Friday, April 30, 2010

Drug "war"

Prison inmate given emergency
surgery to remove hot-sauce
bottle used as sex toy.

Good money after bad, the “war” on drugs rages on the border and the U.S. becomes even more actively involved, now pledging more money, more agents, more everything, except any form of intelligent action. There is a simple solution to this problem, a solution that may not completely end the problem, but one that would certainly go a long way to ending it. We could do the sensible, efficient, reasonable thing and simply legalize drugs. If drugs were legal, controlled and taxed, and left up to the medical profession instead of politicians, most of this terrible problem would soon disappear. Our draconian laws on drugs are nothing more or less than just old-fashioned prohibition that we know doesn’t work and only creates more crime and misery. Steps in this direction have already been taken in the Netherlands and Switzerland and there is no doubt they have reduced crime dramatically. With no market for illicit drugs the drug lords would soon be out of business, those who really need drugs could get them from their doctors, and those who take them for recreation might actually decrease their purchases or abandon them altogether. Drugs never should have been criminalized in the first place and the billions upon billions we have spent fighting the “war” against them is such an obvious and overwhelming failure you might think reason would prevail. But, then, this is the U.S.A. where reason and common sense long since departed in favor of endless dishonesty, hypocrisy, and greed. This “war” on drugs makes no more sense than the “war” on Afghanistan, that makes no sense at all.

Once again I am compelled to comment on what seems to be nothing short of mass hysteria when it comes to Iran. Members of Congress seem to want to outdo each other in coming up with the most vicious, punishing, and extreme sanctions against that country, even though there is no objective reason for this. Iran does not have a nuclear bomb, is not very close to having one, and if it had one would do nothing with it other than use it as a defensive weapon just like all other nuclear states have done. Iran is not a threat to the U.S. or the rest of the world, or even Israel. To indulge in this hysteria is basically to believe that Iranians, unlike all other people in the world, are completely irrational, even deranged. I have no explanation for this other than the fact that Israel constantly insists that Iran is an existential threat, no, not even that, Iran is an immediate and terrible threat to their very existence, only waiting to get a bomb and immediately attack them. This is absolute, utter, and complete nonsense. Obviously Iran wants a voice in the Middle East, after all it’s their backyard, but that does not make them a nation of imbeciles that want to commit immediate suicide by attacking the rest of the world. Israel and the U.S. have the rest of the world acting like a bunch of hysterical schoolgirls rather than responsible national entities engaging in international politics. Really, this unremitting attack on Iran is about the silliest thing I have ever seen in international affairs. President Obama is not stupid, I cannot understand why he goes along with this, unless it is to help pacify Israel long enough to begin serious negotiations for peace in the Middle East.

Yes, I know, Arizona has now come clean about its racism, although they still try to pretend otherwise. The Governor can sign all the amendments she wants saying race cannot be used as a criteria for stopping people and demanding their papers, but it is. And now they have outlawed ethnic studies and even stopped teachers from teaching English if they have an accent. But they want you to believe this is not racism? How much more transparent does it have to be to be considered racist? While this may force the Federal Government to finally take some endlessly delayed action, I bet they won’t like the results. When you have politicians saying they should be micro-chipped or sent back to Mexico because they don’t have American “souls,” you can be pretty sure some will never be satisfied until, like the Palestinians, they can somehow be made to disappear entirely. Disgusting, I think, but true.

Drilling for oil, like robbing banks, seems to be a magical act. It would have worked, except something unexpected happened. I can’t believe Obama is saying we’re still going to drill offshore as soon as we figure out what went wrong this time. What went wrong is that the Oil Companies lie about how safe it is, and no matter how many times something disastrous happens,” if something had not gone wrong it would have worked,” and “next time it’ll be different.” Those who believe in magical explanations do not fare very well.

It's not enough to create magic. You have to create a price for magic, too. You have to create rules.
Eric A. Burns

There is more than one definition of a “filly.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010


He tells her she’s fat,
she tackles him and
bites off part of his ear.

Americans appear to have an unusually powerful capacity for denial. Take this ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf. We have experienced these oil spills and disasters before, many times, the most horrible and dramatic being of course the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. It should be perfectly obvious to anyone that drilling and transporting oil is fraught with environmental dangers. When a spill happens everyone gets all upset and swears we are going to do better, design double-hulled ships, be more careful in the shipping lanes, and so on. And we are told over and over again that with modern technology it is possible to drill safely anywhere on earth or in the water. It is perfectly obvious that it is not safe. So President Obama decides that we need to do more offshore drilling, and a few days later an oil platform explodes and creates another monumental disaster.

We went through the nonsense with the tobacco industry as you probably remember. It took years and years before any legislation at all was passed to control what we knew to be an unhealthy and addictive drug, nicotine. The argument was repeated ad nauseam that there was no proof that smoking caused cancer because all the evidence was correlational rather than causational. So, of course, if all you have are very strong correlations between smoking and health problems, that could not demonstrate conclusively there was a genuine problem, it was easy to deny the obvious dangers, at least for a long time. And you might note there are still a great many smokers even today, those who either deny the risk or apparently just don’t care.

This same kind of denial has happened routinely with various drugs and drug companies. Many drugs have been put on the market before there was conclusive evidence they were not harmful. This is because drug companies are allowed to conduct their own studies and invariably argue that there are no problems with their drugs when eventually it turns out there are serious problems. People usually accept prescriptions from their doctors for drugs that are not yet known to be completely safe, thus denying what may be genuine possibilities they might be unsafe. Basically, this is a denial that the pharmaceutical companies could be premature or completely wrong in their rush to make more money.

For years the timber industry denied that clear-cutting the old growth and other forests was problematical. And those who wanted to build dams denied they would harm the fish, and now companies like Monsanto deny that genetically modified crops could possibly be dangerous, just as others deny that cloning cattle or sheep could possibly have any undesirable consequences even thought the long-term effects of these practices are mostly unknown.

Then we have the nuclear industry. In spite of Chernobyl and Three Mile, and in spite of reports that nuclear plants are often unsafe and dangerous, people go on arguing that we need more nuclear energy. This is denial at a level that is truly dangerous because it is simply a matter-of-fact that nuclear energy is extremely dangerous, and the dangers are so great they should not be tolerated even for a moment. A nuclear meltdown or explosion is not merely a case of blowing up a house or two, or losing a couple of fingers, but, rather, a disaster of absolutely monumental and long-lasting and serious implications that will affect thousands upon thousands of people for years, maybe forever. Indeed, the peril posed by nuclear energy could conceivably end civilization as we know it. We deny this at a risk that to me, at least, is completely unacceptable.

There are even people who currently deny that global warming is occurring, or if it is, that it has any man-made component. There are others who deny that President Obama was born in the United States. Some deny that poverty has any cause except the laziness of the poor, still others who deny that television and motion pictures have any effect upon their audiences, some who deny the Holocaust occurred, and still more who deny the civil rights of some members of the community. There are even those who deny we ever actually landed on the moon, and those who deny that Bush/Cheney lied to us to bring about the “war” with Iraq. We deny that Afghanistan is a lost cause and we can never “win” but continue anyway. Obviously not all Americans deny all these things, and some deny one thing and not another, and so on. My point is not that everyone is in denial at all times about everything, but, rather, that Americans seem to have an unusual capacity for denial. It seems to be a characteristic national defense mechanism. Not all people are so willing or so easy to deny the various dangers that lurk in our lives. New Zealand, for example, does not allow any nuclear material anywhere near them. I think Japan may do so also, and I suppose there are other places that act in much the same ways. In many places if there is even a hint of danger from something they stop using or doing it until they know the facts. Here in America, however, we seem to be willing to deny even the obvious for long periods of time, usually in the interest of making short-term profits.

Yet ah! why should they know their fate,
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,'Tis folly to be wise.
Thomas Gray

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Domestic dispute results
in man decapitating
his wife with chainsaw.

There are some corporate attempts to take over our lives that are not only dangerous, but so intrinsically evil as to cause one to wonder if those promoting them have any respect for human life whatsoever. I have in mind The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010. In the words of a Canadian whistleblower, Dr. Shiv Chopra, this bill, if passed, would “preclude the public’s right to grow, own, trade, transport, share, feed and eat each and every food that nature makes.” It would, in effect, give Monsanto and other food giants absolute control over all seeds produced and used in agriculture. If this is true, and I suspect it is, although it most probably does not state its intentions so baldly, it must be considered an outright attack on human well-being, all in the service of profit and corporate control of the most basic commodity of all (next to water), food. In my opinion, that such a bill would be allowed to be considered at all is insane, even more insane than corporate attempts to privatize water as was attempted in Bolivia. Monsanto is already involved in a lawsuit now before the Supreme Court involving the genetically modified foods they are creating that may be themselves insane in the long run.

Crime in Chicago has reached such massive proportions there have been suggestions of bringing in the National Guard. There is little doubt that this crime wave (or whatever you might want to call it) is the result of lack of opportunity, jobs, education, poverty, and neglect. Jesse Jackson has proposed a massive federal intervention that would help provide what is needed to alleviate this problem and, hopefully, solve it forever.

The Senate, as you no doubt are aware, is involved in trying to pass some kind of Wall Street reform. Republicans for three days in a row voted not to allow the problem even to be debated. Now, threatened with an all-night session they capitulated and the debate will be allowed to go forward. The intent, of course, is to pass some kind of bill that would tighten regulations on Wall Street and offer more in the way of consumer protection from Wall Street recklessness, usurious credit card rates, and questionable trading practices and conflicts of interest.

Also as you know, Congress recently passed a Health Care Bill that was not even close to being true health care reform. In effect it merely provided the Insurance companies with some 30 million more customers who will be forced to buy insurance (if they cannot afford it, it will be governmentally subsidized). This was, in effect, a gift to the giant insurance companies and a far cry from health reform, although it did make it possible for some 30 million who did not have insurance to have it. A single-payer system as most industrial nations have, was not even considered.

Immigration reform, as a result of a truly discriminatory law passed in Arizona, has now been placed on the front burner for federal action. As the federal government has ignored this problem for decades, perhaps now something will be done about it, although what can be done will not please many people. It is true that this is considered to be a federal rather than a state problem, and it is also true that the federal government has neglected it for years. There are so many illegal immigrants by now, some of whom have lived her for decades, and some having just arrived, some of them criminals but the majority ordinary citizens, this is going to be a virtually impossible task. But it has to be done. New laws and regulations will be needed, however flawed they may prove to be.

Energy is another area where some kind of reform is necessary. There is little argument over the fact that the U.S. needs to wean itself away from oil dependency, and there is talk of wind energy, ethanol, electric and hydrogen cars, using solar and even waves to produce energy, to say nothing of new nuclear plants. But this is all very controversial and is going to require an enormous amount of time and new legislation.

Then there are the two “wars” that may or may not be winding down, and the problem of the Pentagon budget which has become so obscene as to make one wonder if our leaders have all of their marbles. The military/industrial/political complex, an integral part of the corporate control of our lives, will be virtually impossible to touch no matter what new laws and regulations might be in the future offing. There are, no doubt, many other problems I have not mentioned, not the least of which is the national debt.

I sort of regretfully submit that in my humble opinion none of these problems will be truly solved no matter how many laws and regulations may eventually be passed. The one thing that is common to all of these problems, the most basic problem of all, is that they are all the result of our capitalistic system, and unless we can force ourselves to give up our absurd ideas about free-markets, deregulation, privatization, and the evils of government, we will just continue going along the same path to eventually self-destruct. Capitalism is nothing less than the law of the jungle applied to human affairs. It is basically incompatible with enduring cultures that serve the needs of their citizens and must inevitably bring about their own demise. We can see this happening right now as the wealth of the nation becomes increasingly held by fewer and fewer individuals and corporations while the vast majority of citizens become surplus to be thrown away in the massive slums we have created in our inner cities or left to suffer and die without adequate medical care. I would never have thought that after eighty years of life I would have to acknowledge that capitalism is an abject failure. The only solution that seems to have worked in a few countries is some form of social democracy. Unfortunately, this is an option that is virtually unthinkable here in the U.S. because our capitalistic masters have made any form of public welfare into the horror of socialism and somehow convinced an unschooled public that it is a fate worse than death.

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.
Karl Marx

The Appaloosa, developed by the Nez Perce, is the official state horse of Idaho.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


“Einstein,” the smallest horse,
just born in New Hampshire,
5.9 pounds, 13.8 inches tall.

A short time ago I remember saying that if some (southern) states wanted to secede we should welcome it. I confess it was a comment made with little thought, mainly because I just assumed the idea that any state would secede was basically pretty silly. The way things are going have led me to think more about it. Here are some preliminary thoughts. I still think it is never going to happen but at least some of the states have what I believe are cogent arguments, Vermont in particular. Consider, for example, what the head of the Vermont Secession movement has to say:

“Naylor rattles off the stark indicators of the nation’s decline, noting that the United States stands near the bottom among industrialized countries in voter turnout, last in health care, last in education and highest in homicide rates, mortality, STDs among juveniles, youth pregnancy, abortion and divorce. The nation, he notes grimly, has trillions in deficits it can never repay, is beset by staggering income disparities, has destroyed its manufacturing base and is the planet’s most egregious polluter and greediest consumer of fossil fuels. With some 40 million Americans living in poverty, tens of millions more in a category called “near poverty” and a permanent underclass trapped by a real unemployment rate of 17 percent, there is ample tinder for internal combustion. If we do not undertake a dramatic reversal soon, he asserts, the country and the global environment will implode with catastrophic consequences.” (From an article in Truthdig by Chris Hedges).

I have to admit to finding this argument compelling. It’s like saying the ship is sinking and we should abandon it for a safer future. I think Vermont of all the so-called secessionist states may have it right, or at least have a reasonable argument. But Vermont is not the only state with secessionist impulses. It is clear than Alaska, Texas, and Hawaii also have ideas in this direction. I am sure there are other southern states that have similar desires. But think of what might happen if several states actually did secede, or attempt to do so. We would be left with a series of independent countries, a sort of Balkans right here in the North American continent. The “national” interests of each of these new countries would not always coincide, nor would there be clear laws defining which country controlled which rivers, forests, and natural resources, as currently these laws are those of the United States. It is also clear that not all of these states have the same motives for secession or the same ideas of what kinds of laws they would have. Some southern states, for example, appear to want to reinstate the Confederacy with whatever that might entail (hangings, slavery again, perhaps), while others, like Alaska and Hawaii would have different motives entirely. Would all of these new countries have viable economies? This seems to me unlikely. Some might want universal health care while others would not, some would recognize Gay and Lesbian marriages while others would not, some might enshrine Christianity as the official religion while others would not, some would outlaw abortion and others would not, and so on and on. Some might wish to be democratic and others might turn to fascism or socialism. Might there be eventually a Muslim country? What if one of these new countries decided to be Whites only, or Blacks only, or Hispanics only? There would be refugees. Would a series of such independent nations manage to live in peace with each other, doubtful? What if some countries have a wealth of natural resources while others have few or none?
What would happen to the states that did not elect to secede? Would they still form a United States? Would they still be responsible for the national debt while the others deserted or would the deserters have to take their share of the debt with them? Would there be a whole series of different Presidents? Would there be a United States Union like the European Union? Would there be a common currency?

What I find even more unsettling about the consequences of secession is what I would take to be the admission that the United States is a failed experiment in government. So-called democracy with a free-market capitalistic economy just doesn’t work (this would seem pretty obvious by now). Of course we could try to fix that, but some states obviously would rather run that fight. In Vermont they say there are two “enemies,” the U.S. government and the corporations, and the latter control the former. This appears to me to be true and thus the solution to maintaining the Union is to wrest control from those who currently have it. This will not be an easy task, and if it fails, we may well find ourselves in another civil war or a once-was nation that shattered because of its own incompetence.

It seems obvious to me that the idea of secession from the United States of America is not very practical, however desirable it may appear. Furthermore, if we continue on the same course we appear to be on at the moment, it probably won’t be every state for itself, but, rather, ever person for him or herself.

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.

Shrimp caught in the wild are far superior in taste to farm raised shrimp.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Birthright - book

Birthright The True Story That Inspired Kidnapped, by A. Roger Ekirch (W.W.Norton and Co., N.Y., 2010)

A.Roger Ekirch is a Professor of History at Virginia Tech University. He is described on the dust jacket by someone as “one of America’s most imaginative historians.”

I have no doubt this is a true story. However the phrase “imaginative historian” bothers me a bit. I should think it is almost an oxymoron. Anyway, this is the story of a youth in eighteenth century Ireland/England who was born into royalty to a father who abandoned him to life on the streets of Dublin when he was still a child, apparently because the father’s wife, his stepmother, didn’t like him and insisted on it. The boy, however, never gave up claiming to be the son of this wealthy landowner, a fact that created trouble for his uncle who saw him as the only person standing between him and inheriting his brother’s vast wealth. So the uncle, about as vile and greedy a creature that you could ever imagine, arranged to have the boy kidnapped and sent to America as an indentured laborer.

After spending almost fourteen years in America and finally satisfying his indenture he manages to return to Dublin and challenges his uncle’s right to the inheritance. This sets off one of the most important, famous, and sensational trials that ever occurred in London and Dublin. Both Ireland and England were involved because his father had been given tracts of land in both countries, the proceeds from which were huge by the standards of the time. As the boy had but few means and his uncle had fortunes the latter managed to have the trial was dragged on almost endlessly. The bulk of the book deals with the various trials and all the people who testified as to authenticity of his parenthood and so on. I do not wish to give away the ending of this remarkable story, but it was not the story itself that I found of the most interest.

This is said to be the story that inspired the novel, Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as a few others. I must confess somewhat shamefacedly that I have never read Kidnapped, or if I did it was so long ago I cannot remember anything about it. What I found the most fascinating reading Birthright was the social organization and culture of 18th century England and Ireland. What a bizarre and dysfunctional system it was. When the English conquered Ireland various people were awarded large tracts of land, these in turn were broken up into smaller sections and essentially rented to peasants and farmers which produced income for the nobles who held them, the medieval system that had not yet given away to industrialization. Hence there was an upper class that was incredibly wealthy and the various landholdings were passed down within families. But with the system of primogeniture not everyone could inherit and the precise relationships of one person to another were often of critical importance. Thus there was frequently conflict between brothers, fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, even mothers and children. And given there were not only lots of legitimate children, but also lots of bastards that sometimes became of importance, the situations could sometimes become complicated and chaotic. In some cases the son that inherited the land and titles did try to provide for his brothers and others, but in many cases he did not. Greed was perhaps even more rampant then than now. The problems of inheritance that we encounter from time to time are remnants of this system, but are by no means as common as they were then.

In this particular case, the evil uncle attempted to have the son declared a bastard so he would be ineligible for any inheritance. Failing that he attempted to have him killed. He thought he had solved the problem when he had him kidnapped and sent to America. But he returned, challenged his uncle, and brought about a virtually unprecedented legal case, helped along considerably by his uncle’s terrible reputation and lack of friends. It is hard for us to imagine now just how unpleasant, unfair, and unjust life was in England and Ireland in those days, reading Dickens helps, of course. It was not unusual for parents to leave children to exist on their own, beggars were common, hangings were a public recreation, crime was rampant, and the upper classes were protected by laws so discriminatory they could rarely be challenged or defeated in court. Birthright tells a story that was most unusual at the time and reading it offers a glimpse into the terrible world of 18th century life. The book was obviously well researched, is well written, easy to read, and interesting. I can’t help wondering how much is truly history and how much might be imagination. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if, as some have claimed, “there is no fundamental distinction between fiction and history” (Roland Barthes, Hayden White).

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Pennsylvania High School Teacher
will stand trial for offering extra
credit to girls for licking his fingers.

We all know about DWB, driving while black. Now in Arizona expect DWH, driving while Hispanic. It will be even worse, WWH, walking while Hispanic, SWH, sitting while Hispanic, and probably LWH, lying down while Hispanic. It will eventually come down to BWH, being while Hispanic. What a ridiculous law for Arizona to have passed. As in principle it relates to suspicion of anyone, not just Hispanics, you might say it is a law against just existing at all (without everyone carrying papers at all times), except that we all know that ordinary white people are not going to be targeted. Does this law mean that President Obama cannot visit Arizona without being challenged? We already know there are many people there, and no doubt police officers, who already suspect Obama is not a citizen. Will he be required to show papers? Oh, yeah, his birth certificate. What happens if Obama runs for a second term and refuses to produce his birth certificate? Will Arizona have a different President of the U.S.? Does this absurd law (now also apparently passed in Georgia) actually symbolize secession from the Union? How else might one interpret it as it obviously makes no sense whatsoever if it is not a form of secession? I suspect this law will be declared unconstitutional, at least I hope so. But on the other hand it could prove to be a lot of fun watching Arizona trying to squirm out of it. I trust the Federal Government will cut off all funding to Arizona. Why should they give money to a state that doesn’t recognize Federal Law?

I guess the only positive thing one might say about Arizona’s attempt to override Federal Law is that it might, at last, force the Federal Government to finally do something about illegal immigration. There is no doubt the fault lies with the Feds, having done nothing for such a long time. Of course for them to have done anything would have required them to punish corporations for hiring illegals, but who would have dared such a thing? After all, we’re a capitalistic country, corporations need cheap labor, cheap labor can be allowed to sneak in from Mexico and other Central American countries almost at will, and are a necessity to guarantee maximum profits. Ah, profit, what a glorious concept! And capitalism, free markets with no regulations, what paradise! Surplus people, let ‘em starve in slums around the world, there’s plenty of room there where hunger, pain, poor nutrition, and lack of health care will take care of the problem. And anyway, it’s their own fault for being poor.

Can Obama and his administration, even with majorities in both the House and Senate, come up with a decent solution to the problem of illegal immigration (again, not a problem they created, but another one they inherited)? Will the party of NO decide to cooperate? Unlikely, if only because their ties to the corporate world are so unbreakable, and the current hatred of Obama so intense. If Obama can actually do something useful here he will be, indeed, a miracle worker. Not everyone will be pleased no matter what solution is offered. These might be interesting times if we were not so aware they may well be penultimate. The Nightmare Years of the beginning of the 21st century may well have ushered in the beginning of the end, almost certainly for the U.S. as we have known it, and perhaps even for the world. It is not at all obvious or certain that global warming, massive pollution, or possible nuclear explosions will wait for immigration reform, economic recovery, or Benjamin Netanyahu.

It’s all Dustin Hoffman’s fault. If only he had not listened to that one word of advice he received at his graduation – “plastics.”

It came to Mr. Blood, as he trudged forward under the laden apple-trees on that fragrant, delicious July morning, that man—as he had long suspected—was the vilest work of God, and that only a fool would set himself up as a healer of a species that was best exterminated." Rafael Sabatini (Captain Blood)

Wild ocean perch fillets cook a tad faster than you think.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What's "a lot?"

Ohio prostitute arrested for
soliciting sex from Chief of Police
sitting in unmarked car.

How does one determine what’s “a lot,” and does it matter (a lot) if something is a lot? I am thinking now of the Catholic Church and its problems with pedophilia and child abuse. There are said to be already 6,000 known complaints against the church. That seems to me to be a lot. But then I saw where it is estimated there will be 10,000 complaints just here in the U.S. That seems to me to be really a lot. Do we have to know how many Catholic Priests there are before we can decide if this is a lot? Do we have to know the actual percentage of Priests that are known abusers? Now that this scandal has been reported from virtually all over the world with more and more complaints coming in daily, can we conclude that there has truly been a lot of pedophilia and child abuse associated with the Catholic Church? It seems to me we can. Surely there are enough cases by now to make it clear that this is not just a few rogue Priests, nor can it be easily understood as lasting so long and being so widespread without concluding that there was/is something about the Church that either helped recruit such people or, at the least, encouraged the behavior. Perhaps after years of cover-ups it became known to pedophiles that the Church would defend them even if they were reported, and thus the practice spread over time, growing more common as there were more and more protections? Of course I don’t know this, but I cannot believe this was anything but somehow institutionalized within the Church. In other words, there were not just a few “bad apples,” the Church was itself the barrel that preserved and nourished bad apples. Sinead O’Connor, who was apparently abused as a child by the church, says the entire Catholic hierarchy that allowed this to happen for so long should be fired, jailed, or relieved of duties, including the Pope. I agree.

Does anyone know how many illegal aliens there are in the United States? I mean, really know? I doubt it, but it is safe to say there are a lot, even an awful lot. There are so many it would be completely unfeasible to send them all back where they came from. So what might be done with them? Ed Schultz on his Ed Show made a suggestion tonight that I think is utterly ridiculous. He thinks we should just give citizenship to every existing illegal alien in the U.S. at this time. He is a very opinionated man and I think he sometimes gets carried away and says things without sufficient thought. Among those illegals are some who are known criminals, there are some who have been here only a very short time, there are others who no doubt would prefer to remain citizens of whatever country they came from and would like to return there. And of course there are some who have been here for years, are gainfully employed, pay taxes, and have become pretty much incorporated. Obviously they cannot all be treated the same. Some should be given citizenship, many others should probably just be given valid work permits that would allow them to stay but not be actual citizens, and so on.

And think of all those plastic bottles that stretched end-to-end would encircle the earth many times. That is a lot. How many chickens would it take to pay for an appendectomy? A lot, I bet. Of course you can’t even begin to think of the national debt without the concept of a lot, a real lot, a super-duper lot. Think about the number of guns that exist in the U.S. There are really a lot, so many that attempting gun control would doubtless be futile and would create a new criminal class consisting of a lot of owners. There are so many things you can think of these days that can only be considered with a concept like a lot.

One further example might well be the problem of erectile dysfunction. I think I heard on a Viagra ad that some 20 million men have already discussed this problem with their doctors (maybe it was only 10 million). In any case, that is a lot, and if you consider that Cialis and other such “aids” must also include quite a few men it is truly a lot. Now in my humble opinion if there are that many American males that are failing to have erections “when the time comes,” there must be something terribly wrong with our culture. It just does not seem at all natural that so many males would suffer from such a problem. Perhaps it has to do with smog, or what we eat and drink, or the changing relationships between men and women, feminism, perhaps even unrealistic expectations, devil possessions, sorcery, or too much Budweiser beer. Perhaps Eva Morales has the right idea. He says our chickens are injected with hormones and stuff, so when we eat them it causes a "deviancy in our manhood." Everyone seems to assume he means they make men gay, but perhaps he was referring to the loss of other manly behaviors. He also pointed out something I had never thought about or been aware of; in Europe most men are bald, whereas in Latin America men do not become bald. I guess that is pretty much true, I wonder why.

Anyway, there are at least a couple of “primitive” languages reported in which there are only three numbers, one, two, and many (a lot). It seems to me we are doing much the same thing. We may count beyond two, but however far we go we eventually have to settle simply with “a lot.” Perhaps we should pay more attention to what we are doing.

We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in 'reality.' And reality has a well known liberal bias.
Stephen Colbert

Genetically speaking, the aardvark is a living fossil.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Iran, Again, and Again

Australian woman gets 18 years
for running over and killing man
who threw cheeseballs at her car.

What is this insanity over Iran? It seems the MSM and mostly everyone else has some weird obsession with Iran and some paranoid belief that Iran is somehow a threat to the U.S. The House today voted overwhelmingly to impose severe sanctions on Iran for their (perfectly legal) civilian nuclear program. The Pentagon assured us that our current anti-missile defense program (that only works sometimes) would protect us from Iranian missiles directed at the U.S. I can’t help it, I have to ask, what missiles? The Iranians don’t have any missiles that would reach the U.S. and have, in fact, said they don’t intend to have any (or course they can’t be trusted, they’re Iranians). But even assuming that they did have such missiles, by what bizarre stretch of the imagination would make anyone believe they would fire them at the U.S.? This is an idea so crazy it almost leaves me speechless. Of course it fits right in with the equally insane idea that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb to attack Israel and the U.S. This is, in Ed Schultz’s terms, “psycho talk,” pure and simple, and there is no evidence they are doing so. And we are treated daily with the phrase “nothing is off the table,” referring to the possibility that either we or Israel or both of us might attack Iran at any moment. Perhaps there is some reason for this strange campaign against Iran that I do not understand, maybe it has something to do with our current relationship with Israel, you know, that little country that keeps telling President Obama to go “piss up a rope,” apparently confident that upon their command he will do so (and so far they seem to be right). This fear of Iran, if it is genuine and not just hyped up for some reason I don’t understand, is absolutely devoid of any semblance of reality whatsoever. It is stupid, counterproductive, without any basis in fact or reality, and demonstrates the poverty of our foreign policy. Now I see again that we are threatening Syria with the same “no option is off the table.” This is apparently with respect to the belief that Syria may be furnishing scud missiles to Hezbollah. They probably are. We apparently believe that Hezbollah, Lebanon, Palestinians, and others have no right to arm themselves against known Israeli aggression. They are just supposed to meekly submit to Israel colonialism and genocide. U.S. involvement in the Middle East, always on the side of Israel, is absolutely despicable, and at least in principle opposed to what we claim are our basic values. Obama has asked Israel to stop building illegal housing units in Jerusalem in order to restart the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. Netanyahu has refused. What will Obama do? Put your money on the “nothing much” square.

It seems to be pretty much agreed and understood that the U.S. has been falling behind over time and is seemingly on its way to becoming a third-world (or worse) nation. We lag behind in education, technology, production, health care, infant mortality, and what have you. I think I have figured out why we are doing so poorly. In general it has to do with the fact that we have been systematically “dumbed down” through our inadequate educational system, our anti-intellectual ethos, and above all perhaps, our television. I think it has to do mostly with advertising, especially television advertising. Think about it, for years and years now we have been subjected to the most ridiculous, absurd, mind-deadening, infantile, idiotic, even surrealistic ads dreamed up by the minds of (probably) disturbed individuals who believe they are at the apex of business and creativity. Think of it, for as many years as you have been watching TV you have been exposed to chocolate chip cookies who drive cars and sing, bees that fly around and speak to you with an accent, cars that talk, animals that talk, even potholes that talk. There are people dressed as vitamins, carrots, turnips, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables, a bottle of beer having an affair with a sheaf of wheat, talking geckos, ducks, cows, horses, dogs, cats, blue bears wiping themselves in the woods with toilet paper, toys that dance and sing and come to life, babies that discuss their stock market investments, old people singing about their dentures, people dressed up as hamburgers, planets, and other things I cannot remember. The more TV you watch the more of this unreality you observe. Indeed, we watch so much of it, it has become normal, we accept it as part of our lives even though we probably don’t think about it. The TV programs are mind-deadening enough by themselves, but adding over time hours and hours of this total nonsensical irreality must be having an effect on us, numbing our brains, scrambling our thoughts, burrowing into our unconscious minds like parasitic worms that have found an apparently amenable host unaware of their insidious effects. Thus it is that we can listen to the likes of Limbaugh, Palin, Backmann, Hannity, O’Reilly, Beck, and others, seemingly unaware of the absurdity of their grotesquely distorted views of reality. It has by now all become just noise and more noise, the background against which we live in blissful ignorance of what used to be considered reality. I fear it has become true that from the point of view of an ordinary citizen there is no reality out there anymore, merely the incessant noise of the talking animals, cookies, cars talking heads and potholes that assail us daily, non-stop, and without mercy. We live, as Clifford Geertz suggested, “In webs of significance we ourselves have spun,” except ours are now webs of almost total insignificance.

There is no nonsense so gross that society will not, at some time, make a doctrine of it and defend it with every weapon of communal stupidity.
Robertson Davies

Whereas Gar flesh is edible, Gar eggs are toxic.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Had to Concede

Scottish woman visiting police station
to retrieve a lost purse, arrested
for the cocaine it contained.

I have finally had to concede. I called my friend in Arizona and confessed that I thought he was right, politics in Arizona is definitely worse than politics in Idaho. We have had this ongoing dispute for several years. It came about because we are about the same age, both taught in Universities, and both retired at the same time several years ago, and both can be broadly designated as “progressives.” But for reasons I will not bother you with I ended up living in North Idaho and he ended up living in Arizona, both extremely conservative states with Republican dominated state legislatures, arguably to the right of Attila the Hun, certainly to the right of common sense and sanity.

For years we have amused each other with reports of our respective politicians and state legislatures. Here in Idaho we had our famous Larry Craig, often referred to as “The Senator from Boise Cascade.” Of course he became far more famous as “Wide Stance,” when he was arrested for soliciting sex in the Minneapolis Airport’s men’s room. He insisted repeatedly that he was not “Gay,” to which someone agreed and said he just liked kinky sex in bathrooms. In any case this was a source of considerable amusement. Then I reported that one of our state legislators actually suggested we change the Idaho Constitution so the state would have no responsibility at all for education. This was during one of the endless discussions of how it is we don’t need to have any education in Idaho, resulting in years of serious neglect of public schools and Universities here. This has resulted in numerous lawsuits involving how education is funded (or not funded) that to this day continue. Now we have Senators Crapo (the name itself offers a certain amusement) and Risch. All three of these Senators apparently follow the principles of an earlier Idaho Senator, Weldon B. Heyburn, who when asked about conservation (that is, not cutting all the timber as fast as possible) famously replied, “Let succeeding generations look out for themselves.”

The Arizona Senators, Jon Kyl and John McCain, are themselves an endless topic of mirth. Their antics have ranged from the utterly idiotic to the overwhelmingly hypocritical. McCain in particular has been an endless source of amusement, especially when he teamed up with Palin for the John and Palin show. In addition to not knowing how many houses he owns he has distinguished himself by flip-flopping on virtually every issue he has ever encountered. Boasting he has never proclaimed himself a “maverick,” he somehow maintains this posture in spite of his often repeated claim of such status, and the title of a book he once published. He has single-handedly raised hypocrisy to a level never before obtained by a public servant (or anyone else, for that matter). And of course we are forever in his debt for introducing us to Silly Sarah, the least qualified V.P. candidate in the history of the U.S., who has gone on to parlay McCain’s lack of judgment into a fortune. My friend and I have traded stories of our respective politics for quite some time. It has been both great fun and also very depressing. When he informed me that some people he met in Arizona wanted him to go with them to fire machine guns, “for relaxation,” I knew we were operating in parallel universes. And we do share many things in common: the conviction that Obama is going to take away all our guns, he is going to stop us from fishing, he is a socialist/communist/fascist/Muslim/Kenyan/anti-Christ from outer space who is going to kill us all with death squads, foolish lawsuits about health care, stuff like that.

Idaho has long prided itself on being the reddest of the red states and has good reason to claim such fame. But Arizona has never been far behind. They have now, however, surged far ahead of Idaho in outright idiocy. Not only have they recently passed a law making it legal to carry concealed weapons without a permit, they are in the process of passing one that will force all future Presidential Candidates to produce for them a birth certificate, an idea so intrinsically idiotic it makes one wonder if any of them has graduated from kindergarten. You also have to wonder what they will do when the next Presidential candidates refuse, “war,” perhaps? The worst, however, is a pending bill that makes the Third Reich look pretty reasonable. Arizona Police will be required to demand “papers” from anyone they deem suspicious. It is well known who the suspicious people are going to be. The implications of this bill, if it is not vetoed by their Governor, are simply immense. It will involve taxes, police protection, morality and the church, endless lawsuits, to say nothing of usurping the Federal Government’s responsibility for immigration. It will certainly be a source of amusement for morbid spectators such as my friend and myself. It is this recent spate of activity in Arizona that has made me concede. Even Idaho cannot approach this in its sheer insanity. I had to admit, Arizona wins hands down when it comes to the utter nonsense of Republicanism. I do not despair completely, however, the last cards may not have been played, Idaho may come up with something equally or more ridiculous. Walt Minnick, our so-called Democratic Representative, who is really a Republican in Democratic clothing, has recently been endorsed by the Tea Party. I don’t know what this means, but I’m pretty certain it is going to be most amusing before it plays out. To get an endorsement from the Tea Party I’m sure you have to be pretty weird. I wonder what they know about Minnick that the rest of us don’t?

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. Witness the Republican running against Harry Reid in Nevada, Sue Lowden, who makes Michelle Bachmann appear almost sane. There is something about the Republican Party that seems to have an attraction for really dumb blonds.

In politics, absurdity is not a handicap.
Napoleon Bonaparte

There is absolutely no way eggplant can be cooked to make me like it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Explanations of sorts

“Meatball” wins most beautiful
bulldog crown at 31st annual
beautiful bulldog contest in Des Moines.

Some 73% of Americans, it is claimed in some poll or other, do not trust the U.S. Government. I am one of them. Of course I trust the Post Office to deliver my mail. And I trust that my Social Security check will arrive every month. And I like Medicare, and I think the Veterans Health Care program runs pretty well, I think universal elementary schools are a good idea, I really like the Interstate Highway system, Libraries, and I sort of appreciate some control over communicable diseases, as well as protection from enemies, both local and foreign. But other than that I guess I don’t really trust the government. I’ve been giving some thought to this lately and I have concluded that as the government can’t be trusted I had better come up with my own explanations for why things are not going well.

Let’s start with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It seems there has been quite a lot of this activity lately. I think this must be the result of sucking too much out of the earth, oil, water, minerals, coal, and etc. That is, because of all this extraction, the interior of the earth must be shrinking, sort of like an orange that has had the juice sucked out of it, and the result is earthquakes and such. I really can’t think of any other explanation that makes sense to me.

We also have this problem with Iran that seems to be somewhat intractable. What I think people fail to realize is just how appreciative the Iranians really were when our CIA overthrew their democratically elected government and installed the Shah. It was not well understood at the time that the psychological defense mechanism known as “identification with the aggressor” was in play, and although they chafed under the Shah, they really identified with us. Of course the Shah has been gone for quite a while now so they have become unhappy. The idea is, I guess, that if we bomb them, especially with nuclear bombs, they will identify with us once again. Iranians cannot be trusted to act like ordinary human beings, that is why they may or may not be trying to develop a nuclear bomb and we are not to believe anything they say or do.

Another item of interest has to do with the Constitution. Silly Sarah has now made it clear that our founding fathers really did not believe in the separation of church and state, even though it may appear they did. This is because of a well-known anthropological dictum that says just because something wasn’t reported doesn’t mean it might not have existed. You know, if you are an anthropologist, and if you travel to some weird culture, and if you come back and don’t report they saved children’s feces, that doesn’t mean they didn’t do that, it just means you failed to report it. So it is with the Constitution. We should thank Sarah for this correction to our thinking about it.

Then there is the problem of rampant sex in Washington, D.C. There has been a genuine spate of adulterous incidents, homosexuality, and so on. This is, I think, a direct result of the Bill Clinton effect. You see, before Clinton no member of Congress ever had sex in their office before, especially oral sex, and his successful venture along these lines obviously inspired others to “do their own thing” which they have been doing (a lot) ever since.

And so it is with taxes. A lot of people are really upset about taxes, and, I guess, rightly so. As you may not know, taxes were invented in Kenya, and when Obama was born and raised there he liked them so well he vowed that when he became President of the U.S. he would introduce them here. Before Obama we didn’t have taxes and everyone was happy.

Many of our current troubles can be traced back to Saint Ronnie, who made us aware, for the first time, that “Government was the problem.” Before Reagan everyone loved the government and no one ever complained about it until he placed this seed of doubt in our minds. So now, as a result of his legacy, his Republican party has decided that whatever government wants to do they should oppose it. This rule only applies when democrats are in the majority because they are the ones that have always been in favor of government (you know, like the post office, social security, bad stuff like that).

Guns have become an issue, too. It is well known that Obama intends to take away everyone’s guns. The fact that he has made no moves in this direction just proves that he is going to do it someday. He is just laying low and lulling everyone into believing he is not going after their guns. You have noticed, I hope, that the census does not require you to list your guns, or even to report you have one, pretty sneaky that.

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

There is now some talk of perhaps placing wolverines on the endangered species list.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Gambler - book

The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Dover Publications, N.Y., 1996 {first published 1866})

I could not find a recently published book in our small library here in Bonners Ferry, and I have not had occasion to visit the North Idaho College library in Coeur d’ Alene for some time. A visit to our local book store was not much help either (they feature mostly used books). Being an avid reader I was getting desperate until I happened to notice an inexpensive Dover Thrift Edition of Dostoyevsky’s novella, The Gambler. As it has been at least fifty years since I last read Dostoyevsky, and as I had never read The Gambler, I thought I would try it.

This is an interesting tale, partly because it was apparently written during an interlude while he was writing Crime and Punishment (his greatest work), and partly because he hired a young stenographer at this time who became his second wife.

I always found Dostoyevsky somewhat hard reading even when he was being featured in Literature classes when I was in college. Reading him now after all these years did not seem to make it any easier, maybe even harder. After fifty years of reading mostly American and English prose that, while it does vary, also seems in general to be terse, sparse, tight, and economical when compared with Dostoyevsky and the other classic Russians who, to my mind are wordy, complicated, difficult to follow, and seem to revel in multiple names and a multitude of characters, while at the same time remaining fascinating.

The Gambler is no exception. It is wordy and consists overwhelmingly of conversation, characters, and psychology. There is virtually no description of scenes, countryside, surroundings, or Russian culture in general. Whereas Balzac wanted to record “the manners and customs of his time,” Dostoyevsky tells you virtually nothing of such things. It is true that inevitably you can infer some of the customs, and even some of the manners, but that is a task for you, the reader, rather than the author. Dostoyevsky is after the psychology of his characters, and you learn about them through their speech and opinions rather than their costumes or physical features. A few of them are drawn more completely than others, Aunt Antonida, for example, comes across as a truly dominating old woman who does what she wishes, but the primary love interest and sort of heroine, Polina, is more difficult to fathom.

Because of the title this book is generally considered to be about compulsive gambling, and it is, but it is also much more than that. It is a story of unrequited love, passion, interpersonal relations, greed, and Dostoyevsky’s different and revealing views of Poles, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Germans and Russians. It is also a story of money and what people will do for it. I think it helps if you already have some idea of the relations between France and Russia during this period of time.

Dostoyevsky was himself for a time a compulsive gambler. It almost destroyed his life. Thus he was in a good position to describe the compulsion to gamble and does it quite convincingly. The gambling scenes, however, occur towards the end of the book and serve as a kind of climax to the problems that are played out previously between the family members and their friends, some of which make you wonder if people at that time could really have behaved as they did. There is, for example, no explanation for why the main character, Alexey, follows Blanche to Paris and allows her to completely waste his enormous winnings on her every desire. His unrequited love for Polina is also difficult to understand as anything other than that, and I think the ending is not entirely convincing on this score.

I confess that in spite of the wordiness and seemingly endless conversation, and in spite of the complex Dostoyevsky psychological style, once you become immersed in this story it is compelling and you will want to finish it. It is not quite as dark as most of Dostoyevsky (think Crime and Punishment in particular), but it is not a happy or humorous tale by any stretch of imagination.

Reading The Gambler has made me want to return to Crime and Punishment, but I doubt I will have the energy. Besides, the garden is not only beckoning, but demanding. I will not be reading as much as usual until later, when the season ends, and the harvest is in the cellar and freezer, the weather turns cold, and it is time to sit by the fire and read once again.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Bother?

Forida woman robs
discount store, leaves her
two-year old behind.

I don’t know for sure but I suspect it’s my age. I find myself not doing things I used to do, and doing things I didn’t used to do. For example, I used to watch the news pretty faithfully, but now I find myself just turning it off. It seems to me there is no real news anymore, everything is just basically propaganda. I hear constantly how it is that Iran is an “existential threat” to Israel and the U.S. I’m a loyal American, I would like to believe this, but I just don’t. This is not because I am privy to some information others do not have, or because I am anti-Semitic, or because I love Iran, it’s just that I cannot believe it. The fact is, just based on what I hear now and then on what passes for news these days, I believe that Israel and the U.S. is a far greater existential threat to Iran than vice versa. We are doing everything we can to impose harsh sanctions on them, and we (and Israel) constantly threaten to bomb them (nothing is off the table), and we constantly accuse them of being the greatest terrorist nation on earth (what evidence there is for this is never specified in any way). Iran, on the other hand, has not attacked anyone for over 200 years, they say they do not even want nuclear bombs, and there is no clear evidence they are actually striving to produce one. And even if they had such a bomb, being intelligent people, they would hardly run out and attack nations with overwhelming military and nuclear superiority. These constant threats against Iran are not because they constitute an existential threat to anyone, they are because Iran as a nation is seeking to look after their national interests, and those national interests happen to be contrary to the national interests of others, specifically Israel, the U.S. and the Arab countries. Iran threatens Israeli/U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. Iran is a Shiite country, the Arab states are Sunni, they do not want Iran to covet Iraq and help it to become a Shiite country. The U.S. would like to dominate the Middle East and Iran is a potential problem in that they wish to be an important player in what is, in fact, their backyard, not ours. So they are a geopolitical threat. That is hardly the same as being an existential threat. So why can’t anyone just tell the truth about this? I guess for the same reason we were never told the truth about why we unilaterally and illegally attacked Iraq. I am loathe to admit the vile bumper sticker I saw even before we actually attacked was closer to the truth than anything we were told: “Nuke their ass and steal their gas.”

I am also beginning to have second thoughts about certain things. For example, I believe that Republicans lie regularly just because that is their nature. I believe this because for the past nine or ten years they have done nothing but lie about everything (can you think of anything Bush/Cheney didn’t lie about). A sliver of doubt has come into my mind so that I suspect now that sometimes they aren’t really lying, they just don’t know what they are talking about, being either ignorant or stupid. Some of the tea party folks are out there railing non-stop against taxes, apparently oblivious to the fact that Obama just reduced taxes for 95% of Americans. I suspect that before they are done they will believe that Obama actually invented taxes and before him there were no taxes. If Silly Sarah told them this they would no doubt believe it.

There was a local example of this recently. Three or four of our community leaders, who supposedly run things around here, were overheard saying how they all agreed they did not want any more “Wilderness” here in our county. They were quite adamant about this. Of course if the Federal Government designated Wilderness here there is nothing much they could do about it. But what makes this more pathetic is that there is no “Wilderness” designated in our county, none, and these presumably wise and powerful leaders had no idea what they were talking about. Observing what goes on in our Congress, where it is obvious most of them don’t even bother to read the bills they vote on, makes me believe this is true there more often than not. They simply don’t know what they are talking about, and even if they did, they would still no doubt lie about it. So I question myself, why should I even bother reading or listening to what is supposed to be “news?” It does seem completely pointless. But then I wonder, is it just me, am I slipping, do I just don’t “get it?” And then I shrug and tell myself “that’s just human nature,” but if that’s true, is anything really worth bothering about? I am reminded of my favorite New Yorker cartoon: An obviously well-off middle-aged man is standing in his living room looking downcast. His wife says, “Well, whatever possessed you to buy a book called ‘Being and Nothingness” in the first place?

The Crystal Gazer

I shall gather myself into my self again,
I shall take my scattered selves and make them one.
I shall fuse them into a polished crystal ball
Where I can see the moon and the flashing sun.
I Shall sit like a sibyl, hour after hour intent.
Watching the future come and the present go
- And the little shifting pictures of people rushing
In tiny self-importance to and fro.
- Sara Teasdale

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Spring House

I am so fed up with "wars," tea parties, bickering, idiocy, Silly Sarah, lies, hypocrisy, Wall Street, Main Street, mines, McCain, Republicans, murders, misery, infotainment, and the so-called "news" I just can't deal with it tonight. So here is a short story I've been working on. Perhaps it will become part of my prospective volume: Encounters: the Unfinished, Unread, Uncollected, Unpublished, and Unwanted Short Stories of Morialekafa. For others see Morialekafa 7-25-09.

The Spring House

“What is that thing?” The potential buyer emphasized “that” and only less so, “thing,” in a demanding voice, as he pointed to a stone structure some fifty yards from the house.

“I’ll explain it later,” the agent said, “first let me show you the rest of the property. I think it may be exactly what you’re looking for.” He led the couple away from the house and toward the hillside. “I’ll show you the spring first.” As they walked through the dry orchard grass and between a few withered fruit trees, he continued. “As I told you, it’s twenty acres, mostly flat and usable… used to be forty, but they had to sell twenty when everything went bad for a while a few years back. They continued in silence until they arrived at the spring.

“It’s beautiful,” the buyer’s wife gasped, “absolutely beautiful, I love it.” The spring water emerged from under a huge granite boulder situated between two similar but smaller boulders. The pond was about ten by twenty feet in diameter and three or four feet in depth. It had been enhanced by a rock retaining wall of large carefully cut and shaped stones placed brick-like along the lower side, so weathered they appeared to be part of the original spring. It had been an obvious labor of love. Green moss covered parts of the rock and skippers moved gracefully across the surface. A single huge wild rose bush bent over one side, a few pink and white petals having fallen on the water, enhanced the charm of the quiet place.

“The water runs through a pipe down to the house,” the agent explained. “It’s really wonderful water.”

“It’s great,” the buyer exclaimed.

“The property line is right there behind the spring. All that land from there up the hill belongs to the state. You’d never have to worry about neighbors.” The hill rose gradually from from the spring, broken up with outcroppings of granite and sparsely covered with scrub pines and juniper.

As they walked back toward the house they passed two rows of old firewood, stacked in cords, covered heavily with pine needles and home to a family of squirrels. As they passed, a slender brown weasel emerged from the stack with a mouse in its mouth.

“This was the garden,” the agent explained, as they walked across a large area now heavy in weeds.

“Look, honey,” the buyer said, “We can have a great garden, grow our own food, it’ll be wonderful.” She looked at him with surprise but said nothing. As far as she knew he had never gardened.

“You said you were looking for a place for a Bed and Breakfast,” the agent reminded him, “This ought to be a perfect place. Of course it would take a lot of remodeling and modernization, but it’s got everything. It’s not right on a main highway, but the freeway is only about a mile away. It’s twenty acres with its own water, pasture, a great old barn. Before I show you the house let me show you this wonderful old barn.” He led them past the large two story house, towards the barn.

It was a great barn, huge, with a dozen stanchions for milking cows, a hayloft above, a couple of box stalls for horses, and off in one corner stood an old one-horse carriage covered with dust. It was unusually clean for a barn and smelled pleasurably of hay.

“My god, it’s wonderful,” the buyer exclaimed excitedly. “It’s perfect, couldn’t be better. Look honey, we can have a few horses for our guests to ride, maybe even a cow.” She looked at him with wry smile, after twenty-five years of marriage his enthusiasms no longer surprised her.

“Just look at this barn,” the agent ordered. “It’s just as sound now as the day it was built. Those old Norwegians really knew how to build things. The house is the same, you’ll see.”

As they passed within sight of the strange round stone building the buyer asked once more, “What is that thing?” The emphasis now was on the “is.” Once again the agent ignored the question and led them to the house.

After unlocking what was apparently the back door with a strange old key, the agent led them through a screened-in porch and ushered them into a large old-fashioned kitchen with massive beams overhead.

“They don’t build ‘em like this anymore,” he exclaimed proudly. “Just look at that construction.” It was true, the house, like the barn, although probably more than a hundred years old, was so solidly built it didn’t seem to have either sagged or shifted.

“It’s still furnished!” The wife blurted out in surprise.

“Yeah, much of the original furniture is still here,” the agent explained. “Apparently the owners left in a hurry and for some reason never came back for it.”

“That’s weird,” the buyer observed, “really weird.”

It was a marvelous old farmhouse. From the kitchen they entered an equally large family room. There was a heavy oak dining table surrounded by six matching chairs. On one side was a large sofa in front of a window that looked out on the grounds, with the picturesque barn in the background. On the opposite wall stood an old, elaborately carved, piano. Sheet music for “The Pagan Love Song” was still in place. It was a comfortable, inviting room, that showed evidence of having been much lived in. “It’s just lovely,” the wife observed.

“Now look at this,” the agent implored, “you don’t see these anymore.” They entered a parlor room. Aside from the dust and cobwebs, it appeared to have never been used. The antique furniture was covered with what appeared to be bed sheets. “Most of the old houses like this used to have parlor rooms,” he explained. “They were only used on rare occasions when they had special guests. Seems like a terrible waste, but that’s the way they did it back then.”

Also on the main floor was a bedroom entered from the family room. It was not large but comfortable- looking with a window that looked out toward the spring.

“Was this the master bedroom?” The buyer was obviously disappointed by the size.

“They didn’t have master bedrooms when this old place was built, but there are four other bedrooms upstairs that are all about the same size. Of course none of them have bathrooms. Indoor plumbing, for whatever reason, didn’t quite make it into this house. That’s one of the main drawbacks to this place, you’d have to put in plumbing and bathrooms. There’s enough space but it would be expensive. The closets aren’t very big. Of course you probably noticed there’s no hot water in the kitchen either, but that wouldn’t be so hard to remedy. Obviously an old place like this is going to need some real overhauling, but think how great it’ll be when it’s done.”

“Yeah, it’s a great old place,” the buyer agreed, “I love it. Look, honey, we could have the downstairs bedroom and use the upstairs for guests. The family room is perfect for breakfasts and we could use the parlor room for TV and recreation. It’ll be perfect. We’d have to find a decent architect but I’m sure it could be done.

His wife smiled and agreed, but noncommittally, “yes, it really is a great old place.”

Finally they had to confront the strange stone house that was located no more than 20 yards from the back door. “What the hell,” the buyer exclaimed, “there’s no door, or even a window. What was this thing anyway?”

“I don’t know why there is no door. There was a door at one time. Look, you can see where the stones were set into the opening. There was a window too, there, you can see where it was.” The agent pointed to what must have been a small window.

“But it doesn’t make sense,” the buyer insisted, “Why would anyone have closed the place up like this. I don’t get it.”

The agent was silent for a while, considering how to explain what might have happened, but not too eager to do so. As offering no explanation was not a reasonable option, he finally spoke. “Well,” he said, “I don’t know what happened. There are different stories about it. I don’t know if any of them are true.”

“What stories,” the wife demanded, “What are the stories? You must tell us.”

The agent looked down at his feet and shuffled about nervously as he began. “This was the spring house. Remember, there was no electricity or refrigeration when the place was built. Water from the spring ran down here into this stone house where it kept things cool. There was a stone pool about two feet deep where they kept the milk and cream in those old milk cans. Not too long ago all these small farmers had dairy cows, they’d milk them twice a day and sell the milk. There was a little train that ran by here every day, actually twice a day, they called it the ‘Dinky,” because it was so small. It picked up the milk and took it to town where it was processed. The train track is still there but they don’t use it anymore.” He pointed to a spot about four hundred yards away. “The farmers took their milk there almost every day.”

“But why did they close the place? Even if they didn’t use it anymore, why close it? We have to know,” the wife said firmly.

“Well, there’s at least three different stories,” the agent reported. “I don’t know if any of them are true, but the most popular one has to do with a little girl. The couple that lived here had no children of their own. The woman was a school teacher and it was rumored she didn’t even like children. But anyway, apparently one day her relatives came to visit. They had a little girl. She was said to be about 3 or 4 years old and pretty as a picture, a little blond girl. The story is that somehow she fell into the pool in the spring house and drowned. The owners and the parents were so ashamed and so distraught they sealed the place up and left and never returned. I don’t know for sure if that’s what happened, but it’s true they never returned and no one seems to know what happened to them.”

My god, how awful it must have been. But what happened to them? Where did they go?” The wife, horrified by the tale, was visibly upset and kept staring at the spring house.

“It was in the summer,” the agent explained, “They just up and left, no one knows what happened to them. No one around here heard from them again.”

The husband, now intrigued, spoke up. “You said there were other stories. What are the others”?

The agent paused before continuing, “Of course these are nothing but rumors, you understand. No one knows what really happened. One of the stories is that the husband, who was said to be abusive, killed his wife in a fit of anger, sealed her in the spring house and left. That’s why he never returned, because he murdered his wife. The other story is the same although in reverse. Some people think she killed him when he began to abuse her, or maybe for some other reason entirely, and had his body sealed in the spring house. There was an old guy used to live just down the road a ways, an Irishman, claimed that he sealed it up for her. But he was a drinker, always drunk, and no one believed him. In any case she, too, disappeared, and no one knows where she went. If either of these two stories is true it would explain why the murderer never came back. But maybe the first story is true and they actually meant to come back but somehow never did. Anyway, no one really knows what happened. It’s all just talk.”

“Why didn’t someone open the spring house and find out what happened? Weren’t the police or anyone interested?” The buyer found the situation impossible to believe, his wife agreed, “yes, why?”

“A good question,” the agent acknowledged. “I don’t know the answer, except this has always been a rural area where people live on their farms and mind their own business. There’s only the Sheriff, but he’s busy and doesn’t go around poking into rumors. Lots of funny things happened around here. People died and their families buried them and nobody was ever the wiser, especially if it was a child that died. I guess they weren’t very close to any of the neighbors so no one raised a fuss about it. If it happened nowadays it probably might be different. But that’s the way it was.”

“If we bought the place we’d have to do something about it,” the buyer said. “But what could we do?”

“I suppose you could get a stonemason to open the doorway, don’t know what you might find. If there’s a body I suppose you could just bury it. Probably the easiest thing would be to just get a dozer in here and bulldoze the whole thing away. You don’t need it for anything anyway.”

“You couldn’t do that,” the wife gasped, “if there’s a body in here that would be a terrible thing to do.”

“She’s right,” the buyer agreed. “I guess we’d have to find out first if there is a body. That wouldn’t be a hard thing to do. If there is one we could just have it buried someplace, maybe back there on the hillside somewhere.” In his mind it was already done. He could see the tiny grave somewhere behind the spring with a tasteful small tombstone, and he was already rehearsing how he would tell his clients the story of the restored spring house. In his mind the bathrooms were already installed, the kitchen remodeled with new granite counters, a state-of-the-art range and walk-in refrigerator, the breakfast menus of shirred farm-fresh eggs and puff pancakes, fresh fruits and vegetables were already becoming world famous.

As the buyer was lost in his imagination, and pondering the problems and challenges of his exciting new life, he did not perceive the eye contact between his wife and the agent, nor did he notice the almost imperceptible but meaningful negative shake of her head.

“What a nice lady,” the agent thought as he drove away, “A nice looker, too.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Slow Learners

Texas man arrested for
stuffing bass with lead
in attempt to win contest.

It strikes me as amusing (but also kind of sad) to watch many of our so-called leaders come across as such slow learners. In the past few years I have seen over and over again their attempts to deny they said or did something only to be shown on video or caught on audiotape that they did, in fact, say or do precisely that which they are denying. One latest example comes from Mike Huckabee, potential candidate for President. In an interview with a student reporter Huckabee made comments comparing gay marriage to bestiality and incest and suggested gays should not be allowed to adopt children because children are not “puppies.” When the student’s interview was reported in the student paper it generated considerable interest because of these remarks. Huckabee then attempted to blame the student for misrepresenting what he said and challenged him to present the entire interview. So the student did so, demonstrating that he had reported accurately precisely what Huckabee had said. Bill O’Reilly is another recent case in point. He insisted that no one had ever said someone could be put in prison for not having health insurance. I can’t remember if it was Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert, but one of them immediately showed not only one but several instances in which this had occurred on O’Reilly’s show. I find it hard to believe that Huckabee and O’Reilly are unaware of not so modern anymore technology like audio and videotape that will prove them wrong.

If these were isolated incidences of this it would be one thing, but they are not. Indeed, Stewart, Colbert, and Maddow are virtually making careers out of proving people to be liars and hypocrites by demonstrating repeatedly that you cannot get away with hypocrisy and lies like politicians did routinely in the past. There is now an organization called PolitiFact that exists for the sole purpose of fact checking statements made by politicians and others on some shows. As this now happens with such frequency it makes you wonder why they continue to lie so commonly. I suspect it may be simply that politicians cannot function without lying when they are confronted with questions they do not want to answer, or cannot answer. Not wanting to look stupid or be embarrassed they make something up and end up appearing even more stupid and hypocritical. Of course it could be the case that if all of them had to tell the truth all the time there would be chaos. I suppose they sometimes know that if they answer truthfully they might not get elected, so they just lie and hope no one will be the wiser and there will be few, if any, consequences. Have we finally stumbled into a situation where politicians and others will be forced to always tell the truth? I doubt it, because the truth hurts, and politicians above all others cannot risk hurting anyone with a vote. I suppose it is also the case they believe their supporters will support them whether the lie or not, and those who don’t support them won’t matter. I guess it is unlikely that our political system can work without a generous supply of prevarication and hypocrisy. Sad, I think, but true.

More importantly, and even more sadly, there are some slow learners who are even worse. John McCain is a good case in point. He has now urged that we take action (“pull the trigger”) on Iran. He was, you may recall, in favor of the “war” against Iraq. This was a completely unnecessary “war” that has cost the lives of somewhere around a million people, mostly innocents, has forced some 4 million to give up their homes and become refugees, has involved torture and the use of illegal weapons of various kinds, blatant war profiteering, and has brought about absolutely untold misery for millions of people. Apparently McCain has learned nothing from this and is urging that we attack still another country for no reason other than he thinks we should (and of course the Israelis want us to). The latest I heard is that Iran is at least one year away from even being able to process weapons quality uranium, and is at least five years away from being able to produce a bomb (and which has not been actually proven they even want to do so). But McCain wants to attack them anyway. In addition to being apparently a slow learner I think he is also insane, along with his other right-wing warmongers. Not only would attacking Iran be a stupid idea, it would almost surely bring about consequences far worse than our unnecessary attack on Iraq. His buddy, Joe Lieberman, is every bit as bad if not worse. How these people can even contemplate an act so awesomely awful, given our recent experiences in losing “wars” is entirely beyond my comprehension. I am beginning to wonder if they have any human qualities whatsoever.

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

There is little or no agreement on whether or not you should wash a llama.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Drunken Tennessee man
riding lawnmower on road
arrested for stealing fishing poles.

I don’t really know but I am sure there are laws against sedition. I know there are laws against treason, but that is not quite the same thing. I don’t quite know what one might call what a potential Governor of Oklahoma wants to do, namely, sponsor a state-sanctioned militia for the purpose of defending Oklahoma from the Federal Government, but this is surely seditious. I guess this is somewhere in the same ballpark as the Texas Governor talking about seceding from the Union, only worse. Personally, I think we should encourage Texas and Oklahoma to secede and form independent countries (they could take other southern states along). It would at the very least be amusing for a while. As they drain more money from the Federal Government than other states it would make it less expensive for the rest of us. And given the nature of their elected leadership in general they probably wouldn’t last more than a few months before they’d be begging to reincorporate. Of course, if they feel strongly enough about how bad our Federal Government is they might be able to become part of Mexico (although as Mexico has just refused to accept American beef because of its contamination perhaps they might not want them). I wonder if these morons have any idea how impossible it would be for them to secede and become independent countries? But I’m all for it, I’d love to see them try it. Until they do I regard their blather as just that, blather. I wonder what it is other than anti-lynch laws they are concerned about, maybe health care, teaching evolution, abortion, and taxes? I bet they’d go a long way without taxes. I guess this talk in Virginia about celebrating their Confederate heritage is part of the same discontent. We should call their bluff and force them to secede. It would be hilarious.

Speaking of taxes, I finally mailed my off today and what a relief it is. Or, at least it was, before I read an article pointing out that 53% of my taxes go to the military. Now if that is not fiscal insanity I don’t know what is. This is enough to make me want to join a Tea Party. Except, curiously enough, these people who are so upset about taxes, and who march around with signs about “no taxes” and all, never seem t o carry any anti-war signs or rail against this incredible waste of money. Why this is so would be an interesting question to pursue. It quite likely has to do with having a mercenary voluntary military and other mercenary participants as well, so that most people aren’t really affected by it, and also because we have now become basically a militaristic culture with an ethos to match. Maybe there are anti-war signs but if so I have not seen them.

Ah, it seems that Silly Sarah is not so silly after all, depending upon how you look at things. Since quitting in the middle of her term as Governor of Alaska, nine months ago, she has apparently pulled in 12 million dollars in royalties, speaking fees, and whatever. I think this is quite a remarkable achievement for a woman who is barely above the status of nitwit. It just proves that to impress the American public you really don’t have to know anything except public speaking. Every time I accidentally hear or see her I am reminded of a line out of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “Oh, the horror!”

“Procrastination is the thief of time.” You have no doubt heard this before. In our world of MSM it should be “Speculation is the thief of time.” As is repeatedly and predictably the case, the resignation of Justice Stevens has set off a storm of speculation as to who might replace him. No one knows, of course, as Obama has not yet nominated anyone, but you can be sure we will have nothing but days, perhaps even weeks, maybe months of speculation about it. Indeed, without speculation News 24/7 would cease to exist (as they might actually have to spend money on reporters, travel, investigations, news, and such, instead of just constant and confusing speculation). Speculation is nowadays an integral part of news infotainment, it’s cheap, keeps everyone’s mind of just how bad everything is, and it doesn’t seem to affect advertising revenue. The same thing happens whenever someone is about to be appointed to some important position, especially if there is some chance of a filibuster, and it also happens routinely with missing persons, crimes, terrorism, and what have you. For all intents and purposes it has replaced news.

It appears that we kill more innocent Afghans every day. It is said they are becoming more and more anti-American. How strange. Will we never come to our senses and get out of there?

Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.
Ambrose Bierce

The carambola is closely related to the bilimbi.

Monday, April 12, 2010

On Sex Addiction

During reconciliation talks
she slashes and stabs him
with two butcher knives.

Allow me to express my more than merely mild skepticism over the concept of sex addiction. While it might not be a true oxymoron I think it’s lingering nearby. This is not meant to be specifically about Tiger Woods, but has been brought to my attention by his particular case. I do not believe sex addiction is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, nor do I recall hearing any mention of it until recently (don’t bet that it won’t eventually appear in the Manual). Tiger Woods has said he has been in therapy for his sexual addiction. I gather that Jesse James (the husband of actress so-and-so) has also now claimed a similar attempt. And there are some psychiatrists and others who insist there really is such a thing as sex addiction (but there are others who do not agree).

I have been struggling to try to understand just what an addiction to sex might entail. First, I think this is playing rather fast and loose with the term “addict.” Most commonly, I believe an addiction is something that you cannot stop and it usually has unpleasant consequences when one attempts to stop, withdrawal symptoms of various kinds. I have not heard anyone claim there are physiological effects from not having sex (perhaps that is yet to come). The only other meaning of addiction has to do with an extremely broad-based claim that people can be psychologically addicted as well as physiologically addicted. That is, it is possible with the psychological explanation that people can be addicted to gambling, coca-cola, chewing gum, pornography, stealing shoes, fetishing feet, coffee, and perhaps even bagels.

Assuming there are such things as psychological addictions, it would seem to me there are far too many possibilities that might exist. Some married women, for example, might believe their husbands are sex addicts because of their too frequent demands for sex. Can you be a sex addict if you are only addicted to sex with your wife? It would seem in Tiger’s case it must have had something to do with having sex with lots of different women. But since when has that been an addiction? Besides, it is hard to see as an addiction, the seeking out a different woman every night. That just doesn’t make much sense. I suppose one could also be addicted to masturbation and masturbatory fantasies, or interested in sex to the point of thinking of little else. Some ordinary teenagers and young men might well fit this profile of sex addiction. And of course there is pornography. No doubt there are men who spend a great deal of time watching, even collecting, pornography. I guess it could be said they are addicted to it. Then there are those individuals who seem to be addicted to having sex with boys or young girls. As these types seem unable to control these perverse desires it might be possible to ascribe their behavior as some form of addiction. I suppose it might be possible to argue that someone might be addicted to voyeurism or even to exposing himself. Finally, there are some rare perversions so bizarre that you might conclude the practitioners must be addicted to them or they wouldn’t or couldn’t participate in them at all.

While I am having trouble with the concept of sex addiction itself, I am even more at sea when it comes to trying to think about therapy for sex addicts. As there are not as yet any pills for sex addiction (at least not that I am aware of, and they may well be forthcoming), what forms of therapy are available? Of course there is the old tried and true method employed by some married women who just insist a cold shower will do the trick. I suppose in some cases classical psychoanalytic techniques might be employed. That is, talking to a psychiatrist and trying to trace your problem back to some infantile or youthful trauma, or some problem with your parents, and so on. Maybe after many years of this kind of therapy there might emerge that insightful breakthrough that will explain it all and you will thereby be “cured.” Only the very rich can afford this treatment, so what else might be available? Perhaps sex addicts can be slowly weaned from their behavior in one way or another. Say, for example, if someone is addicted to pornographic videos, could you slowly get them, when they have an overwhelming desire to watch a pornographic film, to watch a Disney movie instead, perhaps something like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or The Little Mermaid? Using this method slowly over time you presumably might lead them away from their problem and into a much healthier life style. Various kinds of aversion therapy are no doubt available. That is, you could have them watch people having sex and then dump a vat of hot water on them. Or, perhaps better yet, you could place some electrodes on their buttocks and just when they were about to attain maximum pleasure you could deliver a really powerful electric shock. Maybe group therapy would work, like Alcoholics Anonymous. You could have Sex Addicts Anonymous whereby they could weekly review their behavior, discuss how they got there, pray, and swear they won’t do it again. No doubt there are other techniques I am unaware of, and that might or might not work. In the case of Tiger Woods, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that his therapy consisted of hitting another 500 golf balls and playing another 18 holes, whenever he felt that overwhelming urge coming on. Am I cynical or what?

I do not doubt that some people are more interested in sex than others, and no doubt pursue it more intensely than others. And I am also aware there are nymphomaniacs. It could be argued, I think, that such people are not so much interested in sex as they are in pleasure. This poses for me a bit of a problem in that when I think of addiction I tend to think of something unpleasant, something one would rather not have. But if seeking pleasure is an addiction this puts addiction in an entirely different perspective. I suspect that most people seek pleasure, so what distinguishes one pleasure seeker as an addict and another as just a normal person? I guess maybe it has to do with quantity.

Unfortunately, one person’s pleasure can be the source of considerable pain to others. I hope the medical profession will think carefully before adding sex addiction to the Manual, but as there is money to be made here, don’t bet on it.

The more I think about it, being somewhat old-fashioned, I think I might prefer the excuse, “The Devil made me do it.” I bet a real authentic exorcism would cure sex addiction in a hurry, and save a lot of money to boot.

Men seek but one thing in life - their pleasure.
W. Somerset Maugham

Rhinoceroses have highly developed senses of smell and hearing but do not see very well.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pulitzer - book

Pulitzer A Life in Politics, Print, and Power, James McGrath Morris (Harper Collins, 2010)

For most of my life I have known of the Pulitzer Prize. However, I confess to being so ignorant and incurious that I had no idea until reading this biography just who Pulitzer was or why he gave out prizes. My ignorance and incuriosity sometimes appalls me. If you have an interest in biography, or if you have any interest in the history of our country during the period of roughly 1860 to 1915 you will find this book of enormous interest. I believe you would be hard-pressed to find a better example of biography. This one is well researched, well documented, well written, detailed, and extremely informative. I’m pretty certain it will be the definitive biography of Joseph Pulitzer for a long time. Like almost all American biography it is written in the standard chronological style, birth, youth, adulthood, marriage, achievements, death. This is, I believe, fine, if your main interest is history and the individual’s contributions to it. If you’re main interest is in the individual him or herself as a personality, it is probably more interesting to simply ask someone to tell you about their life, in which case you may not always get a chronological account. As Morris has been the editor of Biographer’s Craft it is not surprising this is such a fine example of the genre.

Joseph Pulitzer was born into a (secular) Jewish family in a small town not far from Pest. They were fairly well-off and had their own business and owned their own home. When Joseph was eight they moved to Pest (at that time adjacent to Buda) where they were even more successful. But when Joseph’s father died, leaving his mother to raise the family alone, they fell upon relatively difficult times. Joseph by then had grown to 6’ 1” seventeen year-old and decided to emigrate to America. As he had no means, he achieved this by agreeing to serve in the Union Army (by then, with 13,000 soldiers a day being killed the Union was recruiting in Europe and paying a bonus for those who agreed to serve). Joseph lied about his age and served for a time but managed to escape frontline duty. Upon his discharge he eventually arrived in St. Louis, working at whatever jobs he could find and haunting the library to teach himself English. Eventually he became a reporter for a German newspaper, the Westliche Post, and quickly established himself as an unusually bright and hard working reporter. More importantly, he became deeply involved in Missouri and national politics. Eventually, as his English improved and he had sufficient experience, backers and friends, he managed to buy a share in the Post. As the three owners did not get along the other two bought Pulitzer out, giving him a substantial profit. He later bought a failing German newspaper and, through a clever scheme managed to sell it at a profit. He then gambled $20,000 in a friend’s project that also brought him a significant profit.

Pulitzer’s next move was to buy a failing paper, the Evening Dispatch, which he quickly merged with another evening paper, gambling that he could increase their subscriptions quickly enough to pay off their debts, which he did. Pulitzer perceived something that newspapers up until that time did not, that ordinary working people, while only mildly interested in the comings and goings of the elite, would become vitally interested in news and problems that pertained more specifically to them. Pulitzer sold his papers for one cent and embarked upon a scheme to expose fraudulent companies, dishonest businesses, and publish at least one sensational article per day. He poked fun at his competitors. As Pulitzer was virtually impossible to work with it, was not long until his partner sold out and Pulitzer became the sole owner of the Post-Dispatch, a paper that made a consistent profit for the remainder of Pulitzer’s life and made him a wealthy man.
As Pulitzer was in the newspaper business not only to make money, but also to have power and political influence, and as he was called upon more and more to make important political speeches and engage in campaigning for Senators and Presidents, he became more and more famous. It was not long before St. Louis became too small for him and he lusted to own a paper in New York. The fortune he was accumulating from the Post-Dispatch eventually allowed him to take over the “World” in New York, which quickly became the most important and widely circulated paper in that key city, indeed in history. He used the same techniques in New York as he had in St. Louis, sensationalism, invasions of privacy, constant railing against corporations and defenses of labor and the working class. Nothing was too sacred for Pulitzer to attack and the more he did so the more his paper thrived. When William Randolph Hearst, who had imitated Pulitzer’s methods and techniques in San Francisco, also moved into New York, Pulitzer battled him for supremacy and eventually won out when Hearst was accused of encouraging the assassination of McKinley. Both papers had urged and supported the war with Spain over Cuba and in many ways shared the same views. When the circulation of both papers declined for a time Hearst and Pulitzer considered an illegal scheme to collaborate but when Hearst’s paper declined because of the McKinley rumor it became moot. Pulitzer’s greatest problem became Teddy Roosevelt whom he despised. The feeling was mutual and Roosevelt tried desperately (and somewhat illegally) to have Pulitzer thrown in jail for slander when he accused the Roosevelt administration of corruption in the building of the Panama Canal. This was a case Pulitzer eventually won and was also a most important case that established the absolute independence of newspapers from government retaliation.

There is so much more in this fine book. Pulitzer was a genuine case of “rags to riches,” although he was never truly in rags and the riches he attained were even beyond the imagination of most people. Ironically, although he made his fortune by attacking the wealthy and privileged, as he became unbelievably wealthy himself he basically joined their ranks and moved in high society and among the most powerful people in the world. Unfortunately, before he was fifty he became blind and a semi-recluse and invalid who could not stand even the slightest noise. He spent thousands upon thousands on rooms and buildings that would be essentially soundproof, and eventually had built a special 300 foot long yacht that was as soundproof as possible and spent much of his later life cruising and living in Europe, leaving his papers to be managed by others (but not without constant and unwelcome micromanagement). Before he died he endowed Columbia University to create the first School of Journalism and established the prizes for which he is now famous. During his last years he became more and more impossible, alienated himself from his wife and children, made impossible demands on his employees, and suffered from a host of ailments that made his life miserable. He depended entirely on a large staff to read to him and help manage his life. During the period when Rockefeller and Morgan and others were giants of industry, Pulitzer became the first giant of Newspaper publishing and virtually single-handedly converted newspapers into a mass media for the first time. William Randolph Hearst, who seems to get more publicity and fame, was a latecomer and even with access to his mother’s giant fortune, could not outdo Pulitzer. I must say I learned a great deal from this biography and I do not hesitate to recommend it.