Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Closing Out

In a few hours it'll be 2014. Used to be I looked forward with at least some anticipation to the coming year. Can't say that I do anymore. Mainly, I think, because I don't really see a way out of the spiral of worsening mediocrity the country is in. Some examples that I've gleaned from an article recently in truthout. It chronicles the "Are You Serious?" Awards for 2013. These are global awards. I'm just citing some U.S. samples:
Creative Solutions Award to the Third Battalion of the 41st U.S. Infantry Division for its innovative solution on how to halt sporadic attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Zhare District: it blew up a hill that the insurgents used as cover.
This tactic could potentially be a major job creator because there are lots of hills in Afghanistan. And after the U.S. Army blows them all up, it can take on those really big things: mountains.
Runner up in this category is Col. Thomas W. Collins, for his inventive solution on how to explain a sharp rise in Taliban attacks in 2013. The U.S. military published a detailed bar graphs indicating insurgent attacks had declined by 7 percent, but, when the figure was challenged by the media, the Army switched to the mushroom strategy (i.e., kept in the dark and fed manure): “We’re just not giving out statistics anymore,” Col. Collins told the Associated Press.

Independent sources indicate that attacks were up 40 percent over last year, with the battlegrounds shifting from the south of Afghanistan to the east and north.
 The White Man’s Burden Award goes to retired U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and an expert on counterinsurgency warfare. McChrystal told the Associated Press that the Afghans don’t really want the U.S. to withdraw, because they are “Like a teenager, you really don’t want your parents hanging around you, but…you like to know if things go bad, they’re going to help.” The General went on to say the U.S. needed to stay because “We have an emotional responsibility” to the Afghans.
The Broad Side of the Barn Award to the Obama administration for spending an extra $1 billion to expand the $34 billion U.S. anti-ballistic missile system (ABM) in spite of the fact that the thing can’t hit, well, the broad side of a barn. The last test of the ABM was in July, when, according to the Pentagon, “An intercept was not achieved.” No surprise there. The ABM hasn’t hit a target since 2008.

The $1 billion will be used to add 14 interceptors to the 30 already deployed in Alaska and California.
The Golden Lemon Award once again goes to Lockheed Martin (with a tip of the hat to sub-contractors Northrop Grumman, BAE, L-3 Communications, United Technologies Corp., and Honeywell) for “shoddy” work on the F-35 stealth fighter, the most expensive weapons system in U.S. History. The plane—already 10 years behind schedule and 100 percent over budget—has vacuumed up $395.7 billion, and will eventually cost $1.5 trillion.

A Pentagon study, according to Agence France Presse, “cited 363 problems in the design and manufacture of the costly Joint Strike Fighter, the hi-tech warplane that is supposed to serve as the backbone of the future American fleet.”

The plane has difficulty performing at night or in bad weather, and is plagued with a faulty oxygen supply system, fuselage cracks and unexplained “hot spots.” Its software is also a problem, in part because it is largely untested. “Without adequate product evaluation of mission system software,” the Pentagon found, “Lockheed Martin cannot ensure aircraft safety requirements are met.”

Monday, December 30, 2013

Good Gracious . . .

Just when you are thinking about how to wrap up a year with a lot of bad news in it, you stumble across a miracle like this:

She's from Holland, and she's 9 years old. You can catch another video of her here. By the way, she's never had a singing lesson in her life.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How Shabby is the Media?

How shabby is the media? Well, I've got a quiz for you today that might suggest an answer. Maybe some of you will do well, most of you, like me, probably won't do all that well. The quiz is identify the source of the following quotations. The source will always be a major American newspaper. Keep asking yourself as you go: just how bad is the right wing media in this country?
  1. “It is not a crime to make stupid mistakes, and much of what happened in the years before the financial crisis was more foolish than venal.” 
  2.  Front-page identification of the rollout of the affordable care act as "Obama's Katrina."
  3. Editorial downplaying the retirement crisis and saying that social security is more a burden on the young people than a vital safeguard. Mocked a proposed bill to increase social security benefits
  4. "People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.”
  5. “It’s not our job to inform viewers when Republicans lie.”
Source: here

Answers: (1) New York Times--Are you kidding me? That Wall Street skullduggery, which by the way continues, wasn't criminal, just stupid mistakes? (2) New York Times, again. Total government failure with Katrina and problems with a complex computer program rollout? Not even close. (3) Washington Post editorial. (4) "liberal" Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Define "conventional views" please. (5) Chuck Todd, NBC News political director. Whose job is it, pray tell to blow the whistle on lying politicians of any party?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's a Go

It was pretty much all good news this morning. First, I really liked the doc. His name is Lyle Toal, a good ole Oklahoma boy, bigger around than I am. He made everything real clear and conveyed the distinct nothing-to-worry-about air. I'll just give you the outline of it: the aneurism of first concern is smaller than the initial estimate of size. Doctor said he would not even operate on it, but would rather keep his eye on it. But they found another aneurism, lower down in a smaller artery that needs fixing "early" to save the artery from possible loss if we waited till later. This one is what concerns the doc.
So we've got a date for the operation that will fix both these aneurisms: January 23 at nine in the a.m., about a month away. It will take about three hours, and I'll be in the hospital overnight, that's all.

Susan is just overjoyed. She has been real worried. Not to mention the fact that now we're going to get to travel to Louisiana as planned originally for the holidays.

And I have to confess, I'm feeling better about the whole thing myself.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Slacking Off

I'm not much in the mood for blogging. I've got nothing on my mind but this appointment with the surgeon tomorrow. I'm not as worried as I was before, because the prospect of having the guy who's going to do this tell me what's up is exactly what I need. More later.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Utterly Amazing

You have to check this out. When you open the link, slide down a little to see the .gif run. Sorry for all the extraneous stuff that comes with the URL. I could not figure how to get rid of it.

This gif of a microscopic bacterium is the most amazing thing you’ll see today

Once you’ve picked yourself up off the floor in amazement, you’ll probably want to know exactly what you’re looking at in this image.

At the final stop in this gif, which magnifies many times, is a tiny bacterium, which is resting on a diatom, (a class of algae that are known for their silica shells), which is sitting on an amphipod, a type of shell-less crustacean.

We think that Reddit user adamwong246 described it best:

There’s a bacterium on a diatom on an amphipod on a frog on a bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea!

The animated gif was made by James Tyrwhitt-Drake using a scanning electronic microscope at the University of Victoria’s Advanced Microscopy Facility.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's Been Too Heavy

It's been too heavy this last few days. Time for a change of gears. This little chickadee is on an e-harmony video, one of those dating sites. You would not know it to look at her, but she's got an MBA from Villanova. Now if I were a young single guy, I'd be interested in what she had to say.
Can't say I'd remain interested for too long . . . Watch.  Post by Shocking Videos.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

RIP Nelson Mandela

There was a big ole memorial service today in Johannesburg to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela--he will lie in state and be buried on Sunday--a hero of conscience, a person who stood out and will be celebrated and remembered for his willingness to forgive. The flood of tributes that have poured in from every corner of the world since his death last week is a testament to the way common humanity recognizes uncommon humanity.

Mandela may have been a political prisoner for a large chunk of his life, he may have been a revolutionary who didn't eschew violence against his oppressors, he may have been a symbol for the aspirations of the oppressed all over the world. All of these things, but first and foremost a human being of great heart and soul, a man who forgave his enemies. What a power that is! The power to touch the souls of other people, it doesn't matter who they are. And it's the cold human soul that doesn't respond to such a witness with joy because of the recognition of what it really means to be a human being, and the love and commonality that links us all as brothers and sisters on this planet. Alas, we have far too few such witnesses.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Praying All the Time

This is Richard Rohr, whom I've talked about and quoted before.
Prayer is largely just being silent: holding the tension instead of even talking it through, offering the moment instead of fixing it by words and ideas, loving reality as it is instead of understanding it fully. Prayer is commonly a willingness to say “I don’t know.” We must not push the river, we must just trust that we are already in the river, and God is the certain flow and current.
I really love the "willingness to say 'I don't know'". Never thought of this being a prayer. If that's the case, then I'm praying all the time!

I guess in my heart of hearts somehow I realized that what I always perceived as mystery would remain so as I got older. But commonly I'll tell people that I'm surprised at the amount of confusion and befuddlement that attends this aging process. What I'm saying is, "I guess not really." It's just sort of a different flavor and vibe to it now. Somehow the "I don't know" seems . . . well, right. The way it's supposed to be. I'm afraid in my case, though, it leads to an overage of contempt, rather than sympathetic understanding, of all those people out there who think they've got it figured out. Even allowing for the fakers--those who act like they've got it figured out, but don't--that still leaves millions upon millions who go to preposterous lengths to defend their own certainties.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Going to Church

It's something that I do most Sundays. Church has always been for me about community, and that's what draws me back to it almost any week. I simply want to be with people I know and whom I've grown to love because I know them as people, their insides, who they are and how they hurt and what makes them laugh. It matters not to me how old they are or where they've been or come from, what color they are, or what kind of sexual life they lead. It's enough that they have a view of the Christian journey similar to mine. That would be one that's fraught with mystery and questions. Many, many more questions than answers. Even the question of how to proceed as a Christian--what does a Christian, a follower of Jesus, do in this world so full of suffering and injustice, so torn by hatred and violence, so twisted by greed, ignorance, and selfishness? And what's the course for old guys like me? Wondering even today why I've done so little to foster the gospel I have professed to believe most of my life.

So I go to church on Sundays and kind of hunker down with that little intrepid band that would understand such quandaries, even if they could not offer resounding answers for me. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Big "So What?"

A few days ago my blogger friend Montag had some comments about the readers of his blog, about he was anxious to have people read his stuff when he was "much younger." And now, I take it, he doesn't care that much. Got me to thinking about readers. Actually, I don't have to think that long, because I don't have many readers. And I think to myself: ya know, it'd be great to have hundreds of people wanting to know what I was saying and thinking on any given day, but then I'm brought up by the thought: why? Suppose that were the case. What would be different? What would change? Nothing really. People like Nelson Mandela and Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King alter the seemingly inexorable arc of history, but if we take a moment to consider, we have to ask how much that arc has been altered by the lives of great and terrible people?

I think not much. We on a wheel of life and death: the only variant being how long we're on it before spinning off into the unknown. Great people and terrible people can momentarily affect the course of the lives of millions of people, who all eventually are swallowed up into the ultimate fate of everyone. The great and terrible can surely affect the quality of these millions' lives, but ultimately to whom does it matter but the persons themselves and those who love them? And to whom does it matter years, centuries, millennia later? What connects me to the victims of Attila or the medieval plagues or a machine gun bullet at Passchendaele or a passenger on the Titanic who went down with the ship in the frigid Atlantic, or the Muslim some Hindu murdered in India in 1947? Why, nothing at all, you might say, and you'd be right. Or you may say something like, participation in the common tragedy of existence, and you would be right also. Or you might see these long gone, long slaughtered or martyred people as intimately connected with the life that is yours, brothers and sisters in the swirl of the great mystery, as much a part of your life and you are of theirs.

I think it must be something like that, or it's just a big "so what?" and either writing or reading blogs is an absurd waste of time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mourn We the Passing of Great Men

A one-of-a-kind man has died: Nelson Mandela, the father of modern South Africa, has finally passed on. He was 95 years old, and the world has been waiting for him to die for several years as we've witnessed his declining health. I join with a huge mass of people all over the world who mourn the passing of a great and good man. Mandella stood tall against racism, the apartheid system of minority white racial domination that made virtual serfs of the majority black population of the country. A blotch on the face of the world, not just the country of South Africa, this system held sway only by violence and cruelty.

Mandella fought it, at the point of his arrest he was the militant leader of the militant African National Congress (ANC). But his arrest put him out of sight and behind thick stone walls for 27 years, and during that time the man became the great man. Contemplation and solitude brought him to the realization that the only way to peace and harmony was the practice of peace and harmony, i.e., non-violent protest and the forgiveness of enemies. So this good man put both these into practice upon his release from prison and enroute to the presidency of his country. As prominent virtue always is, his actions transformed his country and made him a hero for millions.

But the racist outcry has already begun. The aspersions on the man: that he was a terrorist, a communist, a dangerous radical. Are you surprised?  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Faded Away

My daughter posted this on Facebook and it caught my eye. Interesting list. Notice how many of these things here are victims of digital technology. Maybe I'm fading into obsolescence because some of these things don't seem so weird to me. On this list, for example, bookstore (I go to 'em.), cursive (I was amazed to learn that kids don't learn it in school anymore), grammar (Are you kidding me?), ink (I habitually use a fountain pen, the only civilized way to write), newspaper (read one on paper every day), quality (it can still be found if you look for it), and zip code (I still do first class mail) still resonate with me to a greater or lesser degree. 

But when you think about it, there are just bunches of things that have faded away and out of our lives. How about general courtesy to others? Manners? Courteous truck drivers? Sensible packaging? Independent grocers? Reasons to trust politicians, bankers, businessmen, clergy? Something other than mindless drivel passed off as news? 

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Much Madness . . .

Sorry to lay a poem on you for two days in a row, but this one is by a far superior poet. I had never before encountered this poem by the incomparable Emily until today. And I was really thunderclapped by it. I can remember thinking throughout my life: what if all the crazy people are really the ones who are sane? What would that mean?

435 Much Madness is divinest Sense   by Emily Dickinson

Much Madness is divinest Sense —
To a discerning Eye —
Much Sense — the starkest Madness —
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail —
Assent — and you are sane —
Demur — you're straightway dangerous —
And handled with a Chain —

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What Is This Weight?

My most recent poem.

What Is This Weight?

Not like being on the bottom of a pile
of sweaty guys at the goal line. Or carrying
a stout box on your back. More annoyance,
but slight, a pressure oozing the oil
out of an olive, slowly, a drop at a time.

What’s this smell, lying like a light fog
over the fields at dawn? A whiff of rot
perfumed in subtle shades of rustic rust,
something swirled from a heap of tarnished
detritus, half shiny in the dampness.

And this disquieting chill snaking
into every crevice, every nook, every bone,
a silent shiver that bores like the point
of a pick between molars that glisten white
and strong, marred only by old crowns?

Monday, December 2, 2013


It stands for abdominal aorta aneurism, and I've got one, as I discovered today. You can read all about it at the link. I'll give you the long and the short of it. It ain't good to have one of these things, and they are going to have to fix it. Major surgery.

This thing was discovered by accident. Off some X-rays of my lower back which were being taken for another reason obviously.

Now, I've had lap-band surgery, and I've had my tonsils and my appendix taken out, and I've had my cataracts removed. But compared to what fixing this problem entails, all those things kinda fade into a minor pastel. This damn thing is a day-glo color. I have to confess to being concerned about this. The doctors don't have the same urgency . . . I have a test on Friday, an appointment a week later with the cardiologist, and then on the following Tuesday a CAT scan of my belly, followed by an appointment with the heart surgeon, the guy who's going to do the fixing. When that will happen is anybody's guess.

In the meantime, I'm left to fret and not do anything "strenuous." I don't like this. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Old Home Town

Oh, they be so broad-minded and accepting there in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I spent my late high school and college years and beyond. Where my wife's family, or rather a substantial portion of it still resides, one of my brothers and my mom, and where we're gonna be for Christmas this year. Home of the LSU Tigers and all that. Well, I'm surprised to learn that the white southern portion of town has proposed seceding from the rest of the city of Baton Rouge and renaming itself "St. George" (extraneous side note: when I was in grad school at LSU, Susan, Tanya, and I lived in a little subdivision called "Village St. George" and Tanya went to St. George Elementary School.). And they're circulating a petition in the proposed area to get the measure on the ballot. I'll give you one guess as to the majority in the part of town that will remain "Baton Rouge." Gold star if you said: majority of black and poor people.

I didn't even know such a thing was possible. But in Louisiana, anything is possible, especially if it has the tint of stink about it. I'll keep ya posted on developments.

Source which includes a video with maps and various people talking about the petition. Purportedly it's basically about the school districts.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Word About Education

Here's the promised word from Noam Chomsky. It's what I always thought.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Kinda Pope

Pope Francis is causing an absolute furor among all those pious (and impious, too) free market capitalists out there. Fox News, for example. He has said what needed to be said by the Church long since. In effect that the trickle-down nonsense that's been served up by the conservatives since before Reagan--you know what I'm talking about: the notion that wealth will trickle down from the rich in society to the less rich and poor by some sort of magical process involving tax cuts for everybody, but especially the really well off. See Wiki article.

In a new 85-page "apostolic exhortation," (You can find a good summary of the document's salient points here.) Pope Francis has basically played the bullshit card. A couple of samples:
The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings. (So much for Wall Street.)

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. (So much for income inequality.)
And this beauty, which no one can misunderstand:
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
I like this guy. How can you not like him when he gives Rush Limbaugh apoplexy?


Monday, November 25, 2013

When I Was a Little Kid

By little I mean around late grammar school, early high school. I used to hang on the walls of my room these cardboard signs that had various aphorisms on them. I remember well that they usually had some small illustration and the words were in some electric color like shocking pink, lime green, yellow. And the sayings were from famous people from all over the world, all periods of history. Of course, I don't remember what a single one of them said. But I do remember that Confucius was on one of them.  All these little snippets of wisdom hanging around for me to see every day.

Don't ask me why a little kid would do such a thing. In fact, don't ask me why a guy 70 years old would do it . . . well, not exactly the same thing. But close. I keep what I call a commonplace book. I'm sure that's not what they call them now. A little notebook in which jot things down that strike me for some reason or another. Almost always somebody else's words, not mine. This here blog is where I leave my own droppings.

This thoughts are occurring to me because I have only two pages left in the current little journal book before I have to move on to another. This one was given me by my daughter Tanya on my birthday in 1994 as we were about to depart for life in Florida. Long time ago now.

The first few pages are miscellany. Looks like I used it for random notes and then I journaled for our trip to Belize in 2001. After that, it became the commonplace book. It occurs to me now that I've got jillions of conversation starters in here. And maybe, when there's nothing present and current on my mind, I'll dip into these treasures where there will always be something provocative.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Right Article

It was one of those "whoopee" moments when I ran across this article, entitled "Stop Thanking the Troops for Me: No, They Don't Protect Our Freedoms." It was in Salon by a guy named Justin Doolittle. I could not have said it better myself. This is what I've been trying to convey for several years, and several times in this forum. The fact that I find the virtual deification of the military and all its works as repulsive. I've had people tell me "thank you for your service" when they found out I was a veteran, and although I have been tempted, I've never responded the way I really would if I were to tell the truth. And that would be something along the lines of:
"Don't thank me for anything. I was in the military because I had to be. Because the military was drafting everybody in sight in the mid-1960s and sending them over to Vietnam to get shot up, maimed, killed, gassed, and have their minds totally screwed up all in the name of freedom. I didn't believe it then, and I believe it even less today."
But of course I don't say this. These people mean well, I suppose. They've been trained by the propaganda machine of the empire that our military is responsible for keeping us all free, safe, and able to consume to our hearts' content.

The article is well worth reading in toto. But for those of you with limited time, I'll digest it for you.
  • The “freedoms” most Americans think of when they hear the term are enshrined in constitutional and statutory law. They are in no way dependent on the size, scope or even the existence of the U.S. military.
  • This widely held belief, that our freedom is bestowed on us by soldiers, has obvious implications for how the public views the military. One such implication of the ubiquity of this myth is that people will feel they owe boundless gratitude to the military as an institution and all the men and women who serve in it.  
  • The undercurrent of all this is that “support” and “gratitude” for the military and those who serve in it is intrinsically apolitical. It’s just something that all decent Americans understand and respect. This approach serves a very important purpose, which is to further blur the lines between patriotism and support for the military. Americans of conscience who do not “support” the troops, particularly those who volunteer to fight in wars of aggression, are not allowed a seat at the table in this paradigm. . . . Supporting the military, though, and expressing gratitude for what the military is actually doing around the world, are nothing if not explicitly political sentiments. To suggest otherwise is fundamentally dishonest. It reduces sincere dissent on these matters of such tremendous consequence to our culture and our politics to nothingness.
  • The combination of unanimous, entirely uncritical appreciation for the military, and the irrational belief that we owe gratitude to the troops for virtually everything we cherish in life, up to and including freedom itself, is very dangerous for our intellectual culture. It stifles any potential for rational, coherent discussion on these matters. It makes us, free citizens of a constitutional society, meek and excessively obeisant.
  • We need not thank the troops for every breath we take. When we do, we reduce our entire existence as free people to something that only exists at the whim of the U.S. military, and suffocate critical thought about the military and what it’s actually doing in the world. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

It Always Feels Good

It gives a sense of satisfaction to finish a project. Today I submitted my 4,000-word piece on the life of Hall of Fame outfielder Hack Wilson. Right on time to the day it was due. Of course, given the kind of person I am--a procrastinator--I waited until there was just enough time left to get the thing done. The research I had completed literally over a year ago, but I just never got around to writing the damn thing. Still, it turned out okay, and the editor wanted only a few nit-noy changes.

For the moment, I find myself with nothing pressing to do on my desk. I have just about decided to refuse the latest task Savas-Beattie has sent my way. The author of the manuscript is, to say the very least, a real pain in the butt to work with. I've spent far too much uncompensated time with him already on a manuscript that I think has some glaring defects. But apparently he wants to argue and whine about every suggested improvement or observation. I don't have time, much less patience, for this.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Standing Your Ground

What a country we live in. Here comes another story of a black kid killed by a white guy apparently for the crime of . . . being black. This time it's a dead nineteen-year-old girl, shot in the face with a shotgun while standing on a guy's front porch. Her name was Renisha McBride. It's the middle of the night, around 3 in the morning. The shooter was one Theodore Wafer of Dearborn Heights, Michigan--that's the part of Detroit where all the white people live. McBride was legally drunk, over twice the legal limit of alcohol in her blood, which is probably why she wrecked her car, which is probably why she was seeking assistance by banging on doors in the neighborhood in the middle of the night. But is this a reason to get gunned down through a closed and locked screen door?

Picture what happens here: this distraught probably loud black teenage girl pounds at the door of a house. The owner, grabs his shotgun, doesn't call the cops, opens his front door and at some point . . . after how long? immediately? . . . blasts her in the face with a shotgun. Police find her dead on her back, feet pointed towards the door. The shooter has been charged with second degree murder, but Michigan has a "stand your ground" law. And the only witness is the white guy with the gun. 

How do you think this one's gonna turn out, brothers and sisters?


I Think He Will Know

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Affordable Health Care

Oh, it's still vital. No question that the people of the US, including the more that 50 million who have no health care insurance at all, need the protection afforded them by what the press has dubbed "Obama's signature legislative achievement", that is, the Affordable Care Act that was passed almost three years ago.

You would think that that would have been sufficient time for the dept of health and human services to get the website where people are supposed to sign up for insurance, you would think they would have the site at least minimally ready to go. Right? Wrong! The roll-out of the most important thing this administration is going to do was a catastrophe . . . and it continues to be. The Republicans are having a field day, and Obama and the administration are looking like clowns. This is the kind of thing that makes me crazy. Who the hell was watching the store on this?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hip, Hip . . . and No Hooray

It's another Veteran's Day. Did you know the 11th of November was proclaimed a national holiday in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson. Only then it was called "Armistice Day" and it celebrated peace, the day that the "war to end all wars" had ended the year before in Europe.

Now we live in a state of perpetual war. There's no peace to celebrate. So we deify the survivors of our various wars, and we wax eloquently about their "sacrifices" and the "ultimate sacrifice" offered by all those dead guys in all those cemeteries from this war or that one since 1918. Killed in the name of freedom, we proclaim, and we thank them for their preserving it for us. But it's all a hoax. If there's anything that's tended to sap our freedoms, it's the dreadful imperatives of wars for empire this country has waged virtually without ceasing since the end of World War II. Which require vast sums of us and steadily erode our privacy and our liberties. But all this patriotic conflict creates veterans, many thousands of whom are cruelly wounded and deprived of normal lives physically, mentally, and emotionally, whom we feel incumbent upon us to celebrate. I guess it's inescapable. There's so damned many of us.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hack Wilson

Hack Wilson: Prohibition Era Slugger
I'm working on a short biography of this guy for SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. He's Hack Wilson, a Hall of Fame outfielder who played for the Giants, Cubs, Phillies, and Dodgers during his short  career in the major leagues. He had one of the greatest five-year stretches of seasons from 1926-30 (when he played for the Chicago Cubs) in all of baseball history, and it's largely on the basis of those seasons that he's in the Hall. During that time he averaged 35 home runs a season, 142 RBI, and slash stats of .331/.419/.612--that's batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage. He holds a record that most baseball people think will never be surpassed. In 1930, he had an astonishing 191 RBIs. He also led the league with 56 home runs, a National League record that stood for 68 years until the steroid-juiced cheaters of the late 1990s and early 21st century, You can peruse all of Wilson's career numbers here.

But he's a tragic figure who drank himself out of the game after these magnificent achievements and died a penniless alcoholic at age 48. Guys from bars he frequented in Baltimore had to pass the hat to get enough money up to bury the guy, and the undertaker donated the grey suit in which he was laid to rest. Like every single one of us, his life story is inherently interesting. When I get through writing the piece, I'll post a link to it here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Here's the Headline:

Man Claims He was Anally Probed 8 Times Following Traffic Stop for Drugs 

And here's the outline of the story. (You can read the whole sordid tale here.)  New Mexico cops stop a guy named David Eckert for rolling through a stop sign by a Wal-mart. They say he's got clinched buttocks when he gets out of his car, therefore he must be concealing drugs in his anal cavity. OK. Cops get a judge to give them a search warrant to look up the guy's ass. Here's a quote from the story that tells the rest: 
Eckert’s abdominal area was x-rayed twice, doctors stuck fingers in his anus twice, he had three enemas inserted anally and had a colonoscopy performed. No drugs were ever found during the search. 
Eckert consented to none of these searches. The chief cop says: “We follow the law in every aspect and follow procedures and protocols we have in place.” The Nazis had protocols and procedures in place too. Eckert, reportedly permanently "terrified," is suing the bastards and the city that employs them. I hope he collects huge. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Elementary Physics

I post to you today, verbatim and in its entirety, an email I received from a fellow history Ph.D. I tell you, brothers and sisters, it's stimulating sometimes to carry on conversation with such people. Here's the whole email:

As you all know:
. . . we have a standard model of elementary particles. Its ingredients are quantum fields, and the various elementary particles that are the quanta of those fields: the photon, W+, W-, and Z0 particles, eight gluons, six types of quarks, the electron and two types of similar particles, and three kinds of nearly massless particles called neutrinos. The equations of this theory are not arbitrary; they are tightly constrained by various symmetry principles and by the condition of cancellation of infinities.
Well, at least in my case, it helped a lot to read the article:

I read the article too, and I have to say, I agree. And for those of you who want to be picky: you're right, the illustration does not match the quotation. So sue me.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fading Away

So this is my first day back from the the historians' conference in St. Louis. I had a good time, both in Chicago pre-conference and from Thursday to Saturday in the Gateway to the West city. Had an excellent view of at least half of the Arch and in the other direction, the courthouse where the initial decision in the Dred Scott case was made over 150 years ago.

Had a fine dinner on the last night there, Saturday, at some steak house, reputedly one of the best in the city. It was there that I had a dear friend of mine whom I've known since grad school days in the early 1970s say, "Labor unions have outlived their usefulness." Are you kidding me? This is a GOP talking point for years now. This is a country where working people have seen the jobs shipped relentlessly overseas for the greater profit of the already rich for 30 years or more. Where only about 8 percent of the workforce belongs to unions. Are you kidding me? The middle class is being squeezed out of existence because of the greed and rapaciousness of multinational corporations, and the usefulness of organizations that ushered labor into the vast middle class of this country and kept them there, that usefulness has been outlived?

And so it dawns on me. In my profession, I'm probably not a minority yet, but scanning the guys at the table the other night--there were eight of us--I'm certainly a minority. A leftist among conservatives. An old-fashioned liberal among guys who have been successful in the way Americans define it and now have been seduced by the rationalizations of the moneyed classes. I don't buy those lies. I never have, and I won't ever. They are the same lies that the well-off have used for centuries to justify their own smugness. But, I swear, I wonder some time if people like me just aren't fading away, soon to be swamped by a tide of self-serving avarice. I tell you, it gets lonesome sometimes. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

RIP, Lou

Lou Reed, a pioneer rock and roller, died at age 71 this past Sunday, probably, not confirmed at the time I'm writing this from complications of a liver transplant he received last May. For my money, his album "New York" is one of the finest rock records ever made. I can't tell you how many times I've listened to it.

You can listen to the whole album right here:

I'll post the New York Times obit when I get back from my trip. (I'm typing this on Sunday for posting on Tuesday while I'm gone.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

View Point

The form of this poem is called a villanelle, and if I recollect rightly, it's an old--as in several hundred years old--French form. 19 lines are required, as you will notice, a strictly circumscribed rhyme scheme. I don't particularly like this form of poetry because I think it's pretty hard to get one right, that is, one that doesn't sound forced, that comes across as natural. And that's not to mention how damned hard they are to write.

So here's my latest villanelle, done on assignment from my little three-person poetry group.

View Point

From way out there I am barely a mote
But stand a universe in the eye of a gnat
And how I see is a matter of rote

That we are the world is our usual note
Few would doubt or question that
But from way out there we’re barely a mote

We don self-regard like a comfy coat
In truth it’s ragged, thin, basically flat
And how we see is a matter of rote

But our vision’s cramped, and it’s no joke
Hiding the plain and simple fact
From way out there we’re barely a mote

We’d rather grasp truths that quietly float
Before our eyes like the Cheshire cat
And how we see them is a matter of rote

The alternative view of self-serving bloat
Renders us miniscule, and that is that
From way out there we’re barely a mote
But I stand a universe in the eye of a gnat.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Gathering

I'm off again on Monday for Chicago where I hook up with dear friend Larry for a visit, business talk (we've got several joint projects in the works), and then a trip to Springfield and some immersion in Lincoln lore. From there it's a drive down to St. Louis where the annual convention of the Southern Historical Association is happening. All the up-and-coming and not so up-and-coming historians meeting and greeting, snuggling up to department chairs, doing the career-shmoozing thing.

But not us old farts from LSU, thanks be to God. I doubt that many of our clan--usually at least half a dozen are there, unless detained at home by illness or some other good reason--will attend any actual sessions, where they read papers and engage in learned discussion with the panel, unless they have to. And there won't be many of us in that category. Who wants to listen to all that academic bullshit anyway? Journal articles and convention papers are for those still playing the game. The only enlightening ones I ever heard or read were by me or one of my friends . . . and the occasional few that poked their heads out of the general grunge. Yes, this is a cynical attitude. But it's also one that's earned.

No, what we're going to do is sit around and drink, laugh, and generally engage in the banter that old men engage in. We'll bemoan the state of the country and dissect what wrong with the football team this year, talk some baseball--most historians are baseball fans for some reason--do quick checks on the state of everybody's family, order more drinks, and laugh some more. Once more confirming that the best things, the only truly necessary things in life, are old friends and family. 

The point is, I'm not going to be posting for about a week. Please try to soldier on without me for a  few days.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Who Is This Guy?

Well, he's named Russell Brand, and I had to look him up on Wikipedia. I had never heard of the guy before, and if all you did was read in Wikipedia about him, you'd likely not be too impressed. But you can't get a full picture of anybody from words on a page. Perhaps you should listen to him and then decide. I cannot tell you how I stumbled across this interview, or rather, what caused me to click it one and listen. I found it on Alternet. They advertise this interview as "a brilliant tirade against a broken political system." I concur. Watch for yourself.

Bye the bye, the interviewer is one Jeremy Paxman, " (born 11 May 1950) is an English journalist, broadcaster and author. He has worked for the BBC since 1977, and is known for his forthright and abrasive interviewing style, particularly when interrogating politicians. His regular appearances on the BBC Two's Newsnight programs have been criticized as aggressive, intimidating and condescending, and also applauded as tough and incisive."

But our boy Russell shuts his face right up . . . behold.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Those Happy Danes!

Denmark is the country with the happiest people on the planet. This, from a report that ranks such countries. Before you ask, the United States is 17, behind Canada (6), and Mexico (16). And just because you're curious and probably won't look at the report, the other leaders were Norway and Switzerland, behind Denmark. If you want a quick lowdown, this article will give it to you.

What I'm interested in here though are the reasons given for the state of bliss in Denmark. Why every country in the world that is not at least in the top dozen or so in happiness should not be poring over these matters quite seriously is something we just have to wonder about.

So the reasons why the Danes are the happiest people in the world. There are six factors that together "explain three quarters of differences in life evaluations across hundreds of countries and over the years."
The six factors for a happy nation split evenly between concerns on a government- and on a human-scale. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity. 
But why Denmark, you may wonder. Well, according to the report, this is why. And the following is quoted from this web piece.

1. Denmark supports parents

While American women scrape by with  an average maternal leave of 10.3 weeks, Danish families receive  a total of 52 weeks of parental leave. Mothers are able to take 18 weeks and fathers receive their own dedicated 2 weeks at up to 100 percent salary. The rest of the paid time off is up to the family to use as they see fit.

But the support doesn't stop at the end of this time. Danish children have access to free or low-cost child care. And early childhood education is associated with  health and well-being throughout life for its recipients --  as well as for mothers. What's more, this frees up young mothers to return to the work force if they'd like to. The result? In Denmark,  79 percent of mothers return to their previous level of employment, compared to 59 percent of American women. These resources mean that women contribute  34 to 38 percent of income in Danish households with children, compared to American women, who contribute 28 percent of income.

2. Health care is a civil right -- and a source of social support

Danish citizens expect and receive health care as a basic right. But what's more, they know how to effectively use their health systems. Danish people are in touch with their primary care physician an average of nearly seven times per year,  according to a 2012 survey of family medicine in the country. And that means they have a single advocate who helps them navigate more complicated care.

"This gatekeeping system essentially is designed to support the principle that treatment ought to take place at the lowest effective care level along with the idea of continuity of care provided by a family doctor,"  wrote the authors of the family medicine survey.

By contrast, Americans seek medical care an average of fewer than four times per year and they don't just visit their general practitioner -- this figure includes emergency room visits, where many uninsured Americans must access doctors. This diversity of resources means that many Americans don't have continuity of care -- not a single medical professional advocating for them and putting together a comprehensive medical history.

3. Gender equality is prioritized

Denmark regularly ranks among the top 10 countries in a World Economic Forum's yearly report that measures gender equality. While no country in the world has yet achieved gender parity, Denmark and other Nordic countries are coming close. That is in no small part because of the strong presence of women in leadership positions. Reported the World Economic Forum:
The Nordic countries were also early starters in providing women with the right to vote (Sweden in 1919, Norway in 1913, Iceland and Denmark in 1915, Finland in 1906). In Denmark, Sweden and Norway, political parties introduced voluntary gender quotas in the 1970s, resulting in high numbers of female political representatives over the years. In Denmark, in fact, this quota has since been abandoned as no further stimulus is required.
Indeed, the country currently has its first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. . . .
But government leadership merely exemplifies greater gender balance throughout the culture.

4. Biking is the norm

In Denmark's most populated and largest city, Copenhagen, bikes account for 50 percent of its residents' trips to school or work. Half. Half of commuting happens on a bike in Copenhagen and that doesn't just improve fitness levels and reduce carbon emissions, it also contributes to the wealth of the city, reported Forbes:
Researchers found that for every kilometer traveled by bike instead of by car, taxpayers saved 7.8 cents (DKK 0.45) in avoided air pollution, accidents, congestion, noise and wear and tear on infrastructure. Cyclists in Copenhagen cover an estimated 1.2 million kilometers each day –- saving the city a little over $34 million each year.
What's more, just 30 minutes of daily biking adds an average of one to two years to the life expectancy of Copenhagen's cyclists.

5. Danish culture puts a positive spin on its harsh environment

Here's how Danish people turn lemons into spiced mulled wine: Ever heard of the concept of hygge? While some would define it as cultivated coziness, hygge is often considered the major weapon in combatting the dreary darkness that befalls the Nordic country over the winter. In a place where the sun shines fewer than seven hours during the height of the winter solstice -- a level of darkness that can (and does) stir depression and sad feelings -- the concept of a cozy scene, full of love and indulgence, can help to mitigate some of the season's worst psychological effects.

After all, both strong social connections and many of the indulgent foods associated with hygge -- such as chocolate, coffee and wine -- are mood boosters.

6. Danes feel a responsibility to one another

Danes don't prioritize social security and safety simply so they can receive benefits; there's a real sense of collective responsibility and belonging. And this civic duty -- combined with the economic security and work-life balance to support it -- results in a high rate of volunteerism. According to a government exploration of Danish "responsibility":
Denmark is a society where citizens participate and contribute to making society work. More than 40 percent of all Danes do voluntary work in cultural and sports associations, NGOs, social organisations, political organisations, etc. There is a wealth of associations: in 2006, there were 101,000 Danish organisations -- worth noting in a population of just 5.5 million.
The economic value of this unpaid work is DKK 35.3 billion. Combined with the value growth from the non-profit sector, public subsidies and membership fees, the total economic impact of the sector represents 9.6 percent of the Danish GDP.
But that sense of stewardship isn't just extra-governmental: Danes also take pride in their involvement with the democratic process. During the last election in September 2011, for example, 87.7 percent of the country voted.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

War Is . . .

It's the story of America, brothers and sisters. There's big, big money in war . . . and big, big money justifies anything, like selling a nation's soul to corporate profit.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Class War . . . Let's Get It Started

Some quotations from Chris Hedges' latest piece on truthdig. I resonate with what this man says. He has a sense for the onrushing disaster. We don't get any pats on the head from him. But he's not kicking our asses hard enough. 
My hatred of authority, along with my loathing for the pretensions, heartlessness and sense of entitlement of the rich, comes from living among the privileged. It was a deeply unpleasant experience. But it exposed me to their insatiable selfishness and hedonism. I learned, as a boy, who were my enemies.

Oligarchs do not believe in self-sacrifice for the common good. They never have. They never will. They are the cancer of democracy. 

“We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are,” Wendell Berry writes. “Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all—by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians—be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us. How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.”

Class struggle defines most of human history. Marx got this right. The sooner we realize that we are locked in deadly warfare with our ruling, corporate elite, the sooner we will realize that these elites must be overthrown. The corporate oligarchs have now seized all institutional systems of power in the United States. Electoral politics, internal security, the judiciary, our universities, the arts and finance, along with nearly all forms of communication, are in corporate hands. Our democracy, with faux debates between two corporate parties, is meaningless political theater. There is no way within the system to defy the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry or war profiteers. The only route left to us, as Aristotle knew, is revolt. 

The seesaw of history has thrust the oligarchs once again into the sky. We sit humiliated and broken on the ground. It is an old battle. It has been fought over and over in human history. We never seem to learn. It is time to grab our pitchforks

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Just Your Everyday Crime Against Humanity

I dropped by Sam's today to pick up some items that Susan missed when she went yesterday (and I managed to forget two items today myself!) and it struck me as was rolling my cart out of the store that the two female "gatekeepers"--one greeting people as they came the store and other checking the sales slips against the contents of carts as people were leaving--it struck me to ask myself what the hell these two old ladies were doing here working on a Sunday. Neither of these ladies was a day younger than 75, and the one greeting looked like she might have weighed all of maybe 80 pounds.

It struck me that surely it is a crime against the very humanity of these old ladies that they are forced to stand on their feet--for who knows how long?--to earn the pittance minimum wage that Sam Walton's corporation pays them. And I thought to myself: these old ladies are here and not home with their families for only one reason. They have to be there. They have to work. And then I thought to myself: this very idea is outrageous. We should be taking care of people like this. Isn't it a human right, a right in basic decency, that people in their old age and doubtless infirm in one way or another, should not have to labor so hard for their evening bowl of soup? What a cruel country this is.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Racialized Minority

So here we are again. Right back where we were on the verge of the Civil War. A Southern-based minority-within-a-minority is furiously opposed to letting the will of the majority be realised. And they're fighting it with everything they've got. The sooner that Americans as a whole realise what is happening, the sooner we can put an end to it.
This is the concluding paragraph of a wonderfully insightful piece by Paul Rosenberg about the Tea Partiers and the state of American politics. On the Al-jeezera site, no less. This piece would repay your careful reading. It makes perfect sense. And a good history lesson who those of us who forget the part the solid Democratic South played in passage and implementation of FDR's New Deal. For those of us who believe that it has been and is mostly about race . . . this is impeccable confirmation as to why.

Going Extinct

Don't ask me how I run across these things, but most of you know I'm a sucker for lists. You might be expecting  a long list of animal and plant species that we're going to kill with chemicals, pollution, global warming, etc. And certainly I could give you one of those. But today I'm going to give you a list I just stumbled across a moment or two ago. These according to salary.com are the jobs that are int the state of evolving, or they've already pretty much died. No surprises. 
  1. Librarian: already evolved into the digital world
  2. Professional typists: duh! These people have to become masters of software to survive.
  3. Video store clerk: This list is beginning to look like a joke. If I've led you into a joke, please be kind.
  4. Umpires and referees: both evolving to cope with instant replay and slooooooow mo.
  5. Iceman: Extinct. I wonder how many readers actually know what one is. Ice sculpting still survives.
  6.  Travel agents: Evolving into niches.
  7. Newspaper deliverer: I did this from my bike as a kid. It was a terrible job. Now the motorized divisions of deliverers are going the way of the dodo. People don't read newspapers anymore.
  8. Family farmer: Evolving, but it takes a lotta land and a lotta business savvy.
  9. Switchboard operator: remember those? Lucky to a get a human voice at all in one try these days.
  10. Supermarket cashier: These are evolving into something more like monitors.
  11. Postal worker: Automated and reliance now on packages. e-commerce has murdered first-class mail.
  12. On-the-air DJ: Evolving. The airwaves are being replaced by "web waves" and satellite signals.
In the next couple of decades, I'd add taxi-drivers, railway engineers, and pilots to the list. Transport is going robotic.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I'm a Worry Wart . . .

. . . about some things. Not all things. But some things. And right now I'm worried about my relationship with my kids. I'm sure this will pass, but it's where I am at the moment. I usually just worry about them generally, their well being, their futures, but I just am burdened with the thought right now that I'm aging out of their lives. There are three of them, all of them flesh of my flesh in one way or another, but all completely different, too. I find myself in a much less fulfilling relationship with them each one in its own unique way than I had imagined, and, I must admit, it's a source of pain.

Which got me to thinking about the whole subject of suffering, and it just so happens that just in time for church tomorrow, and just in time with my glum mood, Richard Rohr's meditation today really speaks to me. Of course, it speaks to matters far more tragic and painful than my little bout of self-absorbed angst, but it's the perspective for all pain and suffering, and I thought I'd share it with you. Apologies for the gloomy mood. 
Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. In terms of the ego, most religions teach in some way that all of us must die before we die, and then we will not be afraid of dying. Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as whenever you are not in control.
If religion cannot find a meaning for human suffering, humanity is in major trouble. All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. Great religion shows you what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust. If we do not transform this pain, we will most assuredly transmit it to others, and it will slowly destroy us in one way or another.
If there isn’t some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somewhere in it, and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down. The natural movement of the ego is to protect itself so as not to be hurt again. The soul does not need answers, it just wants meaning, and then it can live. Surprisingly, suffering itself often brings deep meaning to the surface to those who are suffering and also to those who love them.