Wednesday, August 29, 2012

This Made Me Cry

While all the fat cats are whooping it up down in Tampa, orating about "freedom" and the burdens of big government, too many regulations, and taxes . . . and blaming the White House for everything that's wrong with the country, there's this stuff going on. It made me cry to think how blessed Susan and I are while there are millions of people like the poor souls in this film. And you know what? They don't deserve this. They aren't responsible, and yet we've got a whole political movement in this country dedicated to crippling whatever aid is still available to them. What a crime! No, what a sin.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Getting Excited

Early next month, on the 10th, my online course in Modern & Contemporary American Poetry at the U of Pennsylvania begins. And I'm getting excited. For one thing, the course is going to touch on a lot of poets from first half of the 20th century, people I'm not all that familiar with. So there's an opportunity to broaden horizons here. But I'm also tickled to death that my sister Mary Isabelle is going to be taking the course, too. If she has not changed her mind. That's the best part, I think. I asked my kids and sibs who might be interested, and she was the only one who took me up on it, as far as I know.

Course runs for ten weeks and promises 4-5 hours of work every week. Sounds great. Can't wait.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Now What Have I Been Saying . . . ?

Haven't I been saying over the past several weeks that the Catholic church has sold itself over stock, lock, and barrel to the Republican party. And why should anyone be surprised? Isn't it ever the case that despite the saintly souls in the ranks who actually care for the poor and who make it their business to do acts of charity and goodness, which, in the gospel scheme of things is exactly what followers of Jesus are supposed to be doing . . . I say that despite this, is it not always the case that the official Church, the institution, is ever allied with the forces of reaction? I search history in vain for evidence that it was otherwise after 326 CE when the Emperor Constantine bestowed the State's blessing on Christianity. Since then, which I have often seen as one of the worst things ever to happen to the church, the hierarchy and Rome has allied itself with the rich and powerful of society.

I reiterate that this is not to say that the Church does a vast amount of good in the world to relieve the sufferings of people and to care for their needs, but when it comes to knowing where its bread is buttered, the Church does not miss a beat. It's palsy walsy with the money . . . everywhere.

And so we read that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, is going to deliver the closing blessing the GOP convention at the end of the week. How appropriate.
"The cozy relationship between a sizable portion of U.S. bishops and the Republican Party should be cause for concern, and not just among progressive Catholics," Michael O'Loughlin wrote in a post on the website of America magazine, a leading Catholic weekly published by the Jesuits.

"Cardinal Dolan's appearance in Tampa will damage the church's ability to be a moral and legitimate voice for voiceless, as those who view the Catholic Church as being a shill for the GOP have just a bit more evidence to prove their case," O'Loughlin concluded.
Well, I should say so. To my knowledge, the official Church in the guise of one of its most prominent prelates has never publicly identified itself with a political party like this. So all pretense is off.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Don't Know Why I Do It

I sometimes find myself wondering why I haven't had the time to finish reading that book that I've been reading for the past three months, it seems. Seems like I used to be reading a new book every other day, and in fact when I was in grad school that was often the case. But that was a while back, in fact, way back. Well, what I've been doing today might explain why I'm not getting those books read as fast anymore.

I spent well over an hour with a guy who is also a manager in what's called The Great American Fantasy League (GAFL). It's a bunch of 30 baseball crazed guys who each manage a team of all-time greats from each of the 30 major league teams. It's a variation of the Statis-Pro baseball game. We play a regular 162-game schedule one game per week. A season takes about four years to complete. Well over an hour learning how to do something I'm going to tell you about

The guy who is the "commissioner" for this league has been the self-appointed one responsible for all the record keeping and creation of all the player cards necessary for the game, which number in the thousands. And get this, he's been doing these by hand. For years. And he's been keeping all the league records also by hand. Amazing!!

So I and several other people have been urging the league leadership (this guy) to get in the 21st century. We are finally succeeding because a computer wizard named Paul has taken over management of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Paul has succeeded in getting the commissioner to agree to computerized player cards that will incorporate splits for batters, i.e., they will hit differently against right-handed pitchers than they do against left-handed pitchers, and the same will be true of pitchers. They will fare better against guys who bat the same way they throw. Just like real baseball, and it will add a huge dimension of realism to our game that's not there now.

To get to the point of this . . . these new cards for the hitters with this information have to be computer-generated, which involves a process for each hitter. Cannot believe I have volunteered to help do this. Right now I'm working through a team . . . and I'm gaining on it, that is, doing the work without making mistakes . . . it's all done on Excel spreadsheet, and there are several ways to err.

So that's the meaning of the title: Don't Know Why I Do It . . . take on these voluntary tasks when I could be doing something else better for sure.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Now Here's What I'm Talking About

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday about the punishment of baseball cheaters, I want to share with you some thoughts from "Blackie" Black, a baseball blogger who lives and dies with the Seattle Mariners. He proposes some really tough penalties indeed, which means, of course, that they will never be given the time of day anywhere that matters.  
Many falsely believe that the doping era in major league baseball-which almost brought down the game- is over as the testing and penalties have cleaned up the game. Obviously, with Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon failing drug tests and getting 50-game suspensions this week this premise is false. They consciously calculated that the risk was certainly worth the reward. And for making those calculations the punishment does not fit the crime. If baseball is serious about making our great game clean and fair forever then it is time for some stern and harsh disincentives.

Hence, I propose that the Oakland A’s must forfeit each and every game Colon pitched this year. The Giants should likewise have to forfeit every game in which Cabrera played. Commissioner Selig should award the American League the All-Star victory in which Cabrera was the MVP for the winning National League.

Individual sanctions are not working. There have been 76 suspensions this year under the minor league drug program. “Five players have been suspended this year under the big league drug program. San Francisco reliever Guillermo Mota was penalized 100 games in May following his second positive test and is eligible to return Aug. 28. Philadelphia infielder Freddy Galvis and free agent outfielder Marlon Byrd were suspended 50 games each in June.”
It's hard to disagree that there are still a lot of cheaters out there when this many of them are being caught. I think the situation in MLB is much better than it used to be, but I have no doubt at all that these two guys that got caught are only a small sample of ballplayers who are dodging the testing bullet successfully. Baseball needs to tighten the screws on cheaters and make damn sure that punishment for the crime actually fits it. Baseball is too precious a treasure to be sullied by the likes of these guys who don't care about the game but only their already ridiculously-stuffed wallets.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Unsvelte Doper

Bartolo Colon: Cheating Ain't Just for GQ Types Anymore

See that guy above? He's Bartolo Colon, a pretty damn good pitcher for the Oakland A's of the American League. Two-time all-star and also winner of they Cy Young Award (the Oscar for pitchers) in 2005 when he pitched for the Los Angeles Angels. He's also the second guy in a week--the other guy was a San Francisco Giants outfielder named Melky Cabrera--to be caught cheating by using synthetic testosterone to boost his performance on the field. (See NYT story here.) Such substances along with a whole raft of performance-enhancing and human growth drugs are banned by major league baseball.  I'm sure the ethnicity of these guys is purely coincidental. Cheating is an international opportunity employer. But I personally am chagrined to see a fat guy get caught cheating. We pudgy types have few athletic heroes to look up to, and I have to confess, I'm delighted to see my compatriot more well-rounded guys doing well baseball. Colon was one of the last of these guys around.

Before they started paying players multi-millions of dollars, the game used to have more pudgy types. Now these guys are all cut and trim and usually muscular from the very expensive conditioning regimes and personal trainers they use. Doesn't mean I approve of what Cabrera and Colon have done. Hell, no! They are both suspended for 50 games. I think the penalty for cheating ought to be tougher, but as it is, it probably means the end of Colon's career, and it could possibly be the end of Cabrera's, too when his performance unenhanced by drugs gets down to the journeyman numbers he had before 2011-12 seasons when he was presumably doped.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just in Time

Just in time for the Republican convention . . . may the Gulf hurricane take a hard right into Tampa next week! . . . we have this cheery news. Cheery for corporations in this land of the free and home of the brave.

1) Corporate profit margins just hit an all-time high. Companies are making more per dollar of sales than they ever have before. (And some people are still saying that companies are suffering from "too much regulation" and "too many taxes." Maybe little companies are, but big ones certainly aren't).

Corporate profits as Percent of GDP

 Not so cheery if you're a working stiff. 2) Fewer Americans are working than at any time in the past three decades. One reason corporations are so profitable is that they don't employ as many Americans as they used to.

Employment Population Ratio

And really no surprise given the unemployment situation. 3) Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low. This is both cause and effect. One reason companies are so profitable is that they're paying employees less than they ever have as a share of GDP. And that, in turn, is one reason the economy is so weak: Those "wages" are other companies' revenue.
Wages to GDP 
All this data courtesy this website
Now, let me just pose this question . . . how can you expect the party of the corporations, the Republican party, to really be concerned about these last two charts? Seriously. Is not the business of corporations to turn as much profit as possible? And doesn't more hiring and raises and benefits for workers, doesn't all that cut into profits? Now, I'm sure there will be howls of indignation at the idea that corporations don't care about the welfare of their employees, especially those working class employees. All I say is look at the evidence. Over the past few decades, these caring corporations have relocated untold thousands of jobs oversees and cut back on what workforce remained in the US. They have abetted the recession by opposing through their GOP legislators relief measures for workers crushed by the ongoing recession. And they are squarely lined up behind Mitt Romney and his pro-business, anti-little person agenda.

I'm sorry, but I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone in the working class with the sense God gave a peanut would vote for a party that exists for the sole purpose of enriching corporations and the filthiest of the filthy rich among us and removing every possible governmental obstacle to their further enrichment. It's one of the great mysteries of the universe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nothing But the Facts

There's been a huge brouhaha about the cover story of the latest Newsweek by Niall Ferguson. The title of the piece will give you a hint as to why: "Hit the Road, Barack. Why we need a new president." I first read about the controversy in the scathing response Paul Krugman had to it, terming it "unethical journalism" because of its "multiple errors and misrepresentations."
Ferguson then responded to Krugman, saying that he had been telling the truth and nothing but. His response was followed by a whole phalanx of fact-checkers, economists and bloggers who trashed the story and Ferguson's rebuttal, saying that both were filled with distortions and falsehoods about Obama's record. (Source)
You can read reams about this controversy, and frankly, if you're honest about it, there's no way Ferguson looks good after investigation. Krugman is correct. The piece is rife with errors of fact and distortions of fact. And it's obvious why, aside from the undoubted fact that Ferguson is a careless researcher. (Why would anyone concerned with his scholarly reputation would be so slipshod with the facts? It beats me.) Newsweek ftat out admits it did not fact-check the piece. What?? I thought this was absolutely sine qua non with mass-circulation magazines. Sort of like tying your shoes before walking in them. You check the facts, verify them, before putting them out before the world.

Indeed, it's comforting to read this ringing affirmation in Mother Jones that this is indeed standard practice in places that care about the truth.
Newsweek might not bother with fact checking these days, but Ta-Nehisi Coates says it's still alive and well where he works:
When I arrived at The Atlantic in 2008, I was subjected to arguably the most thorough fact-checking procedure in all of popular publishing. That meant submitting an annotated version of the story with all sources cited, turning over all my notes, transcripts or audio, and the names and numbers of each of my sources, all of whom were called to confirm the veracity of my quotes.
In case you're curious, Mother Jones works the same way for its print pieces. And yes, it's every bit the pain in the ass you'd expect. Also every bit as necessary as you'd think.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Couple by AWOLnation

Two songs by my latest discovery band, AWOLnation.


There's a live version of this song here that is really good.

"Not Your Fault"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Winning Bunco Game: the War on Terror

Long piece by Glenn Greenwald in Salon blasts the phoney terrorism-expert business, as much a sham as the threat of terrorism itself. Essentially, he argues that it's all a big shell game, and like everything else in America if it makes huge amounts of money, it will be sustained at any cost in common sense or any other good reason it should go away.
Many of the benefits from keeping Terrorism fear levels high are obvious. Private corporations suck up massive amounts of Homeland Security cash as long as that fear persists, while government officials in the National Security and Surveillance State can claim unlimited powers, and operate with unlimited secrecy and no accountability. In sum, the private and public entities that shape government policy and drive political discourse profit far too much in numerous ways to allow rational considerations of the Terror threat.
 A third interest group that profits mightily from the war on terror is a whole tribe of self-defined terrorism experts. Much of the piece argues that the inherent self-interest of this tribe in keeping the terror lamp constantly blazing is behind our collective insanity on the subject and our inability to deal rationally with what is by any rational calculation a minor threat and hardly the globe-spanning threat to civilization it has become in our minds.

Here are the final two paragraphs of the piece, which spells out the baleful effects of what a word that cannot even be defined has meant to our country. Let's face it, friends, the war on terror is going to outlive all of us. "Terrorism" apparently has a life even more resilient to our trillions of dollars trying to eradicate it than even communism, which in my youth and beyond, seemed eternal.
There is no term more potent in our political discourse and legal landscape than “Terrorism.” It shuts down every rational thought process and political debate the minute it is uttered. It justifies torture (we have to get information from the Terrorists); due-process-free-assassinations even of our own citizens (Obama has to kill the Terrorists); and rampant secrecy (the Government can’t disclose what it’s doing or have courts rule on its legality because the Terrorists will learn of it), and it sends people to prison for decades (material supporters of Terrorism).

It is a telling paradox indeed that this central, all-justifying word is simultaneously the most meaningless and therefore the most manipulated. It is, as I have noted before, a word that simultaneously means nothing yet justifies everything. Indeed, that’s the point: it is such a useful concept precisely because it’s so malleable, because it means whatever those with power to shape discourse want it to mean. And no faction has helped this process along as much as the group of self-proclaimed “terrorism experts” that has attached itself to think tanks, academia, and media outlets. They enable pure political propaganda to masquerade as objective fact, shining brightly with the veneer of scholarly rigor. The industry itself is a fraud, as are those who profit from and within it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Greatest Nation on Earth, Episode #458

Ever heard of a "Sharpie Party"? No, neither have I. But that's what you get for pushing 69 years of age. You simply fall out of what's going on these days. But apparently the kids, teens, know all about them. They are happening all over the country, fueled by so-called social media. (There's a good case to be made that social media itself has become a blight on the nation, but that's another post.) What we're talking about here is organized mass property destruction, just for the hell of it. Invited on Twitter and Facebook, et al., kids go to foreclosed houses and armed with sharpies proceed to trash the walls with graffiti. Naturally, this level of destruction is too tame for some revelers, so they escalate to flooding bathrooms, bashing holes in the walls, breaking glass, and generally wreaking mayhem on the place. Nice, huh? Read all about it here.

This is appalling behavior on several levels, not the least of which is what kind of parents do these kids have? What kind of values are these kids internalizing? I know I sound like a clucking old grandpa, but I can't help it. Everywhere I turn these days, it seems I'm presented with another reason not to be proud of this country.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Blast from the Past

And a rare one. Tom Jones singing "Long Time Gone" with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. This is in September 1969, with the group at the peak of its popularity. CSNY did not do popular TV shows. They refused to go on Johnny Carson for example. Young said the band would just be "curiosity." But for some reason, he consented to do The Tom Jones Show . . . and to perform with the host.

In Jimmy McDonough's excellent Neil Young biography, Shakey, Young's manager Elliott Roberts recounted the bizarre appearance. "It was very highly rated, sold a lotta records, but in retrospect it was embarrassing, just a bad call," he said. "Neil went, "The Tom Jones Show! What possessed you?' Neil never forgave me for that. He ripped me about it for a very, very long time. Years." Read more here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Secret Word

Here's the latest of my poems. Old heads who went to Catholic schools with the good sisters will find familiar echoes. In fact, one of my poet friends, remarked that the poem is nostalgic. And indeed, it is, so I wonder just how much sense it will make to people to don't know who "Grocho" is--although that's hard to imagine--and to whom the idea of a black-and-white TV show conjures up images of ancient history such as paintings on the walls of caves. Ah, well! Here is is for those who can dig it.

The Secret Word

No computer-conjured marvels
in those black-and-white quiz show days.
Just a stuffed duck, word placard
in his beak dropped on a cord
from a beam above.
“Say the secret word and divide $100”—
Groucho’s standard line to the pair
of just plain ole American contestants,
one guy, one gal—always,
playing “You Bet Your Life.”

They didn’t, of course, risk much of anything
save their dignity,
and only occasionally did they say
the secret noun or common verb.
I mean, how often does “oven” or “crank”
or “silk” or even “word” come up in
ordinary conversation, even
with a magnificently mustachioed
funny guy in a bow tie
and a line of banter as long as the queue
circling the block to cram the tiny studio?
Fifty bucks went a long way in the Fifties.

The very decade of my elementary school years
at St. Rose de Lima and St. Francis Cabrini—
both bastions of Crescent City Catholicism
patrolled by hooded gospel guardians,
silent as sidewinders and twice as mean,
Amazons astride our daily universe, enforcing
God’s relentless law with habitual rigor.
One can only imagine what gimp-curdling,
rosary-wringing mayhem would have visited us
had they ever heard our secret sixth-grade word.
For all of us a just-learned noun, adjective, verb,
succinct and wickedly versatile. Four letters,
and it rhymed with “duck.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Poetry on My Mind

Words are on my mind. I just got finished sending an email to some members of my family inviting them to join me next month in taking an online course from the University of Pennsylvania in modern American poetry. I hope at least one or two will sign up. It would be fun having somebody I know along with the 22,000+ others taking the course.

Then there was the email from my son Ben this morning and our exchange on the word "anodyne." He spent 15 minutes today trying to get at the most precise definition. Best, we agreed, is at the Oxford site.

And then there are poems. The first poets we're going to look at in the course are Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Here's a poem by the former. It's #489 in The Complete Poems (Thomas Johnson, ed., 1961). I have reproduced here the exact same way it appears in the book.


We pray--to Heaven--
We prate--of Heaven--
Relate--when Neighbors die--
At what o'clock to Heaven--they fled--
Who saw them--Wherefore fly?

Is Heaven a Place--a Sky--a Tree?
Location's narrow way is for Ourselves--
Unto the Dead
There's no Geography--

But State--Endowal--Focus--

I'll share my latest poem with you all tomorrow, long as we're talking poetry. :-)

Monday, August 13, 2012

O Mars!

Curiosity is the greatest thing since the last Mars Explorers, one of which, Spirit, I think is still roaming around Mars five years later. But this new vehicle. My goodness. Did you get a load of the way it got to the surface of Mars? Right where it was supposed to land? I mean, are you kidding me? This is fantastic. This is the sort of thing human beings can do instead of killing each other.

Curiosity rover: Martian solar day 2 in New Mexico


[In case you're wondering, this is indeed Mars, not New Mexico as seemingly indicated on the panorama. Messages underneath at the source make that clear.]

Saturday, August 11, 2012

GOP Intent on Suicide

Mittens announced his running mate today. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Here is a guy who wants to solve the country's debt problems in the worst way. And he's got a plan. Yessir, he does. It has been revealed to us already. Basically, it's screw the poor and the elderly: reduce Medicaid and put Medicare on vouchers . . . oh, and cut Social Security, too. Along with government regulations on business. All reports say the Democrats are delighted that Romney selected a Tea Party darling to run with him.

Although the partisan writing for FireDogLake may exaggerate a bit, here's what could be fairly expected from Paul Ryan if he had his way:
  • No more Medicare.
    No more Medicaid.
    Privatized (vampire-squid-administered) Social Security.
    No more Unemployment Compensation, parasites.
  • No more Mars Curiosity Rover program.
    No more space exploration.
    No more public television.
    No more public radio, or National Endowment for the Arts or Humanities.
  • No more public health funding.
    No more volcano monitoring.
    No more tsunami warning network.
  • No more Weather Service, converted to a privatized, for-pay system.
    No more Planned Parenthood.
    No more Environmental Protection Agency.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Not Surprising

How can anybody in the United States be surprised by this news? "July boasted the hottest average temperature recorded in 118 years of modern record keeping, eclipsing the previous record-holder, July 1936, when the country was in the midst of the Dust Bowl." (source)

Here in Oklahoma, the hottest state in the Union last summer, it's actually been worse. And all that stuff you hear about this condition or that condition being worse for the very young and the elderly . . . well, I actually hear it when they make these announcements. Didn't used to.

I have to say, though, that today we're getting a break. It's 91 right now, on its way to 67 tonight. This is great, but it's not going to last.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

No Food? Low Food? Not At All Good

Why am I so frigging cheerful? (It's a tongue in cheek question.) Dunno. Cannot begin to answer that question because I don't see how anybody can be very encouraged by the kind of news we're reading about the climate, the drought, and the seemingly inevitable consequences of both. The drought is going to have very bad consequences. Much higher food prices and widespread hunger. Both of these things, in addition to their physical effects have wide-ranging and awful social consequences too. Hungry people are angry people. They fight others, they cause riots, they emigrate to places that don't want them and cause violence there. All out wars for food are not unheard of.

This piece in Tom Dispatch is just scary as hell. And it's got a local hook. Here's the way it begins:
Wherever you look, the heat, the drought, and the fires stagger the imagination.  Now, it’s Oklahoma at the heart of the American firestorm, with “18 straight days of 100-plus degree temperatures and persistent drought” and so many fires in neighboring states that extra help is unavailable. It’s the summer of heat across the U.S., where the first six months of the year have been the hottest on record (and the bugs are turning out in droves in response).  Heat records are continually being broken.  More than 52% of the country is now experiencing some level of drought, and drought conditions are actually intensifying in the Midwest; 66% of the Illinois corn crop is in “poor” or “very poor” shape, with similarly devastating percentages across the rest of the Midwest.  The average is 48% across the corn belt, and for soybeans 37% -- and it looks as if next year’s corn crop may be endangered as well.  More than half of U.S. counties are officially in drought conditions and, according to the Department of Agriculture, “three-quarters of the nation's cattle acreage is now inside a drought-stricken area, as is about two-thirds of the country's hay acreage.”  Worse yet, there’s no help in sight -- not from the heavens, not even from Congress, which adjourned for the summer without passing a relief package for farmers suffering through some of the worst months since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. 

In sum, it’s swelteringly, unnerving bad right now in a way that most of us can’t remember. And that’s the present moment.
You should read it. And check out the first link "stagger the imagination," too. Anybody who's going along whistling through this graveyard of global warming effects is just fooling themselves. Things are really bad this year again: droughts, fires, hellish heat, freaky weather all over the world. And endless conflict all over the world, it seems. Matters seem worse this year than they were last. And this, brothers and sisters, is just the beginning.

I say to myself: how bad do things have to get before there's collective recognition of what we've done to ourselves by our heedless consumption? Alas, I have little hope the world is going to come to its collective senses . . . I am truly worried for my kids and their kids.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Not Quite Ready to Believe This

TPM reports that the ballot initiative in Colorado to legalize marijuana in the state has growing support. I'm not quite ready to believe that something like this could actually pass, although evidence is mounting that the evil weed is not such a fearsome evil in people's minds these days.
The latest survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) shows that 47 percent of likely Colorado voters support Amendment 64, which will appear on the state ballot in November. That’s a small uptick since PPP’s June survey, which showed 46 percent support, but opposition to the measure is dropping. Only 38 percent of voters oppose Amendment 64 in Wednesday’s poll, down from 42 percent in June.
If passed, Amendment 64 would treat marijuana similarly to alcohol. Colorado adults 21 and over could consume and possess limited amounts of marijuana for personal use, while licenses would be provided to producers and sellers. The law would levy a tax on marijuana, with the first $40 million of the revenue generated to be earmarked for public school construction.

This is a good thing. Not an absolute good, like Schindler's List, but nonetheless a positive sign for common sense. In my opinion, the tide to legalize another source of revenue for the states can only gain momentum over the coming years as the old fogies who can't agree on anything, but they are all agree that pot leads directly to shooting up heroin and Americans need more guns in their society.

Of course, what the feds will do if the state actually does pass this Amendment remains to be seen. One of the many blotches and broken promises on Obama's record, and why I will not be voting for him in November, is what the administration has done with medical marijuana. It has taken a more Draconian stance than even Bush did, after promising the opposite, of course. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Curse of Science

"A rational world, a world that will protect the ecosystem and build economies that learn to distribute wealth rather than allow a rapacious elite to hoard it, will never be handed to us by the scientists and technicians. Nearly all of them work for the enemy."

Thus writes Chris Hedges in his latest column on Truthout. The occasion of his latest reflections was the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, acts of barbarity that he, quite rightly, I think, believes were totally unjustified by the necessities of war and which stand with the Nazi killing camps at the pinnacle of the mountain of horror we have constructed with our science and technology. It's in our natures, he argues, for us to act like beasts. And we have made a false and cruel god out of science. "Science is for us," he writes, "what totems and spells were for our premodern ancestors. It is magical thinking. It feeds our hubris and sense of divine empowerment. And trusting in its fearsome power will mean our extinction."

I certainly see little reason to disagree. Freud, Hedges reminds us, that human beings are creatures of dark impulses, "powerful yearnings for death and self-immolation." Scientific knowledge didn't free us from this. And then, this sobering observation:
The future of the human race depends on naming and controlling these urges. To pretend they do not exist is to fall into self-delusion. The breakdown of social and political control during periods of political and economic turmoil allows these urges to reign supreme. Our first inclination, Freud noted correctly, is not to love one another as brothers or sisters but to "satisfy [our] aggressiveness on [our fellow human being], to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him."
Of the guys I regularly read, Hedges is the most overtly moralistic. For me, his passion is perfectly understandable. He looks around at the world and what he sees frightens and disgusts him. Humanity is choosing its own destruction. It persists in "innate human barbarity."

So during our own period of political and economic turmoil, we should probably expect the worst, unless something miraculous happens that lets us see.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Big Pile of Dirt

Here's a little poem I wrote a few days ago. About Oklahoma . . . and other things.

A Big Pile of Dirt

It used to sit right next to I-35
just north of Norman,
a big pile of orange-red dirt
all grown over with grass
except for a big chunk of it
that looked like some guy
as big as Paul Bunyan had just kicked
the hell out of it.

Actually, it was a guy with a bomb.
Old Okies knew and new ones found out
the pile was a remnant of WWII, part of
a target range for hotshot Navy pilots
flying cool Corsairs and Hellcats,
practicing for shooting up the Pacific.

It took years for that pile of dirt
to disappear, for that reminder
of old hatreds and threats to the American
way to give way to sturdier
brick and mortar monuments
to the blessings of American liberty:
a Target Super Store
with a big pile of flattened cardboard
shipping containers out back.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

You Go, Sis!

Good for you, good sister!

Story I read today says that the US's Oak Ridge nuclear facility in Tennessee which is used to store weapons-grade uranium was temporarily shut down by three anti-nuke protesters who penetrated the facility by cutting through fences. According to them, they cleared four fences and walked over two hours before reaching a big storage building where they spray-painted slogans, and hung banners and crime scene tape.

One of those arrested was an 82-year old nun, Meagan Rice. She and her companions are charged with vandalism and criminal trespass. I'm sure the Vatican is not concerned about this unless the good sister has unorthodox opinions on birth control and woman priesthood, which is certainly more criminal than nuclear weapons.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Not So Bruce

The Boss
Yes, I did sit down and read the entire 75,000-word piece by David Remnick that appeared in last week's number of the New Yorker. And yes, it was OK, but not critical of the man or the music in the slightest. Not that it wasn't worthwhile, although it reminded me of past New Yorker articles in it's near interminable length. Reading it was a commitment. And when I was done, I wondered whether the time was worth it, although I have to confess there is no way I would not have read the article.

So a much shorter corrective by literary editor Leon Weiseltier in the latest New Republic is necessary for proper perspective. In one long paragraph he delightedly rips the Springsteen fanatic fandom of such people as New Jersey governor Chris Christie and NY Times columnist David Brooks, and he begins the second long paragraph with this:
Do these men have ears? The musical decline of Bruce Springsteen has been obvious for decades. The sanctimony, the grandiosity, the utterly formulaic monumentality; the witlessness; the tiresome recycling of those anthemic figures, each time more preposterously distended; the disappearance of intimacy and the rejection of softness. And the sexlessness . . .
I have a confession to make. Although I have a fair sampling of Springsteen music in my collection, he was never a favorite. I didn't hang around breathless waiting for his next album, and their arrivals didn't stir me like new stuff by Neil Young, the Stones, the Pretenders, the Talking Heads, and others. But Bruce, like some of the others, has not got a pretty long-tailed history, and rock critics are younger, more hip, with different ears, and a whole universe of music that didn't even exist when Bruce and his band started. And the longer your history, and the older you are, unless you're a genius, the less relevant you're going to seem--and be--to the younger people.* It think what Weiseltier is saying is that Bruce has reached that point. And he's not necessarily kind about making his point.

*Not that Weiselteir is all that young . . . he was born in 1952. But he's not a rock critic per se but rather a cultural critic. I'm talking here about the kind of people writing reviews in places like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and Spin.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cannot Be Right

I've seen the numbers in this Atlantic piece before. Although the article itself is more elaborate, the gist of it can be summed up pretty easily and illustrated simply as in the chart below which shows what Americans think the distribution of wealth in the country is and what is is really. Each quintile represents a fifth, or 20 percent of the population.

Bottom line: the inequality of wealth in America is stark. The top 20 percent hole 84 percent of the wealth, the bottom 40 percent, a barely perceptible percentage. For all intents and purposes, the bottom 40 percent have nothing. And the next 40 percent have 16 percent of the wealth. You have to let these numbers sink if and swirl around for a bit to understand what we're talking about here, and what this means. It means we have a huge number of very poor people in this country compared to a middling number who've got almost everything. This cannot be right.

It's Much Worse than We Think . . .

And it isn't. People know this and the way it comes out that they know it is what they tell you when you ask them to say what they think the ideal distribution of wealth in a society in which they would consent to live should be. What they say appears in the dark black bars below. And here's the amazing thing about these numbers to me. There was virtually no difference between Democrats and Republicans on this question . . . or among other demographic divides either: gender and income. Amazing, really. This is something that Americans across the board agree upon. Like motherhood and apple pie.

. . . But We Would Like It to Be Much Better

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rocking in the Book World

English: Neil Young in concert in Oslo, Norway...
English: Neil Young in concert in Oslo, Norway in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I read in the USA Today that my man Neil Young is going to be coming out with a memoir entitled Waging Heavy Peace. I've never been a big consumer of rock 'n roll literature – at least not the book variety – but I think this is one book I'm probably going to have to get. This tome, after all, is about my man, a guy have been following since the beginning of his career back in the 1960s when he was with Buffalo Springfield, even before he went out solo.

As you can see, Neil is looking a little ragged these days; of course it's nothing but getting old. That process isn't very kind to any of us, but it doesn't – at least shouldn't –affect our integrity, something that Neil Young has kept throughout his entire career. The man is simply not cared about what the critics thought about what anybody thought really when it came to his musical choices in the various experimental paths he's gone down over the years. I'll be interested in what he has to say.

I'll be similarly interested in what Pete Townsend of The Who has to say in his new book. It's called Who I Am and is supposed to be released a few days after Neil's book on October 8. 

It's kind of interesting what the younger people's take on this is:
"There's a growing sense of the mortality of these people, not to mention the mortality of the readers," says Anthony DeCurtisRolling Stone contributing editor. "As they get into their 60s, they think, 'If I don't do it now, I'm not going to do it.' Readers feel a sense of urgency, too. This might be the last time they hear from this person directly." 
Geez, I hope that's not the case.