Saturday, December 31, 2011


Today is New Year's Eve. When Susan and I were younger, it was always a night of some kind of activity. A couple of years ago we went out with my sister- and brother-in-law, but that broke a pattern. We have no plans for the evening. And since I'm writing this on New Year's Day, I can tell you exactly what we did. We lay on the sofa and sat in the chair and watched part of the show from New York, the Times Square madness. A sure sign, in my opinion, of just how bored one can be with the whole festive proceedings accompanying the turn of the calendar from one year to the next.

Give it up, Dick. Please.
Nothing so illustrates just where we are than the sight of Dick Clark. It was pitiful. I told Susan he looked like walking death, and he sounded like it, too. (She didn't agree, but then, she didn't really recognize Dick Clark anyway.) The picture at the left doesn't really do him justice, because it doesn't capture the slurred, unnatural voice and the shaking hands. The guy appears to have have a stroke or something. The young host tossed it over to Dick at intervals, and the old codger was allowed to speak a sentence or two before the camera mercifully left him alone. Lord, please spare me from having to be in plain sight of a bazillion people when I'm so old, I'm just short of slobbering. Which is about where "America's Oldest Teenager" is today.

Thankfully, we didn't stay with this show. Some of the music was pretty good, but nothing show-stopping. We switched over to a New Year's Eve concert by Coldplay on Austin City Limits. This was better on the whole than the mixture of musical groups that trotted out in Times Square and in the West Coast echo in L.A.

I ran across this bit today in the "Writer's Almanac", and I thought it interesting. Maybe you will too.
The Times Square celebration dates back to 1904, when The New York Times opened its headquarters on Longacre Square. The newspaper convinced the city to rename the area "Times Square," and they hosted a big party, complete with fireworks, on New Year's Eve. Two hundred thousand people attended, but the paper's owner, Adolph Ochs, wanted the next celebration to be even splashier. In 1907, the paper's head electrician constructed a giant lighted ball that was lowered from the building's flagpole. The first Times Square Ball was made of wood and iron, weighed 700 pounds, and was lit by a hundred 25-watt bulbs. Now, it's made of Waterford crystal, weighs almost six tons, and is lit by more than 32,000 LED lights. The party in Times Square is attended by up to a million people every year.
Other cities have developed their own ball-dropping traditions. Atlanta, Georgia, drops a giant peach. Eastport, Maine, drops a sardine. Ocean City, Maryland, drops a beach ball, and Mobile, Alabama, drops a 600-pound electric Moon Pie. In Tempe, Arizona, a giant tortilla chip descends into a massive bowl of salsa. Brasstown, North Carolina, drops a Plexiglas pyramid containing a live possum; and Key West, Florida, drops an enormous ruby slipper with a drag queen inside it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Distant Peace

Coming to the year's end, this tune seems somehow appropriate. . . it is by Jackson Browne from over 20 years ago and it still resonates. It was a different time when he sang, but the story was one we're familiar with.

Peace is what the world needs in 2012, so sorely, so badly. It's the only thing that offers humankind some chance at salvation. But it's so far distant, I'd be lying if I told you I was optimistic about its coming. God bless all you faithful readers, and God bless you even if you're just dropping in.

  Jackson Browne - Lives In The Balance by Protest  

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Something We Need to Remember

This was interesting, I thought. From my friend Bob Becker. Just another way of seeing how dumb we really are. You'll probably have to spin this up to a size where you can read it. Sorry I could not get it bigger here and still fit.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Palliatives for Militarism, Part II

Continuing the discussion of what Andrew Bracevich prescribes for lessening militarism in the United States. 
  1.  See
  2.        yesterday . . .
  6. Devise an appropriate guage for determining the level of US defense spending--he suggests an amount equal to the amount spent by the next nine countries combined. It's still a vast sum, but it would save the country hundreds of billions.
  7. Enhance alternative instruments of statecraft--An area of gross deficiency for the US. The country needs a highly competent agency to coordinate and manage US diplomacy. This all means spending more and improving the work of the State Department.
  8. Revive the moribund concept of citizen-soldier--The all volunteer force has spawned an ethos "more akin to that of the French Foreign Legion." It's an imperial army. The army needs deep roots among the people of the republic. Ideal relationship of armed forces and democratic society is a symbiotic one."In terms of race, region, religion,a nd ethnicity, but above all in terms of class, America's armed services should--as they once did, at least in a rough way--mirror society. This does not mean return to conscription, but rather devising mechanisms to spur the willingness to serve in privileged America.
  9. Reexamine the role of the National Guard and reserve components--Obviously. The original purpose was to provide an armed militia for community self-defense, not another manpower pool for the regular army and navy.
  10. Reconcile the American military profession to American society--The officer corps should be rooted in society. I.e., the way values defining the military ethic are formed and inculcated have to be completely revised.
All this was explained in a lot greater detail in the book, but this should give you a taste. Everything he says makes sense, but I fear this country is just too far gone to ever take radical steps like he suggests. And everybody knows the old adage about "living by the sword."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Palliatives for Militarism

In re the book I mentioned yesterday Bracevich's The New American Militarism is worth your time to read. If you're interested in how we got to this pitiful state of affairs we're in now, where one must grovel a the feet of the generals and kiss the posteriors of the military at every turn. (Bracevich argues that He argues that the virulent militarism we experience now in this country grew out of the Vietnam war. Just another of the truly bad things that war gave life to. I certainly would have located the origins of our militarism back to the Second World War. Until that time, the American people maintained a very healthy skepticism about the existence of standing armies among a free people.

Bracevich describes the following prescriptions as "not a panacea but the prospect of causing present-day militaristic tendencies to abate":
  1. Heed the intentions of the Founders--nothing in the compact "commits or even encourages the US to employ military force to save the rest of humankind or to remake the world in its own image or even hints at any such purpose."
  2. Revitalize the concept of separation of powers--the presidency has not gotten too strong; Congress has failed egregiously to fulfill its responsibilities of deciding when and if the US should undertake military interventions abroad
  3. View Force as a Last Resort--Well, duh! Explicit renunciation of the Bush doctrine of preventative war. And return to declaratory policy in keeping with "our past moral and religious traditions, international law, and common sense."
  4. Enhance US self-sufficiency--a corollary of the above. Limit extent of US dependence on foreign resources.
  5. Organize US forces explicitly for national defense--Eschew "power projection." 
    • Shed unnecessary obligations
    • Bring US troops home from places they are no longer needed
    • Make clear to allies they have to pull their fair share of the load 
Continued tomorrow . . .

Monday, December 26, 2011

JFK Intel

Hope everyone had a great holiday. I took a little break for family events. Back now and ready to ring in 2012. In the meantime, some interesting information that I was not fully aware of, and I thought you might not be either.

Both during the campaign and his presidency Jack Kennedy was a walking pharmaceutical crash dummy. Recent biographer, Robert Dallek--An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 (2003)--reports that "JFK was routinely injected with drug cocktails that included painkillers, amphetamines, steroids, cortisone, procaine, testosterone, codeine, and Ritalin." (Quote from Andrew J Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War [2005], 294 n.4). More from this great book tomorrow.

(I'll betcha J. Edgar Hoover's file on JFK was 6 inches thick. JFK was randy as a goat and three times as active, as is well known.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Roasting by the Open Fire

That is Prozac, the "Boston Terror" on the right. On the left is Gidget, who is a holiday guest, while her "parents" are visiting their human son and wife in Guam. I have often thought that if there is anything to reincarnation, one could do worse than recycling as a dog in America.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Crummy Shoes

Click here for outrageous puns.
My daughter alerted me to this picture on this website. The best part was the whole long series of outrageous puns that followed the picture in the comments. You should check it out.

Let me tell you how weird I am. What would you think somebody's first reaction would be upon seeing this image? Certainly some variation on "This certainly is amusing," wouldn't you think? Well, that was not my reaction. I thought about what a waste this was in a world where there are so many people who are hungry. I really do have to let up sometime. I really do.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Word: Smart Bird

Pigeon performing a math test.
Interesting piece today in the Times about a subject that interests me greatly. That would be birds. My kids and family are well aware of my fascination with our feathered friends. In fact, I get unshirted hell about it from my kids. I don't think I could ever have the time it would take to get to be real, official bird-watcher, but I've always found these creatures endlessly interesting. They figure in quite a number of my poems, for example.

Anyway, scientists have discovered hitherto unknown talents in an unlikely candidate for bird stardom, the ubiquitous pigeon. We've known for a while that these guys could count. Apparently lots of animals can count. Some time back we learned that monkeys "learned to rank groups of one, two and three items in various sizes and shapes. When tested, they were able to do the task even when unfamiliar numbers of things were introduced. In other words, having learned that two was more than one and three more than two, they could also figure out that five was more than two, or eight more than six." Now, it turns out that pigeons can do it too.

Amazing. Question now arises whether this ability evolved from the common ancestor of birds and primates about 300 million years ago or separately in the different species. Jury is still out on that one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fun, Fun, Fun

As I'm periodically moved to do, I'd like to share with you some websites I've encountered that struck me as cool or useful or intriguing or perhaps all of the above. First of all, in music. I'm always looking for a new way to enjoy music or for some capability involving music I don't presently have. So have a look at these:
  • ListnPlay - this site is designed to marry songs and videos together. Type in a band or artist or album or song, and the site delivers up videos which you can then pull singly into a playlist.
  • LyricsnMusic - another aggregator site. This one not only gets the lyrics to a tune, but will also deliver up YouTube videos, concert dates, artwork, tabs, and Wikipedia results all on one page.
  • uWal ltv - massive walls of artist/band pictures. Move your mouse over them, click, and up comes a playlist, some of them pretty extensive. The key here is that you can narrow your search to specific genres, and there are 23 of these, everything from classical to tango. You can earmark favorites and construct playlists. In fact, you can do that with all of these sites.
And here's some more I've found recently:
  • - "Infographics and Data Generlizations" I'm a sucker for this sort of thing. I still have a much loved volume of this sort of thing called Understanding that first alerted me to these arresting ways of presenting data. Here's what the site says about itself: "Infographics and data visualizations are shifting the way people find and experience stories, creating a new way of seeing the world of data. They help communicate complex ideas in a clear, compact and beautiful way, taking deep data and presenting it in visual shorthand. We’ve collected the best examples on the web and gathered them for you to reference, share, and enjoy." Almost 6,000, divided by category.
  • knoword - From directions: "a game of quick thinking, smart decisions and great words. When you begin, you will be given one randomly generated dictionary definition along with the first letter of its corresponding word. You must fill in the rest of the word to experience a gain in points and an added time bonus. You will start off with one minute before the game ends, and every word is an opportunity to extend your time. If you're ever stuck on a word, just hit the skip button and a new puzzle will present itself."
Have  a blast.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Help Me, Will Ya? Like Hell! Bang Bang

. . . and you're dead. Here is the entry in Friday's USA Today for the news from Texas in the "Across the USA" section of the paper:
Arlington -- Arlington police spokeswoman Tiara Ellis Richard says a man who was fatally shot as he walked toward an SUV after a deadly wreck appears to have been a good Samaritan. The SUV driver, Thomas Lester Harper, is accused of causing the wreck that killed one motorist and also of shooting the man who approached to help. Harper is jailed on murder and intoxication manslaughter charges, plus two counts of child abandonment and endangerment, because his twin toddlers where with him in the SUV.
 There's a fuller story with lots of pictures here. (There's a TV news video at the bottom of this story.) Luckily the two toddlers, a little boy and girl, were only slightly injured. But the accident involved eight vehicles and the driver of one of them, a pickup that Harper rammed, was killed. The erstwhile good Samaritan was named Clarence Robinson. He was 19 years old.

Am I the only person who thinks about our idiotic gun policy in this country after something like this happens. Why did this maniac have a gun?  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another Clap, Clap for the US Military

Right on the heels of my heartfelt disdain for all the phoney celebratory rhetoric as the US military leaves Iraq, I cannot restrain myself from bursting out with another couple of claps for more superb management of our military forces. It's reported today that the Dept of Defense has paid hundreds of millions of our money in late fees to shipping companies for not returning shipping containers on time. Over the past ten years, the Pentagon has pissed away over $720 million because troops have been using the containers for shelter, storage, and building material. This is just fine with the contractors because if the military doesn't get them their boxes back, they have to pay $7,200 on an automatic "rent-to-own" fee for a box worth $3,200.

I worked for 32 in the Department of Defense, and I cannot tell you how common this sort of waste is. The country is reeling from the frauds and crimes of Wall Street, millions of people can't find two nickels to rub together, and the Pentagon goes its merry way pissing away our money by the billions. A trio of senators are demanding that the DoD cease this "wasteful practice," but I wouldn't be holding my breath waiting for the military to stop wasting money.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Clap, Clap

The old Zen koan about what is the sound of one hand clapping does not apply here. Because I mean to convey an actual applause--consisting of exactly two hands clapping exactly two times. Not more. Because that is as much enthusiasm as I can gin up to mark the withdrawal of the last US troops from Iraq. A gaggle of diplomats, politicians, and military brass attended the obligatory "We're Leaving" ceremonies in Baghdad and listened to Leon Panetta, the third secretary of defense to preside over the awful war in Iraq, spout the obligatory lies for such occasions. About the high cost in blood and treasure (over 4,500 American lives and who knows how many Iraqis? The estimates range from over 100,000 to almost a million. Who knows?*) for Iraq and US, but "those lives have not been lost in vain." No? Then what the hell were they lost for? Panetta talked about an "independent, free and sovereign Iraq." He also said that the US departure begins a "new chapter in history" for Iraq. Yeah, right. What an empty and meaningless cliche. This is the kind of b.s. politicians spout all the time. What does such nonsense mean to the average Iraqi or the family here in our country whose son/daughter/husband/wife will not be around this Christmas or for any more Christmases at all?

It's all so much horse shit. The fact of the matter is the Iraq war was a terrible mistake. It was begun under false pretenses; it shattered formally firm US commitment not to be the aggressors in any war. Not to mention the mess we're leaving behind us. A country pretty much in turmoil right at Iran's doorstep. Think about it. Who came out ahead in this war? Won't take you long to figure out the only winner. Shiite Iran. And if you listen closely to what the pols are saying, you have to conclude that within a few years we'll be at war with Iran. You can bet on it.

*Only two things are very clear. US taxpayers will continue to pour huge sums of money into Iraq whether US troops are there or not, and George Bush did not fund a penny of the staggering expense for this conflict. Nobody really knows the monetary cost of this war. It approaches $1 trillion and twice that when you figure in future costs for veterans' healthcare and debt service.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Muy Excellent!

Here's yet another of these bands and tunes I discovered just surfing around. Gems like this one are scattered all over the Web. This was Spinner's "song of the year." I had never heard of the band before, not unusual, but the band itself is a bit unusual. All women.

Love the lady rockers! Here's another video. This one very cool:


Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Okay, here's the scenario. Former CEO, current COO, and CFO of a multi-billion dollar brokerage firm sitting at a conference table before a congressional committee. Their corporation, MF Global Holdings, which is recently bankrupt, has lost $1.2 billion in money that belongs its clients, 36,000 of them. And none of these three bozos--one of them a former US senator, by the way--have any idea of what happened to that money. They were all like DOH! We don't have a clue; we wish we knew. And by the way, we're really sorry about this and we apologize to our [ripped off] customers. [Story here.]

The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the bankruptcy. The company went under after it bought $6.3 billion worth of bonds from heavily indebted European countries. OK, for starters what kind of asinine investments are these? You want to own some of Greece's debt? Ireland's? Italy's? Are you kidding me? And second, I respectfully submit that these three guys are three lying sacks of shit. Is it credible that the top management of a brokerage house knows nothing about transactions in the company involving billions of dollars? Hell, no. What happened is the company used money from client's accounts, which is supposed to be kept sacrosanct and separate from the firm's own investment money, to cover its losses on the shaky European bonds. And they ain't about to 'fess up to this. But you watch. Truth will out, and these guys will all be shown up for the perjurers they are.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Finding God [or a Particle of Him, at least]

Various subatomic particles: Higgs Boson is not found yet.
Grab your thinking caps, brothers and sisters. Let's dip into theoretical subatomic physics, shall we? Remember that monstrous particle accelerator (it belongs to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research) that took years to build over in Europe on the French/Swiss border? (It could have been in the US, as I recall, but we would not fund it.) Well, it's doing exactly what it was built for, smashing teeny little particles of matter into each other at unbelievable speeds. BOOM! They crash into each other and produce showers of subatomic particles, which scientists can then study. (Don't even ask me about how the photos of these crash aftermaths are taken.)

Since the early 1960s, a particularly important and striking subatomic particle has existed in theory only. It is called the Higgs boson or "the God particle." And why the nickname? Well, finding this thing would be a major step forward in our knowledge of what makes everything work, i.e., a key step on the road to the unified theory of everything. Physicists have figured out how both radioactive and electromagnetic forces work, "But they need to find the particle to complete their understanding of how these forces work together at the atomic level." As I understand it, explaining how matter acquires mass is and has been an elusive question. And in the crazy world of subatomic physics which is subject to the completely counter-intuitive laws of quantum mechanics, a particle can theoretically impart mass to other particles. This magical guy is the Higgs boson.

Finally, with all that background, I can impart the big news: physicists at the CERN lab report "they have seen evidence of the God particle's existence." The results they are studying are "tantalizing" but not a "conclusive" detection of the Higgs boson. By the end of next year, scientists are confident that experiments will be definitive, and the God particle will be conclusively proven to exist.

So is God going to be subatomic? Of course . . . among other things, not the least of which is elusive and mysterious.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Outrageous Numbers

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Some Thoughts on Majorities

"The majority never has right on its side. Never I say! That is one of the social lies that  a free, thinking man is bound to rebel against. Who makes up the majority in any given country? Is it the wise men or the fools? I think we must agree that the fools are in a terrible overwhelming majority, all the wide world over." 

"What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like, and immorality is what they dislike."

"A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men."

"Haint't we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?"
Huck Finn

"People don't ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts."

" . . . the human race is divided politically into one wise man, nine knaves, and ninety fools out of every hundred. that is, by an optimistic observer. The nine knaves assemble themselves under the banner of the most knavish among them, and become 'politicians': the wise man stands out because he knows he is hopelessly outnumbered, and devotes himself to poetry, mathematics, or philosophy; while the ninety fools plod off behind the banners of the nine villains, according to fancy, into the labyrinths of chicanery, malice, and warfare."

Friday, December 9, 2011


I recently ran across a Roman proverb that goes thus: "The world wants to be deceived." It got me to thinking just how true it is. Just think about the masses of people in this country who believe that a "recovery" of the economy will restore things to the way they used to be. Or the similar masses who equate repression with security and believe that nations fight wars for peace.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Voices of the 99 Percent

But one of the poignant testimonies out there, one of millions

Another testimony:
I am 66 years old, and don’t plan to retire, ever. I am fortunate that I look young, feel young, am healthy, and still have a job. Friends / contemporaries are not so lucky. One needs a liver transplant. One is in a wheelchair. They are both still working. Two others have not worked for 2 - 3 years. They are smart, talented, experienced, and desperately want to work. Instead, they have the terrifying prospect of years - 25 yrs? 30 yrs? the rest of their lives - spent in unexpected poverty. Through pure luck, I am me and not them. I could wake up tomorrow and be any one of them. We are the 99%!

Our creativity and labor is the foundation of wealth. Legalized greed and exploitation concentrates it in the hands of the 1%. We are Atlas. We carry the world on our shoulders! We are the 99% . . .
Hits me in the heart. I am 68 years old, Susan is 64. I cannot imagine us being in such a condition. 

Go spend some time at the "We Are the 99 Percent" blog. This is just one person. Just one. Holding up a a sign at the "Occupy Wall Street" site in New York. There are pages and pages of such stories from people there. A real person behind every sign, every scribbled page of grief and suffering. And this is but one city in America. What are these people going to do?

I sit here typing this in my nice warm house. Tomorrow we will attend a Christmas party given by our neighborhood association. Everybody will have nice clothes, and we will dispose of who knows how much uneaten food afterwards. There is a serious disconnect going on here. There's a serious disconnect going on all across the country.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Platinum Kiss

Pretty good line in a recent USA Today story: "The golden parachute is evolving into the platinum kiss." About the recent exit packages that CEOs are garnering from companies across the spectrum in the US. It's this sort of thing, among other outrages, of course, that have spawned the nationwide "Occupy" movement. Is there a better example of pay inequity out there than this? To wit: IBM CEO Sam Palmisano will get $170 million when he steps aside; Gene Isenberg, $126 million from Nabors Industries. Google's Eric Smith got $100 million in stock when he departed as CEO. Smith is a real interesting case. The man had an equity stake in Google of over $5.5 billion. He remains chairman of the board, which could get him $7.25 million a year.

Are you kidding me? Surely in the face of the widespread suffering across this country, this is damn near criminal. But we have lost our capacity for outrage in this country. People ought to be out on the streets in thousands. But we are as supine as sheep in the face of the grossest kind of injustice. Whereas once some sort of solidarity among sufferers apparently existed, it is impossible to discern today, aside from the often inchoate occupiers scattered across the nation. It's almost as if people have decided to cower in their misery. It's a pretty good indication that people have essentially given up. Which makes the charade of selecting a president next year as if the choice will actually make a difference in the lives of ordinary people such a joke. I told Susan tonight that I'm actually sick to death already at the media feeding frenzy over the campaign for president. It's eleven months away, and it's overwhelming in its irrelevancy already. But that's another rant altogether.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kicking Christmas Off in the Good Ole American Way

 Weihnachtmarkt (Christmas Market) in Frankfurt
I have no idea why anyone in the right mind would go out to stores on so-called "Black Friday"* under any circumstances. It is a mystery to me. Even given the fact that I don't particularly like shopping anyway. I avoid stores if at all possible and shop online. I cannot avoid the necessity to shop sometimes, but at no time, save perhaps in book stores, do I ever like it. And the Christmas madness on the streets and stores makes the experience all the more taxing. I did like shopping overseas, but not necessarily because I was buying anything. I found almost any kind of store in Germany and Europe when we lived there interesting, but that was just from the standpoint of the novelty of the goods on the shelves. Christmas time there was wonderful. The very first trip we took in Germany was to the Christmas market in Worms, which was held right next to the cathedral. I can still remember the wonder I had at this event. So utterly strange and new at the time for a person who had been living in the country only about a month at the time. I still remember the fetching and beautiful Christmas displays in the German shops. Christmas markets were everywhere with hot Gluwein, pretzels, gingerbread, and Wurst; crowds enjoying it all in the frosty air. This time of year was magical over there.

Don't know why I went on about all this. Maybe I was unconsciously setting up the stark contrast with the observation I meant to make at the beginning of this post. I.e., a story in USA Today a few days ago informs that among the biggest sellers on Black Friday were . . . guns. How utterly American! Nationwide there were over 129,000 background check requests filed with the FBI that day, far more--32% more, in fact--than the previous high. Nobody seems to have a good explanation for this surge. I could speculate, but it's simply easier to observe that a large portion of the American people are insane and be done with it.

*Where in the hell did this nickname come from? And when in hell did it become part of the American lexicon? Of course, "Black" as in "in the black" for the merchants is a perfectly good metaphor for our money-obsessed culture.

Monday, December 5, 2011

W. S. Merwin

Merwin: a poet I found challenging when I first began reading his stuff. He still makes me work a little bit, but I'm none the worse for that. This is a wonderful little poem he wrote in 1997, packed so that unpacking it would take a bit of time, a bit of imagination. I had this posted in my cubicle for years . . . I'm sure it confirmed people's view of me as an eccentric at best, a radical weirdo at worst. I'm guilty on all counts.

There are threads of old sound heard over and over
phrases of Shakespeare or Mozart the slender
wands of the auroras playing out from them
into dark time the passing of a few
migrants high in the night far from the ancient flocks
far from the rest of the words far from the instruments 

Saturday, December 3, 2011


There once was a guy named Fred that I knew. He has been dead now for over ten years. I have forgotten his last name, but I remember he worked in the library at Special Operations Command HQ. I was friends with the librarian, which is how I got to know Fred, and we used to exchange emails on this and that to break up the boredom of being fellow drones in a military bureaucracy. I remember him being an upbeat guy, and we would get in these discussions about "deep" things. Apparently, for I don't have his original, he observed in an email that I did not come across as "content"--fancy that. Here's what I wrote to him in response: 
Dear Contented Fred,
No, I don't wish I were content.
I will be content when I am dead.
To be content is to see no room for improvement.
This bespeaks either a dull mind, an overblown opinion of oneself, or a childish Pollyana approach to life.
I have neither-nor, but rather a healthy self-knowledge, a sense of humor and a sense of the tragic, and a consequent empathy with people.
And what your prescription for this poor, sad world? More power-mongers? More gold-diggers? Liars, cheats, and thieves? Dullards and sheep? More lawyers? Manipulators, clowns, and self-delusives? More politicians? More game-players?
Nay, give me more artists, more music, more poetry, more wine. More thinking, fewer rules. More color, less carping. More love, less lechery. More God, fewer godless.
Clones of me wouldn't take themselves very seriously at least. And they would have peace at the core. The poor, sad world could do a lot worse.
I wrote this in the spring of 1997. Some of phraseology strikes me now as a bit much, and the tone is bit too judgmental and dogmatic. Nonetheless, I don't disagree with the general thrust of it here these fourteen years later.

Friday, December 2, 2011


A day or so ago, I was telling a friend about part of quote that I remembered, but I had no idea where I remembered it from. I thought I "had read it somewhere." Well, I have this big ole commonplace book--does anybody not familiar with the pre-computer age have any idea what this is? Anyway, I did indeed find the source of the quote, which in full ran this way:
It's nonsense that Americans are individualists. Deep down, we are a nation of herd animals: mouselike conformists who will lay at the doorstep all our rights--if you tell us that we won't have to worry about crime and that our property values will be protected.
This is from a guy named Dennis Judd who was quoted in Robert Kaplan's An Empire Wilderness (1998). But of course. This is one of those observations that is so blatantly obvious that anyone making it will be immediately condemned as anti-American. But one of the many anti-American things you can say in this land of the free that are blatantly obvious.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Some of you might have noticed that the blog has a kinda new look. No drastic changes. But the rearrangement of elements at the top and their placement over a new thematic photograph . . . well, I'm happy with it. Somehow, it seems to better represent what this blog is all about. At the same time as I did these changes, I removed all the names of individuals from the labels of my posts. Impossible, really, to decide who was mentioned enough to deserve a label beyond the obvious ones. But people will still be eminently findable. The Google search of the blog is instantaneous and accurate. You can still find "Rush Limbaugh" or "Barry Bonds" or "Tom Coburn" or "Benedict XVI" (or "pope," for that matter) just by siking Google on 'em. Plus there are lots of people, such as Michelle Bachman, who are now just as findable as Barrack Obama or George Bush (also found under "vile little pretender").

And the change certainly makes the label list more useful and attractive. At least I think so.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The One Percent

Every week The New Yorker has a humor column entitled "Shouts & Murmurs." To be honest with you, lots of times I just skip it because, as I have mentioned before, my reading burden in heavy, if not back-breaking. This week though I was caught by the title of the piece by John Kenney, "We Are the One Percent." It begins "We, too, have mobilized," and continues in the voice of a fat cat. I have to tell you, it's been a while since I read such brilliant satire. Here are a couple of samples, but I commend the piece to you for full appreciation.
We're angry. We're angry at something we're calling "imagined frustration." By this we mean that, except for Congress, the White House, banks, major lobbyists, and the editorial boards of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, no one is listening to us. And we're tired of it.
And more:
Here is our manifesto, still very much a work in progress, as it's cocktail hour and several of our protesters are out at the pool:
    • All wealth should be shared equally among the wealthy.
    • Eradicate poverty. (Note: Maybe a clearer way to say this would be "Eradicate the poor." Need to discuss.)
    • End business as usual. (Note: several members like the sound of this, but they don't know what it means. A suggestion has been made to add the word "hours" after "business.")
    • Implement a rule whereby the public cannot look at us and must keep a distance of at least twenty feet at all times.
 And so on. Like all effective satire, this bites enough to be felt, but not to break the skin. Great stuff.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rats on the Move

Hi! My name is Herman Cain and I didn't do it.
Out of the truly motley gaggle of people who are seeking the presidential nomination for the Republican party, none of whom can I possibly imagine in the White House, one has stood out as buffoon in chief. Admittedly a difficult choice for the title, nonetheless Herman Cain gets the honor. No need to recount the many reasons this guy won the title going away . . . well, maybe not going away because Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry were closely contesting the spot, rivaling Cain in the display of the unfathomable depths of their ignorance. Cain was busy doing this himself, but being ignorant is no bar to the presidency. He was kinda hanging on as a curiosity. The black Republican pizza king. That in itself was enough to keep the guy hanging around. But that was before a passel of cluster bombs fell on his head.

A couple of weeks ago, or was it longer? Doesn't matter. Cain was accused of sexual harassment by a number of women. These acts allegedly took place when he was the president of the National Restaurant Association. He has been dogged to death by these charges ever since. Nine-nine-nine has been bye-bye-bye. Till now all Cain has been doing is a pretty poor tap dance around these charges.

Now a nuke has been dropped. A woman in Atlanta named Ginger White has informed the world that she and Cain carried on an affair for the past thirteen years. The buffoon in chief has suddenly morphed into a big, scraggly rat. Do I need to tell you he denies the charge? And does it surprise you to learn that his campaign now reports that he is "reassessing" his run for the presidency. What are the odds do you think that he'll be in the race more than a couple of more days? He ducked a big shindig in NYC tonight with a bunch of media heavies, and reportedly a couple of his staffer rats are deserting the sinking ship and going over to the King Rat: Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich! Can anyone believe that this despicable clown is the best they can find? I have not mentioned Mitt Romney, whom you would think would be the beneficiary of all this, but it's apparent that there's a fairly determined segment of the GOP, not clear how big a segment, who cannot abide Romney. He's an oily, lying bastard who's changed his position on so many issues, he cannot remember where and what he said a week ago. So the beat goes on. Is there a woodwork candidate for the Republicans? Rats are all that's left in the daylight.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Let's Play Pepper

Pepper is a game played by baseball players in close proximity to one another. It's also a game, a brutal game played by the police against students at the University of California campus at Davis recently. They were in close proximity too. Close enough for cops to pepper spray people as nonchalantly as if they were watering a garden. If you have not seen videos of these public servants at work on students sitting cross-legged in the quad, you need to see it right now. It's chilling and frightening. Pepper spray in the face of perfectly peaceful protesters! Elsewhere on the same campus students were being jabbed with overhand baton thrusts, female professors were being pulled to the ground by their hair and arrested. Go to YouTube. You will find video of all these outrages. Notice the Nazi storm trooper gear. It's de riguer now for the cops everywhere.

I have been lamenting for several years now what we as a country are becoming. The aftermath of 9-11 has loosed the hounds of hell upon us. It makes me both fearful and furious to see what has become of our once precious civil liberties. Now it's dangerous to confront authorities, period. But we all have allowed this to happen. By our fears, by our paranoia, by our ignorance, and by our complacency. The buzzards have come home and are roosting, brothers and sisters. And their breath stinks of rot.

Here's Matt Taibbi on this incident:
What happened at UC Davis was the inevitable result of our failure to make sure our government stayed in the business of defending our principles. When we stopped insisting on that relationship with our government, they became something separate from us.
And we are stuck now with this fundamental conflict, whereby most of us are insisting that the law should apply equally to everyone, while the people running this country for years now have been operating according to the completely opposite principle that different people have different rights, and who deserves what protections is a completely subjective matter, determined by those in power, on a case-by-case basis.
 He quotes Glenn Greenwald on the reason things have come to this unfortunate pass:
Despite all the rights of free speech and assembly flamboyantly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the reality is that punishing the exercise of those rights with police force and state violence has been the reflexive response in America for quite some time. As Franke-Ruta put it, “America has a very long history of protests that meet with excessive or violent response, most vividly recorded in the second half of the 20th century.” Digby yesterday recounted a similar though even worse incident aimed at environmental protesters.
Although excessive police force has long been a reflexive response to American political protests, two developments in the post-9/11 world have exacerbated this. The first is that the U.S. Government — in the name of Terrorism — has aggressively para-militarized the nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics, and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with para-military weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons. Responding to peaceful protests and other expressions of growing citizenry unrest with brute force is a direct by-product of what we’ve allowed to be done to America’s domestic police forces in the name of the War on Terror (and, before that, in the name of the War on Drugs).
The second exacerbating development is more subtle but more important: the authoritarian mentality that has been nourished in the name of Terrorism. It’s a very small step to go from supporting the abuse of defenseless detainees (including one’s fellow citizens) to supporting the pepper-spraying and tasering of non-violent political protesters. It’s an even smaller step to go from supporting the power of the President to imprison or kill anyone he wants (including one’s fellow citizens and even their teenaged children) with no transparency, checks or due process to supporting the power of the police and the authorities who command them to punish with force anyone who commits the “crime” of non-compliance. At the root of all of those views is the classic authoritarian mindset: reflexive support for authority, contempt for those who challenge them, and a blind faith in their unilateral, unchecked decisions regarding who is Bad and deserves state-issued punishment.
Both these guys are far more elegant and at this moment more in control of themselves than I am when I contemplate what we've allowed our country to become.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Front of 1930s era truck sunk in the waters around Truk since 1944
I actually knew about Truk (only now it's called Chuuk), knew that it was a battleground in World War II in the Pacific. But that's about all. I didn't know exactly where it was--somewhere down there in the southwest Pacific. I wasn't even clear on when the battle took place.

I found out: The island's lagoon was main base for Japan's South Pacific fleet and had a 45,000-man garrison. The island was heavily fortified and known to the Allies as the "Gibraltar of the Pacific." Operation Hailstone, launched by the United States with carrier aircraft in mid-February 1944 was one of the most important naval airstrikes of the war. Twelve Japanese warships, thirty-two merchant ships and 249 aircraft were destroyed, although the larger warships had moved to Palau a week earlier.

Japanese freighter struck by U.S. torpedo at Truk, 17 Feb 1944

This was long time ago--I would have been about six months old at the time. But I learn via HDNet World Reports that the idyllic lagoon, long a lure for divers who flock in there in their hundreds to enjoy the beautiful setting and the greatest shipwreck dive in the world, that a looming ecological catastrophe looms. Sunken tankers, not to mention all the other vessels, are reaching the point where they will break up* releasing millions of gallons of oil into the lagoon. This catastrophe would be worse than the Exxon Valdez Alaska spill. It would kill the lagoon and destroy the fragile, bare-existence economy of the island. There's a very expensive procedure by which the oil can be sucked out of the tankers, but the dirt-poor islanders cannot even afford to fix the potholes in their roads. Somebody else will have to pay. I nominate Japan. All in favor say "Aye!"

One of the things I most dread for my children and grandchildren is whatever the physical state of the planet will be in 40-50 years. How many other potential disasters like this loom that we don't know about? And will the world ever wake up to what humankind is doing to the planet? It's fast approaching the time when it will be too late.

*I didn't know this happened to metal ships, but it does. Apparently, this happens eventually to all submerged vessels. Note to self: need to find out more about this.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Geaux Tigers!!!!

Just a note to note that the LSU Tigers, the number one team in the land, pounded number three Arkansas yesterday by a score of 41-17. After two quick TDs by the Hogs, one of them on a runback of a fumble that took a weird bounce right into the hands of a defender, LSU scored 41 points to Arkansas's 3. For the first time in its history, LSU is 12-0 on a season. The domination was frightful to behold. I have been an LSU fan for my whole life, and I've seen a lot of good Tiger teams over the years. This one is the best one I've ever seen.

(Of course, I'm aware that this passionate devotion to a college football team is at the least unseemly for one who sees the larger context of the corrupt NCAA athletic kingdom. But I just can't help it.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Quoting Kuntsler

The dust is finally settling, and I do hope I don't have to hit the road again till next year. I'm tired of traveling, tired of airplanes, airports, highways, and living out of a suitcase. We got back from Louisiana last Sunday. Our son Stu arrived about an hour before us, and he just left this morning after an all-too-short visit.

It's catch up time in a bunch of arenas, not the least of which is re-energizing this blog; I've been pretty spotty over the past week or so. And then there's all the blogs that have to be read . . . friends and relatives and my regulars. Of course, there's no way on God's green earth I keep up with all the blogs I dip into. There are few I read religiously, very few. James Kuntsler's "Clusterfuck Nation" is one of the exceptions to this rule (off the top of my head, I can think of only one other: "Baseball Time in Arlington" about the Rangers). Kuntsler and Matt Taibbi are writers who employ what I'd call the slashing style. No pussyfooting around with language niceties or foggy expression of their beliefs. And so Kuntsler begins his piece at the beginning of this month thus:
 Portents of winter and the toothless chatter of flag-draped traitors vies with a fog of lies spread by Koch Brother messenger boys, Reagan nostalgia hucksters, suck-ups in office, Murdoch empire servlings, Banker PR catamites, and Jesus terrorists to occupy the national mind-space with a narcotic Jell-O of half-formed wish fulfillment scams. The nation is hostage to a confederacy of racketeers. Banking. Big Pharma. The Higher Ed / Loan nexus. GMO agri-biz. Fast food. Mandatory motoring. You name it. What a disgrace we are, and the worst of us are the least to know that.
Is there a clearer expression of the calamity that is our current state of affairs than "hostage to a confederacy of racketeers?" Is there a stronger expression of condemnation of what we've become than "disgrace"?

His outrage at the Penn State sex scandal is near boundless. He begins "Rudderless" like this:
     The Penn State football sex scandal, and the depraved response of the university community at all levels, tells whatever you need to know about the spiritual condition of this floundering, rudderless, republic and its ignoble culture.
Correctly, trenchantly he interprets the hideous affair as a metaphor for America. And he's right on. He's revolted by every aspect of the scandal: "The intersection of America's fake warrior culture of football with the nation's fake moral and ethical culture is instructive. It has many levels . . . " from the cover-up by the university higher-ups to "the pretense that college football is a character-building endeavor." From "the phony 'prayer' session held in the Penn State stadium just before Saturday's 'big game' with the University of Nebraska" to the student demonstrations of support for Paterno and the football program to cable news wall-to-wall coverage of this event while several other earth-shaking events like the European debt crisis hardly got mentioned.

No, Kuntsler's not happy. He's angry and disgusted. Who can say these are unwarranted emotions? 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hello Again

I've been "out of pocket," as they may still say in federalese. I've been engaged of late in heavy family matters. Driving Mom down to Louisiana--the trip went fine, by the way--and then the very day we got back, my son Stu is here to visit for several days. For the first time, I think, since we've been in Oklahoma, my two sons will not be able to sync their holiday visits. We will see Ben for a few days before Christmas. One of the awful things about having kids is that they invariably leave, and you have to fashion family out of these scattered precious times you have with them. All this by way of explanation as to where I've been and also to where I am if I cannot squeeze in a few moments to post over the next few days. It took me a couple of hours to catch up with all my online chess games that were hanging short of time just now.

Of course, the idiocy of what passes for our national government has not taken a holiday. It was announced yesterday that the so-called "super committee" that was going to attack the budget deficit has adjourned without accomplishing a damn thing. It's a broken record, this idiocy out of Washington. Naturally, I blame the Republicans, who would just as soon drive the country straight to hell before coming to grips with the perfectly obvious fact that the federal government requires more revenue to conduct its business. The vicious partisanship that has virtually paralyzed the government since Obama took office shows no sign of slacking.

I should mention that I don't consider the deficit the largest problem facing this increasingly sinking nation. No, first comes the economy with all those millions out of work, those millions who have been in this condition for months now. All those people who are losing their homes, and who are not going to have a Christmas this year. And then the interminable war in Afghanistan, which shows no sign of ever ending, and which is sucking billions of dollars out of us every month. So the government is as wrong-headed now as ever, and every day that passes just digs all of us into a deeper and deeper hole. Now I'm going to be a broken record: we are a doomed people.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We ARE in Kansas, Todo

Got contraband, old lady?
So I'm about 12 miles west of Salina, Kansas, in a rented car with my almost 91-year-old Mom and my 64-year-old wife. I'm driving the former to Baton Rouge where she's moving in with my brother. It's been a long trip from Denver already. This Kansas State copper pulls alongside of me, gives me the eyeball, drops back and hits the lights. I pull over and the dude walks over to my mom's side of the car and tells me after I fumble with getting the window lowered--didn't know the car and fumbled with controls the whole day. Anyway, he tells me he's stopped me for--are you ready for this??--not using my turn indicator to signal lane changes.

He asks me for my license. Asks me if the car's rented (How did he know? We figured out later it has to be some code in the license plate number.) Checks out the rental papers. Wants to know where I'm going and why. Says he's going to run my license and if it checks out, he'll write me a warning ticket. While he's back there in his cruiser, another cop drives up beside him and sits there for awhile. (I wondered if I'd been reported as a possibly dangerous character with two lady cohorts, one near-ancient, the other obviously beyond poster-child status for the over-50 set. Not to mention fairly greying me, age 68.) The other cop leaves after a while, and the first guy comes back and gives me the warning ticket, and oh, by the way, do you mind if I look in your truck because there has been a lot of "contraband" crossing the country. (Why, hell yes, I frigging mind, think I, but I'm not going screw around with this yahoo; that's a no win game.) So we go to the trunk, and he finds it crammed with luggage (naturally!). I was sweating it like hell because I had two cases of wine in the trunk--is it not illegal to carry alcohol across state lines?-- and I would have been royally pissed if he said anything about that. But the wine was at the bottom of this spacious trunk, under all kinds of other other stuff, so he either doesn't see it, or less likely, decided not to say anything. But he does want to know what's inside a big roasting pan Susan is bringing home. I have to show him it's empty. He wants to know how my mom's stuff is getting to Baton Rouge. When were we going to get there, and some more questions I can't remember. Can you believe this?

Fact of the matter is, I was just being rousted. With my driving cap and pony tail and patterned tee shirt, I fit his and every other cop's profile of suspicious, and probably dangerous, character. Thus the hassle. Don't start me on the surpassing idiocy of it all, or on the fact that this is a clear example of police profiling--no way in hell I get stopped if I've got a high-and-tight Marine haircut--that one has no choice in such a situation but to allow this violation of his 4th Amendment rights (what would have happened if I said no to the trunk search?), that this situation happens all the time to the disadvantaged in our society. Don't start me.

Need I tell you that incidents like this don't particularly beef up my trust in cops?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A General Exit

This will surprise you: According to USA Today, the Pentagon's pool of retired generals and admirals for use as "mentors," i.e., paid advisers, has dried up. There were 355 of these guys on the gravy train in 2010. Today there are 4. During the gravy days, the Pentagon was paying these "advisers" as much as $330 an hour. They worked as contractors for the services so normal ethics rules didn't apply. Sweet, huh? And almost to a man they were employed by giant defense contractors, whose products were sometimes involved in the projects the mentors were advising on.

After USA Today exposed the story in 2009, the secretary of defense capped the "mentors' pay, requiring public financial disclosures and hiring them as government employees, which required them to abide by federal ethics laws."

So guess what? The fat cat retired top brass quit. They said they didn't want to disclose their finances publicly. They also didn't want limits on working for private firms,* and of course there were numerous complaints that a cap of $179,000 a year and $86.10 per hour for their services was too low.

So how surprised are you? God, things are rotten in our state of Denmark!

*Which are invariably defense contractors, who invariably got cozy with the generals and admirals while they were still on active duty. The revolving door between the military and defense contractors is an ongoing, screaming scandal, but nobody cares.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Happy Valley

Scumbag Sandusky and enabler Paterno in happier times
I knew it at one time, but I was reminded by all the news out of Penn State of late that that campus is known as "Happy Valley." It's more than a little ironic, don't you think, that this latest mecca for pedophilia should bear such a nickname? I don't have to tell you the sordid details of the scandal that is engulfing the happy valley school with its sainted football coach. Seems the defensive coordinator there under Saint Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, sexually abused boys over a period of years, in some cases right there in the Penn State showers where he was seen on different occasions by members a clean-up crew and by a graduate assistant. Early reports say eight boys were victimized; the latest number I've heard is 20. And this is almost certainly too low. We veterans of the Catholic priest sex scandal know two irrefutable facts about pedophiles. They are serial offenders, and they don't stop abusing kids until they are caught. If you're talking years these slime balls are abusing kids before that, the victims can easily mount to over 50 or 60 kids or even more. (Chronology of the events leading to arrest of Sandusky here.)

What makes this thing so sordid is the same exact thing that happened with the Catholic church. Here the institution was a university and its squeaky clean football program and its squeaky clean legendary coach. But confronted with allegations that one of the football lights, Sandusky, had been caught sexually abusing children, the university covered the thing up and two of the college officials, including the Athletic Director, went on to perjure themselves before a grand jury in connection with this. And Saint Joe? Well, he was informed about this in 2002, and he reported it up the chain. And then . . . . does nothing. Doesn't confront Sandusky. Doesn't follow up on the report he made. Doesn't say anything when nothing happens in the case. And of course the higher ups don't do anything either.

WTF is wrong with these people? You have to wonder how much of this heinous behavior--the crime and the silence--is going on all over America. Is Penn State and the Catholic Church just the tip of a huge rancid iceberg?

Update I: The news Wednesday evening is that Paterno and the president of Penn State have both been fired. Good.