Thursday, March 31, 2011

We're Back to Life!

A Day Like No Other

It's better than Mardi Gras, better than Easter, better than the Fourth of July. Better than just about any holiday you can mention. Maybe it's not better than my birthday, but it's close, and indeed, now that there have been so many birthdays, it may be even better than that.

It's Opening Day of the baseball season, of course, and now we're going to have baseball for the next seven months. The five months without it are the longest, darkest of the year. Exactly why Opening Day is such a rush is no mystery. Baseball fans get entwined with their team like English Ivy crawling up a tree trunk. It's almost like a marriage. During the winter, you're dormant.

But come opening day, you come back to life. And baseball will nourish you over the sunny seasons. Your ups and downs over the spring summer and fall months are in exact sync with the fortunes of your beloved team. Anticipation of this day has been growing in the hearts of all true baseball fans, getting ever more fervent, since early February, when the pitchers and catchers first reported to the training camps.

And for Texas Ranger fans everywhere, the day is even more special, because for the first time ever the Rangers, as the defending American League Champions, are the team wearing the bulls eye. Everybody's gunning for them. What  a delicious spot to be in.

Naturally, I've got some qualms about the team this year. I worry about the usual thing: pitching. We've got a couple of starters on the DL as the season begins, and spring was not a particularly good one for the relief corps in the bullpen. Hitters? There are no worries there. The addition of Adrian Beltre over the winter makes a potent lineup even more so. So I'm not worried about scoring runs. This is a team that is capable of scoring 900 runs this season. I've just got my fingers crossed that the pitching staff doesn't give up that many.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Like It!

I was riding with Susan today in the car and we were talking about what's keeping me busy lately. To wit, copy-editing a 40-page article on the Battle of Port Hudson--Confederate bastion on the Mississippi that fell actually after the more famous Rebel stronghold at Vicksburg surrendered to U. S. Grant on July 4, 1863. Port Hudson surrendered to forces under the command of Maj Gen Nathaniel Banks after a 48-day siege.

"You like that," she said, meaning I enjoy editing. I agreed with her. And upon reflection--not much reflection required--I realize that I truly enjoy editing. And I'm very good at it. I'm sure the two are related. I have never gotten very much money out of this talent. As a professional historian I am part of that fraternity of scholars that does this sort of thing for nothing for a colleague. Hell, I've done several book-length manuscripts for friends. It's just what scholars do for one another. We read each others' stuff before and after it's in print.

Which is why it kinda pisses me off whenever I hear some blockhead bashing academics because they don't do anything. (Don't laugh. There is widespread sentiment to this effect out there.) Just keeping up with reading in their field burns up many hours for college teachers. Add to that these professional activities you do for somebody else, research, conferences, book reviews and academic articles, consultation with students, other office hours, and classroom stuff . . . well, any conscientious academic is a busy person. And not just during the school year.

Didn't mean to go off on that hobby horse just wanted to say that editing other people's writing is one of my most favorite things. And I'm not even an academic.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sign Me Up

So, did you listen to Obama tonight? My wife told me to be quiet because I started grousing immediately when I heard he was delivering the speech from the National Defense University. Why not the Oval Office? He's the frigging president. He can do that. But, no, that would not be in line with his irrepressible desire to kiss the ass of the military at every opportunity. Notice how often this guy gushes about the saintly qualities of everything and everybody connected with the military. He begins tonight by gushing thanks to the "soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, members of the coast guard and their families." Good grief, man, would you stop it, already!

As you might have ascertained, I am stoutly opposed to this latest military adventure in the Middle East. Why is it in our national interest to get involved in a civil war on the side of people who we don't even know? Sure. Gaddafi is a bad guy, and he's doing nasty things to his people, especially when they get uppity. But what dictator doesn't? And where does it say it is the job of this country to ride in on the white horse every time and everywhere this happens? Who is asking how much this will cost me and great-great-grandchildren? What is the guarantee that we won't be sucked into this mess for years? And then there's the incredible irony of this recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize launching us off into another open-ended, expensive, ill-defined military operation in the Arab world.

And are you ready to send your son or daughter into the military and off to the Middle East to carry out one of our many missions in that part of the world? (Obama would gush for them at the drop of a hint that he would have to mention them at all.) They can help prop up the corrupt government of that despicable toad Kahrzi in Afghanistan, and while they're doing that they can kill a few Taliban and continue the search for that ever-so-elusive Obama bin Laden. Or they can join the 50,000 American troops still in Iraq. And now that the combat troops are gone from there, have you noticed anybody asking when all these thousands of others are going to be withdrawn? Or maybe they could join our latest and greatest adventure. Assisting the Libyans in their struggle for freedom from their resident dictator of 40 years.

More and more I come to share the views of James Kuntsler. I haven't heard his opinion of the speech but I cannot imagine he would approve. He is talking here about what a disappointment Obama has been for him, just in general terms.
And there's Obama at the tippy-top of it serving like a department store mannequin with a Department of Justice that someone has hung a "gone fishin'" sign on. I voted for him in 2008, and I want to start a movement in whatever's left of the Progressive core to get rid of him. Being a decent, presentable fellow with a nice family is just not enough. Even his vaunted speech-making abilities have gotten on my nerves. If I hear him say "make no mistake" one more time, someone will have to restrain me from kicking in the flat screen TV. [Amen, brother!!] Obama, it turns out, is the mistake.
Is he ever! Sign me up for the Greens, the Progressives, or whatever party, no matter how small and no matter how hopeless their chance at success. Just so long it will stand up and say no to all this madness. This country is just lurching along. Stumbling, staggering. There was a colorful expression that I learned working for the DoD all those years. It was something you wanted to avoid, i.e., "tromping on your foreskin." I get the idea that this is what Obama's doing. That's what this whole country is doing.
Related articles

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Here's Cheery News

As you begin to count down till tax day in a couple of weeks, I thought I'd cheer you up with this little piece from Common Dreams. I don't know if you're paying or not. But if you are, you'll be delighted to learn that:
- General Electric made $10.3 billion in 2009, but received a $1.1 billion tax rebate.
- Forbes said about Bank of America in 2010: "How did they not pay any taxes on $4.4 billion in income?"
- Oil giant Exxon made a $45 billion profit in 2009, but paid no taxes in the United States.
- Citigroup had 4 quarters of billion-dollar profits in 2010, but paid no taxes.
- Wells Fargo made $12 billion but purchased Wachovia Bank to claim a $19 billion tax credit.
- Hewlett Packard's U.S. income tax rate was 4.3% in 2008 and 2.3% in 2009.
- Verizon's 10.5% tax rate, according to Forbes, is due to its partnership with Vodafone, the primary target in UK Uncut's protests against tax evaders.
- Chevron's tax rate was 1% in 2008.
- Boeing, which just won a $30 billion contract to build 179 airborne tankers, got $124 million back from the taxpayers in 2010.
- Over the past 5 years Amazon made $3.5 billion and paid taxes at the rate of 4.3%.
- Carnival Cruise Lines paid 1% in taxes on its $11.5 billion profit over the past 5 years.
- Koch Industries is not publicly traded, so their antics are kept private. But they benefit from taxpayer subsidies in ranching and logging.
- In 2008 CorporateWatch said Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp paid "astoundingly low taxes" because of tax havens.
- Google "cut its taxes by $3.1 billion in the last three years by shifting its money around foreign countries.
- Merck, the second-largest drugmaker in the U.S., last year brought more than $9 billion from abroad without paying any U.S. tax.
- Pfizer, the largest drugmaker in the U.S., erased $10 billion in taxes with an "accounting treatment."
"60 Minutes" tonight had a piece about this subject of corporate malfeasance on taxes. I tell you we are an insane people to allow stuff like this. But you already knew that.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Firefox 4

If you haven't checked out the new Firefox, ver. 4, browser, just out a few days ago, you owe it to yourself to do so. This version is really slick. Crisp-looking and lean, this version is as fast as blazes. It runs rings around Chrome in that department. I'm always looking for latest and greatest, and I can tell you Mozilla's Firefox 4 fits that description. Reviewers who know about these things have been universally favorable, as far as I can tell. You can download it here. Take it for a spin. I think you'll like what you see so much that you will definitely see the advantage of switching over to it, if you're not already there.

Update I: I just made Firefox 4 my default browser a few minutes ago. (3/28)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Art Interlude

Look closely. This amazing thing is carved out of an old book. The artist is Brian Dettmer, and you can find his web page here. Created by the same animal that gives you war crimes, pedophilia, and porn.

An interesting read indeed

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Worthy Tools

Snippet of an AllmyFaves screen.
Easy links to everything you need.
Every so often I feel moved to write about the computer as computer. Or to be more specific, to tell you about something that specifically pleases me about working with a computer. Today is one of those days. And it's not so much working with the computer--what a commonplace subject that would be since half the world works with a computer--as tools I've discovered (or that someone else has and told me about it) for working with the computer. I find the following worthy tools that would have wide application. Perhaps you could use them too.

I don't know about you, but I'm an organization freak. I like to categorize and sort and file. Consequently, there's an underlying order to things on my computer. I use Chrome (from Google) as my browser*, and I have a bunch of folders on my bookmarks bar. This is so I can have various categories such as "Tools," "Google," "News," "Reference," "Search," and several others with a whole bunch of links stuffed in them. That way I can get to them quickly. I also have on that toolbar a link to, which is yet another way to access categorized links. It's one of my essential programs. Links are laid out in some 50+ categories, some that you would have never thought of but you're glad they did. Like: Courier, Compare, Movies, Translation, Pets. Like any decent program it's customizable if you register with them, so you can set up your own AllmyFaves page if you want. This let's you put as many of your own use-all-the-time links right up a the top of the page. Once I put AllmyFaves to work, I was able to simplify my Cool.

A program that my sister just turned me on to is one that immediately became integral to my work on the computer. This program is LastPass, as in the last password you will ever have to remember. For years I have kept a list of my PINs and passwords on an electronic Post-It note. It used to take me several clicks to get to the information I needed. Now that requirement is gone. LastPass is all I need. What it does is securely store all of your sign-in information: passwords, PINs, and form fill-in information in one secure vault. Once the information is in your vault, you can instruct it to fill in this stuff automatically when it's needed. Poof! Done. The program is free and it works on all browsers.

Speaking of Post-It Notes, I recently retired by Post-It notes program with honors. It gave way to a more modern note taking program called Evernote. Evernote is really slick. It lets you save virtually anything to a note: your own stuff (like a list of PINs and passwords), clippings from web pages, photos, research. Best feature is that it works on all your platforms: the Web, your phone, your laptop, etc. Keeps all the info synced everywhere. It will work on any browser, and it's free.

*I'm giving a look, however, to Firefox 4 which just came out. It's really, really fast--faster than Chrome--but may have some deficiencies that would be show-stoppers for me. I'm still looking.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I am constantly either telling people about this poem or remembering it myself, because I love the poem because it's so artful and wise. So now I'll be able to say, "I blogged that poem once." And if I forget the name of the poem--which I know now is quite likely--I can always tell people to come to the blog and search "Billy Collins," and they will find it. (I'm not going to forget Collins's name, I don't think.) And every so often I read it again, as I did today when it appeared in "Writer's Almanac." I determined then and there that I would blog it, so I would always be able to find it.

Collins stuff strikes you like: oh, anybody can do this. He is so accessible and clear and easy to understand, it's easy to forget the artistry that's in these poems and the skill it takes to put something like this together. I was lucky to have started writing poems for real and seriously until I was almost in my sixties. So I missed going through a stage where I thought dense, inexplicable complexity was the heart of poetry. (Apparently lots of poets do, and sadly, a great many never grow out of it.) It is not. So I never wrote a single poem that I thought was inaccessible to people with a modicum of literacy. I try to be clear when I write anything, but I'm told by my wife because she's the only one who would tell me, that sometimes I am not. It always cuts to the quick. Like: damn!

Which gets us back to Billy Collins and why he's such a treasure. Not only clear, he's also funny. He's a great proponent of the view that humor in poetry is a good thing. No serious long face upon which you could drive to Vancouver for him!


by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Repulsive . . . But What Did You Expect?

Slate reports today that the German magazine Der Spiegel has published photos of grinning U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan posing with victims they have killed. A dozen guys in the Fifth Stryker Brigade--don't you just love the hip hop spelling?--are being investigated for murder of three unarmed Afghans. Five of them are also implicated in a scheme to cover up the crimes by making it look like self-defense. The Guardian reports that they're "also being charged with abusing drugs, mutilating corpses, and possessing images of human casualties*." Der Spiegel has about 4,000 photos that it got from another member of the brigade, who, one supposes can be arrested and charged with treason for blowing the whistle on a gaggle of cold-blooded killers posing in their camis and behind the "hero" label that no attaches to any U.S. soldier these days, no matter what they do. Would it surprise you to know that these guys also took "trophies" such as teeth and fingers from their victims. Along with the thousands of photos documenting all this. Including one of a couple of our heroes holding up the head of an Afghan they killed.

Should any of us be surprised that this protracted and completely senseless war in Afghanistan has brutalized  American soldiers? You could argue that the years of fighting in that forsaken country has hardened men to brutality and callous disregard for human decency and morality. But then you would have to explain things like Abu Ghraib, which took place much, much earlier in the wars. No, it's not the length of time these troops have been there that causes this disgusting and debased behavior. It is the nature of war itself. It turns men into animals. It always has. It always will. Some of the animals get caught and become the scapegoats for the rest.

This doesn't excuse anything. But don't think these sorts of crimes are isolated events. They aren't.

*probably an offense under the UCMJ

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Reason I Read Taibbi

. . . is because he writes stuff like this. (Someone had written him that he thought Obama had done all he could on health care, the healthcare interests would have never let him do anything more, yadda, yadda.)
As for Obama, I just disagree that he did all he could, in health care or elsewhere. I just don't fall for the storyline that deep down inside he wants to do all these wonderful progressive things, but is halted by political circumstance. The evidence doesn't support the idea that he actually wants these things, deep down. The evidence does, however, support the idea that he has very effectively marketed himself to progressives as someone who secretly sympathizes with progressives. I have conflicting feelings about Obama, and think there is some good in him still, but I've given up the idea that he could be a champion for any kind of real reform of anything.
Seriously, I could not have said this any better myself. Maybe I differ with Taibbi to this extent. I don't have any conflicting feelings about Obama anymore. I've written him off as just another corporate tool. Oh, I guess there may be some good in him still. But that's as far as I go.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I ran across this poem and was immediately drawn in by its title. I will never forget the sinking, black feeling I had when I first heard the Beatles were breaking up as a band. The only thing that felt worse was when I first heard that some lunatic had shot John Lennon six times, apparently just because he was John Lennon. Anyway, I am glad I read the poem. It turned out to be okay.

The Beatles

by Dorianne Laux

I never really understood why The Beatles
broke up, the whole
Yoko Ono thing seemed an excuse
for something deeper.
Sure, she was an irritation
with her helium screech, her skimpy
leatherette skirts, those tinted ovoid glasses
eclipsing half her face.

                                 But come on, Hey Jude
was putting caviar on the table, not to mention
those glittering lines of cocaine. Beatle music
was playing for moats dug out with a fleet
of backhoes circling the stadium-sized perimeters
of four manicured estates. Why Don't We
Do It In the Road
 was backing up traffic
around the amphitheaters of the industrial world.
Yoko's avant-garde art projects and op-art
outfits were nothing against the shiploads of lucre
I'm Fixing a Hole and Here Comes the Sun
were bringing in.
                                 So why did they do it?
They had wives, kids, ex-wives, mortgages,
thoroughbreds and waist-coated butlers, lithe
young assistants power-lunching with publicists
in Paris, Rome. And they must have loved
one another almost as much as John
loved Yoko, brothers from the ghetto,
their shaggy heads touching
above the grand piano, their voices
straining toward perfect harmony.

                                 Maybe they arrived
at a place where nothing seemed real. A field
bigger than love or greed or jealousy.
An open space
where nothing is enough.

"The Beatles" by Dorianne Laux, from The Book of Men. © W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Oh, Yes There Is . . .

. . . a word called "SNOLLYGOSTER" (Yes, I had to rub my eyes in disbelief also.) Pronounced just like it's spelled.


One, especially a politician, who is guided by personal advantage rather than by consistent, respectable principles.

Perhaps alteration of snallygastera mythical beast said to prey on poultry and children, perhaps from Pennsylvania Dutch schnelle geeschter : Middle High German snelquick (from Old High German) + Middle High German geistspirit (from Old High German)

Source: Yahoo Dictionary

Can it just be serendipity that this word turns up when I'm thinking about the utter hopelessness of trusting the political process to fix anything in this country? Or is there some hidden hand at work?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Indexing, Cont'd

From Harper's "Index" for April 2011:
  • Number of US states that have more pigs than people: 3
  • Minimum number of birds that die from crashing into New York City windows each year: 100,000
  • Portion of Singaporeans who live in public housing: 4/5
  • Chance that an American benefits from at least one government antipoverty project: 1 in 6
  • Amount Santa Barbara proposes to spend moving benches to discourage the homeless from panhandling on them: $50,000
  • Amount Massachusetts has allocated since 2000 to decrease class size and increase teacher pay: $1.2 billion
  • Percentage of that allocation that has gone to cover rising health-care costs: 100
  • Chances that an American opposes any cuts to social security, Medicare, or education spending: 6 in 10
  • Average annual income of an Englishman living at the start of the Black Death, adjusted for inflation: $1,300
  • Of a Haitian at the start of the current cholera epidemic: $657
  • Number of militias active in the US in 2007 and in 2010, respectively: 43, 330
  • Number of states that have applied for funding under the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act: 50
  • Number that have joined a lawsuit challenging the act's constitutionality: 26
  • Number of American soldiers who died in combat last year: 455
  • Minimum number who committed suicide: 407

Monday, March 14, 2011

Vile FDA Tricks

Just let this sink in for a moment:
A progesterone hormone injection, used to prevent preterm labor, used to be $10 a shot. Now that the FDA has assigned an exclusive right to create the easily-made formula to one company, KV Pharmaceuticals, the price has risen to $1500. Almost all of it is pure profit, and KV Pharma did not develop the drug or pay for its trials: the taxpayer did, via the National Institute for Health. It is said to be the only drug proven to prevent pre-term birth, and an expert cited by ABC News suggests that the profession was snookered into supporting the assignment as a quality standardization measure. (Source)
So what was your immediate reaction? I could not really read your mind, but was it something along the lines of WTF?? Yes, friends and neighbors, the FDA, an agency of the government that is supposed to be looking after the interests of us drug-consuming citizens out here has managed to screw us royally once again. Read this damn thing again. Here are the salient facts:
  1. A drug injection has been developed to keep a woman from going into premature labor.
  2. This is the only drug known to prevent this.
  3. We the taxpayers paid to have the formula for it developed and tested.
  4. The formula for this drug is no big deal, it's "easily made."
  5. But exclusive rights to the formula have been awarded to a single company.
  6. The price has now gone from $10 a shot to $1,500.
  7. The "profession"--presumably the medical profession--was tricked into believing that assignment to this company was "a quality standardization measure."
OK. I'm down with 1-4. But 5-7 singularly ratchet up outrage. How can "exclusive rights" be granted to a company when it's had nothing to do with the drug from inception? How can the FDA allow said company to raise the price on the drug one hundred and fifty times more than it is worth? How can the medical professionals be "snookered" into letting this happen?

There's no explanation that works for me other than the fact of collusion between big Pharma and the U.S. government to just screw the living hell out of us. This is but a variation on a theme whereby corporate America (as well as the very wealthiest among us), abetted by government at all levels and branches, continues to suck us like vampires until we shrivel and die. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I Was Gonna . . .

. . . do a blog entry on one of the many depressing subjects that beckoned me this Sunday. The slap in the face to organized labor in Wisconsin--that is, teachers, sanitation workers, firemen, police, park rangers, various attendants at the state capitol in Madison, etc., etc.--that the governor and the Republicans have administered with their end-run around the Constitution and the legislative rules to strip them of collective bargaining rights. Or the continuing bad, bad news about the nuclear power plant damages in the wake of the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Or . . . well, you get the idea. But then I ran across this clip of Lewis Black talking about the U.S. as the greatest country in the world. There was just too much truth here, and too many laughs for me to pass up. He made it easy for me to shove those downer stories aside for another day.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book Tip

So many great books and hardly any time
to read 'em when you think about it
Those familiar with my reading habits know that I read about 20 non-fiction books for every work of fiction I read. What fiction I've read over the past couple of years have been classics, because I've felt horribly deficient in this area and now approaching the beginning of my eighth decade on this planet, it's about time I acquaint myself with stuff the cognoscenti advise that you should read, especially if you want to be like them. I don't necessarily, but I laid this guilt trip on myself long ago and it's become like my skin. It gets older and flakes off--by the way, did you know that about 60 percent of "dust" --hmm, was it dust in the air or dust in the house--anyway, over 60 percent of it is human skin.

So about this guilt trip: I've read War and Peace, the whole damn thing! I'm in the (slow) process of reading Dreiser's An American Tragedy. And I've got several Dickens novels in the queue. Reason this fiction reading is so slow is I keep distracting myself with non-fiction stuff that just demands that I read it first. More on that in a minute.

And of course there's stuff connected with my writing that must be read. For example, right now I'm working on a short biography of Hack Wilson, a Hall of Fame baseball player for the Chicago Cubs in late 1920s and early '30s. So I have to read stuff about him. And there's always a Civil War project that I have to read for. And, God, the magazines. I have resubscribed to The New Yorker, which almost always has great stuff. But it is every week, for Pete's sake. Y'all know about Harper's because I blog stuff out of it. But there's also The Atlantic and Lapham's Quarterly. Miscellaneous but regular publications put out by SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), the daily newspaper, an occasional dip into Susan's Newsweek and bigger dips into her Vanity Fairs when they come.

All of which leads me to the tip I promised you in the title. It is, I swear to you, one of the funniest things I've ever read: Sh*t My Dad Says. By a guy named Justin Halpren. I have laughed out loud quite a few times. I have laughed till I cried. Woke Susan up last night in fact with my half-stifled chortles. The guy's dad is a doctor, an oncologist. And he has not only a raging potty mouth, a truly unique way of expressing himself, and a, shall we say unique take on life and parenting. I have to add this proviso. This book will make you laugh, I promise, but only if you have a sense of humor that's a bit cracked . . . or maybe completely around the bend like I do. But apparently a lot of people do also, because they thought this book was funny enough to make it spend some time on the NYT best-seller list. I don't know what this says about us as a people.

Here are some samples from the book:

On Showering with Regularity
"Your'e ten years old now, you have to take a shower every day . . . I don't give a shit if you hate it. People hate smelly fuckers. I will not have a smelly fucker for a son."

On Legos
"Listen, I don't want to stifle your creativity, but that thing you built there, it looks like a pile of shit."

On My First School Dance
"Are you wearing perfume?  . . . Son, there ain't any cologne in this house, only your mother's perfume. I know that scent, and let me tell you, it's disturbing to smell your wife on your thirteen-year-old son."

On Finding Out I Didn't Make the Little League All-Star Team
"This is bullshit. All the coaches just put their kids on the team. That shit bag's son isn't worthy of carrying your jock strap. . . . You don't wear a jock strap? What the hell is wrong with you, son?"

On Friendliness
"Listen, I know you hate playing with that chubby kid because his mom's a loudmouth, but it's not that kid's fault his mom's a bitch. Try to be nice to him."

It's stuff like this that keeps me from starting Pickwick Papers.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Horrible Earthquake in Japan

Map shows size, intensity and location of the series of quakes.

Just learned of it on Boing Boing. It hit 150 miles off the coast of northeastern Japan, spawning a major tsunami that will affect Pacific Islands, including Hawaii as well as the coast of South America, thousands of miles away. Twenty countries have been alerted. Video can be seen here and here. Apparently it measured 8.9 on Richter scale, one of the most powerful quakes ever recorded. This monster occurred on Friday morning around 6:25. This information is so fresh that there's no news of damage or loss of life. God only knows what that will be.

UPDATE I: Quake was 80 miles off the coast, not 150. Extraordinary footage of tsunami here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Philly Reeks Too

The New York Times today reports that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is suspending 21 priests from active ministry for charges described as ranging from "sexual abuse of a minor to boundary issues with a minor." Whatever the hell the latter is. Whatever it is, you can be assured it was traumatic for the minor involved. Interestingly, there are a lot more priests involved in this scandal. The archdiocese says that "three others already had been placed on administrative leave after the grand jury detailed accusations against them. Five others would have been suspended, the church said in a statement, but three are no longer active and two are no longer active in the Philadelphia Archdiocese."  So that's another eight of these bastards that should be counted. The story continues: "The church said that in eight cases, no further investigation was warranted." And, I'm sorry, I just have to wonder, given the Church's sterling record of candid transparency in these matters, just why further investigation (by the Church, don't forget, not prosecutors or secular investigators) of these other eight guys wasn't warranted.

But of course this wouldn't be the sexual scandal in the Catholic Church if things weren't more sordid than just the fact that priests sexually abused kids for years while the church did nothing. No, in this case the church did not name these 21 criminals. The victims and their families of course are outraged, but that has never bothered the church anywhere. Parishioners, who keep the Church solvent, will not find out about whether their priest was one of the rats when they don't show up for services tomorrow. Typical. The faithful are ignored.

Further, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali flat out lied back in February when he denied that he had any priests with charges pending against them still in active ministry. That was bullshit, and as if to underscore the fact, a few days after the announcement His Eminence suspended three priests. Of course, there was no explanation why he didn't tell the truth before. I have a theory: it's because the Catholic Church's upper hierarchy is filled with inveterate liars. It's a requirement for the job.

The Philadelphia archdiocese now faces the prospect of having to pay millions and millions of dollars in claims by victims. Like the Church everywhere--following the example of Jesus, I'm sure--the good Cardinal and his bevy of lawyers will resist fiercely and at length.

Oh, I almost forgot: the Cardinal has apologized. He is "truly sorry."

UPDATE I: The archdiocese has released the names of the 21 priests suspended. See the CBS News notice cited below.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What Eighth Amendment?

Quick now . . . who is Bradley Manning? What if I said Private Bradley Manning? Does that help? I hope so. He's the Army private who's been accused of being the source for Wikileaks massive outpouring of U.S. state department cables. For the past seven months he has been mouldering in a Marine brig at Quantico, VA--since August of last year--and he was in jail in Kuwait for two months before that. Under hellish conditions. Here's a description of his situation from Glenn Greenwald.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement.  For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell.  Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions.  For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch).  For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs.  Lt. Villiard [a brig official] protested that the conditions are not "like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole," but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.
Got that? Manning is not in a movie. What he is in are "inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America's Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything. Greenwald goes on to remind us that solitary confinement for long periods of time "is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture." The likelihood that Manning, who has been nothing but a model prisoner, will suffer permanent psychological damage is very high."

But this is not all. Just recently Manning has been literally been forced to strip naked every night to sleep. Villiard explains that this is for Manning's "own protection," which of course is bullshit. He is being punished for making a sarcastic comment. You can read about this barbarity here.

Now, remember: Manning has not been convicted of any crime. He is merely accused of a crime. He has not been brought to trial. But reflect also that the notion of innocent until proven guilty has gone the way of the dodo bird in America. The atmosphere of terrified paranoia that we operate in in this country has turned us into animals. But this is typical military "justice." Why isn't there widespread outrage over what amounts to torture of a prisoner right here in America? Because, brothers and sisters, we don't care.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Picture's Worth Half a Trillion Dollars

How many people in this country are aware of this?
And if so, how many do you think give a damn?
And these are FY 2006 figures. 
We're five horrendously expensive years beyond this picture.

What the United States spends on the military is more than the
rest of the world combined.

Source: Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation,; our graph uses a more comparable figure of $515 from actual 2006 U.S. military spending.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Makes Me Cringe

This video is one of the most sickening, embarrassing things I've seen of late. It makes me ashamed to be an American when I have to acknowledge that there are many people in my country like this. Nothing could be further from the ideals of this country than the hate, ignorance, and bigotry expressed here. This is just awful. And check out the kind of elected representatives we can claim. Disgusting.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Animal Collective: awesome band. Awesome video . . . awesome song.

[I post this partially because I know my daughter will like it. If she doesn't, I'll be amazed.]

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Enough Strauss

Christmas in March. Tonight Susan and I drove almost 40 miles to take in a concert by the Opole Philharmonic Orchestra of Poland. The two tickets were a Christmas present, her to me. So nice! But I have to confess, I did not particularly care for the program. It was way, way heavy with Strauss (Johann & Johann, Jr.) waltzes and polkas. In fact, saturated. It was billed as a "Vienna Gala." But, hell, you could have thrown in some Mozart or Beethoven or Mahler or Schubert or any of the other myriad composers who have some connection with the city. A little of the relentlessly bubbly music and frantically paced polkas these guys, the Strauss boys, produced goes a  long way. Not that the performance was bad. It was not; it was quite good, in fact, and I enjoyed it. It's just that this kind of music lends itself to playfulness, and there was some of that kind of thing, too.

The best part for me was four opera arias performed by soprano Izabela Matula, especially the final one: "Meine Lippen, sie kussen so heiss"--from Franz Lehar's opera Giuditta. Outstanding. The melody is so pretty. Check out this performance of the aria by Anna Netrebko.  Matula sang it every bit as well, but she stood stock still while doing so.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You Gotta Be Frigging Kidding Me!

Can you believe this? I quote verbatim from an entry at Boing Boing today.
An "A" student at a Virginia middle school was given a one-day suspension for holding open a door for a known adult who had her hands full. This violated the school security policy, which holds that the doors may only be opened centrally after visitors are vetted by a CCTV camera. Superintendant Charles Turner explained, "You have to have a system, and that system has to be consistent. We have to stay within the rules and stay secure."
But as Lenore Skenazy writes on the Free Range Kids blog, "what the school fails to understand is that the student was an even BETTER security system! The student has a heart, a brain and hands. This incredible carbon-based security system can open the door when that makes sense!"
The evidence just continues to accumulate that we are a totally insane people.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I'm Sick of It

It makes me want to puke. Really. The utterly shameless hypocrisy, the blatantly self-serving bullshit that spews daily from that horde of Republicans in the House. Aren't you just sick to death of their unceasing drumbeat about cutting spending? As if the eight years under George Bush Aren't you tired of hearing that consummate corporate tool John Boehner saying "the American people" every other sentence? As if he and his partymates give a hoot about the American people, and even more as if the will of the Republican party were the will of the "American people." I don't know what these guys do in their caucus other than dream up their talking points and stock phrases for the next week or two. You've heard 'em: "Obamacare" is one; "out of control spending" another. And the eternal baying about cutting spending, which of course is why the American people sent them to Washington.

You've heard all about the rescue bill that passed today to keep the government operating for another two weeks. It embodies over $4 billion worth of cuts to the budget, something the Democrats could agree to. But the House wants $61 billion in cuts made in the next seven months. That ain't gonna happen. Democrats in the Senate (and elsewhere) consider this far too deep. So we're going to see just what these crazed Tea Party people are going to do about that.

But here's something that didn't make mainstream news. The House Republicans, all of them, also voted down a Democratic motion to recommit the spending bill that would have stripped the oil companies of all their government subsidies. That would have saved the taxpayers billions and billions of dollars. Two weeks ago a similar action by the Democrats to strip $53 billion taxpayer dollars from Big Oil was also voted down along party lines.

And these same bastards want to cut education funding and everything else in sight that helps ordinary people. Their dishonesty is beyond belief.