Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Decade's Biggest Scam

That's the title of one of Glenn Greenwald's latest articles in Salon. I haven't checked in with Greenwald lately--chalk it up to the ridiculous number of things I try to keep up with on the Web. Fact is, he's almost always better than good, but he tends to write long articles that have a way of discouraging one from perfect attendance. But this one grabbed me.

He takes off on an article in The Los Angeles Times which "examines the staggering sums of money expended on patently absurd domestic 'homeland security' projects: $75 billion per year . . . ." Surely Glenn Greenwald and I cannot be the only people east of the Rockies who find absurd and maddening the ginormous sums of money this country is pissing away on equipment and training that supposedly renders all of us more secure from those big bad terrorists who are lurking out there just out of sight from wherever it is you live. 

The fact is, there's a huge pile of money out there for little bitty locales all over the country, like Keith County, Nebraska, to come sup on. In this case, to protect a lake from terrorist attack, we taxpayers supply the county with a Zodiac boat with side-scar sonar and other items for security to the tune of over $42,000. That's just a drop, a teeny drop, in the bucket. But as we know, absurdity and irrationality in spending far from being a deterrent seem almost to be a requirement for defense and homeland security spending. 

Greenwald takes issue with the LA Times on the reason for all the spending. It's not, he says, vast inefficiency at work with the goal of fighting terrorism. No, it's all about feeding the beast.
National Defense Magazine today trumpets: "Homeland Security Market ‘Vibrant’ Despite Budget Concerns."  It details how budget cuts mean "homeland security" growth may not be as robust as once predicted, but "Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing and Northrop Grumman . . . have been winning more contracts from DHS"; as a Boeing spokesman put it: "You’ll still continue to see domestically significant investment on the part of the government and leveraging advances in technology to stand up and meet those emerging threats and needs.”
Yep, boys and girls, the same people with their immense snouts in the war trough are the ones who have a vested interest in keeping the entire country afraid cause they've got their snouts in the defense of homeland trough as well.

There's a lot more to this story, but the bottom line is situation is normal: the fat cat corporations are getting richer on the backs of all the rest of us blokes who are staggering around trying to keep ourselves from going under. What a boondoggle for them! Almost as good as a nice endless war such as our Afghanistan adventure.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Art Museums

Writing about that trip we took to Europe last year, I was reminded that when we were in Madrid we visited two world class art museums. (Did not visit any museums in Ireland, but Ireland came out way ahead on pubs over Spain.) The first was of course The Prado, Museo de Prado, one of the greatest art museums in the world. Going to The Prado was my only must-do thing on the whole trip. I've wanted to go there for years. It was fabulous. The paintings of Goya alone are worth the trip. Throw in Velazquez, Titian, and Bosch and you are into major overkill. The other museum, which was devoted primarily to Spanish artists, was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which has only 20th century art inside. It is a relatively new museum; it just opened in 1992.

OK, I'll be right up front here. I love modern art. Places like these art museums draw me in because such places, chock full of celebrated art, pulls me into a world that seems much more human and empathetic than the very real world in which it was created and in which it now stands long after its creator has passed into a world beyond this one. It's almost as if great art lifts you out of the so-called "real world" and shows you another one, the real "real world". Perhaps that's what draws us to it.

Take this wonderful interplay of shapes and colors in this Joan Miro work from 1938, for example. This piece is in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the Queen Sofia Museum. I'm not certain how many by Miro the museum holds. For some reason, I did not purchase the museum book that you can always find in the gift shop. Maybe that was a low euro day, because I usually make a point of buying the book. This one is called Retrato II.

Looking up the piece above to show you whetted my appetite for some more. So I went and checked on the Miro pieces Susan and I have seen in other places. We saw this one spring last year in the MOMA. It's called A Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers. This is actually a drawing in goache and charcoal on paper from the early World War II years.

Joan Miro, goache & charcoal on paper, 1941

It's difficult to stop once you get started trying chasing these things down these things down. Here's another Miro we saw at the MOMA. This is The Birth of the World

Joan Miro, oil on canvas, 1925
I would not pretend to say anything about these pieces other than they spur in me a welter of thoughts about the nature of human beings, our understanding of beauty and truth and the world around us. And they stir in me feelings that I can get only in the presence of great art . . . the kind of feelings you can't hang words on.

To my delight I found a short little YouTube video that lets you look at a bunch more of Miro's works. So if you have not had enough to this point, there's more. And of course, if you have had enough, it's likely you never read down this far anyway. After fiddling awhile with it, I could not get the video to embed in this write-up. But if you want to watch it, you can find it here. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

And about that procrastinating . . .

Funny you should mention it. I have to tell you what I've been working on fairly furiously on my trip report--are you ready for this?--for the trip Susan and I took last year to Ireland and Spain. I have let the thing lie fallow for months and months, and then I suddenly realized that if I procrastinate any longer, I will have dawdled till beyond a year since we took this trip. I couldn't let that happen. It would just be too much, ya know? I have promised this report to several people so long ago they for sure have forgotten all about it.

Good news is that I'm almost finished with it. It has definitely blossomed into a major project. At present it is well over 6,000 words long, illustrated, and chock full of links for those seeking further information. And I'm pleased to report that I'm almost finished. Fourteen pages of journal of the trip, and I'm now on page 13. This doesn't necessarily mean I'll be through tomorrow, but it does mean all I'll have left on the project is adding more pictures to the front of the report. Only problem now is if the damn thing will be too big to email because of all the JPEGs in the report. That would be a pain after all this work. But then I could put it somewhere like Dropbox and that would solve the problem, wouldn't it?

So stay tuned. Pretty good little write-up follows.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Procrastinate

Do you? I mean, I can really procrastinate about some things. I do it all the time, or practically all the time, with writing projects. Long ago, the seed got planted in my mind that I produce much better work when I don't have any time to get it completed and have to rush. I remember exactly when I found this out. I was a sophomore at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, and we had an essay due in English. I had not done it. Cannot remember now why not, but I remember well the panic about not having an assignment done at all. That would be worse than a bad grade on the assignment.

So I solved the problem by writing the essay in the class I was in at the time. I forget what class that was, but it was the one right before English class. But I remember very well the subject of the essay. It had to be about some current event in the news, and I wrote about the election of Pope John XXIII. I had just happened. So that would make the time of the essay some time in early November 1958.

Well, guess what happened? The essay I dashed off without laboring over it, without any proofing, on the fly . . . it wins a writing award from the Times Picayune newspaper! It had to be nominated by the teacher in the first place. So, hell, what do you think that teaches an impressionable sophomore in high school? Right . . . and to this day, I do not do multiple drafts of anything I write. I edit as I go along, but when I'm finished, I'm finished the piece.

I found there's nothing more individual than people's writing "ways." All the ink that's spent by writers trying to tell other people how to do it . . . waste of time. People who write, write. And their way is the only way that really works for them.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Along the Same Lines as Yesterday

I ran across this story in my wanderings, and since it reinforced one of my constant themes, I thought I'd share. A two-year, five campus study of how students view and use their libraries on campus reveals that "they rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it"--which, when you think about it, is the only time you'd be asking a librarian for help, right? Now let me say this about that. Librarians are one of the most unappreciated, underused, and unknown resources in our society. These people are skilled academics who are far more versatile and deeply knowledgeable about a broad range of subjects than is generally realized.

Librarians themselves conducted the study. Rather than rely on surveys, they conducted, as is their way, deep research, obtaining "deep, subjective accounts" of what students, profs, and librarians thought of libraries and each other. Their findings will be published in a series of papers this fall.

Students' research habits are worse than they thought. (Not news to me. After teaching at the university level for numerous years, it was obvious to me.) Here's a summary of what they discovered. Students evinced difficulties over just about every facet of the search process:
  • They overused Google (What a surprise . . . the kids I taught thought Google and the Net were the only sources they ever needed; some probably thought that was all the sources there were) 
  • They misused scholarly databases
  • They preferred "simple database searches to other methods of discovery."
  • They did not understand search logic, so they failed to find good sources.
It wasn't only students' fault. Librarians frequently overestimate the students' research skills. Professors do too. "Both professors and librarians are liable to project an idealistic view of the research process onto students who are often not willing or able to fulfill it." (Absolutely true, I'm guilty of it myself.)

The most alarming of the findings was that "when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy." Although Google was the tool most often mentioned by the students, they were pretty bad a using it. Clueless about how Google organizes and displays info, so they didn't know how to build a decent search for good sources. They lacked, shockingly to the librarians, "the most basic information literacy skills." And they don't ask librarians for assistance, even when they are struggling. Most don't even know what librarians are there for. Most thought of them as "glorified ushers"--i.e., where's the bathroom?  Good grief.

I wonder why these were shocked. The inadequacy of our educational system to prepare students for such things as research, critical thinking, and critical reading, not to mention cultural literacy, has been long known and lamented.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Was Inspired

. . . by the sight, and felt moved to create.

Education Incidental: A Richly Hyphenated Observation 
of Back-to-School Day at the University of Oklahoma
Like a Great Plains locust plague on this college town the style-sneakered thousands descend. Coiffed, care-less, clothed with class, toting their pricey impedimenta in their pricier SUVs or shiny new pickups--Okie Cadillacs—or better-car-than-most at the least . . . unless, that is, parents perform chauffeuring duties, loaded-down Dads, puffing through parking lots in scalding heat like dray Ban-Lon beasts; Moms fussing with the little dear’s checklist of must-have-for-today’s-student stuff: dorm-room-ready fridge, microwave, TV, lamps, luggage, rugs, snack-and-sweets-laden groceries galore, and endless electronica: laptops, notebooks, iPhones, iPads, iPods, XBoxes, headsets, Gameboys, and video cams—and lest the rigors of frivolity momentarily wane, portable DVD players and a small stash of Daddy's cash to ease the pain. Tears aplenty at the parting. On their own now: in the heart of the don’t-know-crap-and-don’t-know-it years. Beer-soaked, hormone-stoked, soon-to-be debt-racked, oblivious as goalposts on a field of dreams.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Long Live Socialism!

Title of the post grabbed you, didn't it? As did the title of this piece by Jack Lessenberry at "The Smirking Chimp." I'm still in the frame of mind I was yesterday. Disgusted with the nonsense, the tripe, dispensed by Fox News 24-hours a day, every day. And it is the most popular news on TV, by far. I tell you again. We are a doomed people.

Lessenberry makes all the points I've scattered all over the place here at "Powderfinger" over the years. So I thought I would just put all these points in one post. For convenience. Doesn't mean I won't be making them again. I can almost promise I will. But at least here you will have everything conveniently summarized.

  • The rich rail against socialism, but in fact they are in favor of it . . . for the rich.
  • And they approve other aspects of socialism such as police protection, roads, agencies protecting food, for example.
  • Libertarianism which favors virtually no government, except maybe for defense, is "a great philosophy for teenage boys."
  • National debt now is not as large as "right-wing howlers in Congress" would have us believe. But is cause for concern. Only $1 trillion when Reagan took office.
  • Deficit is $14 trillion and growing by $1 trillion a year. Yes, Obama added $2 trillion in "narrowly successful" effort to stave off a second Great Depression.
  • Big lies the Republicans proclaim about the cause of the deficits:
    • "entitlements" too high; can't afford health care, and maybe not even Social Security
    • wages and benefits of public employees
  • Raising taxes, especially on the rich, is no solution to lowering the deficit.
  • This is "bullshit and blatant hypocrisy"
  • But remarkable they have convinced "an astonishing number of us to believe this."
  • Myth that we can all be rich "another howler we've been sold."
  • Mess we're in is in large part because of huge redistribution of wealth in the country, starting with Reagan. 
  • We have been transferring wealth from poor to rich, especially the richest one-tenth of one percent of the population.
  •  Budget surplus at the close of Clinton presidency and were beginning to reduce national debt.
  • George W. Bush ended surplus, had Congress enact massive tax cuts, "vast majority of which went to the rich."
  • None of this in dispute.
  • Defense of tax cuts that rich use tax cuts to produce jobs and they spend money to stimulate the economy is "nonsense." Top earners who get the tax cuts don't spend as much of their income as the lower earners. They sock it away.
  • Back in the '50s and '60s, the rich paid as much as 90 percent on incomes above a certain level, and they "still got richer."
  • "We can fix this if we have the guts, or we can go on becoming a society with a very few rich and a whole lot of poor." 
Karl Marx said that was bound to happen someday. And guess what he said was bound to happen next?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Class Warfare

A snippet from a recent episode of "The Daily Show." Jon Stewart knows how to skewer the pretentious blowhards from Fox better than anyone I know. But behind all the laughter this invokes, just remember that there are (many) people who think taxing the rich is "socialism." And "class warfare." Every time anything derogatory about the rich is said, they pronounce it class warfare. Anytime there's a suggestion that these people ought to be paying their way for the advantages this society affords them, it is pronounced by the bozos at Fox and others on the right. These jokers talk about socialism and class warfare as if they knew what they were talking about. Dumkopfs all . . . and the people that believe this crap, I'm afraid to say, are even dumber.

This is the continuation of the sketch above. They are of a piece. Underneath the laughs, I repeat, there's a really mean and sinister purpose. As Stewart puts it in his inimitable way at the close of this clip: "F--k those people . . . the poor."

Monday, August 22, 2011

And so . . .

. . . another week begins. I wish I could say I have a raft of good news to report.

Some might consider the fact that Gadhafi's rule in Libya is coming to a close some good news (here's a challenge: what's the right way to spell this guy's name? I have seen about four different ways.), but I will reserve judgment on that until we see what that gumbo of elements that toppled him will do now that they're in power. These rebels don't have any model to go by. Gaddafi has ruled that country as dictator for over 40 years. Governmental institutions will have to be built almost from scratch.

Would MLK have liked this memorial
to him? Not if he had any artistic
sensibilities, I'll bet.
The Martin Luther King memorial opened on the Washington DC mall. I don't know about you, but I think the thing is ugly. I suppose there's an argument to be made by portraying him as a 90-ton colossus, but I think the argument for understatement is stronger. This is an Ozymandias figure.

James Kuntsler reminds us in his usual acerbic fashion that nobody out there, especially politicians "can really articulate the direction in which history is propelling us. This 'recession-depression' narrative doesn't even adequately capture it. This is the end of a certain way of doing things - the industrial growth-spurt fiesta. We're in permanent contraction now." I have to agree with him when he avers that "History is not your therapist. This is the New Age you never expected." Right. We have no idea where we're going. About all we do know is we don't want to go there.

My fantasy baseball team, the Creaky Geezers, have gone into a weeks-long swoon after leading the league for most of the season. I lost three top starters, all of them of the do-not-trade type to the DL at the same time. Two are still there, probably till the beginning of September. This happened when the starting pitching stopped producing wins and quality starts. So with home runs, hits, RBIs plummeting as well, the team has sunk to 8th in the 10-team league. This, to be honest, really pisses me off because now I'm viewing the asses of some really dog teams.

On the other hand, the real life Rangers took the first game of a four-game series from the Boston Red Sox 4-0 behind strong pitching by C.J. Wilson. They still lead the AL West by 4 games.  Baseball keeps me sane.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Face to Face with its Own Implications

Nagasaki - Atomic Bomb Damage
It was, biologist Jacob Bronowski later eloquently wrote, "a universal moment . . . civilization face to face with its own implications."  Nothing happened in 1945, he wrote, "except that we changed the scale of our indifference to man." I read these words tonight in a Nation magazine essay called "The Last Great Untold Story of World War II". I commend it to your attention. Its main point is that the first so-called "atomic soldiers" were the occupation troops who moved into Hiroshima and Nagasaki within a few weeks of the bombings. And later developed all sorts of physical ailments from being exposed to atomic radiation in these places. Rashes and sores, and years later thyroid problems, leukemia, and other cancers associated with atomic radiation.

Neither these soldiers nor the thousands of others exposed to radiation in subsequent atomic bomb tests in Nevada and the Pacific who developed similar ailments were ever compensated for their sufferings by the U.S. government. Despite what must be considered overwhelming evidence, the government contended that radiation from the bombs dissipated quickly and that science had not yet proved conclusively that radiation poisoning and cancer were connected. "A 1980 Defense Nuclear Agency report concluded, “Medical science believes multiple myeloma has a borderline relationship with exposure to ionizing radiation. That is, there are some indications that exposure to radiation may increase the risk of this disease, but science cannot yet be sure.”

I asked Susan today whether she thought about what bad shape the world was in. She just gives that to God, she said. There was nothing she could do about it, so she did not worry about it. I wish I could do that. I do worry about the state of the world. And I don't put any faith in this country doing anything to improve it. I don't have to go any further than Nagasaki to realize that Americans have not changed since 1945. Indeed, our indifference to man has increased exponentially since then. That bomb on Nagasaki shows us all we really need to know about who Americans are.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

You Think It's Hot Now . . .?

A friend of mine turned me on to this graphic today:

What you're looking at is a long range projection for the number of days over 100 degrees the country will experience at the end of this century. I'm not going to editorialize (for a change). Here, let me just let you read the text of the piece
THIS SPRING'S DEVASTATING WILDFIRES in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico were fed by precisely the conditions that climate scientists predict for a warming Southwest: drought combined with extreme heat. In South Texas, searing temperatures arrived in June, creating a nightmare scenario in which the winter-spring fire season merged with the late-summer fire season. In Arizona, the Wallow fire burned 840 square miles, making it the largest in the state's history. The map below at left shows the number of days in which temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 1961-1979. The map at right shows the number of scorchers predicted for 2080-2099 in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's "high emissions" climate-change scenario (atmospheric CO2 at 850 parts per million by 2100)—a level we are on track to reach. —Paul Rauber

Friday, August 19, 2011

Here, Rub Some on My Back

The 'Bama Bus
This is what our president, passing the sun tan lotion to Michelle, has probably said in some form since beginning his vacation at Martha's Vineyard after a hard week of driving around the Midwest in his new presidential bus, which cost us taxpayers a cool $1.1 million. Apparently it has everything you could possibly want in your very own bus, plus you get secret service protection, cleared traffic lanes, and door-to-door service. Pretty neat, eh?

You know, it's no wonder anybody who gets to the White House wants to stay there as long as possible. Just think about it. You may not get a single one of your policies enacted; you may make a gaffe your first day in office that taints your entire presidency; you may be the most unpopular president to ever hold the office. But for four years, you can lay up in your rack at 2:30 in the morning and order a bowl of chocolate chocolate chip* ice cream with some cookies, oh say coconut macaroons, on the side, and someone will bring it right to your bed, if you so desire. You never deal with traffic, delays, the wretched airport experience, packing, etc., etc. because you travel in luxury everywhere. God only knows all the other perks of being president. I don't know if anybody has ever tabulated them all. But I can say this as a president of this country, you and your family live ten times better than the richest, most pampered Middle Eastern potentate ever did.

Which brings me to the point. Which is the same one this guy makes:
. . . most folks who are still working in America are hardly able to afford to take a luxury vacation on such a posh island as Martha's Vineyard. Yet here is the president in posh surroundings lolling in the sun while at the same time hammering out a jobs plan. It is so grossly insensitive to those millions who are struggling, out of work, mortgages under water, savings depleted, many on the verge of homelessness (or already there) it boggles the mind.  . . .  [Obama's] instincts have completely abandoned him, not recognizing "instinctively" the wrongful impression and the "perception" he conveys by being on Martha's Vineyard in the lap of luxury while so many are suffering in these dire times. It's unconscionable.
Unconscionable, indeed. Need I remind you, that I've been saying over and over that Obama is just like all the rest of the pols. It's the power trip that these guys are addicted to, all of 'em. And the addiction gets fed any way it can.

*Of course it could be any flavor at all, cookie dough, pistachio--or sherbet, for that matter, or anything, a hot dog, some fries, a salad--I just listed my favorite flavor. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Here They Come

In Norman, this sort of thing
is positively oppressive.
Especially if you live about
3 blocks from the place.
I live in a university town, and this week the students in their thousands are descending upon us once again. I'm not complaining. If there is any oasis of culture and liberality in this scarlet state of Oklahoma, it's right here in Norman. The university imparts a certain sophistication, class, and urbanity to an otherwise dismally reactionary and politically grim area of the country. I don't have anything against individual Oklahomans. In fact, you'd have to go a long way to find people more inherently helpful and generous. They are always ready to help you. But these people are right-wingers to the core of their little Okie hearts. And moralistic, too. They're against all sin, especially demon rum. If there is a state with more primitive alcohol laws, I'd like to know which one it is. As a general rule, Oklahomans are against everything and anything that smacks even slightly of progressive thinking on just about any subject you can think of.

And so here's a whole new tribe of 'em, coming to OU to get a college education--whatever that means anymore. With the economy the way it is, I've been reading more and more articles questioning the value of the investment in college. (But that's another post.) So, ready or not, here they come. With their better-cars-than-I've-got, their iPhones, their youth, and Daddy and Mommy's money. Ah, those wonderful don't-know-shit-and-don't-know-it years. Beer soaked, hormone drenched, friend-stoked. The last taste of real leisure and idleness until retirement, which for these kids may not ever happen. But they don't worry about it . . . those things are a million years away. And of this tribe probably 75 percent of them will be borrowing huge sums of money. Daddy and Mommy may be kicking in a lot, but they can't afford to pay the little dear's whole way anymore. It's all beyond the reach of the middle class to afford what it costs for a kid to go to college. Even at state schools.

And are these kids ready for the world when they get out? Well, you tell me. I don't think anybody's ready for the world at 22 or 23, but maybe there are some exceptions. But are they educated? Nope. Not the way I define it, but then I'm a veritable cave man in these matters. People don't understand the concept the way I do. Nope, these people won't be educated . . . moreover, thousands upon thousands of dollars later, a substantial percentage of them will still be unread, unable to think critically. Easy prey for corporate bullshit and perfect for perpetuating Oklahoma's deadly ignorant politics. Go, Sooners!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Warren--My Man!

Can you hear those piercing shrieks and loud lamentations? Those cries to heaven, those wails of dismay? That, my friends, is the sound of the super super rich and all the wannabes wailing about what one of their own had to say about taxes, i.e., there should be more of them. Specifically, more taxes on them. Warren Buffet, a billionaire several times over, has a powerful op-ed piece in the New York Times yesterday in which he lays out plainly the common-sense arguments for increased taxation on the most wealthy in our society. I'm sure Buffet's peers love the headline on the piece: "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich."

He states plainly the illogic of the country's approach to taxes on the mega-rich: 
Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.
The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest.
And the corrective that should be applied:
I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get. 
But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.
But of course. This is obvious. But grasping the obvious for our servants of the people in Washington is  patently impossible. They live in a dreamland . . . and don't ever forget that the vast majority of the people up there in DC passing laws and taxes for the rest of us are millionaires. And they exempt themselves from almost all the legislation they pass.

So you tell 'em, Warren, and kick their asses while you're at it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Sorry for leaving all of you without warning. I had to run up to Denver on short notice. For a while there last week it appeared that my 90-year-old mom wasn't going to make it out of the hospital where she'd been taken for runaway diarrhea. Well, long story short. She's much better. Praise be to God. And I'm back. And more convinced than ever that living to a great age is not all it's cracked up to be. My mother is in as state-of-the-art facility for old people as there is, probably, given my knowledge of the subject. As I remarked to my sisters, this is what people with money can afford . . . and it's still horrible. And it's unspeakable for most of the greatly aged in our country who are not with family. They are warehoused in places and in the charge of "caregivers" far less desirable than the situation my mom has.

There is simply no getting around the fact that taking leave of this life imposes a great burden upon the vast majority of us. And the older I get, the less I like to be reminded of the fact.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Very Cool!

Hey, check out what happens when you visit this brewing company's site and you click that you are not yet 21. Then tell them you are 21 . . . and you'll just get thirsty.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dearly Hope He's Right

Rick Perry - Ready to Lead
John Cole informs today that Rick Perry, the certified loony who is governor of Texas, will get the nomination of the Republican party for president in 2012. Oh, I do so hope he is right. As all of you know, I'm not a great fan of Barack Obama, and it is not my intention to vote for the guy next time--and before you get all righteous about democracy and voting and all that, recall that I live in Oklahoma; it would not make any difference who I voted for in this scarlet state: the Republicans will get over 60 percent of the vote. Anyway, regardless of how much of a failure and fraud I consider Obama, no fact in existence is as plain as the fact that he would be the superior choice over any of the likely GOP hopefuls, as hopeless a collection of losers as could ever be imagined. All of these latter have sold their souls to the tea party movement. We're looking at a situation where the GOP nominee this go-round will be to the right of the last guy. The party is now bowing at the altar of the looniest among them, the tea party ideologues who can't even spell "rational" or "responsible."

Which is why this certifiable loony Rick Perry is such a wonderful choice for them to run for president. Because the tea party loves this guy. As Cole puts it:
He’s the right kind of ignorant, bigoted, religious nut that will attract the religious fanatics, he’s a gun loving cheerleader who speaks the secessionist code and the teabaggers will love him, he’ll talk constantly about deregulation and lower taxes and the money will be on board . . . 
You need to fire me from the ranks of anybody qualified to make observations on politics in this country if the voters decide next year that what's needed is some Tea Party nut in the White House. I don't think those people have any pull except in the Republican party, which is completely in thrall to these idiots.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I have to admit being fueled in my latest fury against the way we do health care in this country by a piece I read today. (It's a misnomer to even call it that. It's not about health care, it's about wealth care.) This was exactly the point "Sarah Proud and Tall" made in this piece on the blog Balloon Juice, which I just ran across today. The article, and this is what caught my eye, fetchingly entitled "How long before we can leave David Brooks out on a hillside to die?" We don't need to go into the whole thing. You can read it yourself. But I did want to quote this little snippet simply because it pithily puts the problem with our so-called health care system right out there.

Context: she is repulsed by a Brooks column that appeared in the NYT on July 14 entitled "Death and Budgets." She takes great exception to his assertion that the fiscal crisis is being driven by health care costs and that the health care costs are being driven by the huge sums being spent on people in the final year of their lives. But let me let her speak for herself:
Furthermore, he [Brooks] argues, the reason for these soaring costs is that very old and very sick people insist on clinging on to their miserable lives, when they ought to be civic-minded enough to kick off. It’s not the insurance companies, which reap huge profits by serving as useless, greed-driven middlemen. It’s not the drug companies, which are making out like bandits with virtually no government regulation. It’s not the whole corrupt, overpriced system of medicine for profit, which delivers the 37th best health care in the world, according to the WHO, at more than twice the cost of the best (France). No. It’s all about us greedy geezers. We’re the ones who are placing an untenable burden on the younger, heartier citizenry, with our selfish desire to live a little longer.
There it is. It's not the fault of the people whose fault it is; it's the fault of the people who are sick. Brilliant.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sonsabitches! (cont'd)

I was moved to take off on this tirade, already into its second day, by one particular phrase that just hit me like a punch in the jaw in the USA Today article. That phrase: "the end-of-life medical market." Have you ever seen anything so gross? Right there in that one phrase is the epitome of what's wrong with not only our health care system in the US, but what's mainly wrong with the US.

We have lost our souls, brothers and sisters. We have lost sight of any measurement of worth, value, importance that is not connected to money. Everything in this country has a price/profit margin. Everything in this country is there only to be exploited. It doesn't matter whether what we're talking about is animal, vegetable, or mineral. In fact, we don't live in a country. We live in a fucking market. That's how matters are measured. How is it that I cannot find anybody who is regularly speaking out against this falsehood? Everyone seems to accept a gigantic lie that was foisted upon this country decades ago by right wing ideologues. I.e., that "the market" is the arbiter of truth in human affairs. The care and feeding of "the market" is the only really significant human activity. The tea party fruitcakes are simply logical outgrowth of a mentality that can't see any further than the balance sheet. When the market speaks, we are bound to listen.

In this madcap universe, a repulsive notion like "the end-of-life medical market" is perfectly logical, perfectly understandable. People who are dying are simply another commodity to be bought and sold. But as the story underscored: the market is a snake pit of grifters, thieves, cheats, and bullies. Who is playing fair out there? Nobody. Everybody's on the make, on the take. That we have scumbags who are ripping off the government--and hence all the rest of us too--by cheating and lying about the care of the dying, well, is that really a surprise? That's the way it goes in this wonderful free market, in this country with the best health care in the world.

Monday, August 8, 2011


A little while ago Susan was telling me about yet another ridiculous, time-consuming requirement that's being laid on us by our health insurance provider in order for them to pay a claim. These requirements, if you haven't noticed, have been escalating. The whole idea, of course, is to squeeze more money of healthy people, because remember that one of the foundational principles in the health care insurance business is to avoid people whom are going to generate claims, i.e., sick and injured people. I editorialized when she told me this that "all those health care insurance companies are sonsabitches." Susan seconded the characterization.

Here's a case in point from the front page of the USA Today this morning. Under the headline "Medicare costs for hospice up 70%." That seemed like a huge increase, so I read the article. Indeed, these costs went up by $4.3 billion from 2005-2009. Let me lay this out for you:
  • "for-profit hospices were paid 29% more per beneficiary than non-profit hospices" (Medicare pays for 84% of all hospice patients.)
  • "some of the nation's largest for-profit hospice companies are paying multimillion-dollar settlements for fraud claims and facing multiple investigations from state and federal law enforcement agencies
    • Vitas, the nation's largest for-profit hospice company, is the subject of a fraud investigation by the Justice Department and the Texas attorney general, according to federal court filings
    • Gentiva, the nation's fastest-growing for-profit hospice company, agreed last month to pay $12.5 million to settle Medicare fraud claims, Justice Department records show." (Neither company cared to comment.)
Now here's the kicker: costs have increased because these for-profit hospice outfits have "cherry-picked patients who live the longest and require the least amount of care." These are people with dementia and Alzheimer's who by and large live in nursing homes. Medicare pays hospices who operate out of nursing homes about $3,000 more on average per patient than other hospices. There's also evidence that hospices may be admitting patients (which of course means dollars for these companies) before they meet the criteria to be eligible for this care. The bastards! I'll have more of this rant tomorrow.

Friday, August 5, 2011


It occurs to me that Fridays have always been an important day of the week (for me at least). First, and most obviously, Friday marks the end of a work week . . . if you are working, which as most of you know, I retired from a few years ago. Nonetheless, I still remember what a great day Friday was when I was working. Because it meant I was not going to work for a couple of days at least. Away from the commute, bosses (to which I'm congenitally allergic), pointless job, the boredom, the stifling political/cultural atmosphere (I worked for the Dept of Defense, surrounded by military guys/gals and a crew of civilians that pretty much loved the military)--so it was great to get away from that even for just two days. Hell, being away from it for one day was great.

Another thing that will resonate with the older crowd who were brought up Catholic. Friday used to be a day you could not eat meat. You had to eat fish. Like every Friday of the year. No exceptions. Church rule. We were taught by Holy Mother Church that if you ate meat on Friday on purpose, God would be sending you to hell for all eternity. From where I sit now, it is matter of almost total amazement that anybody believed this and a lot of other stuff that the church told us you were going to hell for all eternity for. Practicing birth control, for example; getting remarried after a divorce; not contributing to the support of your pastor/the Church--how thoughtful of God to make sure the church always got money by having the Church think up this rule. This doesn't even count the whole slew of other things that would send you to hell for all eternity: going to a Protestant church, getting married somewhere other than a Catholic church, marrying a non-Catholic or (horrors!) a non-Christian with church permission; entertaining "dirty" thoughts and masturbation (insurmountable challenges for young males of the species); reading books on the Index of Forbidden Books*--check out the listings in Wikipedia. And this list is just partial. It's also a matter of amazement to me the hold that the Church had on people. Nobody seemed to question anything, and a lot of people, including me, were scared of sinning 24 hours a day. You get the point. Being a Catholic back then was not for sissies, or should I say, for normal human beings.

I'm inclined to be thinking about this old pre-Vatican II Council stuff (that was 1962-65 when the Church joined the modern world with a host of real reforms and reformulations of which conservatives in the Church have successfully turned back or blunted a great many, but that's a whole 'nother rant) because of something in a blog I read regularly. Karen Lindsey's anything&everything recently had a post about antisemitism in the Catholic church of her youth. As I recall, antisemitism wasn't that overt in the New Orleans church. Plain ole garden-variety racism was much more common, but only, as I now see, because there just weren't a hell of a lot of Jews in New Orleans. I never even met a Jewish person until I was 23 years old and met a guy named Bill Marienberg while I was in the service. But certainly the church that formed me found not only Jews, but Protestants, divorced people, "fallen away" Catholics, homosexuals, and numerous other categories of sinners distasteful.

Anyway Friday was a day you could not eat meat or you risked the fate of your immortal soul. Don't know how I got started on this long tirade, but I've got issues with the Catholic Church that I can't see being resolved at this point. I have to say my whole sense of spirituality was fostered in the Catholic church, for which I am really grateful. And that still remains and has deepened over the years. As for the rest . . . I've been in the process of tossing it aside for years. And, I'm happy to report, I'm just about done.

*The list reads like an honor roll of some of the greatest thinkers in the history of mankind: Pascal, Hugo, Rousseau, Voltaire, Dumas, Flaubert, Montesquieu, Montaigne, and on and on and on. There are tons of authors on the Index. Now, bear in mind that for these authors, only select works were on the Index. Others had the honor of having ALL of their works banned. Such honorees include: Rabelais, Sartre, Zola, Balzac, Spinoza, Hobbes, Sartre, and others.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Frightening Image

This is what the chair of the Democratic Black Caucus called it. He wasn't kidding; he knows whereof he speaks. The so-called deal passed on Tuesday is going to go hardest on the poor in society, and if you haven't heard, that means people of color basically. Cutting domestic spending falls disproportionally on programs that assist them. This is of course right in line with the aims of a substantial portion of the Republican party--I'm being as fair as I can. Maybe there's a Republican under a rock somewhere who does not want to cut social programs that help the disadvantaged and the middle class people of this country. For the life of me I cannot understand how anybody not in the economic top tier of the country can possibly think the Republican party has their interests in mind. Think about it for a second. What do they actually espouse that helps the 94 percent of the US people who have less than $100,000 annual household income? Think about it . . . I can't think of anything right off the top of my head. Indeed, all I can think of are policies and programs that help the other 6 percent, the people with all the money already. Now, I'm not against people making money. Not at all. But I am against greed and selfishness. My position is simple: citizens of the US who have been abundantly blessed by this society owe that society in proportion to their blessings. That's called fairness. That's called justice. Two things that the Republicans oppose, from every indication I've observed in them for years and years now.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Was Expected of Him

As usual Matt Taibbi has an interesting take on the give-away-the-farm deal the Democrats struck with the Republicans to avert a default by the U.S. government. He wonders how is it, why is it that Obama's funding has not slackened in the least although the man has shown himself to be utterly incompetent at just about every turn his presidency has taken. His crass cowardice in the face of a gaggle of lunatics in the House of Representatives is just the latest in a long and lengthening string of capitulations to the right wing. (This is the argument of Paul Krugman and a host of others.) Taibbi doesn't buy this argument. What he says is look at the money flow that continues to fatten Obama's coffers. It has not slacked off. And it's not going to, he says.
 . . . if the Democrats suck so bad at political combat, then how come they continue to be rewarded with such massive quantities of campaign contributions? When the final tally comes in for the 2012 presidential race, who among us wouldn't bet that Barack Obama is going to beat his Republican opponent in the fundraising column very handily? At the very least, he won't be out-funded, I can almost guarantee that. 
And what does that mean? Who spends hundreds of millions of dollars for what looks, on the outside, like rank incompetence? 
It strains the imagination to think that the country's smartest businessmen keep paying top dollar for such lousy performance. Is it possible that by "surrendering" at the 11th hour and signing off on a deal that presages deep cuts in spending for the middle class, but avoids tax increases for the rich, Obama is doing exactly what was expected of him?

Glenn Greenwald likewise believes that it's not Obama cowardice that's to blame, but rather Obama's intent all along. He sets out the argument here. Actually there's a link to an email of his in this piece and that's where the argument is. But here's a starter:
For those who believe this narrative, please confront the evidence [in my email]; how anyone can claim in the face of all that evidence that the President was "forced" into making these cuts -- as opposed to having eagerly sought them -- is mystifying indeed. And, as I set forth . . . there were ample steps he could have taken had he actually wanted leverage against the GOP; the very idea that negotiating steps so obvious to every progressive pundit somehow eluded the President and his vast army of advisers is absurd on its face.
Either way you slice this cheese, the odor is still foul, i.e., Obama did what he intended all along.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Our Economy Sucks

Well, here we are post-one-day the economy saving "deal" whereby the country gets screwed so the lunatic Tea Party fringe of the Republican party can be mollified, and so they won't drive the economy into a ditch, from whence there's no idea of how long before it gets out. Make no mistake, my friends, this so-called deal on the debt ceiling is not a good deal for anybody. It will without question drag the economy further down. Further down from the dismal state it is in at the moment. In short, things are not getting better. They are going to get worse. And get a load of the baseline from which this will happen. Let these numbers sink in, my friends. Things are really dismal right now. Just wait until our stupid politicians' latest piece of asininity takes hold.

Source is Pro Publica, here.

Meanwhile, we learn that the stock market dropped over 200 points today over fears for the economy. I don't give a rat's butt about the stock market, but the "market" knows bad news when it sees it. And it knows the charade of a settlement deal that just happened doesn't do a thing to address the real problems.