Friday, September 30, 2011


You want to hear something outrageous? A representative of American banking--I forget what his title was--had the gall this evening on the PBS News Hour* to claim that the outrageous new fee of $5 month the Bank of America is going to charge its customers for use of their debit card is to cover the increased costs of doing business brought on by the financial services reform bill of a few months ago. As if that bill had not been near totally gutted by the army of lobbyists that systematically carved any real reform out of the bill before it passed. That so-called reform is useless, but it certainly can be used by these miserable bankers to extort more millions out of the pockets of middling Americans.

The gall of these people! This is just another money gouging move by the most shameless gang of thieves on the planet. Think about it. A $60 a month fee for simply using your debit card, even if you use it only one time during the month. These are the people who nearly brought the world to its knees a couple of years ago, were bailed out with hundreds of billions of dollars from the taxpayers. These are the people who may yet, given the financial crisis in the European Union, bring the world to its knees anyway. And they sit there with a straight face and claim that this unconscionable fee is simply to cover the actual costs of debit card transactions.

Don't believe it. These people would not know the truth or tell it under any conditions I can imagine. But they don't have a worry in the world. People will supinely accept this latest outrage without a peep, and half the country, composed 99 percent of people who are dancing the bank's tune without protest will defend the bankers. Not like the Irish. They know all about bankers. If you missed it before, you should really go listen to what one of them had to say about the banking profession not too long ago. See my entry, "A Representative Irishman." What he said then is still true, what he said then has been true for 30-40 years at least.

*Segment begins around 17:15

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Yet Another Great Big Lie

Paul Krugman is out today in his blog reminding us of one of the biggest lies floated by the Republican party lately. To wit: "the zombie claim that fears of regulation are holding back job creation." There is "not a shred of evidence" to uphold this assertion, but evidence has never been a matter of great concern to the Republicans. Over the past few years, the old adage about the big lie is being proven over and over again. This stuff about regulations stifling the creation of jobs is no more absurd than the claim that the current state of the economy is something that Obama is responsible for (and not the ruinous Bush administration policies) or that the richest people in our society, who have to be protected from taxation, are job creators. Or the biggest falsehood of all: that the Republican party is honestly concerned about providing jobs during this recession rather than making as much political hay as they can so they can regain power next year. Yeah, I know you cannot believe any politicians, regardless of party. But, come on, there's a limit to the lies they should be allowed to tell.

Krugman references this article which totally debunks the Republicans' claim. Stomps all over it. Thoroughly proves it to be just another lump of bullshit the GOP are feeding us and calling it roast beef. What's truly discouraging is how many people are swallowing it down and asking for more. It's not made sense to me for many months.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I'm So Sorry

 Most Exciting Day in Baseball History

This is one of those nights when I'm so sorry for all those people out there who are not baseball fans. For this night brought to a close the 2011 season with an incredible array of games. I don't think I've ever seen a single season last day packed with so much drama. The division winners in all six divisions had been decided. But the wild card teams, the fourth team to get into the playoffs in each league, had not. One of the amazing things about this year is that the wild card spot at the beginning of September looked like it was no contest at all. Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves were both ahead of the immediate trailing team (Tampa Bay Rays and St Louis Cardinals, respectively) by about 9 games. This is like a horse being 9-10 lengths ahead down the stretch. In short, it's a huge lead. But, wonder of wonders, both those teams lost out on the final day of the season. The collapse of both these teams during September was epochal.

Boston and Atlanta collapses

Nobody knew who were the wild cards till the last minute. For the Rays to get in, Boston had to lose to Baltimore, a weak team. They did, but how they did was amazing. Boston went into the bottom of the 9th inning in Baltimore leading 3-2. And then they gave up two runs with nobody on and two outs. Amazing! (Box score and play-by-play)

And the Rays themselves had to beat the accursed New York Yankees. By the eighth inning in St Petersburg, it appeared this was a forlorn hope indeed. The Rays were down by 7 runs, 7-0. But here comes the miracle: the Rays score 6 runs in the bottom of the 8th. Trailing by a run in the bottom of the 9th, with two out, they tie the game on a home run by a guy named Dan Johnson. Who? This guy is a journeyman ballplayer, one of the worst hitters in baseball. He hit .119 for the year. Hit two homers, counting this one. Had an on-base percentage of .187. These are miserable numbers, trust me. He hits the ball out to tie and game goes into extra innings. Tampa goes on to win the game in the bottom of the 12th inning on a homer by a guy who had already hit one in the game. Box score and play-by-play of the game.

In the other league, St Louis had to win and Atlanta had to lose. St Louis, playing against the Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball, won handily. Everything depends on the Atlanta game, and Atlanta is leading by a run in the top of the 9th. But they cannot hold the lead against the best team in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies. Their game goes into extra innings and the Braves lose it by a run in the 13th inning. Box score and play-by-play of the game.

Wow! I am just out of superlatives. I am so pumped for the post-season. Go Rangers! (who won a close one tonight and secured home field advantage for the beginning of the American League Divisional Series).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Some More Used to Be

When I was writing yesterday, the entry really went in a different direction than what I had in mind. I'm not much of a nostalgic person* but I do begin to wonder if some aspects of the past were not preferable to what we've got now. Some of these thoughts center around communication and technology. Now, I'm as crazy about the benefits of computers as anyone. I'm more ambivalent about cell phones. It's great being about to be in touch, to call Susan from the grocery and ask if what I've got in my hand is the right thing. But texting and talking in virtually any venue? Including vehicles . . . when you're at the wheel? Please. Video game boxes that keep kids hypnotized for hours and hours? Computer games that do the same? Somehow, my gut tells me that these phenomena can't really be progress. Other things too: virtual depiction of sex on TV and in movies, debasement of the language, the pervasive fear in this society (a flotilla of cars at every school because parents are too scared to let their kids walk 2-3 blocks). How cold and hard we've become towards people we used to think it was our responsibility to care for: mentally ill, needy children, immigrants.

I was also thinking about the general decline of literacy in our society. Computers have something to do with this. Used to be there was a certain shared body of knowledge that everybody learned in high school, grammar school, even. No more. (Maybe I'm delusional, but quite a few of my contemporaries sense the same thing.) The vast sea of ignorance in which we all swim and sail is unfathomable. Used to be that reading was a leisure activity for a lot more people than it is now. People in society used to be more polite, more respectful of one another. Right. Well, that's gone.

Everything used to seem so much simpler back when. Is that because we were ignorant of all kinds of stuff we know now? Yeah, probably. But I can still miss those simpler times. I wish I didn't know half the crap I know now that just makes things seem worse.

(I decided I would allow myself this one wistful commentary on what used to be, hastening to assure you that I'm through whining.)

*I do have sentimental attachments to some strange things. Little trinkets are scattered all over my bookshelves. I still have the baseball glove and ball I used to toss around with my boys. (I've thought about how much fun it was to play catch, but then realize that I would no doubt really hurt my arm--at least make it sore for some time--and I wouldn't be able to throw as hard or as far.) Remembrances from out time in Germany: some mugs, maps, a smoker, a couple of albums of wine and beer labels. Susan and I have copies of just about every greeting card we've given each other over the 40+ years we've been married, a chronicle of our deepening love for one another. I'm loathe to part with them.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Used to Be

I'm thinking today about yesterday. It's something aging people do since they've got so much more time behind them than in front of them. And for me, a professional historian, thinking about yesterday is habitual. It's a mode of thought that's most comfortable for me. I tend to think in aggregates, the big picture, the big things: nations, empires, broad historical currents, 50-year, 100-year blocks. There are probably historians personally constituted differently than I who don't do this. I can attest that this mode of thought often causes me to miss what's perfectly obvious to other people. Which is to say I am sometimes not exactly what you could call present-minded. My forgetfulness for the immediate is legendary, and it's only worsened with the passage of time.

There seem to be so many "used to be's" floating around my life. The most obvious is the "I used to be able to remember things." But there's a whole raft of others. Take heed, you young people. This is what awaits you.

I used to:
  • Be able to taste and smell better than I do now
  • Be able to drink fairly respectable amounts of alcohol. No more. No desire to either. (and of course I realize how malleable this "amount" would be, but you know what I mean)
  • Be able to play a much stronger game of chess
  • Be able go whole weeks without being bothered by a single pain in my body
  • Be able to count on regular functioning in the GI tract
  • Be able to go merrily along without having a bunch of my friends and friends of friends dealing with some more or less dangerous illness
  • Be able to get by with a lot fewer daily urinations
  • Be able to remember bands, book titles and their authors, movies and who was in them, etc.
  • Be able to spell better, not to mention remember everything in my vocabulary immediately
  • Be able to . . . 
Well, you see how corporeal all these things are. There's no getting around the fact that your body reminds you the most often of the land you now inhabit. And the people you bring your ailing body to? These doctors? Hell, a lot of them look like teenagers to me.

I don't think this is a lament. Well, maybe just a little. But mostly it's just rumination. Body and mind are telling us things . . . and most of the time not too subtly.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's a Great Embarrassment

I don't know if other bloggers do this, but I suspect they do. I often back-date entries, i.e., writing Wednesday's blog entry on Thursday, Sunday's on Monday, etc. That's what I'm doing now. Typing at 1:35 a.m. on Sunday morning and posting to yesterday. (Of course, I would not have this problem at all if I weren't so anal about trying to maintain one daily blogging entry. I'm not like my friend Montag over at "A Father Talks to His Daughter about God." I mean that guy is prolific, sometimes half a dozen entries a day, always at least two or three. And sometimes he so erudite and deep I cannot really follow what he means. But it's all good. I like the way his mind works.) Anyway as I was saying, I read in the Writer's Almanac that tomorrow is the 54th anniversary of the day that President Eisenhower sent over a thousand federal troops to Central High School in  Little Rock, Arkansas, to ensure the safety of nine black students who were the first to integrate the school. Like all the southern states, Arkansas had dragged its feet about implementing the order of the Supreme Court in 1954's epochal Brown decision. And in the case of Arkansas, the governor had used the state national guard to essentially prevent the blacks from attending the school. You can read all about the story here.

The point of the story is to tell how embarrassed I am now at what I was then, just another southern white guy who uncritically accepted the racism of everything and everybody around me, including my family and relatives, friends, the whole white culture in the South, as normal. It's a great embarrassment to me that won't, I fear, ever be subsiding. I was part of that whole culture of hate. My conversion, my sanity, came too late to eradicate what had gone before.

This is what it took in 1957 to get into your school . . . if you were a  black person.
Hate--an iconic image of the time.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Speaking of Music . . .

R.E.M.'s Reckoning Cover
As that most spiritual of all the Beatles, George Harrison, said: "All things must pass." And so it is with all rock bands. Hence the departure of R.E.M. from the scene. The band has decided to fold its tents after a long life of over thirty years. The news has put my daughter in mourning and greatly saddened my oldest son. Apparently R.E.M.'s retirement is analogous to the breakup of the Beatles for my generation, only R.E.M. was around for a lot longer. There's a long appreciation of the band in an article in Slate., and other write-ups all over the place.

I have to confess that the band was never one of my favorites, although for my kids, especially my daughter Tanya, the oldest, this was one of those bands around in your most formative years. Like the '60s bands--Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks--were for my generation. And as far as I'm concerned, R.E.M.'s best work was their earliest work. Murmur, Life's Rich Pageant, Fables of the Reconstruction, Reckoning, Document. I had all of these albums on cassette tape*, and I can remember playing them quite a bit. By the time the band had moved into the '90s, I wasn't listening to them much anymore. I just didn't think their stuff nearly as good as the early years. This isn't unusual, by the way. It's true of most rock bands. Which is to say, relatively short-lived bands and highly influential bands such as the Beatles, Nirvana, The New York Dolls, and The Velvet Underground die before their creative juices start to atrophy. They don't have bad albums to drag around as part of their history. Alas, that can never be said of groups that last thirty years. Nonetheless, it's always sad to witness the demise of something once great.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Pox on Netflix

David Pogue has a great column today on what was once my, and apparently millions of other people's, favorite company, Netflix. For about $15 a month they would provide as many DVDs as you wanted to watch, just so long you didn't have more than three DVDs out at any one time. I'm not sure exactly when they went into business, but it's been a while back, and I've been with them for a long time. Later the company developed a streaming movie function, too. Different price structures depending on how many DVDs you had out at a time, but you got both services. But recently Netflix, without any warning or preparation of its customers,changed the rules of the game in a big way. They split the two functions, you could have either streaming or physical DVD, but if you wanted to have the two together, they jacked the price way up.

People were pissed. I dropped DVD service altogether. Reportedly over a million customers just left. Now the company has made matters worse. The CEO came out with an "apology" that just made people madder. I won't go into details. You can read the Pogue article. Suffice it to say, people are going to have to deal with two different outfits--Netflix for streaming video, and a new company called "Quixster" for DVDs. Two bills, two web sites. More than twice the headache.

Hell, if I weren't in the middle of "Mad Men"--an HBO TV series Susan and I are watching--I'd be inclined to drop the company too. I am paying $8 a month for streaming, and most the movies offered are distinctly second tier. Just like the company now. They are going to have to reverse field pretty quickly are they are, I think, cooked.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Just Surfing Around . . .

I came across this bizarre and vaguely unsettling video. At least I found it that way. The alternative band Tool is providing the music. Upon exploration, I find out the video is part of a movie called "MirrorMask," which I have never heard of, much less seen. 

See what you think.

Here is the Wikipedia site for "MirrorMask" and the trailer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ding Dong DADT

I stole the post title from the Boing Boing entry where I found this announcement today. Do we really need to belabor the point that it's about time?