Saturday, May 31, 2014

How Many Trouble You?

I'm a word maven. I've loved the English language all my life. And I really can be a pain the arse sometimes about it. I'm kind of a stickler. My kids and my wife have complained over the the years about my correcting their grammar, pronunciation, or use the language. I know it's an embarrassment for me when--on those admittedly rare occasions--I myself get corrected. My friend Cecil catches me every so often in pronunciation faux pas. But usage . . . well, I'm pretty good on that. (Would you believe I have no less than half a dozen books on usage right here next to me?) So I was arrested today when I came across this little article about what was billed as the "30 Incorrectly Used Words That Make You Look Bad." Okay, I agree that misuse can make you look bad, but only in some circles. The vast American public doesn't know and doesn't care.

So how many of these give you difficulties?

  • adverse - averse
  • affect - effect
  • compliment - complement
  • criteria - criterion
  • discreet - discrete
  • elicit - illicit
  • farther - further
  • imply - infer
  • insure - ensure
  • its - it's
  • number - amount
  • precede - proceed
  • principle - principal
  • they're - their
  • whose - who's
  • you're - your
Now I have to tell you: I agree with the list and am pretty much appalled by how often you see them misused both in print and speech. But that's just me. As I said, the vast majority could not care less.

Oh, the only pair on the list that gives me trouble is farther-further, and I just read in one of my usage books that this is largely a distinction without difference. Further down the road = Farther down the road. Wouldn't you agree?

Friday, May 30, 2014


Sometimes a picture is worth a lot more than 1000 words. This one is such a one. It leaves me utterly speechless.

The picture is that of a 21-week-old  unborn baby named Samuel Alexander Armas, who is being operated on by  surgeon named Joseph Bruner. The baby was  diagnosed with spina bifida and would not survive if removed from his  mother's womb. Little Samuel's mother, Julie Armas, is an obstetrics  nurse in Atlanta. She knew of Dr. Bruner's remarkable surgical  procedure. Practicing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in  Nashville, he performs these special operations while the baby is still  in the womb. During the procedure, the doctor removes the uterus via  C-section and makes a small incision to operate on the baby. As Dr.  Bruner completed the surgery on Samuel, the little guy reached his tiny,  but fully developed hand through the incision and firmly grasped the  surgeon's finger. Dr. Bruner was reported as saying that when his finger  was grasped, it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for  an instant during the procedure he was just frozen, totally immobile.  The photograph captures this amazing event with perfect clarity. The  editors titled the picture, "Hand of Hope. Little Samuel's mother said  they "wept for days" when they saw the picture. She said, "The photo  reminds us pregnancy isn't about disability or an illness, it's about a  little person" Samuel was born in perfect health, the operation 100  percent successful.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Who Goes Shopping?

The American Future
I remember the time where shopping used to pass for entertainment for a great many people in this country. You just go to a store, and there were millions of them selling God knows what, and buy shit you didn't need and maybe wanted at the time but don't want anymore. Look around your house: look how much stuff you have . . . now start eliminating all the stuff that you don't need. How much of it is left? What you've got surrounding you in your house, brothers and sisters, is all the evidence of the sterling work you've accomplished in keeping the myth of the viability of capitalism alive. Endless expansion. That's the basic premise of it. Capitalism "works" because there's more and more of everything all the time. Isn't "economic growth" the very foundation of every idea the politicians have? The unquestioning acceptance that everything will be fine if we just can get back to those lovely times of economic growth every year, year after year.

Well, we're in a different universe now. The answer to the question posed in the title is: fewer and fewer . . . and accelerating. You could do worse than reading the entire piece I've lifted this snippet from. It is not encouraging. We're whistling through a graveyard . . .

The absolute collapse in retail visitor counts is the warning siren that this country is about to collide with the reality Americans have run out of time, money, jobs, and illusions. The exponential growth model, built upon a never ending flow of consumer credit and an endless supply of cheap fuel, has reached its limit of growth. The titans of Wall Street and their puppets in Washington D.C. have wrung every drop of faux wealth from the dying middle class. There are nothing left but withering carcasses and bleached bones.

Once the Wall Street created fraud collapsed and the waves of delusion subsided, retailers have been revealed to be swimming naked. Their relentless expansion, based on exponential growth, cannibalized itself, new store construction ground to a halt, sales and profits have declined, and the inevitable closing of thousands of stores has begun. 

The implications of this long and winding road to ruin are far reaching. Store closings so far have only been a ripple compared to the tsunami coming to right size the industry for a future of declining spending. Over the next five to ten years, tens of thousands of stores will be shuttered. Companies like JC Penney, Sears and Radio Shack will go bankrupt and become historical footnotes. Considering retail employment is lower today than it was in 2002 before the massive retail expansion, the future will see in excess of 1 million retail workers lose their jobs. Bernanke and the Feds have allowed real estate mall owners to roll over non-performing loans and pretend they are generating enough rental income to cover their loan obligations. As more stores go dark, this little game of extend and pretend will come to an end. (source)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Horror of It All

As the World Turns: A woman has been stoned to death by her family in front of a Pakistani high court for marrying the man she loves. At least it wasn't the woman she loved. A Sudanese woman who was found guilty of marrying her Christian lover has given birth in jail. She will now suffer 100 lashes and then hanged. (source)
The woman in Pakistan was 25 years old. Her crime was going against the wishes of her family. Police watched her murdered and did nothing. The woman's father has no regrets about participating in the murder of his daughter. And they tell me this all has something to do with the will of Allah.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014



by Robin Becker

I wanted to believe in it, the word
softer than hospital but still not home

like any other frame house on the street,
it had a lawn, a door, a bell—

inside, our friend lay, a view
of the garden from her room but no lift

to raise her from the bed. A sword,
the sun plunged across the cotton blankets.

I wanted dying to be Mediterranean,
curated, a villa, like the Greek sanatoria

where the ancients cared for their sick
on airy porticos and verandas

with stone paths that led to libraries.
A nurse entered her room and closed the door.

For the alleviation of pain, I praise
Morpheus, god of dreams, unlocking

the medicine drawer with a simple key,
narcotic placed beneath the tongue.

In the hall, the volunteer offered us coffee.
How could I think the Mozart in G major

we played to distract her could distract her?
Or marble sculpture in the atrium? 

"Hospice" by Robin Becker from Tiger Heron.

What's the poem saying to you? The chastened mood, the language so supple and simple, the mood as quiet as death itself. For me, somehow, poetry gets to the truth of the human experience, and the bedrock truth of human experience is that we must deal with death. It surrounds us, haunts us, defines us.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Yet Another

Another Memorial Day. You readers who've been with me for a while know how I feel about this "holiday." Have you noticed that over the past few years, the "celebration" of Memorial Day has gotten more and more gaudy? There's not a news outlet, including PBS, that doesn't give it full, cloying coverage. Obama seems determined to outdo his last year's rhetoric about heroism, sacrifice, freedom, etc., etc. I can remember when this holiday basically marked the beginning of summer. The VFW and other vets groups would put out some flags and maybe a parade or two, but nothing like the productions of today. It's almost as if the more morally indefensible our wars and our armed intrusions into other people's country's demand a more gaudy remembrance of the lives we've squandered in our endless quest to bring the blessings of American freedom to the rest of the world--whether they want it or not.

Lately Obama is trumpeting how we will have no troops in Afghanistan in a year or two. And I'm reading that he's being criticized for not being assertive enough in foreign policy. You mark my words. We're going to be involved in armed conflict somewhere in the world--Syria? Africa? even Eastern Europe is a possibility--within the next few years. The Empire cannot stand without wars and dead heroes to celebrate.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Peace and Stewardship

A friend of mine (thank you, Karen) from church sent me the link to this article about Jesus today. It more or less dovetailed with what our topic of discussion was this morning during adult religious ed. In short, to understand the historical Jesus is to understand that he was a non-violent person dedicated to the service of others. And to be his follower, we must be the same. And once you grasp this, it's perfectly clear why Christianity has failed. As G. K. Chesterton observed some time ago: "Christianity has not failed, it's just never been tried." It would revolutionize the entire globe if it ever were tried, but though I believe in my bones that this is what the practice of Christianity really is, I despair of even creeping a little closer to the standard myself.

Here's the heart of the article right here, carved out of it word for word:
The first great challenge to Christian faith in the future is the abandonment of the ways of violence and war. Love, peace and kindness must become synonymous with Christian faith.
The second challenge involves the ownership of property. This is a key to understanding the teachings of Jesus, who lived in a time and place of economic disparity. Jesus advocated a new celebration of the Year of Jubilee, which, according to the Bible, is the time when property and possessions were to be returned to the Temple priests for redistribution among the tribes of Israel. This massive redistribution was to take place every 50 years (though it never actually did).
Yet, there is no way we can avoid the clear Bible standard of limitation of private ownership — of land in particular and wealth in general. That was also the view of Jesus.
By Bible standards, today’s wealth gap between the rich and the poor is so enormous that it is a complete affront to the professed beliefs of those who are wealthy and claim to be followers of Jesus. The standard is clear: We are to be stewards of wealth, not owners.
It's really interesting that the heart of Christianity is not about sorrow for sin and obedience to law. In fact, to try and meet these two great challenges would require the breaking of numerous laws. If Christians ever began practicing Christianity, there would not be enough cops to contain us, enough jails to keep us off the streets.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Two Americas

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ cover story at The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” published last night — and the subject of this week’s Moyers & Company interview — shows how dramatically the legacy of slavery and centuries of legalized and institutionalized racism have held back our country’s African-American population. In 2014, there still very much exists what in 1967 Martin Luther King described as “two Americas,” one “overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity,” the other tainted by “a daily ugliness … that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.”
This source of the quotation above and of the charts below makes the point that I've always considered obvious. That is, that the notion that anything resembling racial equality in America actually exists is probably our country's number one myth and self delusion. There has never been racial equality in this country, and that of course includes the time before we even were a country. Next year will mark the 150th anniversary of passage of the 13th amendment, the one that banned chattel slavery. 150 years in terms of human history is nothing. This country lives with the legacy of what was done to the African American people for centuries. The damage has never been repaired, and anyone who thinks it has is fooling themselves. Alas, that includes millions upon millions of white Americans right now.

(After diligently trying to embed the charts I wanted you to see, I failed. So I have pasted in links to them here and here. Of course, you can see all eight of them in the link "source" above.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Justice Delayed . . .

. . . is justice denied, or so the saying goes. Makes you wonder about this kind of story. Germany has decided to bring war crimes charges (murder) against 20 former guards at the Majdanek death camp near Lublin, Poland. These crimes were committed over 70 years ago. When does the statute of limitations run out on these guys? Never. Not as long as a single one remains alive. They deserve imprisonment. Or do they? You have to ask yourself is this really justice? Wouldn't justice have been locking these monsters up for the rest of their lives when they had some life left to live--as their victims did so long ago? Indeed, there were originally 30 names, but 10 have died in the interim. You really have to wonder why it's taken so long to run these guys down . . . I suspect the Cold War and the necessity of cultivating a new NATO Germany back when these crimes were fresh had a lot to do with it.

Doesn't Matter How Long You Worked Here
Amazingly, the German authorities have the names of another 220 former death camp guards they are looking for. They don't know where they are. The 20 being brought on charges all live in Germany.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Blue Oklahoma and Friends

Did you know that there are a number of actually progressive blogs in the reddest state in the country, although Utah might claim the honor?

Here's a list of them:

Alternative Tulsa
Blue Oklahoma
The Brennan Society of Oklahoma
Democrats of Oklahoma Community Forum
Grindstone Journal
Life and Deatherage
Okie Funk
Oklahoma Citizen
Oklahoma Observer
OK Policy Blog
Peace Arena

I have not clicked on all these to see if they're up and running. I just lifted the list from Blue Oklahoma, which is a fine example of the genre. There may be more of them.  

Friday, May 16, 2014


A poem today about family, about routine, about the everyday pain of being a husband, a wife, a child. The time has faded from when this poem is set, but the humans in it are as modern as tomorrow. Good stuff.


by George Bilgere


My sister held on to our old turntable
and all the old records we listened to
through the long Italian opera

of our childhood. So tonight
we sit in the living room with some wine
and Puccini, as the needle scratches

the black door of the past, the air comes to life
with that lovely, cornball melodrama,
and our father is sitting in his chair,

ice cubes clinking in his scotch,
and our mother is in the kitchen
trying to be quiet, trying not to disturb

Maria Callas as she explains
to Tito Gobbi that she has lived for art
and she has lived for love, but it's hard

to fry pork chops and dice an onion
without making a certain amount of noise,
and pretty soon my father is shouting at her,

he's trying to listen to the music
for God's sake, could she for once
show a little respect,

and our mother says nothing,
it's just the same old argument
between ghosts, after all—the music

won't let them sleep—
though it has my sister in tears,
and even Tosca has begun to weep.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


The Bell Tolls: The three Democrats on the FCC have voted to neuter the Internet by letting Internet Service Providers (for which read ATT, Comcast, etc) sell preferred, faster and more reliable delivery to big money users (which means they will in turn charge you more to use their sites and services) while shunting the little people, like me, to a slow and bumpy second (or third or fourth) class future. They call this Net Neutrality. In a similar vein, Comcast announced plans to put data caps on all users and charging progressively higher rates to those who actually want to use the Internet. Source
I don't understand all I know about this. What I do know is this issue has stirred up a firestorm among a lot of people who understand it a lot better than do I. This much is clear to me: big guys with money are going to be able to buy greater internet privileges than the 99 percent. So what else is really new? Is not this the way things work in this country? What this represents, however, is an inroad into a business that has been relatively "free" since its inception. It's one of the last bastions of the American economy that is not controlled completely by the corporate plutocracy. It's a disaster.

(And don't forget: the federal judiciary is what began this assault on net neutrality. Some judge found the current FCC rules unconstitutional. Wonder who he belongs to? Whose pocket he's in?)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Drip, Drip, Drip

Drip, Drip, Drip: Tax breaks for US corporations ($1.8 trillion a year) equal the entire discretionary portion of the federal budget, and are more than twice the amount of the current budget deficit ($702 billion). In 2013, there were 4,000 Americans in the top 1% of income earners who – thanks to tax breaks – paid no federal income taxes at all. None. How'd it go for you?
(To answer the question: Susan and I had to pay a few hundred bucks this year. We pay almost every year.)

This appalling and unjust inequality in bearing the public burden is what's wrong with this country, but nobody finds it atrocious. Nobody talks about it. Nobody gets angry about it. And nobody does anything about reforming a political system that will without question further shackle the American people to the service of the ruling plutocracy. The problem, as I've noted unceasingly, is the woeful ignorance and stupidity of the mass of the American people. They would really be dangerous to the prevailing order if it were otherwise. But it would take a thunderbolt from Zeus to make that happen. Maybe several.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Look What $1 Trillion Will Buy

Did you know that the president's 2015 budget request for all national security-related programs amounts to over $1 trillion? Yes, you are reading that correctly. It's not a misprint. Before going any further, just mull that number for a moment. Do you know how many starving people that could feed for two or three years? how many schools, bridges, highways, water treatment plants, wind and solar farms, light rail systems, and on and on could be built with this amount of money? But what are we going to buy with this? We're going to buy so-called "national security."

I'm not even going to go into my usual rant about how much of this is wasted, pissed away every year on everything from boondoggles for the brass, to unneeded weapons systems, to recruiting advertising, to special forces operators in roughly 175 countries in the world, to 12 battle carrier groups for the Navy, and so forth, etc., etc., etc. No, this time I'm going to just bewail how huge the number is. Monstrous in every way.

The military's friends and shills in Congress are whining that even this outrageous budget is not enough. Don't forget that the Republicans managed to exempt the DoD from the crippling budget sequester that every other department of government is bearing.

Read this piece "An Inadequate Defense Budget? Compared to Whom? Compared to When?" You know the answers to the questions . . . but it's laid out pretty neatly here.
The relationship of US defense spending to that of presumed threat nations and the girth of contemporary defense spending compared to a time of greater threat does not call into question the adequacy of the size of today's US defense budget; it calls into question the competence of current US political and military leadership, both in the Pentagon and in Congress.

Monday, May 12, 2014

This is the Way to Deal with . . .

 . . . people who think people on food stamps are shifless freeloaders, people like the lovely crowd at Fox News. The way is the way Jon Stewart does it with complete mockery and disdain. You will enjoy this clip. Please note that you have to click forward after the first video to get the entire sketch.

Friday, May 9, 2014


VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis called Friday for governments to redistribute wealth to the poor in a new spirit of generosity to help curb the "economy of exclusion" that is taking hold today.
I can hear the shrieks renting the air from the right already. You can be sure that Francis will be called: a socialist, a Marxist, a communist at the least. And probably a lot of other things. Whaddaya think the chances of "governments" following his advice are?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bring Back Our Girls

What's the story on these 200+ teenaged girl students seized by this off-the-wall group of Islamist terrorists called Boko Haram in Nigeria? Are you kidding me? These children have been gone now for about 25 days, and the world is just getting around (within the past few days) to noticing that the Nigerian government hasn't done squat to find out where these kids are and rescue them. Of course, their parents and relatives have been screaming bloody murder since it happened. But it's just recently that we've heard from the country's president, Goodluck Jonathan (Is anybody else struck by the absurdity of this name, and especially under the circumstances?) to the effect that the problem is too big for his country's resources to fix.

So now we have the spectacle of the U.S., among other countries, sending a special team of "helpers" over there--no military apparently, just hostage negotiator and intel type people--to see if they can find these kids almost a month after they were seized and their school and dorm burned down.

Methinks it might be a little too little too late.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fossilized . . .

“We must not be fossilized in the past,” he said after being asked about transfers of priests from diocese to diocese that enabled them to escape investigation and prosecution. “This was a policy practiced decades ago, mostly.”
                         --Words of Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva 

I read in the New York Times that Bishop Tomasi reports that almost 850 priest had been defrocked from 2004-2013 and another 2,500+ disciplined for sexual abuse. Moreover, since 1950 the Church has paid over $2.5 billion in compensation to victims and more millions on therapy and other costs associated with litigation and investigations. And over $260 million over the past 10 years doing background checks on people serving in the Church.

Big deal. Are we supposed to forget about the other stuff? What he doesn't say is how many bishops have lost their jobs for facilitating the abuse of kids for decades by simply moving miscreants around and/or paying off victims for silence. The answer is less than five. There are hundreds of these guys still out there in their positions of authority and privilege because Rome simply chose not to go after them. It was an understandable decision, after all, since Rome, which sees all and knows all, covered the whole sordid mess up for years and years until it could not contain things anymore. It's still doing it. The Vatican has been pretty damn sparing about what it says on this subject, and now we're being told that we should dwell on things that happened in the past . . . . mostly.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

St. Pope and St. Pope

Last week--on April 28, to be exact--the Catholic church declared two recent pontiffs saints of the Church. I could here launch into a long disquisition about the very notion of sainthood, that some people can be so much holier than other people and how the Church for some reason ascribes this holiness overwhelmingly to members of the clergy and religious. Gee, I wonder why a hierarchical institution like the Roman Church would place priests, bishops, nuns, and brothers higher on the holiness scale than the rest of the poor shlubs out there having all those kids?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The two new saints are Pope John XXIII, who is most famous for calling the Second Vatican Council into session--most Catholics don't remember this since the Church has spent all the years since it closed trying to undo its impact--and Pope John Paul II, who reigned as pope longer than anybody else, and used his long pontificate to stamp out doctrinal dissent, appoint dogmatic troglodytes to the episcopate to ensure his conservative theology outlived him by many years, and of course, keep the lid on any information about the worldwide sexual scandal among the clergy. JPII was also instrumental in stifling liberation theology in Latin America and in shenanigans that ousted the communist government in his home country of Poland.

I'm much more inclined to give benefit of doubt to John XXIII, but he too was around when the sexual misconduct was raging in the Church . . . I would not have canonized the guy so quickly. Both these popes were brought to sainthood with unseemly haste. It usually takes decades, if not centuries. One wonders just what the rush was.

Here's another commentary on this subject, one that got me to thinking about it. This commentator is far gentler than I.
Just a thought regarding today’s news of the current Pope canonizing two former Popes.  This is rather like the chairman of a corporate board of directors giving a couple of former CEO’s huge retroactive bonuses. Source 

Oh, did I mention I was opposed to making these guys saints?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ya Know . . .

. . . my man James Kuntsler can sure turn a phrase. I wish I had half his gift for invective. Alas, entertaining as the language might be, and it certainly is, we also have to come to grips with the fact that it's all true. This is what's truly unfortunate. Pick your issue--there are plenty enough here--and then think about the fact that they all beset us, not just that awful one you just picked. (Source: here)

Despite its Valley Girl origins, the simple term clueless turns out to be the most accurate descriptor for America’s degenerate zeitgeist. Nobody gets it — the “it” being a rather hefty bundle of issues ranging from our energy bind to the official mismanagement of money, the manipulation of markets, the crimes in banking, the blundering foreign misadventures, the revolving door corruption in governance, the abandonment of the rule-of-law, the ominous wind-down of the Happy Motoring fiasco and the related tragedy of obsolete suburbia, the contemptuous disregard for the futures of young people, the immersive Kardashian celebrity twerking sleaze, the downward spiral of the floundering classes into pizza and Pepsi induced obesity, methedrine psychosis, and tattooed savagery, and the thick patina of public relations dishonesty that coats all of it like some toxic bacterial overgrowth.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Wanna Get in a Fight?

If you do, play the greatest composers of all times game. Here's the first list I encountered in a Google search on the subject:

1. Bach
2. Mozart
3. Beethoven
4. Wagner
5. Schubert
6. Schumann
7. Chopin
8. Listz
9. Brahms
10. Verdi
11. Mahler
12. Tchaikovsky
13. Rachmaninov
14. Handel
15. Haydn

Haydn at 15? Are you kidding me?

Here's the next (NY Times) and the next (History Lists) and the next (Top Tens) and the next (Discogs):

1. Bach                 1. Bach                 1. Beethoven
2. Beethoven            2. Mozart               2. Mozart
3. Mozart               3. Beethoven            3. Bach
4. Schubert             4. Verdi                4. Chopin
5. Debussy              5. Tchaikovsky          5. Tchaikovsky
6. Stravinsky           6. Chopin               6. Vivaldi
7. Brahms               7. Vivaldi              7. Haydn
8. Verdi                8. Puccini              8. Schubert
9. Wagner               9. Handel               9. Brahms
10. Bartok              10. Stravinsky          10. Handel

1. Bach
2. Mozart
3. Beethoven
4. Wagner
5. Haydn
6. Brahms
7. Schubert
8. Schumann
9. Handel
10. Tchaikovsky

Notice that there's no disagreement about the Holy Trinity at the top. But after that, it's Katy, bar the door. I'm not going to put a list out there. Suffice it to say my top ten would definitely have Franz Joseph Haydn, and it would not have Tchaikovsky.