Thursday, January 23, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

Really Nice . . .

This is in Maastricht, Holland. Cannot help but notice that everybody in the crowd is drinking, and there are thousands, but nobody is fighting, standing, shouting obscenities, or otherwise being obnoxious. This sort of thing would not be possible in any American city or town. I could be an expatriate there easily. Ridiculously easy.

Fantastic ear candy.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Wise Friend

I think he's about ten times smarter than I, at least. He goes by the monicker "Montag" and he's been blogging here for a number of years. His stuff is so meaty, that I have to confess to having to be in the mood to read him. For example, if I'm just tired of thinking, I don't go get rejuvenated at Montag's place. I guess this is a confession to checking in with him far less frequently than I ought. But every time I do, I'm really glad. Because I run across stuff like this all the time. Thanks, Paul.
Plato made the distinction between opinion and knowledge and that is pretty much the same as hypothesis and fact.

Since I do not conceive of God as an hypothesis, God is not subject to belief in my way of looking at things. God cannot be proven to be false. Hence, I do not believe in God, as I say, but I expect God. I live with the anticipation of divine immediacy... on the edge...
I am not "one with God", but I am on the "verge of falling" into eternity.

We are all on the edge of eternity, in one sense or another. We shall all die, yet that reality does not make us live in terror, just as the immediacy of God need not cause us to act like desert anchorites or medieval mystics
I think this is what he's saying. God's for real and he's in there somewhere:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lest We Get Confused by This Wonderful Pope

Back on ground level, things are still an unholy mess:

Mother Hubbard's Cupboard: The Roman Catholic diocese of Stockton, California (a wholly owned subsidiary of The Vatican, Inc.) says it hasn't got enough money to pay any more victims of priestly pedophilia, so there is no point in making a big to-do about it. So the diocese is seeking bankruptcy protection from the children they offered no protection to. Okay, so why not deed the church's property to the victims and let the church rent the places? O better, why not sue the parent company; it's got lots of money, it knew about the abuses, and it was their policies that allowed, if not encouraged, decades of child abuse. 

Source: Here

Thursday, January 16, 2014


This article in "Tom Dispatch" will give you just the slightest taste of what's going on with our special operations forces. And I can tell you, although you might be shocked by its revelations, the truth of matter is far worse. It's SOF's business to be secretive, and if they are being queried about what they do, they will not tell the truth. Period. So you can take the numbers in this piece with a grain of salt. They are higher. I was in SOCOM after 9/11. I witnessed the vast infusion of money and troops that followed. And I felt the surge of excitement and blood-lust through the place when all of a sudden a numerous, cunning, omnipresent, always-dangerous and ruthless enemy--Muslim terrorists--was out there to stalk and kill for the foreseeable future. The so-called "war on terror" was the best thing since flush toilets as far as SOCOM was concerned. I thought it was ludicrous, but mine was a distinctly minority opinion.

I worked for these people, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) with its thousands of special operations forces (SOF). For a long time, 13 years. Talk about a square peg in a round hole! That's what I was. For deep down, way deep--because to be open about what I really thought would have been insane, under the circumstances--I really despised what was going on around me there, and the tiny part I played in advancing the mission of the organization. Although I take great pains and am prompt to declare that the individuals I met and worked with were for the most part upstanding, outstanding, honorable, dedicated people. And they were smart people, too. SOF is the cream of the crop. But I thought they were in the grip of mass delusion. But for very few I met there, they were all flaming flag-waving "patriots," which is to say they didn't question the foreign policy of the country, they didn't question any of the missions they were given, or the cost of what they were doing, or the secrecy in which everything was cloaked, the blood-curdling mystique which they embraced. They were (naturally) knee-jerk Republicans of the most conservative kind. Me, with my shaggy hair, decidedly un-SOF-like physique, and Democratic politics . . . well, I was looked upon as some sort of curio. I thought of myself as a token liberal that was allowed to inhabit their headquarters dwelling, sort of like you allow stray dog or cat to hang around. I was not sorry to leave there. I don't miss it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

College for Free--Eminently Doable

This statement had me doing a double take: "In a country with over a trillion dollars of student debt, the amount of money we spend on trying to make college 'affordable' is more than it would cost to give everyone a college education for free!"

 I read it here, and then I went on to read the entire piece . . . and was just floored by finding out something else about our country that is not good and is practically unknown.

First the graphic:

What's Wrong with This Picture?

This is presented with little comment, but for me it immediately raises a couple of questions. First, doesn't this appear backwards. That lower 25 percent, saddled with all that debt even before they begin work--if they can find a job--how are they ever going to stay even, much less get ahead? And then you have to wonder about that last 9 percent of the debt-holders. Why should people of net worth over $311,000 be holding any debt at all for education? So okay, some of them probably need help, but really? Who is not getting help because these people are? Backwards!

 A mere $62.6 billion dollars!

According to new Department of Education data, that's how much tuition public colleges collected from undergraduates in 2012 across the entire United States. And I'm not being facetious with the word mere, either. The New America Foundation says that the federal government spent a whole $69 billion in 2013 on its hodgepodge of financial aid programs, such as Pell Grants for low-income students, tax breaks, work study funding. And that doesn't even include loans.

If we were we scrapping our current system and starting from scratch, Washington could make public college tuition free with the money it sets aside its scattershot attempts to make college affordable today.

Of course, we're not going to start from scratch (and I'm not even sure we should want to make state schools totally free). But I like to make this point every so often because I think it underscores what a confused mess higher education finance is in this country. On the whole, Americans seem to want affordable colleges that are accessible to all. But rather than simply using our resources to maintain a cheap public system (and remember, public schools educate 75 percent of undergrads), we spill them into a fairly wasteful and expensive private sector. At one point, a Senate investigation found that the for-profit sector alone was chowing down on 25 percent of all federal aid dollars
And then there's the reminder further down in the article that the athletic budget for just one university (Temple) for one year is $44 million. How many athletic budgets would it take to pay for college education for everybody? It' madness, I say.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Just a Reminder

Here are the facts of the matter.

Not something you've not seen before. Just a reminder once again about just where we are. 

Have a look at where the red line was until the advent of the Reagan era and the change in thinking about the value of social programs, safety nets, unions, and the effectiveness of government to address the question of income inequality in this country. And since then . . . well, see for yourself. It's the very rich getting richer and richer, and the rest of us treading water at best. These graphic curves have become so common that few people who are paying attention are not aware of them. And the ones not paying attention are too busy trying to make ends meet to be aware of anything except that they seem to be getting nowhere.

I don't think it's necessary to underscore that situations like this will not stay this way in the modern age before it all comes crashing down. And when that happens, a lot of people get hurt, get killed.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Likeable Guy

I'm really beginning to like this guy. A bald old geezer--just like me, except I have hair--who's just pissed off about things most of the time. His name is Charles Kingsley Michelson, III. And really irritated by the shallow "thinking" that underlies the lies most people in this land of the free believe.* I should say I liked this guy from the beginning, and now he's really growing on me.

To wit:
A Dollar Saved: How could the massive credit card security hacks like the recent Target debacle be stopped? With chip and pin cards. Never heard of them? They've been used in Europe since 1992 and have cut credit card fraud by over 80%. Why aren't they used in the US? a) It would cost the bankcard companies money. b) see a. c) Think about a and b. 
Preying The Odds: Senator Inhofe (Ignoramus – OK) claims that “fewer and fewer” senators believe in the climate change 'hoax', vs the 1 out of 10,000 scientists who doubt the reality of global climate change. 
Where The Money Goes: Just how much do we spend on welfare? $75 billion in food stamps, $55 billion in Earned Income Tax Credit, $43 billion in Supplemental Security income payments, $21 billion in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and $18 billion in housing vouchers for the poor. That's a bit over $200 billion, less than we spend on killing Muslims our Middle Eastern oil wars.

Trend Spotting: In the last 500 years, every instance of mass spying on the populace led to the government crushing dissent. It was never, ever, done to protect anyone but the rulers.

Use It Or Lose It: In their blind hatred of Barak Obama, the far right has persuaded a compliant Supreme Court to hear their case for ending Presidential recess appointments - even though in his two terms he has made the fewest such appointments out of the last five Presidents. Have they given up all hope of ever getting one of their kind back in the White House?

Consequences: The cuts in services for seniors caused by the sequester's reduced funding are resulting in higher public costs for senior care because the programs that permitted many to continue healthy, independent living are being cut back. Sometimes a little public spending prevents both private suffering and increased public spending. It's called foresight. 
Asked & Answered: “Did Ariel Sharon get a pass on war crimes because he was white?” No, because he was an Israeli. 
A Quote: “Right now Republicans are doing all they can to hurt the poor, and they would have inflicted vast additional harm if they had won the 2012 election. Moreover, G.O.P. harshness toward the less fortunate isn’t just a matter of spite...; it’s deeply rooted in the party’s ideology...” Sure it's Krugmann; but he's right.

Bye, Buy, American Pie: Are subprime mortgages an endangered species? No, but they may become a rare thing, not because they can't be made under a reformed Wall Street, just that it'll be harder to palm them off on innocent investors as Good Investments and the banksters' fees will be limited, so there will be a lot fewer such loans. Whether this is a Good Thing depends, like so many things, on a lot of other things. Full disclosure and educated borrowers being just the beginning.
*Just as an aside: I found out that well over 100 people list their profession as "curmudgeon" on Blogger. You can find a list of them here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Here's a snippet from a blog I've just stumbled upon. It's called "the Hipcrime Vocab." (I suggest you read the whole article if you've got time. It's worth it. You may even find yourself drawn to explore more the blog. That's rewarding also. And while you're at it, read the Rolling Stone piece. We're talking real subversive stuff, people.) First of all, I wish I knew what that meant, but I've looked all over the site and cannot find a clue, nor can I find out the name of the person who's writing this blog. But, he's on to something.
A recent article written by an author named Jesse Myerson at Rolling Stone entitled Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For seems to have made certain parts of the blogosphere see red – literally. The article has generated denunciations that border on hysterical, pretty much boiling down to “It’s Communism, Communism, I tell you!!!”
Here are the proposals:
1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody
2. Social Security for All
3. Take Back The Land
4. Make Everything Owned by Everybody
5. A Public Bank in Every State
Matt Yglesias [He's the guy who writes the economic/political column for Slate] describes them this way:
1. Unconditional cash transfers rather than bureaucracy-intensive welfare programs
2. Make-work government jobs for the unemployed
3. Budget surpluses invested in private financial assets
4. A land-value tax to raise revenue
5. Some kind of scheme where a public bank would make subsidized loans
I find it surprising he’s omitted universal health care – unless he’s counting the Obamacare Frankenstein as universal health care. It seems like that should actually be job one, especially since it’s already the current system of every other advanced industrial democracy on the planet (and many that aren’t – Cuba, Costa Rica, etc.). I personally would also include a reduction in working hours, and guaranteed vacation time (again, something already guaranteed by almost every other advanced democracy in the world). I would also strongly push for free university education (again, already provided in many countries).
He goes on to talk about what he really finds interesting . . . the hysterical reaction of the conservatives to this piece. They went "apeshit" in words of one observer. But there's shrewd appraisal here.
The fanatical overreaction to these proposals is almost as interesting as the proposals themselves. To me, it really shows just how scared the elites are of losing their power – and of new ideas. What’s happened is that any rethinking of the current system in light of economic justice is shouted down by one word – “Communism!” Of course, people have no idea what communism actually was – the state owning all the means of production – something, you’ll notice, that the article does not advocate at all. But all this hysterical screaming about communism is telling. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, any attempt at discussing economic justice is seen as communism, and we live with the predictable results. Most of the reforms that made the middle-class lives we enjoy today possible were put in place to head off the threat of communism. Now that it's gone, they're taking away those reforms and privileges and taking us back to the Gilded Age - which they never wanted to leave in the first place.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Big Two Are Much Worse

Here's a snippet from a very good article by Stephen Jonas, a doctor of medicine at Stony Brook University, and author of more than 30 books. You can find it here. He argues that the widely noticed David Brooks column on the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado is really a Brooks call for a return to prohibition. But of course. I love it how these "small government" "less government" people on the right are always so ready to use the police power of the state to prohibit something they don't like. And of course, as the Jonas article shows, booze and tobacco are much worse than pot, use of which has not even caused one death, as far as anybody knows.
I do not associate myself with those who argue for marijuana legalization because it's "not very harmful" or it's "less harmful than alcohol or tobacco." It seems that the latter is the case, but what I am primarily concerned with as a public health physician is that we do know for sure just how harmful the Big Two [alcohol and tobacco] are. Nevertheless, both are legal, at least for persons 18-21 and older (depending upon the drug and the jurisdiction). And since they are legal, there is no rational argument for illegalizing marijuana (and most of the other RMADs [recreational mood-altering drug], most of them small-use, as well). In fact, there are important lessons to be learned from how tobacco and alcohol are handled that could be used in dealing with all of the RMADs. Advertising and price, their use and control, are key.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Native American Insight

Only after the last tree has been cut down, the last fish has been caught, the last river poisoned will you realize that money cannot be eaten. Cree Nation Tribal Prophecy.

To encounter the sacred is to be alive at the deepest center of human existence. Sacred places are the truest definitions of the earth; they stand for the earth immediately and forever; they are its flags and shields. If you would know the earth for what it really is, learn it through its sacred places. [There] you touch the pulse of the living planet; you feel its breath upon you. You become one with a spirit that pervades geologic time and space. N. Scott Moomaday

Door Number Three

Door Number Three: The discussion goes on over the merits of fiscal and/or monetary policies in reviving the economy, with little notice given to the elephant standing over there pointing out that neither has done much good. And few economists seem to wonder why that might be; their theories say that one or the other or both will revive GDP growth. But what if an ever-growing GDP is dead, killed by high priced oil? What if the era of ever-growing GDP based on ever-growing consumption of resources and energy has ended?
This little paragraph is from a blog I just stumbled upon called "Some Assembly Required". Just what I need, another blog to get hooked on so I don't have time to read all the books I should be reading and which I promised myself I'd read when I retired . . . and that was seven years ago on January 3. Do I have to tell you that I've barely made a dent in the books? Retirement, it appears, throws up a bunch of distractions.

But to the point: isn't what's terribly wrong with the world is this foundational principle of capitalism: that success always equals more? Can we really not see that this way of life is going to be the end of us all? The era of ever-growing consumption is ended. Only problem is, millions of people don't know it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Wolf of Wall Street

I rate it slightly above average.
Susan and I saw this movie this afternoon. I think she liked it better than I did. It's long, and eventually for me tedious. Being subjected to three hours of depiction of boundless hedonism, gross consumption, and dishonesty maybe doesn't do it for me like it used to. Of course it's Scorsese, so you're going to have it in your face throughout. And there's a serious intent behind the film. I guess you can encapsulate the movie's plot by: "the rise and fall of an unscrupulous Wall Street trader." That would be Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, assisted by a whole bevy of talented actors.

I'm sure Scorsese's intention was to lance the boil of the corruption of the financial system and let it run all over the screen. Well, he succeeded for me. And I'm sure there must be some subtleties that escaped me. I never pretended to be an incisive movie critic, but I know what I like. And to tell the truth, I would have liked to have been able to like any of the people in this movie. But it's hard to cut through the opulence, booze, dope, sex, and orgies to get to the point where you care much for any of these people.

It was indeed a pleasure to watch DiCaprio and the rest of the cast, especially Jonah Hill, display their talent. It is amazing what these people can do, and it's amazing to see what Hollywood can do. For some, that would simply be enough. The spectacle, the verisimilitude reproduced. And I cannot deny some genuinely funny moments. But on the whole, it didn't work for me. I give it about a 5 1/2. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Serious Research

I recently encountered a quote by Thorsten Veblen, the 19th century sociologist, that went like this: "The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before." And what can anybody say to this but "amen"? But how often have you heard one say, or perhaps said yourself: "Let me research it." or "According to my research"? I guess the point is rather trivial. Most of us equate research with "information gathering." And to some extent, we're right. But serious research is always about something that has no answer. It most assuredly has an information component to it, sometimes tons of information . . . but no definitive answer. What's the cause of cancer? What is art? What's the origin of the universe? Does my life, your life have a purpose?

Veblen is simply pointing out the ground truth of our experience: there is no ground truth. There are only channels, avenues, tunnels into it.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Rohr Into the New Year

My regular readers are aware of my fondness for Richard Rohr, the Franciscan mystic whose thinking has been so instrumental in the growth of my own faith life.What he has to say always strikes me as so blindingly true that it's a wonder that millions of other people just don't seem to get it at all. Look around you, he says. Look inside. Things ain't right. We've lost a sense of the most important identification we have: as brothers and sisters in a huge human family. Which is the first and primary one, the one which claims our fundamental allegiance. "We need new ways of thinking and being to engage with others through our simple humanity," Rohr says. It's a profound challenge because we all fall short of the essential prerequisite: dying to our own selfishness and short-sightedness. The only way we see everything else is lose ourselves in the sight . . . the paradox at the heart of the virtuous life.

Here's Rohr:
Listen to the news or look around and within you—it is clear that we are mostly going nowhere. Each individual is on his or her own to find and create his or her personal meaning. This does not work, especially for the young. As a result, there is little sense of the common good. Thus we are repeating the same patterns that produce violence, suffering, emotional immaturity, and death. We need new ways of thinking and being to engage with others through our simple humanity, our brokenness, differences, and complexity. We must do the hard work of learning to live a generative life for others, living out our sacred soul task in service to the world.
How you do anything is how you do everything! For our spirituality to be authentic, we must practice unitive consciousness in our conversations, problem solving, politics, vocations, lifestyle, and even our dying. Indeed, the goal of mature religion is to help us die before we die, so we are ready for our real life! All major religions describe this in one way or another: a false sense of self must be let go of before the True Self can stand revealed. This is basic and essential conversion.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

One of the Saddest Poems I've Ever Read

Somehow it seems inappropriate to begin a brand new year like this, but I was so moved by this poem, I cannot help it. And in a way, it does serve as a pertinent New Year's Day reflection. My mom will turn 93 on the last day of this month.

For Vanessa Meredith and Samuel Wolf Gezari

What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.

The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.

They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.

Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.

They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs, and smells.

It is grotesque how they go on
loving us, we go on loving them.

The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us. And of how.

Their lives: surely
we can do better than that.

This goes on for a long time. Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,

they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,

how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,

taking the last link
of that chain with them.

Father, mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.