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.