Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Journey to the West

Well, it’s Sunday again, and you probably know by now I do not like Sundays. Sunday at the end of what is essentially a four day holiday is even worse than a typical Sunday. I’m sure there are newsworthy events around the world, even on Sunday, but as we get very little news of the world to begin with, we get even less on Sunday. As this is so, I have decided to attempt a kind of memoir. It is my intention to occupy my Sundays with writing a bit more, week by week, until I arrive at some form of ending. The title of this memoir, of which this is the first installment, will be:

A Journey to the West

Although I later learned that I entered the world with an enormous fuss, I have no remembrance of it whatsoever. Nor did I, at the time, have any knowledge of where or who I was. My arrival was, to me, unexpected, and the means whereby I arrived were mysterious. Eventually I was told that I had emerged from the body of one of the creatures I found myself among, and it was that same body that nurtured and protected me for quite some time. More importantly, I did not comprehend that I was embarked upon a journey to the west, a journey, the end of which was predestined by the Great Mystery, and the basic itinerary of which was to be determined by biology and culture. My life, as that is what my condition was called, was in the beginning, as described by one of the ancestors, a “booming, buzzing confusion.” Slowly I began to distinguish sounds and shapes, as well as light and dark, and I soon discovered that through simple sounds I could alter my circumstances, hunger and discomfort could be controlled. I have no memory of this portion of my life. I was later informed I had been a “good baby,” had soon slept through the night, smiled a lot, and learned to crawl at the appropriate age. My completely idyllic existence ended when I learned to crawl and first encountered “rules.” I soon learned that objects external to me were not things I could necessarily control. I was not allowed to eat some of them, break most of them, or even handle them at will. In the process of learning these rules I also learned what it was to be “frustrated.”

As I slowly matured I learned there were two distinct types of creatures, distinguished by their anatomy, but also to some extent by their behavior. These creatures were called, respectively, “men” and “women.” While men seemed to be mostly in charge, the women were more nurturant, available, and affectionate, and seemed to be more in charge of everyday affairs and discipline, as it affected us “children.” Children were smaller versions of those termed “adults,” and like them were also of two types, “boys” and “girls.” Boys and girls were distinguished also by anatomical differences, but also by differences in expected behavior. Boys and girls were both powerless and controlled by adults.

Adults were expected to do something called “work.” Women’s work, at least when I was small, was mostly “housework,” as it took place either in the house or in other domestic activities that had to do with the house, which in a larger context was also known as a “home.” Home came to have an exceptionally powerful hold on everyone and provided a sanctuary from events that occurred outside the home, such as altercations with other children or adults, the weather, hunger, and whatever other frustrations and problems might arise in the course of the extended journey to the west. Men’s work was different. It was done away from the home where your “father” would disappear for several hours a day to perform duties that were not always explained to you. You learned that your father received something called a “paycheck,” which was of the utmost importance to the “family.” No paycheck, no home, no food, no clothing, no treats, and etc. Fathers were allowed much more freedom of movement that either “mothers” or children, and tended to spend more time away from the home, along with their fishing or hunting, golfing or bowling, racing or drinking “buddies, They were also far more likely to be “fans” of various sporting teams they followed.

One of the most traumatic events for all children was something called “school.” You could not avoid this once you attained a certain age. School was a place where you spent several hours a day with a “teacher,” who was employed for the purpose of imparting knowledge to children. This knowledge consisted mostly of learning to read and write, do arithmetic, and acquire certain social skills. As you matured you were also taught things like language skills, history, social studies, civics, and other bits of cultural knowledge passed down from one generation of your group to the next. Only much later in life did you realize that much of which you had been taught was not true, in some cases not even remotely true, and you realized that what you had really acquired was a tolerance for regimentation, conformity, and what your culture regarded as right and proper. You were not much encouraged to engage in creative or independent thought, although school was, fortunately, not always completely successful in repressing creativity and individuality.

To be continued

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wal Mart


I am pleased to learn that you are so satisfied with your Wal Mart store. I confess I am not very pleased with their merchandise, mostly manufactured in China by cheap labor and not of a very good quality. I am also not pleased with their low wages and terrible benefits. The fact that many of their employees have to turn to food stamps, and the taxpayers have to foot the bill for many of their medical expenses also does not please me. If you think the term “losers” is too extreme I suggest you think of them as “winners.” At least they are not unemployed and eating in soup kitchens or begging on the streets of our fine society, as are so many at the moment. I am also not happy that the Wal Marts have driven so many others out of business. People here shop in Wal Mart for two main reasons (I think); they are either relatively poor and can’t afford anything else, or however wealthy they may be, they have to shop at Wal Mart because it is the only place they can find the items they need (Wal Mart having driven out their competition). If this makes me an elitist, so be it. I think it was great when we still had real butchers and bakers and candlestick makers, instead of mass-produced food wrapped in cellophane. But, then, I am just a foolish old man.

I am perfectly aware that Europeans and Middle Easterners occasionally have stampedes and injuries and deaths at their soccer matches and elsewhere. I fail to see what this has to do with anything I said about American shopping. If you believe that most other people are as obsessed with shopping as American are, I know you are wrong. Having lived in various cultures, including some European ones, as well as more technologically undeveloped ones, I think I have a reasonable grasp of things like shopping, greed, sharing, and how humans in general comport themselves around the world.

As far as “those who blame everything on the U.S.” goes, I was unaware that I had blamed anything in particular around the world on the U.S., being concerned mostly with our own internal obsession with shopping, greed, and whatever. The U.S. is a capitalistic, free-market, consumer-driven, materialistic nation that in general does not provide well for its citizens. These are “facts,” although you obviously do not want to accept them. That I recognize the U.S. has “faults,” should be obvious. How these may or may not affect the rest of the world was not an issue addressed by me. You seem to have swallowed the “exceptionalism” kool-aid, along with the rest of the “America-can-do-no-wrong” crowd. “My country right or wrong,” might be a fine slogan, but it doesn’t make for a very useful Foreign Policy. I confess I do not understand why you persist in your accusation that I blame all of the world’s ills on the U.S. But certainly Bush/Cheney and their gang of neocons cannot be said to have improved things around the world in the past eight years.

Frankly, I try not to shop at Wal Mart. But living here in Bonners Ferry it has now become almost a complete necessity. The fine hardware stores we had are gone. Our bakery is gone. Our Pet store is gone. Most other retail stores are gone.You cannot even buy something as ordinary as sheets for your bed or pots and pans for cooking without driving 30 miles to Wal Mart where they sell sheets I do not really want to buy. Of course I can always wait to go to Coeur d’Alene or Spokane where there are even more Wal Marts. I guess I am just biased but I am not happy with Wal Marts (or Home Depots or Costcos or the other cavernous giants that are monopolizing our retail trade). I do not believe this is a healthy development for our nation, just as I do not believe corporate farming is either desirable or necessary. I realize there is an economy of scale, but corporations do not have to grow as huge as they have to realize it.

There is a harmonyIn autumn, and a lustre in its sky,Which through the summer is not heard or seen,As if it could not be, as if it had not been!
Percy Bysshe Shelley

George W. Bush apparently believes he is going to be honored for liberating Iraq.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

It is black Friday, indeed, when early morning shoppers lined up at a Long Island Wal Mart smashed through the doors, knocked a worker down, and trampled him to death in their mad desire to accumulate more Chinese-made junk. While it is true that times are tough, people are out of work and have less money to spend, and Christmas is coming, I don’t think that is a sufficient explanation for this unseemly behavior. Although I could be wrong, I doubt very much that a similar episode would have occurred elsewhere in the supposedly “civilized” world. It is difficult for me to imagine the British, French, Germans, et al, including the Russians, Iranians, and whoever else you might think of, engaging in such a pitiful display of shopping madness (perhaps something like this could happen in cultures where the citizens are actually starving and competing for limited foodstuffs). I believe the values symbolized by this terrible happening are peculiarly American. That is, “shop ‘til you drop,” “he who has the most toys wins,” “everyone loves a bargain,” “I’ll get mine, you get yours,” and so on. I suspect that our American customs of “all you can eat…,” and hot dog or pie eating contests, are related in a kind of symphony of greed and the most crass materialism found anywhere on earth. Competition, too, is related to this kind of behavior. This might be best summed up in the “keeping up with the Jones’s” syndrome. Although we might pay lip service to it, sharing is not a dominant virtue here in the United States, as it is in many of the world’s cultures. In fact, if they witnessed our behavior on moments like “black Friday,” they would most likely consider us quite insane.

I suppose it is inevitable that we would have developed as we have, living in a capitalistic, materialistic, consumption-based culture with its underlying belief in American exceptionalism and endless resources? Why should we not consume far more than our share of the earth’s resources, we always have. We have never been shy about taking the resources of others, as somehow “our due.” The history of American exceptionalism is not a pretty one, and our current adventures around the world are hardly an improvement. Our profligate ways have now painfully caught up with us, as evidenced by our now virtual dependence on Wal Mart. Even people who would not have been caught dead there previously are now flocking there in droves (alas, I am one of them). When I enter a Wal Mart I feel I am entering a giant warehouse full of losers. The clerks are losers, working for small wages and few benefits, the shoppers are losers, looking for the cheapest bargains they can find. Our culture is a loser as it is inevitably being reduced to the lowest common denominators. Where do you find pride in worksmanship or salesmanship these days? Built-in obsolescence is the order of our day. When it breaks, throw it away, it costs more to fix it than it does to buy a new one. Our culture is shot through with shoddy products, the result of mass production, everything is geared to short-term profits, nothing is built to last. When something goes wrong you can scarcely find a human voice to help you.

Paradoxically, there are things better nowadays than they were before. Automobiles, for example. We used to have to crank them and change the tires endlessly. Weapons of all kinds are better. Major appliances are better. It is technology that improves while the quality of life deteriorates, or so it seems to me. Of course for younger people, who have never known anything different this seems to be the best of times. For me, like Dickens, it seems to be the best of times, the worst of times.

Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that man doesn't have to experience it.
Max Frisch

Sidney Joseph Perelman (S.J.Perelman), one of our finest humorists, died on October 17, 1979.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So, whaddya think?

Iowa pair arrested for illicit coupling
in bathroom handicapped stall
during boring football game.

So whaddya think? Bush is negotiating an agreement with Iraq having to do with the continued presence of American troops in that unfortunate land. This agreement has to be approved by the Iraqi Congress, but not by our own Congress. Not only that, the agreement has not been translated into English so we do not know precisely what it says. The Bush people do not want it translated until after the Iraqis vote for it (if then?). This agreement would presumably be binding upon the incoming Obama administration although they, too, have no say in what it will stipulate. No one seems to be entirely clear if this is actually legal. Does Bush care? Apparently not. Does anyone else care? It is not clear. Is this something an honest, reasonable, sensible, patriotic, decent, ethical, law-abiding person would do? Suit yourself.

Not only is Bush trying to bind Obama to who-knows-what, he is also busily trying to destroy as many environmental safeguards as possible before he leaves office. It is said by some that Bush has now distanced himself from all these various goings-on (and perhaps even that he has gone back to boozing). If so, he is allowing his minions to run wild and go ahead and do whatever it is they have in mind to do before Obama can stop them. As he has shown so little interest in being President up until now why should we expect anything different? By exercising no oversight over what is going on he is cementing his legacy as the worst President ever. It is said he wants a legacy. He certainly has created one, along with taking his place in the record book as the greatest serial failure of all time.

I have never believed that the Pilgrims ate sweet potatoes at the first thanksgiving (and certainly not with those dreadful marshmallows). I have now learned they didn’t eat turkey or cranberries either. Apparently they ate mostly ducks and venison, along with some corn and (I think) pumpkins. It must have been quite a feast as it went on for about a week. It must have been the last happy meal the Indians had. Anyway, why should we not combine Thanksgiving Day with Election Day? It’s the right time of year, we could celebrate the harvest and the election at the same time. And, if people would be more interested in eating than voting we could make it a legal four day holiday instead of a sort of de facto one as it tends to become now. We could both eat and vote, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak (ha ha).

Only George Dubya Bush could send out a Hannukah invitation with the picture of a Christmas tree on it. The guy is absolutely uncanny when it comes to faux pas.

The past eight years, no, even somewhat longer than that, have been so chaotic, so nightmarish, so motivating to rage, so frightening, even terrifying at times, I find that I have developed a mantra. I didn’t realize this until recently when I suddenly realized how often I was repeating it to myself on a daily basis. It is really quite simple: DO NOT PANIC! This has been quite helpful, especially in the past few weeks, and even more recently. About six weeks ago my wife hit a deer on her way home from teaching a night class in Sandpoint. Last night she hit some black ice and almost killed herself, along with someone’s mailbox and a couple of roadside reflectors. Then I learned the other day that a mango cost $3.29. Asparagus is now $3.99 a pound. The price of everything is going up and up. It is getting colder and colder. I cannot see out of one eye. I tell myself, do not panic. It works. Try it and see. It doesn’t do a damn thing for the prices but I find it quite soothing. I even find the name Barack Hussein Obama soothing (but this might not last very long). Have a happy thanksgiving!!!

If you would cure anger, do not feed it. Say to yourself: 'I used to be angry every day; then every other day; now only every third or fourth day.' When you reach thirty days offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the gods.

White chocolate is not, technically speaking, chocolate.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

War crimes

Woman gives dognapper
$25,000 in diamond rings
to reclaim her Shih Tzu.

Jonathan Turley, a Professor of Constitutional Law, on the Rachel Maddow show, expressed his concern that the Democrats would not pursue the war crimes of the Bush/Cheney administration, even though they have announced they will not pardon any of the participants. Their argument is simply that they had the legal right to torture (which they euphemistically labeled enhanced interrogation techniques) and therefore no pardons should be required. Among other techniques used by them was waterboarding. Waterboarding has been defined as a war crime virtually from time immemorial. The U.S. actually executed some Japanese after WW II for waterboarding. There is no doubt our government employed waterboarding. Apparently Bush/Cheney and their criminal gang believe the Democrats will not have the political will to pursue them over these crimes. For the Democrats to do so would of course take time and energy away from all of the other problems they will encounter after taking office.

The legal basis they claim for what they have done is little more than a bad joke. They recruited their own lawyers to write memos, shifting the definitions of torture and the rights of the chief executive so they could proceed with what they wished to do. Turley believes, as do I, that as a legal defense this is little more than laughable. But they may get away with it. This must not be allowed to happen. The Obama administration has to act from law and morality and not merely from a political position. To fail to do so will label our government in the eyes of the world as sanctioning torture. It will be a public relations disaster from which we will likely never recover. We will take our place in the absolute depths of depraved societies, far below those many smaller societies that have successfully tried and punished their leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is not a time for politics as usual, for letting bygones be bygones. The stakes are much to high and we have far too much to lose. Bush/Cheney should have been impeached long ago, but the Democrats were both too timid and too politically motivated to do what was required. They must act honorably now, no matter what the cost may be. We are dealing here with human lives and human misery so monumental as to be virtually unthinkable. Hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost, millions more with their lives in ruins and their misery uncalculable. If we allow these vicious monsters to walk free, we join them. I cannot believe the citizens of the country I love so much will allow this to happen. If ever there was a need for justice it is here and now. If we fail our shame will be emblazoned in indelible ink in huge letters for all the world to see and remember forever.

A friend stopped me today and expressed his concern that Obama may not carry out his plan for a middle-class tax break or an increase in taxes for the rich. What could I say? What I did say was the simple and obvious truth, “well, you know these elected officials do not always do what they said they were going to do.” This seems to be in the nature of our so-called Democratic system. Sometimes those elected probably had no intention of carrying out their promises, sometimes by the time they take office conditions have changed so they are unable to keep their promises. Bill Clinton said at one point that if we elected Obama we would just be rolling the dice. As far as I can see that is true no matter who is elected. We elect people that we think are going to do more or less what we would like them to do. But they rarely, if ever, do precisely that. Now all kinds of people are beginning to question Obama’s picks for his cabinet and administration, pointing out that they are all Clintonites, or have some serious flaws, or they are hawks rather than anti-war types, or they have suspicious histories, and so on. Finally, I said to my friend, “console yourself with the fact that it is now out of your hands.” Such is the nature of our electoral system. I guess “vote and pray,” describes it pretty well. For those who do not pray I guess it’s “vote and hope.” We all live in such an imperfect world.

Inscription found on a confiscated handgun:

“Be not afraid of any man,
no matter what his size,
just call on me, my friend,
for I will equalize.”

John McCain held a press conference today apparently to announce that he was going to make an announcement in the future.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Greatest movies?

Men arrested for selling the
Whizzinator (fake heated penis
with urine to foil drug tests).

I have a friend who often asks me, “who’s your favorite movie star?” Or “what’s your favorite book?” Or Who is your favorite President?” Things like that. I cannot get him to understand that I do not have such favorites. I don’t even think about such things. I haven’t the faintest idea how one would pick such favorites. I say, “you mean my favorite President of the past fifty years?” “My favorite book of this year?” The very idea that one could meaningfully pick such favorites is too confusing for me. Of course this sort of thing is not serious. I assume it is done just for the sake of having something to do. While some people seem to like it, I find it not only boring, but absurd. Take the lists people offer of “The 100 Greatest Movies,” for example. The idea is ridiculous. Having looked at some of these lists from time to time I know that they do not always agree, although sometimes there is considerable overlap and some agreement. But I never agree with any of them. For a while Casablanca was often picked as the number one movie of all time. Lately I sense a shift to Citizen Kane. I liked both of these movies but I rather doubt they are the best movies of all time. Even if they are, when I see something like A Night at the Opera, or Duck Soup, or Bride of Frankenstein also ranked as among the 100 best, I have to wonder about the way movies are ranked. Why, for example, don’t they just rank the nth best comedies, or the nth best musicals, or the nth best westerns, or the nth best horror films, or whatever? How can you possibly rank comedies like A Night at the Opera along with dramas like Wuthering Heights or Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf, or even Singing in the Rain? And how can you rank movies made in 1924 or 1925 along with those made in the last few years? When I see these lists, not only do I see movies that I don’t agree should be that highly rated, I always see some that I don’t believe have any business on such a list in the first place. And some of my favorite movies that I believe are truly fine, don’t ever make the lists. For Whom the Bell Tolls, for example (I have blogged about this previously, 7-2-05). Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is another, as is Zorba the Greek.Having perused these various lists, and thought about it, I have concluded that the only reason they exist is that too many people just don’t have enough to do. At least the Academy Awards breaks things down into best actor, actress, musical score, sets, and such.

Another one of my pet peeves, growing in intensity in recent years, has to do with cooking shows. When these shows first started they usually just featured a single cook giving instruction on how to cook certain dishes. While they were mildly entertaining sometimes, entertainment was not their reason for being. But slowly they have changed, starting, I suppose, with Emeril who transformed his show into genuine entertainment and paved the way for what was to come. Now most of the cooking shows are contests of one kind or another, who can bake the greatest cake in an hour, or who can produce the finest meal out of cheese, or who can barbecue the best hamburger or ribs, and so on. I no longer watch these shows. If I want competition I turn to football. Again, I guess people who don’t have enough to do watch such shows. I suspect that many people who read blogs are in the same category.

Oh, yeah, I heard Obama had picked his team of hot-shot economic advisors and is trying to do something about our delicate condition. I’m waiting for results as I rather doubt Bush will get out of the way long enough for anything constructive to happen. I thought he looked cute in his Peruvian poncho. I’m waiting to see if my 20 – 60 – 20 rule will apply to Obama. It has been my experience (mostly as a Professor) that no matter what is involved, 20% of the people think you are great, 20% think you are lousy, and 60% basically don’t think at all.


The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
Dorothy Parker

There apparently is no such thing as a .25 caliber revolver.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Monastery of the Great Mystery

High on drugs, he shoots
and kills hairdresser for
being too slow to braid his hair.

I once knew a psychiatrist who believed that if a person would talk non-stop with no reinforcement for more than two minutes it was indicative of some mental illness. I do not know that this is true, but I do know there are compulsive talkers who will go on without stopping for long periods of time. Most of these people, I believe, are at least covering up some kind of anxiety. I suggest you watch Sarah Palin’s non-stop performance at the turkey ceremony the other day and think about this.

I confess to having to pinch myself every now and then, just to make sure I am not dreaming. The world I find myself living in sometimes strikes me as totally unreal. That is, I see on my television (to me a mysterious weird invention to begin with), men actually dressed up as hamburgers, carrots, vitamins, animals, etc., trying to convince me to purchase products that I neither need nor want. There are also singing chocolate chip cookies, talking automobiles, talking insects, and other grotesqueries (is that a word?). While these things are irritating and ridiculous in the extreme, there are other things going on in my world that are even worse. Can you imagine, for example, unpiloted drones that invade other nations’ airspace to kill people attending weddings and funerals? How about children and others going hungry in what is said to be the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth? Or a culture in which many dogs and cats actually eat better than some people? A place where one individual can possess more wealth than thousands of others, working all their lives, could possibly accumulate? How about living in a world in which innocent people can be arrested and kept in prison for years, charged with no crime, and not allowed even to communicate with their families? Secret prisons in which they can be tortured at will? People can also be put in jail for years for possessing parts of a plant that grows wild by the roadsides all over the country, and is far less harmful than alcohol, which is perfectly legal and often abused? Anyway, you get the picture. Even the most imaginative of writers could never have dreamt such a society like the one we find ourselves living in today. It is so irrational, so cruel, so thoughtless, so absurd, so lacking in saving graces as to be someone’s evil nightmare. But when I pinch myself I realize it is real, it exists, I am part of it, and it appears to be virtually inescapable.

At moments when this reality sits more heavily on my mind than usual I sometimes find myself dreaming of some kind of retreat. It is fairly common in some cultures, like India, for example, that when a man has grown, married, and fathered children (and probably also has grandchildren), and is entering the twilight of his life, to withdraw from society and retreat into a monastery or some such thing, where he lives out his remaining years in peace and reflection. These are usually religious retreats of some kind. But I think of something like a Monastery of the Great Mystery. Those who would be allowed there would be those who have rejected all known organized religions, but would still believe in The Great Mystery, and could spend their remaining years in reflection. I suspect this might be considered religious enough to be allowed a tax exemption, and would not actively engage in political activity of any kind. It would be modeled somewhat on those monasteries where the participants have taken vows of silence and do not speak at all. It would be different, however, in that each entrant would be allowed a specific number of words, and no more. Let us say, for the sake of the dreaming, each person would be allotted one million words (perhaps even fewer). This means that while you could speak if you wished, you would only do so if you had something truly important or significant to say to others. You would have to think before you spent any of your precious words. While this would probably not solve The Great Mystery, it would at least save us from the nonsensical gibberish that constitutes most religious discourse, and it would free us from the excesses of religious ceremonies of all kinds (of course it would be too late to save some from circumcision, subincision, tooth extractions, scarifications, immersions in water, and other unpleasant rituals we might have been forced to endure as helpless young men). We could also avoid various onerous and unnecessary dietary rules, and so forth. And there would be no hymns or religious mumbo-jumbo, no prescribed religious garb, no religious icons, and no candles. It would, in short, be a society of serious, independent, free thinkers of all kinds, nonbeliever believers, who agree to escape the clutches of the insane asylum that nowadays passess for the human condition. I realize this needs work, but what the hell, so does everything else.

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
Steven Weinberg (19

Pandora’s “Box” was actually an earthenware Jar of some kind.

Friday, November 21, 2008


For jogging nude at High
School track, Catholic Priest
must register as sex offender.

You know, I am sure, that we often just take things for granted when it comes to culture. That is, we participate in customs and behaviors that we have not really thought much about, just “going with the flow,” so to speak. It occurs to me that I have never thought much about marriage, more specifically, the purpose of marriage. What is the purpose of marriage? I suppose in the ideal American marriage we assume that two people (of the opposite sex) fall in love and marry, the marriage being a public affirmation of their newfound status in the community. We also assume that no one will be married to more than one person at a time (although serial monogamy is common). We also assume that the marriage will produce children. Also, until not so very long ago, we also assumed that those who married would be of the same race (miscegenation was commonly against the law). There were, and are, certain legal rights that go along with marriage, such as the rights of inheritance. And of course there were also certain obligations (spouses were responsible for each others care and etc.). Marriage also seems to function to legitimize fatherhood. That is, there is no way (until recently that is) to determine who the father of a child is, although the mother is always known. If a man’s wife has a child it is automatically assumed the husband is the father and he is legally obliged to care for the child. There were always exceptions to all these cultural beliefs, but we seldom thought about them. For example, many married couples never had children. Indeed, in rare cases, they never even engaged in sexual relations. Many people did not marry for love and marriages for convenience were not uncommon, marrying for money or to get citizenship for someone, and things like that. And, of course, the idea that people who married should stay married for life, has slowly over the years become less and less of an expectation and less and less common. And, because of advances in medical science, if a man could not father a child, he could attain one through artificial insemination if he wished. Although technically he was not the (biological) father, he was legally the father. In any case, we muddled along with our ideas about marriage, motherhood and fatherhood, and didn’t really worry too much about these exceptional cases (although at one time there was a lot of worry about divorce as people thought they should stay married no matter what if there were children involved (a rather old-fashioned view nowadays). It has also become fairly common for unmarried women to have children though artificial insemination (or more ordinary means, but without marriage).

Now, because gays and lesbians are demanding equal rights when it comes to marriage, we are having to think more carefully about our ideas of marriage. Obviously there is a great deal of resistance to Gay and Lesbian marriages. One common reaction to this is to pass laws specifying that marriage must be defined as a union between one man and one woman. Polygamy is against the law, Polyandry doesn’t exist (most people probably never heard of polyandry). It is the case, however, that there are fairly sizeable numbers of polygamists in the U.S., Canada and Mexico (estimated at 30,000). In some cases these polygamous marriages are tolerated, mostly because no one seems overly concerned about them unless some obvious criminal activity is uncovered. And, as polygamy is against the law, these people simply marry one person legally and then take more wives in a sort of common law arrangement. These polygamous groups have existed for a long time, they produce large numbers of children, and seemingly function without many more problems that traditional marriages. I should point out that polygamy is quite likely the preferred marriage form in much (perhaps even most) of the world but, practically, monogamy is more common.

It is probably safe to say that in most, if not all societies, the main purpose and expectation of marriage is to produce children. Fatherhood seems to be exceptionally important. Even in cases of divorce, where fathers are not living with their children, they are still legally considered fathers. And if a single woman has a child she usually knows and names the father, even though he is not expected to legally provide for the child. But it is the legality of fatherhood that is of great importance in most cultures. For this reason a woman, in at least one culture I know about, can marry a ghost. That is, if a man dies without having left a child, a woman, if she has sufficient cattle or resources, can marry his ghost, take in another man to father a child, which becomes legally the child of the ghost, and thus his name will continue on in the clan genealogy. It is the ceremony that determines the fatherhood, not the fact of biological fatherhood. Similarly, in the case of polyandry, where a woman has more than one husband (usually two or more brothers), the legal paternity is established by a ceremony so that no matter who the biological father is, all the brothers can legally have children. Adoptions are fairly common in most societies. As children, in all known societies, are highly valued, this is of great importance. Legal adoptions in the U.S. perform essentially the same function. Seen in this broader context, it is not at all surprising to know that Lesbians, who desire children, bring in a man (or sperm) to father a child of whom they are the parents (presumably without one being the father?). Or Gays who want to have children can adopt or find a woman willing to bear a child for them. I doubt that a woman could legally arrange a ghost marriage in the U.S. Our laws are not that advanced. It does seem to me that trying to legislate against Gay and Lesbian marriages is ultimately going to fail. The response to Proposition 8 indicates to me that most Americans are perfectly willing to allow same sex couples to enjoy the same privileges (and problems) of marriage that everyone else enjoys. And contrary to the worst fears of some extremists, I don’t believe people are inevitably going to be marrying their horses, dogs, sheep, or goats (and certainly not their chickens!). Let us now worry about more important things, like where our next meal may be coming from.


The most happy marriage I can imagine to myself would be the union of a deaf man to a blind woman.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In the earliest legends Robin Hood was a commoner. In later versions he presumably has noble blood.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Proposition 8 and Gaza

NY couple splint butterfly’s
broken wing, find it a ride to
Florida, where it now thrives.

All’s well on the eye front. One fixed, one to go next month. As I was being prepped for the surgery a very little, very elderly lady, who had obviously just finished with her surgery, said “it’s really easy.” She was right. I love her for it.

I started to read Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer, a book about Mormons, especially the surprisingly large number of Mormons who still practice polygamy, including some right here in Windy City (who have recently moved across the border from Canada). I was stopped when I came across the following sentence: “Uncle Rulon likes to remind his followers of Brigham’s warning that for those who commit unspeakable sins as homosexuality, or having sexual intercourse with a member of the African race, ‘the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.’”

Uncle Rulon was the 92 year-old absolute ruler of a large contingent of Polygamist Mormons living on the Colorado/Utah border. As the Polygamist Mormons have been an embarrassment to what is now the more mainstream Mormon Church, and are not recognized by the mainstream church, we cannot take Uncle Rulon’s position as that of the contemporary Mormon Church. However, one wonders why the Mormon Church was willing to invest 25 million dollars in California to pass the notorious Proposition 8? Just what is the Mormon Church’s position on homosexuality these days? And of course it has only been in recent years they agreed that Africans (and African-Americans) had souls. I should think this action in California will ultimately become as big an embarrassment to them as the polygamists (maybe on the contrary, it might actually increase their ranks, as there seem to be so many kindred souls about). Anyway, I believe it was a mistake. As far as gay marriage goes, although I have little respect for James Carville, I think he hit the right note when asked what he thought about gay marriage and replied, “I was against it, until I found out I didn’t have to have one.” Whatever happened to “live and let live?”

If you might think that ruining the lives and happiness of 18,000 married couples in California is undesirable, mean, and hateful, consider what the Israelis are doing to the million and a half Palestinians they have trapped in the Gaza strip. Now, not only have they cut off their electicity and power, they have even blockaded and stopped them from even receiving humanitarian aid from the UN. From the UN! I gather that no one is much interested in this as I can find very little in the way of objections to it, and no action of any kind to help the Palestinians. Perhaps this is because the Israelis have also established a news blackout so no reporters have been allowed into Gaza to report on this genocidal moment. And this is happening at the very moment when Olmert is finally telling the truth about the necessity for Israel to give up territory, including part of Jerusalem, for peace. As he is on the way out, he can now speak honestly for a change. It seems no one is listening. When it comes to Israel, morality and law do not seem to apply.

Motor-mouth Sarah Palin was caught on videotape pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey, and at the very moment she was speaking a mile a minute, they were killing turkeys right behind her. Once her mouth gets going it seems she is oblivious to all else. When women do stupid things and get criticized for it, it is not sexism. And women do stupid things at times, just as men do. Why should they be exempt?

I confess I am one of those Progressive Obama supporters who is not too pleased over some of his cabinet and other selections. I’m not really bothered that so many of them might have formerly worked in the Clinton administration (where else would he find so much experience and talent), but I am bothered by the hawks (or at least former hawks). I want out of Iraq. I want diplomacy with Iran and Russia, I want a massive reduction in the national defense budget, and an end to “empire.” Most of all, I want Bush/Cheney, et al, held responsible for their crimes against our nation and humanity.

Do not be frightened
of the blackness of the night,
it hides the full moon.


In our supermarket today a single mango was $3.29. A single sweet potato was $1.29. A single artichoke was $2.00. A single t-bone steak was $12.95.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Nation of Laws - Pshaw

There will be no Morialekafa on Wednesday, November 19th. I am having eye surgery.

Man loses penis and testicle
from medical misdiagnosis
in prison, settles for $300,000.

For the past eight years, and continuing on at the moment, we are less and less a nation of laws, in spite of claims to the contrary. Not only is that the case, we have been jettisoning both ethics and morality along the way. If this trend continues I fear we are not going to like the consequences.

Consider the case of Joe Lieberman Here is a Senator who claims to be a Democrat (although temporarily an Independent), and caucuses with the Democrats, but who campaigned for John McCain, the Republican candidate for President. Not only did he campaign for him, he also mounted a very negative attack on the Democratic candidate, saying things that were patently false and harmful. This was, I suppose, not immoral or illegal, but if not entirely unethical I do not know what would be. Now, with less than an abject apology, he is being allowed to maintain his powerful Chairmanship and continue on in the Senate as if nothing happened. Why is this so? Because of politics. Harry Reid and the Democrats say they they need his vote. Ethics, schmethics, It’s politics that matter.

Consider the campaign of McCain, one of the nastiest, sleaziest, destructive in history. And consider who he picked as his running mate, a woman unbelievably unqualified to be the vice-president, a slash and burn demogogue who incited her followers to near violence. This pick was an insult to the voters of this country, and as she was picked for purely political purposes, it was highly unethical, as was the campaign in general. But McCain has just met with the President-Elect and everything is now hunky-dory. It’s just politics. Obama feels he needs McCain’s support.

More importantly, consider the fact that Obama is apparently not going to try to bring charges against any of those involved in torture. Apparently they feel there are more important things to do. More important than holding accountable people who did the same things we executed Japanese for? More important than why we held the Nuremberg trials? It is true we have other important things to do, but forgiving war crimes is not something that should just be just dismissed as a nuisance. A few very low-level people were convicted and sentenced to prison for Abu Graib. It was said they were just acting on their own initiative. But isn’t it strange that these relatively unsophisticated ordinary military personnel just happened to discover the very techniques that our psychologists had determined would be the best to apply to Iraqi captives – nudity,dogs, sexual humiliation, and etc. And subsequently Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and others have admitted to holding high-level meetings to discuss which techniques should be used on which prisoners. They want us to believe that “enhanced interrogation techniques” are not the same as torture. They may get away with this. So where is the rule of law?

Also consider the case of Senator Stevens of Alaska. His Senate colleagues cannot decide whether he should be expelled or not, even though he is a convicted felon. They are postponing their vote on this, hoping that he will lose his bid for re-election and they won’t have to deal with it. This is a clear-cut case of law-breaking, as well as an ethical question. The Senate apparently doesn’t care enough about the possibility of having a convicted felon among them to just come out and say no, under no circumstances, which might very well have affected the election had they done so earlier.

Of course the legal, ethical, and moral violations of Bush/Cheney and their cronies over the past eight years are so numerous and monumental to require thousands of pages, but they have not been held accountable. And whether they will ever be or not is doubtful. There is no question about their guilt. Invading a sovereign nation that was no threat to us, torture, hiding prisoners from the Red Cross, war profiteering, outing a CIA agent, illegal wiretapping, and on and on. The Democrats, following Nancy Pelosi, refused even to consider impeachment. Why? Because they felt it was politically inexpedient. So, again, politics, takes precedence over justice. These are no minor infractions that are involved, hundreds of thousands of innocent people killed or displaced, no one knows how many illegally held captive and tortured, billions of taxpayer dollars distributed to contractors for non-bid contracts and cost-plus ventures, and so on and on.

While I applaud Obama’s desire to “reach across the aisle,” I do not want him reaching across the aisle to collaborate with war criminals and obvious lawbreakers. I believe it will be a terrible mistake, and send the wrong message to the world, if he does not try to seek accountability for all these crimes and wrongdoings. This is far too important to just “let bygones be bygones.” From what I have seen and heard so far I fear this may be what is going to happen. Ethics, morality, and law just don’t seem to be important when it come to politics. Unfortunately, no society will endure for long if they throw these methods of social control out the window for the sake of politics as usual. Obama and his new Attorney General are going to have to confront this no matter where it leads.

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
Friedrich Nietzsche

William Clarence Eckstine (Billy Eckstine) died on March 8, 1993. He was almost 79 years old.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I just watched the 60 minute interview with Barack and Michelle Obama. I cannot imagine a finer, more intelligent, more down-to-earth and pleasant couple. I am so proud of my country for overcoming our years of savage and unremitting racism and voting for a black (and white) President. They are going to make a marvelous first couple and we should all be proud of them. Barack Obama has the potential to become one of our greatest Presidents and certainly has greater problems to face that most Presidents in the past (apart from FDR). We should not allow the surviving Brafia to try to bring him down as they did with Bill Clinton. If we all pull together we may in fact overcome the disastrous nightmare years of Bush/Cheney.

One of the peculiarities of American speech that has always amazed me, by its total lack of precision, but commonplace usage, is the phrase “everybody knows,” or “everybody does,” or “everybody feels,” or everybody.something or other. We hear this all the time, and not just in Everybody Loves Raymond. Everybody knows that America is a “center-right” country. First of all it is obvious that not everybody even knows what center-right refers to, and secondly, if they knew it, it would certainly be the case that not everybody would think so. How about “everybody loves apple pie?” I, for one, do not love apple pie, although I will eat it if served to me. Sometimes these claims are so outrageous that no one takes them seriously, recognizing it is just a figure of speech, and some of these claims are somewhere closer to the truth than others. “Everybody votes,” would not be taken seriously, but how about “everybody loves a winner” (even this is questionable because everybody loves a good loser?). Everybody loves Obama would not be taken literally, of course. What about “everybody values their freedom?” It seems to me if this were literally true no one would get married or agree to go into debt. “Everybody loves democracy,” is questionable because millions of people have never experienced democracy and don’t understand what it is. While we might want to believe that “everybody loves America,” it is pretty obvious this is not the case. Thus every time you hear someone say everyone…, you know it is not true. But people say these things all the time, and all the time we think to ourselves, “that is not true,” but only occasionally do we bother to challenge the speaker. It seem to be the case that if it is something that you, yourself love, you are much more apt to believe it (even then you know that realistically it is not true). So we go on year after year making these grandiose pronouncements that we know are false, and our listeners let them go unchallenged even though they don’t believe them. It’s like a conspiracy to avoid thought or reality at all costs, where opinions replace facts and conversation can proceed uninterruptedly. Once when I was riding in a car with a woman friend, she suddenly announced, “everybody loves prunes.” I looked at her with disbelief but said nothing. After a pause she said, “well, some people like prunes.” I remained politely silent. Then, after a long pause, she continued with a sigh, “well, I like prunes.” An honest woman, were there more like her.

There is a flip side to this strange speech phenomena as well. Just this afternoon someone said to me “nobody like the Vikings” (the football team). I said, foolishly, of course, some people like the Vikings, they are their home team. We were both aware we were just making conversation, drivel, that is. But you find the same transparent falsehoods when saying “nodody likes…” as you do when saying everybody likes…”Nobody likes a dictator.” How about those who support dictators? “Nobody likes okra” (I am srongly inclined to believe this). “Nobody likes B.O.” (there are millions of people who don’t even think about B.O.). “Nobody likes a crook” (except his mother or those who profit by him). “Nobody likes Bush” (except for the roughly 28% who apparently do. And I guess Laura must like him, too). “Nobody likes a bully” (I think this may be pretty close to as universal as we can get). “Nobody likes Thomas Woolf (any more, except those who do still like him and form groups to discuss him, etc.). “Nobody likes a loser,” except those who do. “Nobody likes Dick Cheney” (a truism?). How about “nobody likes people who waste their time with nonsense” (I apologize, it’s Sunday).

Where, by the way, is Warshington? John McCain and others speak of this place all the time.

Because we don't think about future generations, they will never forget us.
Henrik Tikkanen

TILT: Swiss cheese is called that in the U.S. because it resembles Swiss Emmental.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Old Way - Book

I have been reading The Old Way A Story of the First People, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. This is a delightful book, a sort of combination memoir and ethnographic account of the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert. It is not entirely clear exactly why Laurence Marshall decided in 1950 to take his wife and two teen age children on an expedition into the Kalahari in search of the Bushmen. No white person had ever gone there and, indeed, very few, if any, black people, other than the Bushment themselves were known to have visited there. The trip appears to have been motivated by nothing more than the spirit of adventure. It was by no means certain they would even locate any of the elusive Bushmen who inhabited this sparse and difficult environment. But with trucks loaded with gasoline, water, spare parts, medical supplies and food the Marshalls set out on their great adventure.

After much difficulty and searching they did find small bands of these natives and were able to establish rapport and live among them for some time. This resulted in a number of books and motion pictures of this primitive way of life, including Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s well know The Harmless People, along with her mother’s more detailed ethnographies.

In the 1950’s it was pretty much agreed that the Bushmen lived in the sparse reaches of the Kalahari because they had been driven there by stronger Bantu and other tribes. As it turns out this was not so, the Bushmen had lived in their desert environment for thousands of years. With little more than digging sticks, stone knives, ostrich shell canteens, the skins of animals, and tiny bows and arrows tipped with deadly poisons, the Bushmen made their living from the desert during droughts as well as well as more comfortable times. In this book Elizabeth Thomas goes into much detail as to just how these wonderful people managed to eke out a living much more comfortable than we would have imagined. Although there were occasional instances of infanticide, for obvious and necessary reasons, old people and the handicapped were well taken care of and lived long and productive lives. Living under such harsh conditions, and in such small groups, the Bushmen developed strong cooperative ties between families and methods for avoiding disputes or settling them if they arose. The Bushmen were skilled hunters and trackers as well as super botanists who knew well the variety of plants and animals they depended upon. This is an absolutely fascinating account of how the first people must have lived and you cannot help but marvel at the human genius at work.
Watching my wife at the kitchen table with her scissors and coupons, hunting and gathering in her own way, I was struck by the observation that it was the same human story, even though it was not at all the same. Reading this book made me feel humble indeed. What happened to the Bushmen in recent years made me feel ashamed.

What makes me even more ashamed, however, is the outbreak of racist activity resulting from the election of Barack Obama. According to the AP (on Buzzflash) various kinds of hate crimes and grafitti and what have you are occurring all over the country, some of them very serious. And Obama has been the subject of more assassination threats than any previous President. I suppose this is to be expected, but that doesn’t make it in any way acceptable. We have a wonderful black (and white) President, but racism and ignorance still pervades many sectors of our society. What is just as bad, if not worse, are the other hatreds that seem to infest some of us. What do you make of the priest in South Carolina who says his parishioners cannot take communion if they voted for Obama because they were “collaborating with evil” (or something like that). These are no doubt the same people who think nothing of killing Middle Easterners by the hundreds of thousands. Or how about those marvelous Mormons who just spent 25 million to ruin the lives of some 18,000 happily married couples in California? As I have said before, there is a fatal flaw in the human species. If there really were a God of some kind, and if he/she/it was truly omnipotent, we should get a mutation of some kind, making us much better people. Don’t bet on it.

Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem more afraid of life than death.
James F. Byrnes

On July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway killed himself with a shotgun at his home in Ketchum, Idaho. He was not quite 62 years of age.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Never ending topic

Bank robber, frustrated by empty
cash drawers, threatens to
complain to bank manager.

Ah, Idaho! Shortly after Barack Obama was elected President a woman approached one of the teachers at her child’s school and asked him, “When are you going to start your gay agenda? Let me know when you do so I can take my daughter out of school.” I think the teacher may have been too stunned to ask her what the hell she was talking about.

In Rexburg, Idaho, widely believed to be the reddest part of one of the reddest states, the second grade children were overheard chanting in their school bus: “assassinate Obama, assassinate Obama.” They did not understand what this meant but they must have learned it from someone. I wonder who.

There are said to be many Obama jokes circulating here. I have only heard one. People here don’t tell them to me. I wonder why.

Here are some more brief observations on the seemingly never-ending assault rifle question: My anonymous friend who works hard on this issue has indicated there are legal arguments about this topic that could go on endlessly. I believe him. But he also makes an assumption that I believe to be unfounded. Namely, that the right to keep and bear arms implies the right to keep and bear assault weapons (as well as other weapons). I do not believe it follows from the right to keep and bear arms that one necessarily has the right to specifically have assault weapons. There is nothing in the basic idea of the right to keep and bear arms that indicates assault rifles in particular have to be involved. There may be extenuating circumstances. I think this is the situation with the possession of assault rifles (or other fully automatic weapons). It seems to me there are two basic and related questions involved: (1) is it in the best interest of the community, public, or nation for ordinary citizens to be allowed to possess certain weapons (as assault rifles or other machine guns. And (2) are there any compelling reasons why citizens should be allowed to possess such weapons. When stated in this way I tend to lean in the direction of banning such weapons (although I do nothing to bring this about). As I have indicated before, I tend to believe they should probably be banned because there is no compelling reason for individual citizens to have them. As near as I can tell, the main reason for wanting such weapons is the fear that your government is going to take them away, or we are about to be attacked by someone-or-other. I believe these fears are irrational and hence I do not believe the possession of such weapons is necessary, and they are a greater potential danger to our citizens and our nation than they are worth.. You may, of course disagree with this. But there is a strange irony involved in this whole business that I find mystifying.

I think it is a pretty good bet that these same “gun nuts” (I did not invent this term, by the way, it exists in the literature on this subject) or, if you prefer these GGOWFS (gentle gentlemen obsessed with firearms – I made this up) are the main category of individuals that elected and maintained Bush/Cheney in office over these past eight years. And it is Bush/Cheney that have run roughshod over our individual rights and liberties, including those found in the Constitution. Obama was elected by a landslide specifically to turn back the tide of dictatorial fascism that Bush/Cheney have tried desperately to install (happily as it turns out they were too incompetent to succeed). But it is Obama, in principle, at least, who wants to protect our individual liberties that these people paradoxically fear. Apparently they have this fear because he said he might be in favor of banning assault rifles (this, to me, is not one of the most important rights of man, certainly not in the same category as habeas corpus, for example). I do not believe there is any fundamental right to bear assault weapons, even though there is a fundamental right to self protection. There are other ways of protecting yourself that do not pose a similar danger to the body politic or the public. Anonymous also suggest that assault rifles are a “tool” to prevent the “decay” of the social system or culture. But the only decay involved that is relevant here is that brought about by Bush/Cheney and which, at least hopefully, will be stopped by our new President (and without the use of assault rifles). Anyway, I think this issue is too deeply philosophical and abstract for my meager Professorial brain. I have a solution:

Let us all meet at a pre-arranged time, heavily armed, at the not-so-O.K.-corral and shoot it out. This is the American way. Of course in all fairness you will have to wait for me to get my cataracts removed. I don’t see or shoot as well as I once did. I can borrow an assault rifle from one of my neighbors. As near as I can tell from all the noise they all must have one (except strangely for one neighbor who was actually removed from a jury because he did not own a gun).. When the shooting becomes unbearable I sometimes stand on the porch and yell as loud as I can, “when did the war begin?” They don’t pay attention, being too immersed in blowing up all those tree stumps and tin cans.

I do not believe Hillary Clinton is going to become Secretary of State. I suspect Richardson might (my predictions are usually wrong but I go on making them anyway).


The hatred you're carrying is a live coal in your heart - far more damaging to yourself than to them.
Lawana Blackwell
Peach Melba was created in 1893 by the great French chef, Auguste Escoffier, in honor of the Australian soprano, Dame Nellie Melba.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Going nowhere

Mr. Anonymous:

I am pretty certain this is a discussion that will eventually lead nowhere, but to continue it for the moment, and for the sake of the argument:

I have no illusions this will persuade any of the true believers… Yes, this is a truism, as such it needs no facts or logic.

…It is written in a deceptive way as if you are trying to lull the reader into thinking there is no agenda to ban certain clasess of guns. I do not believe that taking guns away from people who already own them is identical with banning certain classes of guns. I have never seen it said anywhere that there is any intention of taking away any presently owned guns (am I wrong about this?). I admitted that Obama might want to ban the sales of certain kinds of weapons. I see nothing deceptive in this.

If you would protest vehemently…why would you be surprised if others…
As above, I do not think they are threatened. If they were I would not be surprised.

…the discussion of hunting is totally irrelevant…While I agree that the right to keep and bear arms did not have to do with hunting, I believe the issue of hunting is entirely relevant. While I cannot prove it with “facts,” I believe it is logical to believe that in the eyes of many people in the United States the possession of hunting rifles and shotguns is considered “legitimate.” Handguns are probably considered more or less legitimate for home defense, although many people would disagree. That is, most people perceive that such weapons are useful for obvious purposes. Those who wish to ban assault weapons do not perceive them in quite the same way. How do you conclude that the right to bear arms is not about perceived needs? Why would anyone want them if they did not perceive a need for them? I also have some trouble with your distinction between needs and rights. I cannot see how switching to perceived needs is much of a diversion.

I have never read Kopel. I do not dispute that people have a fundamental right to self defense. And I suppose that one might argue that owning an assault rifle is for self defense. However, the right of self defense does not, it seems to me, necessarily specify the right to employ firearms for that purpose. One could also use hand grenades or howitzers for self defense but, that would probably not be entirely desirable from the point of view of the public at large. It’s an interesting point but I don’t think the right of self defense specifically has to do with firearms.

…I think you have lived a very sheltered life as a professor…You know absolutely nothing about my life other than that I was a Professor of Anthropology at UCLA. And you accuse me of stereotyping! Furthermore, while we do want to prepare for the unexpected as well as the expected, I, at least, am not preparing to be attacked from outer space, nor am I expecting to be attacked by my own government, or Russia, or China, or Cuba, or Eskimos.

…The government will want to ban any weapons, and in another breath you said …Obama would be in favor of banning…I did not say there was no threat the government would ban weapons, I said there was no threat they would take away weapons. There is no contradiction involved. I guess you would argue that banning something is the same as taking it away, but I don’t think so.

…it is proper to own assault weapons…to defend your right to own guns if your government wanted to take them away…I don’t think I said that. I implied that people had a right to protect their guns if they were threatened, I didn’t say assault weapons. Indeed, the question as to whether people should own assault weapons at all is one of the points at issue. And I do believe it irrational to believe the government might take away your guns (of any kind), just because they want to have some controls here and there. Banning the sale of assault rifles is not the same as taking away your guns. I said I believed it was irrational to believe we are about to be attacked by our government, another government, another race, or people gone mad with hunger or something, and for that reason to insist upon owning assault rifles, 50 caliber machine guns or whatever.

As far as stereotyping groups of people, and using incendiary language, I confess to being guilty. But there is a group (or bunch, or number or collection, or category) of people in the United States that seem to believe they should have absolute rights to own any kinds of weapons they want, irrespective of the public good, and, indeed think everyone should be armed, people should be allowed to carry guns into schools, national parks, and even churches. There have been towns that have even passed laws saying that all citizens should carry arms. I confess, I think these people are “nuts.” You may disagree. It is, after all, a free country. But you still cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theatre.

We merely want to live in peace with all the world, to trade with them, to commune with them, to learn from their culture as they may learn from ours, so that the products of our toil may be used for our schools and our roads and our churches and not for guns and planes and tanks and ships of war.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

The first commercially successful automatic pistol was marketed in 1884.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Comments on guns

Man hits girlfriend in face
with cooking pot when
she serves macaroni for dinner.

LKBIQ: Little known but interesting quotes.
TILT: Things I learned today.

Wow! I didn’t realize how the mention of guns could set off such a hornet’s nest of responses, most of them rather insulting. So let me go on record to make clear what it is I think about this issue (my opinions, that is). I have no illusions this will persuade any of the true believers.

First, I have owned guns since I was twelve years old. While I no longer hunt, I have hunted fairly extensively in the past. I currently own guns. They are all legal and are either for hunting or for defense of my home. I have never felt that anyone was going to try to take my guns away. I do not believe at the moment anyone is going to try to take them away. If anyone were to try to take them away I would certainly protest vehemently.

Some claim that Barack Obama is anti-gun, even though he has said plainly he is not going to take away anyone’s rifles, shotguns, or handguns. I guess he has said he would be in favor of banning assault weapons, and some controls over guns in some circumstances (as in the inner cities where they are used in gang wars).

As an experienced hunter I know that no one needs an assault rifle or a 50 caliber machine gun for that purpose. Thus the only rationale I can see for wishing to own such weapons, if you are not preparing to attack someone, is for defense. But defense from what? (1) defense of your home and person, (2) to defend your right to own guns if your government wants to take them away, (3) defense from being attacked by another country. or (4) defense in case of a “race war,” or a national collapse so serious as to result in uncontrollable riots over food and such.

If you start from the premise that one or more of these things is about to happen I can see why you would be concerned. But as you clearly do not need assault weapons to defend your home, and as I do not believe there is any justifiable, credible, or realistic fear that any of these conditions are at all likely, I am led to believe that ordinary people do not need to own such high-powered deadly weapons. The problem, as I see it, is that there are people who do believe such things are imminent. I live in a very conservative community where everyone owns guns and many believe there could be a national calamity or a serious effort on the part of the government to take away their guns. Indeed, I have at least two close friends who believe this. I know from personal experience there is no point in trying to reason with such people. However, I believe their fears are completely irrational and represent some form of paranoia or, perhaps merely hysteria. This is what I believe is causing the extraordinary increase in gun sales, including assault rifles. As in my view these fears are completely irrational, I think they might well be considered a form of insanity. Even if assault weapons were would not mean anyone was in fact taking away your guns. While I do not actively engage in trying to ban such guns I do think they are unnecessary and, in reality, mostly toys for those who are involved in the culture of guns.

And yes, I know there are people armed only with small arms that have and are holding off armies far more heavily armed. I believe most everyone is aware of this, including Barack Obama and others in government. As I know about how many firearms are privately owned in the U.S., and as I also know what Americans attitudes towards their guns are, I know that no one would be foolish enough to try to take them away, thus I do not worry needlessly about it. And yes, I know that in principle every individual whether rural or urban should have the same rights to own a gun, I also believe there are some situations where there should be tighter controls, as in the inner cities, for example, where we know the main purpose for owning handguns is to kill each other in devastating, useless, and out of control gang wars.

To the anonymous individual who seems to think I need a lecture on anthropology let me say I don’t appreciate it. Yes, of course I am familiar with cultural relativity, familiar enough to know that while values and beliefs may be relative to culture, they can also be terribly dysfunctional and not even in the best interest of those who hold them, let alone to others. If you must have facts, footnotes, references and whatever for every statement or opinion you read you should not be reading blogs. Try the Scientific American.

Finally, to the irreverant young moron who addressed me as “irrelevant old Professor,” you had better take some courses in logic. To imply that I might condone atrocities by Muslims or others because I object to our country torturing children is not only completely illogical, but absurd, and even borders on slanderous.

We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.
-Carl Bernstein

I find it rather amazing that Professors are apparently held in such low esteem. I guess my opinions would have more credibility had I stuck with ditch-digging and cement-carrying.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pipe dream?

Man calls police to report a
burglary, leaves pot pipe in
plain sight, may get 26 months.

Joke overheard today:

“What’s the first thing Obama is going to do as President?”
“I don’t know, what?”
“Pardon O.J. Simpson.”

Hahahahaha. Very funny. Very racist. Very mildly indicative of what I fear is going to become a great problem.

While I agree with Obama that we should strive for bipartisanship if we wish to accomplish the important things that desperately need doing, I fear it may turn out to be nothing but a pipe dream. You know, the kind of dream that smokers of opium had while indulging in their habit. A dream that is so unrealistic and far-fetched there is no possibility that it could ever actually happen. I do not like being so cynical but I see no reason to believe the Brafia/Republicans are either ready or willing to engage in serious bipartisanship. They pretty obviously are not good losers. The right wing hatemerchants are already on the attack, even blaming Obama for the recession (utter absurdity never keeps them from their appointed rounds). There are I believe some 30 different groups on MySpace calling for Obama to be impeached (he is not even President yet). There is also, if you can believe it, a Republican sponsored ad that takes Obama to task for having done nothing in his first four days (I repeat, utter absurdity means nothing to these people). Lieberman gave a speech in which he implied that Obama was perhaps not the best choice for President at the moment. I firmly believe (but I truly hope I am wrong) Obama’s opponents will do the same thing to him as they did to Clinton. They will bring up every petty complaint they can and make things up just to keep Obama from being able to accomplish anything. If they can’t find a Whitewater or a Monica they will just make something up, it doesn’t matter how ridiculous it might be, it will keep Obama busy defending himself. Then, having destroyed his Presidency, they will claim to be our only salvation and will go all out for 2012. This is all they know to do as they only lust for power and the wealth that comes with it. They have no sense of patriotism, no interest in the welfare of the country, no interest in helping anyone but themselves. It used to be that the losers of the election would agree to stand behind the newly elected President and try to do things for the nation and the public good. But this new brand of Republican politics has left that behind in favor of a search and destroy and scorched earth policy. I wish it were not so, but I fear it is so. Obama might be able to find two or three Republicans willing to serve in his administration and even to try to do the right thing, but the neocons and the “base” will never give up their attempt to regain power by any means they can. I fear it is going to be a long and difficult first term, especially when you consider the terrible conditions Obama will inherit from Bush/Cheney to begin with.

Some are criticizing Obama because he is picking former members of the Clinton administration for positions in his administration. So where would they have him look for experienced people? Members of the Bush/Cheney administration are famous only for their almost universal incompetence, he could hardly be expected to look there. And looking back farther than the Clinton years would not seem to be very practical. He could, of course, bring in completely new people with no experience in government, but that would not make much sense and the opposition would go all out to take advantage of them. Frankly, as long as he picks competent people who are qualified for their jobs I will be happy. And no loyalty tests like, “why do you want to serve President Obama?” (instead of the Constitution). Won’t it be a wonderful change! I’m counting the days and praying to the Great Mystery.

Television is the first truly democratic culture - the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want.
Clive Barnes

Gun nuts are even more paranoid than I thought. They do not like “perfessers,” seem to have no acquaintance with logic or reason, or apparently even sanity.

Monday, November 10, 2008

National Service?

He hits her, chokes her, threatens
her with a knife. She flees.
He sets her bed on fire.

Never mind domestic terrorists, Obama is now seen pallin’ around with war criminals. He was seen (in public no less) spending time with George W. Bush, a known war criminal. This does not, I fear, bode well for the future. Of course I know that under the circumstances he has no choice but to cooperate with Bush on the transition, and I also know that Bush is very personable in person to person interactions, and is apparently serious about helping Obama make this all important transition. I just think it is weird and I worry that Bush/Cheney will not be held accountable for their many crimes. The fact that Obama has asked Reid to allow Lieberman to continue caucusing with the Democrats I think is also not a very good omen. But of course we will just have to wait and see how this all plays out.

The subject of National Service has now been brought to my attention. Most everyone I know seems to be against this idea. I am not so sure. I think what they seem to be most against is the thought that National Service will be mandatory, like the draft. Another objection I perceive on the part of some is that the idea is linked pretty specifically to military service. Many just think that forcing people to do anything is just plain wrong, violates their civil rights and individual liberties and so on. I think this is a much more complicated issue that most people realize.

Could we have a successful system of National Service that is not mandatory? Would it have to have a military bias? What other kinds of service might be both possible and desirable? How would it be funded? How long would it last? What obligations would be entailed on the part of those who participate? How might it be funded? Who would be responsible for it? What, precisely, would it consist of?

We do have some programs already that involve National Service. The Peace Corps come readily to mind. I know there are others as well. I understand that some of these are reasonably successful. But they represent only a tiny fraction of the relevant population, that population being primarily younger people, probably in the range of 18 to 20 years of age. I have not thought deeply on this subject as yet, but certain things do come to mind.

It is not uncommon in many cultures for young people, when they reach a certain age, to have to undergo initiation ceremonies. These are often quite violent and involve physical ordeals that are often brutal. The brutality aside for the moment, these ceremonies also function to instruct the young people in the duties that will be expected of them now that they are becoming of age. They are urged to marry and settle down to gardening or hunting or whatever they do to survive, to have and raise children, to protect the community from dangers, and so on. The brutality is used to reinforce the importance of these lessons. These rites are said to be mandatory but there are sometimes exceptions made for youngsters that are believed to be not quite up to the ordeals. Fathers and/or mothers brothers are often responsible for seeing the initiates through the various ceremonies. As these young people up until that moment have often just run wild, with no duties or responsibilities, it is important to impress upon them the new responsibilities they will have, etc.

Obviously when people here speak of National Service they do not have these kinds of rites in mind. But it might no be a bad idea to impress upon our youths many of the same things – cultural values they should observe, the duties of citizenship, the importance of voting, and so on. This much could perhaps be mandatory.

The service beyond this I believe should probably not be mandatory. The young people should not be forced to perform activities that might be anathema to them. Certainly we should not have a military draft. But some, if so inclined, could volunteer for military service. Others could volunteer for all sorts of other activities that would help train them for careers they might be interested in. Some could even volunteer to work on public projects such as road building or other kinds of construction. Some might wish to pursue interests in nursing or medicine or art and literature. They should be encouraged to improve their lives in ways that are important to them.

Obviously this is a topic that could easily run to book length. But the most basic problems are twofold. First, we would have to know what values and goals should be pursued from the standpoint of having a healthy and functioning culture. Second, how would you motivate the young to pursue such goals. That is, if you want to have a smoothly functioning and worthwhile culture you have to have citizens that are motivated to WANT do what it is they NEED to do. This would require rather massive changes in our current cultural values and goals. Materialism would have to change to idealism. Me first would have to change to country first. Football coaches would have to cease being the most highly paid members of universities. Education and learning would have to be pursued for its own sake. Science would have to take precedence over fairy tales. There would have to be a cultural revolution of sorts. Is this even possible now? If not I fear for what lies ahead of us.

On a group of theories one can found a school; but on a group of values one can found a culture, a civilization, a new way of living together among men.
Ignazio Silone

The White House has 135 rooms.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

One thing and another

Victor, so great to hear from you!

I don’t know where to begin on the current state of insanity in the U.S. Let’s see, maybe guns is a good place to start. Gun sales are reported to have risen noticeably since Obama was elected. Some of this was probably just the usual paranoid insanity of the NRA gun nuts. Some are convinced that Obama means to take their guns away. If that were true, what would be the point of buying more? But of course these new guns, along with all the others they possess, could be hidden for use when the government tries to take over their guns. When you suggest to these nuts that their rifles, pistols, and even AK 47’s wouldn’t be much use against the weapons the government could employ they either look blank or argue they should be allowed 50 caliber machine guns and even howitzers and tanks. As one of them put it the other day, “if you can tow it behind your pickup it ought to be legal.” Who can argue against such logic (insanity). As near as I can determine Obama has a perfectly sensible approach to the problem of guns, recognizing the difference between the needs of rural dwellers and inner city gangs and etc. He has never suggested taking away everyone’s guns. But nothing is sensible when it comes to the NRA.

I read today that the Supreme Court is going to take up the legality of detentions. I assume this includes the detentions at Guantanamo. Somehow it seems to me it’s a bit late to be taking this up? I mean, some of these people have been detained for almost eight years with no charges brought against them, no rights of any kind, and so on. In any case, if past experience is any guide, there is no reason to believe that Bush/Cheney would release them, no matter what the Supreme Court decides. I fervently hope that Obama, as one of his first acts as President, will close this evil place and provide some decent and legal solutions.

Related to this is an article today in Smirking Chimp by Sherwood Ross, “U.S. and Allies Tortured Kids in Iraq Prisons.” This is a report so shocking and terrible I could barely force myself to finish it. If there is any truth to it at all, even the smallest nugget of truth, those responsible should be immediately arrested and tried for crimes against humanity. I have no reason to believe this is not true, but I keep telling myself it just can’t be true, it’s too horrible to be true. But as our beloved Rumsfeld put it, “stuff happens,” and as Cheney said, “we may have to go to the dark side.” Monsters all, and they should be treated as such.

Now the U.S. has admitted that yes, we did kill 32 civilians in another airstrike in Afghanistan. It was still another wedding party. I guess these Middle East wedding parties are easy targets as we seem to be really good at taking them out. But what the hell, with remote controlled drones it’s just like playing Nintendo. Besides, it we let them marry they’ll just breed and produce more people who will hate and despise us forever. Remember that good advice from our American Indian exterminations, “nits make lice.” Is it any wonder that the Afghans and Iraqis want us the hell out of their countries, and that we have lost any moral authority we might have ever claimed to have? When the President of Afghanistan has to beg our President-elect to please stop killing civilians you know we have reached the bottom of the pit of immorality (or is it maybe the top of the pit?).

Finally, there is the claim that Medvedev is “challenging” Obama by threatening to place short range missiles near the Polish border. This raises a question in my mind as to just who is “challenging” whom. We are the ones that are threatening to place our missile defenses in Poland. This might be reasonable if we had a missile defense system that actually worked, and if there was any reason to believe the Iranians were going to attack us with missiles (in Poland?), even if they had such missiles. The Russians interpret this as a threat to them, rightly so as near as I can figure out. This is an even more realistic fear on the part of the Russians as we have expanded NATO around their borders in spite of having promised not to do so, and are continuing to try to expand. This is similar to the situation in Georgia. It has now been established as fact that Georgia started the hostilities, almost certainly with the approval of the U.S. This was a clear challenge to Russia who more than met the challenge, but it is not an example of Russian expansionism as is being claimed. Obama is reported to have had a telephone conversation with Medvedev. Let us hope some more sensible policy will eventually prevail.

Life is a journey
forever towards the west
and the setting sun



There is no complete agreement as to whether or not Mikhall Aleksandrovich Sholokhov’s masterpiece, And Quiet Flows the Don, was plagiarized, and if it was, from whom..

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Baraboo Bookers defeat library rivals
Mad City Truckers with dancc to
Born to be Wild.using four carts and a dolly.

Libraries apparently have these contests every year in which they choreograph dances using library carts. The Baraboo Bookers will go on to compete at the next level. I never cease being astonished by human behavior.

I supported Barack Obama and voted for him with various expectations, of course not knowing what he would actually do once he attained the office of the President. I have no doubt that my expectations will not be completely met. Perhaps some of them are unreasonable, perhaps some are impossible, and some of my expectations may not even be similar to Obama’s. However things turn out I do not believe I made a mistake in opposing McCain who I thought was a truly terrible candidate and possibility. So:

I had hoped that Obama would be more supportive of the Palestinians and not just favor the Israelis at every turn as Bush/Cheney have done. Expecting peace between them may not be a realistic expectation, but expecting fair play ought to be. The selection of Rahm Emanuel has given me pause. He is a staunch supporter of Israel, even a dual citizen of that country and the U.S., and fought in the past on the Israeli side. Thus I worry that he will influence Obama to continue the unjust and unfair treatment of the Palestinians. On the other hand, he might not. Like many loyal Israelis he may also believe in a fair settlement of their differences. I hope so.

Altough Obama has said all along that he would send more troops to Afghanistan I have hoped that once he became President he would come to his senses and realize that Afghanistan will be another Vietnam. We are not going to “win” anything in Afghanistan no matter how many troops are sent there. We should withdraw the troops and engage in trying to help the Afghans rebuild and improve their country. Will Obama see this my way? I wonder.

Obama said on at least one occasion that he would have his Attorney General review the past few years to determine if their were crimes for which some should be held accountable. In view of all the other monumental problems he will be facing will he in fact pursue this or will he just ignore it? I feel very strongly that those who committed the most serious crimes against our nation and the international community should be held accountable. Am I doomed to be disappointed?

Will he abandon the useless and failed “war on drugs?” He seems to realize that the drug problem is really a medical problem rather than a political one. Thus I would hope he would try to give up our incredibly stupid and harmful drug laws and make drugs legal, thus draining our jails of hundreds of thousands of non-violent offenders and saving an enormous amount of money that is now simply wasted.

Will he actually act significantly to rebuild our long too neglected superstructure? I have high hopes that he will in fact do this but of course we have to wait and see and hope he can find the funds to bring this about. The fact that our leaders over many past years neglected this is shameful and, indeed, to me inexplicable. After all, what are leaders for if not to look after such things?

And will he do something about our failing educational system as he says he will? This is to me exceedingly important as the anti-intellectualism in the United States threatens to destroy our country. Consider, for esample, that some 64% of Republicans now favor Sarah Palin to lead their party. This is nothing short of worshipping ignorance. These are not the kinds of people I want to see with any power or influence. The ubiquitous “dumbing down” of our citizens through both our educational system and our mass media will have to stop, along with the preponderance of right-wing hatemongers that seem to be mostly in control of the airways. We need some sort of cultural revolution, but not, of course, on the Chinese model.

I am assuming that Obama, given some time, will manage to improve our dismal financial problems. Similarly, I believe he will make a serious effort to establish a workable and adequate energy policy. And I know he will try to get us a universal health care system. If he accomplishes these things he will have proven to be a great President. If he can accomplish these other things he will become a truly outstanding one. He has the potential. I continue to have high hopes.

“Do not try to live forever. You will not succeed.”
George Bernard Shaw

An ostrich egg, used as a container, will hold five to five and one half cups of water.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Attorney General?

With the financial crisis as serious as it is, it is perfectly understandable why the economy has to be the highest priority for the Obama administration. It is also very important for Obama to quickly (but thoughtfully) select his various cabinet members, especially Secretaries of Defense and State. These positions have a sense of urgency that cannot be denied. There is, however, another appointment he must make that I believe is of equal or even greater importance, but perhaps not quite as urgent, namely Attorney General. I have not heard a single word about this appointment, who it might be, when it might be, or anything else. Remember that Obama said on at least one occasion that when he was President he would have his Attorney General look into possible abuses of office, etc., and, if appropriate, take some action having to do with them. As there is no dearth of abuses over the past eight years, including crimes against our nation, the international community, and even humanity, this would seem to me to be an exceedingly high priority. I think this is even more true if we wish to re-establish our moral authority and relatively high position in the world of nations. I assume no attention has been devoted to this as yet because it is so potentially explosive an issue. It doubtless needs to wait until Obama is more established in his Presidency and does not appear to be motivated simply by revenge. If some action is not taken to bring our war criminals to accountability what message will that be sending to the rest of the international community? We cannot simply take the position of “letting bygones be bygones.”I fear there is a danger this could happen. We must not allow it to happen.

The largest problem confronting Obama, which his opponents never tire of bringing up, is that he will have no money to finance any of the commendable programs he has in mind. With the national debt at 11.4 trillion (I believe this is the right figure) this is, indeed, a formidable proglem. But as I have mentioned previously, there is a real possibility of saving an enormous amount of money by cutting back the national defense budget. Barney Frank has suggested a 25% reduction. As the national defense budget has only a marginal connection to actual national defense this seems to me eminently feasible. In fact, I doubt anyone would know the difference except the parasites that have benefitted for so long from this military/industrial/political farce. Whatever jobs were lost by this reduction could easily be made up with truly productive jobs in superstructure, green energy, education, and elsewhere.

There is another place where a great deal of money could easily and inexpensively be found: namely, by doing away with the completely failed, useless, and destructive so-called “war on drugs.” Like prohibition this has done nothing but create a large criminal class and fill up our prisons with non-violent offenders, incarcerated for what are trivial marijuana offenses. But it is not merely marijuana that should be legalized. All drugs should be legalized, and the drug problem should be recognized and treated as the medical problem it is, not as a political problem. Let the doctors and drug users deal with this as was always done in the distant past, and is currently being done in places like the Netherlands. Many knowledgeable and respected people, both in drug enforcement and others, have argued for years that drugs should be legalized. Even the ex Seattle Chief of Police has written a book on this topic. As the billions of dollars that have been spent on this have been basically wasted funds, and as the solution is so relatively simple, let us by all means rid ourselves of this unnecessary burden.

Barack Hussein Obama is going to be our 44th President. I think it is absolutely wonderful. And yet, I do not feel euphoric. I feel strangely comforted, as if I have just returned home from a long and unpleasant journey. I feel calm, I believe the worst of our problems may be over, or at least have a good chance of being over. The rage I have felt for so long has subsided, my trust in government has been renewed. It’s not really “happy days are here again,” it’s more like being in a snug harbor or snuggled under a comforter on a cold day, or safe in the arms of my father. I realize how silly this may sound but I don’t know any other way to describe the difference I feel when contrasting the coming Obama administration with the terrorist organization that has occupied us for so long. I know this may turn out to be nothing but an illusion, and Obama is not the second coming, and the problems are yet to be solved, but I sill have a sense of satisfaction and peace of mind that has been missing in my life for the past few years., starting with the bitter and unfair attacks on the Clintons and growing in strength throughout the Bush/Cheney nightmare years. In short, I guess it’s just a huge sigh of relief.


Opportunity for all means making taxes fair. I'm not out to soak the rich. But I do believe the rich should pay their fair share. For twelve years, the Republicans have raised taxes on the middle class. It's time to give the middle class tax relief.
Bill Clinton Announcement Speech, October 3, 1991

All the great apes build nests in trees, except for gorillas, who build theirs on the ground.