Saturday, April 30, 2011

Good Guy? Yes. Saint? Nope.

This was inevitable. The Catholic Church is rushing the late Pope John Paul II to sainthood. He was beatified today before a throng of over a million people in and around St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. (This means John Paul is now "Blessed" and only a step away from sainthood. You may expect this soon also. This is the fastest anybody has ever moved to sainthood in the long history of the church.) And tomorrow will the the celebratory mass there. The longest reigning pontiff, 27 years, as well as the most traveled, JPII made a huge impression on the youth of the world. He materially assisted in the overthrow of the communist regime in his native Poland. His outgoing personality was perfect for the media age. He was probably the best-known, most beloved pope in the Church's long history.

He also presided over the Church during the flood of worldwide revelations about heinous sexual crimes committed by Catholic clergy against children. JPII wrote about all kind of subjects; he spoke out on a raft of issues. But you will search in vain for a pronouncement about pedophilia. You will also come up empty-handed if you search for any strong action, or any action at all, for that matter, by that pope to address these crimes.

And for this reason alone, the man should not be made a saint. Worldwide impact and worldwide visibility do not cancel out worldwide coverup of literally thousands of crimes against children and papal silence, much less papal remedial actions, in the face of these unspeakable sins. I can only conclude that this past pope, just as certainly as the present pope, was part and parcel of the Church apparatus that enabled these crimes, paid hush money to silence victims, erected obstacles to investigation of the crimes, fought paying compensation to victims of these crimes, and in general made itself odious by acting like any other self-interested institution when it's criticized.

But this isn't going to hinder the Saint John Paul express.  It's going to roll into that holy saint station before you know it. While the countless victims of Catholic pedophile priests remain quite uncelebrated.

Saint? I don't think so.

Friday, April 29, 2011

RIP Old Friends

I had one like this upon which I typed a gazillion words.
My sister alerted me to this story, and I have to confess it makes me a little sad to hear that nobody on the face of the globe is manufacturing typewriters anymore.The company in India, Godrej and Boyce, says they were not getting many orders anymore. [see Update I, however] I think about my faithful Smith-Corona that saw me through countless book reports and papers in grad school. And the research notes I typed on it. At some point in our moves, it went away, an irrevocable sign that the computer keyboard had taken over completely. I'm not sure when that was, but it's been some time ago now. Typing on a computer calls for the same keyboard skills, but there is where the similarity to typewriters ends.

Anybody old enough remembers what a terrible experience it was to make corrections on a piece of typed material. What about the hassle of typing columns? And, my God, discovering that you had left something out of a multi-paged document. Well, that was grounds for suicide. I think of all those other accouterments that went along with typewriters. Remember erasable bond paper? (You can still get it from Amazon.) Remember the special erasers? Remember correction tape? Onion-skin paper? Carbon paper? Remember those fancy and expensive typewriters that had "auto-correction"? And do you remember how LOUD those things were?

George Harrison says it: "All Things Must Pass." But not without a sad face sometimes.

UUpdate I: Gawker is reporting that there are still manufacturers in China, Japan and Indonesia making typewriters.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What a Crime!

An item caught my eye in the USA Today: in Norwalk, Connecticut, which I will just betcha has got a lot of well-to-do people. (Actually, I checked this guess, and guess what? I'm right. Norwalk is better off--considerably better off--than the rest of Connecticut, not to mention the nation, in a bunch of categories. Like: income per capita, median household income, and both male and female per capita income.) You can rest assured that this is a community that is careful to keep the riffraff in line.

The story is a homeless woman, one Tanya McDowell, an unemployed cook who lives in her van is being charged with the felonies of committing and attempting to commit larceny, i.e., "almost" $16,000 worth of education for her son, a kindergartner. What she allegedly did was used her babysitter's school district to enroll him in a Norwalk school instead of nearby Bridgeport, "a significantly poorer district."

So here's what strikes me, once again. The extraordinary privilege wealth entitles. In this case superior education, not only at the beginning, but all through. People like Tanya McDowell's son are doomed from the age of five to grow up to be somebody marginalized by a lousy education. And a mother that tries to squeeze just some little advantage for her kid is branded a criminal. Now, I ask you: do you really blame this woman? Why should there be such disparity in public education? The answer is in a word: money.

What do you think the chances are the system is going to be forgiving here? Can you believe that a city would actually try to squeeze $16,000 out of a homeless person because she tried to dodge the inevitable for her kid, even if just for a year? You bet your sweet ass it will. Oh, and she also faces 20 years in prison for this heinous crime. What a frigging outrage! Need I remind you that not a single one of the Wall Street criminals has spent a minute in jail or been hauled before the court of law for crimes that affected literally millions of people? Outrageous!

Stay tuned. Apparently this case is arousing a lot of similar reaction all over the country.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2,000 Light Years from Home

Out of all those albums the Stones have produced only one was a psychedelic album, the underrated Their Satanic Majesties Request in 1967. This song, at least for me, is probably the best on the record. An interesting look and listen to relatively early Stones. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Maher is Right On (As Usual)

Bill Maher is always funny . . . and incisive. (Just an aside . . . who actually watches late night TV? I can't remember when I ever did.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Monday

Today is Easter Monday. The day after the greatest feast in Christendom, Easter, the sign of everlasting imperishable hope for billions of people throughout the world. Here in the United States, in the areas of affluence and the suburbs, people in their new Easter finery trekked to churches for celebrations of various sorts. Easter is also a day when people in their hundreds of thousands who don't ever darken the door of a church otherwise also go to church. Habit, gesture, tradition? I guess. I could never really figure it out. It certainly has nothing to do with the Gospel.

The whole exercise of Christianity, at least the kind of exercise and Christianity I'm familiar with, misses the entire point of the gospels. Or so it seems to me. There is nothing plainer in the gospels than the fact that Jesus would doubtless take a dim view of the kind of self-congratulatory, pablum-based, feel-good, judgmental, and sometimes downright silly religions, practices, and beliefs that have been formed around his name and life.

It's for dead certain that you don't hear this kind of thing from the pulpits of America's Christian churches: "Jesus was a working man, a carpenter, who advocated for the underclass, the powerless, and those country clubs would exclude." If this kind of dead-on gospel does get preached, you can be sure it's couched in enough provisos and qualifications to allow anybody listening to wriggle off the hook, to not be challenged by the radical equality of everyone that Jesus recognized, preached, and most of all, lived. No, we prefer our gospel comfortable and toothless. And we certainly don't want it to have anything to do with equality.

So the Risen Lord is forced to wonder once again just what these people who claim to follow him are actually doing. That is, aside from everything he preached against and despite his many examples to the contrary.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Guilty, I Say . . . and Not Even a "Whoops"

Why not just hang a sign around his neck that says "Guilty" or maybe a tatoo on his forehead. Or let's put a sign over his cage that he's a guilty man. Remember Bradley Manning, the guy the military has had locked up without charges for almost a year now in the Wikileaks case? Well, our president probably thinks some public proclamation of Manning's guilty is probably a fine idea. After all, he's publicly pronounced the man guilty himself. In answer to a question about Bradley Manning after a speech he'd given at a Democratic fundraiser, Obama had this to say:
We're a nation of laws. We don't let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.
Can you believe this? Glenn Greenwald and a number of others could not either. Greenwald scoffs at the idea that Obama should invoke the old "we're a nation of laws" chestnut.
But even more fascinating is Obama's invocation of America's status as a "nation of laws" to justify why Manning must be punished. That would be a very moving homage to the sanctity of the rule of law -- if not for the fact that the person invoking it is the same one who has repeatedly engaged in the most extraordinary efforts to shield Bush officials from judicial scrutiny, investigation, and prosecution of every kind for their war crimes and surveillance felonies. Indeed, the Orwellian platitude used by Obama to justify that immunity -- Look Forward, Not Backward -- is one of the greatest expressions of presidential lawlessness since Richard Nixon told David Frost that "it's not illegal if the President does it."
 Why don't we just declare Obama a lost cause and be done with it? The only thing worse in the White House is one of these psycho Republicans, which, I might observe is about all that party has to offer these days.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Gonna Kill Us

It's going to kill us, all this plastic waste and our what-the-hell attitude about it.
Did you know that today was Earth Day? I didn't. Not till I read in today's edition of the Writer's Almanac. I'm less interested in the history that's recounted there than in the environmental consciousness that's laying heavy on me today. Why? Because quite by accident I watched a TV show we had recorded about the mess that plastic has made of our earth. Damned if I can find a reference for you to this show. But this link which discusses the impact of just plastic bags and not all the other plastic garbage we despoil the planet with. Like plastic water bottles. The numbers of these things we're talking about are astounding. And then there's something I knew about, you know, one of those vague, back-of-the-mind kind of things. This is the staggering amount of plastic shit we've put into the oceans of the world. There are plastic garbage dumps in all the oceans of the world, huge concentrations of plastic. The TV program reported that plastic is turning up in the stomach of just about all marine animals.

From the article: "The number of plastic pieces in the Pacific Ocean has tripled in the last ten years and the size of the accumulation is set to double in the next ten unless the use of disposable plastics is reduced.While this 'trash continent' is not thick enough to be walked on, from the ocean surface to a depth of 30 feet, the plastic is floating at a concentration six times that of its neighboring zooplankton, the most abundant animal type of life both by number and total weight. The plastic can reach concentrations of a million pieces per square mile.

Here's something you haven't thought about: Practically all the plastic waste that goes into rivers, creeks, streams, storm drains, and adjoining land eventually washes into the oceans. And "[a]lmost every single piece of plastic ever made is still around. Much of that plastic waste material has ended up in the ocean; out of sight, out of mind, but never gone."

The good news is that many countries and cities throughout the world have banned plastic bags altogether or they charge for their use. The bad news is this is not nearly enough to meet the looming crisis our garbage is engendering. How many times have I posited that we are a doomed people? I don't do that lightly or without evidence, brothers and sisters.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Selig Cannot Depart Fast Enough

If you're a true baseball fan, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig has been a royal pain in the butt. For many years. He will always be remembered as commissioner on whose watch the whole so-called "steroid era" happened. We're talking pretty much 15 years, from the early 1990s to about 2005. And the steroid era happened because Bud Selig and the rest of the fat cat team owners (Selig was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers before he got the  commissioner's job) turned a blind eye to rampant PED abuse in the major leagues. Major league baseball did not have effective drug testing until a few years ago. All because Selig let it happen. So now we're stuck with a host of records in the books that are bogus. And some of the biggest names in the sport have had their reputation sullied forever. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Raphael Palmeiro, and the list goes on and on.

The man is supposed to be retiring next year, not near soon enough for me. But before he goes, he naturally is going to screw the game up some more. I read today that in all likelihood next year the baseball playoffs will expand from eight teams to 12 teams. I cannot think of anything more horrendous then admitting to the playoffs yet more teams who did not win their division title. Making baseball more like the National Hockey League or the NBA where half the frigging league gets into the playoffs is not my idea of making major league baseball better. I'm hard pressed to think of anything that Selig has made better. The list of sins that Selig is perpetrated on the game is almost endless: interleague play, All-Star game determining home-field advantage in the World Series, allowing a tie in the All-Star game in 2002, introduction of wild card teams into the post-season playoffs.

The game I remember from my youth is still the same between the lines, but it's turned monstrous in many ways outside the lines. Stone traditionalist that I am, I have no use for just about any innovation since 1970 or so. That would include the designated hitter, exploding scoreboards, team mascots, bazillion dollar contracts for baseball players, work stoppages and strikes, artificial turf, pitch counts and absurd specialization of baseball bullpens, interleague play, wild-card teams, and is probably more that I can't think of right now.

Oh, no. Bud Selig cannot leave the game near soon enough for me. I contemplate with utter horror What I've read about what's likely to happen: that Selig will be elected to the Hall of Fame. That would be the final straw.

Update I: Ken Baxter in the LA Times on why expanding the baseball playoffs is a bad idea. Here

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's What I've Been Saying . . .

. . . for, lo, these many months. The military is out of control. These guys have assumed the posture of co-equals with their civilian commanders. Hell, you see more of Petraeus on the screen than you do Obama almost. Since when have we elevated military personnel to the status of people who have to be listened to on policy issues?

Here's what Jonathan Stevenson has to say in the May Harper's in a report called "Owned by the Army: Has the president lost control of his generals?" [emphasis in the quoted material is mine]
The armed forces have become an insular professional class. At the same time, the United States has moved toward a quasi-imperial – or to use the Niall Ferguson's more tantalizing term, "crypto-imperial" – model of security, whereby open-ended military deployments keep the homeland safe by effectively pushing its borders outward. This is what turns generals into proconsels, especially when their areas of responsibility are, as Central Command's have been for a decade, theaters of war. Foreign governments view regional commanders as the principal representatives of the United States, and their military exploits and media prominence of for them greater visibility authority than their civilian counterparts in the State Department, which is roughly one-fourteenth the Pentagon's budget and one-third the personnel. . . . The ramifications are clear: presidents with decreasing military experience direct regional combatant commanders newly emboldened to second-guess civilians on strategic matters.
In this light, and inclination on the part of some senior military officers toward seizing  a greater share of putatively civilian authority is not surprising. In a recent issue of Joint Force Quarterly, a Pentagon-sponsored military magazine, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Millburn contends that a military officer's oath and code of ethics accord him the "moral autonomy" to disobey an order he believes would harm the United States, its military, or the soldiers in his charge "in a manner not clearly outweighed by its likely benefits." Millburn's argument conjures the image of a troubled German soldier refusing to execute a Jewish prisoner, or a noble G.I. disobeying Lieutenant Calley's order to massacre Vietnamese families at My Lai. Millburn, however, quickly turns the argument from "the obligation to disobey an illegal order" on the tactical level to "the strategic level of decision-making," at which he believes the soldiers judgment "provides a healthy check in the execution of policy." Millburn ultimately imagines a dialogue of equals between civilians and soldiers, playing into entrenched post-Vietnam truth-to-power fantasies.
 . . . Absent an outright traitor or psychopath in the Oval Office, though, a government takeover of the tanks-at-the-White-House sort seems far-fetched. The more likely result, and the one suggested here, is a coup d'spirit, in which civilian leadership voluntarily submits to the military way of thinking. The risk that this state of affairs poses to the country is considerable: soldiers' essential expertise is not in grand strategy but in the operational art of warfare. If they are left to determine the United States is strategic and diplomatic direction, they will tend to do so on the basis of the feasibility of their operational missions are, worse, on the perceived need to develop the operational capability of fulfilling future missions – another hazard of an open-ended war.
If you could read this stuff without a sense of real chilling fear, then you must not know about or know enough about the continual history of the military in all ages and climes overthrowing the constitutional or legitimate authority. Let your mind mull a little bit what the phrase "moral autonomy" purports in this context, for example.

But I agree with the insight that posits a surrender of civilian independent thinking to a subservient sort of approach to the "expertise" that resides, supposedly, in the military leadership. You can already see this at work in our society. The idea that four-star generals have to be summoned before congressional committees to expound on policy matters is anathema to what the Founders had in mind. But, of course, those among us who actually know what the founders had in mind are few; those among us who believe they know what the Founders had in mind are legion – and incorrect ninety-nine percent of the time.

Monday, April 18, 2011

False Narratives

"I have never lived in a time when so many false narratives competed for supremacy of the collective mind-space"  --James Kuntsler, today

Agreed. How many can you think of?
  • The country is in "recovery"
  • Increased taxation, especially on the richest people in our society, should not be part of any federal spending plan.
  • Global warming is a myth.
  • Republicans and Democrats are willing to compromise on deficit-reduction plans.
  • Peak oil is a myth.
  • The recent financial crisis can largely be laid at the feet of irresponsible borrowers.
  • A "war on terror" is necessary and will actually have some effect on terrorism.
  • Corporations are the equivalence of unions when it comes to campaign contributions.
  • Unions and public employees are mostly responsible for state debt.
  • The Defense Department budget is not a stupefying scandal.
. . . to mention just a few off the top of my head.


Sunday, April 17, 2011


Tidbits from latest Index in Harper's magazine:

Jim Kuntsler is always talking about peak oil. Maybe he's onto something.
  • Percentage by which Saudi Arabia's total oil supply might be overstated, according to leaked diplomatic cables: 72
This will make you feel safer, and oh so proud of our valiant CIA.
  • Confirmed number of terrorist plots against the United States perpetrated by Muslims in 2010: 10
  • By non-Muslims: 25
  • Minimum number of people killed by CIA drone attacks in Pakistan last year: 607
  • Number of those who appeared on a US list of most-wanted terrorists: 2
Now here's an idea for debt reduction.
  • Amount of Defense Department spent last year on military bands: $317 million
Has there ever been a more useless agency of the United States government than the Transportation Security Administration?
  • Estimated number of "behavior-detection officers" employed by the Transportation Security Administration: 2,800
  • Estimated number of people these officers have flagged for examination under the program: 288,600
  • Percentage of those examinations that led to an arrest: 0.7
Hypocritical bastards can be female too, but of course this sort of thing is common in congresspersons of all parties, but it seems especially deviant for a Tea Party person.
  • Amount of federal subsidies given to the family farm of Michelle Bachman (R., Minn.) since 2001: $154,755
 A few seconds with the working class people, whom everyone in the government claims to be concerned about.
  • Chance for the US job created last year was in a low-wage industry: 1 in 2
  • Percentage of voters in the 2010 midterms who were members of a union household: 17
  • Percent change in US labor productivity since 1972: +114
  • Percent change in wages during that same period: -6
  • Percent increase in food-stamp usage in 2010: 13
Now doesn't this make you feel so sorry for these people? (Are you freaking kidding me?)
  • Chances that a US millionaire does not "feel wealthy": 2 and 5
  • Average amount he or she believes would begin to create such a feeling: $7,500,000
This doesn't bode well for the future of millions of people. I wonder how much money it would take to create a feeling of well-being among them?
  • Percentage of households whose head is nearing retirement age that have 401(k)-type accounts: 60
  • Chance that such a household has adequate savings to maintain its standard of living into retirement: 1 in 10
Let's go to the schoolhouse, including scandalous numbers on those greedy teachers who are busting the budgets of states all over the country.
  • Chance that a 2009 New York City high school graduate was deemed college-ready by the state's education department: 1 in 4
  • Average salary difference between starting New York public school teacher and a first-year private lawyer in 1970: $2,000
  • Today: $106,000

Saturday, April 16, 2011

New Toys!

Google labs . . . Have you ever gone there and just poked around? Do you even know about Google Labs. It's a place where people who work at Google put a wide variety of different programs that, from what I can understand, they produced just fooling around. I stumbled across one the lab's products: Art Project. And was entranced. You can visit several of the world's most famous museums: Uffizi, MOMA, the Met, Hermitage, the Tate, and many more--missing the Louvre and the Prado--but my guess is they are in the pipeline and at some point we'll see them, too. Hundreds of art works from these museums can be examined in minute detail (you can really get close!). You can wander around the museum and check out art works that interest you. Really cool! There's more. Check it out.

Wanna flip real fast through various publications on all kinds of subjects? Fast Flip will do that for you. Lots of subjects, lots of publications. You customize 'em. Very cool again.

Google News Timeline. You can go back a long way. Via bunches of different sources: Time Magazine, Baseball Digest, Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, to name just the few I can remember. Look by day, week, month, year, decade.

A whole bunch more awaits you if you want to explore. Language tools, public data explorer, movies, and on and on. I love stuff like this.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Best Year of Her Life

It's a sad poem. Real sad. It's about something every parent knows, but few say. But any parent who's more honest than the wife here in this poem knows it's a true poem. It's the very embodiment of  the old chestnut "Sad But True."


The Best Year of Her Life

by Gerald Locklin
When my two-year-old daughter
sees someone come through the door
whom she loves, and hasn't seen for a while,
and has been anticipating
she literally shrieks with joy.

I have to go into the other room
so that no one will notice the tears in my eyes.

Later, after my daughter has gone to bed,
I say to my wife,

"She will never be this happy again,"
and my wife gets angry and snaps,
"Don't you dare communicate your negativism to her!"
And, of course, I won't, if I can possibly help it,
and of course I fully expect her
to have much joy in her life,
and, of course, I hope to be able
to contribute to that joy —
I hope, in other words, that she'll always
be happy to see me come through the door—

but why kid ourselves — she, like every child,
has a life of great suffering ahead of her,
and while joy will not go out of her life,
she will one of these days cease to actually,
literally, jump and shriek for joy.

"The Best Year of Her Life" by Gerald Locklin, from Men of Our Time. © University of Georgia Press, 1992

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bonds Guilty

Yesterday Barry Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice. He will not spend a minute in jail, the bastard, and he will of course continue to enjoy his millions of dollars. (When I was a kid we used to have a common saying that went something like "cheaters never win." From the perspective of where we are now, the saying "Cheaters are not only ubiquitous, but they always win." seems much more appropriate.) The jury hung on three counts of perjury. There's no question that Bonds lied through his teeth about whether or not he juiced up with steroids, but the narrow legal issue turned on whether he did so knowingly. Are you kidding me? Nonetheless, Bonds is now forever marked with being found guilty of a felony, which should insure that his noxious presence never disgraces the Hall of Fame.

Sign of Our Sorry Times

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I was going to write about the Pentagon and it's obscene budget because I read something interesting on the subject, but it can wait till tomorrow. Instead I came across this wisdom from Richard Rohr today, and it got me to thinking.
The psychologist Carl Jung said that deep transformation happens primarily in the presence of images. They alone can touch the unconscious—in one invasive and healing reconfiguration of the soul. It might also take the form of a biography, a song, a theater piece, a movie, a dream image, a sculpture, an inner vision, a piece of art. But after the encounter, you see things differently. One hundred sermons could never have moved you to this new place.
The most meaningful, transformative experiences of my life have always been connected with revelations of some sort. Revelations that revealed to me who I am: a child of the God who resides within me. And, no, it was not sermons that got me there.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Imagine it on a very slight incline in cool weather
The aging process. It's like a good-sized glob of honey at the top of a very slight incline. It will ever so slowly make its way downhill, and in the process cover up fixed points on the incline. The honey is the years of your life progressing every so slowly to the bottom. The incline is the slope of your life with all  those thousands of fixed points on it. These points are the things you know, the things you learned and learned so well they just became part of your mental environment. The stuff of everyday life. All that stuff you never had to remember before because it was just there.

To the title of this little squib: aging is something we're all doing. At the stage I'm at, I've got a fairly good idea of the process since I've been involved in it for a good collection of years at this point. And I have to say  I'm amazed at the stuff I have to struggle to remember or that I have to look up these days. Hell, let's start with vocabulary . . . sometimes I find myself mid-sentence with the word that's supposed to come up in the next phrase, and all of a sudden the word is not there. It's just gone. Like you never learned it all. I play this game in my mind all the time: "Come on, Tom, you know this. Think. Think. Think." Most of the time this process doesn't turn up what I'm groping for.

I cannot remember book titles and authors. Or the names of songs and bands that I've been listening to for 30-40 years. Or movie titles, actors, actresses. Or where I read something just a few days ago--even if I remember the something, vaguely. Between my dear wife and me, we probably remember about 80 percent of the stuff we have to. Even calendars don't necessarily help me remember appointments. The best calendar I have is Susan. She's more aware of stuff I have to do and go to than vice versa.

Forget about the special care I take to put something, whatever it is, in a special place because of my determination not to forget where I've put that something so I can find it again. That's almost a guarantee that it will be lost until it turns up by accident, sometimes months later. At some point when you may have even forgotten that you didn't want to forget where you put the damn thing or maybe even why it was important in the first place.

But you know what? Honey is sweet nonetheless even when it's spilled.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Metric. The latest great sleeper band I've encountered--via Pandora. (Sleeper band for me because I've never heard of them, but apparently they've been around for a while.) Song is called "Gold Guns Girls," and it's terrific.

Friday, April 8, 2011

We're in La La Land, Folks

Well, here we are, mid-afternoon and the news is the shutdown of the US government is projected to happen on schedule. A national calamity for us in the midst of a shaky recovery being foisted on the country by a crazed bunch of half-baked zealots who actually believe the U.S. government operates like a corner taco stand. And who also actually believe that this crippling gesture is going to accomplish something other than make matters worse.

Plus Donald Trump, the emperor of blowhard imbeciles, is all over the news not only as a Republican presidential hopeful who is running second to Mitt Romney in popularity but as the latest opportunist to become a declared "Birther."

We're deep into La La Land, my friends. You could not make this stuff up.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Smug Little Jerks and Other Villians

I love Matt Taibbi's description of Paul Ryan--"the Republican Party’s latest entrant in the seemingly endless series of young, prickish, over-coiffed, anal-retentive deficit Robespierres they’ve sent to the political center stage in the last decade or so. . . . All of these smug little jerks look alike to me – from Ralph Reed to Eric Cantor to Jeb Hensarling to Rand Paul and now to Ryan, they all look like overgrown kids who got nipple-twisted in the halls in high school, worked as Applebee’s shift managers in college, and are now taking revenge on the world as grownups by defunding hospice care and student loans and Sesame Street. They all look like they sleep with their ties on, and keep their feet in dress socks when doing their bi-monthly duty with their wives." (Here.) Isn't that great? Biting sarcasm is what these guys absolutely deserve. Taking them seriously would duplicate the feelings they have about themselves. At the very least great misguided, and at the worst, malevolent.

Smug little jerks, indeed. Sons and daughters of privilege and ease. That's what makes it so easy for them to dismiss the millions of people from far less favorable circumstances who actually labor for a living and aren't counting their surplus dollars at the end of every month. You've seen this pretty boy Ryan from Wisconsin's face plastered all over the TV since he introduced his plan to attack the budget deficit. Do I need to tell you that this plan, which has all the deficit hawks on the right positively a-tizzy with glee, embodies more of the same kind of policy objectives as the Republican party has been peddling unsuccessfully for two decades?

Taibbi paints the whole exercise as a charade, because the entitlement programs the GOP always goes after in their plans, social security & Medicare, overwhelmingly benefit whites, especially white seniors. So all the shouting about dismantling the welfare state--"a term which said voters will instantly associate with black welfare moms and Mexicans sneaking over the border to visit American emergency rooms."--gets enthusiastic support. But when the time comes to actually do something, nothing happens. "[A]nd life goes on as usual, i.e. with massive deficit spending on defense, upper-class tax cuts, bailouts, corporate subsidies, and big handouts to Pharma and the insurance industries." The appearance of budget reduction pleases the mob and keeps the giant's foot on all our necks. Just what the Congress wants. All smoke, no fire.

So let's not get excited about budget cuts. We're going to see some nibbling around the edges, but that's it. Don't get me wrong, I'm just as disgusted with the lily-livered Democrats, who are not attacking the fat cats, corporate welfare, and the bloated Defense Department, much less entitlement programs. Does anybody really believe we're going to see budgetary reform that means something? Or am I just terminally cynical?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Almighty One Percent

I come across an interesting article today on "Truthout" blog. It points to a piece in the current issue of Vogue magazine, which, wonder to behold, I actually have a copy of. But, I don't even need a copy of the magazine because the Vogue article is available on the Web. Here's what it says, and I might point out, this subject is one of my constant themes. The article is entitled "Of the 1%, by the 1%, by the 1%" and it's subject is income inequality in the U.S. Here are the salient facts. You have heard them before, here and elsewhere, if you're paying attention.
  • The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. 
  • In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe. The closest analogs to us are Russia and Iran.
So why is this inequality a bad thing? Isn't the size of the pie what matters and not the size of slices? Nope, this argument is fundamentally wrong. Why?
  1. Growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible.
  2. Many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. 
  3. A modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. . . . But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.
The more inequality there is in society, the less willing the richest are to pay for things for the common good: infrastructure, medical care, education, you name it. They don't need these things. They can easily afford to meet whatever needs or wants they have. So screw the rest of us. Naturally these people don't want a strong government. One that's too deadlocked to regulate them or tax them, well, that's just what the doctor ordered. The rest of this article is very interesting. You should read it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Will somebody pinch me and tell me that all this is just a dream? I'm talking about the very real threat that by the end of the week, a tribe of lunatics called the Tea Party in the U.S. House of Representatives will have succeeded in their threat to shut down the government of this country, solely because they cannot induce the (relatively) sane lawmakers in the Democratic Party to buckle under to their bluster and threats.

At issue, of course, is the Obama budget. Tea Party people are demanding that the Senate Democrats bend over and spread 'em, i.e., accept the cuts the TP has mandated or nothing. If the Democrats refuse to be bullied, the government gets shut down. It's a wonder that these people have any support at all from the public, but amazingly they do. I mean, how can anybody get behind the notions of such a transparent imbecile as Michelle Bachman is completely beyond me. But there it is. But I'm not alone. In a recent piece in Firedog Lake, one similarly minded writer observes:
With the exception of the McCarthy era, I can’t remember a time when the facts pointed so clearly to mass public hysteria, denial and delusion among those who are driving government policies.
We’re going through a period of dangerous craziness that can severely damage the country and harm millions of people. Along with worsening air and water quality, women and children’s health care, education and research and dozens of other worthwhile services, these idiots would even cut funding for poison control.

It’s time to stop listening to these close-minded, authoritarian bullies. It should be obvious to any but the most severely deluded that what their followers in Congress and the states are doing is nuts.
The comparison with the McCarthy era is apt. We're in a period of mass public hysteria. Not a doubt about it. Stay tuned. Disasters loom on the horizon.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Obama(I Don't)Care

Guess what our fearless leader in the White House did today? He announced that he is running for a second term in the White House. It's never too early to go shaking the trees for cash, I suppose. This is on the same day that his administration caves in once again to the Republicans by backing down on the pledge to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed 9/11 mastermind, in a civilian court. He will be tried at Guantanamo by military commission. (See the story here.)  In other words, the Pentagon is in charge of the prosecution. Just as George W. Bush would have wanted it. (The Administration is blaming Congress for this turn of events, but nobody is going to tell me that is if this president were not so interested in kissing Republicans' asses rather than kicking them, that the situation would be the way it is.)

Well, guess what? Barack Obama could come personally to my house to solicit my vote, and I still will not vote for him next year. He has kicked the progressive wing of his party in the teeth so many times that it doesn't have many teeth left. But enough, I hope, to bite the hell out of his ass next year. This guy has betrayed just about every promise he made to the left in 2008. And for me, his expansion of the war in Afghanistan and his nauseating obeisance to the corporations and the Pentagon are enough reason to desert him. Unfortunately, he's given the left all kinds of other reasons not to believe him or trust him or vote for his reelection. Here in Oklahoma, my wife reminds me, it's almost impossible for a third party to get on the ballot. Too bad. Looks like I'll have to write somebody in. But you know what? It really doesn't matter what I do or what 100,000 other progressives do. Obama is going to win handily over any of the sorry sacks the Republicans can trot out there. I see not a one capable of beating an incumbent president. Do you?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

The Ancient Mariner could not find a drop to drink, but that's hardly the case in developed (and increasingly in Third World) countries. Because no matter where you go, you can find bottled water. I was reminded that I've wanted for some time to write about general subject of unbridled consumption, and bottled water is the perfect symbol. What made me think of this was my daughter's blog, Trench Warfare Too--entry "Water" for April 1, 2011--which has consumption as its general organizing principle. Her entry on bottled water linked to this piece that lays out all the facts about just what a terrible thing bottled water is. What's perfectly clear is that consumers have really taken one in the ear by falling for the marketing ploy that convinced them that neither taps nor water fountains were good enough or healthy enough to drink from. Companies like Coca-Cola and Nestle are laughing all the way to the money vaults.

One fact among many disturbing ones in the piece screamed at me: Americans alone consume over 50 billion bottled waters a year. This we know: all those containers are environmentally toxic; taste tests prove that bottled water is nor more flavorful than tap water. So why so we keep buying the stuff? You go figure. The American people, it seems, like nothing better than being conned.

I am very proud to report that I personally have purchased less than half a dozen bottles of water since they first appeared. I have no idea how many years ago, but quite a few. I have always adjudged them stupid, and I have stoutly refused to enrich filthy rich multinationals. I continue to drink tap water, and as far as I can tell with no adverse effects whatever.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dead Dolphins

A lot more dolphins than normal are dying in the Gulf of Mexico. But don't expect to be hearing about this on your evening news (especially if you watch Fox). The NOAA, the government agency supposedly looking out for the nation's interests in the wake of last year's horrendous oil spill in the Gulf, has not only banned independent study of the phenomenon but also clamped a lid on news about the unusual number of dolphins--about 200 so far this year, far more than normal--which have been turning up dead in the Gulf. The agency banned any publication of any findings by independent scientists of this on the transparently flimsy grounds that the ongoing lawsuit against BP precludes divulging such information. (See story here.) According to the story the agency has completely squandered its creditability in the months since the spill. It's painfully obvious that it's more concerned with downplaying the extent of the damage to the Gulf, which, of course, stiffs the public and all the people who make their livings fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, and offers a giant assist to BP.
The early disclaimers coming out of the federal government have centered on the (false) claim that an “exact” cause of death cannot be determined, which is to say that we’ll never be able to hold BP accountable. Again, total nonsense from a scientific perspective. You can, in fact, determine causation in this matter. But first, you have to want to.
The best thing about the gag order is that maybe, just maybe, it will make the “more transparency” Obama Administration such a laughingstock that real change is made. Otherwise, the outrages will just continue.
When are the American people going to wake up to the fact that their government belongs to the multinational corporations and that the function of everyday citizens is simply to due their bidding, and oh by the way, continue shoveling hundreds of billions into their pockets?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Opening Day Revisited

Today is the first game for my Texas Rangers. They, like many other teams, did not open their season yesterday, but will start today in Ranger Ballpark down in Arlington, Texas. I am recording the game as we speak so I can watch it later and zip through all of the commercials. Without really meaning to, I learned that the score as the game is in progress is not good: Boston is up 4-2 in the fifth. :-(

But I really didn't mean to talk about the Rangers. What I did want to say was that for the first time in my life and love affair with baseball, which, by the way, stretches all the way back to 1954 when I was 11 years old, for the very first time I am involved this year in a fantasy baseball league, which adds another whole dimension to the game's inherent interest during the season. For those of you reading who may not understand what fantasy teams are, I can explain in a few words. You have a team composed of real players. How well your team does depends on how well these real players do during the season. Before the season starts you and everybody else in your league picks the players that will be on their fantasy team. That's really all you have to know. During the season some of your guys will get hurt and go on the disabled list (DL). You have to find ways to work around things like this. You can trade players or acquire players who are not connected with another team throughout most of the season. What makes my fantasy league even more fun is that both my sons are in it. So I'm really looking forward to the season.

I tell you all this because doubtless through the next few months I'll have occasion to comment on how my fantasy team--they are called the "Creaky Geezers"--is faring. For those who might be the least bit interested, the best guys on my team are Joey Votto at first, Adrian Beltre at third, Matt Holliday in the outfield and Cole Hamels, starting pitcher. Just like the actual Rangers, the weakest part of my team is pitching. Of course I don't expect to win anything this first time out in fantasy baseball. My goal is just to finish in the top five of this ten-team league. That's probably doable.