creationism all the time, but indulge me this one more time, if you will. On BuzzFeed, there is a clever listicle that is a collection of 22 photos showing creationists holding up questions they have for people who “believe” in evolution.

Because of this, it’s worth exploring and answering the questions presented. Some could be simply answered yes or no, but I’m all about going a bit deeper. With 22 questions I won’t go too deep, but if you have these questions yourself, or have been asked them, I hope this helps.

1) “Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?”

I’m not Bill, but I’d say yes, he is. More than just giving them facts to memorize, he is showing them how science works. Not only that, his clear love and enthusiasm for science is infectious, and that to me is his greatest gift.

2) “Are you scared of a Divine Creator?”

No. In fact, if there is a Judeo-Christian god, that would have fascinating implications for much of what we scientists study, and would be a rich vein to mine. Perhaps a more pertinent question is, “Are you scared there might not be a Divine Creator?” There is more room for a god in science than there is for no god in religious faith.

3) “Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings … Adam created as an adult ....”

It might be internally consistent, even logical, but a bit of a stretch. After all, we can posit that God created the Universe last Thursday, looking exactly as it is, with all evidence pointing to it being old and your memories implanted such that you think you’re older than a mere few days. Consistent, sure, but plausible? Not really.

4) “Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?”

No. The creationist argument assumes the Earth is a closed system, such that energy cannot escape or enter. But the Sun is the main source of energy for the Earth. This allows more order to be created, and for entropy to be locally lowered in some cases.

5) “How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God?”

Angular momentum. OK, kidding aside, if you mean the beauty of a sunset, well, we have evolved to appreciate colors, shapes, and metaphors. And in my opinion understanding the science behind events like sunsets adds to their beauty.

Incidentally, some creationists are geocentrists.

6) “If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?”

See No. 4. Also, as far as the Big Bang goes, we don’t know how or why the Universe came into being (though there are some interesting ideas). But “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer in science. It leads to asking more questions, which leads to more exploration, which leads to more understanding. Just being given an answer is like using the answer key to fill in a crossword puzzle. It’s no fun.

7) “What about noetics?”

Well, that depends on what you mean. There is a branch of philosophy called noetics, which deals with understanding the mind. That is also a scientific endeavor, since we know the mind is an effect of the brain—as many say, the mind is what the brain does. Scientists are studying that now, so I don’t think you can dismiss science out of hand and replace it with religion in that instance.

There is also a more New Age-y field called noetics, which posits that the mind can have an effect on matter (though there is more to it than that). I’m not sure what that had to do with God, except the idea that God gave humans mind. But for that claim to sway me I want evidence, not just a proclamation that it is so.

8) “Where do you derive objective meaning in life?”

We have evolved over millions of years to be social animals, tribal, supportive of others and willing to reach a common goal. This could explain much of the morality and meaning we see in life, without the need for it to be revealed by a divine presence. In fact, I object to the idea that humans need a supernatural parent figure to give us morals; I don’t need religion to know that murder is wrong. Note that there were laws against murder long, long before the Bible was around. I would also mention that the Bible has very conflicting morality, saying for example that it’s OK to stone people to death for all manners of minor infractions. I have no problem with the idea that people seek moral guidance or meaning in the Bible, but I do object when they ignore the parts that are clearly immoral.

Meaning in life is what you make of it. For me that’s love, beauty, art, science, and learning. For others it may be different, but those are what call to me.

9) “If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?”

This is an excellent question. It was partly by chance, but it wasn’t random. Chemistry shows us that atoms and molecules are like puzzle pieces, fitting together a certain way. This means some molecules can have astonishing complexity, including the ability to replicate. It’s not like taking all the pieces of a clock, throwing them in a box, shaking it, and getting a working timepiece. The pieces themselves built up over time, attaining more complexity.

And I might turn the question around. Who created God? If you say He has always been, then why not say the same about the Universe (or more properly, the multiverse)?

10) “I believe in the Big Bang Theory … God said it and BANG it happened.”

That’s fine by me. I might disagree with your explanation of the origin, but if from there you allow that the laws of the Universe are as we see them today, then it sounds to me like you are arguing more for science than creationism. I suggest reading about theistic evolution, which is a fascinating area of philosophical argument.

11) “Why do evolutionists/secularists/humanists/non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a Creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?”

We don’t.

Seriously, this is a profound misunderstanding of the secular stance. I'm open to any provable claim, as long as the evidence supports it. We know of no aliens, so how can we say they made us? However, I'll note that the evidence that aliens may exist gets stronger every day; we see planets everywhere we look, and many may be Earth-like. That's a big jump from extraterrestrial intelligent design, though!

And mind you, this question confuses evolution with atheism. Those are two very different things.

12) “There is no in between … the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an 'official proof’.”

This is incorrect on many levels; we have many bones from different individuals of Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy’s species), and we have lots of bones from other ancient humans and their predecessors, including branches of hominids that did not lead to us. We also see huge numbers of transition fossils from various species, implying we too evolved from earlier species. And there aren’t hundreds needed; it’s not hard to draw conclusions from fewer samples. You might as well ask for every single bone from every single individual who ever lived, going back millions of years. It’s not needed.

13) “Does metamorphosis help support evolution?”

Let me say it this way: It doesn’t disprove evolution. While we don’t understand how it began, that leads to asking more questions and learning more about it. And we do have some understanding of it.

14) “If Evolution is a theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is Evolution taught as a fact.”

>First, creationism and the Bible aren’t theories. Second, evolution is a fact and a theory. If this question is an argument to allow creationism to be taught in schools, that’s a violation of the First Amendment anyway.

15) “Because science is 'theory'–not testable, observable, nor repeatable, why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?”

Actually, science is testable, observable, and repeatable! That’s the very definition of what science is! And if you actually mean evolution, that fits the criteria as well. There are countless examples. Here’s one.

Also, again, teaching religion in schools as being real is a violation of the First Amendment.

16) “What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?”

Again, here you go.

17) “What purpose do you think you are here for if you don’t believe in salvation?”

That’s an interesting question, but why not ask it of people who are of a different religion? I expect a devout Jew might have a more interesting answer than I would.

I also don’t think there is a purpose granted from an outside agency. We are what we are, and create our own purpose. We should make the best of it.

18) “Why have we found only 1 ‘Lucy,’ when we have found more than 1 of everything else?”

Again, we have many bones from different individuals of Australopithecus afarensis.

19) “Can you believe in ‘the big bang’ without 'faith'”?

Yes. We have tons of evidence for it.

20) “How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it? It’s amazing!!!”

I agree; it is amazing! I’ve written about this many times. But we know that complexity can arise naturally through the laws of physics. It doesn’t take very complex rules to create huge diversity. Look at poker; a simple set of rules creates a game that has so many combinations it’s essentially infinite to human experience. We can figure out the rules of nature by studying the way processes follow them, and deduce what’s going on behind the scenes. And whenever we do, we see science.

21) “Relating to the big bang theory … Where did the exploding star come from?”

A quibble: It wasn’t an exploding star, but an explosion of space and time. But as I said for No. 6, we don’t know, but that’s OK, because we learn more about it every day. Someday we will know, but until then, using a supernatural explanation without explaining why doesn’t give you any true understanding of it. That only leads to the stopping of learning, not the growth of it.

22) “If we came from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?”

Let me ask you this: If you came from parents, why are there still parents?

Top Comment

If evidence is found for a creator entity, that, ironically, would be much more threatening for RELIGION than for science.  More...

The answer is that evolution is not a line from one species to the next. Different species branch off from earlier ones, they don’t replace them. You can imagine a pair of primates (not monkeys; those are different from apes) had two children, one the same as the parents, and one slightly different. They both breed, passing down their genes. Sometimes mutations happen, sometimes they don’t. Over time, you can get two different species: One close to the original, and another distinct, both living at the same time. That’s a gross simplification, but this might help.

I’ll note that these are a small sample of the questions asked by creationists. But again, the vast majority of them are due to a misunderstanding of how evolution works rather than being pointed barbs striking at the heart of science. I suggest reading more about the truth of evolution, and investigating the FAQs from creationists (especially the one from My most fervent hope is that this will lead to further understanding of science.

And one final note: At the very top of this article, I put the word believe in quotation marks when it was used in relation to evolution. Why? Because science isn't a belief system. Scientists don't believe in evolution; we trust that it's the best way to describe how we came to be. And we do that because it's earned that trust.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

George Orwell’s special Olympics message: Sports are bunk

another from Dangerous Minds

George Orwell

In 1945, as all combatant nations were recovering from World War II, a notable “friendly” football (soccer) match took place in England. Football had been put on ice since 1939, and fans and athletes alike were eager for a resumption of the action. A Russian armed forces team had scored impressive victories over both its British and French counterparts, and the time had come for a top Russian team to take on a top British club. And thus it was that on November 13, 1945, FC Dynamo Moscow arrived at Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea FC. The attendance was officially listed at 74,496, but the true attendance is usually estimated to be between 100,000 and 120,000. Chelsea led at halftime 2-0, but the Dynamos were able to make it 2-2, and each side tacked on another goal each before the end of play. (Four days later, the Dyamos walloped Cardiff City 10-1.)

A Chelsea shot narrowly misses against the Dynamos.

About a month after FC Dynamo Moscow went home, a prominent (but hardly famous) journalist for the Tribune named George Orwell published an acid reflection on the nature of nationalism and athletics. In the piece, titled “The Sporting Spirit,” Orwell argued that, contrary to all assurances that nation-based sports competitions foster brotherhood and understanding among the peoples of the world (you will hear endless statements from Sochi over the next two weeks), such events, if anything, generate a modicum of ill will among national groups. The whole thing, according to Orwell, has the flavor of the jingoism that is whipped up before all wars.

Orwell clearly had little interest in sports and is missing part of the picture of fandom for a national team (or even a regional team like our pro squads), but the part he gleaned is instructive, and the entire essay is worth reading. Here are some of the choice bits:

Now that the brief visit of the Dynamo football team has come to an end, it is possible to say publicly what many thinking people were saying privately before the Dynamos ever arrived. That is, that sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will, and that if such a visit as this had any effect at all on Anglo-Soviet relations, it could only be to make them slightly worse than before….

As soon as strong feelings of rivalry are aroused, the notion of playing the game according to the rules always vanishes. People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don’t intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own side and “rattling” opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting….

If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators.

Orwell’s bleak conception of sports wouldn’t change over the years. A few years later, in his novel 1984, the following sentence appears: “Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

Here’s a brief Russian report on the Dynamos-Chelsea match. Note the throngs of spectators crowding along the sidelines.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dozens of Fela Kuti albums available for free streaming

from Dangerous Minds:

A Metafilter user going by the wonderful handle “flapjax at midnite” has alerted the world to the existence of a Bandcamp page full of complete Fela Kuti LPs. 48 of them, in fact, which I don’t believe is even his complete discography.

If you’re unfamiliar, good lord take this opportunity! Fela (1938-1997) was an inestimably important African artist who began making music in the late ‘50s, and in the ‘60s pioneered a compelling fusion of psych-rock, funk, jazz, and traditional Nigerian music that he dubbed “Afrobeat.” His music dealt with themes of social justice, which, as he was a Pan-African and a Socialist, got him in major and repeated deep shit in the repressive milieu of Nigeria. The mid ’70s album Zombie, for example, was a blistering attack on the Nigerian military, whose response to the insult included fatally defenestrating his mother in a brutal raid on the Lagos commune in which he, his family, and his band lived. The 1989 release Beasts of No Nation—the recording that served as my introduction to his work—was a lengthy and stunning piece he wrote after being freed from a stint in prison on a politically motivated and trumped up currency smuggling charge.

Now, as heroic as his political struggles were, the man was not unproblematic. It’d be plain wrong to lionize him for his musical innovations and political engagement while leaving out that he was a polygamist who could be disturbingly misogynistic.

There are plenty of good entry points into Fela’s work, but among my favorites is the absolutely KILLER Live With Ginger Baker. The Cream drummer’s African sojurn is a story unto itself, and had no small impact on the development of that continent’s rock music in the ’70s.

Lastly, here’s some great footage from Catalonian television in the ‘80s, mixing interview material with a live concert, a combination which imparts a good sense of the man and his work.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Final Jimi Hendrix interview, one week before he died

from Richard Metzger at Dangerous Minds

“When things get too heavy just call me helium—the lightest known gas to man.” - Jimi Hendrix
The sad (and beautiful) thing about this interview—the last interview Jimi Hendrix ever gave on September 11, 1970, a week before his death at the age of 27—is how happy the guy seemed.

He sounds neither druggy, nor in any way troubled. Full of life and excited about where his music was taking him.

The animation was done by Patrick Smith at Blank on Blank. Produced by David Gerlach. The interview was conducted by Keith Altham and you can hear the full recording at

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ain't Scared of Your Jails, 1960-1961

Episode 3

Ain't scared of your jails chronicles the courage displayed by thousands of young people and college students who joined the ranks of the movement and gave it new direction. In 1960, lunch counter sit-ins spread across the South, may organized by the new, energetic Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1961, on the Freedom Rides, many young people faced violence and defied death threats as they labored to obliterate segregation in interstate bus travel below the Mason-Dixon Line. The growing movement toward racial equality influenced the 1960 Presidential campaign; and federal rights versus state's rights became an issue.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

From Pythagorean to Pescatarian
– The Evolution of Vegetarianism

On her website The History Kitchen, Tori Avey explores the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the recipes of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today.
“Good food is a celebration of life, and it seems absurd to me that in celebrating life we should take life.”
- Anna Thomas, The Vegetarian Epicure, 1972
The word vegetarian is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a person who does not eat meat or fish and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons.” While this is a good broad definition of the vegetarian diet, the actual practice of vegetarianism is somewhat less clear-cut. There are several subcategories of vegetarianism including ovolactarians, who eat dairy products and eggs but abstain from meat, and lactarians, who eat dairy products but abstain from meat and eggs. Some people include fish in their diet but still consider themselves vegetarians; a new name for this lifestyle, pescatarian, has recently emerged. Vegans are the strictest subcategory of the vegetarian movement, abstaining from all animal-based products. Strict followers of veganism do not eat honey or wear leather or wool. While religion sometimes calls for a vegetarian or vegan diet, over the years we have seen an increasing number of individuals choosing not to consume animal products based on their personal beliefs.

Some of the first self-proclaimed vegetarians were the Pythagoreans, a title derived from the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, creator of the geometric Pythagorean theorem. Though Pythagoras loaned his name to the meatless diet, it is unclear whether or not he followed a strict vegetarian regimen. Some suspect that in addition to his usual breakfast of honey and dinner of barley bread with vegetables that he may have eaten fish as well, which would have made him a pescatarian by today’s standards. Followers of Pythagoras adopted his dietary restrictions, believing that they were helpful in aiding longevity. The teachings of Pythagorus were first published in modern terms by Italian writer and physician Antonio Cocchi; in 1745 they were translated into English by Robert Dodsley. An account of his diet also appeared in the Greek philosopher Porphyry’s book On Abstinence from Animal Food (3rd century B.C.E.). The influential historical document includes some of the very same arguments that modern day vegetarians use when praising the merits of a meatless diet.

Humans abstained from eating animal flesh long before Pythagoras, though the first significant rise in vegetarianism based on principle likely occurred during classical times. The term “vegetarian” replaced Pythagorean on September 29, 1847 in Ramsgate, England when the first vegetarian society was formed. Three years later, a similar group known as the American Vegetarian Society was founded in New York City by William Metcalfe, Sylvester Graham, William Alcott and Russell Trall. Many notable feminists and abolitionists attended early meetings of the American Vegetarian Society including Susan B. Anthony, Horace Greeley, Lucy Stone and Amelia Bloomer. Founding member William Metcalfe was a member of the Bible Christian Church, a vegetarian church founded in England in 1809. When he arrived in Philadelphia with his wife Susanna in 1817, they founded an American branch of the Bible Christian Church, the first vegetarian church in America. In 1821 he published a pamphlet of a sermon inspired by Porphyry’s work, titled On Abstinence from the Flesh of Animals. The pamphlet proved to be influential in converting some of the most important members at the start of America’s vegetarian movement, including William Alcott, America’s first vegetarian physician, and Protestant minister Sylvester Graham. Amos Bronson Alcott, father of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, co-founded America’s first vegetarian commune, Fruitlands, in Massachusetts.

The vegetarian movement gained momentum through the decades thanks to several influential historical figures. Upton Sinclair unknowingly contributed to the movement when his novel The Jungle spawned both the Pure Food and Drug Act and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1906. Sinclair was not a vegetarian for long, but his depiction of the unsanitary practices of the meat packing industry turned many Americans away from consuming animal flesh. John Harvey Kellogg, king of cold breakfast cereal and creator of cornflakes, was a strong advocate of vegetarianism and preached its benefits until the 1940s. In 1947 a short-lived political group known as the American Vegetarian Party formed in hopes of putting forth a successful candidate in the 1948 presidential election. They chose Chicago citizen, naturopathic doctor and restaurateur John Maxwell. Of course Maxwell did not win (in fact he was born in England, which made him ineligible), but the party continued to nominate candidates in every election until 1964.

Many noteworthy individuals throughout history have practiced vegetarianism during their lives, including Benjamin Franklin. While working as a printer at age 16, he was inspired by the vegetarian philosophy discussed in Thomas Tryon’s The Way to Health and Long Life. He began a short-lived diet of bread and water, which he believed made him as ‘stout and hearty’ as he’d ever been. In his autobiography, Franklin describes preparing a few of Tryon’s dishes, including boiled rice or potatoes and hasty pudding. He found that the diet had its economic advantages. His food expenses were decreased by half, affording him the opportunity to purchase more books for his collection. Franklin soon became an advocate of animal rights, which easily fit in with his anti-slavery and political rights agenda. Alas, his vegetarianism did not last for long. While traveling on a ship, he witnessed smaller fish being removed from the stomachs of cod that had been caught and butchered. Upon seeing this, according to his own writings, Franklin had a change of heart: “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.” That day he indulged in a piece of fish, thus ending his time as a vegetarian.

American cookbooks dedicated to vegetarian cooking began popping up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One such early publication is E.G. Fulton’s The Vegetarian Cookbook, released in 1910. The book, like many early vegetarian cookbooks, contains several recipes containing protose, a meat substitute invented by John Harvey Kellogg. Though an exact recipe for protose is difficult to track down, several have tried to recreate its unique flavor and texture with a combination of wheat gluten, peanut butter, onion and herbs. During the 70s, cookbooks began to address the lack of protein associated with a vegetarian diet. Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet (1971) includes tips for cooking with high protein ingredients like peanuts, beans and grains. A section “concerning the amount of usable protein and the percent of daily protein allowance found in each serving” follows each recipe. When Anna Thomas published The Vegetarian Epicure in 1972, she had become frustrated with recipes that relied on meat substitutes. Her cookbook celebrated the variety and flavor of meatless meals without the need for substitution, signaling a new culinary approach to vegetarianism that continues to this day.

With vegetarianism on the rise, it’s now common for restaurants to feature vegetarian menus or meatless entrée alternatives. Grocery stores carry a large variety of vegetarian options, proving that there is a strong market for meatless products. With proper attention to nutritional intake, it is entirely possible for vegetarians and vegans to live a long and healthy life.

Do you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet? What are your reasons for adopting this lifestyle?

You can uncover more fascinating food history on Tori’s website: The History Kitchen.

Research Sources
Davidson, Alan (1999). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press, USA.

Fisher, Carol (2006). The American Cookbook. McFarland and Co, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina.

Franklin, Benjamin (1996). The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Dover Publications, US.

Fulton, E.G. The Vegetarian Cook Book (1910). Pacific Press Publishing Company, Oakland, California.

Maurer, Donna (2002).Vegetarianism: Movement Or Moment: Promoting A Lifestyle For Cult Change. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Smith, Andrew F. (2007). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford University Press, New York, New York.

Stuart, Tristram (2006). The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, New York.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Disgraceland: Steven Van Zandt rips on Paul Simon

from BackStreets via Amber at Dangerous Minds

Little Steven

Little Steven at a press conference where Coretta Scott King accepted the first $50,000 check (on behalf of The Africa Fund) from Artists United Against Apartheid, 1985)

Perhaps one of my least punk predilections is a weakness for Paul Simon, and the album Graceland, specifically. It’s not that I have any compunction about liking “mom rock,” (moms are awesome, and my love for Carole King is also well-documented), but Graceland is steeped in some pretty nasty history. For one, I’m inclined to believe Los Lobos, who appear on the last track, “All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints,” when they say Simon should have given them a writing credit. The album made bank, and he certainly could have stood to give them credit and a little compensation.

But the most well-known controversy of Graceland is Simon’s refusal to cooperate with the cultural boycott of Apartheid—most of the album was recorded in South Africa, but Simon apparently considered himself exempt from the politics of the situation, since he had been invited by South African musicians and didn’t play live shows in the country. I’ll be the first to admit that cultural boycotts can be difficult to understand. From an artist’s perspective, no one wants to be told to avoid an audience or a musical collaboration because their governing body is corrupt. But Paul Simon pulled what we refer to in radical political circles as a “total dick move.”

If he was really committed to solidarity with South Africans (which he insists, to this day, that he was), it would have been incredibly easy for him to just ask the African National Congress if it was cool for him to visit, just to make sure that he wasn’t, ya know… undermining the struggle for liberation of a long-suffering people. He was even explicitly advised by Harry Belafonte to do just that, (and when Harry Belafonte gives you civil rights advice, you’d best just listen). Simon decided he was just going to go, and upon his arrival, he was treated to protests, with signs demanding, “Yankee Go Home” and “Go Back Simon.”

And here’s the thing—he still hasn’t fucking apologized. I’m not sure if it’s because the album was incredibly successful or because it broke South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo to a larger audience, but he seems to think the legacy of Graceland completely excuses his totally politically unconscionable transgression. In Under African Skies, the 2012 documentary on the album, he’s still a smug dick about it.

And this is why I love Steven Van Zandt. In addition to being a truly brilliant musician, a dedicated and studious curator of rock ‘n’ roll history, and Silvio Dante, Little Steven is down with the people, and a committed activist. In a recent interview with rock critic Dave Marsh on his Sirius/XM radio program Kick Out The Jams with Dave Marsh, he discussed his work with Artists United Against Apartheid. The whole thing was fascinating, but the very best part is Van Zandt hilariously calling out Paul Simon.

Picking up from the point where Little Steven tells the armed resistance movement, the Azanian People’s Organisation, not to just fucking assassinate Paul Simon for his bullshit…

Dave Marsh: I was with you the first time you saw Paul and talked to him about this, at [entertainment attorney] Peter Parcher’s 60th birthday party.

Van Zandt: That’s right, that’s right, that’s right! I’m glad you were a witness, because wait’ll you hear the latest on that. Anyway, I said to them, “Listen, this is not gonna help anybody if you knock off Paul Simon. Trust me on this, alright? Let’s put that aside for the moment. Give me a year or so, you know, six months,” whatever I asked for, “to try and do this a different way. I’m trying to actually unify the music community around this, which may or may not include Paul Simon, but I don’t want it to be a distraction. I just don’t need that distraction right now; I gotta keep my eye on the ball.” And I took him off that assassination list, I took Paul Simon off the U.N. blacklist, trying to...

You mean you convinced them to take him off…

Yeah, because this was a serious thing…

Because this was gonna eat up the attention that the movement itself needed.

Yes, and the European unions were serious about this stuff, man. You were on that [U.N. blacklist], you did not work, okay? Not like America, which was so-so about this stuff, man. Over there, they were serious about this stuff, you know? Anyway, so yeah, this was in spite of Paul Simon approaching me at that party saying, “What are you doing, defending this communist?!”

What he said was, “Ah, the ANC [African National Congress, the organization of which Mandela was President at the time of his arrest and imprisonment], that’s just the Russians.” And he mentioned the group that [murdered black South African activist Steven Biko] had been in, which was not AZAPO…

Was he PAC [Pan-Africanist Congress]?

It doesn’t matter [for this story], but [Paul Simon] said, “That’s just the Chinese communists.”

Yeah, yeah. And he says, “What are you doing defending this guy Mandela?! He’s obviously a communist. My friend Henry Kissinger told me about where all of the money’s coming from,” and all of this. I was, like, all due respect, Paul…

I remember it very vividly, because it was aimed at everybody standing in the general direction.

Yeah, but mostly he was telling me.

Well, yeah, you were the one… Everybody knew who to get mad at first. [laughter]

He knew more than me, he knew more than Mandela, he knew more than the South African people. His famous line, of course, was, “Art transcends politics.” And I said to him, “All due respect, Paulie, but not only does art not transcend politics… art is politics. And I’m telling you right now, you and Henry Kissinger, your buddy, go fuck yourselves.” Or whatever I said. But he had that attitude, and he knowingly and consciously violated the boycott to publicize his record.

Well, to make his record. That’s the violation of the boycott — to make his record.

Yeah, and he actually had the nerve to say, “Well, I paid everybody double-scale.” Remember that one? Oh, that’s nice… no arrogance in that statement, huh? [laughter]

Now, the punchline. Cut to 30 years later, or whatever it is. He asked me to be in his movie [Under African Skies, the documentary on the making of Graceland, included as a DVD in the album’s 25th anniversary boxed edition]. I said, “Alright, I’ll be in your movie, if you don’t edit me. You ready to tell it like it is?”

He says, “Yep.”

“Are you, like, uh, apologizing in this movie?”


“Okay. I’m not gonna be a sore winner. I’ll talk to you.”

I did an interview. They show me the footage. Of course, they edited the hell out of it to some little statement where I’m saying something positive about Paul. [laughter] And I see the rest of the footage, where he’s supposedly apologizing, with Dali Tambo [founder of Artists Against Apartheid and son of late ANC leaders Adelaide and Oliver Tambo]. He says, “I’m sorry if I made it inconvenient for you.” That was his apology.

In other words, he still thinks he’s right, all these years later!

You’re the only person who’s ever met Paul twice who thinks that’s surprising. [laughter]

I mean, at this point, you still think you were right?! Meanwhile, that big “communist,” as soon as he got out of jail, I see who took the first picture with him. There’s Paul Simon and Mandela, good buddies. I’m watchin’ CNN the other day. Mandela dies, on comes a statement by Bono and the second statement’s by Paul Simon. I’m like oh, just make me throw up. You know, I like the guy in a lot of ways, I do; and I respect his work, of course. He’s a wonderful, wonderful artist, but when it comes to this subject, he just will not admit he was wrong. Y’know, just mea culpa. Come on, you won! He made twenty, thirty million dollars at least, okay? Take the money and apologize, okay? I mean, say “Listen, maybe I was wrong about this a little bit.” No.

Well…unfortunately we live in a country where the money means you don’t have to apologize, and let’s leave that there.


Via Backstreets

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Marx's prescient predictions for the 21st century

from Rolling Stone via Boing Boing:

From the iPhone 5S to corporate globalization, modern life is full of evidence of Marx's foresight

In Rolling Stone, Sean McElwee enumerates five of Marx's predictions for late-stage capitalism that have largely come true in the 21st century, from globalization to the boom in luxury goods (what Marx called "imaginary appetites"):
1. The Great Recession (Capitalism's Chaotic Nature)
The inherently chaotic, crisis-prone nature of capitalism was a key part of Marx's writings. He argued that the relentless drive for profits would lead companies to mechanize their workplaces, producing more and more goods while squeezing workers' wages until they could no longer purchase the products they created. Sure enough, modern historical events from the Great Depression to the dot-com bubble can be traced back to what Marx termed "fictitious capital" – financial instruments like stocks and credit-default swaps. We produce and produce until there is simply no one left to purchase our goods, no new markets, no new debts. The cycle is still playing out before our eyes: Broadly speaking, it's what made the housing market crash in 2008. Decades of deepening inequality reduced incomes, which led more and more Americans to take on debt. When there were no subprime borrows left to scheme, the whole façade fell apart, just as Marx knew it would.

2. The iPhone 5S (Imaginary Appetites)
Marx warned that capitalism's tendency to concentrate high value on essentially arbitrary products would, over time, lead to what he called "a contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites." It's a harsh but accurate way of describing contemporary America, where we enjoy incredible luxury and yet are driven by a constant need for more and more stuff to buy. Consider the iPhone 5S you may own. Is it really that much better than the iPhone 5 you had last year, or the iPhone 4S a year before that? Is it a real need, or an invented one? While Chinese families fall sick with cancer from our e-waste, megacorporations are creating entire advertising campaigns around the idea that we should destroy perfectly good products for no reason. If Marx could see this kind of thing, he'd nod in recognition.
Marx Was Right: Five Surprising Ways Karl Marx Predicted 2014 [Sean McElwee/Rolling Stone]

One of the most influential books I've ever read:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

SuperBowl and the Bullshit of Pro-Sports
How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers

from The Atlantic:
Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn't apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It's time to stop the public giveaways to America's richest sports league—and to the feudal lords who own its teams.

Last year was a busy one for public giveaways to the National Football League. In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.

Taxpayers in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, were hit with a bill for $26 million in debt service for the stadiums where the NFL’s Bengals and Major League Baseball’s Reds play, plus another $7 million to cover the direct operating costs for the Bengals’ field. Pro-sports subsidies exceeded the $23.6 million that the county cut from health-and-human-services spending in the current two-year budget (and represent a sizable chunk of the $119 million cut from Hamilton County schools). Press materials distributed by the Bengals declare that the team gives back about $1 million annually to Ohio community groups. Sound generous? That’s about 4 percent of the public subsidy the Bengals receive annually from Ohio taxpayers.

In Minnesota, the Vikings wanted a new stadium, and were vaguely threatening to decamp to another state if they didn’t get it. The Minnesota legislature, facing a $1.1 billion budget deficit, extracted $506 million from taxpayers as a gift to the team, covering roughly half the cost of the new facility. Some legislators argued that the Vikings should reveal their finances: privately held, the team is not required to disclose operating data, despite the public subsidies it receives. In the end, the Minnesota legislature folded, giving away public money without the Vikings’ disclosing information in return. The team’s principal owner, Zygmunt Wilf, had a 2011 net worth estimated at $322 million; with the new stadium deal, the Vikings’ value rose about $200 million, by Forbes’s estimate, further enriching Wilf and his family. They will make a token annual payment of $13 million to use the stadium, keeping the lion’s share of all NFL ticket, concession, parking, and, most important, television revenues.

After approving the $506 million handout, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said, “I’m not one to defend the economics of professional sports … Any deal you make in that world doesn’t make sense from the way the rest of us look at it.” Even by the standards of political pandering, Dayton’s irresponsibility was breathtaking.

In California, the City of Santa Clara broke ground on a $1.3 billion stadium for the 49ers. Officially, the deal includes $116 million in public funding, with private capital making up the rest. At least, that’s the way the deal was announced. A new government entity, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, is borrowing $950 million, largely from a consortium led by Goldman Sachs, to provide the majority of the “private” financing. Who are the board members of the Santa Clara Stadium Authority? The members of the Santa Clara City Council. In effect, the city of Santa Clara is providing most of the “private” funding. Should something go wrong, taxpayers will likely take the hit.

The 49ers will pay Santa Clara $24.5 million annually in rent for four decades, which makes the deal, from the team’s standpoint, a 40-year loan amortized at less than 1 percent interest. At the time of the agreement, 30-year Treasury bonds were selling for 3 percent, meaning the Santa Clara contract values the NFL as a better risk than the United States government.

Although most of the capital for the new stadium is being underwritten by the public, most football revenue generated within the facility will be pocketed by Denise DeBartolo York, whose net worth is estimated at $1.1 billion, and members of her family. York took control of the team in 2000 from her brother, Edward DeBartolo Jr., after he pleaded guilty to concealing an extortion plot by a former governor of Louisiana. Brother and sister inherited their money from their father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., a shopping-mall developer who became one of the nation’s richest men before his death in 1994. A generation ago, the DeBartolos made their money the old-fashioned way, by hard work in the free market. Today, the family’s wealth rests on political influence and California tax subsidies. Nearly all NFL franchises are family-owned, converting public subsidies and tax favors into high living for a modern-day feudal elite.

Pro-football coaches talk about accountability and self-reliance, yet pro-football owners routinely binge on giveaways and handouts. A year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Saints resumed hosting NFL games: justifiably, a national feel-good story. The finances were another matter. Taxpayers have, in stages, provided about $1 billion to build and later renovate what is now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (All monetary figures in this article have been converted to 2013 dollars.) The Saints’ owner, Tom Benson, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $1.2 billion, keeps nearly all revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcast rights. Taxpayers even footed the bill for the addition of leather stadium seats with cup holders to cradle the drinks they are charged for at concession stands. And corporate welfare for the Saints doesn’t stop at stadium construction and renovation costs. Though Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal claims to be an anti-spending conservative, each year the state of Louisiana forcibly extracts up to $6 million from its residents’ pockets and gives the cash to Benson as an “inducement payment”—the actual term used—to keep Benson from developing a wandering eye.

In NFL city after NFL city, this pattern is repeated. CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play, opened in 2002, with Washington State taxpayers providing $390 million of the $560 million construction cost. The Seahawks, owned by Paul Allen, one of the richest people in the world, pay the state about $1 million annually in rent in return for most of the revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcasting (all told, perhaps $200 million a year). Average people are taxed to fund Allen’s private-jet lifestyle.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of six Super Bowls, the most of any franchise, play at Heinz Field, a glorious stadium that opens to a view of the serenely flowing Ohio and Allegheny Rivers. Pennsylvania taxpayers contributed about $260 million to help build Heinz Field—and to retire debt from the Steelers’ previous stadium. Most game-day revenues (including television fees) go to the Rooney family, the majority owner of the team. The team’s owners also kept the $75 million that Heinz paid to name the facility.

Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor of urban planning, calculates that league-wide, 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, not NFL owners. Many cities, counties, and states also pay the stadiums’ ongoing costs, by providing power, sewer services, other infrastructure, and stadium improvements. When ongoing costs are added, Long’s research finds, the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans have turned a profit on stadium subsidies alone—receiving more money from the public than they needed to build their facilities. Long’s estimates show that just three NFL franchises—the New England Patriots, New York Giants, and New York Jets—have paid three-quarters or more of their stadium capital costs.

Many NFL teams have also cut sweetheart deals to avoid taxes. The futuristic new field where the Dallas Cowboys play, with its 80,000 seats, go-go dancers on upper decks, and built-in nightclubs, has been appraised at nearly $1 billion. At the basic property-tax rate of Arlington, Texas, where the stadium is located, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would owe at least $6 million a year in property taxes. Instead he receives no property-tax bill, so Tarrant County taxes the property of average people more than it otherwise would.

In his office at 345 Park Avenue in Manhattan, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must smile when Texas exempts the Cowboys’ stadium from taxes, or the governor of Minnesota bows low to kiss the feet of the NFL. The National Football League is about two things: producing high-quality sports entertainment, which it does very well, and exploiting taxpayers, which it also does very well. Goodell should know—his pay, about $30 million in 2011, flows from an organization that does not pay corporate taxes.

That’s right—extremely profitable and one of the most subsidized organizations in American history, the NFL also enjoys tax-exempt status. On paper, it is the Nonprofit Football League.

This situation came into being in the 1960s, when Congress granted antitrust waivers to what were then the National Football League and the American Football League, allowing them to merge, conduct a common draft, and jointly auction television rights. The merger was good for the sport, stabilizing pro football while ensuring quality of competition. But Congress gave away the store to the NFL while getting almost nothing for the public in return.

The 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act was the first piece of gift-wrapped legislation, granting the leagues legal permission to conduct television-broadcast negotiations in a way that otherwise would have been price collusion. Then, in 1966, Congress enacted Public Law 89‑800, which broadened the limited antitrust exemptions of the 1961 law. Essentially, the 1966 statute said that if the two pro-football leagues of that era merged—they would complete such a merger four years later, forming the current NFL—the new entity could act as a monopoly regarding television rights. Apple or ExxonMobil can only dream of legal permission to function as a monopoly: the 1966 law was effectively a license for NFL owners to print money. Yet this sweetheart deal was offered to the NFL in exchange only for its promise not to schedule games on Friday nights or Saturdays in autumn, when many high schools and colleges play football.

Public Law 89-800 had no name—unlike, say, the catchy USA Patriot Act or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Congress presumably wanted the bill to be low-profile, given that its effect was to increase NFL owners’ wealth at the expense of average people.

While Public Law 89-800 was being negotiated with congressional leaders, NFL lobbyists tossed in the sort of obscure provision that is the essence of the lobbyist’s art. The phrase or professional football leagues was added to Section 501(c)6 of 26 U.S.C., the Internal Revenue Code. Previously, a sentence in Section 501(c)6 had granted not-for-profit status to “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, or boards of trade.” Since 1966, the code has read: “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, boards of trade, or professional football leagues.”

The insertion of professional football leagues into the definition of not-for-profit organizations was a transparent sellout of public interest. This decision has saved the NFL uncounted millions in tax obligations, which means that ordinary people must pay higher taxes, public spending must decline, or the national debt must increase to make up for the shortfall. Nonprofit status applies to the NFL’s headquarters, which administers the league and its all-important television contracts. Individual teams are for-profit and presumably pay income taxes—though because all except the Green Bay Packers are privately held and do not disclose their finances, it’s impossible to be sure.

For Veterans Day last year, the NFL announced that it would donate cash to military groups for each point scored in designated games. During NFL telecasts that weekend, the league was praised for its grand generosity. The total donation came to about $440,000. Annualized, NFL stadium subsidies and tax favors add up to perhaps $1 billion. So the NFL took $1 billion from the public, then sought praise for giving back $440,000—less than a tenth of 1 percent.

In the NFL, cynicism about public money starts at the top. State laws and IRS rules generally forbid the use of nonprofit status as a subterfuge for personal enrichment. Yet according to the league’s annual Form 990, in 2011, the most recent year for which numbers are available, the NFL paid a total of almost $60 million to its leading five executives.

Roger Goodell’s windfall has been justified on the grounds that the free market rewards executives whose organizations perform well, and there is no doubt that the NFL performs well as to both product quality—the games are consistently terrific—and the bottom line. But almost nothing about the league’s operations involves the free market. Taxpayers fund most stadium costs; the league itself is tax-exempt; television images made in those publicly funded stadiums are privatized, with all gains kept by the owners; and then the entire organization is walled off behind a moat of antitrust exemptions.

The reason NFL executives’ pay is known is that in 2008, the IRS moved to strengthen the requirement that 501(c)6 organizations disclose payments to top officers. The NFL asked Congress to grant pro football a waiver from the disclosure rule. During the lobbying battle, Joe Browne, then the league’s vice president for public affairs, told The New York Times, “I finally get to the point where I’m making 150 grand, and they want to put my name and address on the [disclosure] form so the lawyer next door who makes a million dollars a year can laugh at me.” Browne added that $150,000 does not buy in the New York area what it would in “Dubuque, Iowa.” The waiver was denied. Left no option, the NFL revealed that at the time, Browne made about $2 million annually.

Perhaps it is spitting into the wind to ask those who run the National Football League to show a sense of decency regarding the lucrative public trust they hold. Goodell’s taking some $30 million from an enterprise made more profitable because it hides behind its tax-exempt status does not seem materially different from, say, the Fannie Mae CEO’s taking a gigantic bonus while taxpayers were bailing out his company.

Perhaps it is spitting into the wind to expect a son to be half what his father was. Charles Goodell, a member of the House of Representatives for New York from 1959 to 1968 and then a senator until 1971, was renowned as a man of conscience—among the first members of Congress to oppose the Vietnam War, one of the first Republicans to fight for environmental protection. My initial experience with politics was knocking on doors for Charles Goodell; a brown-and-white Senator Goodell campaign button sits in my mementos case. Were Charles Goodell around today, what would he think of his son’s cupidity? Roger Goodell has become the sort of person his father once opposed—an insider who profits from his position while average people pay.

I wanted to put questions about the NFL’s finances to Roger Goodell. When I was researching my book The King of Sports, from which this excerpt is drawn, I requested interview time with Goodell, and he agreed. When NFL headquarters learned that my questions would cover tax exemptions and health issues in the league, the interview was promptly canceled. League spokesman Greg Aiello told me it was not in the NFL’s “best interests” to discuss safety or subsidies.

One might suppose that with football raking in such phenomenal sums of cash, politicians could win votes by assuming populist stances regarding NFL subsidies and exemptions. Instead, in almost every instance, Congress and state legislatures have rolled over and played dead for pro football. NFL owners pressure local politicians with veiled threats of moving teams, though no franchise has moved since 1998. Public officials who back football-stadium spending, meanwhile, can make lavish (if unrealistic) promises of jobs and tourism, knowing the invoices won’t come due until after they have left office.

Politicians seem more interested in receiving campaign donations and invitations to luxury boxes than in taking on the football powers that be to bargain for a fair deal for ordinary people. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a moderate who served 30 years in the Senate, tried to pressure the NFL to stop picking the public’s pocket, but left Capitol Hill in 2011 and passed away the next year. No populist champion so far has replaced him. Specter told me in 2007, “The NFL owners are arrogant people who have abused the public trust, and act like they can get away with anything.”

Too often, NFL owners can, in fact, get away with anything. In financial terms, the most important way they do so is by creating game images in publicly funded stadiums, broadcasting the images over public airwaves, and then keeping all the money they receive as a result. Football fans know the warning intoned during each NFL contest: that use of the game’s images “without the NFL’s consent” is prohibited. Under copyright law, entertainment created in publicly funded stadiums is private property.

When, for example, Fox broadcasts a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game from Raymond James Stadium, built entirely at the public’s expense, it has purchased the right to do so from the NFL. In a typical arrangement, taxpayers provide most or all of the funds to build an NFL stadium. The team pays the local stadium authority a modest rent, retaining the exclusive right to license images on game days. The team then sells the right to air the games. Finally, the NFL asserts a copyright over what is broadcast. No federal or state law prevents images generated in facilities built at public expense from being privatized in this manner.

Baseball, basketball, ice hockey, and other sports also benefit from this same process. But the fact that others take advantage of the public too is no justification. The NFL’s sweetheart deal is by far the most valuable: This year, CBS, DirecTV, ESPN, Fox, NBC, and Verizon will pay the NFL about $4 billion for the rights to broadcast its games. Next year, that figure will rise to more than $6 billion. Because football is so popular, its broadcast fees would be high no matter how the financial details were structured. The fact that game images created in places built and operated at public expense can be privatized by the NFL inflates the amounts kept by NFL owners, executives, coaches, and players, while driving up the cable fees paid by people who may not even care to watch the games.

In too many areas of contemporary life, public subsidies are converted to private profit. Sometimes, such as with the bailout of General Motors, once the subsidies end, society is better off; sometimes, as with the bailout of AIG, subsidies are repaid. Public handouts for modern professional football never end and are never repaid. In return, the NFL creates nothing of social value—while setting bad examples, despite its protests to the contrary, regarding concussions, painkiller misuse, weight gain, and cheating, among other issues. The No. 1 sport in a nation with a childhood-obesity epidemic celebrates weight gain; that’s bad enough. Worse, the sport setting the bad example is subsidized up one side and down the other.

The NFL’s nonprofit status should be revoked. And lawmakers—ideally in Congress, to level the national playing field, as it were—should require that television images created in publicly funded sports facilities cannot be privatized. The devil would be in the details of any such action. But Congress regulates health care, airspace, and other far-more-complex aspects of contemporary life; it can crack the whip on the NFL.

If football images created in places funded by taxpayers became public domain, the league would respond by paying the true cost of future stadiums—while negotiating to repay construction subsidies already received. To do otherwise would mean the loss of billions in television-rights fees. Pro football would remain just as exciting and popular, but would no longer take advantage of average people.

In 2010, the National Football League moved its annual Pro Bowl away from Honolulu for the first time in 30 years. At the very time Hawaii was cutting its budget for public schools, state lawmakers voted to pay the NFL $4 million per game to bring the event back to their capital. The lawmakers’ gift-giving was bad enough. What was disgraceful was that the rich, subsidized owners of the NFL accepted.

Until public attitudes change, those at the top of the pro-football pyramid will keep getting away with whatever they can. This is troubling not just because ordinary people are taxed so a small number of NFL owners and officers can live as modern feudal lords and ladies. It is troubling because athletics are supposed to set an example—and the example being set by the NFL is one of selfishness.

Football is the king of sports. Should the favorite sport of the greatest nation really be one whose economic structure is based on inequality and greed?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Meet the real-life Simpsons' kids in a 1969 film made by Matt Groening's father, Homer

from Dangerous Minds:

He looks more like a “Bart,” don’t you think?

Fans of The Simpsons will enjoy “The Story,” a sweet short film made by Homer Groening in 1969. With a young Matt Groening and co-starring his sister Lisa, in “The Story,” a bedtime tale is told to their younger sister (that would be Maggie) about some encounters her siblings had in the woods with various animals.

The elder Groening, his name at least, immortalized by the Simpson’s doofus patriarch, was a war hero who flew a B-17 during WWII and participated in the D-Day invasion. He later became a prominent and award-winning advertising executive and made a series of films about water. Like his famous son, he was also a cartoonist and would make up the beginning of a story and then ask his children to finish it. Homer Groening died in 1996 at the age of 76.

Matt Groening told The Smithsonian magazine about how he came up with the idea for The Simpsons and why “Bart” wasn’t named Matt:

I had been drawing my weekly comic strip, “Life in Hell,” for about five years when I got a call from Jim Brooks, who was developing “The Tracey Ullman Show” for the brand-new Fox network. He wanted me to come in and pitch an idea for doing little cartoons on that show. I soon realized that whatever I pitched would not be owned by me, but would be owned by Fox, so I decided to keep my rabbits in “Life in Hell” and come up with something new.

While I was waiting—I believe they kept me waiting for over an hour—I very quickly drew the Simpsons family. I basically drew my own family. My father’s name is Homer. My mother’s name is Margaret. I have a sister Lisa and another sister Maggie, so I drew all of them. I was going to name the main character Matt, but I didn’t think it would go over well in a pitch meeting, so I changed the name to Bart.

Bart. Why?
Back in high school I wrote a novel about a character named Bart Simpson. I thought it was a very unusual name for a kid at the time. I had this idea of an angry father yelling “Bart,” and Bart sounds kind of like bark—like a barking dog. I thought it would sound funny. In my novel, Bart was the son of Homer Simpson. I took that name from a minor character in the novel The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West. Since Homer was my father’s name, and I thought Simpson was a funny name in that it had the word “simp” in it, which is short for “simpleton”—I just went with it.

Did your father contribute anything besides his first name?
My father was a really sharp cartoonist and filmmaker. He used to tape-record the family surreptitiously, either while we were driving around or at dinner, and in 1963 he and I made up a story about a brother and a sister, Lisa and Matt, having an adventure out in the woods with animals. I told it to my sister Lisa, and she in turn told it to my sister Maggie. My father recorded the telling of the story by Lisa to Maggie, and then he used it as the soundtrack to a movie. So the idea of dramatizing the family—Lisa, Maggie, Matt—I think was the inspiration for doing something kind of autobiographical with “The Simpsons.” There is an aspect of the psychodynamics of my family in which it makes sense that one of us grew up and made a cartoon out of the family and had it shown all over the world.