Monday, April 30, 2012

We're Back

Just enough time to check in and say we have had the most marvelous time over the past few days. Not only was the history just really excellent, but the company of my sister and brother-in-law for the several days was an unvarnished treat. To say that I was impressed with the battlefields at Gettysburg and Sharpsburg would be belaboring the completely obvious. I'll have some reflections on what I saw tomorrow. For now, just happy to be home . . . and away from the airline experience. My daughter had us over for supper after we got back. That was sweet of her. And thoughtful, too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lapse Is Upon Us

A trip out of town for a next few days will silence me, to your great relief, I'm sure. But not to worry. I will be back on Sunday more than ready to waste your valuable time with my blatherings. In the meantime, pray for peace.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Pope is Pissed

Who would you rather have praying for you? These people?

Or this guy?

I submit to you that this is really no choice at all. Who is God more likely to heed? Holy women who have spent their entire lives in service to the poor, sick, and disadvantaged, who are best known for hospitals, prayer, and schools . . . or a pseudo-royal pontiff--best known for being part of the worldwide conspiracy in the Church to protect pedophiles and avoid paying their victims--who can find nothing better to do these days than beat up on nuns for not hewing strictly to the party line?

Yes, the Curia--Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--has issued a report condemning the Leadership Conference of Woman Religious, which represents about two-thirds of the 57,000 American nuns. It seems that the holy women have not been sufficiently vocal about their support of Vatican policies on homosexuality and, even worse, the Church's insistence on ordination for men only. They have generally been polluted by "radical feminism," according to the Vatican.

I'm delighted to report that the nuns have received an outpouring of public support (see here; see also here and here.) How, really, could it be otherwise? Now maybe if the Pope got pissed off at something besides deviations on Church doctrine, people would be more inclined to lend an ear. When is Rome going to stop sounding like a hectoring old ninny and start really speaking the language of the Christ it claims to be sole manifestation of on Earth?

Don't hold your breath.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Old Guys

Every once in a while I come across a poem that just gets me in the heart. The poem below is such a one. I cannot really even articulate why it gets me in the heart. Perhaps its tone of unrelieved sadness. Perhaps it's because I've seen such people in real life. Or perhaps its because the poem is so true it makes you cry.

Old Guys

by Wesley McNair

Driving beyond a turn in the mist
of a certain morning, you'll find them
beside a men-at-work sign,
standing around with their caps on
like penguins, all bellies and bills.
They'll be watching what the yellow truck
is doing and how. Old guys know trucks,
having spent days on their backs under them
or cars. You've seen the gray face
of the garage mechanic lying on his pallet, old
before his time, and the gray, as he turns
his wrench looking up through the smoke
of his cigarette, around the pupil
of his eye. This comes from concentrating
on things the rest of us refuse
to be bothered with, like the thickening
line of dirt in front of the janitor's
push broom as he goes down the hall, or the same
ten eyelets inspector number four checks
on the shoe, or the box after box
the newspaper man brings to a stop
in the morning dark outside the window
of his car. Becoming expert in such details
is what has made the retired old guy
behind the shopping cart at the discount store
appear so lost. Beside him his large wife,
who's come through poverty and starvation
of feeling, hungry for promises of more
for less, knows just where she is,
and where and who she is sitting by his side
a year or so later in the hospital
as he lies stunned by the failure of his heart
or lung. "Your father" is what she calls him,
wearing her permanent expression
of sadness, and the daughter, obese
and starved herself, calls him "Daddy,"
a child's word, crying for a tenderness
the two of them never knew. Nearby, her husband,
who resembles his father-in-law in spite
of his Elvis sideburns, doesn't say
even to himself what's going on inside him,
only grunts and stares as if the conversation
they were having concerned a missing bolt
or some extra job the higher-ups just gave him
because this is what you do when you're bound,
after an interminable, short life to be an old guy.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Oh, What a Deal!

I just saw this story in Google news, and I'm so pissed off about it, I'm putting another story that I'm pissed off about on the back burner. Here's the gist of it: the U.S. has committed itself financially and militarily to the Afghanistan for the next 12 years. The story gives no indication how much money we're talking, but one cent is too much if you ask me. Here's what the story does say:
. . . the United States expects to make substantial contributions toward the cost of Afghanistan’s security forces beyond 2014. A total figure for the United States of $2.7 billion a year has been discussed, and it could easily be more; there would most likely be aid for civilian programs as well.
We got involved in that God-forsaken place in 2001. Now we're on the hook to be coughing up money for those crooks till 2024. We are going to continue to line the pockets of Karzhai and his rotten, corrupt family while in this country, some politicians actively seek to diminish aid to the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, the sick. While their (yes, I fear) millions of supporters don't bat an eye at this obscene waste. But this ain't even a one-party affair. The Democrats are not going to worry about this travesty either.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Playing with the Dead, Chapter II

Following up from yesterday, and the what-I-consider-absurd statement by Leon Pinetta, that "that's not who we are" in regards to American soldiers dishonoring the bodies of killed enemies in Afghanistan . . . here's a take on the reason why the military and the White House is so intent on keeping the American people from finding out about stuff like this. There was an intense effort by the administration to keep the LA Times from printing the pictures. Easy to understand why the government doesn't really want us to know what's going on, but get a load of the bullshit we're being told as to why the American people should not know the kind of behavior they're paying for in our lovely little Middle East war. Does anybody think anybody really believes this stuff?

After they appeared, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the media that he did "not want these images to bring further injury to our people or to our relationship with the Afghan people." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney chimed in: "We're also very disappointed ... about the decision made to publish these photographs two years after the incident."  
This refrain, that the overriding concern in Washington was that publication of the photos would inflame Afghan public opinion and provoke an intensification of attacks on US troops in Afghanistan, is based on a lie. 
The Afghans do not need to see a picture on the front page of the LA Times to hate the foreign occupation of their country, which has lasted for over 10 years and inflicted hundreds of thousands of casualties together with daily humiliation and oppression. The Afghans are living it, not merely reading it in a newspaper. 
The real concern in Washington is the impact that the latest photographs, together with the unending succession of atrocities in Afghanistan, will have upon American and world public opinion. In the United States, opposition to the war is at record levels, with barely 30 percent of the population believing that it is worth fighting. 
Internationally, people who are incessantly told that the US is engaged in a global crusade for "human rights" can see through these photos what American soldiers and their commanders in Afghanistan are really up to: murder and brutality on a massive scale.
To counter antiwar sentiment, the government and the military have done their best to control the reporting on the war and, above all, the photographic images that are accessible to the American public. (Source)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

That's Not Who We Are

The latest military outrage from Afghanistan--they come now about one a month on average--is the publication of embarrassing photos of  U.S. troops with dead bodies of enemies. Mocking the dead, like we've seen before. The L.A. Times printed two of them out of a reported dozen or so sent to the paper by another U.S. soldier concerned, he said, with the breakdown of discipline among his comrades. Gee, ya think?

Anyway, top American officials are expressing appropriate levels of outrage. Leon Pinetta, secretary of defense, was the administration's point man for the required breast-beating. The behavior of the troops was "foolish" and "unacceptable," he said. He seemed to be saying that war is ugly and sometimes young, immature people make foolish decisions . . . in this case, to pose with bloody trophies. Do I sound cynical? That's because I am. We heard this sort of thing before. And we've also heard what Pinetta went on to say, i.e., that such behavior is "not who we are."

Well, sir, I respectfully disagree. This is exactly who we are. How much more evidence do we need that our troops routinely engage in savage behavior? We've had Abu Ghraib. We have had marines pissing on dead bodies. We've had burning of the Qur'an. We've had countless killings of innocent people ("collateral damage"). We've had revelations of massacres by U.S. troops. We've had other pictures of U.S. troops mutilating bodies. We've had just recently a berserk soldier who goes out and murders a bunch of Afghan women and children in their sleep.

This is exactly who we are: a society that was perfectly OK for 10 years with a war built on a passel of lies. That doesn't get outraged when people get shot down in their classrooms, repeatedly over years. A society who has incarcerated over 2 million people, that still endorses the death penalty, that has rampant police brutality, that spies on its own citizens, that has lately been characterized by more than its usual level of meanness in its refusal to endorse a viable safety net for the health and well-being of its citizenry and cannot wait to get at social security for the elderly.

No, Mr. Pinetta. You're wrong about this. Dead wrong.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's This Easy

It's just this easy to blow off . . . what? . . . almost a week of blog posts. A few times during this silence I've told myself I ought to be making a blog entry today. But today slipped into tomorrow and then the next day and before you know it, I've been gone a week from these entries, almost as if I were out of town, which I soon will be for a good period of time off and on over the next few months. Next week, a week from tomorrow, Susan and I head up to Gettysburg. Here I am, a professional Civil War historian and I've never seen anything but photographs of the most famous battlefield in the United States. I'm going to try and resume normal production, but I'm about to enter a period of heavy travel. About a week after Gettysburg, it's to Florida to see my boys, then at the end of May, first part of June in Louisiana, then for two weeks in July to Canada, then a wedding in Houston in September . . . I'll miss lots of blogging during those times.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fixing the Debt

Fixing the debt without bleeding government services till they shrivel into nothingness. It can definitely be done, according to this article in Rolling Stone. The writer is Julien Brooks and his take-off point a new book by Simon Johnson and James Kwak, White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why it Matters to You.

This book, according to the analysis, shoots to hell the standard argument from the Right that out-of-control government spending is responsible for the deficit, and the way to attack it is to slash social programs that benefit the poor and middle class: Medicare and Social Security.

Not at all so: "Out-of-control government is not the cause of the debt (unless you count out-of-control Pentagon spending on two wars); we do not need to act on deficits immediately, although the long-term debt is a genuine problem that needs to be addressed; and the way to get our fiscal house in order is not to slash spending on programs that benefit poor and middle-class Americans. . . . White House Burning, . . . doesn't soft-pedal the dangers of running up big deficits indefinitely, but it makes a powerful case that we can get the debt under control in a way that strengthens, rather than rolls back, essential government programs like Social Security and Medicare."

Okay. How? Here's what Simon Johnson, former chief economist for the IMF and one of book's authors says:
Don’t extend the Bush tax cuts that expire at the end of this year. Increase the payroll tax to help fund Social Security. If you do that, you can achieve up to half of the fiscal adjustment that’s needed by 2030. Now, you may not want to do it all in one go because of where the economy is in terms of recovery, but the president should come back to Congress early in 2013 with a proposed temporary payroll tax cut, and link that to employment; if the economy recovers, payroll tax would go up, but only if the economy recovers.
In addition, you would reduce or eliminate certain tax expenditures – lower the mortgage interest deduction tax; phase out the employer health plan exclusion, a tax credit for businesses for providing health insurance (this makes us unpopular with the left, because unions like this break, but you can do that in a way that protects relatively poor people). Put a higher premium on Medicare Part B and increase the Medicare payroll tax. Increase the maximum capital gains and dividends tax rate; introduce a carbon tax, but rebate half of the proceeds. Charge “too-big-to-fail” banking institutions for anticipated rescue costs. Eliminate some of the tax expenditures that businesses get. Reduce spending on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and on farm subsidies. . . .
The program in the book is not a massive government expansion. The argument is, let’s defend social insurance programs, and let’s keep the good role of the government roughly speaking as it is, and put its funding on a more sustainable basis. We can absolutely afford it.
Makes all kinds of sense to me . . . and there's no mention of slashing the obscene Pentagon budget, which would help a great deal more. But jack rabbit in the talons of a hawk has more of chance at life than these proposals do with the Republican party.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Majority of Simpletons

My problem is there simply isn't enough time for me to read, and I spend better than half my waking life reading. Not always books. I read magazine articles, I read stuff on the Internet--blogs and other interesting stuff, of which there is no end. I read the newspaper every day. And I read books. Both books for fun, which are most of them, and books of my profession, which is to say history and of which I sometimes have to write reviews. I cannot imagine life with books. I'm surrounded by books as I type this. I am inordinately fond of books. I have to sigh sometimes because I know I will not be able to read all the books I want to read right here in this room. I won't last long enough. And that's the books in this room, this study. It doesn't count all the books I'm going to acquire that are not yet in this room.

Which makes essays like this one stick with me. Not that what he says is surprising. I've been talking about the basic illiteracy of this society for a long time. The writer, one Jon Talton, an economic writer for the Seattle Times, writes a piece called "Men Don't Read."

I have a unique problem among men, it seems, without enough time to read. In fact, I have a problem that most men would not even recognize. It's truly sad . . . and what's worse, the problem with all those other guys that never read books . . . well, that ain't gonna get any better at all.

Here's a flavor of the article. Read the whole thing. It's pretty good.
My parents' generation was perhaps the high-water mark of this broad literacy that the founding fathers knew was essential for self-governance. Now it's gone.
It died in our society's abandonment of the public schools, and the screwing around with curriculum in even good schools (and for this latter, liberals can shoulder some blame, too). . . . Today, teachers must "teach to the test" and normal boy behavior is something to be medicated early. Today many schools don't even have libraries.
It died in a specialization society, where the Renaissance woman is rare and the Renaissance man below the age of forty is nearly non-existent (as is the public intellectual). Now even the brightest are channeled into silos of the mind early. The lucky ones are software engineers or neurosurgeons. Others are financial hucksters or diesel mechanics. They know a great deal about their very narrow field, along with an enthusiasm here and there . . . But they lack the knowledge of even a middle-brow polymath in the mid-20th century. At its worst, this "culture" merely places people into their Matrix pods as workers and "consumers."
It died with our electronic distractions. This baffles me: I spend my work day sitting before a computer screen; I need the tactile pleasure of a book when off-duty. I don't need my public library to have digital dazzle. But the damage was already well advanced, where thirty-year-old men were "reading" "graphic novels" (i.e. comic books) and living with their parents. Probably the first nail in the coffin was television, of which the average American watches 34 hours a week. And it died with the Southern-ization of our culture, where being "redneck" and "country" are high aspirations. [I would certainly mention the pernicious influence of the mindless hip-hop nation, which is far more pervasive than "Southern-ization," which I don't think really exists to any great extent anyway.]
To be sure, some people are never going to be readers. We used to feel sorry for them. Now it's the norm. With the extreme right, it's a point of pride. Don't need no book-learnin' when Rush and Sean and Bill will tell you the truth. . . . 
How a nation with a majority of simpletons faces the most complex dangers in history will be tragedy and farce. I just wish we didn't have to live through it, too.
 It already is tragedy and farce . . . it's just going to get worse. It will end in catastrophe.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Not Well Known, To Say the Least

Here's another thing I'm shameless purloining from my friend Montag's blog. Just some background. Amidst the various and sundry shrieks about the health care law, in addition to "government takeover," "medical decisions by Washington bureaucrat," and etc., you are bound to get some variation on the theme of "rationing." That is, some "faceless bureaucrat" or group of them deciding who gets medical care and who doesn't. Oh, the cries to heaven about this from the Right! Well, what would all those bleeding hearts have to say about one of their heroes if they knew this.

Check this out. Here's the meat of it.
Since 1999, Texas has given hospital "ethics panels" the authority to end care even if the patient or family wants to continue.
It's called the Texas Futile Care Law. The Texas Senate bill passed in 1999.
Back then, the Senate's presiding officer was Lt. Gov. Rick Perry.
Yes, the governor who says, "I always stand by the side of life."
Read the whole story. Hypocritical bastard.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Social Darwinism" in Finland

This is an exact rendition of a post on the "We Are the 99 Percent" blog.* Here.What this young man recounts is the way civilized people think about how societies should work. And he expresses the hope that the US would take an example from how Finland operations. Well, God bless the boy! He doesn't have a clue of who he's talking to, although I don't doubt his sincerity one bit. For us, this kind of world will never exist. Half the nitwits in this country--at least half--would condemn this sort of solution as "socialism" and therefore to be condemned out of hand. Of course they don't know that the socialists were once a legitimate American political party, and their point of view was embraced by millions. But they don't know what century our Civil War took place in either . . .
I am a 21 year-old student from Finland. 
It makes me sad to hear how Americans are suffering.
Here, our taxes are high but we all benefit from them.
I grew up in the countryside and always had access to the same services that people in the city did.
My university is known around the world in my field and my education is not only free, but my government pays ME to go to university. Everyone has a right to this.
Everyone has a right to the best healthcare, there is no such thing as health insurance.
I am young now and able to take risks and pursue my passion because I will never have to worry about starving if I loose my job or my business fails.
I know that when I am old my state pension will be there for me so that I can enjoy my retirement.
We call this the Nordic Model, and under it we live well and our businesses are among the most competitive in the world. I am grateful to have been born a citizen of a country that cares for its people, and I hope that one day the USA will take example from us.
 When I first took notice of this 99 percent blog, a guy I know wrote me and said, "What are you trying to say?" I rest my case. This guy is a college educated, former auto company executive. If that's what you get from this kind of person, what do you think the militiamen think?

*If reading the stories of real people undergoing real hurt that are recounted at this site doesn't move you to think differently about what's going on in this country, I really am sorry for you because one day you'll be looking for the heart you've lost somewhere along the way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Let 'Em Eat What Falls from Our Tables

My learned pal, Montag, whose blog I follow, sometimes posts three or four times a day. His mind is fertile, mine is sluggish. I'm in catch up mode on this blog so I'm going shamelessly purloin some of his stuff as grease for my own torpidity. Probably what you will read here for the next few days will be thanks to ideas he's implanted in my head.

First a little current idiocy from the GOP:
Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns is calling on President Obama to apologize for comparing a House Republican budget to "social Darwinism" this week. "Using phrases often cited in reference to some of mankind's darkest days is nothing more than a shameful attempt to divert attention away from the fact the President himself has failed to offer a credible proposal," Johanns said. "The President owes Congressman Ryan and the American people an apology for using such distasteful, heated rhetoric."
Obama ripped Republican priorities Tuesday, charging them with looking to starve government while giving the wealthiest tax breaks. He called the budget plan by Wisconsin Rep. Tim Ryan a "Trojan horse."Disguised as deficit-reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism."
Here is pretty much the reaction I had to this in a comment on the blog: "I think the Senator is ignorant. [Now isn't that a change?] He would certainly not be the first. Obama's metaphor is perfect, as it refers to the first Gilded Age in this country, when among the plutocratic class social Darwinism was all the rage. Obama is not far off the mark characterizing the GOP's current plan for society the way he does. The Ryan budget contemplates further huge transfers of wealth to the plutocratic class of our day at the expense of the dwindling middle and increasing poor classes in the U.S. It is as callous as any nineteenth century scion of business would have it in its plan to cripple social supports for the country's needy.

I am not surprised at all that a U.S. Senator hasn't a clue about the history of his country, but I'm also aware that the GOP script is to attack everything about Obama except maybe his breathing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

And Another Thing about This Florida Killing

I wrote the other day about the February 26 murder of a black teenager by an over-zealous Neighborhood Watch guy named George Zimmerman. The story has only gained much more national traction since then. It's been on the news and on the radar for millions of people ever since the story broke. There's been enough ink spilled on the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL to float a good sized ocean liner. We have heard about racism, community protest, more than we ever want to know about Zimmerman, minute dissection of the 911 recordings, plus all kinds of ancillary stories about the town, the neighborhood, etc. But one thing you haven't heard diddly about is guns. Because of course it was a handgun that killed this boy. It's just taken as a given that a weirdo such as Zimmerman, who appointed himself a one-man protection squad for the neighborhood, should be allowed to pack heat while he was playing at being a cop. Nobody in authority talks about guns because everybody is terrified of the NRA. The NRA has written the gun laws for this society. Which is to say, laws that don't stifle even queer ducks like Zimmerman from getting a gun and riding around with it in his SUV, hoping against hope that he gets to use it on some "punk."*

*Audio experts have determined that this is how he referred to the kid he was following a few minutes before he put a bullet in this chest and took his life.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It'll Only Take a Minute

Well, just a little bit over a minute to be purely precise. That is, to watch this short movie. I was just talking recently about the wonders of the Internet and the great stuff you can find there. This fits into that category. It's becoming ever more apparent to me that technology is just becoming totally impenetrable for me. When I was a kid, you could understand the basics of things like the internal combustion engine, the movie camera, light bulb, stereo record, and with a little research perhaps could make these things understandable to somebody else. No longer. I have no idea how this little movie does its tricks, much less how things get put on the Internet, transferred everywhere, etc.). All I can say is, the tricks are fascinating.


Source: Here

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Arch-Moron

You know it was a slow news day when one of the stories the PBS News Hour spent time on was the GOP Wisconsin primary which will be held tomorrow. As if a) anyone cared, and b) it were important. Look, Romney, the wooden man, has this thing in the bag. Santorum cannot assemble enough insane religious fanatics to sway things. And numbers of Republican luminaries are stepping up and saying, Mitt is our boy, let's get behind him. But they sure as hell aren't doing it with a lot of enthusiasm. It's obvious why. Mitt Romney is about as exciting as reading a telephone book. James Kuntsler, in an excellent piece on the permanence of bad times, calls Romney the arch-moron, such a wonderfully descriptive term that methinks I'll be adopting it myself since it's apparent he's bound to come up in conversation over the next few months.

Frank Rich did a piece a while back called "Why Romney is So Ripe for Parody" that makes it perfectly clear why, if this arch-moron ever attains the presidency, comedy will be at least one growth industry. I commend it to you. As for myself, I cannot imagine that the country would turn Obama out for such a stultifying dud. But I could very easily be overlooking the depth of the hatred the Republicans have for the president. That's so deep and vicious, it might even be able to overcome running an arch-moron for president.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Oh, Boy!

Really. It takes so little to please me sometimes. Tonight after several weeks working on it, my dear sister Mary Isabelle sent me my thoroughly reworked Access database of the books in my home library--which surrounds me on three sides as I type, by the way. My sis is just a positive wizard at computer stuff like this database work. And she's so dogged about stamping out all the problems, even little ones. This thing works great. I'm just tickled plumb to death as my mom's Mississippi family was wont to say.

This database is in the latest version of Access. I should mention right away that it does not contain the entire library yet. Not hardly. It's a work in progress. I have to enter the books and publication information into the database. Nearly 800 in there now, and I've got a long way to go. But I get crazy over this kind of organization project. So getting all my books into this DB will join other long term projects such as compiling information on all the 1-0 games played in major league baseball since 1901, another of my long-term projects that will mean pretty much nothing to anybody but me when it's done. Just like the library cataloging.