Friday, April 30, 2010

Spill, Baby, Spill

The horror of the oil spill out in the Gulf of Mexico is now becoming fully apparent. What's incontestable is that this accident is going to be a environmental catastrophe that will be a benchmark for our despoliation of the planet in the same class as the Exxon Valdez and Santa Barbara spills of storied memory. The early estimates--and where did these come from, one wonders? Could it have been BP? Or the government?--the early estimates could not have been more mistaken. (And lest we forget, 11 guys who worked out on that rig died.)

It really doesn't matter who put out the first word, it's clear that the initial estimates which minimized the extent of the spill, and hence the difficulty of containing the spread of the oil, the danger to the coastal environment, the amount of time it would take to contain the spill, and the resources that would be needed, these estimates were pretty far off base. Remember the initial announcements? They said nothing about any oil spilling at all. In fact, they led you to believe that the well had been capped off. Well, it was not long before we got disabused of that notion. But up until late yesterday, the reporting did not seem to have any sense of urgency about it. Well, that's gone. Oh, it's urgent now, alright. This oil spill has the potential to be the worst that's ever happened on the globe.

How bad is this? It's frigging off the chart, that's how bad:


Ian MacDonald, professor of oceanography at Florida State University who specializes in tracking ocean oil seeps from satellite imagery, said there may already be more than 9 million gallons of oil floating in the Gulf now, based on his estimate of a 25,000 barrel-a-day leak rate. That's compared to 12 million gallons spilled in the Valdez accident.
Interior Department officials said it may take 90 days to cap the leaking well. If the 25,000 barrels a day is accurate and it leaks for 90 days, that's 2.25 million barrels or 94.5 million gallons.





Listen, I'm from South Louisiana. I grew up in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The oil business was always offshore, where you could not see it. But what you could see was the incredible bounty of the Gulf waters and the tidelands: oysters, crawfish, shrimp, crab, redfish, flounder. These creatures and all the wonderful birds and other swampland creatures were always there, too. They defined the state, and to a certain extent they defined everybody who was bred and raised in south Louisiana. Which is why, I think that this oil spill which is now certain to wreck unspeakable havoc on the Louisiana coast  has hit me here in Oklahoma much harder than I could have ever imagined. This thing is just so outrageous; it makes me furious with the Fates that decreed this. It makes me furious at the mindless idiots screaming "Drill, baby, drill" during the presidential election.  It makes me furious at Obama and his caving to the goddamn oil companies. It makes me furious that we industrial sophisticates are apparently helpless to prevent what's going to happen to the Gulf coast from happening. All that, but at the same time I want to cry. I want to weep out loud because of the profound ugliness of this mess, because of humankind's cruelty to this earth and to its creatures who sustain us. Because the fragile and threatened coastal wetlands of my home state are going to be irreparably damaged. Just because of the death this spill deals and represents. Death. Who would not cry?

God's Grandeur

Gerard Manley Hopkins is not an easy poet. He's 19th century, and as I recall, was not all that popular in his own time. (Not so today when he is recognized along with Dickinson and Whitman as probably one of the most influential poets on our own age.) He lived in a time of conventional verse, and his verse is anything but.* I remember, though, when I first encountered him in high school, I found his stuff utterly enchanting. Magical what he did with the sounds. And some of the lines from his poems still stick with me today. The title of the blog entry today is the title of a Hopkin's poem, "God's Grandeur." It begins with the line: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." This is a line that's resonated with me for years.

And also, I'm sure, with another guy whose thoughts resonate with me all the time. His name is Richard Rohr. He's a Franciscan priest, a Christian mystic. Every day I read a short reflection on the week's theme. He's ever interesting and (to me at least) ever relevant. He's got an expansive vision and a big soul. I have to confess that it's become an impossibility for me to longer fully embrace the conventional Church Christianity I was raised in. It's too narrow, too confining of the hugeness of God and God's creation. It puts God in a box we have constructed, and it turns him into an instrument of our own aims. This simply cannot be. Richard Rohr knows this. He's out on the edge of thinking about God. Exactly where, if one's inclined to look, one will find the God of the Universe.

Anyway, here's what Rohr writes today:

I think morality for the future is going to come by and large from the land, not from religion. And let’s be honest, shaming and commandments have not done a very good job thus far.  I think the Earth itself is going to tell us we have to live simple lives, we have to live reverent lives, and we have to live together.  If creation is indeed the body of God—the revelation of who God is—is that such a terrible thing?  Yet I know some Christians who see red if you say such a thing.  Where would that come from?
I am not worshipping the earth, but I do see it as a part of God and a revelation of God, and therefore to be honored and listened to and respected.  If God is God, then the Divinity is not protective or jealous of any sharing of Divine Glory, any more than parents are diminished when people praise their children.  Quite the contrary!

Morality coming from the land . . . now there's a thought you don't see ever coupled with Christianity. In fact, not so long ago saying this kind of thing got you branded a heretic. And the statement that "shaming and the commandments" haven't done a very good job thus far, well, how many church-going Christians would you think you could find who would 'fess up to this? I really wonder. I'd like to know how many of them like me are out there. And in a church at that.                                                                                            

*All of Hopkins' poems can be found here. If you want some suggestions, try "Carrion Comfort," "God's Grandeur," "The Caged Skylark," "Pied Beauty," and "To a Young Child." 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Santa's Going Smokeless

So, OK. So-called "smokeless tobacco" products aren't good for you. They can cause cancer and other bad stuff. I myself, though I smoked tobacco for over 30 years, never could see the appeal of snuff, chewing tobacco, or dip. But I have been acquainted with guys who liked to dip. The first boss I ever had in Oklahoma actually chewed. Used to spit into a mug he kept on his desk. To each his own . . .

Yes, it was disgusting, but I never thought Congress should pass a law to keep this guy and bunches of other guys like him from chewing tobacco at all. In fact, I would have been mystified back in 1978 to hear that Congress was even considering such a thing. Congress, after all, had better things to do. What the hell did the national legislature care whether some guy out in the country dipped daily or walked around with a plug in his pocket?

But those days are long gone. We have entered the age of paper-thin skin everywhere, and everybody's nose under your tent, in your face, in your business. No one should ever be offended, disgusted, horrified, angered, disturbed, hurt, or discomforted by what you say, what you look like, or what you decide to put in your mouth and chew. Hey, I'm as "sensitive" as the next guy, but this PC crap has really gotten out of hand. No one is offended by the fact this country bestows a trillion dollars a year on the defense department to kill people. No one is offended that millions of kids in the country go to bed hungry. No one is offended that the national policy of this country allows torture of our enemies, violation of cherished civil liberties of the citizens of this country. No one, apparently, is offended by the idea of opening up a bizillion more offshore acres for the oil companies to drill in. But, please, Lord, let's not have anybody's feelings hurt by anything at all.

Quite in keeping: oh, dear, let us not have baseball players chewing tobacco. (You can guess the rationale without even reading about it--bad for you, bad example for the kids, generally disgusting habit.) The Congress of the United States, led by the Democrats, of course (the same people who have proven absolutely spineless since they took power in January last year) is putting pressure on major league baseball to ban the use of smokeless tobacco from the sport. Are you kidding me? Are you serious? Tobacco and baseball are like hamburger and fries, Mutt and Jeff, movies and popcorn, Christmas and Santa! I can no more imagine baseball without tobacco than I can imagine Mitch McConnell becoming a Democrat.

Here's what I suggest: major league baseball should send a big fat black 38-oz Louisville Slugger bat to Congress and tell them to shove it up their butt.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It Ain't Reform

Let me just say this about the so-called financial reform package currently generating all this heat in Washington. It's a crock.

Do this exercise. Juxtapose this article, entitled "Speculating Banks Still Rule -- Ten Ways Dems and Dodd Are Failing on Financial Reform" and subtitled "None of this is reform. We are better off with nada than vapid promises and a false sense of security." Here's the situation right now: "banking businesses that are tied to the real economy are dying, but raw gambling disguised as finance is doing fine." And the so-called reform bill doesn't do anything about this. The reform package "won't change the nature of anything Wall Street does."

or this one by Robert Reich*

. . . with this piece, "Total Wall Street Bailout Cost." This latter piece is truly excellent. My son sent it to me. It's probably the most authoritative numbers we have--and they are updated monthly-- about what this anal rape of the taxpayer by Wall Street is costing. Here's the bottom line: All dollars here are taxpayer dollars, OUR money: Total disbursed (to Wall Street): $4.66 trillion. Maximum funds at-risk (from all the toxic assets we covered for Wall Street): $13.67 trillion. Total outstanding (what Wall Street has not paid us back): $1.98 trillion.

How did our country ever get to this place? Well, I can't say for sure, but let me venture a guess. Everybody bought the bullshit crackpot economic ideas brought to us by that prince of intellects, Ronald Reagan. The country's been in a downward spiral ever since. And even the same blatant crimes by the Wall Street fat cats that almost brought the world to its knees being committed right before our eyes aren't enough to stir us. I tell you, brothers and sisters, we deserve whatever happens to us.

*Main flaws according to Reich 1. Require that trading of all derivatives be done on open exchanges where parties have to disclose what they’re buying and selling and have enough capital to pay up if their bets go wrong. The exception in the current bill for so-called “customized” derivatives opens up a loophole big enough for bankers to drive their Ferrari’s through. 2. Resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act in its entirety so commercial banks are separated from investment banks. The current bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. 3. Cap the size of big banks at $100 billion in assets. The current bill doesn’t limit the size of banks at all.. . .  The only way to ensure no bank is too big to fail is to make sure no bank is too big, period.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Chewy Tidbits (that taste like crap)

I've mentioned Harper's "Index" before. It's one of my favorite parts of the magazine. Up front. Read quickly. Thought-provoking. Fun. But often disheartening, if not downright depressing.

So in the latest issue (May, 2010) there appeared lots of interesting tidbits. I'm going to share with you the ones that I found particularly striking.

  • Percentage of Republicans in a January survey who believed their state should secede from the Union: 23
Almost one in four members of the Republican party says this?? It's difficult to believe, isn't it? You really have to wonder about the depths of rage against Washington that would drive such sentiments. And, most bothersome to me, the state of mind that allows wiping the seminal event in American history right out of the picture. Are people really this ignorant of what the Civil War meant? Take your pick: they can be angry and insane or ignorant and insane or angry, ignorant and insane. There's no choice "none of the above."
  • Projected amount by which US defense spending will rise next year under Obama's "spending freeze": $30,569,000,000
  • Total unfunded retirement liabilities of US state governments today: $1,000,000,000,000
Think about it. I'm not so sure being a federal retiree is much better in terms of unfunded requirements, but if the Fed goes belly up, it's game over anyway. But where are the states going to get this immense sum of money? I'll tell you where. From everything that lawmakers consider unimportant, and this will vary from state to state, but there are going to be a few constants. Infrastructure spending. (Say goodbye to all that stuff you took for granted, like potholes and bridges being fixed, problem-free sewage, and anything progressive in education.)
  • Percentage of Americans who support allowing "homosexuals" to serve in the military: 59
  • Percentage who support allowing "gay men and lesbians" to serve: 70 
Ooookay.
  • Number of grammatical errors found by a retired high school teacher in a single issue of The Miami Herald in January: 133
This is at least indirectly related to secession and homosexuals, don't you think?
  • Percentage of US seniors who favor legalized marijuana for personal use: 23
  • Percentage who favor legalizing it for medical use: 69 
Because as everybody knows, weed is as dangerous as heroin, and besides God does not want us to have fun of any description.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hedges on the Scary State of Things

You are not going to be particularly uplifted by this speech. But I guarantee you, it is worth the half-hour's time it will take you to listen to it. Hedges is never far from his main theme: we live in a morally bankrupt corporate state. There is no salvation in Democrats and liberals, in fact, they have betrayed us. He is outraged by the immorality we accept. Bravo! Long may he call us to the real truth. Some random quotes:

"They work overtime to make us afraid."
"It is our role to make the powerful frightened of us."

"There are moral imperatives we must respond to even when things are getting worse."

"The threat that we face does not come from Islamic terrorism, it comes from totalitarian capitalism."

Note: Hedges' speech is about 30 minutes long. Then he responds to remarks and questions by and from people from the audience. Worth watching if you have the time. If you hang around, Hedges talks about his personal life, the influence of his father, and how he came to quit the New York Times over the Iraq war. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cigar Jesus and the Treacherous Path

An extended conversation during my recent trip to Florida to visit my sons and friends there, more or less accurately described in the poem below, inspired this poem. 

Cigar Jesus and the Treacherous Path 
The theology wasn’t as thick as the smoke,
if indeed theology it was,
but it hung there in the damp Tampa air
like the sinuous, swirly whiff of heaven
hanging around after some peasant cripple
with a gnarly knee
meets a guy who tells him to roll up
his pallet and walk.
And he does.

No such miracles that evening,
only aged, weathered friendships
probing the wine-spawned
question before the Corona Council:
how many millions should an affluent
suburban parish, pay
for a temple to Jesus?
A matter of some contention, this . . .
(Though Jesus intruded but slightly and no one
said “affluent” even once.)
what with weekend and holy day crowd crush,
expanding worshipful,
no room for meetings, luncheons, classes,
this group and that, kids and teens,
and all the many in-betweens.
And let’s not discount the coffers we fill
for this cause and that.
Our generosity is legend.

But the gospel is clear, someone counters.
Only the poor and poorer yet matter.
Hunger and want trump
God the gilded,
God the regal and sumptuous,
always and everywhere.
No colossal monuments to the cushy
Christ of well-heeled worshipers,
no imposing edifices to caress the eyes
of comfortable pensioners, professionals
and their entitled spouses.
No visible certification of lucre’s luster
in the eyes of God.
With the cigars just nubs and the wine
all gone, theology receded.
Gave way to matters of moment:
How’s your grandson?
What’s Harry up to these days?
The market’s down fifty, for Christ sake!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cops and (Unfortunate) Robbers

I've been meaning to post this for a while now. So it stands to reason that this piece by Gore Vidal is not exactly fresh in my mind. The link has been sitting on my desktop for some weeks. So my memory of the specifics of this piece are hazy at best. But the main point is not gone. It's something I've alluded to and discussed here before. And that's the violence the police in this regularly visit upon the citizens. Vidal laments the situation in his inimitable way, and I don't think he exaggerates to call the country we live in a police state. But as always, he is incisive. The root of the whole matter, he writes, is the class divide in the US. This is not something you're going to read about every day in America, the land of opportunity.
The real issue is class. We have the greatest divide between the very rich and the very poor of any country on Earth, surpassing even France. And this division gets wider and wider as financial disasters overwhelm us. We were already in pretty bad shape before things began to fall apart a year or two ago. We must acknowledge that our character, never much good in these matters, is now reprehensible, and the police seem to have taken it upon themselves to exact revenge for a full professor and his—plainly, in their view—insulting income, which they figure must be considerable. [Vidal's takeoff for this article was the arrest of a black Harvard prof on the porch of his own home.] The days of greed through which we all lived now have not done us much good, nor have they taught us any lessons, but you cannot live long with such divisions, which in my view as an outsider overlooking the scene seems to be a nation of total liars. Everybody is lying. 
Call me an alarmist, but when's the last time you thought about the power of the police in this country? Check this article and accompanying videos out for some seriously disturbing examples of what is going on out there on the streets of our country every day. Seriously, have you taken a look at swat teams and rapid response guys in the police lately? They look like armies. And in fact, they are more heavily armed than ever and the shower of anti-terrorism money has really beefed these guys up. Have you checked out the assault gear and armored vehicles these guys have? How come nobody but Gore Vidal and I worry about stuff like this?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Did You Notice . . .

. . . the word of the day yesterday? Puzzlewit! You're not going to find it in your basic online dictionaries. It's slang. And I'm not going to tell you what it means. I will give you a hint. It could well be used to describe Sarah Palin or George W. Bush or your average denizen of tea parties.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Numbers

Has anybody else been following the really ace discussion of math in the New York Times of late? Well, actually, its "The Opionator" blog I'm looking at. The whole series, about half a dozen or so columns so far, is laid out for easy access right here. You know, I'm probably what could be described by some people as a nerd. I just love learning about things, and, since I'm somewhat of a purveyor of language myself, I admire intelligent people who can present complex ideas in coherent understandable fashion for the rest of us. Hence this marvelous series. If you have any interest whatsoever in numbers and math, give it a whirl.

I am interested, of course, in numbers and math because I'm interested in practically everything. It's always a joy to me to run into people who feel the same way. Or to encounter an expert in something who is willing to share what he knows. It's a given that he or she will be enthusiastic. I've always marveled at how much we know about everything on the one hand, and on the other how much we don't know about everything on the other hand. Something like cellular biology is a field wide open, despite the tremendous leaps we've made in the past ten years. Or astronomy and cosmology. Stuff like that. Sciences in general. All of this depends on math; all of it speaks math. It's a language I wish I spoke. (In fact, I wish I spoke at least three other languages besides my own. I'm still tinkering with the idea of getting a DVD course in Spanish--supposedly very good--and teaching myself. [Maybe I can get my daughter to go in halfsies with me; she did for an art course.] Anyway, the name of the company that makes these highly-touted language classes escapes me at the moment. If anybody knows, please drop a note.)

I never will speak higher math. Don't have that kind of mind. So a series like this one--the writer is Steven Strogatz, btw--is perfect. It's so good, the end of it will be a sad thing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Delicious

My son alerted me to this site the other day.* Actually, I knew about this site before. I say I knew, meaning I had once encountered the site and thought it was worth keeping for future reference. Which reminds me about the mega-URL saver site, delicious. It a so-called "social networking bookmark" site, but I've never used anything but my own bookmarks.** Delicious used to be called by the same name but it was broken up by several periods: de.li.cio.us. I'm not sure that's right and I'm pretty sure nobody else could ever remember where to put the damn periods, so they finally decided to render it plainly so normal humans could deal with it.

Delicious is there in case you need it. A lot, most, of the links I use all the time are more handy. They are on toolbars or in readily accessible folders. Which sites do you most frequent? I mean after Google. I'm sure almost everybody must use Google more than anything else, that is unless you're a truly independent cuss and don't use Google to search with. And your email site, of course. For me, it would probably be this blog site. One of these days, I'll take the time to find out what the actual tally is.

But to the point, delicious holds for me a treasure of places I might need sometime. Believe it or not, over the years, I've consulted with my delicious bookmark collection probably four or five times a year. It's another one of those "tar baby" places. Get stuck in there and you might not ever get out. Case in point: I just went and checked when I made my first entry into delicious. It was April 10, 2005. And here it is . . . well, hell. That site is busted. Probably gone. Next one up the list did come up: a heavy academic type research site. Whaddaya know? The first site did indeed come up upon the second try. Here's another random site from Baysage's delicious collection. Fun!

How do you handle your bookmarks? How many do you have? Do you use delicious or something like it? IMWTK.

*Not a bad site at all. If you're interested in tracking the lies and truths that emanate from the mouths of politicians, this is an excellent place to do it.


**I've got quite a few of them after saving them for several years now. 1,257 to be exact. You can find another link to delicious and my bookmarks there right here on Powderfinger. Look down under the labels. Apropos of nothing, I wonder how many people play around with the stuff on the right-side column? I occasionally play around with such things on other people's blogs is the reason I'm wondering.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Horror We Salute

We live our lives. We go to the store, do our shopping, go to our job (if we're lucky enough to have one), and we do all the mundane things we do every day, all those things that make up our lives. We worry about bills, the kids, and maybe even the state of the country. But odds are for most of us we never give a thought to the almost $1 trillion dollars of our money that our country uses to finance a rapacious military machine every year.

Armies and navies do not exist to put on parades and pretty sail-byes. They exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to wage war. And our country has been in a state of war now for 60 years. It's been 20 years since the end of the Cold War, the justification for horrendous expenditures ever since end of WWII. But so-called defense spending has not diminished. We are currently engaged in two wars, which are costing billions of dollars for purposes that I, and presumably a lot of other people, do not understand. Not in the face of the many, many human needs in this country that go unmet. And, worse, since the victims of war, and of the wars we wage, are mostly civilians. The old, women, children. Children. We kill children and call it "collateral damage." At least now the military goes through the motions of apologies and explanations, but the killing doesn't end. Even if the military tries to respect civilian populations, as they say they do, the killing of civilians does not end. And it will not end until we realize that war is killing us, too.

I think it's good to remember every now and again exactly what war is. War is about killing. It's about one set of armed officially sanctioned killers being set upon another set of armed officially sanctioned killers to wreak as much violence, death, and destruction on them as possible. It's also good to remember while we're waving our American flags and pledging allegiance and saluting our heroes in uniform that this our country is the only one on the history of the world to use nuclear weapons on another country. And it's good to remember too that the targets of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen because they had not already been devastated by bombs. And that those bombs were loosed in full knowledge that the slaughter and destruction they would cause would be completely indiscriminate. I've never forgotten this fact about our country. To me it stands as a pretty clear warning of what we're capable of.

The following images of the aftermath of the atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima are horrifying. But this is what war is. It's horror. If more people saw it, maybe they would not love it so much.




Thursday, April 15, 2010

Trivia Me This . . .

Like trivia? Some people actually don't, I hear. I never met anybody in that category. So here's some totally useless information for you. And if you want to OD on trivia regularly, try this web site. Fair warning. It's like quicksand. It will suck you down and hold you immovable.


    »   There are 119 grooves on the edge of a quarter.
    »   The Honours of Scotland are the Crown, the Sceptre, and the Sword of State. They are emblems of kingly power when Scotland was a separate kingdom
    »   Saturday mail delivery in Canada was eliminated by Canada Post on February 1, 1969.
    »   In Tokyo, a bicycle is faster than a car for most trips of less than 50 minutes.
    »   The Indian epic poem the "Mahabhrata" is eight times longer than "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" combined.
    »   Scarlett O' Hara, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind lead character, was originally given the name Pansy.
    »   In trucking circles, a "bumper sticker" is a tailgater who is following another vehicle too closely.
    »   Set in 175 acres of woodland in Yorkshire Dales, Britain's Lightwater Valley Theme Park has the longest roller coaster in the world, The Ultimate, as affirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records 2000.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Remember 1956 Real Well

I was a pre-freshman at Jesuit. Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series. Russian tanks put down a revolt in Hungary. We lived on Chamberlain Drive, and my best friend was Frank Vicari.

And we used to always go to the Mid-City parade. This is great historical footage.



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Don't Kick That Particular Bowling Ball

Some pieces of writing are just little masterpieces. It's what I consider this piece by Jeremy Bernstein in the NY Review of Books blog to be. Its about witnessing two test explosions of nuclear weapons. It's chillingly understated. And worth your time. Won't take long to read it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

One's Not Enough

I'm constantly tinkering with this blog. Anybody who does this knows what I mean. I always correct errors that creep in on what gets posted. Even days later, if I see an error--most of the time for me, it's incomplete sentences--I correct it. Which really doesn't pass the common sense test, because who under the heavens is likely to ever know or notice? But there it is. Sigh.

So here's what I did today. You know that list that appears on the left right way down the column after the blog archive? Yes, that one. The one that's labeled "Labels." Well, I decided that if there's only one entry under a label, it's totally illogical to have it in this list of labels. For if something is only mentioned once in over 500 blog posts, it's not likely to show up again. Plus, how many other thousands of things have I mentioned once that don't appear in the "Labels" list? Lots of times somebody is mentioned in a blog, and I don't create a label because the likelihood of their showing up again is remote. Some however, I thought might, so I made a label. And it turns out they didn't come up again. So I tossed out all those labels that just had one instance attached. Here's what we're saying goodbye to:

Bobby Jindal
death penalty
Eric Holder
Haiti
Howard Dean
Iran
Mark McGwire
Nancy Pelosi
Pakistan
Portugal
Roger Clemens
The Beatles
Warren Harding
William Henry Harrison

Yes, yes. I know. Some of these references it's hard to believe have only one entry. What can I say? Some of these might resurface if they start making the news. In the meantime, anybody who wants to find Warren Harding in my blog can do the Google search that's right here attached. LeftRight-hand column. Near the top.

Update I: Upon reading this today, I noticed that I wrote this entry before the time I decided to upgrade the look of the blog. Which moved everything that had been on the left-hand side over to the right-hand said. Hence making all references to the "left-hand side" or "on the left" incorrect. Hence necessitating the edit of the original post to correct this egregious misleading of readers. All QED. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Parades

I wrote this one a few weeks ago.

Parades

The only memory for a Cresent City kid:
Mardi Gras krewes—Momus and Comus,
Bacchus, Babylon, Zulu, and Rex—
Carnival crazy on the city’s streets.

Shrieking siren. Parade’s coming!
Tower truck leading, checking the trees.
Tall as the tallest float, Dad said.
Flambeaux guys, bobbing to the beat,
torching the night with crackling light,
not a white face among them.

Horns and drums. Horses prancing
prettily as morning glories bussed by the breeze.
Masked madcaps in sequins and capes
casting small blessings into the ocean
of hands: “Hey, mistah, throw me sumptin’!”

Beads glistening and dripping,
caught in the trees even months later.
Blessings suspended.
Technicolor tears in Katrina’s hometown.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Our Absolutely Amazing Times

We live in remarkable times! Despite everything that's wrong, there are still wonders of the age that we have before us every day. For example, C-Span, that indispensable engine of public service (even if you discount the b.s. that spews out of politicians about 90 percent of the time), has recently made its entire video library, which goes back to 1987, available on the Internet. That's 23 years of political history, over 160,000 hours. All the presidential press conferences, Congressional sessions, even Book TV. Here's the New York Times story about it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

And the Winner Is . . .


Apes! (After us, of course.)

Not long ago a piece in a blog I read regularly asserted that goats were smart animals. Well, I always thought these cloven-footed beasts and their cousins the sheep were among the most stupid of animals. But naturally, being the completely anal person I am when it comes to verification of facts,* I naturally had to go look up information on the intelligence of animals. So I googled "what is the smartest animal" Here are the results from the first half dozen sites that came up. I list them in rough order from smartest on down, along with the position various sites put them in. Speaking of verifying facts, it's not surprise that the sources did not agree. Some of the lists listed more than ten animals and one mentioned only five. Here's what's notable, I think. Only three animals appeared on all six lists. Sure didn't know about those cephalopods. Biggest surprise: sheep! But no goats.

Humans (1)
Primates (1) (1) (1) (1)  // Chimps (1) (2)  // Orangutan (3)
Elephants (2) (5) (4)  (3) (4) (3)
Dolphins (3) (2) (2) (2) (3) (2)
Rats (4) (13) (10)
Monkeys (4) (5)
Crows (6) (6) (5) (6)
Parrots (7) (7) (4) (4)
Sheep (8) (15)
Octopus/Squid (9) (12) (9) (5)
Whales (10) (3) (2) (2) 
Dogs (8) (15) (8) (5)
Cats (9) (5) (9) (5)
Squirrels (11) (7) (7)
Pigs (10) (6) (10)
Pigeons (14) (8)


*One of my less lovable traits according to my dear wife, this compulsion to have things stated correctly. Indeed, life has taught me that the vast majority of people really don't give a rat's ass--if those intelligent rats will forgive the expression--about what the actual facts are. It used to, but no longer does, amaze me that people much prefer their prejudices, cherished misinformation, and delusions to the actual facts. And few will expend the time that's necessary to get their facts straight. This is not a good thing at all, because all discussion about virtually anything has to begin with agreement on what facts are. Admittedly, sometimes facts are disputed, but at the minimum there has to be some attempt to verify them. But I digress.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mart of Darkness--Exhibit A

This story is just one of the many reasons I call Walmart "the Mart of Darkness." If anybody thinks that there's anything benevolent about the world's largest corporation, well, I've got some ocean-front property in Colorado I'd like to sell them. Seems that Joe Casias, a Walmart employee for five years with a spotless record--he was even "Associate of the Year" in 2008--has been fired for testing positive for marijuana. Never mind the guy has cancer of the sinus and an inoperable brain tumor, i.e., a sure death sentence. Or that he's using marijuana under a doctor's prescription in a state that allows medical marijuana. No. Hell, no. Fire this poor guy. To make matters worse, Walmart is protesting payment of unemployment to this guy.

Question what overpaid nitwit in the Walmart hierarchy decided this was the proper course of action? Question two: how many millions of dollars is all the negative publicity from this going to cost Walmart? Tons I hope. But you know what? They don't care, nor do they have to.

Follow-up I: Jim Hightower is similarly outraged.  And he supplies a number you can call to give Walmart a piece of your mind.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Pride of Owasso

I don't often pick on Oklahoma politicians on the quite sound theory that they are such renowned imbeciles that it would be redundant to pick on them. But I just want to note that a dude named Randy Brogdon from the metropolis of Owasso, Oklahoma, is running for governor. From all indications he's to the right of our dim-witted GOP congressperson Mary Fallin--the gay-basher and "Don't Tread on Me" flag-waver and cheerleader for the rabid dog Tea Party people in DC lately, also running for governor here. 

In a recent speech, he basically called for the state of Oklahoma to sever ties with Washington. Spurred by some hearty "Amens!" from an ancient Baptist preacher in attendance, Brogdon in a recent speech claimed to be more conservative than Fallin, who is basically to the right of Joseph Goebbels, but not nearly as intelligent. The nation as well as individual liberties are at risk, claims Brogdon, because 

"We have slipped back and settled for corruption, ignorance and reckless behavior by our elected officials . . .  “I’m afraid Washington, D.C., has become rotten to the core and it’s going to take all of us to fix it.”

“Historically, we elect career politicians and trial attorneys," he continued. "I’m neither. I’m a heat and air guy from Owasso, Oklahoma.”

This is the same old jive we've been listening to from the right ever since they lost their hold on the government. But you better believe it makes this guy a strong candidate for governor here in this bastion of morons. Just what the state needs in charge, a heat and air guy from Owasso.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Repulsive . . . in Several Arenas

I like lists. I think most people do. I even remember blogging about it at one time. For the past couple of days I've been confronted with several items of experience that reminds me of things (and people and situations) I find truly repulsive. So I thought I'd share. I think it's repulsive . . .

Would you want to be a polar bear right now?
  • that the average salary of a major league ball player is something like $3.2 million a year. Average.
  • that the Roman Catholic Church thinks that the best way to handle the ever-recurring and still raging sexual abuse of children scandal and especially the complicity of the bishops in perpetuating pedophilia by the clergy is to attack the messenger, i.e., the media, instead of facing up to the stark truth. An institution that presumes to speak for God, no less.
  • that people are outraged by public funds for immigrants and recipients of entitlement programs but don't give a hoot about the Wall Street bankers who are making billions of dollars on taxpayer money and fighting any reform of their nefarious practices. Which, by the way, they're still engaged in, only this time with everybody's money but their own.
  • that our roads are crumbling, along with our sewer systems, bridges, and all other manner of public works, while the US military gets whatever the hell expensive toys it wants. What is wants most of all is war, and they've got two of 'em going. They're in hog heaven.
  • that bloated fat-cat CEOs of companies like this coal outfit in West Virginia, Massey Energy, can simply ignore safety regulations and complaints and endanger the lives of its workers to the point where eventually slipshod practices kill 25 or more of them. Profits over people. It's been that way ever since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
  • that the Tea Party imbeciles are running around screaming at the top of their lungs about things they know nothing about  and worse, are actually having a serious impact on politics in some places.
  • that scumbag politicians and the media types are doing all they can with lies, half-truths, deceptive spin, and plain malice to stir up fear and encourage the mindless mob to hate people who disagree with them and, moreover, to believe that the entire country is on the verge of collapse because Barrack Obama is the president. 
  • that the habitat of polar bears is melting away and that their very existence in Alaska is doubtful past 2050.
  • that knuckle-dragging gun lovers are running around the woods in camis, playing soldier, and praying for the time when they can take to the woods in earnest with their arsenals to overthrown the "repressive" US government.
  • that hate crimes still happen regularly in this country.
  • that the oceans are being fished out and that by the middle of this century, there could be virtually no fish left . . . just like the oysters in the Lewis Carroll poem. Gone, baby, gone.
  • that the damnable New York Yankees are again favored by most prognosticators to win the World Series again this year.
A partial list at best, but it hits the high points.

Monday, April 5, 2010

It's Time

Today baseball fans everywhere greet each other with a phrase that's music in their ears "Happy Opening Day." The season has begun. The long wait is over; spring training is over. All the games from now on count. Doesn't matter what your team did in spring training. Everybody starts the season 0-0. And the only thing that makes it better is your team winning. And if they do it in the dramatic fashion my Rangers did it this afternoon, it's just icing on the very tasty cake. In fact, that makes the day just about perfect. Hitless through six and a third innings of baseball--the Rangers could not touch Shaun Marcum's baffling change-up--they managed to tie the game in that inning on a dramatic home run by Nellie Cruz. Down by a run in the bottom of the ninth, the Rangers scored two runs by getting four of their six hits when it mattered. Hero was catcher Jarod Saltalamacchia (his name covers half the back of his jersey) who singled in the walk-off winning run. Here's the write-up of the game. Also here. Go Rangers!



All the buzz around the team and around Arlington is "It's Time." The Rangers have built a strong team around young good pitchers. They have a bevy of great hitters, and the defense is better than solid. "It's time," say we all for the Rangers to win their division and more. It's past time. Indeed, this is not going to be a year of wishful thinking. Every true-blooded Ranger fan is excited. We have not had a team with this much potential to do great things in a long time.

And let me point out, today was the real opening day. Last night, on Easter Sunday night no less, to generate money for a network that doesn't need any more, the New York Yankees opened against Boston in Fenway Park. This match-up between two filthy rich and puffed up franchises who have detested each other for over a century is always guaranteed a substantial  audience. But it was obvious what this game was all about. I'm sorry. Baseball season does not begin on a Sunday. It starts on a Monday and with a full slate of games. Like it did today. But I might add my delight with the Ranger win today is all the sweeter because the damn Yankees lost their game last night. I hope it's the first of many, many more.

Here's the box score of today's great win.

         Texas 5, Toronto 4
Monday, April 5, 2010 2:05 PM
Location - Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
Temperature - 76°
Umpires - Home Plate - Gerry Davis, First Base - Brian Knight, Second Base - Greg Gibson, Third Base - Scott Barry,
Attendance - 50299
Final Scoring Summary
Final123456789RHE
Toronto 201000010481
Texas 000000302561
Toronto
Hitters Pos AB R H RBI BB K LOB Avg
Jose Bautista RF 4 1 0 0 1 1 1 .000
Aaron Hill 2B 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 .250
Adam Lind DH 3 2 3 1 1 0 0 1.000
Vernon Wells CF 4 1 3 3 0 0 1 .750
Lyle Overbay 1B 4 0 0 0 0 1 5 .000
John Buck C 4 0 0 0 0 1 4 .000
Edwin Encarnacion 3B 4 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000
Alex Gonzalez SS 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 .250
Travis Snider LF 4 0 0 0 0 3 1 .000
Totals 35 4 8 4 2 7 12
Batting
2B - Aaron Hill (1)
HR - Adam Lind (1), Vernon Wells (1)
TB - Aaron Hill 2, Adam Lind 6, Vernon Wells 6, Alex Gonzalez
RBI - Adam Lind (1), Vernon Wells 3 (3)
2-Out RBI - Adam Lind (1), Vernon Wells 2 (2)
Runners left in scoring position, 2 out - Jose Bautista (1), John Buck 2 (2)
GIDP - Lyle Overbay (1)
Team LOB - 6
Baserunning
SB - Alex Gonzalez (1, 2nd off Francisco/Saltalamacchia)
Fielding
E - Edwin Encarnacion (1)
Pitchers IP H R ER BB K HR ERA
Shaun Marcum 7.0 2 3 3 1 6 1 3.86
Scott Downs (H 1) 1.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00
Jason Frasor (L 0-1; BS 1) 0.1 4 2 2 1 1 0 54.00
HBP - Vladimir Guerrero (by Marcum)
IBB - Chris Davis (by Frasor)
Pitches-Strikes - Shaun Marcum 92-57, Scott Downs 11-8, Jason Frasor 22-14
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Shaun Marcum 5-10, Scott Downs 2-0, Jason Frasor 0-0
Batters Faced - Shaun Marcum 25, Scott Downs 3, Jason Frasor 6
Texas
Hitters Pos AB R H RBI BB K LOB Avg
Julio Borbon CF 4 0 0 0 0 2 0 .000
Michael Young 3B 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 .250
Josh Hamilton LF 3 1 0 0 1 2 2 .000
Vladimir Guerrero DH 3 1 2 0 0 0 1 .667
     David Murphy PR-DH 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Nelson Cruz RF 4 1 2 4 0 0 1 .500
Chris Davis 1B 3 0 0 0 1 0 1 .000
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C 4 0 1 1 0 0 0 .250
Andres Blanco 2B 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000
     Ryan Garko PH 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000
     Joaquin Arias 2B 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Elvis Andrus SS 3 0 0 0 0 2 0 .000
Totals 31 5 6 5 2 7 5
Batting
2B - Michael Young (1), Nelson Cruz (1)
HR - Nelson Cruz (1)
TB - Michael Young 2, Vladimir Guerrero 2, Nelson Cruz 6, Jarrod Saltalamacchia
RBI - Nelson Cruz 4 (4), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1)
GIDP - Chris Davis (1)
Team LOB - 4
Fielding
E - Andres Blanco (1)
Pitchers IP H R ER BB K HR ERA
Scott Feldman 7.0 5 3 3 0 3 2 3.86
Neftali Feliz 0.1 2 1 1 2 1 0 27.00
Darren Oliver 0.2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.00
Frank Francisco (W 1-0) 1.0 1 0 0 0 2 0 0.00
IBB - Adam Lind (by Feliz)
Pitches-Strikes - Scott Feldman 100-63, Neftali Feliz 18-7, Darren Oliver 6-5, Frank Francisco 17-12
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Scott Feldman 5-11, Neftali Feliz 0-0, Darren Oliver 0-1, Frank Francisco 0-1
Batters Faced - Scott Feldman 26, Neftali Feliz 5, Darren Oliver 2, Frank Francisco 4
Inherited Runners-Scored - Darren Oliver 3-0

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Thinking about Friday on Saturday

Still thinking about Good Friday, and more specifically the idea of redemption. In Christianity to put it in the starkest terms: God in human form (Jesus), the second manifestation (person) of a single God with three manifestations, died to expiate the sin of all humankind to God, the first manifestation. This is, to the say the least, a problematical construction. I've been engaged with Christianity for practically my entire life. I would imagine that this problem of redemption has bugged me for probably the last 15-20 years. I do believe that one grows in faith if one is trying to be faithful. So what's happened to me is that my understanding of God and his/her/its dealing with humankind has broadened (if that is the right word). Jesus is still my hero, but I don't think He had the first clue about being divine, which, when I think about it is the only way he could be a hero to me.

The bane of Christianity is the literal reading of Scripture, something that scholars have blown up beginning 200 years ago, but this gross misunderstanding of Scripture is still what most believers rely upon. (The only way around this approach is knowledge and study, which, I shall observe, in not in great quantity among adherents of any religion that has "holy books.")  Not to mention the hordes of noisy atheists, skeptics, and naysayers--all of them as ignorant of Scripture as the believers--who find people who read the Bible with any degree of literalism incredibly easy targets. Literalism with "holy books" is nothing but trouble. It misleads the gullible, amuses the scoffers, and goads the loudmouth non-believers. Moreover, and far more consequential, a literal reading of Scripture limits God. I don't think God can be apprehended in any way but metaphorical, the only way for idea to be both personal and expansive enough to encompass everybody on the planet who is trying to understand God at all, trying to grasp the immensity of the divine.

Which brings me back again to Good Friday. Here's the way Richard Rohr, a Franciscan mystic, explains the crucifixion of Jesus. I present it as an example of the kind of thinking about the Christian God that I've come to over the years. It's way beyond the silly notion that humanity somehow owes something to a God who supposedly called humanity into existence out of love.
Today the primary human problem, the core issue that defeats human history, is both revealed and resolved.  It is indeed a “good” Friday.  The central issue at work is the human inclination to kill others, in any multitude of ways, instead of dying ourselves—to our own illusions, pretenses, narcissism, and self-defeating behaviors.  Jesus dies “for us” not in the sense of “in place of” but actually “in solidarity with” us, to show us how!  The first is merely a metaphysical transaction of sorts, the second is a transformation of soul and history and people.
Whenever you see an image of the Crucified Jesus, know that it is the clear and central message unveiled.  It reveals what humanity is doing to itself and to one another.  It is you and every person and Jesus all at the same time.  Don’t lessen its meaning by making it merely into a mechanical transaction whereby Jesus pays some “price” to God or the devil. The only price paid is to the human soul—so it can see what it has done, who it is, and what it still can be.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fridays (& All the Other Days, Too) of Yesteryear

It's Good Friday. I remember in New Orleans, where I grew up, just about all the movies in town would close on Good Friday. Some restaurants and other places of business, too. Have you got a picture of that happening today? Lent was a serious affair for Catholics then. If you were grown-up, you fasted every day in Lent and you didn't eat meat on Fridays (ever, not just during Lent) and Ash Wednesday. On Good Friday, nobody did anything that could remotely be construed as fun. And you went to church. Hell, you went to church on Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday, too. Wall-to-wall church during Holy Week.

It was a different church in those days. We didn't know about pedophile priests and the scumbag system that protected them, even as we elevated "Fathers" everywhere to exalted heights . In fact, priests were like high priests in Montezuma's empire, actually. They performed the sacrifice. They had all the answers. They existed in some kind of otherworldly bubble of holiness that none of the rest of us sinners could possibly attain.

Religion was all about sin. Sin came from Adam and Eve, the original sin. Except it didn't stay with them. No, it was passed like a family heirloom. So the human family inherited it, and everybody was born already damned, a pretty serious situation. The sole reprieve was if you were baptized. God was owed, you see. Everybody had to pay because Adam and Eve couldn't leave the damn Tree of Knowledge alone. So everybody's life was a score book like from the day you arrived, grace versus sin, your's and everybody else's. You just hoped the score was slightly in your favor in the end (it could never be more than "slightly"), because there was hell to pay if you lost. God kept strict books.

How many million miles away is this? It's difficult to fathom that people could actually believe that's the way God operates. It's hard to believe that there are actually some Catholics who want to bring this horror back. All of it: the Latin, the cloying piety, the days of Rome-has-all-the-answers, the super-elevated clergy. And sin. Don't forget sin.

More on this tomorrow.