Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's That Time

Time to look back on the past year, and ahead to the next year, if that's the kind of thing that floats your boat. I'm a historian, so obviously looking back is more my style. But I have to tell you, there's no great thrill in it. On the personal level, things are OK, even good. Both me and my beloved are healthy, our kids and grandkids likewise. Nobody lost their job while millions were not so fortunate. I got the poetry book published, and I finished all the writing tasks I was assigned. And as parent and grandparent, I still receive daily the gift of seeing my offspring mature and learn and grow. And I'm blessed by being loved by them. I've seen way too much family estrangement in my life. It's a poison and a curse, and I thank God I've been spared it.

On the not so ebullient note, I will note only one bit of information about the past year. I read today that--would you believe I just went to go find where I read it, it's either the local (small size) paper or the current USA Today, and I cannot find it? The reason I took note of it was because it stated some truly frightening percentages of people who are siding with the teabag nut cases. As I recall, people expressing agreement with Democrats were 35 percent, with Republicans 28 percent, and a little over 40 percent (!) for the teabaggers.  Or was it "identified with"? Hell, I don't know and I cannot find the reference on line. This is really frustrating thing for a historian, but what can you do? All I can say is that if we now have 4 out of every 10 Americans in sympathy with the inchoate and frenzied howls of the teabag people . . . well, we're in worse trouble than I thought. (It just doesn't sound right--and it is my memory, after all, we're relying on here--but still . . . it seems to me that anything over 10 percent of the people in league with those screechers just cannot be a good thing.)

And on that sorry note, let's have a new year. Please.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

And On a Cheery Note

Here's James Kuntsler contemplating what's going to happen when everything goes down the crapper in 2010.  He foresees a full-blown depression and all of its attendant disasters. For the complete helping of end-of-the-year depression, you can read the article here. It ain't pretty. No prettier than this, just one of the dire consequences of our folly:

   One wild card is how angry the American people might get.  Unlike the 1930s, we are no longer a nation who call each other "Mister" and "Ma'am," where even the down-and-out wear neckties and speak a discernible variant of regular English, where hoboes say "thank you," and where, in short, there is something like a common culture of shared values.  We're a nation of thugs and louts with flames tattooed on our necks, who call each other "motherfucker" and are skilled only in playing video games based on mass murder. The masses of Roosevelt's time were coming off decades of programmed, regimented work, where people showed up in well-run factories and schools and pretty much behaved themselves. In my view, that's one of the reasons that the US didn't explode in political violence during the Great Depression of the 1930s - the discipline and fortitude of the citizenry.  The sheer weight of demoralization now is so titanic that it is very hard to imagine the people of the USA pulling together for anything beyond the most superficial ceremonies - placing teddy bears on a crash site.  And forget about discipline and fortitude in a nation of ADD victims and self-esteem seekers. 

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Nation of Five-Year Olds

Now here's a take on this whole latest terrorist flap that I thoroughly agree with. The basic thrust of this fine piece is that the whole "protection" apparatus of TSA is a waste of time. For starters, don't kid yourself, the TSA "professionals" are just a step above McDonald's workers, and they're under the illusion that they're actually protecting us. But the "fact of the matter is that there is nothing anyone…not even super-genius, secret government agents with perfect teeth and a lovely December tan…can do to make us perfectly secure. So it really doesn’t matter who’s manning the TSA checkpoints." Right on, brother. All signs point to this obvious fact. I heard a woman on NPR today talking about how TSA confiscated a bottle of vanilla she was bringing back from Mexico, but missed a 4-inch folding knife in her purse. Such stories are legion.

But we are so gripped by fear, we'll do anything "the organs" say is necessary to keep us safe. We have become a nation of five-year olds, whose parents keep telling us there's probably a bogeyman in every closet.

Here's the heart of it: "I’m saying that if we don’t want to live with the dangers then we might want to stop provoking them. I’m saying that there is no such thing as perfect safety and security; you are going to die someday and you probably won’t go to heaven. And i’m saying that our government consistently overplays any actual threats (and their probability) in order to control us through fear." Can anyone seriously doubt that the American people are afraid of everything? And the stuff they fear the most is the stuff least likely to happen . . . any terrorist who wants could blow himself up in the midst of a crowded airport terminal and kill lots of people. And how hard would that be? TSA wouldn't make a damn bit of difference in that scenario.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Goals . . . Or Is It the Other Way 'Round?

For years one of the family Christmas traditions was a statement from each one on Christmas Eve before presents. It began as "I want to apologize to you for . . . " to each member of the family. This changed after a while "Something I really appreciate about you . . . ." to each member of the family. Now with the addition of grandchildren and son-in-law, we've evolved to a statement by each person of some (number is not specified) achievable goals for the coming year. We await the arrival of my sons from Florida next month when the whole family will be together before we pronounce goals for the coming year. But I already know mine, and one of them is to read all the books I received as gifts this Christmas and throughout next year. Which means I've got a great lineup waiting for me. Here's the books I got as real hold-in-your-hand books this Christmas. (I got 103 classic books for my Kindle on CD; some of which I already had there, but not too many.) Here they are in no particular order:

       Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places (2009) by Bill Streever. I've already started it, and I'm hooked.

       Plus Shipping (1998) by Bob Hicok. Another of those mostly unknown poets who blows me away.

      Made Love Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State (2007) by Norman Solomon. American militarism . . . a growth industry.
      Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism (2008) by Kevin Phillips. Has this guy ever written a bad book?

      Tear Down This Myth: how the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009) by Will Bunch. And I used to think that Reagan was the dumbest man ever to hold the office of president of the US. Compared to W, he's a frigging genius. But Reagan still made a horrible mess of things, and what's more, millions of people in this country think this affable ninny descended from Olympus.

      The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball (2007) by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, & Andrew Dolphin. Advanced sabrmetrics.

      What is Your Dangerous Idea? Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable (2007) by John Brockman. Sample: When will the Internet become aware of itself? Not all dangerous, and not all new . . . but chewy stuff for the most part.

Looks like a historian's list, no? But only one book that can be construed as history, and that just barely. And you'll note the absence of fiction. Sorry, if there's going to be limited book-reading, fiction is going to lose out with me every time. I know, I know. That's very sad. But what can I say?

It's going to be fun making this goal.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Quote(s) of the Day

"I think there's kind of a desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there's still time."                  --W. S. Merwin
"Any idiot can face a crisis; it is the day -to-day living that wears you out."
                                       --Anton Chekov
"No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."                               --Voltaire

Somebody stop me! Did not I tell you all at one time how much I loved quotations? If I haven't, I should have. I love the way a great artist can encapsulate life in such delicious little bon-bons.

All these guys are right. W. S. Merwin has twice won the Pulitzer for his poetry. Chekov and Voltaire need no introduction. Geniuses all.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Safe, Safer . . . Frigging Impervious (Till the Next Time)

Here's some news to brighten your holidays: as a result of the attempted bombing of the Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit yesterday--I leave aside the question of just how in the hell something like this was allowed to happen given the current level of absurd security procedures we must endure now--TSA is clapping on a whole bunch more restrictions on the poor, hapless air traveler. I've had occasion to complain before about the torture one must go through to get on a plane and fly anywhere. I think it's ridiculous, but there are many, many things that I think are ridiculous that other people don't see that way. So I guess now we're all going to feel safer (is it okay to be supremely annoyed at the same time?) when TSA ratchets up the torture wheel a little tighter on all of us who have the misfortune to have to fly somewhere in the United States. Here's a snippet from a story that ran in the New York Times:

According to a statement posted Saturday morning on Air Canada’s Web site, the Transportation Security Administration will severely limit the behavior of both passengers and crew during flights in United States airspace — restricting movement in the final hour of flight. Late Saturday morning, the T.S.A. had not yet included this new information on its own Web site.
“Among other things,” the statement in Air Canada’s Web site read, “during the final hour of flight customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage, or have personal belongings or other items on their laps.”

So, got that? For the final hour of every flight, you are going to be glued to your seat. Don't even think about having to go to the bathroom. By God, you just hold it till your eyes turn yellow. But remember, it's for your own safety. Oh, and that book or magazine you were reading. Hell, no, you cannot read anything, and that includes a Kindle. You must sit, mute and meek in your seat, just like a classroom of miscreants being kept after school. But, remember, this is for your own safety. Oh, and you're only going to be allowed one carry-on bag now, and you're going to be screened at the airport gates, according to the story. Airport gates? What in the hell does that mean? Are we going to have to go through another security procedure before the one we all endure now to get to our airplane?

Why don't we just cut to the chase and institute a rule that no one can carry anything onto an airplane and all passengers must be stripped nude to board the aircraft? But don't worry about it . . . it would all be for our own safety.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Poor Jesus

A standing joke in my family for years has been my stock answer to the question from my kids, what do you want for Christmas? The habitual reply: World Peace. After so many years, the irony and perhaps the genuineness of the desire has been lost on them. Or perhaps my kids, having grown up with war and killing virtually all their lives, view the response as just Dad making jokes again. I wish I could really say it's a joke to me. But it isn't.

I'll admit to being a hopeless dreamer when it comes to what's possible for humanity if it ever grows a brain or a conscience. In this case, it's an either-or proposition: one or the other, brain or conscience, would certainly suffice for humans to grasp once and for all and permanently the indisputable truth that war is a cruel, pointless, sick, fruitless, and inhuman exercise. But to publicly espouse such a position in this country, indeed, in most countries, is to automatically brand yourself not only as some kind of nut case, but an unpatriotic traitor to the nation. The only solace for us nut cases is to realize that we're not alone. A lot of people are crazy like this.

And some of them actually have public voices. Unfortunately, those voices are typically drowned out by the clamor of the super patriots or the justifications for war by the elite chattering and scribbling classes. A member of which we must certainly count people like New York Times op-ed writer David Brooks. Fortunately, there are people like Matt Taibbi around to set the record straight. Taibbi is profane and unsparing in his demolishing of what he calls "Brooks's recent toadyist masterpiece." He refers to Brooks's latest column, "Obama's Christian Realism," which basically endorses Obama's indefensible decision to widen the war in Afghanistan on moral grounds--with, Taibbi gleefully points out, the exact same arguments he used to endorse George Bush's decision for war. 

I love it when something like war--one of the most clearly un-Christian activities there is--becomes "realism" when it's time to excuse it. But that's nothing new, of course. Poor Jesus has been twisted to fit the narrow, selfish and bloody purposes of humankind from the beginning.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What a Nice Little Ride

You don't have to be able to read the fine print. All you need to know is these lines represent the stock prices for the major health insurance companies in the U.S. from October 27 to December 18, 2009. Do you see anything strange? As the passage of the so-called healthcare reform bill became more and more likely, the stock prices for these companies just roared up. I've said it before, and it really is something blindingly obvious, or at least it should be. If the health insurance companies like the so-called healthcare reform legislation, it cannot possibly be good for the rest of us. Above is Exhibit A. We are getting royally screwed, brothers and sisters. It does not appear that this bill is going to be defeated. All the Democrats in Congress are going to get in line, even the progressives, despite being shat upon by the Administration basically since the start of this process.

Update I: The ever-perceptive Glenn Greenwald also takes note of the stock price jump, and he goes on to discuss the demonization of progressive critics of the healthcare bill by the administration, their friends in the the press and the blogosphere.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ho Ho--Oh No

In the spirit of the season, I present a couple of snippets from the latest post from James Kuntsler. Ho Ho, if you will.  I will not need to be glum myself during this holiday season; I'll just let him be glum. But maybe I'll allow myself a comment or two.

I sat in a bar Friday evening with a financial reporter from a national newspaper, trying to explain the peak oil situation and what it implied for our economy.  He had never heard it before. The relationship between energy resources and massive debt was new to him. (It also came up in conversation that he could not tell me what the Monroe Doctrine was about, despite a history degree from Yale.) There you have a nice snapshot of the mainstream media in this land.

It's difficult for me to imagine any competent financial reporter not having ever heard of "peak oil." You have to wonder where in the world such a person has been for the past ten years or more. And good Lord in highest heaven, you don't need to tell me about the ignorance of college students, er, make that college graduates. It doesn't matter where the degree is from. Harvard or Yale, in this particular case, is equivalent to Slippery Rock or the University of Eastern Topeka. So-called college graduates coming out of schools today are, I'm sorry, as dumb as dodos. Can you imagine having a history degree from anywhere, much less a celebrated and ridiculously expensive Ivy League mainstay such as Yale, and not knowing about the Monroe Doctrine? I wonder what else (s)he doesn't know? Gives me the shivers. And this, mind you, is the PRESS, the supposed watchdogs of our democracy. 

The other current embodiment of national character failure, Tiger Woods, golfer, has also dazzled the American public. Personally I find it much more interesting to learn that he was a really lousy tipper than that he got a lot of action on the side with opportunistic bar girls, porn stars, and other denizens of the sports-entertainment netherworld. Is it not also amusing that golf is even taken seriously as an athletic pursuit? I mean, why not pancake-flipping?  Or dice? Or shooting rats at the landfill? This is the kind of knucklehead culture we have become after six decades of the softest life imaginable.

I have studiously avoided comment on this situation, not even wanting to appear in the least degree similar to the the salivating crowd from all points of the compass who have been rolling in this story like a dog on a rotting carcass for weeks. But like Kuntsler, I find it interesting that this mega-billionaire stiffs working class stiffs on tips. Sorry. This marks the guy as a perpetual asshole in my book, even if he was as faithful to his wife as a eunuch. 

Knucklehead culture? Come now. That's too kind. And think about that phrase, "the softest life imaginable." Doesn't conjure up images of hearty Americans girding up for truly hard times, which, I fear, are coming. 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Told You So

I cannot contemplate the mid-term elections with any degree of equanimity. It seems to be a dead certainty that the Democrats will be routed, and we'll be back to gridlock government. And why? Because the Democrats are going to stay home. Their president has given them no reason to turn out. You don't have to go far to find out what the progressives in this country are thinking. None of it bodes well for the Democrats. 

Take this for example, from The Smirking Chimp. He's talking about Obama and his choice to disregard the populist agenda that elected him:
Indeed, choosing the collaborationist route would mean replaying much of the Clinton playbook: reject calls for accountability on the outgoing Republicans; treat anyone who wants to know the full story of the GOP crimes as extreme; join in covering up Republican wrongdoing in hopes of some reciprocity; continue most of the foreign policy initiatives to avoid charges of “softness”; behave “responsibly” on domestic matters even in the face of GOP attacks and obstructionism; devise a health-reform plan that protects the interests of private insurers.
Drew Westen, a political scientist, writing in The Huffington Post complains of three Obama traits that are marking his failure: his laissez-faire leadership style makes him seem distant to ordinary people, his utter failure to articulate and defend "a coherent ideological position on virtually anything," and finally, the widespread perception that he cares more about the powerful special interests such as banks, big pharma, Pentagon, the insurance industry, and Wall Street "than the people they are shafting."

On healthcare "Scarecrow" in Firedoglake is scathing: 
But instead of doing the obvious, the reforms that actually work, the corporate Democrats and their corporate-shielding President have done the opposite. Every travesty in the Senate bill springs from an effort to preserve and shield the private industries that are financially and literally killing us. Instead of providing strong public alternatives, the bill will bail out the private system, and not merely by giving them hundreds of billions to subsidize their unregulated premiums and fees. No, we will force 30 million Americans who can least afford it to buy their overpriced, poorly regulated products, and pay only lip service to the economic hardship this imposes.
Now isn't this the exact same thing I've been saying--the same thing as all these guys--for some time now? I'm so utterly disgusted with Obama myself that I really can't say I care much what happens to the Democrats. I can't help but observe that I began souring on him earlier than many of my progressive friends. And I'm certainly not going to take any pleasure in telling the latecomers to the truth "I told you so."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Universal Paradox

I wrote this one today.

Universal Paradox

A poem about nothing,
is nothing but trouble.
It would,
one assumes,
have to be in blank verse,
tidy and terse
so as not to burden
readers with any thoughts
more weighty
than meringue,
a metaphor which,
upon reflection,
doesn’t serve at all,
being something,
no matter how light and fluffy.

Consider nothing . . .
and the problem
stands stark before us.
Even dark matter,
nothingness itself for eons,
now suffuses space
between the stars
with something,
(we know not what)
a concept considerably
more weighty
than meringue on a pie
the size of Jupiter,
or Alpha Centari,
for that matter.
And that’s the trouble
with a poem about nothing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Awww, phoo!

The New Orleans Saints lost their first game of the season tonight to the hated (at least for me) Dallas Cowboys. The good guys were never really in the game; they didn't deserve to win and were outplayed on both sides of the ball. So there goes the perfect season. It's the first taste of defeat for ecstatic New Orleans Saints fans this year. Moreover, we've got to fret about the playoffs now, when you're not allowed the luxury of losing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Two Gnarly Nuggets

Two signs-of-the-times blog entries for you to get frosted about:

  1. Bob Cesca's piece in the Huffington Post about how as a progressive Democrat he's pissed off at the turn healthcare reform has taken. There's a whole wonderful list of things that he's pissed off at: healthcare reform, the Senate, the House, Joe Lieberman, the media, Tom Colburn and his hair, Rahm Emmanuel, and more. But he concludes his entertaining diatribe by making the case for passing the bill anyway, despite its odiousness, despite the fact that Lieberman and the conservadems get what they want while the progressives get the shaft. His argument is not original in that you have heard it before. Basically it goes like this: if health care doesn't pass now, it's not going to pass anytime soon: pass this bill or give up getting healthcare reform for a long, long time. And all the damage that would do: millions remaining uninsured, ridiculously high rates, more deaths, more healthcare bankruptcies. Actually, it's a reasonable position, but really it's like drinking vinegar laced with habanero. Truth be told, I think he's right. I think healthcare reform of any description is dead for who knows how long if we don't get some semblance of it passed now. But I can't tell you how much I hate being played like the White House has played me on this issue. I cannot help but believe that the Administration played footsie with the damn Democrats who have scuttled real reform. If they had broken a few heads and played rough, we might not be in this situation.
  2. Matt Taibbi has got a reminder of the "ordinary" stuff that's going on in Congress while all the dust is being raised over the healthcare bill. That would be the end-of-the-year passage of the defense appropriations bill. Groaning with the bipartisan pork, it's "the worst and most morally reprehensible" thing that Congress does. 
This is because Congressmen shift money--over $6 billion--from spending categories directly connected with troops to whatever boondoggle expense the congressperson wants: " Congress sticks in a few extra airplanes or ships as a handout to this or that member, usually in exchange for his vote somewhere else on some other issue. To pay for those earmarks, the favored targets for cutting are usually two parts of the defense bill: Personnel (i.e. military pay) and Operations and Maintenance (which includes such things as body armor, equipment, food, training, and fuel).
         Nice, huh? And of course this goes on year in, year out, and it doesn't make any difference the        party or persuasion. I'm continually amazed at the vise-grip the defense department has on us. I'm not talking about this issue here. This is garden variety hypocrisy. I'm talking about all the moaning and weeping that goes on about "where's the money going to come from" for programs that actually help people, like healthcare, for example, when the military continues to drain our life's blood. There are hundreds of billions we could put to those uses if we stopped shoveling a king's ransom to the Pentagon every year. That is never even considered even in day dreams.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Healthcare Reform Making Us Sick

By us I mean us progressives, us liberals, us whatever you want to call us. I mean people like Howard Dean, the former chairman of the National Democratic Party. What he contends is that what's left of healthcare reform after the White House bartered away the essentials that will prevent us from being raped by the insurance industry is not worth voting for. Here's part of what he had to say on MSNBC's "Countdown":

You can't vote for a bill like this in good conscience. It costs too much money. It isn't health care reform. It's not even insurance reform. Take, for example, this—there's a lot of talk about people who have pre-existing conditions can get health insurance. Well, not exactly. The fine print in the Senate says about health care industry—the health care industry gets to charge you three times as much if you're older than if you're younger. And they get to write the rules. That's in the Senate bill.
This bill is no longer reform...If it were me—I don't think this will happen, if it were me, I'd kill the bill all entirely and have the House start reconciliation, which is what they should have done in the first place. To be held up by four senators—a minority of 40 who are totally uncooperative, which are the Republicans and then four senators beholden to insurance industry I think is wrong. But that's what's happened.
Sounds like perfectly good sense to me. The White House is, as you would expect, telling us that it's too late to do anything about it now. "No rational person" would think about killing the bill now, they say. Well, I've got news. There are a lot of people who consider themselves rational who hate the hell out of what's happened to healthcare reform, and who don't want any part of it. But what has public opinion to do with this whole process anyway? This whole struggle is between various lackeys of corporations.  How can ordinary people win in this situation? Mark me well: Obama is going to get a bill. It's going to be a POS, but the liberals in the Senate will fold.

One of the most sickening aspects of this whole deal (no pun intended) is having to endure the likes of Joe Lieberman, that despicable little troll, who after drawing and quartering the bill—and the Democratic caucus, not to mention majority leader Harry Reid—is now preening before the TV cameras and calling the bleeding remnant of a once-plausible reform bill "progressive." The chutzpah of this guy! And in the next breath he's saying he won't foreclose the possibility of running as a Republican next time. Somebody needs to take this guy by the lapels of his smug suit and shake him till his dental plates fall out of his head. And then slap his jowls several times—very hard. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Guttersnipe Tune

It appears that that little troll from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, is making the Democratic Senate caucus dance to his tune--again. Why does Harry Reid allow this odious guttersnipe to retain his committee chairmanship? The Democratic party should wash its hands of this fraud of a senator and kick his ass out of the caucus. What a system we've got when one--ONE disgusting little pawn of the health care insurance industry can pretty much single-handedly dictate terms that an entire majority of the Senate must accept. Such a system really sucks.

The health care reform bill is being burned to the ground just so Obama can say he passed something. Some observers are making a good case for doing nothing at all about health care  if all we get is what Lieberman and the other so-called moderate Democrats can stand. I don't see that happening. The Democrats and the White House are desperate to get any bill they can call health care reform passed. And they're willing to mangle the legislation into a monster if that's what it takes.

My sentiments aren't too far from this comment to the post:

If the Democratic Party wants to govern like the GOP, which is clearly what Rahm and Leadership want, they can do it without my support.  I'd just as soon get fucked by the enemies I know than by those I support.
And a sampling of more progressive sentiment in the wake of the systematic dismemberment of what was hardly a radical bill to begin with pretty much agrees. People are furious.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Well, Has He . . . ?

Here are a set of questions Glenn Greenwald addressed to defenders of Obama who are highly upset that disgruntled people on the left (people like me) dare to criticize their hero.

 Has he appointed financial officials who have largely served the agenda of the Wall Street and industry interests that funded his campaign?  Has he embraced many of the Bush/Cheney executive power and secrecy abuses which Democrats once railed against -- from state secrets to indefinite detention to renditions and military commissions?  Has he actively sought to protect from accountability and disclosure a whole slew of Bush crimes?  Did he secretly a negotiate a deal with the pharmaceutical industry after promising repeatedly that all negotiations over health care would take place out in the open, even on C-SPAN?  Are the criticisms of his escalation of the war in Afghanistan valid, and are his arguments in its favor redolent of the ones George Bush made to "surge" in Iraq or Lyndon Johnson made to escalate in Vietnam?   Is Bob Herbert right when he condemned Obama's detention policies as un-American and tyrannical, and warned:  "Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House"?
 Greenwald makes the point that the only question that really matters is: are these criticisms of Obama valid? (Not whether he's a good guy with high intelligence and good intentions.)

Sadly, they are. The answer to every one of the questions posed above is "yes."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Good Word -- Bad News

anomie or anomy

noun: Social instability and alienation caused by the erosion of norms and values.

From French anomie, from Greek anomia (lawlessness), from anomos (lawless), from a- (without) + nomos (law). Ultimately from the Indo-European root nem- (to assign or take) that's also the source for words such as number, numb, nomad, metronome, astronomy, and nemesis.


My Word a Day email had this wonderful word for today. I have to confess that though I had seen the word before, I really couldn't recall what it meant. Anomie (that's the way I remember seeing it spelled). Upon reflection, it's a great word to explain my state of mind. I'm not socially unstable, but I am alienated by the erosion of norms and values. Everywhere I look some norm or some value is under assault, ignored, or dismissed. Just off the top of my head: garden variety honesty in people, civility, good manners, basic literacy, freedom from everyday fear. All sadly eroded from the days of my earlier experience. And much missed.

Moreover, it seems a perfect word to describe the overall state of the Left when it contemplates what President Obama is doing and has done in his nearly a year in office. In an interview tonight on "60 Minutes" he sounded more unapproachable than ever in defending his disastrous decision to expand the war in Afghanistan. He's cloaking himself more and more in the "commander-in-chief" regalia, as he did when reminded that many in his party disagree with him about this decision. I wonder what happens to these guys that become president. Does the Pentagon feed them some sort of magic mushroom whereby they take leave of common sense and become lackeys to the generals and admirals and defense contractors upon taking office? If there's anything as plain as day to me and apparently a majority of the American people, it's that this Afghanistan debacle, now in its ninth year, will end badly after a horrendous cost in blood and treasure. Why is it impossible for Obama to see this? How has he been endowed with superior wisdom in this matter?

I told my wife while we watched that presidents have been given far too much power in the whole arena of war-making (peace-making is a far less frequent activity for them, and only for other countries, not the US). This country has not been in a declared war since 1941-45. The wars fought since then have been waged virtually without ceasing under no auspices other than this president or that one thought they were necessary.

Washington, Jefferson, Franklin: they're spinning in their graves.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Peace Prize (cont'd)

Here's Glenn Greenwald from an excellent piece on Obama's peace prize:

 One of the most recurring features of the Bush-follower mindset was the claim that the President's supreme duty -- one which the Constitution requires him to swear to -- is to "protect the country," a rhetorical sleight-of-hand suggesting that the Constitution somehow venerates national security above other values.  As 23skiddo points out, Obama featured this exact claim in an even more misleading form yesterday when -- in explaining why King and Gandhi were too restrictive for him -- he described himself "as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation."
But as this Constitutional scholar surely knows, that is not what he swore to protect and defend when he took his oath of office.  Article II of the Constitution actually requires that he swear or affirm that he "will to the best of [his] Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.''  That's a critical difference, now almost always overlooked/ignored/distorted, as it was yesterday.

You should really read this whole piece. Greenwald discusses why people from both ends of the political spectrum have embraced the war justification words Obama spoke in Oslo. Basically it's this: the neo-cons and the right like it because it justifies everything their hero Bush did; the left likes it because it's rhetorically pleasing.

Friday, December 11, 2009


A couple of Obama items:

1. Does anybody remember the campaign promise Obama made about allowing us to buy prescription drugs from other countries? Well, guess what? The FDA is opposing an amendment to the so-called health reform bill that would ease the restrictions on the importation of drugs from other countries like Canada on the grounds that it would be difficult to implement and endanger the US medicine supply. One commentator, making the obvious point that the FDA is Obama's FDA, calls this massive sucking up to big pharma a "betrayal." It's hard to argue with this assessment. That's all we've gotten from this president.

2. Quotes from the Obama acceptance speech in Oslo . . . the Nobel Peace Prize, remember?

==>>"To say that force may sometimes by necessary is not a call to cynicism--it a recognition of history." Hell, as president this guy can make history by for once in the history of this country choosing to pursue a path of peace rather than war. He's done nothing of the sort. His choice is for expanded war. What a travesty this guy has turned out to be!

==>>"The instruments of war do have role to play in preserving the peace." This is the craziest excuse for logic that's ever been devised. Moreover, the experience of humankind for millennia proves nothing if not that war begets war. Peace is the absence of war, by definition. It cannot be preserved by war.

===>>"We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations--acting individually or in concert--will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified." I can think of a few former Nobel Peace Prize winners who are turning in their graves. Rightfully so.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What We Read

There's no better window to the soul than knowing what people read. Well, wait a second, that's a bit too strong. The soul is more amorphous and mysterious than a person's reading list. And a such a list would not sum up the whole person, would it? OK, let me rephrase. What a person reads provides strong clues to what a person is vitally interested in, what he spends time thinking about, what she likes and considers important. I always ask my friends that read what they are reading. Indeed, almost all my friends are avid readers; it's just the kind of people I hang around with. It still flabbergasts me that the vast majority of Americans don't even read one book in a year!  You can sport readers a mile off when they come into a place with bookshelves (most of the time a home, but sometimes other places like offices): they scan titles. They wonder, as do I in such situations, what does this person read? Do we have common interests? Is there anything here that sounds interesting to me?

I got to thinking about this subject when I came across this NY Times piece on Lewis Lapham and Lapham's Quarterly. I've been a subscriber since this publication began its second year. I have to confess that I've not read every page of the four issues I've received, but I've read a lot. And I've renewed. Not reading every word of every page is nothing new. I remember somewhat in disbelief that there was a time when I was young were I did read every word of every magazine I got. But I got fewer and definitely less meaty ones then, and that was a long time ago. Anyway, I don't get that many magazines, but it's still too many: Harper's, Atlantic, Newsweek (which I just scan), Chess Life, and the aforementioned journal. I have a bud that passes along his old New Yorker magazines. I gave up my subscription earlier this year. All those unread magazines (once a week!) made me feel way too guilty. I still have stacks of them sitting around in the doubtless vain hope that one day I'll get around to reading them. I'm not even counting the extraneous stuff that comes in and that I'll spend time scanning or actually reading.

And then there are the books. I've got a ton of books around here that I really want to read, a lot of them in the category of I'll read that when I retire. Well . . . what am I waiting for? That story is going to have to wait till later.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Public Option is Poof

Well, what a surprise. The Senate Democrats have officially ditched the so-called "public option" on the health care legislation they have been wrangling over for the past months.  Are you really surprised? Didn't you just know that in the end the accursed health insurance giants and their lackeys in Congress were going to see to it that nothing got in the way of their profits? Now, you heard it here first . . . the bill that will eventually pass the Congress will NOT lower your health insurance premium. It will further enrich the already bloated insurance companies. The administration has already bargained away any leverage on the purchase of drugs, so what's emerging from this "reform" is millions of new customers for the insurers, and all the teeth that we the citizens had in the proposed legislation have been systematically broken off.

Here's language from the Washington Post story:
[T]he government plan preferred by liberals [public option] would be replaced with a program that would create several national insurance policies administered by private companies but negotiated by the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees health policies for federal workers. If private firms were unable to deliver acceptable national policies, a government plan would be created. 

In addition, people as young as 55 would be permitted to buy into Medicare, the popular federal health program for retirees. And private insurance companies would face stringent new regulations, including a requirement that they spend at least 90 cents of every dollar they collect in premiums on medical services for their customers.
This "solution" is full of holes. The key phrase above is "administered by private companies." This, of course, means allowing insurers to make a profit, which is a whole 'nother train of thought from forcing the bastards to control costs by creating a government-run option that people could choose. And just what does "unable to to deliver acceptable national policies" mean? Medicare extension is a good thing, of course. It is a single-pay system that has leverage on prices, but I want to know how the "stringent new regulations" are going to be monitored and enforced.

Bottom line: we still are going to be controlled by the insurance companies. My contention from the beginning was and still is that health care should not be a for-profit frigging business. Health care is a human right. Making money off people's illness and suffering is immoral. But I'm a voice crying in the wilderness on this.

Update 1: One reader's comment this Truthdig piece on this matter pretty much sums it up for me: "Then they might as well just kill the whole deal. Without a public option American’s will remain the victims of health care corporate America. Instead how about a subsidy on Airline Tickets for those that want to go to India, China and Mexico for health care. It would be cheaper. Betrayl [sic] doesn’t even begin to cover it."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let There Be Music!

Here's a great band I just discovered, Los Lonely Boys, siblings from San Angelo, Texas. Well, I didn't discover them just this minute, but a few days ago when my Louisiana bud's latest batch of swap CDs arrived. The periodic swaps we do have been an education for me. Enjoy!

There's no end to the wonderful music out there. One of the blessings of my life is the wide taste I have for music. I spent a couple of hours tonight watching Barenboim on Beethoven on PBS. The maestro played five of the piano sonatas, including a just astonishing performance of "Appassionata" ("Sonata No. 23 F minor," Op. 57). You can listen to his performance of Sonata No. 20 right here. I'd put the video up, but it's dinky. There's nothing wrong with the sound though. You should definitely try and catch this program on its next go 'round.

I don't know what I'd do without music . . . or books. Both take me away, which is sometimes not a bad prescription at all.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

We Can All Stop Worrying

Here's the best news I've had to report here in a long while. Despite the murderous war in Afghanistan, which your president has just decided to extend by an indefinite amount of time--if he thinks we're going to begin drawing down in the 18 months has plan calls for, he is crazier than I think he is--despite the crushing economic crisis the country is suffering with no end in sight, despite the madness that prevails in the land (Palin, tea-baggers, mass murders), despite the fact we've been royally hosed by the Wall Street bankers who are not going to be punished and who indeed are prospering as never before at our expense . . . despite all this, we can all relax. Because Jesus is on the job and his special envoy, Mary Jo Coady of Methuen, Massachusetts, has assured us that he is "listening." Yes, she has seen the Savior, and not where you would expect: like sitting in your recliner when you walk in from work, or next to you on the front seat of the car not wearing a seat belt, or behind you on the elevator and also getting out on the 12th floor, or even waiting on you at the Christmas lines in Walgreens--no, you know that foxy Jesus isn't going to do anything that predictable. No, he is decided in his infinite wisdom that the best way to get his Good News to us in these dark days is to appear to Mary Jo on the bottom of her steam iron.* Of course, at first blush this seems like a totally nonsensical plan, but if you think about it long enough, and perhaps pray over it some, you of course will come to the conclusion that this is really only one of a very few ways Jesus would reveal himself to us.

*Mary Jo plans to get a new iron and keep the Jesus iron in her closet. This is absolute proof of the authenticity of this miraculous event: an American with a marketable curiosity decides not to exploit it to make money.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Baby

Well, as I was about to say yesterday . . . my first collection of poetry, self-published and called  Buried Above Ground, arrived at the house yesterday in 30, I must say, glorious copies. I'll never forget when that heavy box of ten author's copies of  Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia arrived 21 years ago, after I had labored probably about 10 years writing and researching. It was a feeling of what must be somewhat like giving birth and seeing the infant for the first time. Only this was a box of full-grown books. It was a feeling of satisfaction and pride that's hard to describe. I think I've pined for that feeling ever since.

So I got a twinge of that feeling again yesterday, and I confess I just sat with the slim, little volume in my hands and stared at it. It's glossy cover, the heft of it in my hand, the way it looks on a shelf, the way it smells. My baby. That's what it is. This collection of 76 poems. There's more of me spilled here in this little book than any ten history books I could write. And, honestly, there may not be any more history books, but I know for a fact there will be more poems, and who knows, maybe another collection.* I was struck when I was picking out poems for the book just how many of them seemed steeped in my New Orleans and south Louisiana childhood. I have no idea how or where these words, these ideas, come from. I sit at the screen and I type. I revise and rewrite and rearrange. And then I say it's done. Sometimes the words gush out like Spindletop, other times it's like chiseling marble. I've been telling myself that I'd be more authentic and maybe the damn poems would come easier if I wrote with one of my fountain pens on yellow legal pad--that's the way I did all my writing before computers. Enough. Here's one of the poems.

Things I’d Never Do

Now that kids are grown up
and gone
along with whatever brawn
allowed my extracting
the cork
from the Chianti
without my face purpling
to the same color,
the list of things I’d never do
seems to get longer,
pretty much in concert
with my expanding years
and corresponding shrinkage
in virtually
every meaningful category
of physicality
save the number
of required nocturnal urinations.

Just a few things
I’d never do:
take up mountain climbing ,
become an accountant
(which would suck
life’s blood from me
like a gigantic tick
even if I were twenty-six),

give up red beans and rice,
root for the Yankees,
wear anything lime green.

No, it’s come time
to mimic
my wandering dog, sniffing away
at whatever interests her
in the grass,
and rolling in whatever seems
especially savory.

*Oh, I'm always working on something history. Articles, sure, and a friend and I are working on a joint project, a biography of David Farragut, but that's a way off yet. But I know for a fact there will be more poems; there already are.

Update 1: In a couple of weeks or so, there will be a web site where you can find out more about the book and order a copy if you want. I'll put it up when I have it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

We Love War

 I came across this wonderful assessment of the American character a few minutes ago when I was working on the other piece. I could not have said this better myself. A great big "AMEN" from me. The writer is Robert Higgs, a prolific scholar. Unfortunately, the link to the original piece is broken, but he's quoted in this piece, and you can find whole bunch of his writings at the previously referenced site.
Presidents decide to go to war in the context of a favorably disposed mass culture. Painful as it is for members of the Peace Party to admit, many Americans take pleasure in "kicking ass," and they do not much care whose ass is being kicked or why. So long as Americans are dishing out death and destruction to a plausible foreign enemy, the red-white-and-blue jingos are happy. If you think I’m engaging in hyperbole, you need to get out more. Visit a barbershop, stand in line at the post office, or have a drink at your neighborhood tavern and listen to the conversations going on around you. The sheer bellicosity of many ordinary people's views is as undeniable as it is shocking. Something in their diet seems to be causing a remarkable volume of murderous, barely suppressed rage.

No one should be surprised by the cultural proclivity for violence, of course, because Americans have always been a violent people in a violent land. Once the Europeans had committed themselves to reside on this continent, they undertook to slaughter the Indians and steal their land, and to bullwhip African slaves into submission and live off their labor—endeavors they pursued with considerable success over the next two and a half centuries. Absent other convenient victims, they have battered and killed one another on the slightest pretext, or for the simple pleasure of doing so, with guns, knives, and bare hands. If you take them to be a “peace-loving people,” you haven’t been paying attention. Such violent people are easily led to war.

Public ignorance compounds the inclinations fostered by the mass culture. Study after study and poll after poll have confirmed that most Americans know next to nothing about public affairs. Of course, the intricacies of foreign policy are as alien to them as the dark side of the moon, but their ignorance runs much deeper. They can’t explain the simplest elements of the political system; they don’t know what the Constitution says or means; and they can’t identify their political representatives or what those persons ostensibly stand for. They know scarcely anything about history, and what they think they know is usually incorrect. People so densely ignorant that they have no inkling of how their forebears were bamboozled and sacrificed on the altar of Mars the last time around are easily bamboozled and readily sacrificed the next time around.

The Best of Intentions

Well, my intention for today was to blast the hell out of Obama's speech at West Point committing this country to endless war in Afghanistan, a policy I am so utterly opposed to that to my mind he has sunk as low as the vile little fraud that previously occupied the White House. I swear it must be something in that tea they give presidents to drink over at the Pentagon. Have you noticed that Obama cannot pardon the Thanksgiving turkey these days without some fawning reference to the military--their bravery, dedication, courage, sacrifice, yadda yadda? OK, maybe even all of the above, but do we have to continually be extolling their virtue? Come on. If we told the truth about it, the rank and file in the military are in the military not because they are virtuous, although that might be an incidental quality for some, but because they needed a frigging job and this was the best they could get.

But we don't tell the truth about it, do we? Our common mode now is to adore the military and cover them with posies at every opportunity. The military is never criticized. This is what we have come to. We have collectively decided to go along with further debasement of the word "hero"* and apply it to anybody in cami's without distinction. (All of the people shot by that nut case at Fort Hood a couple of weeks ago, for example, are "heroes." Nooooo, they are victims. I don't know if there were any heroes in that incident, although I'm willing to be educated.) All this just bespeaks a society in thrall to everything military, a militarized society, in other words.**

Just why was this presidential address--which commits this country to further death and maiming of who knows how many more American troops, to further hemorrhage of billions of dollars we do not have, to further killing and maiming of God knows how many Afghani people, to strengthening the hand of that godfather of fraud and corruption Karzai, to further enrichment of the blood-sucking military contractors who are feeding on these mid-East wars like vultures, to indefinite postponement of vital initiatives here in the U.S.--just why was this address given at West Point? I think I heard that Bush gave the speech there that committed us to go to Iraq, which makes this choice of venue even more censurable. But even if that's not right , this is just cheap theater, that's all. All those earnest, fresh-faced, gray-clad cadets--nobody is going to yell "you lie!" in this venue, although it would have been appropriate at several points--all those innocents, those earnest lovers of the U.S. of A.! So much more attractive and photogenic than sitting in the Oval Office.

There are a host of bloggers just like me who are outraged at this betrayal by Obama. Read Chris Floyd's scathing assessment, Arthur Sibler's aptly titled "A Deadly Liar and Manipulator,"

If you think we're leaving this part of the world any time soon, or perhaps even in your lifetime, you'll believe anything. But that's all right: lots of Americans do precisely that. 
But all of this is standard issue for rulers of Empire; the rhetoric and presentation may be of better quality than offered by Bush or that would have issued from McCain, but the points are essentially identical.
See also here, here, and here.

Whoops. It appears that I'm not going to get around to my original intent, which was to tell you that my collection of poems has indeed been published and is now a book. I'll tell you about that tomorrow. I had the best of intentions, but, damn, I cannot get past this latest atrocity from a guy I once had such hope in.  What a fool I was to believe that it was really going to be different this time.

*hero -1. any person, esp. a man, admired for courage, nobility, or exploits, esp. in war; 2. any person, esp. a man, admired for qualities or achievements and regarded as an ideal or model. (www.

**Helpful in understanding this is Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (2005)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Be Prepared

Are you ready for this? The Goldman fat cats are stocking up on handguns so as to be better prepared when the proletariat rises in revolt. I almost wrote righteous revolt. Which would certainly be true. So the criminals of Wall Street are arming themselves against the coming revenge. Has their monstrous greed and disdain for the Great Unwashed finally begun to extract a cost? Of course not. These people still obscenely rich and getting richer. And they are just as ready to shoot somebody as they are to steal his money.