Bill Meacham :
IDEAS | Mental parasites

Just as a parasitical lancet fluke can direct an ant to climb up a blade of grass, we are unknowingly manipulated by cultural memes.

ant on leaf of grass

Ant on leaf of grass. Free will or “fluke” of nature? Image from The Telegraph.

By Bill Meacham | The Rag Blog | October 21, 2014

What if your brain were taken over by a parasite and made you want something you would not ordinarily want? What if it took over your second-order thinking and made you want to want that thing? Would your will then be free?

This is not so far-fetched a scenario as it might seem. There are numerous examples of parasites infecting the brains of animals to make those animals act contrary to their own well-being. Here is one:
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Harry Targ :
On democracy: ‘Can we talk?’

The United States’ political system, we are told repeatedly, is the gold standard for the world.

corporate rule

Image from Philosophers for Change.

By Harry Targ | The Rag Blog | October 21, 2014

Through her decades of entertaining on stage and screen, [Joan] Rivers developed numerous classic bits and catchphrases, but three small words stand above the rest: “Can we talk?” (Kelli Bender @kbendernyc, 09/04/2014, also at

I never liked comedienne Joan Rivers who died recently. But her famous one-line introduction to talk show interviewers and stand-up performances is a powerful reminder that certain subjects might be dangerous to discuss in polite company. Whether the United States’ political system is a democratic one is such a subject.

Everything we Americans have learned since infancy suggests that the United States is a democracy. In fact, the United States political system, we are told repeatedly, is the gold standard for the world.
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Murray Polner :
Silent rabbis

Arthur Hertzberg believed that the quasi-religious reverence for Israel, right or wrong, tainted the beauty and grandeur of Judaism.

Protest in Manhattan over Israel's action in Gaza

New York Jews say “No!” to the Israeli occupation, August 2011.

By Murray Polner | The Rag Blog | October 21, 2014

One of the smartest, most courageous and provocative rabbis I ever knew was Arthur Hertzberg, raised in a Hasidic family, a congregational rabbi, historian of Jewish life and Zionism, university professor, a member of the Zionist Jewish Agency who once publicly rebuked Prime Minister Golda Meir for her pro-Vietnam War views, and regularly criticized Israel’s occupation and settlement policies.

Hertzberg, who died in 2006, also took on American Jews for their unquestioning worship of Israel, wondering as well if Zionism and Judaism were identical. Judaism, he once told me (he wrote a regular column in a magazine I edited) was a faith of universal morality, not a nationality. The quasi-religious reverence for Israel, right or wrong, tainted the beauty and grandeur of Judaism. Too many rabbis, he wrote (in an article which inspired me to write a book about American rabbis), resembled “institutional executives” and were “entertainers” in sparsely attended non-Orthodox synagogues.
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Thorne Dreyer :
PODCAST | Author Michael Harris on the Digital Revolution and ‘The End of Absence’

Journalist and editor Harris, our guest on Rag Radio, discusses ‘Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection.’

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Michael Harris was our guest on Rag Radio, September 26, 2014.

Interview by Thorne Dreyer | The Rag Blog | October 20, 2014

Our guest on Rag Radio, journalist Michael Harris, is a magazine editor and the author of the critically-acclaimed The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection.

On the show we discuss the nature of the digital revolution in relation to earlier transformative communication events —  like the invention of the Gutenberg printing press and the 20th century television invasion.

And Harris recounts a personal epiphany, his “overload moment,” when, sitting in front of his computer, he looked up and realized he had more than a dozen windows open on two computer monitors and was engaged in multiple email conversations and text messages.
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Johnny Hazard :
Thousands of public university students in Mexico City go out on strike

They are protesting the police killings and forced disappearances of students in the Mexican
state of Guerrero.

hazard mexico city rally marlo

Thousands of striking university students and representatives of social organizations demonstrate in Mexico City, Wednesday, October 14, 2014. Photo by Mario Marlo /

By Johnny Hazard | The Rag Blog | October 16, 2014

MEXICO CITY — Students at most public universities in the Mexico City metropolitan area are on strike for 24 to 48 hours. The student strike is part of the continuing protests against the September 26 police killings of five and forced disappearance of 43 students from the teacher preparation school in Ayotzinapa, Tixtla, Guerrero.

The students were ambushed — some shot, some kidnapped — by local police in Iguala, Guerrero, on September 25 and 26. On Tuesday, federal officials announced that, based on DNA evidence, at least some of the mass graves — which, according to cops who have been detained in connection with the crimes, contain the bodies of the students — in fact contain other corpses.
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Ken Wachsberger :
My friend Davey Brinn

The first time I remember his face it had a smile directed toward me and I smiled back. From then on, when we saw each other we smiled.

Davey Brinn 1 sm

Davey Brinn. Photo courtesy Lisa Belli.

By Ken Wachsberger | The Rag Blog | October 16, 2014

My friend Davey Brinn died. It’s been over a year, closer to 18 months, but I just found out. We hadn’t seen each other for over 20 years. Somewhere along the way we lost touch with each other. Then we reconnected. Our reunion was only via email but it was one of my best days of this millennium. I wanted to see him — in my mind I started making plans. But I didn’t. And then he died.

Life plays funny tricks on you if you take it for granted. I thought I was pretty good in that regard. I slipped up on that one.
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Ron Jacobs :
BOOKS | Redefining urban renewal: Squatting
in Europe

‘The City is Ours’ examines both politically and socially the squatters’ movement in Europe over the past 40 years and provides a template for the movement’s future.

the city is ours

Essays on the squatters’ movement in Europe.

By Ron Jacobs | The Rag Blog | October 15, 2014

[The City is Ours: Squatting and Autonomous Movements in Europe from the 1970s to the Present, edited by Bart van der Steen, Ask Katzeff, and Leendert van Hoogenhuijze (September 2014: PM Press); Paperback; 336 pp; $21.95.]

British novelist Doris Lessing wrote a novel titled The Good Terrorist. The story revolves around an autonomous leftist cell in London that decides to step up their participation in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism by providing material support to the IRA. Eventually, the cell moves on to taking their own armed actions, which result in the death of one of their members.

The main character in the novel, a woman named Alice, has political and moral disagreements with the course she and her comrades have taken but remains committed to the course of action. The cell’s living quarters is in a squatted building in London. Unlike her fellow squatters, Alice takes an active interest in making the squat a livable quarters. Lessing’s descriptions of the squat and the work undertaken to make it livable are why I mention this work of fiction.
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Johnny Hazard :
In Mexico, massacres are the order of the day

While the U.S. government lauds its Mexican counterpart, a new mass grave appears to contain bodies of ‘disappeared’ education students.

sept 30 mexico demo

Students of the Instituto Politécnico Nacional are shown marching on Friday, September 30. 2014. They took over part of this highway, known as Circuito Interior, en route to various government buildings. Photo by Luis Ramírez Tamayo.

By Johnny Hazard | The Rag Blog | October 8, 2014

MEXICO CITY — By now many in the U.S. and most in Mexico have seen the evidence of what we feared: Mass graves were discovered Saturday that appear to contain the bodies of almost half of the about 50 education students murdered or “disappeared” since September 26 in Iguala, Guerrero.

Most were students of a “rural normal,” a teacher preparation school in Tixtla, Guerrero, in southwest Mexico. (Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, and Ixtapa are famous places in Guerrero, but the state as a whole is one of the poorest places in Latin America and was home to two major guerrilla movements in the 1970s.)
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Jonah Raskin :
Berkeley Free Speech Movement turns 50

Aging Berkeley radicals and young undergrads mark the anniversary of the FSM in a gathering that’s short on nostalgia, long on hope, zero on regret.

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FSM vets and Berkeley students gather for rally, October 1, 2014. Photo by William Pinkus / The Rag Blog.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | October 7, 2014

BERKELEY — Lynne Hollander Savio served as the MC for the event and played a tape of her husband, Mario, delivering his famous speech in which he invites fellow students to “put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!”

Mike Smith of the Oakland Seven stood behind Lynne Hollander Savio and held an American flag. Sixties radical and UC Santa Cruz professor, Bettina Aptheker, spoke, as did Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers (UVF), plus Jack Weinberg, who noted famously ages ago, “Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30.”
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Kate Braun :
The October Full Moon is called a Hunter’s Moon or a Blood Moon

The opposition of Wednesday, the masculine Odin’s day, with the feminine full moon creates its own balance, adding the imperative forcefulness of Odin to the nurturing love of Lady Moon.

hunter's moon

Hunter’s Moon. Image from

By Kate Braun | The Rag Blog | October 7, 2014

Wednesday is Odin’s day, full of masculine “make it happen” energy while Full Moons are charged with feminine “help it grow” energy. This seeming opposition creates its own balance, adding the imperative forcefulness of Odin to the nurturing love of Lady Moon. Projects begun at the New Moon should be reaching their objectives, generating a sense of fulfillment which will further enhance your efforts.

When working with moon energy, it is best to be outdoors and to actually see the full moon. If weather makes being outdoors difficult or impossible, the next-best thing is to arrange your actions so that you can see the full moon through a window. Should the sky be cloudy or rainy, orient yourself so that you can face the direction in which you would see the full moon if you could.
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Michael James :
A solo run west, ChicagoFest and Maxwell Street, and a taste for electoral politics, 1979

Halsted by Maxwell had a great hot dog stand which I frequented during late night hunger attacks for polish sausages smothered with grilled onions and hot peppers and greasy fries on the side.

michael 2 - long train

Long Train on the Plains, 1979. Photos by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures from the Long Haul.

By Michael James | The Rag Blog | October 7, 2014

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about -- and inspired by -- those images. These photos will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.]

Throughout 1979, work, politics, and travel commingled. The brutal winter blizzard that year brought me extracurricular work driving a dump truck and a small front loader to help remove the onslaught of paralyzing snow. When winter finally broke, I was in get-out-of-town mode; in April I embarked on a solo drive West.
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Alan Waldman :
Charming Scottish dramedy ‘Monarch of the Glen’ offers fun characters, luscious scenery

For seven seasons, members of the MacDonald family, their servants, neighbors, and visitors, scheme and counter-scheme at a massive Scottish Highlands estate.

monarch of the glen

Monarch of the Glen is charming Scottish dramedy.

By Alan Waldman | The Rag Blog | October 7, 2014

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

Monarch of the Glen is a humorous British television drama series set in the picturesque Scottish Highlands; it aired seven seasons between 2000 and 2005. Six of the series (64 episodes) are on Netflix and Netflix Instant streaming. Here is the pilot episode.
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