Sunday, February 28, 2010

What's the Scariest Part of this Photo?

I can't see anything that's not scary, including the horrid yellow color scheme. And what's even more scary is that there are thousands out there just like this nimwit. And further, every last one of 'em is allowed to procreate. I fear I could have easily entitled this "Ain't that America (2nd chorus)" and been right on target, er, so to speak.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thirst

Thirst by Wheeler

One of several outstanding photos at Breathtaking Masterpieces of Creative Photography. Check it out.

Spurning God's Gifts

To wit: 33 pounds of free pot. Why don't such things happen to people who recognize the benevolence of Divine Providence? People like me . . .

Friday, February 26, 2010

The 12 Biggest Ripoffs in America

Courtesy: Billshrink , those would be:

  • movie popcorn: 900 - 1,300 percent markup
  • text messages: 6,500 percent markup
  • college textbooks: twice the rate of inflation over last 20 years. About $900 per year average.
  • branded painkillers: 60 percent markup over identical generics
  • "free" credit reports: " it’s questionable that there is a need for any business to offer such a service, as the government mandates that all consumers can check their credit score once a year for free anyway. Beyond that, most of these services unwittingly bilk people into signing up for paid monthly subscriptions that actually charge them for what was supposedly being offered free." 
  • restaurant wine service: heftiest markup is on the second least expensive bottle. Nobody orders the cheapest on the list--it's human psychology--they opt for the next up.
  • hotel mini-bars: 1,300 percent markup. People are loathe to seek out a convenience store in strange town after checking in. Human psychology again.
  • all-you-can-eat buffets: "While the typical buffet charges somewhere between $12-$15, [restaurant owners] know that that the average customer is not likely to eat very much more than they would’ve purchased for $7 or $8 at McDonalds . . . . Furthermore, it’s questionable whether the quality of the food being served is much better than that of a fast food restaurant . . . . buffet’s customers pay for the ability to eat twice as much as they actually eat, on average."
  • premium gasoline: If your owner's manual doesn't say your car requires premium gas, it's a waste of money to buy it. Total myth: that premium gas is "better" for the car, cleans engines, prevents malfunction, etc.
  • actively-managed investments: Fund managers fail to beat the market 75 percent of the time year in and year out, and they charge you 1.5-3 percent of your investment to do so.
  • in-room movies: most expensive way possible to watch a movie. "as much as $10-$15 for a single movie . . . . A Redbox machine, by contrast, will rent you a DVD for as little as $1 a night. A NetFlix account isn’t much more expensive, and streaming movies on your laptop is another inexpensive alternative."
  • health club memberships: " . . . it’s not the price that’s unjustified but the terms of the contract itself." Contract fine print for many health clubs prevent cancellation of the contract for just about any reason short of death.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ain't That America?

When John Mellencamp sings "Ain't that America," the song is decidedly tongue in cheek. Well, me too. Several exhibits explain why:

  • Washington State, which is as broke as all the other states of the Union--a $2.3 billion deficit--is considering giving Microsoft Corp., which as we all know is a struggling, cash-strapped company, a $100 million annual tax break and amnesty for about $1 billion in past tax evasions. WTF?
  •  The widow of the poor wretch who got killed when Andrew Joseph Stack III flew his private plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, is suing Stack's widow for, get this: not warning other people about how dangerous her husband was. Here's what needs to be done. This woman's lawyer, one Dan Ross, who said this is the best way to find out what assets, including insurance, would be available for compensation, well, this guy ought to be taken out to the public square, stripped to the waist, and flogged till he promises never again to practice law.
    ==>>At least 50 million people are ill-fed -- up from 37 million just a year ago -- including 17 million children. 
    ==>>30% of the nation's 50 million homeowners own a home whose value is below its mortgage balance, and this number could rise to an almost unbelievable 50% by year-end 2011.   
    ==>>Even the nation's 130 million full-time workers have had an average economic loss of 15% just since December 2007 -- an average effective work week of 34 hours rather than 40 -- which means that the number of unemployed workers, measured economically, is actually as high as 50 million. 
    ==>>For every earned income level except the top 10%, average household income hasn't changed a bit for 10 years, . . . for the bottom 60% of wage earners it hasn't changed for more than 20 years . . . 90% of workers in America have been standing still earnings-wise.
     ==>>100 million people, fully one-third of the entire U.S. population, are at or below "200% of the federal poverty line of $21,834 for a family of four", which is a needs-measure made lame by the fact that no family of four can actually comfortably live on such a low annual income.*

    • Finally, this from Gestapo America, which is always lurking just below the surface of anything happening in this country. In Germantown, Pennsylvania, a 13-year-old girl student was escorted from her classroom by two uniformed school cops for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag. Apparently her teacher absolutely freaked when she did not stand, yelled at her, and sent her to the office for her defiance. When it happened again the next day, the teacher called the cops. Don't you kind yourselves, brothers and sisters, this is what you can expect from our system in its current manifestation. You better be overtly patriotic (in the yahoo sense), or you're going to be branded an enemy of the country.**
    Well, now . . . ain't that America?

       *"Without an immediate all-of-government commitment to creating upwards of 30 million new jobs (not the 9 million that the administration has identified)," the author concludes, "without stimulus efforts that specifically target the entire struggling middle class, and without very specific initiatives aimed at breaking the back of general wage stagnation, there is not even a medium-term prospect of anything approaching real full employment and healthy economic growth that benefits all Americans." Cheery, huh?

      **For the record, I do not pledge allegiance to the flag, sing the national anthem, remove cap, put hand on heart, or perform any of  the other obeisances expected of people "who love their country and the flag." These rituals have become so distorted, misdirected, and contrived in this country, that those of us who love the America we're supposed to be are considered well nigh traitors. I often joke that I'll be among the first rounded up. It's not really a joke.

        Wednesday, February 24, 2010

        Business As Usual

        This is the story of our times, and after the Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to buy elections constitutionally, there's really not to much more any of the rest of us can do except bend over and spread 'em. Here is Elizabeth Warren--met her before here--talking to Bill Maher about how effective the so-called credit card reforms are going to be. In a word, friends, they're basically window dressing. It will be business as usual.



        What in the world is wrong with the American people that they put up with this? We have no backbone. None, if this is what we allow the financial industry and our own representatives to do this to us. At some point the middle class is just going to collapse.

        Tuesday, February 23, 2010

        Today Was a Good Day

        Wanna know why? Susan, my dear wife, and I went downtown today where some kindly volunteers who prepare tax returns for seniors and had our taxes done. For the first time in I don't know how many years, my regular tax lady in Valrico, Florida, didn't figure our taxes. But it was inevitable we would outgrow her. Well, not outgrow. Kinda downgrow, actually. Fact is, for the first time again in I don't know how many years, we didn't itemize the return last year. We didn't have to this year either, and I doubt we ever will again. Simple fact of the matter is we don't make as much money as we used to. Never will again. Which is absolutely fine with us. By standards of what people consider lots of money, we were never even close to that when we were both working. And now we we're not working and have a lot less. And all is good.

        Anyway, the bottom line, as they say, is we are getting a tidy little sum back this year. We don't owe either the Fed or the state of Oklahoma a dime. They owe us, to the tune of almost $1,400. So for a change I would like to celebrate a good news day. God knows, we have enough of the other kind.

        Sunday, February 21, 2010

        Blog Heaven

        This is Time magazine's list of the top 25 blogs on the Web for 2009. How many do you regularly check in on? How many have you never heard of? Did you learn anything here? Tell the truth: how many of these sucked you in when you clicked on them? How many did you click on? How many did you say, "You've got to be kidding me."? Why do we like lists so much?

        1. Talking Points Memo
        2. The Huffington Post
        3. Lifehacker
        4. Metafilter
        5. The Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan
        6. Freakonomics
        7. BoingBoing
        8. Got2BeGreen
        9. Zen Habits
        10. The Conscience of a Liberal: Paul Krugman
        11. Crooks and Liars
        12. GeneraciĆ³n Y
        13. Mashable
        14. Slashfood
        15. Official Google Blog
        16. synthesis
        17. bleat
        18. /Film
        19. Seth Godin's Blog
        20. Deadspin: Sports News without Access, Favor, or Discretion
        21. Dooce
        22. Confessions of a Pioneer Woman
        23. Said the Gramophone
        24. Detention Slip
        25. Bad Astronomy

        Most Overrated Blogs

        1. TechCrunch
        2. Gawker
        3. Jim Cramer's Blog
        4. PerezHilton.com
        5. Daily Kos: State of the Nation

          Saturday, February 20, 2010

          Procrastination

          This is what I'm doing instead of getting my homily ready. (If you right click on the image, you'll get a full-screen play and get rid of the annoying truncation on the right-hand side.)



          Sense 1
          procrastination, cunctation, shillyshally -- (the act of procrastinating; putting off or delaying or defering an action to a later time)
              -> delay, holdup -- (the act of delaying; inactivity resulting in something being put off until a later time)
                 => break, interruption, disruption, gap -- (an act of delaying or interrupting the continuity; "it was presented without commercial breaks"; "there was a gap in his account")
                 => demurrage -- (detention of a ship or freight car or other cargo beyond its scheduled time of departure)
                 => forbearance -- (a delay in enforcing rights or claims or privileges; refraining from acting; "his forbearance to reply was alarming")
                 => postponement, deferment, deferral -- (act of putting off to a future time)
                 => procrastination, cunctation, shillyshally -- (the act of procrastinating; putting off or delaying or defering an action to a later time)
                 => slowdown, lag, retardation -- (the act of slowing down or falling behind)
                 => dalliance, dawdling, trifling -- (the deliberate act of delaying and playing instead of working)
                 => filibuster -- (a tactic for delaying or obstructing legislation by making long speeches)
                 => tarriance, lingering -- (the act of tarrying)

          Bon Appetit! Again.

          All the ingredients in a ham and cheese hot pocket pizza. (Boing Boing is always amazing.)

          Friday, February 19, 2010

          How Cool is This?

          The Net is addictive, let us simply face that fact. Remember a few years ago, it wasn't long after the world discovered what the Internet was, there was a big flap about people who were wasting their lives away surfing the Internet. Hell, Net addicts have their own website. Well, I'm here to tell you, as a victim of my own little collection of addictions (Cheez-Its, music, PBS, books, packratting, to name the ones that spring to mind immediately), that I could probably fritter my life away poking into the endless fascinating corners of the Net. You're talking about a guy who's saved almost 1,250 sites on delicious. This is probably not any kind of record, but I'm thinking at this moment just how much of my life I let ebb away by saving all these sites, which upon reflection I must confess are nice to have, but marginally useful at best.

          So it should come as no surprise, given my music addiction, that I've saved a flock of online places to listen to music: Project Playlist, Pandora, Playa Cofi Jukebox, Last FM, Concert Vault, Lala, The Hype Machine, Spheric Lounge, and more. Including this place. You pick the genre and the mood or the genre and the tempo and Musicovery spins out the playlist. It's mighty cool even in its supposedly lo-fi state. For increased options and more control, you have to pay, but you don't need to do that. It's pretty doggone cool as it is.

          Speaking of cool, try Flixster (movies), Snag Films (watch free documentary films online), isbn.nu (best book search/bargain finder out there), break.com (just a serious waste of time)--where you can watch videos like this one:



          Human Dog Hybrid Eats Its Lunch - Watch more Funny Videos

          Thursday, February 18, 2010

          #698

          A friend's Facebook entry* led me to this story, which I submit as Exhibit #698 in my ongoing Never Underestimate the Ignorance of the American People traveling exhibition. To wit: the Rasmussen poll cited in this article says 78 percent of Americans say the government does not have the consent of the governed. What? We had a national election as I recall in 2008 at which time we elected a president and Congress. That was an exercise in national consent to the government. And last time I looked there's been no revolution. Are we confused here?

          Of course we are: what this 78 percent undoubtedly mean is they don't agree with something the government is doing, therefore following the impeccable logic train, this government doesn't have my consent to govern, therefore it doesn't have the consent of the people to govern. See how that works?

          Some more:
          Seventy-one percent (71%) of all voters now view the federal government as a special interest group, and 70% believe that the government and big business typically work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.
          The Fed is a special interest group? Oh, come on. What does that make Wall Street? Defense contractors? Agribusiness? What these people mean is they are mad at the government, so they apply the worst label media has taught them: special interest group. Actually, since the federal government is a toady for Wall Street and the defense lobby and any other interest with enough money to wet the beaks of Congress, it is a friend to special interests. That cannot be denied. So in their typically inchoate way, the people are circling around something that might be arguably true.

          By the way, I'm really anxious to see the way government is working with big business to hurt investors. Show me.

          I can't leave without observing that the learned writer of this piece says that the Declaration of Independence is the "founding document of the United States." Er, that document would be the U.S. Constitution. The Declaration of Independence, worthy of reverence as it is, is an inspired piece of propaganda.

          *Sadly, I must confess that I still check Facebook, and every time I wonder why in hell I so waste my time. It's like chocolate-covered raisins. An evil addiction.

          Wednesday, February 17, 2010

          Hey, Look! New Look

          After almost 520 posts, I decided to change the look of "Powderfinger." My dozen or so regular readers will finally have something new to look at up top. The changes don't really amount to much, but they give the blog a bit more character and eye appeal up at the top. At least I'd like to think so. First of all, the blog title has been extended by insertion of an explanatory, and I hope sufficiently descriptive, phrase about the content of the blog. Actually, I made this change at the prompting of my son, who advised that I'd garner more readers if I had words in the title that search engines hit on. And who doesn't want more readers? I played around with putting the word "politics" in there--"What's Left in Politics and Other Observations from the Dying Empire" and variations--but this is way too clunky. So we'll have to see what happens on this. I'd be lying if I said I was not skeptical.

          Then there's the background photo to the title: a city in a dense fog. This is apt metaphor for the general state of things everywhere, I think. Finally, color of the title font is slightly different and the Neil quote is in bold. I wish I could get the title more towards the center of the photo background, but I don't think you can do that in this program. Nor can I get "--Neil Young, etc." all on one line. I suppose such a thing could be done by somebody accomplished with HTML, but that ain't me.

          Let me know what you think of the new look. If you don't like it, please say so. If enough people don't like it, I'll take it down.

          Tuesday, February 16, 2010

          Here's the Buzz


          OK. I confess. I'm a Googlehead. If Google did it, I'm odds-on favorite to like it. And use whatever it is we're talking about. I should say that these comments apply to Google software, not hardware like phones.

          But I do use a lot of Google stuff, some of it every day like: Blogger, the search engine (every day, all day)--an aside: I discovered Google search long before the rest of the world did, and it was damn good even way back then--the calendar, Gmail, News, and You Tube. Stuff I use at least once a week: Google movie (features and show times for theaters near me), maps, language tools (the translator),  Google groups, and notebook. And now Buzz (see below). Plus I regularly use Google Earth--did you know you can look at the sky from any point on the globe with Google Earth? And that there are such things as Google Moon and Google Mars?--Picassa, and several specialized searchers: desktop, books, scholar (journal articles). I can say without equivocation that Google is the best that has happened for scholars and research in the past 25 years. When I was in grad school computers and all their everyday wonders of now were still years in the future. We actually had to find things in big ole reference books and card catalogs and in printed bibliographies. And we historians had to go to libraries to view primary sources in manuscript collections. A ton of this research can now be accomplished on your home computer.

          But all this is just a prelude to some comments on the newest Google thing out there: Buzz. Which is Google's answer to the other social networking tools: Twitter, Facebook, and MyPage. It's only been around for about a week, and heavy hitters are lining up behind it. Apparently, after 7 days, Buzz has users numbering about a quarter of Facebook's. That would be a about 100 million users, brothers & sisters.

          And why this swift acceptance? Well, because Buzz integrates right into the vastly used Gmail. No muss, no fuss. Without actually being obtrusive, Buzz is right there in your face all the time. Plus it's got all the slick tools that FB does: you can include photos, maps, URLs, video, etc. There were some privacy concerns upon the rollout--here's a New York Times piece about that--but Google moved promptly to meet the complaints, and now is just paused for a period of steady growth.

          I might have some more to say about this later after I get a feel for it. Meantime, the official Google Buzz site is here. Check it out.

          Monday, February 15, 2010

          Gimme the First One

          The very best of the assessments of Barack Obama that I've read lately is this one by Michael Brenner that appeared in The Huffington Post a day or so ago. Brenner argues that Obama is a split personality basically, with one Obama superimposed on the other. He begins with this none-too-flattering observation:

          A few elements of Obama's personality are now evident: a strong narcissistic streak, an ingrained sense of superiority, a nimbleness - intellectual and political - enabled by the incredible lightness of his conviction about anything, an audacious ambition yet no gumption for a fight.
          It doesn't get any better from there. The Obama we all voted for is "the visible, surface man . . .  the epitome of an enlightened, Ivy League, socially responsible liberal." The community organizer, the orator, the optimist, the African-American activist. But what's lurking under this is the real Obama: 
          . . . who has surfaced as he quickly shed his 'liberal' skin amidst the trappings of the White House. This other personality . . . is the underlying one - truer to the man's core nature. This is the Obama who twice in his young career sought out positions in big corporate law firms; this is the Obama who was raised by three Kansans who instilled in him conservative heartland values; this is the Obama who relishes wealth and what it can buy; this is the Obama who feels more at ease with his Wall Street buddies (Jaime Dimon, et al) playing golf than with anyone of the Move On American crowd; this is the Obama who chose as his trusted confidant that unscrupulous, liberals-be-damned fixer - Rahm Emanuel; this is the Obama who absorbed the spirit of Ronald Reagan's America he himself has said stands as the model of inspirational leadership.
          If this sounds way too familiar to you, then you agree with me that Brenner is on to something here. The article continues with the dreary recitation of all our collective disappointments with this guy in whom we placed so much hope--I almost despise using the word now.

          He placed his supposedly signature health care reform initiative in the hands of those dedicated to thwarting it, he has curried favor with the criminally incompetent financial establishment, he orphaned the proposal to help underwater homeowners through the bankruptcy courts, he stiffed the trade unions on the loosening of rules for organizing workers, he has retained all of Bush's policies on surveillance, he has refused the slightest chastisement of the CIA and their mercenaries, he has retained Bush's practice of Executive statements interpreting legislation, he has followed a behind closed doors style of policy-making, he has followed the Pentagon hawks in escalating the war in Afghanistan, he has made repeated advances toward the evangelical right. This is the behavioral pattern of a deeply conservative personality and conventional thinker who tips his hat to every establishment he encounters.
          Hey, gimme the first Obama. Please. Even if he's phony as hell.

          Sunday, February 14, 2010

          If You Don't Know Lucille Clifton, You Should

          Like the lady in the first video below--too bad we don't know who she is, because I like her laugh as well as her taste in poets--I fell in love with Lucille Clifton the first time I read her poetry. I forget was poem it was now, but like all her stuff it was spare, honest, accessible, and wondrous. It might have been this one, which I found saved on my computer.

          the mississippi empties into the gulf

          and the gulf enters the sea and so forth,
          none of them emptying anything,
          all of them carrying yesterday
          forever on their white tipped backs,
          all of them dragging forward tomorrow.
          it is the great circulation
          of the earth's body, like the blood
          of the gods, this river in which the past
          is always flowing. every water
          is the same water coming round.
          everyday someone is standing on the edge
          of this river, staring into time,
          whispering mistakenly:
          only here. only now.


          I find myself wondering again how she can produce some of the simplest looking but profoundly moving, truthful poems. I think I remember reading somewhere that she's a natural poet, not one who's been academically trained. Which, given the state of the art, is really a good recommendation for her.

          Omigosh! I just went onto the Web to find out a little more about Clifton and I discover that she died of cancer yesterday.  Whoa! Is that not just so strange . . . ? What made me think about her just a few minutes ago? And decide to write a little blog entry about her? May she rest in peace. Apparently she was sick for a while.




          This video is worth it . . . for the commentary as well as the three poems at the end.

          And since we will have no more poems from her, perhaps this:

          Friday, February 12, 2010

          When It Rains . . .

          I have to confess that sometimes I'm just downright stumped as to what I'm going to write about in the blog. Whether this is because nothing noteworthy has occurred that day--not likely--or--more likely--I'm half brain-dead that day, or--most likely of all--I'm not really enthused about writing at all. I've had a few of these days lately.

          But then you have days like today when there's a blizzard of things that catch my eye and demand comment. Take for example:

          • A female Harvard-educated biology professor at the University of Alabama Huntsville named Amy Bishop shoots three colleagues dead, critically wounds two more, and sends a third to the hospital with serious wounds. WHAT? Oh, yeah. Seems she was distressed about not getting tenure. (This was reported on PBS Newshour.) Well, the solution to such a problem is obvious to all red-blooded Americans. Get a gun and kill some people.
          • David Broder, who is as old as Methuselah's buck goat and who really ought to hang 'em up because it's obvious he getting pretty drifty. His latest column suggests that we should be taking Sarah Palin seriously. WHAT? Oh, yeah. According to Broder, Palin is riding high on a wave of populist ire, and the other "more uptight Republican aspirants" for the presidency as well as Obama had better watch out. "The lady is good," he says. Well, you all know what I think of this bubble-headed bimbo, so I'll just refer you to this piece in the Huffington Post that takes Broder's ridiculous column apart quite nicely.
          • And then there's the president's invitation to the Republican leadership to join with him and the Democrats in a televised summit meeting on healthcare reform. I'll give you three guesses as to what the prevailing reaction from the Republicans was to this. . . . right; the majority of them are balking at this, and the media are saying "trap" every time they open their traps. Jon Stewart skewered the hell out of both the media and the Republicans (stick around for John Oliver's report on the RNC's meeting in Hawaii) tonight on "The Daily Show." WHAT? The Republicans are refusing to cooperate with Obama? They've never done that before. Really now. What else could be expected of these people?
          So when it rains it pours. Could've been three blog entries. Ends up being one.

          Thursday, February 11, 2010

          The Smell of Blood

          Here's another guy who's wondering what the hell happened to the Obama agenda when the Democrats had a so-called super majority in the U.S. Senate and an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives. I think he gets it right. He blames Harry Reid, Rahm Emmanuel, and Joe Biden. This putting blame where it belongs: on the Democratic party leadership. Let's face it, Obama's strategy to have Congress be a partner with the White House in implementing the administration's legislative agenda has been a dismal failure. Aside from the stimulus bill, which was not part of the agenda, what has Obama managed to pass? Virtually nothing. And why? Because Obama let everything get caught up in the congressional meat grinder. Bob Burnett, a "Smirking Chimp" contributor, argues that the administration should have come out of the chute in January 2009 proclaiming a national crisis, which of course, it was. And in that crisis atmosphere he could have gotten things passed.

          But Reid has been a pussyfooting majority leader, letting the healthcare reform bill lag in the supposedly bi-partisan Baucus committee until October. Can you think of time he ever gave the impression of being a forceful leader? I can't. Delay, as it usually does, doomed the White House effort. Rahm and Biden, of course, in the White House failed in their jobs to impress upon Obama the urgency of swift action, and further, did not really ramrod the White House's bills through Congress. Joe Biden was essentially a non-person during the healthcare debate.

          The president himself is hardly blameless:
           Obama should have been quicker to recognize that bi-partisanship is hopeless in the current Washington environment. He should have dispatched his lieutenants to Capitol Hill with orders to do whatever was necessary to move his agenda along; he should have forced Rahm Emanuel to be his Dick Cheney. Finally, the President should have sharpened his message; he left too many details of healthcare reform to be worked out by Congress.
          All true. Where I differ with the writer of this piece is, unlike him, I don't think the White House working smarter is going to suffice at this point. The Republicans have the smell of blood in their nostrils, and they're not going to be satisfied till they have Obama's throat in their jowls. so they can shake him to death.  I could hardly describe myself as a great friend of the president's since he's been in office. But he's infinitely preferable to the government we would get under the Republican party.

          Wednesday, February 10, 2010

          Why Am I Not Surprised?

          It was H. L. Mencken who first observed, "You will never go broke underestimating the stupidity of the American people." Mencken had his act together. I'm looking at an article from the Washington Post today. Headline: "In poll, Republicans gaining ground on Obama." This is enough for you to understand the general tenor of the piece. The specifics just make you sick. Obama still gets 51 percent approval rating, but he's lost confidence of the people on the economy, health care, jobs, budget deficit by "bare majorities," it says here.  And if that's the case now, well, it's only going to get worse for him as we go along, because I don't see any shift in policy from him, do you? He's still talking about "bipartisanship," for Pete's sake. (The Republicans must be laughing themselves half to death into their whiskey sours. You can bet they're slapping themselves on the backs about now. The handwriting is on the wall for the Democrats; the Republicans can simply stay their obstructionist course. It's working like a charm.) Bipartisanship! Shit, these people have not supported anything Obama has proposed. Nothing. Not a single vote for health care, not a single vote for stimulus. Are you kidding me? And worse, this course is actually enhancing their chances to choke the administration to death:
          When compared with the early months of Obama's presidency, the GOP's overall gains are striking. A year ago, Democrats held a 26-point advantage on dealing with the big issues; that lead is now six points. At the one-month mark, Obama's lead over the Republicans on dealing with the economy was 35 points; it's now five points.  
          This ain't good, of course, because what it means is the Democrats will probably get murdered in November, because no improvement in the economy, the deficit, jobs, health care is on the horizon or even the far horizon. So what's to become of us? Well, we're going into gridlock again, folks. In fact, it could be argued that we're in gridlock right now.

          But the point I really want to make here is this: if the American people think the Republicans are going to make things better, they are truly idiots. The Republicans will make things worse for the mass of people, who are already burdened beyond belief. They are going to do what they always do: they are going to take care of big business and the rich, and they are going to lie out of both sides of their mouths about how they're concerned for the common people. And the common people are going to buy it.

          More on this later . . .

          Tuesday, February 9, 2010

          And Then There's This . . .

          . . . to really dampen your Super Bowl spirits. From James Kuntsler's blog entry of yesterday:

          The Tea Party people are the corn-pone Nazis I have been warning you about. They are gathering strength in numbers as President Obama and congress fritter away their remaining legitimacy in a manner of governance that more and more resembles an endless Chinese Fire Drill. The delusional craziness of the Tea Partyists exists in direct proportion to the wimpy deceit of the government, especially in matters of money and statistics reporting. Our political leaders are resorting to wholesale deceit because the truth of our situation -- comprehensive bankruptcy -- is too painful to dwell on and for the most part they are too chicken too state it.
          He is talking about the Tea Party convention that was held in Nashville last week. You know, that gathering where Sarah Palin, the perfect representative dingbat for the Tea Party-ers, appeared and was allowed to spew her nonsense to great applause and appreciation. All the evils we have been looking for are coming down on us: armed pissed off nitwits in great numbers; feckless, helpless government; immense personal debt and suffering; a bankrupt country.

          I don't want to think about what all this means. All I know is it is not and cannot be good.

          Monday, February 8, 2010

          Oh, Man!

          Happy 89th birthday, Mom!

          Well, I'm back. I've just returned from the mother of all family celebrations. Been in Denver for the past several days with my immediate family. For Mom's birthday and for the greatest Super Bowl I've ever seen or any of us in this all-from-New-Orleans-and-south-Louisiana family have ever seen. I'm exhausted, exhilarated, bloated from too much great food and wine, happy, and glad to be free of the airport experience--still terrible--for awhile.

          Actually I wish I were in New Orleans to celebrate with everybody else down there. But since I cannot be I'll just have to content myself with things like this:

          Friday, February 5, 2010

          Obsessions

           "I don't know why I do what I do. If I did know, I probably wouldn't feel the need to do it. ... Surely it is an odd way to spend your life — sitting alone in a room with a pen in your hand, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, struggling to put words on pieces of paper in order to give birth to what does not exist — except in your head. Why on earth would anyone want to do such a thing? The only answer I have ever been able to come up with is: because you have to, because you have no choice."

          A writer named Paul Auster said this. He talking about creative labor. But there's more. He's talking about a personal obsession, something that basically takes possession of you. This kind of thing is really a state of mind, isn't it? Anything that pulls us in and keeps us swimming in that familiar pool. Who knows why we do the things that we love to do? Like me: reading all the time, this blog, playing chess, collecting stamps, and obsessing over the Texas Rangers. Somehow it's the way I'm put together. And you know what? I've always felt sorry for  people who had no discernible obsession. I think they are necessary to sustain sanity.

          Thursday, February 4, 2010

          A Huge Loss

          About a week ago, on January 27, to be precise, historian and activist Howard Zinn died. He was 87 years old. His death is a huge loss to the progressive cause in America, to the history profession, and to everybody who cherishes a true rendering of our nation's history. I first heard of Howard Zinn when I was in graduate school. He was lumped in with a group of historians that their fellow academic historians dubbed the "New Left School." Although books have been written about these guys--principally Zinn, Straughton Lynd, Gabriel Kolko, and William Appleman Williams--I will only expend a few words of huge generalization. The New Left School grew out of the turmoil of the 1960s. Generally, very generally, it concerned itself with class conflict in U.S. history, and it was unabashedly sympathetic to the lower orders. Many practitioners of this persuasion wrote history "from the bottom up," focusing on the sins of the capitalists, militarists, and the struggles of the oppressed people in American society. There was no lack of them: slaves, immigrants, Indians, et al.

          But I digress. Like many others, I got to know Howard Zinn through his wonderful book, A People's History of the United States. Suffice it to say that this volume turns the conventional rendering of U.S. history on its head. Everybody in this country who cares about it should read Zinn's book. You cannot possibly come away from it unaffected. It's easy to read the book. You can start now. It's online, at the URL above. After APHOUS, I watched Zinn every time he was on TV, and I rented movies about him. Zinn is one of my heroes. He's had a profound influence on my professional development, and he's been an inspiration to me in so many ways. I will miss him. RIP.

          Wednesday, February 3, 2010

          Taibbi on Tea Party People

          Tea Party zealots. What is wrong with these people? They're pissed off. I can certainly understand that. But they're not pissed off at the real cause of their pain, the people who are pissing all over them. The real worrisome thing is that these angry, misguided, yea, duped people are going to have a large effect on elections. They already have, and it's only going to get worse.

          I so agree with Matt Taibbi, who says it better than I can:



          We, the Tea Partiers

          We protest against a heavy-fisted form of government that seeks to further regulate private enterprise and hinder future profits (i.e., banking and energy industries…). via We, the Tea Partiers – The York Daily Record.
          The writer goes on to protest cap and trade, which I also think is a bad idea, but not for the same reasons, obviously. But that other line — that is why the Tea Party “movement” is not a movement but a top-down manipulation, a misdirection.

          These are people who’ve been gouged for years by the deregulated banking, mortgage lending, and commodities trading business, and when Obama sends down very weak, watered-down regulations to deal with those problems, they howl that he’s against “private enterprise” because that’s what they’ve been told to think by the Glenn Becks of the world.
          Did you know that insider trading isn’t even illegal in the commodities trading business? Do you honestly think gas prices were high in 2008 because we weren’t drilling enough in the Gulf of Mexico?

          You idiots are being used. Think for yourselves. If the Fox Network believes it so wholeheartedly, how could it possibly be in your interest? They’ll take your ratings, sure, so they can sell you Charmin and $5 footlongs. I mean, Jesus, how can you not see that? If you had real allies that powerful, don’t you think someone would have taken care of you by now?

          Tuesday, February 2, 2010

          Barely Noticed

          A few days ago, 3 days to be exact, I posted my 500th entry to this blog, a fact which completely astonishes me. It passed at the time barely noticed by anybody, even me. Actually who else would notice it all but me? Anyway, I would have never believed I had it in me to stick with this [almost] daily task. But here I am, astonished and still committed to doing this. (I've been lax of late for a number of good reasons, and damned if I don't feel guilty about it when I don't post.)

          As fate would have it, the 500th post was a relatively frivolous one for me. If I had a little more time, I'd check out the other "milestone" posts such as #100, 200, 300 . . . . I fear most of the time, I've been serious and often seriously distraught about the follies and foibles of humankind, especially that species of humankind that feel compelled to rule over the rest of us. Generally, as I age, all I want is to be left relatively alone so I can study, write, think, listen to my music. Unfortunately, I tend to think about big things, like the fate of nations, and so forth, so I'm not so peaceful in retirement because the political leaders of this country have made such a hash of things that my thoughts often gravitate automatically to the latest outrage, the latest lie, the latest way these people are screwing things up for the rest of us.  My wife tells me that the blog is a good thing for me because it gives me an outlet for my frustrations. Well, maybe, but I wonder about my readers sometimes . . . are somebody else's frustrations all that compelling, especially when they're often so unconnected to the stuff of our daily lives? But there are a few precious regular readers . . . and I'll take this opportunity to thank them all for sticking with me.

          Monday, February 1, 2010

          Happy Birthday, OED

          The most amazing dictionary in the world. I used to have the two-volume set that contained all 20 volumes of the original and came in a slip case with a little drawer on top where was stored the magnifying glass so you could read the near microscopic print. I read or heard one time that there's actually a guy who read the entire 20-volume OED. Now there's a truly monumental feat for you. There's a purportedly real good book out on the partnership between one of the original editors of the OED in the 19th century and a guy who was in prison, but also apparently was a wizard at lexicography. I remember giving a copy of this book to my mom for her birthday a couple of years ago, but damned if I can remember title or author. Fairly typical of my memory these days. If anybody out there knows the title of this book, please drop a note and tell me.

          Here's what "Writer's Almanac" had to say today about the OED:

          It was on this day in 1884 that the first part of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. It covered from "A" to "Ant."

          The Philological Society of London had conceived the idea for a new dictionary almost 30 years earlier, back in 1857, and then in 1879 they worked out an agreement with Oxford University Press to publish their ambitious project. The Society felt that the English dictionaries that existed at the time were "incomplete and deficient," and they wished to write a new dictionary that would take into account the way the English language had developed from Anglo-Saxon times.

          The dictionary, they proposed, would take 10 years to complete, fill four volumes, and amount to 6,400 pages. They were halfway (five years) into the project when they published the first volume on this day in 1884, and they'd only completed from "A" to "Ant." In the end, the dictionary took 70 years (not 10) to complete, and it filled 10 volumes (not four) and it was 15,490 pages, more than twice as long as they'd originally estimated to their publisher. The last volume of the first edition of the dictionary was published in 1928. It defined more than 400,000 word forms, and it used 1,861,200 quotations to help illustrate these definitions.

          Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a Supplement to the OED was published in four volumes. And then, in 1989, a big Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. It's the one you're most likely to find in a library today. Its 21,730 pages fill up 20 volumes, and it weighs nearly 140 pounds. There are more than 615,000 definitions for words in this edition, which also contains 2,436,600 quotations.

          The longest entry in the 1989 edition is the word "set" in its verb form: There are more than 430 listed ways the verb "set" is used. The entry for the verb "set" is 60,000 words long, the equivalent of a modestly sized novel. The Bible is quoted more than any other work in the Oxford English Dictionary, and Shakespeare is quoted more than any other single author. Of Shakespeare's works, Hamlet is quoted the most — there about 1,600 quotations from Hamlet alone in the OED.

          In 1992, a CD-ROM version of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. Now the dictionary is online, where it's constantly under revision.

          Many of the facts found in this entry about the Oxford English Dictionary — and more information about it -— can be found on the OED's own site: http://www.oed.com/about/