Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gustav is a Potential SOB

Just the other day, I was reading in an article called "The Katrina Pain Index," some horrendous facts & figures about the aftermath of Katrina on New Orleans, a city I love, the city where I grew up, a city that won't ever get out of your heart. And now there's another hurricane about to enter the Gulf after tearing the hell out of Haiti and Jamaica, and all the wise weather people with their magical computer models are predicting that New Orleans is going to get it again. Here's some information about the city. It ain't pretty.

0. Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post-Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant - compared to 116,708 homeowners.

0. Number of apartments currently being built to replace the 963 public housing apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the St. Bernard Housing Development.

0. Amount of data available to evaluate performance of publicly financed, privately run charter schools in New Orleans in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years.

.008. Percentage of rental homes that were supposed to be repaired and occupied by August 2008 which were actually completed and occupied - a total of 82 finished out of 10,000 projected.

1. Rank of New Orleans among US cities in percentage of housing vacant or ruined.

1. Rank of New Orleans among US cities in murders per capita for 2006 and 2007.

4. Number of the 13 City of New Orleans Planning Districts that are at the same risk of flooding as they were before Katrina.

10. Number of apartments being rehabbed so far to replace the 896 apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the Lafitte Housing Development.

11. Percent of families who have returned to live in Lower Ninth Ward.

17. Percentage increase in wages in the hotel and food industry since before Katrina.

20-25. Years that experts estimate it will take to rebuild the City of New Orleans at current pace.

25. Percent fewer hospitals in metro New Orleans than before Katrina.

32. Percent of the city's neighborhoods that have less than half as many households as before Katrina.

36. Percent fewer tons of cargo that move through Port of New Orleans since Katrina.

38. Percent fewer hospital beds in New Orleans since Katrina.

40. Percentage fewer special education students attending publicly funded, privately run charter schools than traditional public schools.

41. Number of publicly funded, privately run public charter schools in New Orleans out of total of 79 public schools in the city.

43. Percentage of child care available in New Orleans compared to before Katrina.

46. Percentage increase in rents in New Orleans since Katrina.

56. Percentage fewer inpatient psychiatric beds compared to before Katrina.

80. Percentage fewer public transportation buses now than pre-Katrina.

81. Percentage of homeowners in New Orleans who received insufficient funds to cover the complete costs to repair their homes.

300. Number of National Guard troops still in City of New Orleans.

1,080. Days National Guard troops have remained in City of New Orleans.

1,250. Number of publicly financed vouchers for children to attend private schools in New Orleans in program's first year.

6,982. Number of families still living in FEMA trailers in metro New Orleans area.

8,000. Fewer publicly assisted rental apartments planned for New Orleans by federal government.

10,000. Houses demolished in New Orleans since Katrina.

12,000. Number of homeless in New Orleans even after camps of people living under the bridges have been resettled - double the pre-Katrina number.

14,000. Number of displaced families in New Orleans area whose hurricane rental assistance expires in March 2009.

32,000. Number of children who have not returned to public school in New Orleans, leaving the public school population less than half what it was pre-Katrina.

39,000. Number of Louisiana homeowners who have applied for federal assistance in repair and rebuilding who still have not received any money.

45,000. Fewer children enrolled in Medicaid public healthcare in New Orleans than pre-Katrina.

46,000. Fewer African-American voters in New Orleans in 2007 gubernatorial election than in 2003 gubernatorial election.

55,000. Fewer houses receiving mail than before Katrina.

62,000. Fewer people in New Orleans enrolled in Medicaid public healthcare than pre-Katrina.

71,657. Vacant, ruined, unoccupied houses in New Orleans today.

124,000. Fewer people working in metropolitan New Orleans than pre-Katrina.

132,000. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the City of New Orleans current population estimate of 321,000 in New Orleans.

214,000. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the US Census Bureau current population estimate of 239,000 in New Orleans.

453,726. Population of New Orleans before Katrina.

320 million. Number of trees destroyed in Louisiana and Mississippi by Katrina.

368 million. Dollar losses of five major metro New Orleans hospitals from Katrina through 2007. In 2008, these hospitals expect another $103 million in losses.

1.9 billion. FEMA dollars scheduled to be available to metro New Orleans for Katrina damages that have not yet been delivered.

2.6 billion. FEMA dollars scheduled to be available to State of Louisiana for Katrina damages that have not yet been delivered.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book Reviewing 101

What follows, boys and girls, is a purported book review that appeared this past Sunday in The Daily Oklahoman, a rag of such unspeakable repulsiveness and low quality that you wonder how any civilized people could stand it. And then you remember: oh, yes, this is Oklahoma we're talking about. The author of this so-called review, one each David W. Lee, is pictured at the right, caught on camera during a Idiot Pride Day parade recently.

The authors of the book, Collateral Damage: America's War against Iraqi Citizens, are Pulitzer Prize-winner Christopher Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, a respected veteran journalist. Amy Goodman interviewed Hedges and Al-Arian on "Democracy Now" not long ago. You can listen here for a little more insight than the purported review gives. And you can check the reviews at The Publisher's Weekly review there describes the book as a "slight polemic" and faults it for "flawed methodology," but in the context of at least an attempt at balance. (Interesting to note also that the two readers who absolutely panned the book did not dispute the truth of the events recounted there.)

I know a little something about book reviews, and the POS below is so bad that I will not take the time to critique in detail. Read it yourself and see. I will simply observe that a nation capable of torturing people, abusing its prisoners, holding innocent people in prisons without charges for years is perfectly capable of mistreating a civilian population. I don't doubt for a second that what's being reported here is actually happening. The alternative understanding, according to the certified genius Mr. Lee, is that the authors of this book and the "only 50 combat veterans" who witnessed these crimes simply made all of this up. Oh, yeah. That's impeccably logical. We begin with the fair and balanced title of the review:

Writers rail against U.S. military

"Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Citizens” (Nation Books, $22.95)
by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian is exactly what it proclaims: a screed against our American soldiers serving in the dangerous and difficult war in Iraq.
(As opposed to safe and easy wars.)

Published by the far-left The Nation magazine, the book announces in its beginning, "The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder,” and "American Marines and soldiers have become socialized to atrocity.”

The book's theme is that American military conduct in Iraq is similar to that of German soldiers in World War II. The authors refer to the murderous conduct of the infamous Nazi Reserve Police Battalion 101, who committed unspeakable atrocities against Jews in Poland. The authors suggest that American soldiers in Iraq are morally comparable.

The book contains anecdotes of U.S. soldiers who profess to have witnessed Americans acting with criminal recklessness and somewhat murderous (Isn't this like being "somewhat pregnant"?) intent when killing Iraq civilians. Americans are portrayed as those who "opened fire on children throwing rocks.” The claim is made that "many” Americans "have in effect declared war on all Iraqis.” (Just what happened in Vietnam, something that has been thoroughly documented. Why would soldiers in Iraq be any different?)

However, the authors reveal that their sources consist of interviews with only 50 combat veterans, one of whom was a deserter. Nineteen interviews were in person; the rest were by phone. (Duh. What would be the appropriate number of witnesses? Wouldn't you think that for the 50 that talked there are hundreds that didn't? And we all know that interviews aren't valid if you do them over the telephone.)

The authors declare that "it was not uncommon to alter the scene of a shooting,” quoting a total of two soldiers to support this outrageous accusation. (How many soldiers would have to be quoted to make it true?) In the course of this smear of American fighting men and women, the authors quote one of their interviewees as saying, "every good cop carries a throwaway (gun),” meaning police officers in America are always ready to plant evidence on a suspect. (This is something totally unknown, right?)

The authors often engage in unattributed accusations of malfeasance (Just what does this mean? "Unattributed"? "Often"? By a pair of seasoned journalists? A Pulitzer winner? I seriously doubt it. Show me. Give example[s].) by our soldiers, once stating that "(t)roops also quote a sergeant who says that he ‘routinely witnessed Iraqi men ... being beaten by American troops,'” without stating when this happened or why this soldier should be believed. (Utter nonsense. As if that would make any difference to him.)

The rules against soldiers stealing from civilians were "often broken.” And the purported message of this book is best expressed by its statement that "a lot of” American soldiers believed that "if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they are not as human as us.” (Oh, yeah. I'm sure it's only one or two that believe this. Again, this was true of U.S. troops in Korea, Vietnam, in WWII with the Japanese, against the Mexicans and Native Americans in our own country, and--dare I say it?--this statement is true of "lots" of Americans towards the black and brown and yellow populations of the country today. Soldiers reflect the society they come from.)

This book is an insult to Americans who are fighting and who have died in Iraq for American principles. (Don't even get me started. American principles are perfectly illustrated in this book.)

— David W. Lee

I Cannot Believe All This Crap!

The title is to be taken literally. We're talking cat crap here. Tons of it. And cat urine. Gallons of it. This is an anti-cat rant. I have a feline unlike any other I've ever owned. I like animals and have had cats and dogs around the house for years and years. The present cat, a white Persian named Rapunzel, has almost totally worn out her welcome around here. I've had to relocate her litter from out of the corner in our big walk-in closet to a spot near a door leading outside. Why? you ask. Well, let me tell you. When this damn cat decides she doesn't like the smell, sight, feel of the litter on her dainty little paws, or there's bad karma around the litter, or, she's tired of watching the Olympics or hell, she doesn't have any reason at all, she will take a crap right on the rug in the closet. Or a piss. Or both. Who knows? Because like the tapping of our phones and the torture of prisoners, it's all done in secret.

Yesterday, I had to pour a half gallon of vinegar on the rug to get the cat piss out of it! Which was so bad in spots that the vinegar actually bubbled like peroxide on a cut. Now I know what some of you are thinking . . . just clean or change the litter more often, dummy. You think I haven't thought of this? Smart guy like me? All I can say is if you gauged the frequency of my engagements in such activity on a daily basis, you'd have some of the same questions that are bedeviling my mind. To wit: how can one damn cat piss and shit more than any five cats you've ever seen? I kid you not. This cat evacuates bowels and bladder more often than you ever thought possible. I was talking to my daughter on the phone yesterday after I'd moved the litter to its new spot, and in the space of ten minutes the damn cat took one crap and three pisses at the new location. TEN MINUTES! (Plus she's so mentally challenged, she doesn't know how to cover up her turds. She vigorously scratches the top edge of the litter box instead of the litter.)

So here is the deal: this diarrhetic cat will learn to do her business outside my house or she is gone. I am going to give her several days more inside-the-house litter, then move the box outside, then deep six it altogether. At the first inside infraction after that, she will be banished to either the outside permanently or to another home.

Sound heartless? Well, I'm sorry. Because in addition to being a overstimulated shit factory, she is not a friendly cat. She doesn't like me or anybody else. Won't rub against my legs, or anybody else's. Doesn't like to be touched.
Won't sit in your lap. Runs when she sees me--after a year of being here. Not like I'm a stranger. Not like I'm not the one who makes sure she has enough chow so she can manufacture more shit to deposit on my rugs. This cat needs serious therapy. Better her than me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Man!

Thanks to my wife, who is somehow captivated by the Democratic political convention, I've seen more of it on TV than I otherwise would have. (I could say exactly the same thing about the Olympics.) So I've heard Hillary and Bill and Joe Biden and several others, but the best of all was Dennis Kucinich. I cannot say that I've found a single issue where I don't agree with him, or vice versa. He was my guy for the Democratic nomination, but as we all know somebody so progressive as to propose establishing a Department of Peace could not possibly stand a chance of winning the nomination. But, man, he sure raised hell on the podium at the convention. He blasted the Republicans and their fat cat friends the way they deserved to be blasted. In case you missed him, you can check him out right here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Antidote for Approaching Blather

For the next two weeks we'll endure a season of unbelievable blather and pretentious punditry, ratcheted up to unbearable levels by a swarm of motor-mouthed commentators, wacked out conventioneers, and scribblers far and wide. On this, the day the Democrats open their convention in Denver and a week before the Republicans do the same in Minneapolis, I thought it a good time to share this little poem I just wrote. I guarantee you, there's more sense here than the hot air and nonsense we're going to be hearing from the pack of pols and wise (wo)men in the coming days.

A Red, Red Nose

My nose is like a red, red rose.
Aflame with the season’s curse.
I cough and sneeze and snuffle.
Which only make it worse.

I bundle up, swathe my head,
And down a flood of juices.
And all I get is a red raw throat,
A temperature and mucus.

This winter woe must run its course
through throat and chest and lungs.
Meanwhile I wend the doctor’s line,
say “ahhh” and stick out my tongue.

“It doesn’t look good,” he gravely says.
“So here’s what I propose:
Drink your fluids and stay in bed.
I’ve never seen a redder nose.”

After Robert Burns’s poem “A Red, Red Rose”

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Jus' One of Us Po' Folk

I learn today that John McCain is worth over $100 million. Or more accurately, he married a woman who's got $100 million. I had not realized it was that much. No matter how you look at it, he's fabulously wealthy. He's got so many houses that he can't remember how many--apparently, it's seven--and actually, yes, when asked how many houses he owned, he told the questioner that he'd have his staff get back to him! And here is a guy who proclaimed back in April that a lot of America's problems were "psychological," last month that selling things on ebay was a way for people out of this recession, and in a March speech that Americans should work harder, skip a vacation, get a second job, manage their budgets.

You know, it's really hard for me to contain myself when I think about this filthy rich, half senile old goat telling the rest of us how to keep the roof from falling in on our heads. There are millions upon millions of people in this country right now who are one missed pay check away from ending up on the streets. This guy in his $520 Ferragamo shoes who flies around on his wife's private corporate jet doesn't have a frigging clue about what real people are dealing with in this country. And he's got the audacity, the balls, the temerity to criticize Barrack Obama as an elitist who's out of touch with real people.

Best part of it is, people actually believe this shit. Remember recently when I talked about how dumb the American people are? Just how damn dumb do you have to be hornswoggled by this hypocrite who's one of the richest guys in the U.S. Senate?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

CLRs Have No Choice

A couple of days ago, I 'fessed up to being a crazy leftist radical (CLR), something that the lunatic right--you know, those founts of wisdom and taste such as Limbaugh, Hannity, and O'Reilly--are calling Obama every day. They lie about everything else, and this too is a lie. A CLR is most assuredly not an accurate description of Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama is first and foremost a prototypical American politician, who, now that he has the Democratic party's nomination for president locked up, is tacking as quickly as he can to the amorphous center, the squishy middle where maybe you are and maybe you aren't and nobody can really tell so maybe they'll vote for me. You will not find a better rendition of why Obama's floundering than right here, to wit:

He back-flipped and supported the FISA bill. He rejected public financing, blasted the Supreme Court's decision striking down the death penalty for child rape and in the process proclaimed that he's . . . against "a blanket" prohibition on the death penalty. He showcased his Bible acumen with Christian fundamentalists, backpedaled from his pledge to sit down for talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he wouldn't support the reinstatement of the fairness doctrine and endorsed white conservative Georgia Rep. John Barrow in his election battle with Regina Thomas, a liberal black state representative.

The most painful Obama flop is Iraq. His much played up anti-Iraq war stance was the biggest single thing that galvanized liberals and radicals. His new line that he favors a glacially slow, vaguely laid out timetable for a phased withdrawal from Iraq seems not much different than what McCain advocates.

What this course has done, and the latest polls are now showing him actually behind that certified moron McCain, is alienate the most staunch of his followers, people who really thought things could change in this country. People who believe that the times and the fearsome problems we face demand more than just the same old tired approach that requires the corporate capitalist stamp of approval. People like me.

I've already beat up on myself enough for being so credulous, so I won't do that anymore. But I do have assure you, that I will be voting for Obama come November. What other choice do I have? (Although, as I recently told a friend, I could write in Neil Young or vote for myself, my dog, my neighbor, or Obama five or six times for all the difference that will make in Oklahoma.) Our political system has made sure that CLRs have nowhere else to go. I've voted for a third-party candidate for president numerous times in the past when registering my protest seemed more important than it does now. I've spent my whole life in protest, and where are we? Just further along the path that I've been protesting. And I greatly fear that's the path we're going to continue on.

Am I Dumb Enough?

Just once I would like to see a candidate admit that they prefer books to reality TV, or that they are proud of getting a 3.9 GPA at their Ivy League school. Phonies are a hell of a lot worse than intellectuals, and I’ll support elitism over populism any day. We should demand that the most powerful political leaders on the planet be intelligent, hardworking, principled, exceptional people—not fat, dumb goofball dads from family sitcoms.
Are you kidding? A candidate for office in this country who even admitted he or she knew what a book was would be dismissed as some sort of freak. Indeed, we're so dumb as a people, that it's not even news anymore. Despite the continued warnings voiced by commentators, Americans continue to get dumber every year. Some years ago, the Rolling Stones sang in their ditty "Beast of Burden" lyrics that went something like "Am I rough enough? Am I tough enough? Am I rich enough?" Now we're talking. These are good ole 'murican questions. And the people are certainly going to put them to any candidates for office: are you tough and rough enough to satisfy the beer-swilling masses? Are you ready to kick ass in the name of democracy and freedom? Are you going to keep all those nasty people "who hate America" at bay? Are you rich enough? It goes without saying in this culture that money equals worth. The more you have, the more worthy you are.

Nobody asks the question: "Are you dumb enough?" but it's implicit in the great lengths cadidates go to show they're just regular guys. Bowling, walking around in jeans, knocking back shots in a bar. No politician is ever going to miss the opportunity to be seen in a field or factory. Or somewhere they have to wear a hard hat--they love that. (For some reason they never seek photo ops in the cubicled Dilbertvilles that a lot people waste away in every day. And you won't see them cozying up to store clerks and shelf-stockers either. Too pedestrian and familiar.) Way back in our historical experience, it became incumbent on candidates for office to pitch to the lowest common denominator. That was Andrew Jackson's great contribution to our trajectory as a nation: lower the level of electioneering forever. He was the prototypical dumb ass who got to be president. Now, by God, you better be dumb enough for public office. You better appeal to the Jerry Springer nation, or you don't have a chance.

You wonder how John McCain is making the inroads he's making on Obama? A lot of the answer lies right there.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Overly Ideological

I guess some might use the title to describe me. These would be the so-called and usually self-proclaimed "realists" or "pragmatists." They seem to be coming out of the woodwork now that Obama has waffled and crawfished his way out of so many of the progressive positions he took when he was contesting for the nomination. The basic thrust of the argument can be found in pieces like this. When you boil it all down, it's a pretty simple argument: if you're a liberal, you cannot possibly support McCain, so you must vote for Obama.

One of the remarks made in the article referenced above is this: "there’s scant basis for denying the reality that [Obama's] campaign and his positions are way too cozy with corporate power. Meanwhile, his embrace of escalating the war in Afghanistan reflects acceptance rather than rejection of what Martin Luther King Jr. called 'the madness of militarism.'" OK, fine. If there's scant basis to deny this reality, then why should I be overly concerned about which corporate-controlled Tweedledum or Tweedledee gets elected?

In point of fact, I shouldn't care . . . and I don't. It's really been out of character for me over the past few months wringing my hands about Obama's slide from grace. I should not have been surprised. Why did I expect anything different? I guess you can blame that on my being overly ideological. For expecting that we could actually elect somebody that would make serious efforts to restore our lost civil liberties, to rein in the insane war machine, to reinstitute a progressive taxation system in this country. I don't think Obama intends to do any of these things. Despite all the hullabaloo about his being financed by millions of small contributors, he's already owned by the plutocrats, and he'll do their bidding even if he does get elected, which is beginning to appear doubtful.

So write me off as a hopeless ideologue, a crazy leftist radical. That's what I am. The problem with all those pragmatists out there is they can rationalize their support for a different species of wolf that, despite appearances, is still intent on devouring the sheep.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Memorial Day (Poem)

Memorial Day

Because our sons adore their plastic missile launchers,
electronic space bazookas, neutron death-ray guns,
a decade down the pike it won't prove difficult
to trick them out in combat boots
& camouflage fatigues,
rouse them with a frenzy of parades, the heady
rhetoric of country, camaraderie & God,
the drum & bugle & the sudden
thunder of the cannon as they march
into Hell singing.
Which is the order of things.
Obedient to a fault, the people will do as they are told.
However dispirited by grief at the graves
of their fallen, the mother returns at last to her loom,
the father to his lathe,
& the inconsolable widow home to raise sons
ardent for the next imperial bloodbath;
Ilium. Thermopylae. Verdun. Pork Chop Hill.

Steve Kowit

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Something We Need to Do More Of

cachinnate Worth a Laugh Word of the Day

The Silly Season is presumed to be in progress in many countries now, since most legislatures are out of session — so we salute this Latinate verb meaning "laugh boisterously." It is purportedly of imitative origin, as is guffaw, a Scots word, which leads one to wonder whether the Scots laugh in a completely different way than the Romans did.

Today's word from The Visual Thesaurus, a black hole for word lovers.

Interesting word--doubtless where our verb "cackle" comes from.

Recurring Nightmare

The latest Gallup poll shows Obama and McCain dead even with the voters. It's like a recurring nightmare. The voters, the vast majority of whom as we know are clueless, respond like sheep to whatever lies the Republicans cook up, the foremost of which, beyond the usual and continuing character assassination, is that Democrats are going to raise taxes. No matter how badly taxes need to be raised, this charge always resonates.

In a short piece yesterday Andrew Sullivan criticizes the slime tactics McCain is using--quite effectively it seems--on Obama. But he also makes the following observation, which is difficult to deny.

Since Obama's hubris in Berlin, he has lost almost every cycle of this campaign, and lost all of them quite badly. I'm not sure his campaign gets how far they have sunk, and how ineffectual and passive Obama has seemed these past few weeks. The total capitulation to the Clintons at the convention is particularly lame.

Obama is not even the official nominee yet, and it already looks like he's cooked.

Safe Schools, Texas Style

Give a think on this: only three states in the US do not allow concealed weapons permits. Two states don't require a permit to carry a concealed weapon at all. (See this document.) What's new is the tendency to allow concealed weapons into places where before, in times only slightly less insane than the present, they were forbidden. Just recently, a judge upheld the ban on concealed weapons at the Atlanta airport. But how about schools?

I don't know who's crazier, Bubbaville North (Oklahoma) or Bubbaville South (Texas). On any given day, it's an honor that could reside with either one. But for today, let's consider something going on in Texas, in a place not too far from the Oklahoma border in the booming metropolis of Harrold. The school district there (which encompasses all of 100 students) has approved a policy change allowing teachers and administrators to carry concealed guns to their jobs. Why? Well, the students and other personnel might one day require the "protection" that a posse of handgun-totin' teachers can provide. According to the sheriff he's 30 minutes away, and the school next to busy U.S. 257 could become a "target."

Where to start? Protection from what? Commanches on the warpath? Commies? Terrorists? Muslims? I'm sorry. This is just fucking crazy. This country is shaking in its boots in fear. People are seeing potential enemies everywhere. So what do our leaders do? Attempt to assuage these fears? Hell, no. They offer only one solution: more arms, more bombs, more violence, more repression. Our national government has stoked these terrors at every opportunity. Having the populace afraid has obviously served the purposes of the criminal administration in Washington. A populace stirred up with fear about terrorism is much more malleable to support things like torture, wars in the Middle East, and curtailment of civil liberties. Apparently the spillover effect has leeched all the way to the wilds of northwest Texas.

You know you're living in an alternate universe when you are the one who's considered a nut case because you question the sanity of such policies. I haven't the slightest doubt that on the off chance that anyone down there in Harrold agrees with me, they sure as hell ain't sayin' so.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Take Me Out to a Loan

I love baseball. I've loved baseball since I was a kid in the 1950s, a time so long ago it seems from the vantage point of George W. Bush's America to have been prehistoric. And, as seems to be true of most subjects, I have a unique (which is to say, extreme minority position) viewpoint on what used to be called, but certainly could no longer be called "The National Pastime." Indeed, I don't think there's a professional sport played in the United States that is affordable for the ordinary working stiff. Since I don't attend these events--the only national professional sport close by will be the former Sonics basketball team, and you tell me if you think an average price of $47.50 a ticket at the arena we ordinary people are paying for is affordable for most people.

Maybe I'm living in another world, maybe I'm dreaming, but almost $100 to go see a basketball game seems pretty dear to me. And that's not counting parking, and any amenities whatever at the game. And of course it doesn't consider baby-sitting or dinner before or after the game. You could be talking $200 or more for a night out for the NBA. And that is not affordable for most people.

Well, that is positively dirt cheap compared to what you're going to pay for seats in the new Yankee Stadium, which, by the way is being built at a cost of $1.3 billion. Also by comparison, much cheaper than seats in the new Mets stadium, where the average seat will cost only $495. AVERAGE.

Are you ready for this? The best seats in the new Yankee house will be going for $500 to $2.500 a seat. Now, that's the season ticket price, and season ticket buyers must commit to at least three years. It boggles the mind. As for the suites where the corporate fat cats suck down booze and eat their lobster dinners in carpeted swank, those will go for $600,000 to $800,000 per year. Oh, and there's a 74-seat suite for anybody off the street for $700--food, but not alcohol included. $700 for a baseball game and free hot dogs and Cokes. What a deal!

And what about the rest? Oh, the Yankees didn't forget them:
"Of the non-premium seats, 88 percent will be less than $100. . . . It's easy to say that that's not cheap, but on the other 55 percent of the ballpark is going to be $45 or less. That's over 24,000 seats. We recognize everybody can't afford the suites. At the same time, we're trying to allow those suite prices to subsidize the other seating in the stadium. Look, the bleachers are $12, will be $12. The grandstand is $20 and $25, will be $20 and $25."
It's just obscene, pornographic when there are children starving in this country--or anywhere else, for that matter.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Stealing Us Blind

I commend to your reading this piece by Thomas Frank in the latest issue of The Nation. It's entitled "Why Misgovernment was No Accident in Bush's Washington," and it's taken from his latest book The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. It won't take you long, and it will really piss you off. Here's the gist of piece if you're not in the mood to go into full-throated rage at Bush and his greedy cronies today.

Fantastic misgovernment of the kind we have seen is not an accident, nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, all that follows: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we've come to expect from Washington.

I happened to hear Frank in a radio interview on PBS a few days ago. He seemed pretty calm as he related example after example of how the conservatives are just stealing us plumb silly. (I was certainly much more agitated listening to him.) These people gorge themselves at the public trough, while at the same time creating such a mountain of public debt that the likelihood of having the federal government permanently crippled is quite real. For these people hate the government, and if it were crippled, it would not bother them in the least. It would simply allow the market to take care of everything.

This is the sort of nonsense that the dimwit nonpareil Ronald Reagan--who famously observed that "government is the problem"--foisted upon us. It still amazes me that intelligent people could actually buy this crap. I just assumed that everybody knows what will happen if capitalism (the hallowed market) is allowed to operate without the restraint of government oversight and regulation. What you get in addition to all the punishments of hell on both the working class and the environment is (mis)rule by a bloated, blood-sucking plutocracy. Which is exactly what we've got. I thought everybody knew this.

Which just goes to show what an out-of-touch, naive idiot I am.

RIP Isaac Hayes

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Party of Stupid

I don't care for all the New York Times op-ed guys--William Kristol is a waste of protoplasm, for example--but as a group I like 'em. One of the best is the economist Paul Krugman, who had a column yesterday that bonged many of the gongs I've been hitting myself.

"Republicans," he writes, "once hailed as the 'party of ideas,' have become the party of stupid." While not insinuating anything about the intelligence of the Republicans at large, he observes something I've noticed for some time, only he says it much better. The Republicans, he says, have embraced: "know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: 'Real men don’t think things through.'”

Ain't it the truth? He goes on to excoriate them about their ridiculous claim that offshore drilling is what we need to reduce prices at the gas pump in just a few months. This is total bullshit, but, as Krugman reminds us, so were the reasons the country was given for invading Iraq, and the American people had no trouble swallowing it. Like me, Krugman is worried that stupidity is the controlling force in U.S. elections. What else could explain the fact that almost 70 percent of the U.S. people now favor offshore drilling, and over half of them think that this would lower gasoline prices in less than a year?

Krugman has underscored a lamentable character trait of the Americans that seems more and more prominent. Not just their ignorance. But their aggressive stupidity. Such people, incapable of sensing how scorned they are by their supposed champions, deserve the Republicans.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thigh Bone's Connected to . . .

I've turned over a new leaf. I've decided to spend less time in front of this computer screen. Why? Because much as I enjoy surfing around and getting sucked into reading all the interesting stuff you can always find, there is only so much profitable time in a day, and I'm pissing away too much of it with the computer. Even as we speak, I'm in a room surrounded by books on four sides. My first love and my most constant, whom I've been avoiding--to my own detriment, I fear. So beginning last Monday, I set aside several hours a day just to read (and listen to classical music while doing so).

Which brings us to Mr. Morris Berman and his book Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire. A most engrossing read. But don't come near it if you're looking for sweetness and light. The gist of it is this: It's already too late for us. We've been a national security state since the end of WWII. We're a a thoroughly militarized society. Our foreign policy has been centered on advancing the fortunes of corporations (either overtly or at root) since the late 19th century. Globalization = Americanization. The US military is there to enforce this over any objectors. We Americans absolutely despise revolutionary movements, especially those that don't square with our view of what is acceptable--i.e., not inimical to US interests, non-socialist. These two categories exclude virtually all revolutions.

This rendition hardly does the book any justice at all. It's much more than this, and I'm not finished with it yet.

What's striking is the continuum here. Ankle bone is Manifest Destiny; calf bone is Mexican War; knee bone, extermination of Native Americans; thigh bone, Spanish American war . . . you get the idea. Cold War presented us with what we love: a black and white choice where answer is "we good, they bad." That's as complicated as we can stand, and we're going to go straight down the tubes of history because we're too ignorant and too arrogant to see it any other way.

Is There a You in You?

This is a neat paraphrase of the central question in contemporary neuroscience. And it's discussed in a long review of five new books on the human brain by Garry Greenberg in the June issue of Harper's. I don't think I'd ever read any of these books, but the review was fascinating nonetheless. Just as in every other field, there's a split among people who study the human brain between the materialists and those who find answers for the really big questions in the transcendent. The issue for the neuroscientists is the nature of the mind. Is it "a set of operations carried out by the brain, much as walking is a set of operations carried out by the legs, except dramatically more complex"? Are our brains us? as is contended by the materialists. Brains that are "fundamentally . . . electrical organ[s] that transmit electrical signals from one nerve cell to the next" or "complex biological organs of great computational capability."

Or are we something more?

It's the age old question between materialism and dualism. The mind/body problem is echoed by the brain/mind problem. I shall content myself here with a few provocative quotes from the review and the observation that I'm not a materialist--I believe there is a you in you (and a me in me.) I don't think we can understand human beings without reference to the spiritual.

"Neuroscientists have not discovered that there is no you in you," writes [Mario Beauregard in The Spiritual Brain]. "They start their work with that assumption. Anything they find is on the basis of that view."

And they can count on the mass media to support them . . . because: "The culture of popular science is one of unidirectional skepticism. . . . It is skeptical of any idea that spirituality corresponds to something outside ourselves, but surprisingly gullible about any reductionist explanation for it."

Other tidbits:
  • If will is an illusion, then what is the basis for personal responsibility?
  • 'If will is an illusion, the very idea of evil is evacuated. . . . What fills the vacuum? Desires and dislikes.' But use your mind to modify its (temporary) home, guiding it with the appropriate teaching, and you have a way not only to reclaim ethics but to bring a muscular brain to bear on your dilemmas.
  • Talk about dualism cannot go very far without running into religion. Indeed the two may be inseparable, at least so long as our choices are spirit and matter. . . . If there is a you in you, it must come from somewhere, and where else could that be but some transcendent realm?
Finally, something that I have known for a long, long time and the real reason I cannot be a materialist:

"There is hardly any point in reiterating that scientists have yet to show that the brain is both the necessary and the sufficient cause of our minds, or that elucidating neural circuitry in all its glorious detail is not the same thing as explaining how that circuitry gives us the strange experience we call consciousness."

Precisely. I'm conscious of being me and of everything that makes me me. How is this? I don't know, but I do know I cannot but believe it's more than just synapses and electrochemical circuitry in my brain.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Worthy Cause

My son, who was completely taken when he saw this on TV and is supporting this organization regularly himself, requested that I spread the word far and wide about Operation Smile. A non-profit that supports a group of doctors who perform relatively inexpensive and uncomplicated surgery on kids with cleft palates throughout the developing world. The procedure literally changes these kids' lives. Help them out if you can, and spread the word to your circle whether you can or you can't. This is something we can do for the global community rather than to it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Howard Zinn, Truth-teller

"The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth."
H. L. Mencken

Howard Zinn, one of the historians of the "New Left" school--that's the category of historian into which we lumped him back in the days I was a Ph.D. student--has had a tremendous effect on me. I have come to regard him as one of the foremost truth-tellers among American historians, an intellectual and activist who inspires. Stumbling across the lead-in video a few days ago reminded me of how much I respect and admire this man. His best known work,
A People's History of the United States, should be assigned to every survey course in American history taught in this country. Naturally, since it is an extended (and quite readable) version of the history of the American empire depicted in the video, it is not. However, you could do worse than spending some time simply reading Zinn randomly. Now in his '80s, he maintains an active speaking and writing life still telling the truth. Long may he thrive.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Obama Wimps Out Again

I cannot believe what I'm reading here. Now Obama is folding on the offshore drilling issue! A manufactured non-issue cooked up by a desperate campaign. What can possibly be in his mind? He's gonna cave to the pea-brains clambering for off-shore drilling who claim that it will lower gas prices in a matter of months? Yes, that's exactly what he's doing. Latest polls are showing about half of the electorate actually believes the nonsense the McCain people have put out on this issue. This is is just an indication of just how stupid half the electorate is, not a real issue. These are some of the same people who believe Obama is a Muslim. And Obama is going to reverse his position for the likes of these people?

He plays right into the hands of McCain and his soulless operatives with this move. It makes him look wishy-washy, which he is apparently, and they will be all over him for that, and at the same time he tacitly admits that McCain's bullshit has been correct all along. It makes him look weak, and worse, it makes him look like just another politician, not anyone special. Aren't they all just blown about by the prevailing breezes? Here I thought Obama could really make a difference, a guy with the courage to speak the truth, to state the hard facts, to be hard-nosed enough to stand up to slander and idiocy, who embraced the progressive position on the issues. Evidently he can't.

Moreover, he's showing himself to be vulnerable to the cheapest kind of nonsense the Republicans can cook up. The McCain campaign is actually gaining ground because its bogus smoke screen tactics are working. I thought Obama was above this. If this is the best Obama can do--an echo of what he said about McCain just a couple of days ago--I've had enough of it. What's happened to the issues in this race? Where did Iraq, health care, tax reform, economy, environment . . . where did they go? Maybe it's a good thing they're not talking about something substantial, or we'd have to witness Obama weasel on those too. This guy needs to stand up and fight back. How can he be such a wimp?

And all of this against the backdrop of the oil companies making the most obscene profits ever. They're beating the drums for more drilling naturally. They've already got us by the balls. And apparently at least half of us, including Barack Obama, are perfectly willing to help them squeeze.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Few Good Billions

Is anybody else bothered by the fact that we taxpayers spend untold millions, if not billions of dollars, for the armed forces to advertise? What made me think of this was the slick ad that appeared on the screen before the movie the other day. "Army Strong" is the current Madison Avenue theme to entice young people into the ranks, where they will be taught to say, grunt, shout "hooah" at all occasions--esprit, ya know--and not incidentally, of course, be fed as human fodder into the maw of whatever war whatever commander-in-chief, even a dangerously deluded one like Bush, wants to send them. These campaigns are devised by the most talented ad agencies money can buy. And why not? Money is never an object to the military. It gushes from an unending spigot since neither Congress nor the American people, not to mention a president, have the intelligence or courage to question the billions upon billions upon hundreds of billions this country spends on "defense," one of the best examples of Orwellian speech our government has devised. The American military hasn't defended anything since the end of World War II except the right of corporations to operate without hinderence anywhere on the globe they choose.

We're such a bunch of unreflecting morons! Spineless sheep! We citizens who have it within our power (still, but maybe not for long) to determine the course this country takes. But we've gotten so dumb, so uninformed, so addicted to the consumption drug, we bow to the Defense Department god and give it everything it wants, we internalize its adverstising slogans, and we break out the flags at any and all military adventures the US launches. Meanwhile the country is falling down around us.

It's difficult to find out exactly what military advertising costs us. I tried the standard Google searches but couldn't turn anything up. Why shouldn't this be an easy number to come by? I did discover this interesting tidbit reporting that the Air Force is spending our money simply on advertising for itself. Got that? Not for recruits, simply for PR, so we, through our elected agents of capitalism, will give them even more millions. Well, somebody might object to this, but don't go betting a court anywhere is going to find anything wrong with it. We already live in a military state.

[And then there's recruiting in high schools, ROTC, and other intrusions of the military into the fabric of our lives. But that's for another day.]