Sunday, January 31, 2010


Here's a snippet from Frank Rich's column in the New York Times today.

"The historian Alan Brinkley has observed that we will soon enter the fourth decade in which Congress — and therefore government as a whole — has failed to deal with any major national problem, from infrastructure to education. The gridlock isn’t only a function of polarized politics and special interests. There’s also been a gaping leadership deficit."

Think about it. The country is entering the fourth decade. Since 1980 when the affable nimwit Reagan took office, the United States Congress has done nothing about anything important: hell, medicare funding and social security shortfalls in the near future are not secrets. And they weren't secrets 30-40 years ago. The leadership of the U.S. simply ignored any problem that was fixable easier then and for far less money than today, when all these buzzards are coming home to roost on our scalps. Our national leadership was basically comatose when it came to tackling substantive major problems. We chose to eat out our substance with war and the frivolities of Wall Street.  It's not as if smart people were not saying years and years ago that certain things were going to be serious problems that would only get worse by not doing something about it then, whenever "then" was then. The list of major problems the Congress simply ignored is staggering in its implications for us right now, today. All of these problems should have been attacked decades ago. Now while the country crumbles around us, those of us paying attention are seeing the folly of our ways. I'm not even going to look stuff up. All this off the top of my head:

  1. Energy: No national effort to produce green energy; no national energy policy.
  2. Pollution: worse than ever, especially in water bodies, er, like the oceans.
  3. Infrastructure: you name it: bridges, roads, sewers, water mains, etc. Don't forget publich schools.  A lot of this infrastructure is rotten or rotting away. 
  4. National mass transit rail system: Duh! We used to have one of these and tore it up.
  5. Affordable healthcare for everybody.
  6. Influence of big money in elections.
  7. New state-of-the-art air traffic control radar system
  8. Substantive tax reform 
  9. [Add your own: I can't think of any more, but I'm sure there are.]

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who Dat Say De Gonna Beat Dem Saints?

Okay. Okay, I'm gonna 'fess up. I'm as nuts about the idea of the New Orleans Saints being in the Super Bowl as if I still lived there in the city where I was formed. The entire state of Louisiana, but especially south Louisiana--which if you know anything about the place should be another state all by itself--is going nuts. And I am, and so is the whole family, which is scattered from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to Norman, Oklahoma, to Denver to Salt Lake City.  We're all bonkers about the New Orleans Saints and their trip to the Super Bowl. The game is one week away. Just like the entire Louisiana diaspora, and especially the New Orleans contingent, I wish I were back home now for the excitement, the whole atmosphere. For those who don't understand, well, here's why the entire state of Louisiana is on its ear. The Saints have been in the National Football League since 1967. That's 43 seasons. And of those seasons, the New Orleans Saints won more games they lost in exactly 8, counting this year's amazing season. It's hardly a distinguished history, to say the least. The Saints have been for years a study in futility. It wasn't until the turn of the century that the franchise began showing some signs of life. And this year . . . well, the Saints have finally won a conference championship and chance to win it all in the Super Bowl.

But there's more. As anyone from down there will tell you, the Saints are more than just a professional football team to the city of New Orleans. Their identity has been merged with the suffering metropolis that underwent the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. Driven out of their home--the Superdome was severely damaged in the storm--the Saints did not play a single game of the 2005 season at home. Their homecoming in 2006 was a hugely emotional event for the city. And anybody who understands will tell you that the Saints are more than just a football team to the people of New Orleans. It's a complicated and passionate attachment we're talking about. It's a love affair between a city and a football team. What can I say?

There are nay-sayers, of course, who are talking about the relative insignificance of a professional football team in the large scheme of things. Even my own daughter is trying to talk some sense into me about this event. But it won't do any good. I'm crazy 'bout dem Saints and I'm not even going to think about the possibility of their winning the Super Bowl. I don't know how I could stand that kind of ecstasy. The Rangers winning the World Series would be only thing remotely comparable.

Who dat!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union -- State of the Computer

Although I've been rough on the president these past few months and been really angry at him for Afghanistan in particular, I have to say that the man knows how to give a speech. Would that oratory could move masses or even just Republicans! Mr. Obama gave his first state of the union address tonight, and it was a good speech. As always, the speech was a model of If a president were evaluated on how well he spoke in public, this president would surely rate high. But the key visual for me was the sight of all the Republicans sitting in stony silence and on their hands at about 95 percent of the applause lines. Obama certainly advanced some persuasive reasons that the paralyzing gridlock in Washington ought to be ended, and the sooner the better. Sorry . . . I don't see that happening. I think we're fated to go down the tubes quicker than we would if we had a government of bipartisanship in full cry. The Republicans are willing to pull the temple down over their heads and kill everybody rather than be cooperative. And surely the problems we're facing are only getting worse the longer the damn politicians are more interested in preserving their political skins than in recognizing just what terrible shape we're in.

Best part of the speech to me was Obama excoriating the terrible, just horrendous, decision of the Supreme Court to allow unbridled spending by corporations . . . well, maybe "excoriate" is not the most accurate verb, but whatever it was, it was right in the face of the five justices that made this horrible decision.

Later . . . much later. 

It has taken me hours to get back to this note. Why? Because of all the hassle, bother, and frustration involved with restoring a computer drive. I've been sitting here in front of this computer for untold hours trying to get everything back to as close to it was before, which was optimal.

This is not my first experience with this delightful job. But it is driving me plumb loco this time. Murphy stalks me pretty much whenever I've got to do something like this. I've had everything from install discs that won't work; software serial numbers that won't work; restoration of over 33,000 files from backup service getting stuck--the restore has been going now for almost two days and it's still got over 15,400 more to go, and I never had this kind of problem when I had to do a restore onto a new computer--a wireless printer I cannot get to work wireless (I had to plug it into the computer); at least two hours on the phone with the "restore" people.

My frustration level is high. I'm going to watch the news and drink some wine.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's All Just Too Much

Tonight on the PBS Newshour, the lead story was about the president's intention to impose a three-year freeze on spending for 17 percent of the federal budget. Well, OK . . . but how much of that is coming out of the Pentagon? Guess. Not one frigging red cent!! Defense spending is not part of this drill. Nor social security or medicare. Am I the only one in this country who thinks that everybody up there in Washington is insane? I'll tell you what: this makes me crazy. Everybody but defense contractors and the most bloated department of government are going to feel the pain, and it will be painful. Mark my words, the federal work force is going to suffer, too. On two fronts: not enough resources to do their jobs, plus no or low raises are on the horizon, too.

And what makes me even crazier is the sight of these effing Republicans spouting bullshit every time they open their mouths. Put them in front of a camera, and stand out of the way, because nothing but bullshit is coming out of their mouths.  Exhibit A: GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell's pronouncement today that Obama's proposal for spending freeze is "too small." Here is a guy who had a 100 percent perfect voting record supporting every budget-busting billion the vile little fraud in the White House from 2000-2008 wanted. McConnell and all his holier-than-thou compadres continue to excoriate Obama for the unspeakable mess they created. And yet, who in this country remembers that? Who is standing up and calling these guys out for being bald-faced liars? Nobody. Not a soul.

And worse, the country now believes that Obama is the right guy to blame. These two-faced villains are winning elections in bluest Massachusetts! I tell you it makes me crazier than hell. I should probably stop watching the news. This country is going down the tubes whether I watch or not, and maybe I should pay more attention to my blood pressure.

The computer upgrade to Windows 7 went smoothly. I'm going to be engaged for a while in uploading a bunch of programs, and of course the computer will not be its old familiar self for a while yet.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hey, Faithful Followers and Readers

I've been quiet of late because my two sons were visiting from Florida. Doesn't mean I have not thought of you. Later this evening I'm uploading the Windows 7 operating system to my computer, so I'm offline for the duration. My sister tells me this is a fairly painless procedure, but I've never had to wipe a hard drive clean before and I'm scared to death. With luck I'll be back up and running in a few hours. I'm probably going to take timeout for news and some TV, so I'll be at this late into the night. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Whole New Ballgame

My boys are here until Sunday, and my time for blogging is limited, but I don't want to let languish, so I'm just checking in long enough to say that the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday that basically gutted the provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign financing law passed into law during George W. Bush's first term and signed into law by him is a terrible decision. There is not a thing in the world now to restrain corporations from spending as much money as they want trying to influence the outcome of elections at every level of government.

Can you say: "Holy shit! Does this mean what I think it means?" The answer is, it means that and more. It means that corporations now have not even flimsy restraints on how much money they can spend to buy the election of their candidates for office up and down the chain--municipal, county, state, national--with absolute impunity. And if you don't think that's a whole new ballgame, well, you just haven't been paying attention. They already own the political process. Now they don't even have to pretend democracy anymore.

Quite simply, this is one of the worst decisions ever issued by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Foretaste, I Fear . . .

So by now, anybody who pays the slightest attention to politics knows that the Democratic candidate in the Massachusetts special election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat in the Senate got beat by the Republican. And it was not even close. There are a whole bunch of people coming up with a whole bunch of reasons why this happened: the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, was an awful campaigner. (I like this one. From what I read she was beyond awful.); the Dems took the seat for granted; people are pissed at Obama--this one is very convincing for me; liberals whined too much about healthcare compromises (a variation on "the people are pissed at Obama," which makes liberals an extension of the left-leaning direction we're supposedly headed in); Dems  didn't work hard enough (a variation on the Dems took the seat for granted)--there may be some truth in this; and finally, it was out of Democratic control, i.e., "A.k.a. it's Bush's fault. It wasn't about Obama, and it wasn't about health care. It was about the lingering effects of the economic crisis—which, left-leaning commentators hasten to point out, originated during the Bush administration—that have made the climate terrible for incumbents. Coakley, though not an incumbent, got caught up in that wave."

Frankly, I don't care why this happened. Explanations are not going to undo it, and explanations are not going to cause the millions of idiots out there the spontaneously generate millions of brains in their empty heads. What this election means, brothers and sisters, is that Obama has pretty much done himself in. Oh, he had a lot of help from the intransigent Republicans, but Barrack did not turn out to be an agent of change. He wasn't and isn't hope we can believe in. What he is a Chicago ward pol with a golden tongue. He talks a good game, but when it comes right down to it, he's just more of the same in Washington. And he's given the country just more of the same profitless bickering in Congress, the same sellout to big money, the same failure. This is why Blue State Massachusetts went red. People are red in the face because they are angry. Obama has done nothing to assuage that anger. Indeed, he's part of the source of it.

There is going to be a blood bath in the fall elections for Democrats. And count on this: we're looking at three years of do-nothing deadlock in the Congress. The GOP has enough votes to stymie everything, and you better believe they will. And it will yield a Republican victory in 2012. I think they could run a professed Nazi and convicted child molester and still trounce the Democrats, who have managed to shoot themselves in both feet with an Uzi. 

I'm sick to death of the whole disgusting charade. Why not just do away with the Congress and let the bloody bloated fat cats govern the rest of us directly?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Demented Logic

Friday evening I did my usual thing: I watched Bill Moyer's Journal on PBS. His first guest was journalist and historian Thomas Frank. Although I have not read any of his four books, I know about all of them. All of them concern the cultural inversions of our times: advertising, mid-American conservatism, and the lastest The Wrecking Crew, about the eight years of conservative rule supposedly eclipsed by the the election of Obama. The interview was disturbing. The cardinal point that sticks with me is that he thinks it is quite possible the Republicans will soon again be in control of the government. I cannot think of a more disastrous future.

And why? Well, to keep it simple, the "demented logic" of our politics, which now saddles Obama with the responsibility for all of the current problems and disasters besetting the nation: the tanked economy and everything else. Bush is not responsible, much less that turkey-necked bozo Reagan, who installed and enshrined the market think--or should that be market worship? Frank explains that this is just the way our politics work. "It's the disease of time . . . instant forgetting."

Here's a little taste of the interview. It's worth your reading or watching . . .
THOMAS FRANK: . . .  the market is the, you know, is the universal principle of human civilization. And that government is a kind of interloper, if not a, you know, criminal gang. And getting in the way.
BILL MOYERS: But we saw with this collapse and this bailout, we saw the failure of that.

THOMAS FRANK: Of course.

BILL MOYERS: And yet there's no sense of contrition. What's amazing to me, and you wrote this, that the very people who brought us this decade of conservative failures, the party of Palin, Beck, Hannity, Abramoff, Rove, DeLay, Kristol, O'Reilly, just might stage a comeback.

THOMAS FRANK: I think they might. I think there's a very strong chance of that.

BILL MOYERS: After only 11 months out of power, because of the record. I mean--

THOMAS FRANK: Look, well, the stuff--

BILL MOYERS: --it's crazy.

THOMAS FRANK: --the stuff we've been talking about here today. The stuff in "The Wrecking Crew," that's all forgotten. The financial crisis had that effect of-- that stuff is now off the-- down the memory hole
 Now, isn't that just the best news you've heard today?

Friday, January 15, 2010


Does anything more have to be said? What a horrendous catastrophe! And the suffering in the aftermath of the massive earthquake is unspeakable. Why do the worst possible things always happen to people who are already beat down? Some commentator today pointed out that this was a prime example of how disasters in poor countries are always far, far worse than they are in developed countries. Example: in the substantial San Francisco earthquake of 1989, 63 people were killed. In Haiti, they haven't got a clue what the final tally will be, but 45,000 to 50,000 is what's most commonly reported. May God have mercy on them all.

Here's a quick way to get some assistance to Haiti, if you've got a cell phone:

Haiti Text-To-Give Numbers, via Gigaom and Mobile Giving Insider

•Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross
•Text HAITI to 25383 to donate $5 to International Rescue Committee
•Text HAITI to 45678 to donate $5 to the Salvation Army in Canada
•Text HAITI to 20222 to donate $10 through the Clinton Foundation
•Text HAITI to 864833 to donate $5 to The United Way
•Text CERF to 90999 to donate $5 to The United Nations Foundation
•Text DISASTER to 90999 to donate $10 to Compassion International
•Text RELIEF to 30644 (this will connect you with Catholic Relief Services and instruct you to donate money with your credit card)

Other ways to donate here. And there are a number of other links listed at Trench Warfare.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

This is Insanity

I will save you getting out your calculator. The numbers add up to $1.05 trillion and counting. And, mind you, not of penny of it was budgeted during the Bush years. It was all done by special appropriations, as if the country were Scrooge McDuck with a huge basement of cash reserves.

We have a host of crippling economic evils in this country, more plagues than Yahweh visited upon Pharoh, and we are increasing our commitment to the fruitless conflict in Afghanistan. This is so self-evidently insane to me, that I'm actually almost struck dumb trying to counter those who argue that these horrendous expenditures are necessary. And now we've got serious discussion of widening the wars we're fighting by committing US troops to Pakistan and Yemen*.

"Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad."   -- Friedrich Schiller

*It's a small commitment of troops being proposed for the moment, for "training." Do you really trust the Pentagon on something like this?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Europe beckons. My dear wife and I are planning a trip to Europe in the fall, probably October. We have been talking about this trip for a while. We lived in Germany for three years, so we've seen a lot of the continent. There are innumerable places we've been to, some several times, that I would go back to. Any place in The Netherlands, for example. Venice, Vienna, Rome, Berlin, Paris . . . we saw all the major capitals. Today we had the first sit-down meeting with the travel agent who is going to take care of us on this trip. Our goal: spend roughly 30 days over there--if you're going, go. A week in Europe, although better than nothing is barely enough time to get acclimated--and see places we've not seen before. That would be a hell of a lot of places, but our sights are set on Ireland, the south-of-Paris part of France, plus Normandy; Spain; Portugal.

I just thought you might be interested in costs these days. These are all euro countries, and as of today, a dollar buys .68 euros, or another way, $1.42 buys one euro. Who knows what it'll cost later on. (I've already told Susan that if the dollar really tanks against the euro, trip is off.) Here's the rough guesstimate of various costs we talked about today.

  • air fare, US to Europe & return  ==  $1000 each
  •  air fare, Ireland to continent  ==  $200-300 each
  • lodging (hotels, b&b)  ==  $125/day
  • 10-day train pass (for the continent)  ==  $600-800 each
  • food  ==  $100/day
  • car + gas (Ireland)  ==  $250/wk + $4.78 per gallon
Not included: other spending like shopping and miscellaneous expenses.

All of this is, shall we say . . . daunting.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Two Holy Mackerel Stories in Today's News

The first one's a Whoopee! The Obama administration in a fit of unaccustomed dedication to justice is fixing to slap a $120 billion fee on the nation's huge banks to partially reimburse we taxpayers for TARP losses. The bare outlines are clear enough: the too-big-to-fail banks whose asses were saved by hundreds of billions of taxpayer losses are expected to announce not only record profits for 2009--what bank could not profit borrowing money from the Fed at zero percent interest?--but also correspondingly huge bonuses for CEOs and executives. So with the coming announcement we poor strapped taxpayers, who have been savaged by massive unemployment, foreclosures, and a myriad of woes connected with what the too-big-to-fail banks visited upon us, will finally get some glimmer of pay-back. Not nearly enough, but the Wall Street fat cats are already screaming. And you can bet that their tools in Congress are going to do the same.

The second one's a we-shoulda-seen-this-coming. Guess who is going to become a regular commentator on Fox Faux News? Right, boys and girls, our favorite bubble-headed dingbat, the former governor of Alaska, and still the favorite of Tea Party dunces everywhere: Sarah Palin.  Listen, I think any commentary on this would just be superfluous. Is this a surprise? No. Will this boost Fox Faux News ratings? Yes. Will this confirm for the thousandth time that this woman knows next to nothing about anything? Of course. Will it help to fatten her already bulging coffers from the sale of her ghost-written bestseller book? Of course. Is there justice in the world? Hell, no.

Update I: Palin debuted on Fox , as a "news analyst" (I cannot help but pause and just savor the unspeakable irony at work here) with another right-wing immortal, Bill O'Reilly. According to reports, she was, to put it kindly, less than glib and way south of insightful, and he was his usual horse's ass self. I'll bet the Nielsen ratings went through the roof.

Update II: I just heard on NPR in an interview with Timothy Geithner, that the fee being charged the piratical scoundrels of Wall Street is now $90 billion over the next ten years. And of course this is just fine with him. It's "fair." In view of the fact that the big banks are going to pay out $50 billion in executive bonuses this year, this doesn't seem all that burdensome, does it? This is what happens when they've got you by the short and curlies, brothers and sisters.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Chewing . . .

Quoting blog-friend Montag:

To live is to create; to create is to become immortal.
To become one with God in immortality is to create with Goals defined by a lifetime of struggling to be a moral person.
Therefore, if we desire immortality, our lives are the Moral quest and struggle; everything else is secondary.

He's a profound guy--you can find him on his blog "A Father Talks to His Daughter about God,"*-- and I have to confess sometimes he's out there so far or down there so deep that he loses me. But the kind of observation above is common. Thoughtful and chewy, full of delicious complexity if you get to thinking about it.

Create what? Suppose the creative activity, whatever it is, produces nothing but dreck. Does that count? And isn't every person living? What does a Manchester wino, a 90-pound crackhead, or some other species of human flotsam create? Ah, maybe we who struggle to be moral persons inhabit a world peopled by millions of zombies, not living, not creating. Those who deny the possibility, much less the goal, of oneness with God. Much less the existence of God. Having kids . . . isn't that creation? So the scumbag who fathers 30 bastards, does the observation apply to him, or to the herds of single mothers who bought their condition with promiscuity? Goals defined by struggling for life to be a moral person. There seems to be a wide disparity of notions about just what a "moral person" is. Who defines what this is? So is a person who's confused by the disparity and discouraged thereby from struggling . . . are they creators?

I'm not being a pill, just playing with semantics here. Deep thoughts require unpacking, and in my opinion, doing this kind of unpacking in search of precision is a worthwhile endeavor. 

None of which is to say, I don't agree with him and his conclusion here.

*At one point, he was seriously entertaining the notion of changing the name of his blog to something, one presumes, that could be written horizontally on a beer can without running into itself coming around. I and several others successfully dissuaded him. And so, one of the coolest blog titles out there is still with us.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Well . . .

. . . where have you been, you might be asking yourself if you're one of my nine or ten regular readers. I have two reasons to report, one more or less unavoidable, the other avoidable, but not really. You know about it already. I just finished telling you all about the Great American Fantasy League on Thursday. Well, yesterday, Saturday, virtually all day long was taken up with this game. I didn't really have a grasp of the scope of its complexities until I spent all those hours to play a nine-inning game. True enough, it was a wild game (which the Rangers lost, of course, 11-7 in the ninth because pitching fell apart), but my instructor was thorough, and, I have to confess, sometimes  . . . well, a bit too thorough. Plus he tended to editorialize, so the lesson probably stretched out longer than it might have. Worse, I still don't think I've got a real great handle on how to play yet.

The second problem was with technology. The other day being at my most careful to transfer my wife's printer from the top of the dryer where it spent Christmas season, I dropped it to the floor. So long faithful printer. The replacement, a spiffy new wireless printer from HP, arrived last Thursday, way before I thought it would get here, and I spent 4-plus hours trying to get the damn thing configured for this computer. My frustration level was high, and of course I stewed about the problem even when I wasn't in the same room with it. It did not get to working properly till late this afternoon when my son-in-law, an expert in these matters, came over and worked very fast magic on it. I'm happy to report that everything seems to be fine now. The new printer is an HP Photosmart Plus B209. It's slick. Wireless--that's a miracle right there. Plus printer and scanner. Amazes me the kind of sophisticated stuff you can buy for $150. Hi tech stuff for computers and including computers is about all that's gotten better and cheaper over the years. Everything else has gone the other way on both counts.

Friday, January 8, 2010

That Giant Sucking Sound

Not only is she damned cute, she's also damned smart and damned outspoken. I'm talking about Elizabeth Warren, who chairs the Congressional Oversight Panel which is the watchdog on the bank bailouts. (Actually, I don't know what kind of powers this panel has, but my suspicion is that they are advisory only, otherwise we'd have heard more about this body.) She's got a piece in the Huffington Post about the disappearance of the middle class. Something that five years ago people would have scoffed at. Today, it seems almost common knowledge that the vaunted American middle class, middle brow and all, is fading away under relentless assault by the silk hat crowd, the fat cat class, you know, those people the taxpayers of the U.S. bailed out to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and whose asses we still kiss. That giant sucking sound you hear is the middle class going down the drain.

Here are some facts:

Wanna know how the middle class has been slowly beaten down during the past generation? It's all here.

  •  Wages have been flat since the 1970s, despite rising productivity from workers.
  • Core expenses, though, are way up--twice as much for mortgages and health care, for example.
  • To hold on more and more families put a second parent into the workforce, but this increased all kinds of expenses such as child care and taxes with the result these families have been squeezed all that much harder. And they've cut back across the board: less on food, clothing, furniture, appliances.
But while the middle class tread water at best,  the fat cats in big banking were doing just fine, thank you. And it was at the expense of the middle class: they've made an obscene fortune out of consumer credit. "The industry has generated tens of billions of dollars annually in fees made possible by deceptive and dangerous terms buried in the fine print of opaque, incomprehensible, and largely unregulated contracts. And as we all know, when the shit hit the fan, the bankers got bailed out by hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.

And almost beyond belief, here we are about a year after this, and these very same villains are spending millions watering down any attempts in Congress to pass meaningful financial reform laws. And they're succeeding. How is this possible? Bill Moyers had a couple of guys from Mother Jones on his PBS Journal Friday night --David Corn and Kevin Drum--talking about this very thing. It's called incestuous relationship between Wall Street and Washington. I have to tell you, after what I heard, I'm not at all encouraged that anything ever stopping these blood-suckers. (You can read all the Mother Jones articles right here. There are five of them, all the results of investigative reporting of the financial industry. If they don't make you mad as hell, you have reptile blood.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Like I've Got Time for This

I'm talking about another time-consuming activity I'm about to take up. It's called the Great American Fantasy League, and what it is is 26 baseball nuts, all of us members of SABR*, each the manager of a fantasy league team made up of the all-time greats for that franchise. I will manage the Texas Rangers, and I already know that it will be as fruitless trying to win my division (7 teams) with the very best the Rangers ever had, as it seems to be with the real Rangers. Just as in real life, pitching is 75 percent of winning, and since 1961, when the expansion Washington Senators which became the Texas Rangers in 1971, the franchise has had pretty crappy pitching, although scoring runs was never a problem. (I've got a long history going all the way back to when I was in grade school of playing board and computer baseball games: APBA board and computer version, Diamond Mind computer baseball, and another game my brothers and a neighbor kid named Frank Vicari whose name I don't remember. But I do remember designing and drawing ballparks and uniforms and putting out a "newspaper" with game write-ups and stats. (Used to type them up in columns on a typewriter via hunt-and-peck.) Crazy!

I'll know a lot more about the game after I'm "trained" over the phone by playing a couple of games with tutor. You need this kind of help because, as you might expect, accuracy and realism are fundamental. So the game is based on a lot of math, and it's got a whole bunch--a very big bunch--of contingencies built into it. Games take about 2-3 hours to play, and of course, you have to keep full records which are sent to the league headquarters where they're compiled into reams of statistics. The schedule is 162 games, played one game per week. I'm taking over the team after 66 games, and guess what? The Rangers have the worst record in the league. You have to be a baseball nut to understand what a fun thing this is going to be. I fear I have to plead guilty on this count. Crazy again!

*Society for American Baseball Research

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

This Ain't the Year . . .

"Five days into 2010 haven't quite offset my hangover from our seasonal consumption binge, wherein history's richest, ostensibly Christian culture spent billions more on gifts, wars, and provoking terrorism than feeding the poor in spirit or pocketbook. In an odd parody of Christmas giving, Senate Scrooges gave unsubsidized, uninsured families a lump of coal, a coercive medical insurance scheme with penalties for defiance."

Thus begins yet another sobering reflection on the baleful effects of religion on our times by Robert Becker in today's Smirking Chimp. What is is about religion? he asks at one point. Admittedly, as he admits, too, it is an ancient question: "How can religion induce so many to sacrifice their lives while killing others, all the while deluded everyone does God's will?"

I'm not going to pretend that I know the answer to the question. This I do know, and in this I agree with the writer of this piece: God is unknowable by the very fact that he is God. So anybody who claims they know the mind of God is by definition deluded. But in our fractured times--and what times have not been fractured?--it's so comforting to know that God is on our side. This is a fiction that people have been willing to believe for centuries because they are just as willing to put their faith in the religions that tell them so. And the oceans of blood that have been spilled because of this fiction is beyond belief.

Becker quotes Aldous Huxley in the essay: "At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols."


We begin this new year with the supposedly Christian U.S. waging hi-tech war against two low-tech Muslim nations. Oh, these wars are about resources, to be sure, but the religious aspect of these conflicts cannot be denied. It's my God vs. your God, and by God, we're not going to stop killing you and your babies until we've proven that our God is stronger than yours. It sounds so ridiculous this way, doesn't it? But isn't this what's actually going on? If you doubt it, just turn on your TV or even better, your radio, and listen to some of the fundamentalist preachers out there. And then recall how many millions of Americans subscribe to these beliefs. And then think about all the Christians in the U.S. who would not describe themselves as fundamentalists who would nevertheless endorse the notion that religious war is actually a sane notion.

In short, barring literal divine intervention, this ain't the year the human race is going to wise up about God. I'm thankful God is ineffable and transcendent or he would be really pissed off at our arrogant imbecility.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Two Bon-Bons

Two of my most favorite guys in the whole wide world have hugely enjoyable and informative columns out. Of course neither is going to make you shout "Hooray! Things are going to be so much better in 2010! A new decade is just what we need!" No, these reports are not likely to spur that kind of reaction. What they will do, however, is impress you with the quality of the writing and reporting still possible in the swamp of mediocrity and mendacity that the once-honorable profession of journalist has sunk into. These pieces--and you should definitely treat yourself to reading them in their full glory--will probably stir a welter of different emotions, none of them happy, at the state of the nation. I guess it's my job to keep you posted on these things, lest someone in a burst of hallucination gets the idea that matters in the good ole US of A are improving and that we can look forward to a return to "normal" any time soon. Indeed, what is "normal" is in the process of being redefined. And we don't know what it's going to be yet.

Matt Taibbi first, on the ongoing financial catastrophe. There's more than enough blame to go around, he says, and trying to pin the mess on Fannie and Freddie, as some are now attempting is simply wrong. But before the details, he's got this wonderful description:

. . . what we’ve learned in the last few years as one scandal after another spilled onto the front pages is that the bubble economies of the last two decades were not merely monstrous Ponzi schemes that destroyed trillions in wealth while making a small handful of people rich. They were also a profound expression of the fundamentally criminal nature of our political system, in which state power/largess and the private pursuit of (mostly short-term) profit were brilliantly fused in a kind of ongoing theft scheme that sought to instant-cannibalize all the wealth America had stored up during its postwar glory, in the process keeping politicians in office and bankers in beach homes while continually moving the increasingly inevitable disaster to the future.

And now Glenn Greenwald on the general subject of the corrosive fear of terrorism and what it's doing to the country. Here's the general thesis:

Demands that genuinely inept government officials be held accountable are necessary and wise, but demands that political leaders ensure that we can live in womb-like Absolute Safety are delusional and destructive.  Yet this is what the citizenry screams out every time something threatening happens:  please, take more of our privacy away; monitor more of our communications; ban more of us from flying; engage in rituals to create the illusion of Strength; imprison more people without charges; take more and more control and power so you can Keep Us Safe. . . .

What matters most about this blinding fear of Terrorism is not the specific policies that are implemented as a result.  Policies can always be changed.  What matters most is the radical transformation of the national character of the United States.  Reducing the citizenry to a frightened puddle of passivity, hysteria and a child-like expectation of Absolute Safety is irrevocable and far more consequential than any specific new laws.  Fear is always the enabling force of authoritarianism:  the desire to vest unlimited power in political authority in exchange for promises of protection.
Not a pretty picture at all, is it? But that's where we are now and where we're going, friends. Read this piece. It's scary.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Scam Update

Of course, this would have been as easy to predict as the sun rising tomorrow in the eastern sky. What do you think the right is going to suggest in the wake of the Christmas Eve would-be terrorist bomber on the flight landing in Detroit? If you guessed a ramping up of intrusive and draconian security measures, well, a gold star for you. Let's begin with the retired Army general, obviously a prototype of his kind, who suggests that what we need is more screening, and if you're a Muslim male between 18-28, you should be strip searched.

Beginning tomorrow, they are ratcheting up the screening of everybody coming into the US,

All passengers flying into the United States from abroad will be subject to random screening or so-called "threat-based" screens, the Transport Security Administration said in a statement.
But it further mandated that "every individual flying into the US from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening."

So God help you if you're flying in from a state the US has deemed is a state-sponsored terrorism country--or, be it noted "other countries of interest." Because if you're coming from one of these places, you're going to go through "enhanced" screening. That's those machines that see through your clothes if they are available. If they aren't we're talking full body pat-down. Real nice if you're a Muslim, much less if you're a Muslim woman.

It's all crazy, of course. Has been from the beginning. (See this piece from the New York Times from 2007, for example.) Making life more miserable for air travelers is not doing a damn thing to make us safer. It's a huge--HUGE--scam, brothers and sisters. Because if a terrorist wants to attack us, he will despite the security measures. These people are not stupid. They are going to circumvent whatever security procedures we devise. We're constantly guarding against the last attack. Unfortunately, I can say without too much fear of it being untrue: just wait and see.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I watched a documentary--a 2007 documentary entitled simply "Nanking"--tonight on the fall of that city, at the time the capital of China, to the Japanese in December 1937 and the subsequent sack and pillage of the city by the Imperial Japanese Army.  It was horrible beyond the telling of it. And what makes this story particularly poignant is that to this day, it remains a political issue. The government of Japan has never acknowledged or apologized for the atrocity, and Japanese nationalists and militarists deny it ever occurred or that it has been grossly exaggerated. The bare facts are horrifying enough: one-third of a thoroughly bombed-out city burned by arson, somewhere around 300,000 massacred, up to 80,000 women raped.

No matter how many times you're reminded of what human beings are capable of, no matter how often you witness scenes of unspeakable brutality and evil wrought by war, it still strikes you dumb and numb to realize that nothing whatever has altered in the character of human beings in the intervening decades since this crime against humanity to prevent the same things from happening all over again. Indeed, the same atrocities--mass murder, torture, and rapine--none of them has disappeared. Indeed, they have only flourished in the years since. We have become so inured to suffering and death and cruelty, that none of it has much effect on us any longer. We still just love the hell out of war.

It makes me sick to know what we're capable of. And ain't this a hell of a cheery way to start the new year?

Pray God for some miracle. Let there be peace.