Sunday, February 28, 2010

Without Fidel - book

Without Fidel A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington, by Ann Louise Bardach (Scribners, N.Y., 2009).

Ann Louise Bardach is an award-winning investigative journalist who has covered Cuba and Cuban politics for almost twenty years. In this fine book she offers an analysis of the long slow dying of Fidel Castro, the presence of the new President, Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro, and what this might mean for the future of Cuba and Cuban-American relations.

The book is divided into three major sections: The Long Dying, The Fidel Obsession, and Raul’s Reign. For those interested in the ailments afflicting Fidel Castro you will find them described here in some detail. I, for one, was surprised to learn that contrary to the rumors, he has not been suffering from cancer, but, rather, from a very severe problem of diverticulitis, complicated by repeated surgeries, not all of them entirely successful. And also contrary to some rumors, he is not dead, and, although not in good health, remains very much in charge despite now being in the background. In this first part of the book Bardach also gives a detailed account of the Castro families. You would have to have a much more profound interest in this family history than I do to truly appreciate it. I am quite content to know only that Fidel’s father, Angel, emigrated to Cuba from Spain, and by a great deal of hard work and talent managed to become a large and wealthy landowner. This allowed his children to have a fine education although they were not what would be considered upper-class Cubans. I also learned that Fidel, twice-married, has some eleven children, at least five of them from affairs with other women, and that this is apparently not at all unusual in Cuba. His father also had children in this way as does his brother Raul, although not as many. There are genealogies of both families provided, if you are sufficiently motivated to trace all of the family members, where they are and what they are doing. In this same section of the book there is discussion of the history of the “empire,” and considerable detail about Fidel’s illness and treatment, as well as information about his relationship with Hugo Chavez and others.

Part two continues a historical account of the revolution, the executions and defections, but then deals mostly with Fidel’s many enemies, including the Bush family, and more particularly with Avila Bosch and Luis Posada, responsible for the bombing of a Cuban plane and the deaths of all aboard. Bardach has been much involved with this investigation, there is no question of who was guilty, but there should be an investigation of the Bush families involvement and their protection of these murderous terrorists who now roam free with their passionate hatred of the Castro brothers. Indeed, the involvement of ex-President Bush and his father before him in Cuban affairs was much more involved than I suspected and is responsible for our failure to establish other than hostile relations with that nation. Their hypocrisy when it comes to the treatment of terrorists is quite apparent.

Part three deals primarily with the ascendancy of Raul now that his big brother is incapacitated but not out of the picture by any means. It also deals with the hardships Cuba has had to endure after the Russian collapse and withdrawal of aid. It seems that Raul is quite aware that Cuba must change if it is to survive, but most of his attempts to change have been rejected by Fidel. This is not to say Raul has changed his mind about communism or how to run Cuba, only to say that he has made at least some steps in the direction of reform. Although Raul might wish to instigate certain changes he still defers to his big brother, and no doubt will continue to do so until Fidel finally dies. It is clear that some progress is being made in Cuban/American relations now that Obama and Raul are Presidents, in spite of Fidel’s overriding influence. But as Raul is only four years younger than Fidel, and as virtually all of the major players in Cuban politics are elderly, the book might have been better titled “Without Raul.”

Without Fidel is a finely detailed, complex, and, I believe, a fairly objective account of the history and potential future of this island nation situated in the shadow of the larger and potentially aggressive United States. Bardach does an interesting job of describing the problems as well as the different personalities of the players. There is the intellectually inclined, flamboyant and garrulous, proud and arrogant Fidel, somewhat humorless, well read, brilliant, and opinionated, contrasted with the more poorly educated but intelligent Raul (who dropped out of the university because of lack of interest), who does not like the spotlight, making speeches, and is quiet and much more family oriented, as well as communistic (Fidel was never trusted by the communist party because he was too independent and unpredictable). Where Fidel governed by force of personality, Raul will govern through the military (where he has spent his entire career), and the communist party apparatus that has now become strengthened, and he appears to be in control of both of these institutions. It also seems clear that the U.S. has shot itself in the foot when it comes to Cuba and they will quite likely get by with good relations with other countries such as Venezuela, China, and others while we may be shut out of their new-found oil fields, their beginning to burgeon tourist industry, and so on. It is not my impression that Bardach set out to deliberately portray the Bush administration in such an unflattering portrait, but that’s the way they appear. And there is little doubt in my mind that the Bush administration created the conditions that kept the U.S. and Cuba from making any forward progress whatsoever for all these many years. An interesting insight into Fidel Castro’s pride is the fact that in fifty years he has never once cashed one of the rent checks the U.S. sends for Guantanamo. He also glories in the fact that he lives on in spite of his enemies and their wishes for his demise. I think Bardach should be commended for producing such a well-balanced and reasonably objective account of this up-until-now intractable situation.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

What is Newsworthy?

Mozambique goat owner demands
traditional dowry from two men
who had sex with his goat.

I think we need to give more consideration to what is “news.” Here is the definition from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

1 a : a report of recent events b : previously unknown information c : something having a specified influence or effect 2 a : material reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast b : matter that is newsworthy3 : newscast

I believe it is fair to say that by this definition anything, anything at all, is considered news. I guess this is why our 24/7 news channels so often offer us things like car chases, house fires, domestic disputes, celebrity misfortunes, divorces, snowstorms, marriages, and human interest stories in general. I guess these things are “news,” in the sense of “reports of recent events,” sometimes even “previously unknown information,” or “materials reported in a newspaper.” The question in my mind, however, is, are they always “matter that is newsworthy?” I confess I do not often think so. Now I would certainly agree that a terrible earthquake in Haiti, and an 8.8 earthquake in Chile are truly news, and also newsworthy, but are they sufficiently newsworthy to occupy news channels for twelve or more hours at a time? I do not wish to be considered unconcerned or uncaring, but really, after the initial announcements could they not move on to other news and periodically return to the earthquakes? Do we need to have a running account of each and every additional death, every collapsing building, the history of earthquakes in that region of the world, comparisons with other earthquakes that may have once happened? Perhaps I am wrong, but it does seem to me that the MSM uses these events to actually keep us from hearing any other real newsworthy news that must be happening somewhere else. I am certain there must be enough newsworthy events going on around the world to keep the news media gainfully employed without having to dwell on one or two stories for hours or even days on end. The fact is, or so it seems, they do not really deal in the newsworthy because that would cost them money. That is, it must be much less expensive to just tune in to one story than to employ reporters to gather news from around the world. Thus, in effect, we do not truly get news in any meaningful sense, we only get what is being reported from the latest hot spot, so to speak.

Related to this dismal situation is the fact that there seems to be no news worth reporting from around the world (except for earthquakes) on Saturdays or Sundays. It can’t be that nothing happens anywhere that is newsworthy on weekends, but, rather, because the U.S. tends not to work on weekends it is assumed that the rest of the world also does the same. So…when the U.S. shuts down for the weekend so apparently does everyone else. My idle mind does not, however, and I find myself thinking about little things of no real consequence. Why, for example, should turkey wings be more expensive than drumsticks? This makes no sense to me. Why is it there are no .380 caliber revolvers, only semi-automatic pistols? Similarly, why are there no .38 caliber semi-automatic pistols (or, if there are, they must be exceedingly rare)? Why should a letter from Bonners Ferry to Vancouver, Canada cost .75 cents, when a letter from Bonners Ferry to New York (a much farther distance) cost only .44 cents? Why is a pork roast a roast, whereas a ham is baked? What might be done with all those unused spaces that often lead into rest rooms? Apparently they are designed to maximize privacy (it wouldn’t do for anyone to actually see into the rest room itself), so there is a sort of dead space, sometimes even a little room, between the entrance to the bathroom and the bathroom itself. We here in the U.S. do not utilize these spaces for anything. The French, however, being more practical, station someone in these spaces to hand out towels and cosmetics and things, for a small contribution, of course. Think how many of these spaces must exist in the U.S., and then think of all the jobs that might be created (they would probably have to be subsidized I guess). Why are there no medium or ordinary sized eggs? All I can ever find is Jumbo, extra-large, and large. Why are both children and goats referred to as “kids?” Why is a liquid cup not the same as a cup of anything else? Why…oh, never mind. I warned you. Why does an idle mind never stop?

Sigmund Freud was a half baked Viennese quack. Our literature, culture, and the films of Woody Allen would be better today if Freud had never written a word.
Ian Shoales

Gene Sarazen made a rare double eagle with a 225 yard 4 wood shot to win the second Masters golf tournament, the shot “heard around the world.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Who are the "Crazies?"

Woman and boyfriend
coax five-year-old daughter
into stealing woman’s purse.

I fear it is getting impossible these days to tell who is “crazy” (insane) and who is not. It is also difficult to understand what might be done about someone who is by all outward appearances crazy. I mean how far “off” does someone have to be these days to be regarded as crazy? Take an obvious case like Michele Bachmann. To me she is certifiably crazy. I think so because of many of the things she has said lead me to that conclusion. For example, would a sane person complain that our little children were going to be forced to learn about homosexuality and then try it? Or how about, if we took away the minimum wage we could have full employment? Or we have to wean people off Social Security and Medicare? I submit that in the context of our current situation in the U.S. these are basically crazy ideas. But maybe she isn’t really crazy, but “crazy like a fox,” and has some reason for acting the way she does that I just do not understand.
How about Delaware’s Bob Marshall who, like Pat Robertson, believes the Haiti tragedy was God’s punishment and that disabled children are the result of previous abortions? Or a previous Idaho Congressman who insisted that breast cancer was caused by abortions? Are these types crazy, merely ignorant, perhaps downright stupid, or what? Then there is Representative Trent Franks who recently claimed that Blacks were better off under slavery than they are now. Is this a result of his ignorance of slavery, or a result of his strong anti-abortion beliefs, or both? This seems to me a really crazy remark for a Representative to make. There is also Representative Dean Heller who says that unemployment benefits are creating “hoboes.” Does he really believe this or does he just want to refuse extending unemployment benefits for financial reasons, or what?

What about homophobes, like the recent want-to-be beauty queen who said the bible was quite clear on the problem, very black and white, and they should be put to death. Could she possibly be that uncaring and stupid or is she simply crazy? There are also those like Family Research Council President Tony Perkins who says homosexuality is a crime. I don’t know where this legal opinion comes from but from all we know about homosexuality nowadays it is a crazy belief. Of course there are many people who believe this, are they all crazy? Indeed, are people who believe in a literal interpretation of the bible insane? I suspect so, but of course that is merely my opinion. These bible-thumpers are among the worst. Think of Pat Robertson whose pronouncements on almost everything seem to me absolutely insane, but he is influential. How about people like Mike Huckabee, ex-Governor of Arkansas who announced when running for President he did not believe in evolution. I have two questions here, is someone in this day and age who does not believe in evolution crazy, and is someone crazy for admitting it while running for President. Did he believe this admission might actually get him votes?

Then there are those like Jim Bunning, who is currently single-handedly holding out against extending unemployment benefits for no ostensible reason and refusing to budge even at the requests of his 99 colleagues. How are we to account for this kind of behavior? There is also the outstandingly obtuse James Inhofe who, against a tidal wave of scientific opinion, insists that global warming is a myth. I should think this clearly insane except for the fact that he may be simply representing the oil industry and doing what he can to stop legislation on global warming. Even so, given the current context of the problem of global warming, it would seem a pretty crazy position to take and maintain.

I should not leave out the truly hard-core believers like the “birthers” or the John Birch society people. It is surely crazy to keep insisting Obama show his birth certificate when it has been shown and is available on the internet. It is also crazy to assume that the State of Hawaii and a lot of others must have conspired when Obama was born to make him President by faking a birth certificate. But, hey, here we are dealing with real crazies, like the Birchers who claimed that even President Eisenhower was a communist. Some of Glenn Beck’s ravings are pretty clearly crazy, but he apparently has quite an audience. So is he really crazy or just busy making a lot of money, like Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter and others of that ilk.

My point here is not that all these people are necessarily crazy, but, rather, it is unfortunately impossible to tell whether they are or not. We seem to have reached a point in our political affairs where it is no longer possible to determine whether someone is crazy or not. And if someone, like Bachmann, for example, really is crazy, what might be done about it? Of course the people of Minnesota might vote her out of office eventually, but what if they do not? When the behavior of public figures runs the gamut from stupid, to ignorant, to devious, to mercenary, dishonest, absurd, and preposterous, how and where does one draw the line? What disturbs me even more is, how do these people get elected in the first place? You have to take a test to get a driver’s license, and often to get a job, but there is no test of any kind for fitness for public office. Maybe there should at least be some kind of interview for candidates for office, perhaps the Supreme Court Justices or other courts could be charged with this duty. Oh, I forgot, half of them are bonkers themselves. Sigh!

It does no harm just once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn't in flames, that there are people in the country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals.
Charles Kuralt

Billie Holliday was born Elinor Harris and nicknamed “Lady Day.” She was arrested for drug possession even as she lay dying on a hospital bed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A "Wash?"

Utah woman blindfolds husband,
promises him a surprise, hits
him on the head with hammer.

Happily I was not able to watch the Health Care Summit today as I was called out of town. It’s just as well because the first few minutes I saw before I left caused me to turn it off. Tonight I watched a few excerpts that only reinforced my opinion that it would go exactly nowhere. After all the discussion, all the talk, all the political maneuvering, all the hot air, the facts remain essentially the same. Republicans (1) do not want Obama to succeed at anything, (2) they do not want universal health care, and (3) I doubt very much that most of them even understand the problem of health care for ordinary Americans. They started off with a chorus of “this should be scrapped and we should start over,” that was obviously a strategy they had agreed on beforehand and they all used essentially the same phrase as if reciting a mantra. The ex-mayor of San Francisco, the brilliant Willie Brown, described this as childish. He’s right, it was. When it was obvious (it was obvious even before they started) this plea would go nowhere, they shifted to more particular remarks, as if the goal of the summit was to review all 1200 plus pages then and there, picking out individual points to object to (and generally lie about). Of course much of their objection had to do with their paranoid claim they had not been consulted, even though Obama pointed out that many of their points were actually included in the plan. Then they whined about reconciliation, as if such a thing had never occurred before. Harry Reid soon shut them up on that point. A Senator from Wyoming made a real fool of himself by obviously failing to understand the difference between himself, with a salary of $176,000 a year, plus health care, and an ordinary citizen with an income of $40,000 a year. He seemed to think they might both have an account they could draw upon in case of emergencies. John Boehner made the usual ass of himself towards the end by trying to argue that we cannot afford health insurance for everyone, we have the finest health care system in the world, and the American people (again) have rejected this plan. Republicans do not hesitate to speak for the American people even when the polls indicate the opposite of what they claim.

Anyway, the day was a wash. Obviously I am biased, but I truly believe that even objectively viewed, the Republicans came across as the obstructionists they have consistently become. It was said once or twice there are philosophical differences between the two parties. There certainly are. Democrats tend t o think health care is a right, Republicans think it is a privilege, and as they are the privileged, why should they care about anyone else. This is consistent with what they believe in general, we’ve got ours, so screw you, you lower-class, stupid, wage-earning scum, drink your six-pack a week and shut up and do your work, if you can find any (they don’t believe in minimum wages, unions, welfare, social security, Medicaid and Medicare, education, public transportation, and probably even public rest rooms, but they do apparently believe in permanent war, torture, war profiteering, assassinations, my country right or wrong, white male superiority, profits, fur coats, apple pie, and the bible). They are, in short, jingoistic, anti-humanitarian, capitalistic, imperialistic, racist war mongers, who feel entitled to rule the world by force of arms.

I am fighting against a slight tinge of optimism. It appears that Democrats are finally beginning to stand up for something, Obama is apparently finally realizing the hopelessness of trying to convince Republicans, at least some form of health care reform might be passed, there is beginning to be real pressure to do something about the terrible situation in Gaza, I think something at least semi-positive may be going on in Afghanistan, "Don’t ask, Don’t tell" may finally go, women are about to be allowed to serve on submarines, Sarah Palin is revealing herself more incompetent and uninformed every day, along with the tea-baggers, and Spring may be early this year. Things are not all bad, they just tend to seem that way, probably a hangover from the nightmare years just passed. When I tell everyone to “Be of Good Cheer,” I almost believe it. Perhaps hope is coming back to Mudville.

“The Rich always win.”
Linda Langness

Papa Byrd’s Bistro has been redecorated.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Wisconsin man tours
Real Estate open houses
to steal women’s panties.

I confess to not being a fan of Pat Buchanan. After all, he is a Republican and that in itself is enough to put me off. But I must also confess that on some of the most important issues facing us I agree with him. Today, for example, on, he has an article suggesting that we should abandon our empire. I agree with him entirely on this issue. It is absurd that we should have somewhere between 760 and 1000 bases spread out over some 148 countries and a defense/military/pentagon budget that is at least one trillion dollars a year. Think how quickly we could eliminate our debt, rebuild our infrastructure, provide health care and education for all, if we did not continue to bear this unnecessary burden. As Buchanan says, why should we be borrowing money from other countries to protect other countries? An excellent question, which raises another one in my mind, what on earth are we protecting them from? Presumably, when all this began, we were supposedly protecting them from communism (Russia). That was in the days when Russia was rivaling us as a superpower and we were so paranoid about communism taking over the world we started trying to build and secure what is now nothing less than a kind of semi-secret empire. It is well past time for this nonsensical empire to be disbanded and for us to admit we can no longer afford it and do not, in fact, need it. But what American President would be strong enough to try to change this unfortunate situation. Remember Churchill gave up power rather than “preside over the break-up of the British Empire,” and I feel somehow that is the way all of our Presidents will feel about abandoning our “empire.” Perhaps fiscal reality will eventually overcome this resistance and the empire will crumble anyway.

Of course one of the reasons I imagine will keep us trying to maintain our empire, and more importantly, our related military/industrial/political complex, has to do with the serious matter of unemployment. What, for example, would we do with the hundreds of thousands of military and support personnel? If we were to just throw them on the market, what with our 10% (actually greater) unemployment situation it would certainly make matters much worse. This raises again the question of “peak employment” I raised previously. That is, there just are not enough jobs to provide a job for everyone, and thus we have this problem of surplus populations. But why do we have surplus populations? I suppose one could argue there are just too many people, we are overpopulated, and therefore there cannot be enough jobs. I don’t believe this is the root cause of the problem. The real problem, I think, has to do with a combination of technological growth and ideology, at least in the United States. Our economy, along with our political system and most other of our institutions, is based upon the idea of a capitalistic society operating a (supposedly) free-market economy. Basically this means that our economy operates to generate profits. Profit is the goal. But what if we had a society in which the goal was full employment rather than simply profit? What if businesses and corporations were awarded for providing (decent) jobs rather than making a profit? Could there then be enough decent jobs for everyone? Probably not, because with our modern technology, human labor (energy) is not so vitally required to manufacture our products and grow our food as it used to be. In order for human energy to be put back into the equation we would have to give up our worship of efficiency and the economics of scale. Technology would have to be geared towards taking advantage of human energy once again. This would, of course, be difficult, and I have no doubt there would great resistance against the idea of having to sacrifice technological sophistication for jobs. But if the goal of society was to provide jobs rather than simply generate profits, would that not be a good thing? This reminds me of quite a few years back when a couple of people argued that the amount of energy expanded by a society was a measure of “civilization” (or “progress,” I guess). That is, the more energy consumed, the greater the sophistication and progress of a culture. I thought at the time this was rather a foolish belief and I suggested that perhaps cultures should more properly be ranked according to how much they could produce with the least amount of energy. Needless to say, this was not regarded as a serious approach to being “civilized.” I guess we might say the problem has to do with what to do with human energy, of which there seems to be a genuine surplus. The energy expended by humans used to be used for productive purposes: hunting and gathering, plowing and harvesting, processing plants and animals, gathering firewood and making clothes, and so on and on. Now all that energy is disbursed by using treadmills, jogging, weightlifting, sports, and such. I wonder sometimes how many treadmills are going at this moment, and how might all that energy be put to more useful and productive tasks? But those days are gone forever, along with the jobs.

The modern age has been characterized by a Promethean spirit, a restless energy that preys on speed records and shortcuts, unmindful of the past, uncaring of the future, existing only for the moment and the quick fix. The earthly rhythms that characterize a more pastoral way of life have been shunted aside to make room for the fast track of an urbanized existence. Lost in a sea of perpetual technological transition, modern man and woman find themselves increasingly alienated from the ecological choreography of the planet.
Jeremy Rifkin

The controlled use of fire probably began somewhere around 400,000 years ago (I think).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Peer Pressure?

Teen arrested for damage
when his diamond belt buckle
gouges floor while break dancing.

The more I think about John Yoo’s flawed and pathetic legal advice to Bush/Cheney, the madder and more outraged I become. This was not merely a case of “bad judgment,” it was so unbelievably awful it actually makes bad judgment look virtuous. In effect, Yoo’s decision about torture, unlimited and absolute Presidential power, implies that when it comes to human affairs there is no law, no morality, and no justice of any kind. So much for the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, habeas corpus, the Nuremberg trials, and International law, all irrelevant, swept away by a sycophantic ass-kissing puppy of a lawyer trying to please his master. The greatest achievements of human law and jurisprudence become meaningless if a single individual has the power to override them at will. This is a decision so monstrous in its implications for human societies it goes beyond even the absurd. And who is the most pleased person who actually boasts it was this decision that gave him the legal justification he needed for torture and war crimes, why none other than the most evil and sadistic monster in American history, Dick (the Slimy) Cheney. The fact that there are still those who apparently revere Cheney and still listen to him demonstrates just how sick some members of our society have become, even ignoring the fact that he has been wrong about everything. Similarly, I find it almost impossible to believe that John Yoo continues to be a Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley (of all places). These legal charlatans and Bush/Cheney cannot be allowed to get away with their abominable behavior. To do so will be an admission for all the world to see that the United States of America is not a nation of laws but, rather, a nation of evil greedy men willing to go to any lengths to preserve their power.

No public option? President Obama has released a document stating what he would like in a Health Care Bill. There is no public option. He has said previously, more than once, that he would like a public option. A majority of Americans in virtually every state in the union are in favor of and want a public option. The Democrats are poised to pass health care by reconciliation (51 votes) whether Republicans want it or not. So why is no public option included? As far as I can tell it’s because Democrats are a collection of the worst and most pathetic cowards on earth. Apparently the House says they would support a public option if the White House would, and the White House says they would support a public option if the House did, but neither one wants to lead the way. Now that’s what you call determination, the courage of your convictions, full speed ahead, our way or the highway, do or die, 54-40 or fight, Remember the Alamo, I regret I have only one life to give to my country, and blah, blah, blah. I suppose I would support a public option, if only because that would be better than nothing at all, but as far as I am concerned as long as the Insurance industry remains in on any deal it’s not going to be serious health care reform.

Apropros of nothing at all, I have been thinking about the phenomenon of “peer pressure.” I hear this quite often now, usually when someone is explaining why a child has gone wrong or at least done something wrong. This is usually defined as, and thought of as, your peers somehow coaching you, or encouraging you, or forcing you, or pressuring you somehow to do something you might not otherwise do. This is, I guess, a pretty good excuse for a young person doing something he/she should not have done, or would not have done, had it not been for this pressure from his/her peers. Based strictly on my own experiences I don’t think this is the way peer pressure actually works, at least not the way it worked in my case. While it is true that I did things my peers did, that we should not have been doing, I do not recall a single instance of being pressured by my companions into doing something. The pressure came from within myself. I wanted to do the things my friends were doing. No one gave me a cigarette and instructed me to smoke it (or I would be teased or beaten or anything). When I saw them smoking I wanted to smoke too. Similarly, no one ever forced me to drink beer, no one even offered me my first beer. I voluntarily chose a beer and drank it (and hated it at the time). But I was not going to let my friends think I was more well-behaved than they were. No one bullied or taunted me to go out and lose my virginity, I lost it because all my friends were losing theirs and I did not want to be outdone. I suspect no one really gives in to peer pressure unless they want to, although their wanting to is certainly related to what their peers are doing. I’m sure there are cases where kids are shamed into doing something by peer pressure, but I am equally sure the motivation in many cases is far more subtle than that. Peer pressure is similar to concepts like “stress,” and “depression,” and sometimes even “autism” or “schizophrenia,” that are used as explanations for behavior, but often explain nothing at all. Perhaps John Yoo could claim peer pressure, or better yet, that old favorite “the devil made me do it.” He certainly can’t claim any legal precedent.

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.
John Adams

Sarah Palin is never going to be a candidate for President.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Another Gloomy Sunday

Colorado family and cryonics
company fight over possession
of deceased woman’s head.

It is Sunday again. I have no book review this week as I have been unable to find a recent book either in our Library or Book Store, and I have not been to Coeur d’Alene for a while. Such is life in the hinterlands. I decided to use this opportunity to showcase the recent collections to my hobby: “Collecting Sex Tips for Women as They Appear on Womens’ Magazine Covers.” I love this hobby and I like to believe I am the only one who pursues it so avidly. I was inspired by my visit to the supermarket today where I noticed the latest appropriate magazines had recently appeared.

Cosmopolitan is as usual probably the best source. Today I found “How to Touch Naked Men 16 Naughty Strokes That Will Send Him Over the Edge.” On the same cover was “The Love Lie that 52% of men Tell.” On the magazine, Self: “New Sex Trend: Bad Idea or Bedroom Bliss” (I confess to be actually tempted to read this but I did not falter from my policy of never reading any of these tips). Shape had “The Hot Sex Tip Women are Talking About,” Redbook produced, “Feel Sexier Tonight 21 Ways to Unleash Your Inner Vixen.” Finally, I thought Complete Woman might be this month’s winner: “Put the Oh in Orgasms, Deliciously Luscious Ways to Longer, More Explosive Bed-Rocking Orgasms.” It also offered “Sexy Scents That Seduce Any Man.” I realize I might learn a lot more if I actually ever read any of these tips, but at my age what would be the point?

On a serious note I am wondering if John Yoo is basically a psychopath. It is hard for me to think otherwise when I consider what he has actually done and said. First (presumably at the request of Bush/Cheney) he wrote memos authorizing torture, even though torture had long been prohibited under both American and International Law. If his memos were to be followed (which they apparently were) it meant the torture (and apparently in some cases even death) of a number of people (quite likely innocent people). That would seem bad enough. But when asked hypothetically if a President could order a child’s genitals to be crushed in front of his parents, he said he could. Given that he must have known torture was illegal in the first place this would seem completely outrageous. He has also claimed that a President could if necessary order an entire village of innocent people to be destroyed. Where could he have possibly come to this idea unless out of his tortured brain? His interpretations here apparently follow from his insistence that during wartime a President’s powers are absolute. This, however, requires a level of delusion above the ordinary, because it implies that laws simply do not exist, or at best exist only to be broken at the whim of a President. I say “a” President because if this were true of one President (or ruler of any kind) it would have to be also true of any President or ruler, which again would mean the absence of any recognized law. While it might be true that Presidents and rulers have indeed broken these laws in the past that does not mean such laws do not exist and have not been agreed to under the rules of warfare and such. Thus according to Yoo there is no point in outlawing the use of poison gas, rape, murder, theft, or any other crimes against humanity. We would still all be living according to the laws of the jungle. Perhaps this is what Yoo actually believes, but I doubt it. If he does believe it he is a psychopath and if he doesn’t believe it but authorized it anyway he is mentally deranged in some important way. Happily, the loony decision that he just made an error in judgment is not going to be the end of it, as the ACLU, Congress, and the Center for Constitutional Rights are not likely to accept that clearly flawed judgment.

On an even more serious (and depressing) note, let me quote for you the original lyrics for the song Gloomy Sunday:

It is autumn and the leaves are falling
All love has died on earth
The wind is weeping with sorrowful tears
My heart will never hope for a new spring again
My tears and my sorrows are all in vain
People are heartless, greedy and wicked…

Love has died!

The world has come to its end, hope has ceased to have a meaning
Cities are being wiped out, shrapnel is making music
Meadows area coloured red with human blood
There are dead people in the streets everywhere
I will say another quiet prayer.
People are sinners, Lord they make mistakes…

The World has ended!

This was written in 1933 by a Hungarian musician, Rezso Seress. It became known as the Hungarian Suicide Song. It was subsequently changed somewhat by others. The most famous version is that of Billie Holliday, in which the message is a much more personal reflection on the loss of a loved one. The song was banned by the BBC during WWII as being too depressing for the situation at the time. Seress himself committed suicide in 1978. I believe this original version is just as apt today as it was in 1933. Things change but often say the same.

Nobody ever committed suicide while reading a good book, but many have while trying to write one.
Robert Byrne

The Olympics are no substitute for a good book.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Apologies to Fiedler

Saudi man gets 120 lashes
for having six wives,
two over the legal limit.

Come Back to the Tour Ag’in, Tiger Money (abject apologies to Leslie Fiedler). Tiger Woods finally spoke publicly about his transgressions. He admitted to being treated for “sex addiction,” said he was entirely to blame, apologized profusely to all concerned, and like a dutiful husband, praised his wife for her courage and bravery in the face of their difficulties and the paparazzi. He spoke for quite a long time and seemed to be sincere. What is one to make of this?
I certainly don’t go along with the sex addiction claim. Since when is a young, nice-looking, virile young man with a huge fortune and international celebrity status a “sex addict” for having had sex out of marriage with several young women? The cynic in me says this is bull pucky in the first degree. Having been caught, it was necessary for Tiger to perform some act of atonement. As he apparently doesn’t drink to excess or take dope to blame it on what is more appropriate than a sex addiction clinic. I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn if the clinic didn’t pay him for the publicity it will receive. And I strongly suspect the “therapy” consists of hitting practice balls and playing golf most of every day. Given Tiger’s status, probably most of the young women he comes in contact with are eager to jump in bed with him. And they can’t all have been bona fide “mistresses,” rather than one or two-nighters. I also suspect that many of his fellow professionals have had similar experiences, perhaps not as numerous or successful. To be as cynical as possible, I think Tiger may have wanted to say he enjoyed every minute of it and is sorry he got caught. But business is business and Tiger clearly knows how to make a buck.

It is said that Tiger’s apology even affected the stock market (probably the smart money rushing in to buy golf stocks). While Tiger’s endorsements may be curtailed (he still has some worth a lot of money, like Nike, for example), the PGA tour itself will no doubt benefit immensely when Tiger returns. And with his apology the stage is now set for his dramatic comeback. And unlike Mike Tyson and others who had to make themselves into villains to draw a crowd, Tiger is going to get the benefit of both those who want him to fail and those who want him to keep on winning, doubling the size of his audience and no doubt his paychecks as well. As far as the claim goes that he doesn’t fraternize with the others on the tour, that probably goes with being the best in the world. You don’t want to be too friendly to your rivals and lose any edge of intimidation or whatever. I haven’t seen any indication that Tiger is inherently anti-social, I think he just knows his business, and his business is winning golf tournaments. Perhaps he’s a bit arrogant, but that, too, probably comes with the turf. After all, if you’re the best golfer in the world (and quite likely the best ever), you are probably entitled to a bit of arrogance. It’s only when you fail to perform that you become humble. And coming from one who once threw his driver so far into a corn field he never found it, I forgive him for his moments of frustration and anger. Besides, he is hardly the only Pro golfer to have such moments (remember Terrible Tommy Bolt). And being perhaps the best known celebrity in the world, of course he wants and needs privacy.

Actually, I prefer to put my cynicism aside, and believe Tiger is entirely sincere in his apology and truly regrets his gross misbehavior. He’s a smart guy, and I believe probably basically a nice guy, I think he may well have been shocked by his discovery that he’s been acting like such a schmuck and wants to change and make amends. I’m sure he genuinely loves his wife and children. What saddens me is that this may well affect his career. His personal behavior seems not to have importantly affected his career up until now, but now he will no doubt be a greater target than before for every cheap shot and unanswered question that can only distract and potentially affect his performance. Our ridiculous infotainment industry, insatiable when it comes to scandal, may consume him. Another career ruined by a man who can’t keep his pants on and women who can’t keep their legs crossed? Or ruined by scandal mongering tabloids that can’t keep their noses out of private lives, perhaps both? How sad. By the way, did you know your nation is teetering on the brink of disaster?


It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf.
H. L. Mencken

Curling is not a sport that commands my attention.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Would be robber flees when
clerk insists he must call
wife before giving money.

I never believed a revolution of any kind would be possible in America. I am beginning to think otherwise. The Fascists have now become so brazen in their takeover of our democracy I’m not sure what other recourse is open to us. Now the Department of Justice has made it clear that the lawyers, Yoo, Busby, and another one whose name escapes me for the moment, the very lawyers that made a mockery of law when they authorized torture and murder, are guilty of nothing but “bad judgment,” and hence will not be held otherwise accountable for their scurrilous behavior and outrageously awful practice of the law. This was not bad judgment that mistakenly awarded Murphy’s cow to the neighbors, but, rather, bad judgment that resulted in the deaths of many people, mostly innocents. If these criminal lawyers cannot be held accountable for their despicable practice of the law, there is no chance whatsoever that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice et al will ever be held accountable for their (even admitted) war crimes. This presumably final opinion was released today, Friday, February 19, 2010, because bad news is typically released on Friday and besides, the Tiger Woods apology took over the news, thus rendering this terrible opinion even less newsworthy. And make no mistake about it, this is a terrible development that even makes a complete mockery of the Nuremberg trials and international law. The fact that the Department of Justice could announce this means they have abandoned the rule of law and this administration believes they can do whatever they wish, however unconstitutional or illegal.

When you consider this development along with the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations can make unlimited financial donations to political causes, thus awarding them control over elections and policies, you can only conclude the Fascists are now so confident in their control of our country they no longer even have to pretend otherwise. If these outrageous decisions are allowed to go unchallenged and unchanged we are surely doomed to live under a Fascist government (a marriage between politics and corporations, just as Mussolini prescribed). I never believed I would see anything like this in the U.S., but as near as I can tell, it is happening right now and not even in secret.

You can see this being played out in the great Health Care charade. A number of Senators have now signed on to promote the public option, a plan that was already left for dead. There is talk of doing this through reconciliation, a process that would avoid a filibuster and could be passed just by a majority of Democrats. But notice this is just talk, with no one willing to take responsibility for actually bringing it about. Congress says they will support it if the White House does, and the White House says it will support it if the Congress does, and the (currently) 19 Senators who have signed on to support it I’m pretty certain know that it is not going to really happen (19 is a far cry from the 51 votes necessary). As the Insurance and Pharmaceutical corporations do not want a public option it is not at all likely to materialize. As a public option is overwhelmingly favored by the public, and has been all along, and if it now fails again to happen, we will know once more just who is in charge of our lives.

Somewhere today I overheard Eric Cantor say the Republicans will say “no” to the public option. That is hardly surprising, but what I did find of interest is his claim they will do so “because the American public has said “no.” Either I am terribly misinformed of what the public has been saying all along about favoring a public option, or Eric Cantor is a bald-faced liar (which I also do not find surprising). I do not believe a public option will come to pass because Democrats are far too timid to insist upon it. There are 19 Senators who claim to support it, and there are said to be a number of others who support it but have not yet publicly said so, but it is also being said Democrats are “afraid of it” because of the possible fall-out if they unilaterally pass it. They cling to the idea that it has to be bipartisan, and as long as they believe that, it will never come to be. In any case you might notice that even if a public option would somehow come to pass it would not eliminate Insurance companies from involvement in health care, the elimination of which should be the bottom line for any decent health care plan. There is no need for insurance companies to be involved in health care at all, just as there is no need for banks to be involved in student loans, but it’s the American way (of idiocy).

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.
Harry S Truman

Wildebeest take turns sleeping at night to guard against predators.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Behavior: Personal and Professional

Australian man attacks
small plane with machete
to keep wife from leaving.

Tiger Woods is supposed to speak for the first time in months about his personal problems. This event, although it has not yet happened, is being treated by the press as roughly the equivalent of the discovery of gold in the streets of Atlanta. Not only that, some individuals are already suggesting what he will say, what he might say, why he is saying it at the wrong time and the wrong place, whether he is saying it to get revenge on a sponsor that dropped him, whether it should be said at all, whether it will be sincere or not, and on and on. If anyone has suggested he should stop playing golf because of this controversy I have not seen it, and if that is not a question why is there such a fuss being made about it.

This whole business over Tiger’s personal and professional behavior highlights what I think is an interesting question, is there any relationship between one’s personal behavior and their professional behavior? There is another question that might be raised, namely, why is it in a culture that has become progressively less and less prudish over time, there should now be such a concern over the personal behavior of others? This obviously has something to do with the Press which is always desperate for something to keep our minds off whatever is really important at the moment (war, torture, the economy, stuff like that). It is, I think, an interesting situation. Think, for example, of the many examples we have had in recent years of serious misbehaving and the consequences. There is the obvious example of President Clinton, impeached but continuing in office. The scandal over Monica, had it not become public, would have had no effect whatsoever on his professional conduct in office. But because it did become public it obviously interfered with the conduct of government. It was well known that President Kennedy was a notorious womanizer, but in the pre-Clinton days the Press was much less inclined to make it public, and so it seems it had little to do with his professionalism. Is there any reason the personal behavior of important people should become a topic for public consumption? I don’t think so, unless the personal does in fact infringe upon the professional. But this is not an easy question.

For example, how about the Roman Polanski case? Here there was an actual crime committed, a crime for which he should be held accountable. But does this mean we should boycott his movies, or they are any the less fine than they would otherwise have been? Even if he were to go to jail for a time it would not indicate there was any relationship between his personal problem and his talent as a director. What about other less dramatic or important problems. I once read somewhere that Alfred Hitchcock was a mean or sadistic practical joker. I despise practical jokes, especially mean ones. Should I therefore not attend Hitchcock movies? Frank Sinatra was described once as an “obnoxious bully.” I believe he was. Should I not enjoy his singing? It would seem obvious that in cases like this it would be simply up to the individual to decide whether to boycott or not. Wilt Chamberlin once boasted of having had sex with some 2000 women (granted a somewhat ridiculous claim), I don’t recall anyone saying he should not have played basketball. Similarly, Magic Johnston also made boasts about his sexual prowess, no one suggested he should not play basketball. There are cases where the decision to boycott or punish is quite clear. Tanya Harding, for example, had her henchmen try to break her rival, Nancy Kerrigan’s leg so she could not perform on the rink. Here again, there was an actual crime and an act so disgraceful no one would pardon it. Sometimes, especially in the past, even a hint of misbehavior was enough to ruin a person’s life and career, but not often nowadays. Take Governor Sanford, for example, caught up in a blatant scandal involving his adulterous behavior, still Governor. Eliot Spitzer was not so fortunate. John Ensign of Nevada has also eluded any serious penalty for his adulterous (and worse) affair. It seems to me there is seldom any real relationship between a person’s personal behavior and their professional competence, unless, that is, it becomes public. And even when it becomes public it doesn’t necessarily affect performance. You can be pretty sure that if it becomes public it has a much greater chance of affecting performance than otherwise.

Tiger Woods extracurricular sexual behavior seems not to have affected his performance, if you look at his record. If his scandal had not become public would anyone have been the wiser? I doubt it. Will this now significantly affect his performance? I think it might, if only because many, mostly the Press, will never let up on him about it. I do not condone his transgressions in any way. I think they were pretty despicable. But he committed no crime. As undoubtedly the greatest golfer of his generation (quite likely of all time) should he not be allowed to go on pursuing his goal of outdoing Jack Nicholas? Remember, if the Republicans had not established this precedent by attacking Clinton’s personal and private behavior for the first time, we might not have even become aware of these various scandals. Are we better off for knowing? If Tiger wins the Master’s will he be forgiven? As his absence from the tour has made a huge difference in the amount of money generated by the PGA you can rest assured he will reappear, but will he be the Tiger of old or will he have been tamed by the sensationalism of the Press? What used to be the provenience only of the tabloids, in this era of infotainment has become the common obsession of what used to be the mainstream news industry, and there is no longer any right to privacy, or, apparently even common sense or decency.

In America sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it is a fact.
Marlene Dietrich

Lobsters exhibit negligible senescence, effectively living forever, barring accidents, capture, injury or disease.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Man beats lover to death
when she disparages
the size of his penis.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but think that American culture has become in my lifetime more and more crude, vulgar, and disgusting, especially with respect to television and movies, but probably also with the printed word as well. I don’t think of myself as particularly prudish or squeamish but perhaps I am overly so. I confess I do not like what I see on television these days, when it comes to advertising, that is. For example, I do not want to hear about people’s hemorrhoids, nor do I want to hear about their gooey, sticky, oozy dental adhesives or look into their mouths at their teeth, healthy or rotten. I also don’t enjoy watching people gargle, brush their teeth, or blow their noses. If people have trouble with pimples and acne I wish they would keep it between themselves and their doctors. If there are new discoveries in the way of tampons or maxi-pads or whatever, I do not want to hear about it. Intestinal, digestive, and colon problems I believe should be private matters, and certainly do not warrant illustrations on the television screen. Bowel movements hold absolutely no fascination for me. Corns, bunions, flat feet and rising arches are minor matters that are better left unsaid, along with athlete’s foot, and the whitening of teeth. Particularly disgusting are ads for catheters, piles, and colonoscopies, to say nothing of enemas and colon cleansings in general. Above all, men with erectile dysfunctions should certainly keep it between themselves and their doctors, and if they have organs they believe are not large enough they should keep it a secret. I think it is truly wonderful there are treatments for these disorders, but I don’t see why they should be inflicted on the general public on a daily basis. Whatever happened to the old fashioned custom of consulting your doctor when you have an ailment or problem? It seems that nowadays you are supposed to ask the doctor if you have any of these problems just in case either you or he/she missed them.

The problem of advertising has also insidiously invaded the pharmaceutical industry, thus explaining the obscenely inflated cost of the drugs we are constantly urged to ask our doctor about and preferably consume. Here again, drugs are being advertised for just about everything that exists and, I suspect, for things the pharmaceuticals just invented so they could produce yet another drug. Unfortunately, if you do ask your doctor about one or more of these drugs, you will probably get information from the pharmaceutical industry rather than your doctor, because that is where the doctor gets his information. There may be some doctors who carefully review all these claims from pharmaceuticals and try to honestly prescribe something that might work, but all too often they merely prescribe what the pharmaceuticals tell them is the latest thing. And the latest thing is probably not entirely proven effective and may, in fact, have really deleterious effects. As you are no doubt aware this happens with some frequency as apparently drugs can be put on the market before they have been adequately tested, and even if they were tested they were probably tested by the same company that manufactured them. Public health is not as important as profits. It is not only prescription drugs that are a problem, even over-the-counter drugs are often little more than placebos or outright scams. Unless you have a really conscientious doctor or pharmacist you often have no idea what you are taking and if it should be taken with anything else or not. Over-the-counter drugs and the burgeoning Health Food industry will provide you with pills for most anything. Sometimes these work and sometimes they don’t. Frankly, I’m surprised that no one as yet as devised a pill they claim will prevent mothers-in-law from visiting. There is a real problem nowadays with pain pills in particular because doctors are not completely at liberty to prescribe them as they might wish. I know of cases where doctors admitted a patient needed stronger doses than they prescribed but were afraid to prescribe them because they are monitored so carefully (it just doesn’t do to think someone might actually get high on something). This is precisely why the drug policies should be left to the medical profession rather than the politicians, and our ridiculous “war on drugs” should be abandoned.

Yes, Rachel Maddow has exposed Republicans as the most obvious and obnoxious of hypocrites. And yes, Dick Cheney is a war criminal. And yes, nuclear plants are not a solution to our energy needs, Iran is not making a nuclear bomb, Israel is the single biggest problem to peace in the Middle East, and we should certainly have a public option. It is my impression that no one really cares very much about any of these things. I do hope I am wrong.

Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.
George Orwell

The short-tailed weasel is sometimes called ermine when its fur is white and stoat when it is brown.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"The Dick Cheney Syndrome"

Czech doctors leave foot-long
medical device in woman
after gynecological surgery.

I don’t mean to keep harping on the same subject. Yes, damn it, I do! Dick Cheney on Meet the Press has defended waterboarding once again. He thinks it should be continued. He also indicated that Yoo was basically instructed to create a legal opinion that would authorize torture, including waterboarding. In other words Cheney has admitted to torture and also admitted to conspiracy to torture. Why has he not been arrested and charged with war crimes? Waterboarding does not cease to become a crime just because a White House lawyer, desiring to please his boss, says it’s not, especially in an opinion that was considered so bad it was later rescinded. But Yoo keeps on shooting his mouth off about what he did and Cheney keeps boasting about waterboarding. So, is waterboarding a war crime, as it was for the Japanese who were punished for it, and as it has been so recognized in international law for a long time, or is it not? And if it is a war crime why is Cheney allowed to continue in freedom boasting about doing it? And does our Constitution and legal system not say that war crimes must be investigated wherever found? It certainly does not say war crimes should be investigated only if they occur in other nations. So what in the hell are Obama and Holder doing by ignoring this blatant example? Does this not make them complicit in such crimes? I know I am not alone in my outrage over this. How much longer can Obama and Holder continue to ignore the obvious?

Some Congressman has said that the U.S. should break the blockade on Gaza. I absolutely agree. Unless, that is, we wish to continue to be just as guilty of slow genocide as the Israelis. This cruel and unjust blockade is an international outrage. How the U.S. and Egypt can participate in it is beyond my comprehension. Apparently the Israelis share in the “Dick Cheney Syndrome,” that places them above the law and immune from the laws that govern the rest of the world. They have blatantly violated international law and thumbed their nose at the U.N. for years, mainly because the U.S. has seen fit to protect them no matter how vile their behavior or murderous their actions. We continue to speak of peace in the Middle East but behave in ways that will make peace forever impossible in that part of the world. Never mind Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, the U.S. and Israel are the real axis of evil, and have been for years.

Evan Bayh, who has long been an empty suit in the Senate, has announced he will not run for re-election. As he was predicted to win re-election with little trouble, there may be reasons for his decision we do not (and perhaps never will) know. In any case, what I find of interest here is the reason he gave for wanting to give it up. First, he said he “doesn’t love the Senate,” and second, there is too much partisanship and nothing gets done. His surprise announcement leaves the Democrats with a bit of a problem as they do not now have a candidate. Does this not show some disrespect for his party? There will be a candidate, of course, but I should think a decision of such importance should have been made in conjunction with the party. What I find of more interest, however, is the fact that Bayh said nothing about the reasons for the lack of bipartisanship and inactivity, thus making it appear it is in general a problem inherent in the “dysfunctional” Congress. I guess it didn’t occur to him that the Republicans announced after Obama’s election they wanted him to fail and were going to vote “no” on everything, a promise they have kept religiously. Given this situation it might have at least behooved Bayh to mention it. But as Evan Bayh, unlike his more famous father, is a near Republican rather than a genuine Democrat perhaps this is understandable. Some say we will miss him in the Senate. I doubt it. Oh, I almost forgot to mention it, his wife makes money working in the health care industry, which explains many of his votes on the subject.

I continue to basically like Obama and support him, if only because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. But sometimes I think he really should be called Barack Hussein O’Bonehead. If his absolutely ridiculous and useless “war” in Afghanistan, and his failure to investigate Bush/Cheney for war crimes are not bad enough, now he has decided to guarantee a 8.5 billion dollar loan for the construction of two new nuclear plants (there is a reason private industry will not finance these Frankenstein monsters without such a guarantee) . This is really stupid. There is also a reason why no new nuclear plants have been built in the last 20 years. They are dangerous, they cost far too much money to build and maintain that the taxpayers inevitably get stuck with, and, more importantly, there is no sensible solution for the waste. Personally, I believe that people who want nuclear energy plants built around the world have nothing but contempt for life in general, certainly contempt for the future of life on planet earth. I am reminded of Senator Weldon Heyburn of Idaho many years ago, when chastised for wanting to cut all the timber and leave none for the future, replied “Let Future Generations look out for themselves.” Great idea, let future generations figure out what to do with poisonous materials that cause all kinds of disease and death and have a shelf life of almost forever.

Don't get me wrong: I love nuclear energy! It's just that I prefer fusion to fission. And it just so happens that there's an enormous fusion reactor safely banked a few million miles from us. It delivers more than we could ever use in just about 8 minutes. And it's wireless!

William McDonough

Sardines were names after the Mediterranean Island of Sardinia.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Unlikely Allies - book

Unlikely Allies, by Joel Richard Paul (Riverhead Books, New York, 2009)

The subtitle of this fascinating book tells you precisely what it is about: “How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution.” The specifics are found within. And what specifics they are! The Playwright and the Spy are truly larger-than-life, stranger-than-fiction characters who, acting on motives of their own, furthered the cause of the American Revolution. The Merchant, Silas Deane, who you quite likely have never heard of (unless you are a pretty serious student of the American Revolution), was an unlikely figure to have been charged with trying to get France to help America free itself from the British. Deane, the son of a blacksmith, became a successful businessman, but spoke no French, and had never been far from his home in Connecticut, when he was sent to France, even before Benjamin Franklin, to enlist French aid in the form of rifles, cannons, and the myriad other items needed to equip an as yet formed army of 30,000. Even more incredible, he was instructed to do this on credit and promises as the newly formed American Congress had no funds. How he ultimately managed to do this is a true tale to rival any fictional account, and makes history truly come to life.
Caron de Beaumarchais was a French playwright who started out and became successful as an innovative watchmaker was also a musician, but became more famous for writing The Barber of Seville. Being outspoken about things he had fallen into disfavor with the French Court. In order to re-establish himself with the King he undertook a strange assignment to recover some compromising papers the King had written that, had they become public, would have started another war with Britain which France could not have afforded (having just experienced a devastating loss to the British already). These papers were in the hands of the Chevalier d’Eon, who had once been sent to Russia disguised as a woman to spy on the Russians and who also had fallen into disfavor with the King.

The Chevalier d’Eon, a child prodigy, was also a decorated French soldier, a diplomat, and a spy. It was believed by some that d’Eon was actually a woman and at one time large bets were placed in London by some who thought so. The truth of the matter was not established until the Chevalier’s death. He/she, too, wished to re-establish a position in the Court of Louis XVI, but was loathe to give up the secret papers unless promises were made that were difficult to work out. If Beaumarchais could get the papers and return them to the King he would gain prestige and position, and if d’Eon would give them up in the proper manner he/she, too, would gain. Beaumarchais spent months in London courting the Chevalier in his attempt.

Beaumarchais had returned to France in disgrace having been imprisoned in Austria over a fantastic story he had concocted to demonstrate to Louis XVI how he had tried to save him from some embarrassment over France’s relations with that country. His persistent appeals to the King eventually resulted in a meeting with the Comte de Vergennes, the French Foreign Minister. It was Vergennes, who knew the King was being blackmailed by d’Eon, who appointed Beaumarchais to retrieve the letters, and the two of them formed a friendly relationship. Thus it was Beaumarchais who eventually convinced Vergennes that France should help the Americans with their revolution, and as Vergennes had the power to provide arms and other supplies, he secretly agreed to aid the Americans as long as it could be kept secret from the British. It was an outrageous breech of agreements between Britain and France. It was, of course, Silas Deane, who convinced Beaumarchais, whom he met in Paris, to do this. Beaumarchais agreed, not simply because he wanted to aid the revolutionaries in America but because he would make a fortune from doing dealing in the arms trade.

In order to convince the French to side with America it was necessary to convince them the Americans would win against the British. As communications took months between the continents, Deane had no idea what was happening for long periods at a time, if the revolution was succeeding or not (and it definitely was not for a long time). The strength of the American army was greatly exaggerated to impress the French and so on. Eventually Franklin arrived in Paris and this enterprise ultimately proved to be successful. But it was far more complicated and interesting than this brief account. Deane and Franklin had enemies who tried to harm them, there were British and French spies everywhere, many of the ships transporting arms and supplies were stopped by the British, it was never clear whether the poorly armed Americans would get weapons in time, and luckily they did, just in time to defeat the British at Saratoga, the greatest American victory of the war.

Beaumarchais and Deane, who had done by far the most to bring about the success of the American Revolution, both died as paupers. Deane who had been a very wealthy businessman lost everything, largely because of politics and false charges brought against him that were not corrected until many years later when his family was finally given money that was clearly owed to him by Congress. Beaumarchais, who had lived far beyond his means, was targeted during the French Revolution, fled for his life, lost his estate, was put in debtor’s prison for a time, his business and personal property was confiscated, and he died of a heart attack at 67. The Chevalier d’Eon was most important in all this by making it possible for Beaumarchais to regain position in France and thereby influence Vergennes. Having agreed to admit he/she was a woman, thereafter dress in female clothes, and thus give up her ability to embarrass the King, he/she returned to France, was provided with an expense female wardrobe, but could not adapt to the sedentary life she was forced to live. Eventually she returned to London, the French pension she had been living on was rescinded, she existed by selling off her possessions and, at 60 years of age, giving fencing lessons. At 82 she died peacefully in bed.

If, like me, you found American History as presented in school as unbelievably boring, this book will give you a much better appreciation of it. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Courage of No Convictions?

Prince, three legged Pit Bull mix,
wins SPCA talent show in NY
by catching three baseballs.

Is President Obama a man with the courage of no convictions? I mean this is getting ridiculous. He was in favor at one time of a single-payer system for health care, but he didn’t even consider that when Congress began deliberations on health care reform. Then he was for a public option, but he has given up on that also. He knows the insurance companies are the problem but his health care plan, as it now stands, is nothing but a huge windfall for them. Refusing to stand up to the pharmaceuticals he apparently made a deal with them. When the stimulus package was put together he gave in to Republicans to include tax breaks even though it was known that they would not be useful as a stimulus. He told Israel to stop building in the West Bank but has ignored their refusal to do so. He wanted to hold the trial for the 9/11 bombers in New York but has now backed down on that. He wanted to replace Guantanamo with a prison here in the U.S. but so far has not done so and has not closed Guantanamo. He wanted the terrorists to be tried in civilian courts with Miranda rights, now it appears he is giving in on that as well. He wanted to bring about “change” but has importantly just pursued many of the Bush/Cheney policies. He is apparently in violation of U.S. law and the constitution by not pursuing our local war criminals and seemingly has no intention of ever doing so. Peace in the Middle East was to be his goal, but he has continued to unconditionally back Israel at every turn, thus insuring there can be no peace there. Although he has a majority in the House and Senate he seems to have given in to the Republicans every time they threaten to filibuster. Now he is apparently going to approve a huge loan to build a Nuclear power plant (a really stupid idea), thus presumably giving in to more corporate pressure. He allows Dick the Slimy and others to roviate him at will and does nothing to stop them. The Teabaggers and Silly Sarah tell the most outrageous lies about him and he allows them to do so without much in the way of corrections or responses. He seems to me to be a classic example of an abused housewife, the more the Republicans abuse him the more he turns to them and tries to please them. I suspect he hasn’t even quit smoking.

Now China has demanded he cancel his meeting with the Dalai Lama. It appears he is not going to do so. Hurrah, for once. He may be going to end DADT. He may be going to close Guantanamo. He may be going to bring the troops home from Iraq. He may or may not have ended torture, he seems not to have stopped renditions or secrecy. He is not, it seems to me, the leader we wanted or expected him to be. He seems to endure “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” without so much as a change of expression. Is he so unfamiliar with power that he doesn’t know how to use it? Is he by nature just a milquetoast, a woosie? Perhaps he is just a slow learner. There are signs he may be waking up to the facts of Republican abuse. I hope this is true and that it will not be too late. He has done a few, mostly minor, good things, but when it comes to the really important, even vital issues, he equivocates time and time again. This is not what the times require, nay, demand. He is, as we used to say of Bush, “all hat and no cattle,” he “talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.” He avoids hypocrisy, not by doing the opposite of what he says, but by saying something and then doing nothing. Why do I stick with him and continue to support him? Hey, “it’s the only game in town.”

Once I make up my mind, I'm full of indecision.
Oscar Levant

There are an estimated 158 million water buffalo in the world, almost all of them in Asia.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Gun and Horn Show

As there was very little going on today, my tai chi class was canceled, it was a bit rainy and overcast, and it is far too early to think about gardening, I decided to do something I had never done before. I went to a Gun and Horn show. It was quite an experience. These shows are popular here in North Idaho (other places, too, I guess) and we always have one or two a year. They take place at the Fairgrounds where there is suitable parking and buildings. I was amazed, first of all, to see how many cars and trucks there were. It seemed to me that there were more than there usually are at the County Fair, maybe not, but a lot. It was difficult to find a parking spot near the show but I finally found one in a particularly muddy spot. The admission for this annual or semi-annual event was $4, but if you agreed to join the NRA for $10 I guess you can get in for free (or maybe a reduced fee) next time. As I have no desire to belong to the NRA I just paid the $4. This is a three day event, they mark your hand so you can leave and return at will.

The gun show itself was in the larger of two rooms, the other set aside for the horns, where they are measured and given points and win prizes. There are mostly elk and deer horns but occasionally you might see some antelope horns as well, and maybe, much more rarely, mountain goat or mountain sheep horns. I did not see any of these today. Actually, as I have no interest in the horns, I merely glanced in at the apparently serious business being conducted there.

There are rows of tables where sellers, mostly gun dealers, display their wares. There are many items besides guns, lots of scopes, knives, ammunition, clothing, gun cases, and other things related to hunting (and also violence in general). But of course it is the guns that are the major interest, and there are lots of them of just about all descriptions. I didn’t see any brand new guns but there were many almost new, rifles and shotguns carefully displayed on the tables, marked with tags and prices, virtually any kind of gun you might wish, including military types that are clearly not meant for hunting. Many of these rifles and shotguns are antiques (not truly really old antiques but older and no longer manufactured) and the prices are often revealing. I gather there are many more collectors than I would have imagined, and they apparently think nothing of paying up to a couple of thousand dollars for an odd caliber rifle that is no longer produced, or one that is engraved or otherwise unique. There was, for example, a beautiful factory engraved .300 Savage lever action rifle (I don’t think they make these anymore) for the modest price of $1600. As I no longer hunt and have no use for such a gun I happily admired it but that was all. Although I didn’t see any today, I know there is quite a market for weapons captured in the wars. German Luger pistols, for example, sell for big bucks, and if they happen to have some German officer’s name or something, they go for even more. It’s not only Lugers that are expensive, anything that belonged to a German Officer is worth a lot of money. Mauser made lots of .25 and .32 caliber semi-automatics for the military, and even some .380.s. If any of these have the original German manufacturer’s name, or the name of an Officer, they are particularly valuable. But If you are merely interested in finding a gun for the coming hunting season, you can find it here as well. If you are a collector, this is also the place for you.

There didn’t seem to be as many handguns as rifles and shotguns, but there quite a few, both semi-automatics and revolvers. There seems to be a slight tendency here for what would be regarded as “old west” types of guns, both with respect to rifles and handguns. That is, a preponderance of old lever action rifles (often of odd calibers) and a lot of older long-barreled six shooters, mostly .45’s. But there were also quite a number of relatively new pistols, Glocks, and others. Nine mm. pistols seem to the main fashion nowadays, but many seem to prefer the more powerful .375 magnums. You can, of course, find older .32’s, and .38’s, along with .40 and .45 calibers as well (to say nothing of .22’s, .25’s, and .380’s). If you stand outside and watch there is an almost never-ending procession of people arriving with guns or leaving with them. This is, in short, quite an event.

When you realize that this particular Gun and Horn Show is actually quite a small one, and that much larger ones occur annually if not more often, in Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, and other places much larger than here, the amount of trade is really quite staggering. What makes this of even greater interest is that you can buy and sell guns with no questions asked, basically making a mockery of gun control. I have never been able to understand how gun control could work in the United States, given the millions of guns, mostly unregistered, that already exist. Any serious attempt would be rather like herding cats or trying to force the genie back in the bottle. Given the number of gun owners, and the passion with which they cling to their weapons, even if guns shows were regulated somehow, it would only create a huge clandestine black market that would continue. One note of interest, perhaps, is that almost all of the dealers, as well as customers, were older people. I don’t think I saw more than half a dozen younger people in attendance. I’m not sure what to make of this, if anything. Anyway, go to a gun and horn show, it’s quite educational.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Peak Employment?

Man throws his new wife
off a cliff to her death,
she wanted an annulment.

Peak employment, I wonder if there is such a thing and, if so, are we perhaps there? I began to wonder about this a couple of days ago when I saw a headline on the web, “Can Obama create enough jobs?” I think it might be entirely possible that the answer is “no.” Prior to the Industrial Revolution there was no such thing as unemployment, and there certainly was no such thing in the small-scale cultures that existed, and in rare cases still exist. I mean, everyone had something to do, some work, hunting, gathering, baby sitting, cutting firewood, finding water, fighting enemies, and so on and on. It took everyone to insure survival for everyone. The early factories were primitive and it took a large number of workers to weave and manufacture whatever products were being made. But as time went by more and more machines were invented, making it possible to make things with fewer and fewer workers. Even during the earlier Agrarian Revolution there was still pretty much work for everyone. It took many people to plant and harvest crops, construct the larger settlements that began, look after the domesticated animals, and so on. The first vestiges of specialization were beginning, what with metal workers, jewelry makers, even priests and leaders of various kinds. Even when I was a child it still took a lot of labor to farm, most everything was still done by hand, looking after the livestock, pitching hay into the wagons, milking, churning, picking stones out of the fields, spreading manure, baking, etc. But then, of course, technology began to take over. Tractors were invented, making it possible for fewer and fewer people necessary to work on the farms. Anyway, as you know, the result of all this “progress” was “civilization” as we now know it. One person with the proper machinery can do the work of the great many more required previously. This can be seen easily in the timber industry, for example. The invention of the chain saw made an enormous difference, as did skidders and bulldozers, and the other machines that are now commonplace. In the United States in particular, where in recent years more and more jobs have been sent overseas where labor is cheaper, the overall result has been the creation of a large surplus population. There are not enough jobs for everyone who needs one. Thus, if there is to be full employment, or anything close to that, jobs will have to be created artificially. Attempts to do this, however, run into a lot of opposition, partly because of the irrational fear of socialism, partly because such jobs are not rewarding, and partly because it costs a lot of money that we may or may not have or borrow.

Surplus populations are hardly a problem only in the U.S. Just look around the world at the gigantic slums, filled with people who have no jobs and no hope of ever having a decent job. Our technological successes have meant that enough food and shelter can be provided by a relative few. And those few live fairly well-off or even in luxury while the majority goes hungry. This is not because there is not enough food to go around, but because it is not shared by everyone. In some countries, like our own, attempts are made to overcome this problem by giving out food stamps, unemployment insurance, and charity. The basic fact is simple, there are too many people that have become unnecessary. I think it is entirely possible that Obama will not be able to create enough jobs for everyone, or most everyone. As long as the primary motive for production is profit, and human labor is part of the system to be treated as just another commodity, unemployment will continue to exist and probably become worse and worse. This is not an easy problem to solve, largely because more and more labor is not required and, in fact, threatens profits. Our entire culture is geared to generating profits, the fewer workers that are needed, the greater the profits. It seems to me the only way to solve this dilemma is to create jobs that are little more than “busy work.” It is true that jobs can be created by building roads and bridges, and shoring up infrastructure, and having more teachers and policemen and so on, but even this cannot solve the problem over time. How many more bridges can be built, how many more highways are needed, and how many more service workers are needed. One of the ways we have kept up employment has been to create more service positions, waitresses, barbers, cooks, hairdressers, and such. But without other productive jobs who will be able to support this growing service industry?

I think perhaps we have actually reached peak employment and it may be an impossible task for Obama to create enough jobs to go around. Changing the administration is not going to solve this problem. There probably is no realistic solution short of some kind of great “cultural revolution,” where the goal is to replace the profit motive with the attempt to create positions for everyone, but these would have to be real positions that contribute to the general well-being of the nation and its citizens. This might be possible in the short run, as Obama will try to do with energy and superstructure positions, but I fear a long term solution will be quite another matter. People were not evolved to live in huge cities and spend their time in automobiles driving to and from jobs that produce not much more than paperwork and create nothing tangible. We evolved to dig in the earth, hunt and gather, fish and help each other, and that world is gone forever. The greatest question facing us now is what is going to replace it? Oh well, perhaps we’ll blow ourselves up or drown in our own filth before we figure it out.

Why are we surprised when politicians play politics? It's not like they are supposed to be real adults... they are, after all, politicians and don't have real jobs and aren't playing around with their money.

The flying fish is the official fish of Barbados.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Health Insurance

Two Chinese women die
as one falls from 27th story
and lands on another.

What is it going to take before Obama and our Congress wake up to the basic facts of health care? Anthem Blue Cross of California is trying to raise rates for independents by 39%. Now they are going to be investigated and forced to explain just why they should get a 39% increase in premiums. I don’t know what the answer will be (assuming that anything actually comes of this in the first place) but I am positive there is no reasonable explanation for such a huge increase. But this particular case aside, I raise the question once more, why should insurance companies have anything to do with health care? What exactly is it that insurance companies contribute to health care? Why should they have anything whatsoever to do with health care? They are not doctors, nurses, medical specialists, or any other kind of health care professionals. As far as I know they do nothing but calculate the odds of people dying, how much it will cost to keep them from dying or suffering, and then decide whether or not there is any profit in it for them (they also generate a lot of paper work). This is absolutely stupid. Everyone with a brain larger than Silly Sarah’s (which I think probably encompasses the vast majority of human beings on the planet) knows that a single-payer system, like most industrialized countries have, is by far the best system. It is cheaper, more efficient, more practical, easier to manage and maintain, and is far superior to private insurance by any measure one might employ. Obama and our Congress did not even consider such a system. It was simply dismissed as too radical to pass (socialism, you know). Then there was supposed to be a kind of compromise position in a public option. But that, too, is regarded as socialism. The bills that are being considered are nothing less than gigantic gifts to the insurance companies. Why? I want to know. Why should health care bills be tailored to benefit insurance companies rather than the public? What is the rationale for this? Can anyone tell us? Even now it appears that a majority of the public favors a single-payer system, or at least a public option. This is not a secret, it has been acknowledged repeatedly. It would appear that what the public might want is totally irrelevant as far as our President and Congress are concerned. Obviously this is not a government by the people for the people, the people be damned. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are important, we are not. There is no practical, economic, or organizational reason why Medicare should not be expanded to include everyone. It is a system that already exists, everyone likes it, it would save enormous sums of money in the long run, and it makes perfect sense. Alas, it would not benefit the insurance companies. Pity. But at least we don’t have to even pretend anymore that our Congress and Executive Branch exist to promote the public good. If there were any lingering doubts about this the Supreme Court recently made it clear who runs things here, so learn to live with it, peasants, serfs, wage slaves, and suckers in general. This is to be your life. Don’t even think of moving to another country, the powers that be are international.

Obama and Congress are in a rush to impose further Sanctions on Iran. Ostensibly, I guess, this is because Iran has said they will increase their production of nuclear fuel. There was an announcement about this, of course presented in the most damaging way. It has subsequently been shown that this has been exaggerated, what Iran is proposing is not as bad as it was made out to be, but that doesn’t seem to matter to those who are eager to impose sanctions. Iran has somehow become the bad sibling that everyone picks on, no matter what they do. Israel, of course, is at the forefront of demanding sanctions against Iran. What I would propose are some sanctions on Israel. After all, they have violated all international rules and regulations, are actively engaged in a kind of genocide, are stealing Palestinian land and water, have committed egregious war crimes, and are the single biggest cause of unrest in the Middle East, so why no sanctions? I should think any reasonable person would think they should face sanctions for their behavior. But no, it seems nothing they do, no matter how illegal, murderous, or criminal seems to make any difference, we just continue to support them year after year, thus insuring there will never be peace in that part of the world (which is, apparently, just the way they want it). I find it unsettling, to say the least, that the Obama administration has made it clear they are on the side of war criminals, both here at home, and in the Middle East. While this may go on in the short run, history will not be kind to us, nor will the long run.

Sure there are dishonest men in local government. But there are dishonest men in national government too.
Richard M. Nixon

Research has shown that pack rat “middens” can last as long as 40,000 years.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Big News!?

An 11-year-old boy faces assault charges
for stabbing peer with pencil when he
refused to stop helping him with math.

I guess it’s true, no good deed goes unpunished. But there is big news (maybe)! It seems that Britain, unlike the United States, is actually interested in trying to investigate the war crimes committed by Blair. He has been interrogated repeatedly for long periods of time (no waterboarding) to find out the truth behind the British/U.S. illegal attack on Iraq. Apparently they are making some progress and there is even talk of interviewing some of the U.S. participants (Rumsfeld, Cheney, perhaps even Bush, among others). It seems to have been pretty much established that Blair and Bush agreed to attack Iraq as much as a year before the attack actually occurred. And it seems that Bush was determined to attack Iraq whether there was any provocation or reason for it other than his desire to do so. Obviously this could become a truly big deal if the Brits pursue it energetically and stubbornly enough and insist on getting to the bottom of it all. But how they would get any of the guilty Americans to testify I do not know, and I suspect that they will not, and the whole thing will eventually blow over without any decisive action. Indeed, we’ll probably be lucky if we even hear anything much about it in our MSM. But one can dream can’t one? I think Obama’s decision to focus only on the future and not the past, and thereby ignore the war crimes of Bush/Cheney et al, was a terrible mistake. If he wanted to establish himself as a serious agent of change he should have immediately started an investigation of Bush/Cheney, held them accountable for their terrible crimes, and thus firmly demonstrated that the U.S. was interested in truth and justice. Instead he merely revealed to the world American hypocrisy, insisting on prosecuting war crimes everywhere but here at home. I believe Obama has done some good things, and I also believe he has good intentions towards the American middle class, but his failure to investigate blatant war crimes, along with his failure to bring Israel to heel, is going to make it very difficult for me to vote for him again. Not that I would under any circumstances vote for a Republican, I would simply not vote, or vote for a third party candidate if there should prove to be an acceptable one.

The big “to-do” over Silly Sarah’s notes on her hand continues. What seems to me to be the most interesting and perhaps telling part of this is being overlooked. That is, people like Chris Matthews (granted perhaps a bit mentally slow) seem to think this was “cheating.” You know, like when you are about to take a test and are uncertain about remembering some of the answers, you write them on your hand, thus cheating. Ordinarily, it seems to me, the answers would be those too difficult or unusual or esoteric questions you might worry about not being able to remember. But how could any speaker, like Palin, not remember the three (and only three) most important topics they were going to speak about, in this case, energy, cutting taxes, and stimulating Americans? If Palin was uncertain about even remembering these important (to her) themes, what does that tell you about her? It certainly suggests to me that she is far from being ready for “prime time.” And now that she seems to be the major face of the Republican Party (no one seems to be challenging her), what does that tell you about Republicans?

Obama has the Republicans in a bind. He has now invited them to a televised conference on health care reform. If they refuse to show up he wins, if they show up and are exposed for what they really are (obvious obstructionists) he wins. Apparently aware of this trap he has prepared they are trying to weasel out of it by demanding pre-conditions that are obviously absurd, like scrapping everything done up until now and starting over, insisting that only their suggestions be debated, and so on. Personally, I think Obama’s persistence in trying to achieve some form of bipartisanship is a complete waste of time. The Democrats should just bypass these unpatriotic, irresponsible, negativistic, even treasonous jerks and pass whatever they want. As Rachel Maddow (bless her) pointed out tonight, the Republicans have voted no repeatedly even on things they previously approved, just because they do not want Obama (or by implication our country) to succeed. Not only that, they have eagerly embraced the stimulus funds they universally voted against. They have steadfastly clung to their claim to be the party of “no,” and have raised hypocrisy to entirely new heights. Being opposed to everything that might improve the lives of our citizens and our nation, they have become a disgrace to politics, to our nation, and even to humanity at large. This disgraceful party (or criminal conspiracy) should be banished and replaced with people who at least understand they are supposed to be serving the public rather than huge corporations that, like themselves, have neither compassion nor common decency, and seek only short term profits at the expense of anything, everything, and everyone else. If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the constant and obsessive quest for it seems to be worse.

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.
John Adams

Edith Piaf was born Edith Giovanna Gassion.