Monday, November 30, 2009

Rope-a-Dope Continues

Man with “glazed eyes,”
“walking like Frankenstein,”
smashes store’s TVs with hammer.

Osama bin Laden’s “rope-a-dope” strategy continues to work. He must have studied at the feet of Muhammed Ali, the originator of this procedure. You remember that in Ali’s case, he allowed George Foreman to pound away at him on the ropes until Foreman exhausted himself, and then attacked and won the fight. Osama seems to have adapted this to the broader international scene through the use of economics rather than fists. You will recall that Osama made it clear that at least one of his goals was to provoke the U.S. into fighting terrorism long enough to bankrupt itself. He has been enormously successful, far more successful than even he could have dreamed. Imagine his pleasure as he saw us enter Afghanistan and start a “war” to find him. And his glee must have been overwhelming when Bush began the even bigger “war” in Iraq. You might have thought that a smart Chicago politician would have figured this out by now, but President Barack O’Bonehead has decided to keep pummeling away with another 30 or more billion of wasted funds, and 30,000 or so more troops (neither of which he can afford) and will apparently never stop until we are, at last, officially bankrupt. This may be unfair of me, as Obama has not yet given his speech in which he is to explain his strategy and (presumably) claim some sort of exit from Afghanistan. I am not sanguine about his possibilities as he is yet to exit Iraq or Guantanamo, and I strongly suspect that what he wishes to accomplish in Afghanistan is quite likely impossible. That is, if he thinks he is going to reform Karzai and Afghan corruption, create a large and efficient Afghan army (that would require a budget larger than the national income), and leave the country able to manage its own affairs in some form of democratic way without spending the next century, I think he is daydreaming. Actually, I suspect these are not really the goals he has in mind. It is more likely we are still planning to somehow build Cheney’s pipeline to avoid Russia, but this is no longer mentioned in public.

And speaking of Cheney, what I have always feared would happen is happening. Or perhaps I should say what should happen is not happening. Dick Cheney (aka Dick the Slimy) is a known, even admitted, war criminal, along with his former Presidential puppet, George W. Bush. There is no doubt about this. The world knows it, and I cannot believe that President Obama and the Attorney General are not aware of it. They do seem to be unaware that our constitution and laws demand that war criminals be prosecuted (I don’t believe they are unaware of this either). Cheney himself, who has to realize he is vulnerable, has cleverly embarked on a strategy that pits him politically against the Obama administration with respect to Afghanistan (and most everything else). This should not really spare him prosecution, but it does allow him (and his insane supporters) to claim that if he is prosecuted it would be for purely political reasons (there is nothing political about it, it’s about war crimes). This does make it awkward for Obama and Holder, but it should not really prevent justice from being done. Their excuse for ignoring the law about prosecuting war criminals, up until now at least, is that they are too busy trying to save our country from bankruptcy, health care reform, global warming, and, I guess, the cookie monster. This latest escalation of troops for Afghanistan may render all of these reasons moot, as Osama bin Laden may finally realize his dream of having bankrupted us (at the very least this may kill any attempt at health care reform, as it is obviously more important to fund a fake and unnecessary “war” for no purpose than to provide health care for American citizens). Perhaps should this happen, Obama might turn his attention to what should have been a priority in the first place, demonstrating to the world that we do not coddle war criminals, even when they are our own. Don’t hold your breath.

And what of Tiger Woods? No one really knows. I think he was fighting with his wife about a rumored affair, she chased and hit him with a golf club, followed his car with the club as he tried to leave, broke out the back window and then, realizing she had caused the crash, was overcome with remorse and helped him out of the wreck. Do I know this to be true. Of course not, but what does that have anything to do with the “news?” For all I know President Obama called him and said, “Tiger, old buddy, do something dramatic to take over the news for a few days, people aren’t going to like my escalation in Afghanistan.” Or perhaps Tiger was so euphoric over becoming the first athlete to make a billion dollars he thought he could drive with no hands and without looking. Maybe he was trying to reach the beach so he could practice walking on water. He might have had a date with his (probably imaginary) “mistress.” Who knows, who cares, case closed, play golf, guys fight with their wives all the time.

Justice delayed, is justice denied.
William Gladstone

Dubai’s tallest freestanding building, Burj Dubai, at 2,684 feet, is the tallest man-made building ever built on planet earth.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Indifferent Stars Above - book

The Indifferent Stars Above The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride, by Daniel James Brown (William Morrow, 2009).

And they had nailed the boards above her face,
The peasants of that land,
Wondering to lay her in that solitude,
And raised above her mound
A cross they had made out of two bits of wood,
And planted cypress round;
And left her to the indifferent stars above.

W. B. Yeats,
“A Dream of Death”

Daniel James Brown could probably not have found a better poem to introduce this book about the experiences of Sarah Graves, a new bride, with the ill-fated Donner party tragedy of the 1840’s. I think it also makes for an exceptionally fine title for a description of human suffering almost beyond belief.

This book goes far beyond previous accounts of the Donner party horrors. Brown followed the known route of Sarah and the other ill-fated pioneers all the way from their starting point in Illinois to the Sacramento valley where a few survivors stumbled to safety after their weeks of snow-bound captivity and starvation in the high mountain pass. With his knowledge of the terrain and climate, and using the surviving diary entries and sparse records, he attempts to describe their daily movements, what they ate (or did not have to eat), how they managed to survive or failed to survive the bitter cold, frostbite, snowblindness, and their ravaging hunger, and, finally, the desperate cannibalism. What makes this book virtually unique is the author’s use of the most recent scientific research on nutrition, physiology, psychology, chemistry, and survival, to attempt to describe the actual physiological and psychological changes that must have affected them as they tried to live on the sparse foodstuffs that were available to them, and how these changes may have influenced even their interpersonal relations. They ate the flesh of horses, mules, dogs, boiled and chewed on hides and leather, and went for periods of time with nothing at all, until finally succumbing to the tabooed cannibalism where they sought nourishment from the lean flesh of those who perished during this terrible sojourn. Try to imagine, if you will, Sarah’s father instructing her to eat his flesh to survive, or Sarah having to watch as her few remaining peers consumed the flesh of her deceased husband. We know that one of Sarah’s younger sisters, upon learning she had survived by eating her mother’s flesh, was so obsessed with guilt she never fully recovered. Of course all of the survivors suffered their own private anguish over what they had done, but some of them went on to live reasonably normal and productive lives. Sarah, for example, recovered and eventually remarried and had children, as did a few of the other women. We cannot know for certain how accurate Brown’s speculations about their condition are, but they seem convincing and are well presented. He offers some ideas about the interesting fact that most of the survivors were female rather than male. I was not entirely convinced by his explanation for some of the cannibalism but this did not keep me from being impressed with his work.

Although Brown chose to focus on Sarah Graves this seems more an attempt to hold the story together than to offer a biographical sketch of just one woman. He describes many of the characters involved, as well as some of their squabbles and fights, both before and after their terrible time on the mountain. It is clear there were at least two murders directly related to the cannibalism, there may have been more, and there were others unrelated to cannibalism. No one was charged and at least one of the offenders went on to become wealthy and successful in California. This is an ambitious and fascinating account of one of history’s greatest and most grisly affairs. It is well conceived, well written, and well worth reading. From the dust jacket:

“One by one, feathery flakes landed on cold blankets and buffalo robes, on sweat-slicked hair, on shoulders turned to the sky, on soft cheeks – each flake delicate and slight, but each lending its almost imperceptible weight to the horror of what was about to happen….”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What is Absurd?

What happens in nutty putty cave
stays in nutty putty cave. Body
of spelunker to remain there.

What is absurd? I ask this because I so often see this word used in various contexts, and I know that I myself use it, and perhaps abuse it. Consulting the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary I learn that the two primary meanings are:

1. Ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous
2. Having no rational or orderly relationship to human life

Now you might think with such clear-cut standards it should be simple to agree on things that are absurd. But nothing in human affairs is simple. The claim of absurdity, as we currently use it, is basically just the opinion of an individual. What may or may not be absurd cross-culturally is a problem far beyond the scope of this present document. Here I am interested only in what I take to be the absurdities of American culture. Indeed, I tend to believe that American culture in general is nothing less than a culture of the absurd (obviously not everyone will agree).

What brought this to mind today was another trip to the supermarket. We have only one such market here in our little town, and by big city standards it is really quite a modest supermarket. Nonetheless, when I ran an errand there for my wife I became aware for the first time of the cat food aisle. Yes, there is an entire aisle devoted to cat food. It measures roughly sixty feet long by seven feet tall, and contains kitty litter, cat food, cat toys, and such. Now, I don’t mind cats, indeed I put up with five of them on a daily basis (a result of my wife’s home for wayward cats). But does anyone truly need such a variety of cat foods and litters and toys? I doubt very much that the cats themselves appreciate this variety, if they even think about it. Thus, I believe this is absurd. And across the aisle there is a similar, even longer row of dog food and stuff for dogs. I think this is also absurd. Then when I think of all the starving people in the world, and even here in the U.S., I think it is even more absurd. I would say this is “ridiculously unreasonable,” if not “unsound.” It may or may not be “incongruous,” depending upon your opinion of American culture in general. As I previously commented along these same lines about the huge bin of frozen prepared potatoes, I will leave the subject of American food (a truly absurd subject) for the moment.

Consider the American use of the automobile, pickup truck, motorcycle, snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, and personal watercraft, all the result of the invention of the internal combustion engine. While there are obvious advantages of one sort or another for such vehicles in certain circumstances, our present-day use of most of these is absurd. The idea that virtually every individual in the country needs their own automobile or pickup truck is absurd, or that is, ought to be absurd. Snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and personal watercraft may be “fun” as “toys,” but they are terribly polluting, noisy, and destructive of the environment, and as such are, I would say, “ridiculously unreasonable.” And here, where I live, the love affair with pickup trucks is truly a thing of wonder. It is not at all unusual to see women (and sometimes men) doing their supermarket shopping in huge Ford 350, Chevrolet 3500, or Dodge 3500 models, far in excess of just the ordinary pickup. Not long ago I watched in awe as an older, gray-haired lady left her big Dodge running while she entered the supermarket and emerged with a case of beer. There are also many dual wheeled pickups that more than 90% of the time contain nothing whatsoever except a dog. While all of these vehicles might be useful at certain times for certain things, I submit than in general the use of such vehicles in the U.S. is absurd (almost beyond belief).

One further rant while I’m on the subject of the absurd has to do with the use of energy in the U.S. The example of vehicular use as above involves an enormous waste of energy. But that is probably mild compared to our waste of electricity. We are now being told we should conserve energy, and most people probably believe we should. But hardly anyone does. Drive through any city at night and you will observe most if not all of the lights on in every large building left on all night long. And it is not only in large buildings you can observe this obvious waste, it seems like every small business has to leave lights on as well. In most homes it appears to me that the inhabitants rarely turn off lights that are not in use. Sometimes I believe most Americans, especially younger ones, are not even aware that light switches have an “off” as well as an “on.”

Anyway, as long as there is no agreed upon standard for measuring what is absurd and what is not, it seems to me unlikely that people in general are going to ever solve their common problems, or even define what they are. If culture is pretty much a unique human invention for meeting the basic needs of the species for food, shelter, security, health, etc., we have long since passed over the basic needs and elaborated to the point of madness. Absurdity has long since triumphed over practical reality. I do not think it entirely far-fetched to predict it will ultimately lead to doomsday.

If you see in any given situation only what everybody else can see, you can be said to be so much a representative of your culture than you are a victim of it.
S. I. Hayakawa

The average weasel weighs about 7 ounces.

Friday, November 27, 2009

No One is Responsible

Two bank robbers die
overestimating the amount
of dynamite required.

Many infants being born in Fallujah now are being born with unbelievable grotesque features, apparently no head, two heads, a single eye, scaly skin, or other monstrous deformities. This is a situation 15 times greater than ever before. It is not hard to find the fundamental reason for this outrageous crime. It is the result of ecocide. Ecocide is a relatively new word that refers to the destruction of large portions of the environment, especially because of man-made activities. The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, for example, but in the case of Fallujah it is more likely the result of the use of chemicals in warfare, like white phosphorous and depleted uranium used for anti tank and other ammunition. Of course there are some (those most responsible for this outrage) that will argue there is no proof of the connection between birth defects and the use of these chemicals (just as there was no proof of the connection between Agent Orange and the problems of Vietnam veterans for some time). This way of thinking (in the U.S.) has always struck me as truly peculiar because it seems to imply that human life, health, and welfare are basically less important than corporate profits. Recall all the denials with respect to tobacco and lung cancer. There was a known correlation between smoking and lung cancer, but the industry argued fairly successfully for years there was no specific proof of a connection and went on marketing their poisonous product anyway. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that in most cultures, even relatively “simple” ones, when something is suspected of possibly doing harm to people, especially children, they stop using it until they find out otherwise. This is quite the opposite of what we do here in the good ol’ USA, where absolute proof seems to be necessary before any action can be taken. This is precisely what has been going on with respect to the use of chemicals in our military. As there is no absolute proof of a connection between the use of depleted uranium and human deformities, we just blissfully go on using them (of course we only use them on “others” we have dehumanized who are therefore less important than we are). This goes along with the apparent belief on the part of many that the life of an American fetus is absolutely sacred, whereas the lives of millions of “others” are not. I guess you can also see this reflected in our failure to sign the international ban on the use of landmines. Everyone knows that landmines kill innocent civilians, especially children, for years and years after they have been planted. But what do we care, we don’t plant them here at home. It makes me wonder at times if our “leaders” are actually human beings, or perhaps some kind of “ghouls” artificially created by the Pentagon. There seems to be nothing that can stand in the way of our doing what we want (to others). I will never forget Madeleine Albright’s absolutely outrageous and inhuman response when asked if the loss of half a million Iraqi children was “worth it,” and she replied that it was! What I find most shocking of all about this Fallujah problem, is that no one seems to be considered responsible for it. An entire city destroyed and the survivors plagued with a monstrous ongoing problem and no one is considered responsible? I guess it was “just an act of war,” roughly equivalent to the act of shaving every morning.

The word ecocide actually occurs in my dictionary (Webster’s). I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did. I guess I was surprised because ecocide, as far as I know, did not occur with much regularity until a relatively short time ago (even the word ecology, although it existed, did not really come into vogue until fairly recently). The word “humanicide” has not yet made it into the dictionary, although you can find it on google, where it refers mainly to a band by that name. I have suggested previously (Morialekafa 8-26-04) that it ought to have another meaning, but so far this has not been accepted by anyone. In any case, I think it is a sad commentary on the state of the world when words like ecocide and humanicide have to come to mind at all.

Pity poor Dubai! They have had to ask for more time to pay off an 80 billion dollar debt. I feel so sorry for them, sitting there with their artificial ski mountain in the desert, their artificial palm island covered with expensive high-rise (empty) buildings, their expensive condominiums worth half or less of what was paid for them, their upscale shops that no one can afford any longer, people abandoning their cars at the airport trying to flee the country, and so on. Is this not the perfect example of capitalism and conspicuous consumption gone berserk? I suggest they move all those foreign workers they lured there and exploited so shamelessly into all those vacant condos and give them a real taste of the “high life.” Someone should write a history of Dubai (if they haven’t already). They could call it “The Completely Disgusting History of the Rise of Dubai and Its Predictable Collapse Into the Desert Sands.”

The ability to understand a question from all sides meant one was totally unfit for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of the real man.

J. R. R. Tolkien disdained automobiles and thought the internal combustion engine was a terrible invention.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dumber than Dumb

On way to his wedding,
groom crashes rented
$415,000 Lamborghini.

How dumb is it possible to be and still pass yourself off as a candidate for office? Silly Sarah has now advised Canada to scrap their health care system and privatize it. She has said the best way to create jobs is to lower taxes. She has also said Obama should just follow the advice of his generals. And she has also said that Obama does not appreciate the sacrifices of our troops. She also apparently believes that Israel is a special place that will soon fill up with Jews, thus making possible the Rapture. She apparently does not believe in evolution, abortion, or global warming. For all intents and purposes she does not read much of anything. A majority of Americans think she is not qualified to be President (and was not qualified to be Vice-President), but she has not ruled out running for President in 2012 (apparently depending upon what God tells her she should do). I don’t know what all else she may or may not believe (I think I would be afraid even to ask). What I would like to know is there any evidence in any of her stated beliefs and pronouncements or whatever of even the barest scintilla of serious thought? She just says things that come right out of the Republican or Evangelical mileu with no evidence of original thought whatsoever. She reminds me of my late aunt Mamie (bless her), who was a nice lady in her way, but the most opinionated know-nothing that ever walked the aisles of Wal Mart. Silly Sarah is the personification of the average American housewife who just repeats whatever Republican or Christian nonsense she hears. I have nothing against average (or even above average) American housewives, but I confess I would not like one of them to be my President, any more than I would want Joe the average Plumber or Pete the average Repairman or John the average insurance salesman, or even Francis the talking mule. Let’s face reality, Sarah is dumb. She is dumber than dumb because she apparently does not realize how dumb she actually is. The idea that she could be President of the United States is dumb even beyond dumbness. The fact that she has supporters is frightening beyond belief. We just had eight years of Mr. Dumbness himself that proved to be an absolute disaster. Now we have a President who is smart and these dummies hate him. They are going to hate him whether he is successful or not, and they will do whatever they can to make sure he cannot be successful, even when looking out for their best interests. What a weird country we live in.

We have arrived at a point where our culture has become so absurd I am not certain anything can be done to change it. The human species has proven it is completely inept when it comes to managing its affairs. This is apparently a species specific shortcoming as I know of no other species that has engineered its own demise. Here we are in the 21st century. I am getting requests to save the polar bears, to do something about global warming, to prevent further wars, to save the salmon and hundreds of other species, to take care of abused and neglected children and animals, to feed the hungry, to do something about health care, and on and on and on. What I want to know is, why should this be up to me at this late date? Where have all our leaders been for the last few centuries? Why haven’t these things been taken care of? Why have we allowed our own nest to be so fouled? What is it about homo sapiens that renders them so incapable of successful social life? Now we will be asked tomorrow to give thanksgiving, thanksgiving for what? Are we to give thanksgiving for the horrible mess we have made of our planet and our lives? No, appropriately enough, we are giving thanksgiving for having made it through one more year. How many more before we either blow ourselves up or drown in our own filth? So happy thanksgiving! Be of good cheer. Keep a stiff upper lip. Tomorrow may be canceled due to lack of interest. Remember the Maine, the Alamo, and Saint Ronnie. And never forget, we are good, they are bad, and we will “win” (something unknown but apparently desirable). Wheee!

Walter de la Mare

Here lies a most beautiful lady,
Light of step and heart was she:
I think she was the most beautiful lady
That ever was in the West Country.
But beauty vanishes; beauty passes;
However rare, rare it be;
And when I crumble who shall remember
This lady of the West Country?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This better be good!

Buzkashi, Afghan game played
on horseback with headless goat,
wants to become Olympic sport.

This better be good, President Obama. It seems our President has finally decided to send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan, “to get the job done.” What job? He supposedly is going to explain this decision in the next few days which will, I sincerely hope, define this job with some precision heretofore lacking. Personally I think this is a terrible decision and I cannot even conceive of what job he has in mind to finish. Unless this job has something to do with the stupid pipeline that Cheney and his oilmen friends wanted all along (an item conspicuously missing from all news about Afghanistan these days) I cannot imagine what it could be. Afghanistan is not called “the graveyard of empires” for no reason. The British failed miserably, the Russians likewise, as well as even Alexander the Great, so what makes Obama and his kill-crazy generals think they can prevail? Obama cannot win here no matter what. If he fails with the 34,000 troops, they will say he didn’t send enough troops, and if he “wins” what is it he will have won? I have feared all along that Obama would give in to pressure from the Pentagon (and their interests in the Military/Industrial/Political complex) and continue this hopelessly lost adventure, and he has. No good will come of this, only more and more deaths and more and more misery and destruction. We simply cannot win anything in Afghanistan, and we cannot complete the job, unless the job is getting out of there as graciously as possible.

Not only are we going to lose in Afghanistan, it appears now there is a very good chance we are going to lose on Health Care Reform as well. The Bill has been diluted so greatly the only thing it has left is the public option, and that, too, may fall. The Republicans, whose stated plan all along has been to kill any reform of our dysfunctional health care system, cannot defeat it by themselves. But with the help of four apparently deranged Democrats they can. If these four holdouts cannot be persuaded to vote in the public interest all is lost. It may be that some of them, perhaps at least three, may be persuaded eventually if given enough “goodies” to satisfy them. Whether Lieberman (who I believe truly is deranged) can be persuaded I do not know. The reasons he offers for resisting for the most part are demonstrably false, but he continues non-stop on his holier-than-thou claims of conscience (this must be a newly minted conscience as he never had one before). This is a most interesting situation. The public wants a public option. The President wants a public option, The House wants a public option. A majority in the Senate wants a public option. But four democrats, along with all Republicans are going to stand in the way. At least two, maybe three, of the democrats say they are philosophically opposed to giving the government control over health care. But the government already has control over much of health care. And furthermore, if the majority of their colleagues don’t agree with them you might think they would graciously concede to the majority (I rather think they will when it comes down to the wire). If Lieberman doesn’t come around he should not only be relieved of his chairmanship (democrats have coddled this jerk long enough), he should be drummed out of the Senate for willful obstruction of the public interest (he should probably be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, but as such a great friend of Israel he may be untouchable (Israel does tend to run things here in the U.S.).

Keith Olberman listed Glenn Beck as today’s worst-person-in-the-world. He was wrong. Glenn Beck is the worst person in the world every day. It appears that Beck tries to sell gold on his program. This is presumably because some of his sponsors (that he has left) sell gold. Now why would people who sell gold want to sponsor Glenn Beck? Could it possibly be because they know his audience has to be composed of the most gullible suckers on earth? It constantly amazes me to know that Beck actually has an audience, a following. I shudder when I think of what his audience must really be like.

There are hints now that Silly Sarah may be an end-of-the-earther, a believer in Armageddon. If this is so, and I don’t doubt it, I don’t think it is merely a result of her recent dinner with Billy Graham. The fact that she is, and has been all along, some kind of religious nut, seems to get little or no play in the MSM. At least so far she hasn’t claimed that she talks directly with God. She, too, has a following, apparently a pretty good-sized one, so perhaps a Palin/Beck ticket is not so far-fetched after all. Bring ‘em on, I say.

marks the path of victory,
and also the shame.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sweet Thunder - book

Sweet Thunder The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson, by Wil Haygood (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)

Man, o’ man, did I love this book! This is partly because Sugar Ray Robinson was a rags-to-riches, larger-than-life, stranger-than-fiction, pull-no-punches, quick-as-a-cat, hard-as-nails, sly-as-a fox, cock-of-the-walk, king-of-the-hill, generous-to-a-fault character, who was tooling around the streets of New York in his flamingo colored Cadillac convertible with his armed midget chauffeur when most other blacks were still riding in the back of the bus… and thus an outstanding candidate for a biography. That Hollywood has seen fit to make movies of Jake LaMotta and Rocky Graziano, but not of Sugar Ray Robinson (neé Walker Smith Jr.), is a mystery I cannot fathom.

I also loved it because Wil Haygood’s more than adequate prose brought back to life the bustling Harlem of the 1940’s and 50’s, and Sugar Ray’s finest moments, in all their color and glory: “As the American calendar kept rolling over the emotional headlines of the forties and the dangerously quiet fifties, a part of the world was spinning in a singular rhythm all its own. From private home to nightclub, from lodge to auditorium, there was a gathering of caramelized and brown and black faces. Sepia dreams – lovely, spilling forth at night – were everywhere, thousands captured in their net. These dreams could not escape segregation, or the laws of the land. But still, art poured from their conditional existence, like music lyrics written on a windowpane.”

I think I also liked it so well because of the “and times” part of the story. It was my finest time as well. I was a teenager and young man during the Sugar Ray period. We followed his every fight (on the radio and in print, of course) and were convinced he was the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time. This was the era of Miles Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Langston Hughes, Lena Horne, Billy Eckstein, the Dorsey brothers, Walter Winchell, Frank Sinatra, Damon Runyon, Hype Igoe, and Jimmy Cannon, and so many more, all of whom patronized “Sugar Ray’s” popular and beautifully designed nightclub. The time when Sugar Ray won his first championship, taking the belt away from Tommy Bell, and fighting often against the likes of Jimmy Doyle (whom he involuntarily killed in the ring), Bobo Olson, Carmen Basilio, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Graziano, Randy Turpin, and many others. Before he was through, Sugar Ray had won both welterweight and middleweight championships, and were it not for the exceptional heat one June night in 1952, he would also have claimed the Light Heavyweight title from Joey Maxim, who outweighed him by 15 pounds. Haygood captures the hype, excitement, and outcome of most of these famous bouts, and also some of the circumstances leading up to them. His account of Sugar Ray’s bout with the Great Henry Armstrong, in which Robinson defeated the aging warrior but left him with his dignity and a much needed purse, is quite moving, as is his account of how Sugar Ray fought exhibitions after the death of Jimmy Doyle to insure that Doyle’s mother would have a house and security.

Having seen what happened to most boxers of the time, like his idol Joe Louis, Robinson not only managed to avoid the gangsters who muscled in on the fight game, but also, from very early in his career, took over his own management of it. He was a sharp businessman, not to be outsmarted by greedy promoters or crooked managers, and with the help of his only manager and close friend, George Gainford, became not only an outstanding champion, but an International celebrity, idolized in Europe as well as America.

Sugar Ray was “class,” and he brought it to boxing, understanding there was more to the sport than simply violence. He and his entourage (which grew larger over the years) dressed in style, stayed only in the finest hotels, ate in the finest restaurants, and hobnobbed with musicians, movie stars, and even royalty. He and his remarkably beautiful wife, along with Billy Eckstein and his equally beautiful wife, were show stoppers wherever they went.

Sugar Ray had dreams of becoming a dancer and show business personality, and was not without talent. He played piano, drums, and took dancing lessons for years. When he finally had to retire from the ring he attempted to enjoy a second career as an entertainer, but he was just not professional enough and soon failed. Haygood does not delve into what must have been the temptations for a person in Sugar Ray’s position, but there are hints, and eventually, after many years of a happy marriage, his first wife divorced him. He found happiness with a second marriage, to an equally beautiful woman, moving to Los Angeles, and starting a large foundation to help poor and neglected children. Hundreds of such children testified to the importance of the foundation and what it meant to them. At the height of his fame, and because of his pal, the strange but powerful Walter Winchell, he became involved in raising money for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund, which he continued doing until the end. The end came much too quickly for this remarkable man, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but mercifully died of a heart attack before it overwhelmed him. His life was remarkably scandal free (except for some unanswered questions about how he managed to get discharged from the army when he did). It is impossible to know how many thousands of people, fighters, children, others down on their luck, he helped during his lifetime. His unprecedented negotiations with the TV industry over TV rights was a victory for all fighters and led to exposing the widespread corruption that existed and a number of antitrust lawsuits, as well as to much more lucrative purses for all fighters. Sugar Ray was truly a man about whom it is fair to say, “he did it his way.” As Haygood put it:

“The final record stands at 173 wins, 19 losses, and 6 draws against a backdrop of a quarter century spent in the ring. It is easy and far too simple to keep making the pound-for-pound claim; the arc of his fighting career demands a deeper consideration. He lives because he lies beyond imitation. He is, as Stravinsky was to music, a wonder, a mystery, a piece of time.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Uh, what if...

While burglarizing home,
teenage burglar stops
to warm baby’s bottle.

Uh, yea, but, like, what if…Tomorrow the Senate is going to vote on the health care bill. It does seem like Democrats are going to be united enough to prevent Republicans from killing the bill before it gets to the floor. I confess I do not like this process, nor do I like the way our political system operates through bribery, threats, and what-have-you. Apparently, in order to get the vote of the Senator from New Orleans they had to promise her 100 million dollars specifically earmarked for Louisiana health care. Like, health care for the rest of the nation isn’t a worthy enough goal in its own right? In order to get Ben Nelson’s vote they had to promise not to rescind some special priviledge the Insurance companies have. Who knows what they must have promised Joe Lieberman or others. This is the way our political system operates, even on issues of absolutely compelling public interest such as health care? Actually, I know it is, but I still think it is a terrible way of doing business, and I don’t find it to be entirely satisfactory. But what I really wonder about is what happens if something goes wrong. That is, Harry Reid supposedly counts the votes and when he thinks he has them, he goes ahead and has his Senators vote. But the count seems to be very precise at 60 votes (as far as I know). What if one of these Senators changes his or her mind at the last moment? Or what if one or two become ill and cannot be present for the vote? Or, what if one of them suddenly goes crazy and votes against the bill, thus killing it? Should I worry about this? I don’t know if I should, but I do. This is mostly because I suspect that many of our Senators (and Congresspersons) are crazy to begin with. I am partly saved in this fear by the fact that the ones I think are the most crazy are Republicans who are not going to vote for the bill anyway. But it still makes me nervous and I will not breath easily until it’s over. Of course this vote only means they will then eventually consider voting for real. What a way to run a railroad!

Well, Silly Sarah, the quitter, has made another stupid mistake. In Indiana she left everyone alphabetically from the N’s on down standing outside in the rain for hours only to fail to get their signed copies of her book, even though with their special wristbands they were supposedly guaranteed an autographed copy. Some of them were understandably upset and there were a lot of boo’s as she left. Naturally she blamed the organizers rather than herself. But I suppose her ardent supporters will never admit she is little more than a mindless twit trying to make big bucks off John McCain’s terrible mistake.

Where does a 2000 pound alligator sleep? Anywhere he wants.

What does a small nation with only about 7.5 million citizens, that exists mainly because of the sufferance of others, do? Anything it wants.

And what does it do when its major ally and financial supporter tells it to stop building settlements in the interest of peace? Nothing.

I find the situation with Israel and the Palestinians absolutely incomprehensible. This tiny, blatantly racist, greedy nation, in existence only since 1948, has done nothing for all these years except lie, steal, procrastinate, and thumb their nose at the rest of the world, and no one apparently will do anything about it. President Obama, the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, and the nation that provides virtually unlimited funds to Israel, asks them to stop building settlements in the interest of peace and they just refuse. He does nothing about it. I believe that Obama himself probably would like to insist they stop, but realizes that, politically, he is basically impotent. The United States does the bidding of Israel, not vice versa, and has for so long it has become established policy. No matter what Israel does, no matter how racist, genocidal, illegal, or outrageous, the U.S. always lines up on their side. Is it any wonder the Palestinians and other Arabs do not believe we are honest brokers? If we cannot insist they stop the settlements there will obviously be no peace in the Middle East, ever. This will be fine with the Israelis because they obviously do not want peace. Peace would mean they would have to give up some land and water and recognize the Palestinians are equal human beings, something I am beginning to believe they are incapable of doing.

There is some talk now about the Palestinians unilaterally declaring themselves a nation, as it has become apparent Israel is not acting in good faith with respect to a two state solution. I’m all in favor of this. The Israelis should be in favor of it also, because if they are not, they will ultimately become a minority in their own country. The Palestinians will become the majority fairly quickly and apartheid will not work for very long. Similarly, the much-vaunted Israeli nuclear arsenal will be of no help whatsoever. It might threaten Arab neighbors (although I think even this is doubtful) but they will not be able to drop any on the Palestinian majority living with them. Forget the Iranians, the biggest threat to Israel is Israel itself.

Next to knowing when to seize an opportunity, the most important thing in life is to know when to forego an advantage.
Benjamin Disraeli

Friedrich Engels was opposed to the institution of marriage which he believed was unnatural and unjust.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Things that matter

Thirteen year-old Alabama
boy arrested for repeatedly
soliciting decoy prostitute.

As far as I know, virtually all cultures have folk sayings, parables, and such that most often offer advice or supposedly helpful information gathered from centuries of experience. We have many of these, such as “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” “You can’t cheat an honest man,” and of course many, many more. But we also have some that seem to me to be basically, even obviously, absurd: “Ignorance is bliss,” for example, or “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.”
It is true that we live much of our lives in ignorance. In some cases it just doesn’t seem to matter much. For example, if you are a bowler, you might be aware that your bowling ball weighs either 14, 15, or 16 pounds. But you probably don’t know that the bowling alley is supposed to be 62’ 10 3/16 inches from the foul line to the pit. Or that the pins must be set precisely 12” apart, or that the number one pin must be 2’ 10 3/16 from its center to the pit. Similarly, if you play golf you probably don’t know that a golf ball weights 1.620 of an ounce, and the diameter must be no less than 1’.6.80,” or that the hole should be 4 or 4 ¼ inches in diameter. Only a professional baseball player might possibly know the circumference of the ball is 9 to 9 ¼,” and weighs 5 to 5 ¼ ounces. And if you play pool you are probably unaware that the balls weigh 5.5 to 6 ounces and have a diameter of 2.25 inches, while the corner pockets are 4.5 to 4.625 inches wide, but the side pockets are 5 to 5.125 wide. It is possible to be extremely good at all of these games without knowing any of these basic facts and many others. These are things of which you may be entirely ignorant but it just doesn’t matter. While you might not say your ignorance here is bliss, you can probably safely say your ignorance doesn’t hurt you.

Having just watched the video, Food, Inc., I have to observe that what you don’t know about your food supply certainly is hurting you, and you will not attain any state even close to bliss. In fact, not knowing how your food is genetically modified and corporate farmed may well be making you sick. Monsanto is clearly the worst offender what with their genetically modified seeds and attempt to be the sole source of our seeds, plus their various pesticides, insecticides, and what have you. Tyson Foods is another dangerous offender, and we are just now beginning to wake up to the fact that something desperately needs to be done to regulate these corporate giants. In fact, the idea that only a handful of giant corporations are now producing most of our food is dangerous in the extreme and never should have been allowed in the first place.

And speaking of ignorance, it surely would have been a great help had Bush/Cheney known more about Iraq and Iraqi culture before lying us into our completely unnecessary and illegal “war.” It seems they weren’t even aware there were two major religious factions, Sunni and Shiite, nor did they know anything about the culture in general. It strikes me as obscenely ironic that they apparently studied carefully just what kinds of torture would be the most efficacious to use on Iraqis, but knew next to nothing about anything else.

Similarly, we entered Afghanistan with little or no knowledge of that country and its culture. We apparently just assumed that a country organized entirely by tribes and clans would happily give up their thousands of years of living that way to eagerly embrace democracy they hadn’t even heard of and had no interest in. Nor did we know anything about tribal hospitality that made it virtually impossible to simply give up Osama bin Laden at our request. Here again, we are presumably learning a great lesson, ignorance is not bliss, and what you don’t know can and will hurt you badly.

Culture is a strange thing, as once you become enculturated you tend to act pretty automatically. We do not, in our ordinary daily lives, think much about what we are doing, or why we do it. We do not ordinarily challenge our cultural beliefs or question why we do not eat horse or dog meat, or try to shower every day, or eat with knives and forks. These behavior patterns are just part of us, part of our daily lives, things we tend to live our days without consciously thinking about them. This mode of life seems to work pretty much okay, but only as long as we do not engage with other cultures which do things differently and do not necessarily share our beliefs. Throughout all of our relatively brief history we have refused to even acknowledge that other cultures may have things to offer us, or to treat them even with basic respect. American exceptionalism may be a comforting belief for us, but it has been a terrible disaster for most others. Have we learned anything from our violent history? I don’t think so, we seem to be just as arrogant and ignorant as always. President Obama has an opportunity at the moment to admit to our shortcomings and set us off on a much more realistic course, but it is unlikely the corporate powers that rule us all will allow it. Our ignorance is their bliss.

The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.
Stephen Jay Gould

A modern supermarket probably has as many as 47,000 different items.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Silly Sarah, Idiot's Delight

Both Dalia Dippolito and
her hit man fail to
kill her new husband.

Silly Sarah, Idiot’s delight, seems to be a resounding success in Michigan on her book tour. I was amazed this morning when I saw the line of people waiting to buy her book, and get it autographed. I told myself that many of those people probably were not serious Palin supporters, but just wanted to buy a book for a friend or parent or whatever. But even subtracting some percentage for that, there still were a lot of people there, apparently many who had been in line since the night before. Bill Press on some show or other said people were really just lined up for a freak show, wanting to see the bearded lady. He also suggested she would make a lot of money and then just disappear as “this is a bus to nowhere.” I think he is right. Certainly I hope he is right. I felt a bit better when I saw an interview with a bookstore clerk in New York who said they had ordered eight copies, but he didn’t think they would sell.

In any case, this made me more aware than ever before that I apparently inhabit a totally different universe from many of my fellow citizens. There were a couple of brief interviews with those standing in line for this momentous event. One man said (seriously, I fear), Palin is more qualified to be President than either Obama or McCain. I thought that was stretching reality a bit far. A woman said she supported Palin because she was inspirational. That sort of went over my head as I couldn’t imagine very well what the hell she could possibly be talking about, opportunistic, no doubt, but inspirational? As near as I can tell Palin is both an empty head and an empty pantsuit (skirt?) who at best can produce a couple of Republican talking points, like reducing taxes, no health care, drill baby drill, and other Republican drivel.

Some think that Palin is using this book tour as an exploration for the possibility of running for President in 2012. Even I don’t think she can be that dumb (but of course I could be wrong, I often am). When someone mentioned the possibility of Glenn Beck as her Vice-Presidential candidate, and she didn’t immediately disavow it, I knew she wasn’t being serious. This is all just a show, just a way for Palin to make a lot of money quickly, enjoy her few moments of fame, and then laugh all the way to the bank. The MSM is going to make us suffer through it all until the bitter end.

It has been widely conceded that Palin was completely unqualified to be Vice-President (except for McCain who obviously does not want to admit he made an absolutely idiotic decision), so why would anyone think she would be qualified to be President? Interestingly, there apparently are a few such people. Of course these are mostly the same people who believe the earth is only 6000 years old, the earth is flat, and dinosaurs disappeared because our ancestors must have eaten them all. What I find so amazing about this, is that there are any people at all at the beginning of the 21st century that idiotic. I suppose I should stop watching Rachel Maddow so exclusively and add Fox, Limbaugh, Hannity, and others to my daily schedule, but I’ve tried that and it makes me sick to my stomach and gives me headaches. On the one hand I guess I should be happy to realize that there can’t be more than about 30% of the American public who are borderline (or not so borderline) insane, but on the other hand I find it unsettling (to say the least) that there are that many apparently brainless people.

I suspect that part of this absurd Idea that Silly Sarah could be President is a result of George W. Bush having been President. You know, if Bush, a borderline retarded man, could be President for eight years, why not Palin, or Wilbur, the talking pig, or Mr. Ed, or any ordinary jackass for that matter. The people who seem to think Palin could be President (with no qualifications to speak of, and dumb as a post), now have a President with brains, trying desperately to improve their lives, and they hate him. I mean they literally hate him (I suspect much of this has to do with the fact that he is half black).

And so, appropros of nothing, this leads me to health care. It seems the Senate has come up with a bill that looks like a real winner. It will include 31 million people not currently insured, it corrects some of the most egregious Insurance company crimes, and will substantially reduce the deficit over ten years. This bill is the result of a great deal of extremely hard work on the part of Congress and offers the greatest chance ever for health care reform. But, of course, there is some doubt it will ever make it to the floor as there are still three or four Senators who may not vote for it. In my mind this would be absolutely unconscionable. But, hey, it’s only 31 million people who would have to continue without health care, that can’t be very important, can it? If any Democrat blocks passage of this bill they should be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. They could be like the man Lincoln mentioned who, when being treated in such a way, said “If it weren’t for the honor I would rather have walked.”

A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.
Spanish proverb

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge had a window in his outhouse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Child Abuse

Oregon man, 96, sponsors
his own wake, “because
he wanted to attend.”

Perusing the Seattle Times I came across an article that said “Hundreds expected to file abuse claims against Jesuits.” Then on Truthout there was an article about brutalizing kids in the public schools. At the same time I came across an article on Truthdig, “Australia Sorry for Abuse of Castoff Kids.” This was all on the same day. It made me pause to reflect on this practice of brutalizing and sexually abusing children. Just after World War II, England sent 10,000 children to Australia, there were two reasons given: the British Government would have to spend less money on the children, and Australia would get “good white stock.” The reasons don’t matter much here because the children were made to work extremely hard and many were sexually abused. I know the same thing happened in our shameful past when we took Indian children from their parents and forced them into schools to make them more “like us.” This also happened in Australia with Aboriginal children. We also know that in other parts of the world children are forced to work in sweat shops and are exploited for sexual reasons. You cannot read the newspapers here without seeing virtually every day accounts of the sexual abuse of children. We also know we have American tourists going to Asia and other countries for the express purpose of having sex with children forced into prostitution. The Catholic Church, of course, has an extremely cloudy history of sexually abusing children as we have learned in the past few years. In ancient Greek society there were relationships between men and boys that were considered perfectly normal, even desirable. Recently it has been reported that some Corporations are resisting laws that would make slavery and child labor more difficult to control. There are said to be tens of thousands of child prostitutes around the world, many of whom are slaves. Child pornography is a huge problem here in the U.S., but also in many other industrialized nations. It is an international problem. When a small girl was kidnapped and murdered not long ago it was reported there were 150 sex offenders living within a five mile radius of her. A woman was recently arrested for selling her five-year-old daughter into prostitution, and accounts of the sexual abuse of children are absolutely commonplace nowadays. If you have read Dickens or anything much about the Industrial Revolution you know how bad these things were in the past.

So I am not surprised to learn that things like this happen. I have known of cases for years and have always been mystified by them. I simply cannot understand what drives humans to sexually exploit their children, or even to exploit them economically in slave labor and such (of course I know there are economic necessities for the very poor that cause them to sell their children into slavery and prostitution). While I can at least partly understand why children might be economically exploited, what I do not understand more than anything else is the actual sexual abuse of children. What is there about boys and girls that create such lust in adult humans? But that is not what inspired me to think about this now. What has now finally sunk into my dim brain is that this is so commonplace and has been for what seems like forever. I do not wish to say it occurs so often as to be actually considered “normal,” but how does one explain the fact that it is obviously so common. Always before when I read about it I assumed it was just some deviant, some pervert, some twisted person who was clearly outside of the normal range of human behavior, someone who had themselves been abused, or were of abnormal intelligence, or something. But many, if not most of these guys who trade in pornography and have sex with children appear to be perfectly normal people: businessmen, neighbors, blue collar workers, teachers, athletes, both rich and poor, and so on. I do not believe there is anything like this in any other species. It must have something to do with the fact that human sexuality is not seasonal and people crave sex at all times. But that doesn’t specifically explain the sexual attraction of children to so many people. It may well have something to do with dominance rather than sex per se. In some cases it may have to do with the fear of contracting diseases from more experienced sex objects, but this is just a recent phenomenon. I am thinking here mostly of people having sex with young children. It is not difficult to understand why people might be sexually attracted to teenagers, especially older ones, but that is a separate question. There is even an organization called NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) that wants to legalize relations between older teens and adults. But very often the sex is between adults and smaller children. There are even occasional accounts of infants being raped (and even extremely old women) which, I believe, have to be pathological cases. Even so, it appears that the sexual abuse of both boys and girls, both young and older, is far more commonplace than you might think. It seems to be particularly widespread in institutional settings, like churches, schools, reformatories, and such, but is by no means restricted to such places. I think it may say something about basic human nature, as well as pathology, a possibility that would seem ripe for explanation.

Sex: the thing that takes up the least amount of time and causes the most amount of trouble.
John Barrymore

My lovely little cat, Katie, has been playing with a skunk!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Party that Cried "No"

Family moves rather than give
Up “Strawberry,” 300 lb pet pig
considered “family member.”

You all know the story of the boy who cried wolf too many times so that when a real wolf arrived no one would believe him. We have an interesting example of a similar problem stemming from the Republican Party announcing they will work to bring down the Obama Presidency by being the Party of “No.”They have been living up to this vow religiously. No on the stimulus, no on health care, no on closing Guantanamo, no on leaving Iraq, no on leaving Afghanistan, no on diplomacy with Iran, no on choice, no on unions, no on helping the automobile industry, no on cap and trade, no on trying the terrorists in the U.S., no on investigating Bush/Cheney, no on investigating 9/11, no on global warming, and now no on the President engaging in ordinary protocol, just no, no, no, no, no.

As this is their publicly announced strategy, and as they faithfully vote no on everything, we can rightfully assume they have no claim to credibility of any kind. No on everything Obama wants or needs to do also means no input. No input means we cannot expect them to offer anything in the way of positive suggestions or help no matter what the issue. What it also means is they have declared themselves completely irrelevant as their automatically saying no to everything is both predictable and of no help whatsoever. Thus as they have opted out of participation in our political life they have no right to claim they are not being consulted about anything. They have, in short, become non-participants in our community life. If it were up to me I would take away their right to vote (what is the point of having a minority group of people who have already announced they would vote no, no matter what). If and when they decide to rejoin the rest of us and try to act responsibly I would reconsider, but until then they are simply out of the picture. We must pass health care without them, and anything else that needs doing. As far as I know, no Party in history has ever before simply refused entirely to participate in governing. Usually a losing Party at least attempts to have some kind of input and cooperates on things of national interest. These tactics of no are infantile in the extreme. It’s as if they are having tantrums and refusing to eat their mush.

Knowing they do not have enough no votes to get their way, they have decided to delay on health care. They assume the longer they can delay any action the more chance the Insurance and Pharmaceutical giants will be able to influence more Congresspersons to kill the bill. I hope everyone realizes what this involves. A minority of Republicans, acting out of nothing but naked greed, are going to try to deny health care to millions of their fellow citizens. No matter that this health care reform is desperately needed, no matter that we are the only so-called “civilized” country in the world that does not provide universal health care, no matter that some 40 plus thousand die every year for lack of health care, no matter that we spend billions upon billions killing people but cannot afford health care for our own, no matter this has been an issue for such a long time and is now on the threshold of becoming a reality, they fatten their wallets and campaign funds, sit back in their plush offices, enjoy their own marvelous health care, and just say no to those less fortunate. They are, to be generous, disgusting.

The Palin book is to be released tomorrow, although quite a few people have it already. I fear it is going to be a he-said, she-said fiasco, with the McCain staffers she criticizes insisting she lies and she denying it. In any case we will have to put up with Silly Sarah for quite a while. It is a sad commentary indeed that some 30% of Americans apparently think she is qualified to be President of the U.S., when in fact she has no real qualifications whatsoever, is ignorant as can be about most everything, speaks like a hillbilly, and displays all the sophistication of a nanny goat. She is, I believe, the personification of what is wrong with the United States. I guess it is fitting that she seems to be the one bright star in the Republican firmament: ignorant, greedy, shameless, without an idea in her head except to get rich speaking to people even less well informed than she is, enjoying her few moments of undeserved fame. I seriously doubt anyone will remember her in just a few short years. But I do hope she gets the Republican nomination.

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
Douglas Adams

The lynx is the national animal of Romania.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trotsky - book

Trotsky Downfall of a Revolutionary, by Bertrand M. Patenaude (Harper Collins, 2009)

Leon Trotsky, born Lev Davidovich Bronstein (1879) to a well-off Russian, non-religious, Jewish farming family, became second in importance only to Lenin during the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was first People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, one of the first members of the Politburo, and he founded and was Commander of the Red Army that successfully defeated the Whites. As a critic and rival of Stalin, and Stalin’s policies, he was thrown out of the Communist Party, and eventually found asylum in Mexico where he was assassinated on Stalin’s orders. For these modest achievements he was recently dismissed as a “schmuck” by a most disgraceful excuse for a book review (Justin Moyer, Seattle Times, Sunday, November 8, 2009). This brief and dismissive review makes me wonder if the reviewer even read the book.

This book is not a biography of Trotsky, nor does it tell you much about the Russian revolution. It focuses primarily on the years of Trotsky’s exile in Mexico, the only major country that agreed to accept him after the Russians pressured other countries, finally including Norway, to expel him, and only after the intervention of the great Mexican painter, Diego Rivera (a dilettante socialist), who approached the then Mexican President, Lazaro Cardenas on his behalf. Trotsky, who had been an important literary figure in Russia, and was himself a fine writer and critic, managed to support himself, his wife, and a number of bodyguards through his writing, and with the assistance of Trotskyite factions in the U.S. and elsewhere. While it is true that he did not do well in interpersonal relations, he was a spellbinding speaker, and did receive the loyalty of many (both paid and volunteer) followers who often referred to him simply as the “Old Man.” Much of his time in exile was spent defending himself from the outrageously false charges Stalin persisted in pursuing, in spite of the fact that he was acquitted by an investigative commission led by no less a figure than John Dewey. Trotsky had predicted the shameful Stalin/Hitler pact, and also what would happen to the Soviet Union under Stalin, and he wrote widely and often on such subjects, at times in a very insulting manner towards Stalin, which, of course, did not sit well with the Dictator. It was no secret that Stalin wanted him eliminated.

As a result of Stalin’s known intentions, Trotsky’s life in Mexico was one of constant vigilance. He lived in a carefully guarded complex with five or six bodyguards in attendance at all times. For a man who liked to travel, picnic, hunt and fish, his activities were restricted but not completely, and he did enjoy occasional outings. Among other things he became interested in collecting cactus and filled his patio with different varieties. He also enjoyed raising chickens and rabbits. Trotsky was known as a bit of a philanderer and had a brief affair with Rivera’s artist wife, Frida Kahlo, that was apparently not known to Rivera who was an extremely jealous person (when Rivera and Trotsky finally parted ways it was not because of this affair). While Trotsky’s wife, Natalia Sedova (of almost forty years, and mother of their two children), might well not have been happy about this, to say she was “humiliated,” as the above mentioned reviewer writes, has to be far from the truth. No one could possibly read the account of Trotsky’s death in this book, and Natalia’s reaction at the time, and not believe the love between them was not far more powerful than could possibly have been affected by Trotsky’s apparently occasional dalliances. Indeed, one of the last things Trotsky said to her while dying was that he loved her, he insisted everything should go to her, and implored his colleagues to take care of her. When he died, in her grief, she pressed her face against the soles of his feet.

Having survived a major but failed attack on his stronghold by a number of armed intruders, Trotsky was finally murdered on Stalin’s orders with a blow to the head by single operative who had managed to infiltrate his immediate entourage. The picture of Trotsky that emerges from this interesting book, at least for me, is that of an intellectual and political giant who, entirely consumed by his belief in the possibility of a workers’ paradise, did not suffer fools gladly, was not very concerned about most others or their feelings, did not compromise easily or at all, was a demanding taskmaster, and perhaps a bit of a perfectionist, and relentlessly pursued his revolutionary beliefs. He opposed and bravely fought against Stalinism when it was exceedingly dangerous for anyone to do so. He believed that Stalin had failed the revolution and socialism, but at the same time could not repudiate his own life’s work as a socialist, and believed in socialism until the very end. I do not think the subtitle of this book, “Downfall of a Revolutionary,” is entirely appropriate, it should more properly be “Destruction of a Revolutionary,” or even more appropriately, “Assassination of a Revolutionary.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Just Politics

Swedish woman arrested for
attempting to strangle co-worker
for wearing strong perfume.

Is it stupidity, ignorance, fear, insanity, or just politics as usual for Republicans? The response of Republicans to the news that four of the 9/11 terrorists will be tried in the United States (presumably New York) has to be all politics. They have to know that we have tried terrorists in the U.S. many times and that our civilian courts are well up to the task. They have to know that the chances any of these guys will end up on the streets of our cities are nonsensical. They have to know that our prisons already contain terrorists and that they are virtually escape proof. They have to know that these men have been held in prison without being charged for eight years. They have to know the U.S., at least in principle, stands for truth and justice for all. And they also have to know that the attack on 9/11 was not truly an act of “war,” but, rather, basically a criminal act of unusual scope and significance. If they do not know these things they are either stupid or ignorant, or both. And if they are as truly fearful of these prisoners as they claim to be, they are no more mature than schoolgirls fearing to cross the street or encountering the boogyman. Their objections to the Attorney General’s announcement are just another example of being opposed to anything Obama or his administration wants to do, no matter how right or just or proper it might be. John McCain ought to know, if he doesn’t, that these four defendants are not “soldiers” fighting in a “war.” They do not represent any country or nation or political entity that could properly be called an organized polity that could wage war against another country. For McCain to claim otherwise is just as phony as his pick for Vice-President.

You might think in a case of this kind Republicans would be every bit as interested in doing the right thing and seeing justice prevail as all the rest of the country. But, no, all they are interested in is seeing Obama (and by implication our country) fail, so they can somehow return to power and again let the corporations and obscenely wealthy keep us all in wage and credit card slavery. I keep telling myself these Republicans cannot possibly be as stupid or crazy as they appear, but each day they do something to make me have to reconsider. I am beginning to believe they will not rest until they have forced a revolution or destroyed the planet, or both.

Sarah Palin’s book will be out next week. I pray the gods will be merciful enough so that we will not have to suffer it very long. Bits have been leaked and it is already pretty clear that much of what she says is either false or trivial. I do not intend to read it (having suffered enough from the Palin “phenomenon” already). Although I haven’t read it, and won’t, I would be willing to bet there is nothing of substance in it, in spite of Limbaugh’s claim, and reading it will be nothing but a waste of time (certainly no one in their right mind would actually purchase it). No need to buy it, you can be sure we’ll hear all about it over and over and over on the 7/24 infotainment networks. The very idea that anyone, anywhere, anyway, in any circumstances, could possibly believe Palin is “Presidential material” makes me shudder, my blood run cold, and the few hairs left on my head stand up in fright. I think this is the most terrifying possibility I have encountered in all of my years, to say nothing of the most ridiculous.

With the news that the 9/11 criminals are going to be tried comes now a lot of talk about how we are a nation of laws, seeking justice, and accountability and blah, blah, blah. So why are we not investigating and prosecuting the known war criminals in our midst, war criminals still walking around, making speeches, getting awards, making big bucks, even criticizing our current administration? Most of the major details of the Bush/Cheney criminal activity are already known, torture, for example, they have already admitted, and their lies for starting an illegal “war” have been exposed for all to see. So if we are a nation of laws, and if our law and constitution require that we take action against such criminals, why are we not doing so? The misery these two criminals have caused should get them, at an absolute, minimum, eternal damnation.

Armies march by tower and spire
Of cities blazing, in the fire;
Till as I gaze with staring eyes,
The armies fall, the lustre dies.

From a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The 20-60-20 Rule

Confused man wakes up in ditch
with empty moonshine jar in overall
bib, loaded rifle, machete, and pot.

I could be wrong (as I often am), but my experience leads me to believe that the 20-60-20 rule is pretty accurate when it comes to almost everything. That is, it doesn’t matter much what it is or what you are doing: making a speech, manufacturing a product, teaching a class, talking about an idea, inventing something, or even being President of the United States, 20% of the population will like it, 20% will not like it (or even hate it), and 60% will not think much about it one way or the other. I suspect this is pretty much the way people think now about Obama, and I suspect it is probably the way they think about the health care bill, and even abortion. This is not often obvious because polls show that the population is pretty much split on things. Obama’s poll numbers, for example, or the split on abortion, or the Afghanistan “war,” and so on. But if you think about it, this, too, makes sense, because the 60% who don’t think much about things, if forced to decide, probably split 50-50 pretty predictably. These numbers are not very precise, of course, and there are sometimes exceptions. It is possible, for example, to have a teacher who is so bad most everyone hates him or her. And in the case of Dick Cheney or George W. Bush, things got so bad their numbers were skewed as well. Cases have to be really extreme however, to violate the rule by very much. What this means, unfortunately, is that the 60% who really don’t think about things very much, are the ones who ultimately decide elections. You notice that most elections are decided by only a few percentage points, 53%, 47%, or less, or something like that, and rarely, by an overwhelming majority. This is also one reason they can be unpredictable.

Another such rule I believe holds true as well, the 20%, 80% rule, that states basically (and I think pretty accurately) that 20% of the population has 80% of the health problems. This is how the Insurance companies make their money, by refusing to insure the 20% that need Insurance the most. One might argue, of course, that the healthy should not have to pay for the unhealthy, but that seems to me to violate the very notion of empathy and looking out for each other that a decent society should aspire to do. Remember “love thy neighbor as thyself,” or the Golden Rule, that ought to influence our behavior (but doesn’t seem to very well in our “free-market,” capitalistic system, or among Republicans).

Another rule that is sometimes called into question has to do with democracy. We tend to believe that in a democracy the majority should rule, and most of the time it does. It is what happens when that rule is challenged that trouble can arise. This is what is happening at the moment when it comes to abortion. Abortion in the U.S. is legal, the majority has spoken on this, the courts have gone along with it, and you would think that would be that. But the pro-life crowd simply refuses to give up, as we can see now in the battle over health care (which really isn’t about abortion). The Stupak amendment tries to extend the rules on abortion in such a way as to make it more difficult for women (especially poor women) to get abortions, and thus is a subtle attempt to shade Roe vs Wade. Needless to say, the many women (the majority) who believe in choice are not at all happy about this amendment and insist it be removed from the health care bill. Stupak and others are insisting it must be in the bill or they will not support the (health care) bill. The women say they will not support a bill if it remains in the bill. This could potentially kill any health care bill once again. Either one side must prevail or there will be no compromise and thus no bill at all. I believe it would be absolutely unconscionable to not pass this vitally needed health care bill because of this one amendment. We might hope that when it comes down to the wire the proponents of the amendment will blink and agree to remove it. The worst feature of this is that unfortunately if they do not ultimately give in they will not only do away with changing health care for the better, they will basically be challenging the democratic system itself. If you live in a democracy you must abide by the rules, rules established by the majority, you cannot just pick and choose which rules you will follow and which ones you will not. If allowed to violate whatever rules you wish you have anarchy rather than democracy.

Both sides in this battle over abortion believe they have morality on their side, and they tend to believe their particular moral standards are absolute. Absolute moral standards unfortunately are not compatible with democracy, where standards are decided politically rather than theologically or philosophically (although these might well feature in individual decisions).
The corporate entities that are opposed to any change in our dysfunctional health care system could care less about abortion, but they will not hesitate to use it as a means to torpedo the health care bill. This is as undemocratic as it can be, and un-American as well (if you believe America actually is a democracy). This marriage between corporations and fundamentalists, however unlikely it may seem, has been a very unhealthy partnership for our country and the interests of its citizens.

What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like, and immorality is what they dislike.
Alfred North Whitehead

The comic strip L’il Abner was drawn and published for 43 years by Al Capp.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Can Both Sides be Right?

She sleeps with vodka bottle,
he throws it out,
she responds with knife.

How nice to have a President with brains who also seems to use them! Obama has rejected all options presented to him on Afghanistan, all of which involved sending more troops. Does this mean he won’t send more troops? Not necessarily. But as he has said our commitment there is not open-ended he has certainly taken a new position and indicated that he wants us out of there if and when possible. You know perfectly well that were Bush/Cheney still in office we’d already be there with more and more troops, more and more war profiteers, more and more deaths, and no plan to end it ever (a non-ending war is necessary to keep their industrial/military/political system in eternal profits).

I find this to be a truly interesting situation in which it is possible that both sides of the argument are probably correct. But they begin from entirely different premises. That is, if the goal is to “win,” the generals are probably correct, they need more troops. But as it has become clear, there is no way to win either militarily or politically. While some have already concluded we cannot win militarily, there has remained, among some at least, the idea that we could still bring about a democratic government in Afghanistan. Now, however, even that goal is being acknowledged as unrealistic and unattainable. This is partly because the corruption of the Karzai government makes it difficult if not impossible to continue, and also because our Ambassador there, a retired three-star Admiral with vast experience both in the military and in politics, has been imploring Obama not to send more troops. What Obama is being forced to decide is what to do in these circumstances. This is as it should be. He is the Commander-in-Chief as well as our President. He does not have to tell the generals they are wrong, only that as their goals cannot be achieved, we have to change them. He is, I sincerely hope, changing them by abandoning them as totally unrealistic, facing reality, and trying to end what is a hopelessly lost cause. The growing opposition on the part of the American public to sending more troops, plus the fact that we cannot realistically afford this unnecessary “war,” should make Obama’s decision somewhat less politically dangerous. Of course Obama’s critics, and Republicans in general, will accuse him of surrender and of being too weak to govern, and a quitter, and doubtless a lot worse things, but if he succeeds in getting us to give up this failed venture he will surely have done the brave and right, and not simply politically expedient thing (for which he could pay a very heavy and undeserved price).

I confess I cannot understand what Republicans think they are doing. They have already lost any chance of getting much of the Black vote, it is exceedingly doubtful that many Hispanics will vote Republican, Muslims and gays will not vote for them, and now they have managed to enrage a majority of American women. They seem to believe their only chance of winning again is by causing Obama to fail. But their tactics have been so thuggish, shrill, rude, crude, and publicly announced, I can’t see how they could gain many votes that way. But this is the U.S., and half the population is of below average intelligence, and many others don’t seem to pay any attention, and on top of that the Republican propaganda machine (including the MSM) is pretty efficient, the lies are so outrageous many will believe them, and the electorate has no memory, so I suppose anything could happen. And not only that, if Obama cannot quickly demonstrate that he can walk on water and part the sea of red ink he inherited from Bush/Cheney he will no doubt be blamed for everything (that can’t perhaps be blamed on Clinton). I should think the Republican Party ought to be on the way to extinction, but stranger things have happened.

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.
Sir Winston Churchill

Confirmed: No good deed goes unpunished.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Nightmare Years

Arguing with girl friend, he
forces her out of her car
and pushes it into the river.

I realize that politics is not bean bags, and I know there have been times in the past when vile tactics have been employed by one political party against another, but I can’t help but wonder if what we have been seeing for the past few years on the part of Republicans (and fellow travelers) really has any precedent. Let me start with the Republican attack on Bill Clinton if only for convenience. It does seem that the Republicans deliberately set out to bring down the Clinton Presidency no matter what they had to do to succeed. This was not designed to change a policy or direction but, rather, to actually destroy him. They brought up Whitewater (a nothing issue to begin with) and then proceeded to accuse Bill and Hillary of everything including murder (I don’t know if any previous President had been accused of murder but I suppose I could be wrong). In any case when all of their attempts and false accusations proved groundless they mounted an unprecedented attack on his private, particularly sexual life (an area that had previously not been considered fair game, so to speak). While they succeeded in getting him impeached, they failed to bring down his Presidency. I believe this whole extreme episode was basically something new in American politics.

At this same time the concept of roviating (my term) was born. That is, it became an integral and acceptable part of the Republican strategy to use tactics that in their extreme form were probably unprecedented. They deliberately set out to slime, malign, denigrate, humiliate, and lie to whatever extent necessary, and however false, to bring down their “prey.” I think they had some success with this although I cannot think at the moment of a specific example (other than Bill and Hillary Clinton).

Now turn to the election of 2000 when, as far as I know it had never happened before, a gang of Republican thugs were sent to Florida with the express (fascist) purpose of stopping the vote count and, then, with the Supreme Court in a completely unprecedented action on their side, managed to steal an election. Subsequently there have been cases where it is known that the new electronic voting machines were fixed to steal votes, also unprecedented.
Apparently buoyed by their successes in the field of stealing elections by cheating and threatening and lying, they have continued on a campaign of “anything goes” to try to get their way. When, for example, was their ever before an organized attempt to simply shut down community meetings by shouting and disrupting the proceedings more or less randomly? That is, the purpose was not to argue a point but, rather, to just shut down any dialogue at all. And when did anyone previously shout out “you lie” during a Presidential address? When before were women deliberately shouted down when they attempted to exercise their right of free speech in Congress?

And what about the so-called tea-baggers, organized groups to protest anything and everything the President wanted to do, using signs and slogans as vile as could be imagined, with comparisons of the President of the United States to Stalin, Hitler, and even monkeys and apes? A major media organization printing a cartoon of the President as a Chimpanzee, knowing full well it would be a deliberate insult and smear, a cartoon printed by the same paper that has now admitted to its deliberate goal of bringing down the President of the United States, and also acts as an ally of the Republican Party rather than a legitimate news organization (and owned and operated by an Australian). While cartoons lampooning Presidents and others have long been employed, I do not believe there is any precedent for Fox “News.” Nor do I believe there is a precedent for using horrible pictures of the Holocaust to compare it to health care. Nor, as far as I know, have individuals been showing up armed at public meetings.

When did members of one party come to believe it is appropriate to actually assassinate individuals who were doing perfectly legal things they did not agree with? Abortion doctors have been fair game for these fanatics who show no remorse for their vile acts. Now they have even taken their terror tactics and obscene pictures to the school in which the President’s children are in attendance. What bothers me the most about all this is that there seem to be no limits to how low they are willing to go to get their way, it’s as if once they started down this basically criminal, mafia-like career path it has just gathered more and more momentum and thrown morality, ethics, and common decency out the window. I have not even mentioned the deliberate lies about death panels, concentration camps, and what have you, and I have not mentioned the lies that led us into an unnecessary “war,” the torture, the war crimes, war profiteering, renditions, etc., etc., There appear to be no depths of depravity they are unwilling to descend into in order to maintain their power and their inhuman “free maket” capitalism. I hear this evening on Maddow they are even resisting laws against slave and child labor (we know they have always been opposed to decent wages, unions, health care and anything in the public interest).

I do not know the specifics of previous political periods very well, but I suspect there has never been a period quite like this one. The first decade of the 21st century should deservedly be described as “The Nightmare Years.”

At the End

He was so old his bones seemed to swim in his skin.
And when I took his hand to feel his pulse
I felt myself drawn in. It was as faint
as the steps of a child
paddling across the floor in slippers,
and yet he was smiling.
I could almost hear a river
running beneath his breath.
The water clear and cold and deep.
He was ready and willing to wade on in.

Ed Meek

Monday, November 09, 2009

Insurance Care

Man says he is not a bigamist
because he failed to say
“I do” during second marriage.

I guess we should be thankful that the House passed some semblance of a health care bill, even if it is a sell-out to the Insurance industry. For me it’s really quite simple, if the Insurance industry is still included in our health care system, the system cannot be worth having. I believe this sincerely as I can see no reason why Insurance companies should have anything whatsoever to do with health care. They make no contribution towards health at all, merely shuffling paperwork around and devising more and more outrageous ways to keep from paying. Their obscene profits are in direct proportion to the amount of misery they produce, and they produce plenty. It is apparently true there are some positive features to what has been passed so far. But in return for any positive change for the better the Insurance industry was given some 30 to 40 million more people who are now obliged to carry health insurance, they now have to have it, and if you think the Insurance companies came out on the short end of the deal you must be either naïve or Republican, or both. With that many more suckers to fleece the Insurance people can afford to be (at least a little bit generous).

Of course so far the bill has only made it through the House. It still has to go through the Senate. It is quite possible we will end up with no health care bill at all, or one that is worse than what we have now (if, indeed, that is even possible). Like Afghanistan, said to be the graveyard of empires, the Senate is often the graveyard of anything that smacks of improving the public welfare. At the moment one of the grave threats emanating from that pompous body is coming from Joe Lieberman who says he will oppose any bill with a public option. This wouldn’t be quite so bad if Holy Joe didn’t insist his conscience will not allow him to do otherwise. From his behavior of the past few years I wasn’t aware he had a conscience, but if he does, it doesn’t seem to bother him that he and his wife have benefitted handsomely from the very interests that do not want to see a public option. I suppose this is just a coincidence. But if you think Lieberman is hypocritical about this he is not alone. Evan Bayh and his wife benefit even more from these predatory industries and Bayh, too, is threatening to vote against the public option, just another strange coincidence no doubt.

There is another reason we may not get a bill, those uppity women who insist they should have control over their own bodies. In order to get a bill passed in the House Pelosi had to agree to allow a vote on the Stupak amendment. As the Stupak amendment turns the clock back a bit on the right to choose, naturally it passed. Pro-choice women, who are in the majority, are (rightly) furious about this and some are now saying no bill can come out of the Senate unless this Neanderthal amendment is stripped out completely. I don’t know if this can happen as elderly white men seem determined that they, above all others, should have control over women’s bodies. Is this perhaps just the survival of a primitive form of womb envy carried over from the distant past?

It appears that the only two Congressmen with valid reasons to vote against this health care bill were Dennis Kucinich and Erik Massa. They saw it for what it is, a gigantic giveaway to the Insurance industry. I don’t know anything about Massa, but Kucinich has long been a champion of single-payer health care, the only plan that I, too, believe is truly is worth having. Kucinich seems to be about the only person left in Congress (along with Senator Bernie Sanders, gasp, a socialist) who actually believes they should act in the public interest (for which they are often ignored, ridiculed and considered “eccentric” or worse).

I think that even with all its flaws, including the fact that it is basically not worth having, we do have to commend Pelosi for a job well done. Obama and the Democrats under Pelosi did manage to pass something that no other congress has been able to pass for somewhere between 60 and 100 years. This did require great political skill and hard work, especially given the intransigent nature of the Democratic Party and its representatives in Congress. It does remain true that doing nothing at all is not an option, but I do wonder if awarding billions more to the Insurance and Pharmaceutical industries in order to get some little more than cosmetic changes will be worth it.

The people may be made to follow a path of action, but they may not be made to understand it.

TILT: Agoutis are regarded as the only species that can open Brazil nuts without tools

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Blind Side - book

The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton and Co., 2009).

This, for me, was one of those rare books that I found hard to put down once I began reading. It is an exceedingly interesting account of a young Black man’s rise from poverty and neglect to become a millionaire professional football player. Sometimes described as “a freak of nature,” Michael Oher at sixteen already was six feet six inches tall and weighed 350 pounds. But he was also, for a person of that size, extremely gifted by being exceptionally fast and mobile. Through a series of rather improbable events he was enrolled in a small, private Christian college where he could play both basketball and football. Although this was an obscure college as far as football went, he was discovered early by football scouts who all believed at first sight of him, because of his size and unusual physical abilities, that he was destined for College and eventually a career in the NFL. During his first weeks at college he still had no permanent home and was forced to spend time with a number of different people in the ghettos of Memphis, living hand to mouth, wearing the same clothing day after day, and so forth. He was then taken in by a white, Republican, and very wealthy family who eventually adopted him. Thus he acquired a white mother (who became extremely active on his behalf) and a wealthy father (who was unusually generous), along with a sister of his own age and a young brother with whom he became very close. As he had had virtually no education they provided him, not only with love and a home, but also with a tutor and most everything he could have desired. As his background was so impoverished he had to be slowly enculturated into the upper middle class society he had entered. He eventually raised his grades sufficiently to be allowed to play sports, and also to be admitted to Ol’ Miss University where he duly became a football standout. It is difficult to read this inspiring story without a tear or two along the way as it is a story of hard work and dedication, ambition and determination, as well as love and devotion. As Michael was one of thirteen children whose mother was a drug addict and could not look after him, with a father he didn’t know, and a history of running away from one foster home after another to live on the street, the odds against him were enormous. Without the help of his adopted (and wealthy) parents he would not have had much of a chance at anything other than prison.

But there is much more to this book than Michael Oher’s personal story, as the author situates Michael in the context of professional football and its demands for players, especially players with Michael’s rare size and ability. Not only do you learn much about football strategy, coaching, and the like, but specifically about the unusual demand for left tackles, a position that has been raised to a much higher status than other linemen, and, indeed, sometimes even higher than that of quarterback. You also learn the lengths to which Universities will go to sign outstanding football prospects, the promises they will make, and the various means that can be employed to make prospects respectable. For example, if you have money to hire tutors, and if you know the right places to go, you can quickly raise failing grades into “A’s” and thus conveniently raise a grade point sufficiently for college acceptance. You can also expunge criminal records and make certain the prospective players will not be considered potential troublemakers, and so on. As Michael’s adopted father had been a standout athlete at Ol’ Miss himself, and his wife was also a graduate of that distinguished University, there was much suspicion on the part of some (a great many other Universities had attempted to sign Michael) that they had deliberately groomed Michael specifically for the purpose of playing football there. By giving him food and lodging, as well as money and other material things, this might well have been against the rules of intercollegiate recruiting. But as the family had taken Michael in before he even played football, and as they were already incredibly wealthy, these kinds of charges could not be confirmed, even though Michael did sign at Ol’ Miss instead of the many other football programs that might have promised him even more. Michael now plays left tackle for the Ravens, having signed an initial five-year contract for 13.8 million dollars. His fantastic success story is being made into a motion picture.

Michael Oher comes across as a sadly neglected and ignorant, but by no means unintelligent, young man who tried to do the right things and learn what was required of him. However, much to my chagrin (and chagrin is putting it mildly) there is what to me is a dark side to this fantastic story. For one thing it demonstrates (once again) that if you have money and connections you can pretty much do as you please, whereas if you are poor and powerless you may well be doomed. There is a disturbing aura of “I’ve got mine, you get yours,” as well as a “what’s in it for me,” attitude. This can be seen clearly in the behavior of the younger brother who, even though a child, demands of the various recruiters what they will do for him. This might strike you as funny, but later, when he demands to know why his sister and Michael should even be included in his father’s will (because they will both be wealthy on their own) it reveals a mind set that is not very flattering. But what truly soured the story for me was the following:

“Not long after college coaches informed him that he had a future in the NFL, Michael informed Leigh Anne (his adopted mother) that, if he indeed made it to the NFL, he intended to buy a house with thirteen bedrooms so that his mother and siblings would be guaranteed shelter. Now he wasn’t so sure he wanted to do that. ‘They had the same chances I had,’ he said. ‘They need to get off their lazy asses and work. They need to start hearing ‘no.’”

This is a statement so delusionally false and (in my opinion) awful, that I wonder if he really said this or if it is merely being attributed to him by the author or someone else.

In an afterword to the paperback edition the author observes that reactions to his book were bizarre and self-contradictory, some thinking it was too liberal and other complaining it was a conservative polemic, others thought it was a Christian miracle, and still others shunning it because it contained the word “evolution,” and so on. For me, I’m sorry to say, I think it reveals the depth of Michael’s indoctrination into basic and apparently permanent Republican values: money and influence count more than what might be right, what’s in it for me, and I’ve got mine, you get yours.