Friday, November 28, 2008


If you are one of my half-dozen or so regular readers, you know my sport is baseball. I take little note of football in these posts, because really there's only one kind of football for me: LSU football, of which I'm passionate. (If pressed I might own up to being a mild fan of SEC football generally.) But that's basically it. I don't follow any pro teams. Close as I get to that is maybe a playoff game or two and the Super Bowl. I've just finished watching LSU lose in the last few seconds a game to an Arkansas team which is just terrible. So LSU finishes regular season 7-5, and they give up over 50 points to a team twice this season. Worst season I can remember in a long time, and a real letdown after the national championship last year. And largely the reason I've not noticed the Tigers much this season here. I hope the season has been bad enough that we don't have to play any more games this season, i.e., don't get a bowl bid anywhere. An embarrassing loss to some nobody school in some non-descript Toilet Bowl game somewhere is not anything I want to witness.

Attendance note: I will not be calling the roll for the next few days. I'm going to be out of town at a funeral and off the computer for a few days. I'll be back on Tuesday, next week, and that's when you'll probably hear from me again.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Metaphor Marvelous

I think I'm opening a new department on the blog. Titled as above. It will obviously be only occasional, but worthy utterances deserve to be preserved. Herewith the first in a continuing series. This one by Matt Taibbi in a wonderful piece about the senatorial race in Minnesota between Democrat Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

"Coleman is a creepy, weird-looking character, a beanpole in a suit topped with a rigid mousse helmet of politician hair, like the offspring of a mop and a game-show host."


The other night my wife for life Susan and I watched the latest movie we got from Netflix. I'm terrible about remembering these things. I had to look it up just now to see exactly what the title of it was. I'm thinking it was a movie called Rosenstrasse--although it could have been Ladies in Lavender with Dame Judy Dench. I don't remember. Rossenstrasse a German movie about the resistance of righteous gentiles to the rounding up of the Jews. In this case, it was a fair-sized group of spouses of Jews in Berlin in 1943. But that's beside the point I was going to make. Which is: the movie made me cry.

Tears are on my mind today. For a couple of reasons. We're headed to a funeral next Monday--see my last couple of entries--and I'm sure there will be tears. I don't know if any of them will be mine, although I'm often moved to tears by the tears of others. But what really makes me think of tears is the plethora of them I shed yesterday when for about an hour I thought I had lost my little dog. Some nice people found and returned her, but for a while there I thought she was really gone. Yes, I know it seems ridiculous looking at it on the page now, but I couldn't help it. This raises all kinds of questions, such as how can one get so attached to an animal? And how can one be so devastated by the loss of a pet? And the really big question that occurs to me: why am I making such a big deal about this?

Because it's on my mind. My little granddaughter saw me cry, and my daughter, although it's not the first time for her. Men are not supposed to cry. That's why. Despite all the inroads that have been made in our understanding of men thanks to the ongoing liberation of women, men are still not supposed to cry. And especially at something as inconsequential as the momentary loss of a dog. Yeah, yeah . . . I know about all the dismissals you could make of such a statement, but that doesn't change the fact that this is what I think about it. And I even know why. Like bazillions of others, I was brought up not cry. Men, make that boys, the world over are socialized to stuff their emotions, especially those emotions that bring on tears. This strikes me as bizarre and unnatural, but who am I do try and undo millenia of male formation that whipers in our psyches "crying is for sissies and weaklings"?

This can't be right. But there it is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sea of Troubles, II

The awful situation I talked about yesterday gets worse. My brother-in-law was not officially dead until a little while ago. Although he had a living will, he was also an organ donor, and according to Louisiana law, the plug cannot be pulled on the latter until the tiniest little spark of life has vanished. It may not be law--it probably is, what I'm saying is I don't know for sure--but this little spark didn't go out quickly.

A trio of awful thoughts I've had today: first, John's two sons were not enough reason for him to live. I have two sons myself, and I cannot imagine ever being in the frame of mind where I would not consider the effect of killing myself on other people. Both my boys, or either one, is reason for me to live, not to mention my dear wife, daughter, grandchildren, friends, and more. The second thought is even worse: John's two sons ever after are going to have to live with "my dad committed suicide." Wouldn't you think this might have occurred to him? What a burden to lay on your children! And the third thought is worse yet: one of John's sons is quoted as saying he thought he had gotten rid of all the guns in the house. Now is this young man forever going to carry around guilt because his father hid the gun? How could he not? I would, despite everything you would hear about how it's not your fault.

One more bit on this terrible subject: did you know there are people who make their living removing and disposing of mattresses upon which someone has died? (I wonder if this is their sole occupation? Surely not.) The mattress in question here was covered with gore. Price to remove it: $2,400. That is not a misprint. I can't imagine people with the gall to charge a suicide's family such a price for such a task. Another brother-in-law is taking care of this. That's what family is for.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Sea of Troubles

The first words that occurred to me when I heard were: "Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them." From Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy. I just got word a few minutes ago that my brother-in-law put a .22 rifle between his eyes and pulled the trigger. He's alive . . . on a respirator, and he's not going to make it. A sea of troubles must have been raging in him. A typhoon, a tsunami, a Cat-5 hurricane. So he took up arms and ended the troubles.

He leaves behind two sons, one of whom was in the house when he did the deed. Who can understand what brings a person to this pass? I never knew him well, and I never knew him over the course of 25 or so years to be happy actually. Rumor had it in the family for a while that he was suicidal. But what can anybody really do in this situation? What can you do? I'm sure there must be some people with suggestions, but can you watch, guard a person 24/7? You can't commit everybody who flirts with the idea that oblivion beats existence. I'm sure the thought occurs to a lot of people. But few go this far and make it so.

I'm sure there are numbers and charts and graphs and statistics and learned commentary on the phenomenon of suicide, its whys and wherefores. But none of it explains anything at a time like this.

From the outside, it it's difficult--nay, impossible--to see anybody else's inner demons. Grappling with them is by definition a solitary, personal task. Loved ones, even if they number in the hundreds, can't tote this load for you. And not everybody's up to it. That's the only way I can explain a person I know doing something like this. And in the very next thought, you're saying to yourself: yes, but what could I have done from miles away? What could anybody have done?

I can't help but think of his long-dead wife, Nora, who succumbed to lung cancer when she was 34 years old. Thank God she was not around for this. Maybe John never recovered from her absence. Who knows? Hell, this is impossible. Doing what he did just makes no sense in the skin I inhabit. And it's just impossible to get inside another's. Go with God, brother. There's not much else to say.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dumb & Dumber

The study's called "Our Fading Heritage," and it ain't about monuments in need of paint. Here's the subtitle of the study: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions. Now have you got the general picture? And I'm sure this comes as a big surprise to you, right? We're talking about gross American ignorance here, folks. The article on it is here.

The current study is a follow-up to a couple that looked at just college students. This one randomly selected and tested over 2,500 just ordinary Joes and Janes and their knowledge of history, economics, and government. You know, those kind of basic things that you have to know to be a responsible citizen, an informed voter, and reasonably equipped to deal with the regular run of civic affairs.

Wanna know how bad this was? The report card is here, but I'll spell out salient highlights: less than one percent (.8) got an A (over 90)--that's 21 people out of 2,508!!--Get me a chair; I've got to sit down now, and bring a fan!--and 71.4 percent, almost three out of four got an F (under 60). (Thank God I'm already sitting down.) The average score was 49. And are you ready for this? Elected officials did even worse; their average score was 44. And you wonder what's wrong with this country?*

Here's what the Chairman of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's National Civic Literacy Board, Josiah Bunting had to say:
"There is an epidemic of economic, political, and historical ignorance in our country. It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned. How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don't understand the American experience? Colleges can, and should, play an important role in curing this national epidemic of ignorance."
Disturbing, you say? Concerned, you say, when elected officials are even dumber than the dummkopfs on the street? Here's something that you never read about in these dismal reports, but I'm willing to wager the testers have had the thought. The fact is, you eventually reach critical mass on this stuff. When the great mass of the people are too stupid to realize how stupid they are, much less care. And, brothers and sisters, we're already beyond that point. Way beyond, I fear.

I was going to give you some sample questions, but I know you're just dying to take this thing yourself, so here it is. I'll tell you what I got, if you tell me what you got.

*At the risk of belaboring the obvious question: how do you think the Alaskan Bimbo would have done on this test? We'll never know.

Friday, November 21, 2008

God May Be a Lurker

Down the left-hand side of this blog, there's a section entitled "I Never Miss." And there listed is a blog by a Seattle physician named Sid Schwab, whom I discovered some months ago and whom I have read faithfully ever since. Our views resonate on almost all subjects. We're on different sides of the God-divide, though. He's "nope." I'm "yep." Just recently, Sid finished a three-part discussion he entitled "Religion" (1), (2), and (3). I felt compelled to write a response to the series, partially because what he wrote was very interesting and elicited a response from me, and partially because I believe in encouraging my fellow bloggers. I love getting comments myself, and I assume everybody else does, too. I want to share my response, not because it's brilliant--certainly not!--but because at the least, it's legitimate.

OK, now I've finished the 3rd installment. Thanks, Sid, for this arresting discussion of your deeply held convictions. I'm a theist who finds himself in hearty agreement of much of what you write.

But I also happen to believe there's just as much faith (blind or otherwise) involved in denying God's existence as in affirming it. There's no proof either way. There's just argument, the appeal to human logic. Are we really willing, on either side of this divide, to put our faith in that weak reed? Human beings have been carrying on this debate about god-no god since they discovered the other guy disagreed with them. I really see little difference between the my-god-is-better-than-your-god tussle and the my-nonexistant-god-is-better-than-your-existing-god tussle. Death will provide the definitive answer, of course. Unfortunately, although there have been many unsubstantiated reports, no emissary from over there has brought back the conclusive documentation.

Fact is, nobody--N-O-B-O-D-Y--knows what happens to you when you leave this realm of existence. And of course death, the great curtain, is what it's all about--nobody knows, but there's a multitude who will argue that what they believe happens on the other side of that curtain is what actually happens.

If my 65 years of life have taught me anything, it's that beyond a few special motor skills and some basic cognitive processes, human beings are pretty limited creatures. And nowhere are they more limited than in their ability to deal with the "other" anything--the other race, other religion, other country, other viewpoint, the other explanation. Those things provide human beings with more than enough reason to slaughter each other. And have for millennia. I'm supposed to put my faith in the logical processes of this creature? Sorry.

I'll settle for less killing, more kindness. If religion or no-religion inches humankind towards improvement in this area, I say, "Praise the Great Spirit, whoever or whatever, it is."

In the meantime, I'm still trying to figure out how human consciousness got here from those bits of cosmic dust that were always there.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Where Does It End?

The CEOs of the big three U.S. automakers were on Capitol Hill the last couple of days pleading for $25 billion more taxpayer money--$25 billion has already been appropriated--to just tide them over this little rough spot they're having. Well, hell, no is what I say. No way.

Timothy Egan in the Times today asks the same question lots of us have: Where does all this end? What about all the cities large and small who are going or already have gone bankrupt? What about all the mid-sized businesses? What about Mom and Pop? What other big business cannot testify, as Detroit does, that millions of others depend upon them, that their supply base employs thousands? That's the essence of the Detroit's argument. We're being asked to believe the preposterous notion that these guys are victims like everyone else of the economic downturn. That they could with straight faces sit there and baldly testify that it's only hard times and not their own short-sighted, greed-driven decisions that have got them into the current mess they're in is an indication of just how stupid our rulers think we are. But a lot of people are going to believe it. If we didn't live in Bush's Amerika, which has been lied to so monstrously and for so long that the people can no longer distinguish between the truth; normal, run-of-the-mill prevarication; and bald-faced, unshirted bullshit, these people would be laughed out of the conference room.

I loathe, detest these suits who render daily obeisance before the Free Market Deity's altars in their board rooms, offices, houses, yachts, and vacation homes. These guys who have damned, no, God-damned, every proposal to assist the lower order of beings who have lost their jobs, who cannot survive on two or three minimum wage jobs, who cannot afford day care for their kids, who are being ruined by medical expenses or other fiscal disasters in the vast array of economic dangers the rest of us have to confront . . . these are the guys now whining before Congress that unless the taxpayers pony up another $25 billion, they're all going under.

I was dead set against the original bailout to begin with. For, among other reasons, the high likelihood of the catastrophe we're seeing unfold right now. I don't claim any particular prescience. It took no genius to figure out that handing hundreds of billions to the very same idiots who brought about this crisis in the first place was not going to solve anything.

I was right. The bailout's been a fiasco. Hank Paulson, a preeminent suit in the class I'm talking about, has no frigging clue about what he's doing. But what he does know is that nobody but his cronies in the financial sector are going to get any of his pie. What I find truly amazing is that American democracy--politely so-called--has now evolved to the stage where Congress has ceded to the executive branch its fundamental fiscal powers. Nothing has been more disconcerting than to see the likes of Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank remonstrating with the secretary of treasury about what the intent of congress was when they signed over $700 billion to him.

So here's where I am with this. Let Congress do something directly for all those millions of little people who need assistance. Let Congress do something for state and municipal governments that provide services for these little people. The sky is falling anyway. Whatever we do for Detroit is not going to save Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Topeka. Where does it end? So let these smart dudes in their corporate jets, $600 shoes, and $100 haircuts, who presumably are worth all those hundreds of millions they get paid earn their money, grapple with the problem. Let them figure out how to get out of the mess they made for themselves without a single cent more from the American taxpayer. And if the sky falls, I hope a ten-ton chunk lands on their heads. Chasing good money with bad is folly. Haven't we had enough of that for a lifetime during this administration?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

God's on Our Side--Right?

I rarely read books more than once. They're always too many books waiting to be read. The book I'm reading right now is an exception. It's called The Civilization of Christianity. And the author is John L. McKenzie, a crusty old Jesuit priest and renowned Scripture scholar. McKenzie was 75 years old when he wrote this book, obviously at the stage where he didn't really care what anybody thought anymore, least of all the Catholic Church. "I'm so angry I have to write," he said. (He died five years after publication of this book, in 1991. RIP.) That's what makes this book so appealing to me. He speaks his mind, and a lot of the time his mind is not the mind of the Church. It's the hypocrisy he cannot stand.

The book's thesis is that there's "a deadly and irreconcilable opposition between Western civilization and Christianity, . . . one of them must destroy the other." The book is full of trenchant observation about the basic lunacy of what passes for moral guidance from the Church. He's unequivocal on the just war doctrine: "There is something fallacious about thinking which finds illicit sexual relations intrinsically evil, but killing people morally neutral; all you need is a sufficiently good reason. Why that does not work for sexual intercourse I do not know; I'm just too old to split moral hairs in this kind of stunt. There never has been a morally justifiable war; to find one is like discussing the number of angels who can sit or dance on the point of a needle, and about as useful in discussing how one may live a Christian life."

A few lines later he quotes a posthumous prayer written by Mark Twain, "the genial agnostic." This is called "The War Prayer," McKenzie likes it because it "so successfully skewered the hypocrisy of Christians." I like it too. Here it is:

Oh Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved fireside to smite the foe! Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling heads with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of Love Of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Amen, indeed. There never has been a morally justifiable war.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Like These People

Like probably a bizzillion other people, I watched Steve Croft's interview with President-elect Obama (who had his wife Michelle with him for most of it) last night on 60 Minutes. If somehow you missed it, you can watch it here. Just a few observations.

  • I told my wife: "I really like these people." And I do. Both he and Michelle come across as natural people, easy with who they are. Great sense of humor, true devotion to their children and each other. Obama made a point of saying that he thought they were probably as ordinary, regular, everyday people to ever be president and first lady. They certainly appeared that way to me. You can imagine having them over to your house for nachos and beer.
  • It's obvious that concern for their two daughters is uppermost in their minds. Obama wants them to remain as "normal" as they are now, despite the spotlight that's on them now (probably for the rest of their lives to one degree or another.)
  • I thought it was touching that Obama said he couldn't take his walks like he used to. Yep. Everything he does, poor man, is going to be an event now.
  • I like the sound of what he plans on doing immediately: close Guantanamo, begin drawing down in Iraq (although a plus-up in Afghanastan looms), outlaw torture.
  • He's familiar with FDR's first hundred days and his approach to the depression he faced. Like him, Obama promises to "try things." All of them may not work, but he thinks the American people expect that of him.
  • He promises to be straight with the American people--tell them what he's doing and why. What a concept.
  • He's reading a lot of Lincoln, he says. He could certainly do a lot worse than this.
  • He favors an 8-team playoff for college football national championship. "This is important," he says. Another good idea.
I haven't felt this much genuine warmth for a president and his wife ever. I wish them well with this monumental change in their lives. May God bless them and their girls.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Speaking of Neil

Only a day or so ago, I mentioned Neil Young, and lo, this appears in the Huffington Post. I'm genuinely surprised. Neil is reclusive, and I've never known him to write anything but songs. Had I not read just recently in an excellent article in the New Yorker, that Ariana Huffington has invited a whole host of disparate people to contribute to her blog, I would have been more surprised.

Bascially Neil says if we're going to bail out the auto industry, they should be forced to turn out nothing but what he calls "Transition Rollers." The idea is to build a standard line of vehicles with existing tooling but without engines. Then put electric engines in all of these frames to produce nothing but SCEVs--self-charging electric vehicles. This is gross oversimplification, but that's the general idea.

One of the commenters, who seems to know what he's talking about, says this idea is not feasible (retooling is necessary no matter what). Another suggests that Detroit start working on reconstructing the rail network in the U.S.

Whatever. The point is if we're going to shovel millions of dollars to the auto industry, let's make these damn guys do what they should have been doing for the past ten years at least. Start thinking about the planet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Free Press

The stuff you can find on the Net! I found this site a few days ago and made a note to put it up. So here it is: images of the front pages of 735 newspapers from all over the world on November 5. Here's what I discovered about the U.S. papers: There were hundreds of ways of hailing the Obama win. "Yes He Can" "It's Obama" "History!", etc. But there were only a few ways to downplay it. The Rockville Citizen of Conyers, GA, did its best; so did the Lake Sun (Camdenton, Missouri). The Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Idaho) had the most oblique reference to the national election results: "Now Comes the Hard Part" proclaimed the story of Obama's win. You wouldn't think it would be possible to find a U.S. paper that managed to ignore the results of the election completely on its front page. You'd be wrong. Check out The Mississippi Press (Pasgagoula). You cannot even tell an election took place from this front page, which contains stories about a local cop, adult literacy, and results of the Halloween photo contest. What kind of editor runs a paper like this? Is he wrapped in the Confederate flag? What kind of readership supports a paper like this? Amazing!

Friday, November 14, 2008


It occurs to me that some of you may be unfamiliar with my man Neil Young, and with "Powderfinger" in particular. Well, here's a link where you can listen to a live version.

I've been a fan of Neil Young since the late 1960s when he split from Buffalo Springfield and started solo. Here's the writeup on him from allmusic, far and away the best and most complete music site on the Web--pop, rock, reggae, hip hop, folk, classical: you name it.

<<=== This is Neil two years ago, 2006, on the "Freedom of Speech" tour with CSN.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Motes & Planks

I am a Catholic, and just as I am in politics, I am on the left-wing of the Church. It's a lonely position out here. There aren't many of us around, at least not in my neighborhood. As I've often observed, many of the best have already left. The Council of Vatican II which ended in 1965, was for my generation an event of glorious empowerment for the people in the pews, an event that ushered in real intellectual probing and excitement about a host of subjects from theology to Scripture studies to social justice. It was for me and perhaps millions of others our defining moment as Catholics. Indeed, but for the Council and my continued faith that its ideals may someday prevail, a faith sorely tried most of the time, I would not be a Catholic at all. But I have to confess, the Catholic bishops are bringing me to the brink.

Ever since Vatican II, the church has been oh so steadily retrenching. I sometimes think that many Catholics would be perfectly content to revert back to the "good ole days" of pray, pay, and obey, when the world was black and white, and Father knew all the answers. Exactly the days I don't ever want to see again in the Church. I'm not so sure the American bishops don't want it this way, however. During the long pontificate of John Paul II, the only bishops he appointed in the U.S.--and presumably elsewhere--were nice, safe, don't-rock-the-boat theologically conservative duds whose chief qualification for the episcopate was a disposition to obey Rome without murmur on everything and the ability to pass the theological litmus test. And a key component of that test was the question of abortion. Everybody knows where the church is on that: no way, no how, for no reason whatever.

The bishops have been fairly visible lately. Some of the more vocal ones all but endorsed John McCain in the presidential election, arguing that the abortion issue trumped all the others in the election. The rigid one-issue approach to elections has been tried before, and not only failed but has been counter-productive, as the National Catholic Reporter pointed out. Certainly common sense and urging from the left and center didn't stop some bishops from fulminating about abortion and the election. The bishop of St. Louis told his people that voting for Obama endangered their eternal salvation. If this is true, a sizeable number of Catholics decided to risk hell itself during this election. Fifty-four percent of Catholics voted for Mr. Obama., including the Hispanic voters, the so-called "future of the American church," who were overwhelmingly for him.

None of this should have come as any great surprise. As New York Times columnist Peter Steinfels observed:

Many Catholics may understandably feel that the bishops are talking out of both sides of their mouths: Catholics are not supposed to be single-issue voters, but, by the way, abortion is the only issue that counts. The bishops do not intend to tell Catholics how to vote; but, by the way, a vote for Senator Obama puts your salvation at risk. Catholics are to form their consciences and make prudential judgments about complex matters of good and evil -- just so long as they come to the same conclusions as the bishops.

Come now the 250 or so bishops at their annual conference in Washington, D.C. and the prelates almost to a man, according to various accounts (see here, here, and here) rose up to castigate Obama and the prospect of a Democratically-sponsored abortion rights bill. (Not a good idea, in my opinion. Why is this necessary? I don't think there's any point in mollifying the pro-abortion radicals in the party at the cost of alienating the vast, vast majority of people who are in the center on this issue.) Although it's widely believed that such a measure will not and could not pass, just the prospect of such a thing got the bishops up in arms. They were also having none of the "common good" approach to the abortion question. Advocates of this approach say that, rather than focusing on outlawing abortion, i.e., overturning Roe v. Wade, the singular and manifestly unsuccessful approach the bishop's have employed ever since the decision in 1973, the goal should be to reduce abortions by strengthening the social and economic safety net to enable more women to bring their pregnancies to term. This is the plank in the Democratic party platform. And progressive Catholics across the board support this strategy.

But to judge from the frenzied response of the bishops, you would think that the party had endorsed pedophilia . . . wait a second: aren't these the same guys who basically did that very thing for years and years--repeatedly reassigning priests accused of pedophilia or taking no action at all on complaints, something that happened right here in Oklahoma--until they got caught with their pants down, and the whole nasty scandal broke in 2002? (Of the many web sites documenting this scandal among the best are the Boston Globe site, Religious Tolerance site, and Wikipedia. The bishop's own report (USCCB) is here.) Aren't these the same guys who postured and pontificated about how they were going to "reform" their dioceses to eradicate and prevent these despicable crimes from ever happening again, and who--certainly not all but many among them--have stonewalled investigations, sequestered church records, and employed legions of lawyers to avoid accountability for allowing priest abusers to run rampant for decades across the country? Isn't this the same pack of self-righteous dispensers of moral guidance who have escaped justice themselves? You can read in horrifying and repulsive detail about the extent of these crimes, many of which are still in litigation at this web site. There you will discover that aside from the sacrificial lamb Bernard Cardinal Law, who was forced to leave the diocese of Boston and landed a more cushy job in Rome, and the three bishops who either resigned or were indicted for being pedophiles themselves, not a single one of these American bishops has lost his job for their subordination of crimes and their gross malfeasance in moral leadership. Not a single one of these guys has paid the price for his crimes. They're still eating off their china, drinking fine wines, being chauffeured around in their limousines, conferencing in their swank hotel, and preaching to the rest of us what's right and what's wrong.

These are the people who pretend to prescribe morality for the rest of us? I have observed more than once that it's relatively easy to oppose abortion. You don't risk any political ramifications with a friendly administration in power. Even now, with an incoming administration that's pro-choice, standing against abortion runs no real political risk. But what you don't see is these bishops risking the wrath of the government or their steady source of income from the pews by standing up forcefully against the widely and uncritically accepted American agenda: preservation of the empire and untrammeled, near-pathological individualism. You don't hear them preaching against the war in Iraq or against the obscene military budget of the US or the gross inequity of income distribution in this country. You don't hear them forcefully advocating for universal health care or railing against our country's budget priorities. No, they are not going to rock the boat against the administration. Indeed, as long as the government postures against abortion even though it doesn't really do anything about it, the bishops keep their peace.

Jesus, a guy who knew about honest and love of neighbor, said: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Mt 7:3) Precisely so! The hypocrisy of these guys is just astounding.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You're Not Going to Believe This Sh-t

The Internet is a deadly, deadly thing. It will eat your time up like a fire eats paper. Information you never thought about, would be perfectly happy without is always just a click away. Worse, one click invariably leads to another and then another . . . . But once you've clicked, lo, here's this fascinating bit of information about the world you live in or an equally fascinating look into the consciousness and sensibilities of another human being. How someone else is experiencing life, how they see it, how they feel it. Or images of the world, or art, or music, or poetry. Such stuff is irresistible to me. I could happily click my life away in front of this screen. For an information junkie like me, the Net is an addictive drug. I have to severely limit the doses.

Which brings me to the subject today. There's no delicate way of putting this. The subject is shit. Specifically human crap. More specifically the immense, reeking, rancid and dangerous problem it presents. Let me trace my journey to the toilet bowl. As usual every Monday, I read the latest post on Jim Kuntsler's blog, Clusterfuck Nation. Kuntsler, as you might surmise, is not the cheeriest of people, but the future he paints, dire as it is, seems inevitable. Human beings have an amazing ability to deny the plain truth of what's right before their eyes and embrace some alternate reality. No, what they do is conjure up a vision of the future that invariably is some version of the world they know. Human beings aren't good with world-changing scenarios. Human beings don't like to think about catastrophe which is usually the way the world changes. In fact, catastrophe and human short-sightedness are as inevitable as anything you can imagine in history.

So anyway, I read Kuntsler and then sample some of the comments, which leads me to this link, a book review of a tome called The Big Necessity – The Unmentionable World of Human Waste, and Why it Matters by Rose George. After the first line of the review: "Every day, you handle the deadliest substance on earth," I could not stop reading. Here's the gist of it. What the hell are we going to do with all our shit? It is deadly, toxic stuff--"a single gram of faeces can contain 'ten million viruses, one million bacteria, one thousand parasite cysts, and one hundred worm eggs.' Accidentally ingesting this cocktail causes eighty percent of all the sickness on earth." We already have a huge problem, and it's only going to get bigger. The Western way, flush it away, send the shit to the nearest body of water: lake, river, ocean, is--guess what?--no good anymore. Treat it? An illusion because it uses gargantuan quantities of a commodity that's already scarce and getting more so: water. Read the review, it's worse than you think, and it'll probably elicit similar thoughts to mine: Great! Here's another insoluable problem we're facing--global warming, depletion of about every resource on earth, endless wars, ethnic cleansing, billions of hungry people, corporate globalism, and now this! This shit is just too much to deal with. How, on the basis of what we've seen so far, can we possibly expect that the current species of human being to be equal to the task of solving any of these problems? I'm not sanguine about the prospects.

I had one more click to go. Since the review was itself pretty good, I simply had to check out the author. His name is Johann Hari, a Brit, who writes for The Independent. He looks like a baby; by my calculations he's only 29 years old. He's got a resume of somebody who's been writing for 50 years. Makes me jealous. I really had to resist the impulse to read more of his stuff. Instead, I decided to cheer all of you up by informing you of yet one more way you're contributing to the death of the planet.

My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket is a band I discovered tonight on "Austin City Limits," a PBS show I try not to miss. (Great thing about the Austin City Limits site is you can usually find 3-4 full-length samples of the artists' music. Sometimes that's all you need to decide that you have to hear more from these guys.) I've been crazy about almost all kinds of music as long as I can remember, and I've discovered many bands and a lot of music I would have never heard otherwise there, like Alejandro Escevedo and Vampire Weekend, for example. This Louisville band is just the latest discovery. This song, "Librarian," is off their latest album: Evil Urges. This is good stuff. But damn iTunes for making it so easy to buy. I'm listening to it now.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Greatest Boondoggle in History

You really need to read this angry article about what's happening in the wonderful world of dispensing bailout billions. (The story also appeared in USA Today on NPR's "All Things Considered.") Apparently the treasury department issued a statement during all the bailout furor in late September that granted a $140 billion tax break to the banking industry. Just on its own. What? Since when does the executive branch have the power to levy taxes or grant relief from them? I'll tell you since when. Since we put our financial necks into the nooses Paulson and Barnacke have devised for us. Oh, and another thing, the chairman of the Federal Reserve has decided that we taxpayers don't have the right to know which banks are benefitting from the almost $2 trillion of free money we're giving them. Got that? Shut up and pay! There's no reason for us to know who's getting our money or what kind of securities we're being given as collateral for our trillions. Of course we know that the so-called "collateral" is nothing but worthless manure, but our masters have decided we don't even need to know what kind of shit we're buying. Somebody really needs to file a lawsuit. I'll bet there's a hundred of 'em being ginned up right now. At least I hope so.

This "rescue package" is going to go down as the greatest swindle ever perpetrated on a people. It just baffles me what a bunch of sheep the American people have become. And gullible, stupid sheep at that. It's not enough that we let ourselves be hornswoggled into a war in Iraq that is now recognized as the greatest foreign policy disaster in our history. It's not enough that we let ourselves be terrified into giving away a huge chunk of our civil liberties, into approving of torture, into treating immigrants like lepers. Now we've let ourselves get stampeded by terror into giving hundreds of billions of dollars to a pack of thieves and liars. And it appears on this deal that sticking it to us in just one orifice is not enough. I'll let you draw your own mental pictures.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lieberman: Get the Hell Out!

Senator Joe Lieberman, turncoat Democrat turned Independent turned attack dog for the McCain campaign, is according to reports, "considering his options" in wake of his post-election discussion with majority leader Harry Reid. Reid told Joe: look, I'll consent to having you continue to caucus with the Democrats, but to do so you hafta give up your chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Reform. Joe said that was "unacceptable."

Unacceptable! I'll tell you what's unacceptable, you grinning old fool. It's your presence in the Democratic caucus at all. Get your ass out! Go suck up to your Republican buddies on the other side of the aisle. You expect to keep your considerable influence as chairman after shilling for your buddy McCain and launching vicious attacks on Obama during the campaign? You must be toking some righteous crack. (You can help hurry old Joe over to his new friends by going here.)

You know why old Joe ain't too happy about this prospect, right? If he switches parties, he starts at the bottom of their seniority list. He loses his place on every other list that Reid has where seniority counts.

Fact is, Lieberman has no options. He's a used up piece of garbage in either party. And he'll lose his seat in the next election in Connecticut. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fresh Air

I just got through watching President-elect Obama's first news conference. In his initial remarks, he made it perfectly clear that the economy is the number one priority. He's going to tackle it "head on." Nothing he said was surprising. We know he's intent on helping the middle class. That should come "immediately" through a stimulus package, which he would like to see "sooner"--that is, during the lame duck congressional session, if possible--"rather than later." But it is first on the agenda no matter what. As for taxes, he reiterated that the tax plan he outlined during the campaign is the correct one. Naturally, he was careful in his remarks about Iran and US intelligence.

The most memorable line of the whole thing came in response to a reporter's question about the first dog yet to be acquired to go to the White House. That's a "major issue," he said. His preference is to get a shelter dog, a mutt, "like me."

A funny self-deprecating remark. Something we haven't heard from a president in ages. What a breath of fresh air.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


The Obama team has stood up a pretty impressive website to cover the transition. Check out everything under the "agenda" tab to get a good primer on what this incoming administration is going to be like--or at least try to be. (Just how obstructionist the Republicans are going to be is a large question. I'm not hopeful about that.) One dearly hopes that this is a harbinger of the openness and willingness to listen that will characterize this new administration. I'm actually allowing myself to get enthusiastic about this, cynical historian and observer of human affairs that I am. I've already alerted my kids and some nieces about the "jobs" tab.

Barbie's Brain

. . . it's a terrible thing not to have. Just got through reading a piece in The Huffington Post about Sarah Palin. Now that the campaign is over, details about all the nasty in-fighting between the Palin and McCain staffs is coming to light, as well as this latest intelligence (I use the term advisedly.) about the Alaskan Barbie. You really have to shake your head in wonderment about how such a person could get anywhere near being on a national ticket for anything, much less vice president of the United States. Lest anyone think this is just dirt from the socialistic left, I hasten to assure them that no, this news is from Fox--the O'Reilly Factor, no less--who we all know is fair and balanced about everything. So specifically, Ms Palin apparently didn't know Africa is a continent! Nor was she entirely clear about the basics of how the government operates. Civics 101 stuff. Didn't know about the concept of "American exceptionalism." Moreover, she is also a bitch from hell to work for, and her beleagured staff took tons of abuse.

If you watch the video, don't miss O'Reilly trying to dismiss her igonorance by saying something along the lines of: well, she is not a stupid woman; she could be tutored to learn these things. Are you kidding me? Where do you start with the tutoring of a woman who doesn't know that South Africa is not the southern part of a country? With Big Bird and the letter H? [For "harridan," one surmises.]

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Self-Inflicted Wound

Why do I do this to myself? I don't need this. I've probably wasted an hour of my precious time. I couldn't stifle my curiosity to sample the opinion of yesterday's losers, our McCain brothers and sisters. So I googled "conservative blogs" and randomly chose one called "little green footballs" and then I tracked to a thread containing reaction to Obama's victory speech last night. What a mistake. All this accomplished was stoke my disdain for these people. And then trigger something like resignation that bi-partisan concern and cooperation in dealing with the serious issues the country faces will never occur.

I simply cannot believe the vitriol and hatred these people are spewing. Go look for yourself. Be sure and slide down the long thread of over 600 responses--and remember this is just one of who knows how many similar sites with similar conversations going on.

Problem was, it was like being secretly drawn to look at Holocaust footage or automobile accidents . . . once I started reading post after post of bile, ridicule, hatred, raving, I couldn't stop. Obama, who is from all indications the real deal, a man who is serious about building bridges to the other side, is being called every name you can think of: Marxist, communist, socialist, SOB, "Hussein the twit," "smarmy ingrate," "ass hole [sic]," "radical," and a lot more. The racism is ill-disquised: talk about Kwanzaa trees . . . this lovely question about Michelle Obama: "can we call her "First < >"? (and he explains the deletion wasn't a cuss word).

You have to read this stuff to believe it. I know I must sound naive, but I never read so much of this tripe before in one sitting. It's revolting taken in that kind of dose. One prevailing sentiment on this blog is that they are not about to cooperate with the Democrats and will oppose everything. Another is that the media is responsible for making Obama president. There's lots of talk: about 2010, about guarding their wallets, blasting Michelle. They really, really hate Jack Murtha and Al Franken.

In fairness, I have to report encountering a few people who urged that at least the office of the president be respected, but they were rare indeed. And most of the time were met with some response like: "he's not my president."

Get ready, people. These nuts are not going to go away. It's all so very discouraging . . . and we're just a little over 24 hours since the election.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yes, We Can

I was born in Mississippi and raised in New Orleans during the 1940s and 50s. I learned racism like I learned the ABC's, at the feet of my mom and dad, all over my neighborhood, all over my family, all over my school, all through my brain. Segregation was relentlessly reinforced in word, thought, and deed. In short, I grew up with all the ugly prejudices of my section of the country. I never gave it a thought; I never even questioned segregation until I came of age in the 1960s, and Martin Luther King stirred the consciences of anybody who had one. That was just the way things were supposed to be. The idea that a black man could become president of the U.S., why, pigs would fly before that.

Which is why I think the results of today's election deserve a moment or two of profound and respectful silence. Something monumental has happened. This country, a place founded and nurtured on slavery for almost 250 years, a place which only 44 years ago years ago passed legislation allowing African Americans to eat in the same restaurants as white people, a place celebrated for its seemingly ineradicable racism has just elected an African American president of the United States. It blows me away.

I cannot tell you how happy I am for every single black person in our country. The country has flashed an unmistakable sign of how total black integration into American society is. I saw several black people crying tonight as Obama delivered his magnificent victory speech. I was tempted to weep myself. I never thought I would live to see this. It's going to take a few days for me to process what's just happened. Without question, this election is historic. It's signifcance can only be glimpsed right now. I believe this was a watershed election in our history, along the order of 1860 or 1896 or 1932, elections when the country made critical choices about what kind of country it was going to be.

Tonight the sky is full of pigs on the wing, all of them grinning from ear to ear, bobbing and weaving in graceful flight.

Monday, November 3, 2008


'Twas the night before voting and all through my house we're anticipating a victory for Barack Obama and the American people tomorrow --yes, I've actually allowed myself to be optimistic--with an end to the worst presidency in the history of this country. And a repudiation of the crack-brained ideas foisted upon us by the so-called Great Communicator Ronald Reagan. A great communicator of nonsense to the masses of ignorant Americans who actually believed that it was morning in America, that market forces were indeed divine, that government was the problem, that regulation of corporations was the epitome of foolishness. Amazingly, we still have people who believe such nonsense.

These are the same people, millions of 'em, who have bought into the McCain-Palin bile-drenched and venomous campaign lies. McCain, who knew he stood not a chance winning by running either on the issues or his record, has waged a campaign of vituperation and slander from the beginning. You're familiar with all the false charges: Obama is a socialist, that he consorts with terrorists, that he wants to teach explicit sex to kindergartners, that he is a Muslim, and yada, yada.

Can you believe that anyone could believe this crap? It's difficult to believe, but millions do. Reagan's snake oil about everything being fine simply would not play, not in this wreck of a country that the vile little fraud in the White House has left us. No, McCain and Palin needed stronger stuff. So what they've done is traffic constantly in fear. And they've embodied that fear in the person of Barack Obama. Not surprisingly, this tactic works on lots of people. (Somebody a lot less kind than I observed that the McCain campaign was "seemingly aimed at voters who would have trouble qualifying for the Special Olympics.") They have succeeded in activating the lizard brains out there to such an extent that people wearing Obama t-shirts are physically endangered simply by being in the sight of McCain supporters . I think this is just a symptom of how deluded people are. It's ugly, and it's no surprise. If you're going to sit on the fear button and make it ring non-stop, what exactly do you expect? You're going to get a mindless mob. People are going to go out of their heads and revert to the basic American archtype: a mindless purveyor of violence. I'm certain John McCain doesn't intend this, but he's been pretty meek about condemning it. And Sarah Palin has done nothing to discourage it from what I can see.

For goodness sake, let's vote the better angels of our nature tomorrow.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Good Heavens!

I came across this article a few weeks ago. It's based on a much larger and--once you delve into it-- statistical study of religion in the US by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Lots and lots of interesting data there. Here are some fascinating tidbits:

  • 21 % of atheists believe in God(!!)
  • 49% of men say religion is very important in their lives; 63% women
  • 70 % of Protestants think religion is "very important" in their lives, but only 49% of Catholics (wonder why this is?)
  • Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Muslims are least tolerant of homosexuality (Are you surprised?)
  • On the other hand, 57% of Evangelicals say that more than one religion can lead to eternal life (Whoa! I thought these guys said Christ is the only way.)
  • 71% are dead convinced about the existence of God, but only 39% go to church weekly. (Pretty big gap here. What does this tell you about churches?)
  • On many questions, Evangelicals are the group most similar to Muslims. (Hmmm.)
Not in the same place, but in another cranny of the Pew website dealing with religion and politics, comes the astonishing intelligence that as of September 25th, 46 percent of Americans could not identify Barack Obama as a Christian. Holy cow! <==no pun intended, but are we really that ignorant? It's scary.