Saturday, February 28, 2009

Little Deaths

It's difficult to believe--never mind, because it's not all that difficult to believe in these times--but The Rocky Mountain News, a landmark American newspaper in Denver that's been publishing for 150 years, since before the start of the Civil War, has folded. Gone kaput, belly up. Gone out of business. Here's a paper that's won four Pulitzer Prizes since 2000. I wonder how many people in Denver are going through the pains of losing one of their most trustworthy friends. It's difficult to put into words the kind of relationship a reader builds up with his newspaper, or with the magazines he habitually reads, for that matter. Something akin to love develops, I believe, especially if it's a relationship of long standing. Now think of all the little deaths that will occur today as regular subscribers experience their first morning without the companion that they've awoken to for all these years.

Sigh: it's a sign of our troubled, wrenching times. I think we're living in a time that's going to change the world's way of living irrevocably. (Maybe it's an arguable point, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.) But, as is only human, as long as our own lives are not being whipsawed, as long as the wrenching things are happening to other people, not us or our families, the monumental changes going on all over the world will pass us by mostly unnoticed.

That's why it's good to notice the death of The Rocky Mountain News. Other papers are sure to follow. We need to be aware of how our neighbors are suffering . . .

Friday, February 27, 2009

To Your Health!

Health note: Hardly audible under the massive amount of chatter about the Obama budget is the news that Eric Holder, the new attorney general of the US, has declared that the justice department will no longer carry out raids against medical marijuana dispensaries. This fulfills an Obama campaign promise to halt the practice. Isn't it refreshing to see how the president is actually keeping campaign promises?

Come Again . . . ?

What? What did you say? Along with Rachel Maddow, I have to wonder how leaving 50,000 so-called residual forces in Iraq after the official withdrawal of troops is "ending the war." Obama's already briefed key members of Congress, and he's going to tell the rest of us about it later today. Powerful voices like speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's have already been heard in opposition. My prediction: nobody is going to fight Obama on this; he'll get what he wants. But people who know about Pentagon deviousness (remember my previous report on this?) and who crave peace--people like me--are going to raise hell. I've already started.

US troops conduct a foot patrol along the Tigris river south of Baghdad, Iraq.

Guess who thinks the 50,000 troops staying in Iraq is just fine? Right! The frigging 4-star generals running the war in Iraq. "General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, and General Ray Odierno, the top commander in Baghdad, believed the plan presented moderate risk but supported the 50,000 figure." Moderate risk? Risk to what? Risk to not keeping more troops there longer, which all the Pentagon wants to do. The Pentagon loves war. Hasn't anybody figured this out yet? Just wait. They'll be calling for more troops in Afghanistan even after we ratchet up the 30,000 there now with 30,000 more. So let's see. That's 50,000 in Iraq and 60,000 in Afghanistan . . . with no set reduction, only possibility of augmentation, on the horizon. Not what I voted for.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Liberal Arts Redux

Continuing yesterday's theme:

I Tell Them I'm a Liberal Arts Major

And then, of course, they say: how quaint; and what are you
going to do with that?
What am I going to do with it?
As though these four phenomenal years were an object I could cart away from college—
a bachelor's degree across my back like an ermine jacket,
or my education hung from a ceiling on a string.
What am I going to do with it?
Well, I thought perhaps I'd put it in a cage
to see if it multiplies or does tricks or something
so I could enter it in a circus
and realize a sound dollar-for-dollar return
on my investment.
Then, too, I am exploring the possibility of
whipping it out like a folding chair
at V.F.W. parades and Kiwanis picnics.
I might have it shipped and drive through Italy.
Or sand it down and sail it.
What am I going to do with it?
I'll tell you one thing:
I'm probably never going to plant sod around it.
You see, I'm making it a definitive work:
repapering parts of my soul
that can never be toured by my friends;
wine glass balanced in one hand,
warning guests to watch the beam
that hits people on the head
when they go downstairs to see the den.
You don't understand—
I'm using every breath to tread water
in all-night swimming competitions
with Hegel, Marx, and Wittgenstein;
I am a reckless diver fondling the bottom of civilization for ropes of pearls;
I am whispering late into the night on a river bank with Zola;
I am stopping often, soaking wet and exhausted, to weep at the Bastille.
What am I going to do with it?
I'm going to sneak it away from my family
gathered for my commencement
and roam the high desert
making love to it.

Carol Jin Evans, Metropolitan State College

Published in Keys to Liberal Arts Success, Howard W. Figler, Carol Carter, Joyce Bishop, and Sarah Lyman Kravits. Prentice Hall, 2002, pp. 6-7.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Yes, But What Are You Going to Do with It?

The question in the title is a familiar one to people who are working towards a degree in one of the humanities. I heard it even back in those prehistoric days when I was in college. Apparently, it's being asked today with great frequency.

I personally find the graphic to the right pretty depressing. I'm the product of a liberal education, now in the autumn of life, and I would not have traded my expertise in history; my love for the written word, the arts, fine music; and a fascination with the big questions posed by philosophy and religion for all the tea in China. I've been shaped by my liberal arts education. What sensitivity and tolerance I've been able to cultivate are direct descendants of my education, which began back in my high school days of Latin and Homeric Greek, classes in poetry, and regular written exercises everyone, no exceptions, was required to write. During the course of my schooling, one lesson stood out above all others: Language is important. It is key. How to understand it, interpret it, use it effectively. We were taught that language could be used to deceive as well as to enlighten, uplift, or transport information. And we learned how to spot those deceptions and the faulty logic that underpinned them. It's called critical thinking, and judging by the work I regularly see from college students in my online classes, it's a skill that is simply not being taught to anyone anymore. Apparently, now that we're in tough times, the little remnant of those students who are honing such skills is going to shrink even further.

According to this New York Times article, the humanities are under increasing pressure in colleges and universities to justify their very existence. The traditional reason for studying them--"a traditional liberal arts education is, by definition, not intended to prepare students for a specific vocation. Rather, the critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop have a different purpose: They are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy, regardless of career choice."--is simply not good enough anymore. Study of subjects that help you to appreciate what and who you are, to mold you into a more rounded human being, to address questions that lie at the core of what it means to be human does nothing for the almighty, the wretched, the accursed bottom line. Our god, our master, our beloved.

"[T]he humanities are under greater pressure than ever to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students and parents. Technology executives, researchers and business leaders argue that producing enough trained engineers and scientists is essential to America’s economic vitality, national defense and health care."

Notice the array of people the humanities have to answer to. I myself don't see any particular compelling reason to regard the pressure from any of these categories of people something I should lose sleep over. All these types, but especially business leaders, technology executives, and policy makers aren't exactly renowned for their humanistic approach to life. In fact, it's these people who have largely brought us to our current nadir. As for students, I've always argued that it was the collective madness of the 1960s that empowered the students to control the curricula in universities. Talk about something illogical and counter-intuitive.

But the decline of the humanities (and the concomitant rise of national brutishness, something that is already widespread and growing) seems to be an irreversible trend. Just in the last three months, over two dozen universities have dropped their searches for teachers of religion and philosophy. And we read that some large state universities "routinely" turn away students looking for courses in the humanities. This country is determined to hasten its demise as a culture that deserves to be remembered by anybody. A thousand years from now, assuming humanity still exists, this country if it's noticed at all will be remembered as nation of soulless consumers who sank out of sight in their own self-created morass of greed, ignorance, violence, short-sighted hedonism, and rapacious acquisitiveness. A forgettable nation of barbarians.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


So who else watched the Obama speech to Congress tonight? I missed the beginning, but saw most of it. Did anybody else get tired of the standing O's? Was anybody else repulsed by the sight of that weasel Joe Lieberman, whom the cameras drifted to at least a couple of times?

It was a good speech, delivered well and forcefully. And best of all, it was a Democratic speech, that wasn't stingy in its criticism of bankers and banks, the previous administration and all its allies in the Congress (although he didn't say so directly) who preferred short term gains at the expense of long-term stability in the country's financial system. I personally was happy to hear that no-bid contracts like those that fattened defense contractors in Iraq were going to end, as well as all the conspicuous perks for bank and Wall St. CEOs. I was delighted to hear that cuts are coming for defense (scrapping Cold War weapons systems the services are buying, ferreting out fraud and waste). And that subsidies for "giant agri-business that doesn't need them" are also on the block. (I'm going to have to see this to believe it.)

The president reiterated the three main goals for action he's been talking about from the start: alternative energy, health care reform, close attention and improvement in education. Of course, all of this will have to be embodied in legislation that must pass through the sausage grinder in the Congress. And what's being proposed is in addition to the many more hundreds of billions it will require to prop up the damn banks, billions to keep the auto manufacturers afloat, and assist homeowners with mortgage relief. We're talking perhaps a multiple of trillions of dollars before, and if, we get out of this mire. I simply don't understand another thing Obama said tonight: that by the end of his first term, he will have reduced the deficit by half--to about a trillion dollars. The numbers we're talking about here make my head spin.

Update 1: Reactions to Obama's speech from various observers and reactions to the reactions.

Was anyone surprised by the Bobby Jindal response speech? I thought it was terrible. Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, trotted out the same, tired formula for solving the gigantic problems we face: tax cuts and don't trust government. Lame, lame, lame. Even the Republicans are saying so. Check David Brooks to Jim Lehrer tonight about Jindal's performance.

Update #1: Lots of Republican heartburn with the Jindal response. Fun reading.

In a Nation Starved for Good News . . .

. . . you will be delighted to learn that a San Francisco Democrat has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana. To put it on the same legal par with beer. Plan is to tax it $50 an ounce. They estimate it would bring a cool billion into the state's sorely empty coffers. This ongoing depression is going to spawn creative solutions for money shortages, folks. Hear! Hear! on this one.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Sometimes it does the body good to not think about the state of the world. I'm not going to think about the state of the world again today. Not to worry. I'll be worrying about it again soon enough, and I'm sure it will give me reason enough to. If I were in south Louisiana, for example, I'd be thinking about Mardi Gras tomorrow, and Obama and the miserable Republicans would be far from my mind.

With these thoughts as backdrop, I have three diversionary topics.

  • Consider the astounding speculations about the images of the ocean floor off the west coast of Africa that have shown up with the use of the last version of Google Earth (5.0). The image is pictured here, and the questions concern the fabled city of Atlantis, which according to legend more ancient than the Mariner, was swallowed up beneath the waves. What's the meaning of the undeniably geometric pattern down there? I'll vote for Atlantis on the theory that all myth and legend, even of the ancient variety, is based on some reality. So take a look at this piece and this one--it's got a map showing where in the ocean this phenomenon is--and take a gander at the accompanying image. I want some divers or deep sea submersible to get down there and check this out.
Update 1: It ain't so. Google reports "what users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process," Google said. "Bathymetric (or seafloor terrain) data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the seafloor. The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data." Shucks!

  • And then there's this story about a concerted move by lawmakers in Oklahoma, of all places, to--get ready for this--pass legislation banning the tatooing of eyeballs in the state. I'm not making this up.
  • Some nut case of a teacher asked his class of ten-year-olds in England to write down a list of hurtful, unkind words as an exercise exploring bullying. The kids did not disappoint. "The litany of words ranged from variations on the F-word, crude slang for sex acts, female and male genitalia, and racist and derogatory name-calling." The parents of the kids, however, were disappointed, to say the least. Oh, and did I mention it was a Church of England school?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Be Prepared to Be Motivated

Perhaps it's because I've spent too much time thinking about the nation's woes, or the number of papers I've yet to grade before this batch is done, or the folly of our foreign policy, or some other equally distressing subject . . . perhaps. But this video had me laughing, all by myself, till I cried. I fear I may have finally revealed what a twisted cranium you're dealing with here. Nonetheless! With heartfelt apologies to anyone who may be in the least offended, I simply must share it with you.

The Enemies List

The only way I'm going to get less gloomy is to spend more time with my Boston Terrier Prozac. She's got a great attitude. She lives right in the moment. No past, and the future is just great. She lives simply, plays regularly, eats a healthy diet, all in the company of people she loves more than life itself and can snuggle with. It really can't be bad to live a life like this.

Alas, the no past and no future part doesn't work for me, even if most of the rest does. No, I'm driven to scope out what's going on, what's really going on behind all the chaff, fluff, and falsehood our right-wing media is heaping on our heads daily. I purposely expose myself to articles like this that don't improve my attitude. The thrust of this piece, which would repay your reading if you've got time, is that Obama, in whom we reposed so much hope just a few weeks (seems like years, doesn't it?) is likely to be only a one-term president. He is surrounded by implacable enemies who are going to do everything they can to thwart his agenda. You probably know who these enemies are. You've seen some of them hard at work.
Obama faces near-unanimous Republican opposition to his strategy for salvaging the U.S. economy (and a GOP readiness to use the Senate filibuster at every turn); right-wing talk radio and cable-TV personalities are stoking a populist anger against him; Wall Street executives are miffed at limits on their compensation; and key military commanders are resisting his promised drawdown in Iraq.
In addition, former Bush administration officials are making clear that they will fight any effort to hold them accountable for torture and other war crimes, denouncing it as a “witch-hunt” that will be met with an aggressive counterattack accusing Obama of endangering American security.
The most visible. They've become en masse an engine of "no" to everything. Their shamelessness knows no bounds. The idea is to hobble the administration right out of the gate, cripple his agenda by refusing to support anything, even if it means making the country's myriad woes worse. Then, having assisted the country in getting further screwed up, the GOP will be in position to regain power in 2010 and 2012. What a hateful bunch of people!
"[M]ost of the U.S. news media continues to tilt to the Right – from the Washington Post’s neoconservative editorialists and CNBC’s millionaire commentators to the right-wing ideologues of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the Wall Street Journal." Case in point: the imbecilic performance of CNBC's Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago commodities exchange, frothing about Obama's mortgage relief plan. The Right lapped it up, cheered themselve blue in the face. And let's not forget the slime balls of right-wing talk radio. If anything, they've ratcheted up the spew of bile and venom against Obama and all his works.
The Military
To me, this is the scariest of all. Obama is dissed as a softie who can be manipulated into doing what the Pentagon wants. Can anyone guess what that is? Correct! More war. No withdrawal from Iraq and an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, which has the potential to become a quagmire every bit as destructive and fruitless as Vietnam.
Thomas Ricks, a Pentagon expert who has just written a follow-up to Fiasco, his celebrated expose of our military ineptitude in Iraq reports this disturbing news:
“The widespread expectation inside the U.S. military is that we will have tens of thousands of troops [in Iraq] for years to come. Indeed, in his last interview with me last November, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told me that he would like to see about 30,000 troops still there in 2014 or 2015.”
“I worry now that we are once again failing to imagine what we have gotten ourselves into and how much more we will have to pay in blood, treasure, prestige and credibility. I don't think the Iraq war is over, and I worry that there is more to come than any of us suspect.”
Of course. The Pentagon beast must be fed. It will be fed. It doesn't matter who is president. And its keepers don't care what the diet is, just so long there's enough of it to keep shoveling in there.
Big Money
. . . is going to scream bloody murder if Obama goes ahead with plans to cut Pentagon spending or if he decides to nationalize some banks or otherwise further constrain the malefactors of great wealth. They've shown themselves to be without conscience, compassion, or common sense, but that doesn't stop them even at the juncture where the taxpayers are shoveling hundreds of billions of dollars at them from thumbing their noses at the common good, which by definition is always inimical to their own.
Religious Right
These nut cases haven't gone away. They're already in a lather about Obama's reversals of Bush policies on abortion and stem cell research. They consider our unblinking support of Israel to be something ordained by God. Given their antipathy to the poor in general, people whom God has obviously spurned for their sins, you can bet your Bible these people are going to oppose any safety net programs or social reforms that benefit anyone besides themselves.
It's this array of immovable and ruthless enemies that Obama, the Democratic party, and the people who believe in them confront. I don't mind telling you it makes me crazy. For a couple of reasons. First, because I don't think the chances of Obama's success are very promising in the face of such opposition. Combined, especially with the media continuing its migration to the right, they're practically invincible. Second, because the failure of progressive government will doom this country, eventually the globe, and my children and grandchildren to miseries we have not even imagined.
A dog's life at that point might even be preferable.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Quo Vadis?

Sign posts in the land of the free, the kingdom of deepening depression, the last best hope of mankind. You decide where they're pointing.

  • This cartoon in the New York Post. The paper has apologized, but come on! Why would it be monkey at all instead of depiction of a human? The whole idea of the cartoon is stupid anyway.
[Update: Why the New York Post's Crazed Cartoon Chimp Matters]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Choo Choo Go Go

Have a look at this map. I cannot include it here because I cannot get it large enough to be clearly legible. What you're looking at is a map of the proposed high-speed rail corridors that are supposedly going to be financed with stimulus package money. Can anyone say "hurrah!" How about: "It's about frigging time."

I'm actually getting a little ahead of myself. The fact is none of this is a done deal. The White House is giving high-speed rail considerable thought. But Obama is a smart guy, and the time could not be more right. High-speed rail, a reality in most developed countries, is described as "an initiative long on planning but unrealized nationally because of financial and logistical hurdles and insufficient political backing." A familiar litany, no?

Restoration of nationwide US passenger rail service, once the envy of the entire world, is something that's been overdue for twenty years, or longer. (Tell me about your last pleasant airline experience.) It appears that only a monumental catastrophe like the one we're in now could make it possible. And even the chance that Oklahoma will be on the Houston-San Antonio-Tulsa corridor just tickles me plumb to death.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beneath Contempt

I'm a nice guy. I try to be nice to people. I pride myself on being tolerant of a wide range of thought and opinion. But there are some people that, I'm sorry, I simply cannot abide. One of them is the despicable little gutter snipe George Will. Unlike the late William F. Buckley, his superior in intellect and personality, Will is one of these highly educated conservatives who, it always struck me, basically looks down his long Pulitzer Prize nose and sniffs at all us underlings. Here's a guy who still thinks Ronnie Reagan was correct, for Pete's sake! If the Republican party likes it, Will likes it, with few exceptions. Sarah Palin was one.

But I digress. I simply wanted to pass on this tale I got from Tom Tomorrow.

It must be unpleasant for Will to get used to blogs, because he’s spent his entire career with total impunity. Here’s a funny story of Noam Chomsky’s from the book Understanding Power about a column Will wrote in 1982:

CHOMSKY: [A] few years ago George Will wrote a column in Newsweek called “Mideast Truth and Falsehood,” about how peace activists are lying about the Middle East, everything they say is a lie. And in the article, there was one statement that had a vague relation to fact: he said that Sadat had refused to deal with Israel until 1977. So I wrote them a letter, the kind of letter you write to Newsweek—you know, four lines—in which I said, “Will has one statement of fact, it’s false; Sadat made a peace offer in 1971, and Israel and the United States turned it down.” Well, a couple days later I got a call from a research editor who checks facts for the Newsweek “Letters” column. She said: “We’re kind of interested in your letter, where did you get those facts?” So I told her, “Well, they’re published in Newsweek, on February 8, 1971″—which is true, because it was a big proposal, it just happened to go down the memory hole in the United States because it was the wrong story. So she looked it up and called me back, and said, “Yeah, you’re right, we found it there; okay, we’ll run your letter.” An hour later she called again and said, “Gee, I’m sorry, but we can’t run the letter.” I said, “What’s the problem?” She said, “Well the editor mentioned it to Will and he’s having a tantrum; they decided they can’t run it.” Well, okay.
This little story tells you more about George Will than anything else you're going to read about him.

And then there trolls like radio talk show jockey Bill Cunningham. I'll just quote this creep for you.

"[P]oor people were not and are not poor because they lack money. They're poor because they lack values, ethics, and morals."

That's enough for me right there. This is a contemptible idiot, and yet he's out there spewing his poison over the air waves, maybe even as we speak. You can find more of his b.s. here and This is a truly evil person, in my opinion. Our air waves are just full of this kind of hate talk. All the time. Gives you a nice warm fuzzy, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

California Dreamin'--A Nightmare

I'm afraid I might begin to sound like a broken record--does that expression even make sense to people anymore?--but signs of really serious trouble are cropping up everywhere. Last night I read a piece in the Washington Monthly that I wanted to note about California. The New York Times headline says it all: "California, Almost Broke, Nears Brink."

Here's the gist of it: California has a $142 billion state budget. Legislation pending provides $42 million in additional taxes to plug gaping holes in the budget. It is one vote shy of passage in the legislature. (The state requires a two-thirds majority of the legislature to pass a budget. Three--that's one, two, three--Republicans in each house are required to get this majority. At the moment, the Republicans have refused to budge.) After days of negotiation, the whole process is stalemated. Republicans have refused to approve several tax increases necessary to keep the state afloat. In the meantime, the state is going off the cliff. The governor is preparing to layoff 20,000 state workers; dozens of public works projects have stopped; the state is no longer paying its counties, income tax refunds have halted; the state's bond rating is the lowest in the country.

Washington Monthly again:

They need three (3) Republican votes in each house. They can't get them. And this despite the fact that the Republicans who have been negotiating have gotten a lot, including, according to the LATimes, "tax breaks for corporations". Really. I am not making this up. With the state budget $41 billion in deficit, Republicans held out for corporate tax cuts, and then aren't even supporting the resulting bill.

You think that's insane? No, actually that's sound policy compared to this: A bunch of infrastructure projects, some crucial like removal of arsenic, are being canceled because there's no money for them, not a very good idea in a recession anyway. It will cost the state $191 million to do this. It will cost $192 million to start them up again. That's $400 million for absolutely nothing. But the "no taxes" pledge will be maintained, by God.

All this in the name of fiscal responsibility! People are really losing their minds. Is the Republican party willing to see the entire country go down the crapper so they can maintain a discredited, bankrupt (literally), tried-and-failed ideology? Apparently, it doesn't bother them. What's going to happen when the people find out what's really going on? One shudders to think.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hail to the Chief

If you're a government worker or somebody who works for a bank, today's a big deal. It's President's Day. When I was a kid, there was no such thing. I recall celebrating--or at least being cognizant of--Lincoln's birthday on February 12. President's Day is a modern contraption. But if it's a holiday from work, as it is for the people already mentioned, who cares?

It's not coincidental that C-Span released today the historians' latest presidential ranking poll. I've been fairly consistent, nay, totally consistent in adjudging the 43d president, the vile little pretender who occupied the White House for eight long, disastrous years, as the worst president ever. My fellow historians don't agree, ranking Bush as only the 36th worst president out of 43. Well, this is not the first time I've been in the minority. These rankings are fluid, and one thing interesting to notice about the guys who are at the bottom of the list. Of the six below Bush, four are connected with the Civil War era--the assumption being that they made matters worse during their terms at the most critical time in the nation's history. The other two below Bush both died in office. William Henry Harrison is way down in everybody's opinion, but the poor guy was only in office for a month before he died. Warren G. Harding, president in the early 1920s, was a hack Ohio politician whose administration was corrupt. But he has always had a special place in my affections. Of all the guys who served as president, he's the only one who admitted that the job was too big for him. This was true of a number of others, but they would have never said so.

I have every confidence that as the scope of the economic catastrophe Bush has bequeathed to us, not to mention the similarly catastrophic shape our foreign policy is in, becomes clear, the vile little pretender will sink further. What we're about to undergo as a country is as yet unknown. But all the signs are dire. We've got a lot of suffering ahead of us.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


The old saw says death and taxes are inevitable. It's just a saying . . . death may be inevitable, but taxes? You can easily avoid those if you have enough money to fence your riches against taxation with offshore and numbered bank accounts and a legion of high-priced accountants whose sole job is to keep you from paying taxes. There's not much I consider inevitable. Not much at all.

But there is one thing that is as predictable as the sun rising the east. During wars, soldiers will commit war crimes. Any military force of whatever nation you want to name, present or past. And that includes the United States. Put lethal weapons into the hands of young men, train them to dehumanize the enemy, put them in danger of their lives on battlefields, and expect that they will follow the Marquis of Queensbury rules? Get serious. Has there been a war, ever, anywhere, without war crimes? Where innocent civilians, women and children, the old and sick, have not been wantonly slaughtered? Where women and girls have not been raped? I know of none. What does the photograph above tell you? Those are America's finest on that deck.

There have been numerous instances of war crimes committed by US soldiers in Iraq. Why would it not be so? Just lately I came across this chilling article in The Nation whose title will tell you the story: "A Mai Lai a Month." Apparently, wholesale slaughter of innocent Vietnamese was routine during that war. I once knew an ex-Marine who could do nothing whenever Vietnam was discussed except weep uncontrollably for the crimes he and his buddies had committed there. Do you think it's all that much different in Iraq? I wish I could say I didn't.

Just as inevitable and murder as the rapine done in our name by the hierlings we send off to die for us in foreign wars are the denials from all sides: the country at large, the military establishment, and the guilty themselves, except for the few whose consciences will not let them rest.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Swimming with Sharks

I haven't seen the news yet tonight, so I don't know if the Senate has passed the stimulus package. I did read earlier that the House did. I have to say, I'm not all that excited. I think Obama has settled for a halfway measure in his misguided attempt to be a nice guy and play bipartisanship with a bunch of vicious sharks. I certainly agree with Frank Scheaeffer, a former card-carrying, breast-beating Republican who told the president:

"[I]f you think that the Republicans in Congress and the Senate are going to do [less] than their utmost to obstruct everything you are and what you stand for you're dreaming."

Why? Because the other side, all ideologues, have nothing but contempt for the president and his party.

"What those senators and congressmen are telling you is not what their rabid core constituents are telling them. Their loyalty is to a fundamentalist Christian ideology on the one hand and American exceptionalism of perpetual warfare and hatred and fear of the 'other' on the other hand. Between the neoconservatives and evangelical Religious Right Republicans you have no friends."

The three forlorn Republicans that Obama paid through the nose to get signed on to the stimulus, are about the last three of the breed that can be called moderate. All the rest take their direction from Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, two truly repulsive people, hate-mongers.

Moreover, Paul Krugman and other economists are convinced that the package that's going to be signed into law shortly will not do the job. He, too, is disgusted with the politics, the way the president has been abused by virtually every Republican in the Congress, but he's even more concerned that the so-called fix is not even close to being adequate to the size of the problem, which, as Rachel Maddow would say is "ginormous." Call me a Mr. Sourpuss, but I think things are really bad, and I don't think a lot of people realize it yet.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Young & Stupid Defense is . . . Well, Dumb

It's been a few days now since the major flap about Olympic god Michael Phelps and the bong pipe and picture of him doing the pipe justice that went public and impelled Kellogg's, the maker of corn flakes, to drop Phelps as a corporate sponsor. (A whole bunch of other companies also sponsoring the swimmer and apparently unconcerned about being represented by a dope fiend declined to fire him.) Regular readers here, all six or seven of them, know how I feel about pot (also here and here). So you can probably imagine I don't have any particular heartburn with Phelps engaging in an activity that almost half of all Americans have engaged or are engaged in. The honor roll of famous people who have toked up is long and impressive, and includes such brain-damaged potheads as the current president of the US (and at least seven other US presidents), NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the late conservative icon William F. Buckley, an articulate champion for pot legalization.

The point here is not to defend Phelps or the use of recreational hemp--although both are eminently defensable--but to notice a piece by Timothy Egan in todays NY Times. He scoffs at Alex Rodrieguez's explanation for shooting up with sterioids, i.e., "I was young . . . stupid . . . naive." This explanation, Egan says correctly, doesn't work for a person who was 27-29 years old when he was doing steroids. And it doesn't work for other luminaries who have used the "I was young and stupid" excuse. People like our late-lamented president George W. Bush--worthless cocaine-snorting and drunk driving rascal he was for at least half his life before being rescued by Jesus. And the late, ever pious Henry Hyde, the darling of the anti-abortion and flag-hugger crowds. Hyde favored a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning and who led the House impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton for adultery and lying to Congress. That Henry Hyde, the one who carried on an eight-year affair with a beauty stylist, while he was married, of course. (And lied about its duration.) He was 41 years old, almost 50 when this affair ended, and he blamed "youthful indiscretion" for his sins.

If anybody's got an excuse for being young and stupid, Egan says, it's Phelps. But the whole argument is nonsense. Especially when guys like A-Rod (and anybody else who's got money) are going to escape any legal consequences of their actions, while society continues to incarcerate tens of thousands of people who are actually young and stupid for marijuana offenses. The young-and-stupid argument doesn't work for them, does it? Hear! Hear!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Juice III

Just one more post on this steroid thing and baseball. Alex Rodriguez, the focus of a piece a few days ago, publicly confessed in an interview on ESPN with Peter Gammons, that, yep, he did use a "banned substance" during his time with the Texas Rangers, 2001-2003. I've been discussing the matter via email with my son, a Ranger fan. (I brought 'em up right. Or conversely, I laid a horrible lifetime curse on them.) Here's an excerpt (my comments in blue):

I watched the interview too. He went from 'no comment' over the course of the weekend, received legal advice, along with some reflection on what happened with Barry by not admitting, and decided to do the interview. The court of public opinion is what matters here, since baseball isn't going to do anything about. The guys who've come forward, Giambi and Petit, are forgiven for the most part by fans by admitting to using steroids. A-rod is following their lead.

Well, Giambi was honest; he said that he used the damn things. I think Pettitte lied through his teeth. Used them to recover from an injury. Yeah, right. A-Rod, of course, as you point out was following the lead of lawyers and PR guys. I don't think he is smart enough to think up this course by himself.

This still bothers me to no end. A-rod was supposed to be our savior. He was the clean guy who could break the tarnished records Bond's set and make baseball right again.

Yep. That was the hype.

The whole situation disgusts me. I'm beginning to become totally numb to the whole thing. Really, is it a surprise though? And looking back on it, how could he not be juiced? Come on, a shortstop averages 52 hr over the course of those 3 years, and he averaged 39 the stretch before and after '00-03.

I don't think I can ever be numb. I love the game too much. I just hate what these guys have done to the game. This blotch can never be erased. None of them. None should ever be elected the HOF. Ever. And liars like Bonds and Tejada and Palmeiro should do some jail time. Just as an example for American youth of what happens if you cheat. Of course, that's an old guy's dream.

What truly angers me is that baseball's management and owners looked the other way while the game was being trashed. Greed. Greed. Bud Selig needs to have his privates slammed in a car door several times, as my friend Cecil would say. And then his ass ought to be kicked out of his job, and somebody who's not a feeble-minded tool of the owners should be installed as commissioner to kick ass and take names. The baseball commissioner should be a person who protects the GAME. That would be his only job. I'd like to think that this steroid crisis would be like the Black Sox scandal (which brought Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first, and still the most powerful commissioner), and cause the owners to go after a savior for the game. But that's not going to happen either.

I must say, as a fan, I selfishly wanted to witness the greatest hitters of all time in Bonds, and then A-rod during an era I lived. I must confess, I wanted to believe he was clean. Now, the era of baseball I'm living through is dubbed the steroid era. Nothing is sacred anymore.

You're so representative of your generation. All of your big guys, all the big boppers, and not a few pitchers, too, turn out to have been juiced. It's all false. It's really a shame that baseball heroes have been taken away from your generation. I've read several commentators who are opining that this latest drug flap in baseball may finally put an end to it. I guess we'll have to see. I think the game's been cleaned up since the institution of tough testing in 2004. But the '90s and early 2000s were juiced up. That's why we need all the other cheaters' names out there. So we can know whose numbers during this era can be trusted.

However, without A-rod, we wouldn't have the latest top from Letterman. Some of these are really funny.

They are!

"Top Ten Messages Left on Alex Rodriguez's Answering Machine."

10. "Hey, it's Mark McGwire. Want to get together this week and not talk about the past?"

9. "Joe Torre here -- thanks for helping book sales"

8. "Could you find a steroid that keeps you from choking in the playoffs?"

7. "Are you worried this will taint all the championships you didn't win?"

6. "It's Bernie Madoff. Nice try but I'm still the most hated man in New York"

5. "Michael Phelps here. Got any snacks?"

4. "This is Sammy Sosa. Just pretend you don't speak English"

3. "Michael Phelps again. Did I call you or did you call me?"

2. "Hey, it's Rod Blagojevich -- I'll say you're innocent, if you say I am"

1. "It's Madonna. You got a phone number for Jeter?"

Monday, February 9, 2009

Son of a Beach!

People are stealing sand off beaches in the Caribbean. SAND. It's happening all over: Puerto Rico, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Vincent, Antigua, Barbuda . . . At night. With bulldozers. Ecological disasters looming.

Phrases of surprised reaction to news of what humans are doing, at least in my own mind, are trite. Mainly because I use one of the following phrases all too frequently ruminating on the latest bit of news I've encountered about human behavior on this planet. The phrases, in order of intensity, are the following:
  1. I thought I had heard everything.
  2. Now I've heard everything.
  3. Nothing surprises me anymore. [in a resigned tone]
  4. What!!??
  5. Ya gotta be shitting me!
You have to admit, there's a shade of variation among these expressions of disbelief, and if one is careful about nuances, as I like to tell myself I am, one must chose carefully among them to convey just the right degree of astonishment. In this particular case, I think option 5 is appropriate. (I have to admit that the occasions anymore of late for the use of 1. and 2. are limited.)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Can I Have Some More, Please?

The Obama administration is slowly clunking towards passage of a clunker of a so-called stimulus bill. Why? Because it surrenders the high ground to the enemy. Krugman's take on the emerging "solution" resonates: "[T]o appease the centrists, a plan that was already too small and too focused on ineffective tax cuts has been made significantly smaller, and even more focused on tax cuts." It's reported today that the Democrats have managed to corral three Republican votes in the Senate to ensure a filibuster-proof 60 votes. (And even those three aren't in the bag. They are tenuous and totally dependent on the Administration stepping up the line they drew in the sand.)

But at what cost? Well, basically, at the price dictated by the party that got their asses thoroughly kicked and then handed to them in the recent election. That's right, brothers and sisters. Last time I checked, the Republican party and all of its economic nostrums about tax cuts and trust-the-market and no-government-spending-except-for-war were completely repudiated by the voters in November when they elected a person who promised them change, real change. And yet, we're looking at a so-called stimulus package that's composed of at least 42 percent tax cuts, as well as one the Republicans have also dictated that billions of dollars destined for beleaguered, broke states be stripped from. Mind you, all this is to get a measly two or three Republican votes. The rest of the Senate Republicans are simply going to give the Democrats and the country a great big finger, just like they did in the House.

So what in the hell is going on here? Let me be blunt: I don't know if the stimulus package the Administration (originally) proposed is the answer to the frightful economic woes we're facing as a country. Actually, I fear that the bill is way too small. But I can say with almost complete assurance that the Republican demands for more tax cuts and less spending on this and that in the bill are guaranteed to be worthless. It seems to be patently clear that these miserable policies have failed. So what is the point of handing over Democratic aims, Democratic solutions, Democratic policy to the Republicans so they can gut them like a strung-up hog and dance gleefully around their campfire with the entrails of the bill draped over them?

I'm sorry. But if the best thing the legislative process can produce in the face of the worst disaster this country has faced since the 1930s is the same old partisan posturing we've all gotten so sick of, then screw both these parties and the horses they rode in on. At a time that calls for drastic action, for a whole new way of operating, what we're getting is the same old crap. Politicians bloviating while millions of regular people bleed. It just really chaps me that what the people said in November--change things!--is simply being ignored while the same cast of insiders plays its same old game. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Obama is so desperate to appease his, our, political enemies. These people have already ruined us. Why are we coming back for a second helping?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A-Rod Spiked Up Too (Juice cont'd)

Odd how these things happen. I do a little piece yesterday on steroid users in baseball, and this morning Sports Illustrated breaks the news that Alex Rodriguez ("A-Rod"), who owns the most lucrative contract in major league baseball--the Yankees are paying him something like $300 million for the next ten years--tested positive for steroids in a 2003 drug test. That's the year he won the first of his three most valuable player awards and hit a league-leading 47 home runs. For none other than my very own Texas Rangers. (Who traded him to New York in 2004.)

Update: Although I'm loathe to say it, the Rangers have had a whole slew of steroid cheaters over the years. Several of them were apparently introduced (if that's the right word) to this brand of cheating by Jose Canseco, a fairly despicable human being, who nonetheless has till now proven truthful in his revelations about steroid use in baseball. Another USA Today article about the Rangers and steroids is here.

What can one say about this? I agree with commentators who have pointed out something obvious that I thought immediately when I read the news. Every achievement by this guy--and he's had many--is now tainted. Doubly tainted, maybe, because after it was disclosed how pervasive steroid and HGH use was among ballplayers, Rodriguez, who had not (yet) been fingered by any tests and who several times flatly denied using the drugs, appeared to be the straight-arrow player who would rescue all the tainted power records from discredited players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. He was hailed by many as the greatest player in the game today. And now? Rodriguez is just another ballplayer who cheated and whose numbers are dirty because of it. The only upside to this sorry news is that A-Rod is only 32. This means he'll be around to embarrass the Yankees for quite a few more years.

And, more's the pity to notice that he's now joined the ranks of other over-achieving cheaters and probably jeopardized his election to the Hall of Fame--at least until this generation of baseball writers has died, and the future forgets what a great wound these dopers have inflicted on baseball. And that's a long way off.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Wages of Juice (Are Handsome)

Here's a prototypical American tale. Barry Bonds, who along with Roger Clemens, is one the most notorious juicers in baseball--steroid and HGH users, cheaters, who boosted their already astonishing statistics with dope, went to court yesterday. With a bevy of six doubtless very-high-priced lawyers. He didn't say anything. His lawyers plead "not guilty" for him to multiple counts of perjury and obstructing justice.

Today the judge announces she will not be accepting three key pieces of evidence--urine test results--that prove Bonds was using illegal substances to extend his career, puff up his performance, and set ridiculously high home run records. All of this beginning after he was 35 years old and continuing for several years after. Anybody who knows baseball, knows that the peak years for players are 28-32. After that, only the great players continue to produce handsomely, but none in the whole history of baseball anywhere near the level Bonds did.

Bonds would have been easily been a Hall of Famer without cheating, but, as a new book coming out, will show, he had a burning, corrosive jealousy for the fame and attention another record-breaking slugger was receiving. (Mark McGwire, yet another user of performance enhancing drugs who was passed over for election to the HOF despite prodigious numbers, and who will continue to be spurned.) It turns out Bonds was simply petulant child millionaire who wasn't getting the attention he thought he deserved. My heart bleeds really for this guy.

The case against him pretty much goes to hell without this evidence, so in all likelihood Bonds will walk. He probably would have anyway, but now it's just about certain. It would have been nice to see him spend some time in jail. So what's the result of this Bonds business, which has been dragging on for three or four years? Baseball wears yet another huge black eye. Its all time hit leader, Pete Rose, is barred from the Hall of Fame for gambling on baseball. Bonds, the all time home run leader, and Clemens, who is arguably one of the five greatest pitchers ever to play the game, will not be elected to the HOF because they cheated and the baseball writers don't reward cheaters.

But Bonds and the rest? They've all got their millions. And no worries about their kids or grandkids or their kids. Just like Wall Street CEOs. Crime pays.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What's That on My Shoe?

Today's entry for a blog that I follow expresses mock incredulity at the notion that $500,000 is considered by some as "not a lot of money." I don't have incredulity, but I do have contempt for this line of thinking. In all of my life, I could not imagine having even half that much every year, yea, even one-fifth that much seemed more than ample. So like everybody else who doesn't live in the dream world where half a million dollars is not a lot of money, I was glad to hear that Obama demanded stringent salary conditions for executives of the companies we poor slobs down here were bailing out with our money. That decision plucked millions of populist strings.

It's about time! Last week the president called the continued Wall Street profligacy with bailout money shameful. This week he's giving these plutocrats of Wall Street the cuffing they deserve. I'll bet I'm not alone in wishing I could personally piss on their $1,300 shoes. These executives need to be shamed. The country, in a fit of real bipartisanship, agrees.

All of this brings up that dirty little secret that the over-stuffed middle class, aspiring (at least until recently) with all their might to become plutocrats themselves--because, after all, this is AMERICA, where anybody can get rich (a fiction that an amazingly large number of people still believe)--chooses to deny. That secret, of course, is that class conflict exists in the US, and it has existed from the beginning. The word is conflict. It doesn't mean vague dissatisfaction, mildly irritated, or just a little bit angry. It can mean murderous.

All I can tell you is that from a historian's perspective, the chief one I bring to these matters, when the gap between the moneyed class and the rest gets noticeably huge and the rich seem noticeably unaffected by the sufferings of the others . . . well, then blood gets spilled and fires break out. We haven't seen the worst of the current economic woes. We don't even know what the worst looks like or feels like.* And violence is second nature to all of us in America, richest to poorest across the spectrum.

Take that for what it's worth. Perhaps, or very likely even, the feverish hallucinations of an old man. Just don't tell me it can't happen here.

*"What we are now seeing is the beginning of an inevitable downward adjustment in American living standards to conform with our actual place in the world. As a nation of consumers, and not producers, with little to offer to the rest of the world except raw materials, food crops, military hardware and bad films (none of which industries employ many people), we are headed to a recovery that will not feel like a recovery at all." Dave Lindorf

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Allow me to quote myself. This is from a recent email to one of my conservative retired military friends. Sorry to stereotype, but you can safely do it with just about every retired military person I know. Anyway I got wound up about the prospect of Obama's pouring thousands more American troops into Afghanistan:

Let's face it. Constant war has become necessary to the US to feed the Pentagon's insatiable appetite. The frigging country is going down the drain, and we're spending a $1 trillion a year in welfare for the military and the passel of greedy defense contractors . . . hell, their lying, cheating, and stealing makes the Wall Street boys look like the choir.

After 7 years, you're still entertaining the notion that we're going to bring bin Laden to justice? And that even if we did, it would actually mean a reduction in terrorism? And you all think we liberals are unrealistic dreamers! Fight them there or endure attacks here?? For pity's sake, Bob, this is a mindless slogan. T
he whole war on terrorism is like the war on drugs--another financial bonanza for the extended family of beneficiaries that this slogan feeds. What could be better for our legion of war profiteers than not one, but two, so-called wars that will never end?

I'm really get sick of it, Bob. The US is an empire, and it acts exactly like all empires did. We can always find money for war, more paramilitary police, more bombs. We're never too poor for that. All these justifications for war
are hollow and shameful. Because war never solved a single problem. All war does is beget the next war. Humanity doesn't have the sense God gave a billy goat, as my mom used to say.

And then today, I read that Obama's Pentagon FY-2010 budget contains a $40 billion increase--that's an 8 percent hike over the previous fiscal year. And wouldn't you know it, the conservative flacks like are moaning and whining (and lying) that Obama is cutting defense spending. You have to digest Glenn Greenwald's piece to understand how this is. But I'm convinced. Greenwald's pissed off at Robert Kagan's assertion in the Washington Post that Obama is cutting defense spending.

Of course, you can expect prevarication from the neocons, but what you don't expect is Obama throwing more billions into the slavering maw of the Pentagon. It just makes me sick. Over the past decade, this country has spent over $4.5 trillion on the military. The US spends almost as much on its military as everybody else in the world combined, seven times more than the next highest spender, China.

It's just sinful, and there's no end to it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Romancing the Stone Brains

Several events connected with the death my friend Jim have occupied much of my time the past few days. Consequently, no blogging and even little attention to the news other than a quick scan of headlines. Thank goodness for Google News that lets me do this. Not that there's much to excite me. I see that Eric Holder has finally been confirmed as Attorney General. Now I ask you . . . why the delay here? Wasn't it just political spite? Obama's nominee for secretary of labor, Hilda Solis, is still not confirmed because the Republicans don't like that she's a friend of labor. Duh. This is a Democratic administration and this is the secretary of labor we're talking about. What do these people expect? a right to work advocate? No, it's just another sign that this whole bipartisanship thing is, to say the least, disappointing, as in are you kidding me? Obama, even as we speak, is nominating yet another Republican for his cabinet. Reaching out again to a bunch of people who have done nothing but kick him in the teeth, as far as I can tell. I wonder how long this kissing of Republican butt is going to continue? These people have ossified brains. They wouldn't have a new idea if it came up and kissed them on the lips.

I know the president said that Washington as usual is not what it's going to take to address the serious, not to say catastrophic, problems confronting us, but I've seen no indication that the Republicans are willing to give an inch. FDR ushered in the New Deal without Republican help; LBJ, the Great Society. Obama would do well, I think, to remember this.