Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paternalistic Naivete

Princess Abby, Chihuahua with
abnormal back and legs, one eye closed,
wins ugliest dog contest in California.

Beyond the fact that I believe the “war” in Afghanistan has no justification whatsoever, and the continuation of it makes no sense, there is a strange aura of the surreal that seems to hang over it, I guess you might describe it as a kind of paternalistic na├»vete. That is, we are said to be training an Afghan army that will be able to defend itself and the country. It is also sometimes said that the Afghans just don’t seem to learn, they are illiterate, desert, and are unable to do what is required. They sometimes refuse to fight. Given that Afghanistan is known as “the graveyard of empires,” and the Afghans have defeated everyone who attempted to conquer them, it seems odd to me they can’t be trained to be soldiers and policemen. This goes along with the apparent belief that the Afghans cannot govern themselves and they need to be taught how to do so. Personally, I believe all this is nonsense. First, Afghanistan has managed to exist for thousands of years and have successfully repulsed every enemy. They are well-known to be fierce and successful fighters. Second, whatever you may think of the Taliban and Shari’a, do not forget the Taliban successfully organized themselves and restored order to the country after the chaos that ensued when the Russians were driven out. They did not come to power as an anti-American organization and were not, at least at first, our enemies. This was quite a remarkable feat and it implies, to me at least, they are perfectly capable of managing their own affairs. Why we are now fighting them I do not know, they merely want us out of their country. If Afghanistan does not want to be ruled by the Taliban I doubt they will be.

I strongly suspect the so-called “failure” of the Afghan army has to do with the fact they do not wish to fight against their brother Afghans, and they would prefer us to leave and leave them alone. As a tribal and clan-based society they have their own political organization, do not understand democracy and do not want it imposed upon them. Actually, in a sense they do understand democracy, as when the Taliban formed they managed to agree on who the leaders would be and swore allegiance to them. I don’t know that they actually voted as such, but they apparently had little trouble organizing themselves and choosing leaders. I think it is unlikely they are willing to fight very hard to impose a system of government they are not interested in and do not seem to want (or even need).

To acknowledge the political and military success of the Taliban does not mean you have to accept the tenets of Shari’a law, especially when it comes to the treatment of women and the rather extreme rules that are imposed on everyone. But no amount of military force by the U.S. or U.N. is going to change these customs very quickly if at all. I certainly do not approve of their extremely fundamental views, their treatment of women and sometimes boys, the stonings, and whatever. But then, I don’t approve of the treatment of women by some Christian groups either, and full equality between the sexes still does not exist here in the U.S. There are, of course, many problems in Afghanistan, but they are Afghan problems, not ours. We should withdraw as soon as possible, promise aid if and when they ask for it, and help them in any way we can. We have come very close to fulfilling bin Laden’s dream of bankrupting ourselves, enough is more than enough. The military/industrial/political dream of an endless “war,” and our attempt at empire, are about to run their course. We can’t afford it any longer, even if we sacrifice Social Security, Medicare, Public Schools, infrastructure, and everything else that helps make life worth living.

I don’t know what all the fuss about the Gulf is about. Geez, it’s not as if the whole planet is being ruined. Obviously drilling for oil is more important than life itself, and think of all those suffering Oil executives and Congresspersons whose livelihood depends on it. Of course there are all those fisherman, shrimpers, hotelkeepers, bartenders, maids, small businesses, and what-have-you, but who really cares about them. There are always unemployment benefits – or at least there were for a while.

“To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind.”
Abdul Salam Zaeef

There are more than 300 distinct breeds of goats.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Who, What, Where, When, Why - story

The Supreme Court confirmation hearings are indeed vapid (thank goodness Kagan has a sense of humor). The Oil spill is growing worse by the minute and is going to continue getting worse for a very long time. The "war" in Afghanistan is unspeakably absurd. Republicans continue to block any attempts to better the lot of average citizens. Israel continues to colonize the West Bank and mistreat the Palestinians. I am so sick of the whole business I decided to just fool around. So here is another contribution to my collection of unfinished, unwanted, uncollected, unknown and unpublished short stories to be entitled simply, Encounters.

Who, What, When, Where, Why
A Short Story
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

Who would have been involved in what is still remembered and often recalled as the greatest fight ever witnessed in our little mining town was probably not only inevitable but in retrospect, entirely predictable. Although a relatively small community, the population was unusually diverse, with Italians, Germans, Finns, Frenchmen, Swedes, Irish, Norwegians, Slavs, and a few American Indians, all of whom arrived there by the lure of good paying jobs in the mines, mills, and forests that made up the economy of the aptly named,” Silver Valley.” In spite of this unusual diversity, mostly confined within one narrow, small valley, there was remarkably little conflict between these groups as such, but there were often fights between individual representatives of them, especially those who had acquired reputations.
One such individual was Victor Semenza. Some referred to him as “The Wop,” but with one exception no one ever addressed him as such to his face, for Victor Semenza was more than a Wop, he was a Super Wop, and was both gifted and without fear. Victor’s gift, or curse if you prefer, was that he knew how to hit people. Now you may think this ability is relatively common but it is not. Victor was apparently born to instinctively know that if you wanted to hit someone on the nose you did not aim for that feature but, rather, six inches behind the person’s head. Such a blow was devastating. It was a skill that most professional boxers have to learn and practice, with Victor it was perfectly natural. Victor acquired his reputation as a fighter in High School when, after a football game with our hated nearby rivals, it was believed that Victor had killed an opponent in a fight after the game. Such fights were common in those days. It was never proven that the teenager died because of Victor’s blows, but everyone believed he had. This followed and haunted Victor, and became even more complicated over time because of his physical appearance. He was small, never more than a welterweight at best. And he was a handsome Sicilian, with curly dark hair, an unmarked face, dark piercing brown eyes, beautiful olive skin, and the hands of an artist. His appearance unfortunately misled many into believing they could bully him, but at 27 years of age, and after many contests, Victor was still undefeated.
Victor’s challenger was Paddy O’Conner, as Irish as it was possible to be. He was what was often referred to as “Shanty Irish,” and could have been referred to as “Shant,” except that Paddy was even more pejorative, although I’m not certain people there realized it was a derogatory term. For all we knew, Paddy could have been his given name. Paddy was as homely as Victor was handsome, with pale white skin, sandy, slightly reddish hair, blue eyes that often twinkled with mischief, hard, heavily calloused hands that revealed a lifetime of work in the woods and mines, a muscular body as hard as a body could be, and an odd, wrinkled countenance, that made him appear older than he was. Two years older than Victor, he was blessed with a wonderful, engaging personality, a fine sense of humor, and was an extraordinary raconteur. Paddy’s reputation had been established while he was in the Civilian Conservation Corps, building Forest Service camps and roads in the mountains surrounding our little town. The same size as Victor, he had dominated his peers, taking on all comers, including many much larger men. As lithe and strong as a panther he was also a champion arm-wrestler.

What happened between Victor and Paddy was not unusual given the ethos of the mining community. Our town was the county seat and the center of a rich mining and lumbering district. Most of the miners and lumberjacks were unmarried and spent most of their time in the mines and forests, coming in on week-ends for the recreation provided by the many bars, brothels, and gambling halls. Fights were commonplace and usually for no good reason, other than proving one’s merit and superiority over others, most often after a few drinks. Paddy and Victor did not know each other except by reputation. Neither of them were excessive drinkers, perhaps not willing to risk their reputations under adverse circumstances. But with two such champions in the same place at the same time the tension and the peer pressure became overwhelming. Paddy’s entourage began provoking him to challenge Victor, knowing that Victor was undefeated. “Come on, Paddy, you can beat that Wop, he ain’t as tough as they say.” As the evening progressed the urging became more intense, some began to subtly accuse Paddy of being afraid. “Look at that Dago bastard sittin’ there like a pretty boy,” they said, “You can take him easy Paddy,” and they could not stop making other even more provocative comments.
Victor, sitting at a table on the opposite side of the room, was unaware of what was happening with Paddy, simply enjoying the companionship of his friends and nursing a beer. When he rose to go to the bar to order another round of drinks, Paddy, goaded beyond his patience, and now having to prove himself, crowded in front of Victor and said, “Hey Wop, wait your turn, I was here first,” a challenge as unmistakable as it was false. Victor, experienced in such confrontations, ignored him and ordered beers for his friends. But as he turned to return to his table Paddy made the mistake of blocking his way and put his hand on Victor’s chest. When Victor tried to push it aside, Paddy grabbed his shirtfront, pulled him towards himself and attempted to land a punch. Victor had no choice but to return a punch. “Tiny,” the 300 pound Swiss, who owned and operated the bar and was bartending at the time, was almost instantaneously around the bar to separate the two and usher them outside. Fighting was never allowed inside the bar.

What ensued, while not entirely predictable, was not without precedent. As the two fighters started to exit through the front door, with Paddy in the lead, he suddenly turned and sucker-punched Victor who was somewhat constrained by the doorway. This was not regarded as unfair as it was a tactic often employed in barroom brawls. There were, of course, no Marquis of Queensbury rules in our town, but there were some widely recognized and accepted rules. You could not, for example, bang your opponents head on the floor or the sidewalk, kicking someone while down was forbidden, chairs, knives, clubs and brass knuckles were not allowed, and guns made the contest entirely outside the definition of an ordinary fight. What made this particular fight into something unusual is the fact that Victor fell backwards into the bar and Paddy fell on him, punching so viciously as to make it impossible to separate the two. Thus the fight continued inside the bar itself. Victor managed to throw the Irishman off and rose to his feet throwing his own punches. It appeared that Paddy was the stronger of the two. He grabbed Victor by the shirtfront and pulled him around with ease, attempting to punch him at the same time. But each time it appeared Paddy would control him, Victor would squirm away and wait for an opportunity. A crowd quickly gathered, even the card players in the back room stopped their games to watch, people were standing on chairs and on the sidelines urging their favorites on as the battle continued. Paddy was playing with him like a cat with a mouse, as he whirled him about, crashing him into chairs, the pool table and the walls. Finally, it looked like Victor might be doomed as he was seemingly unable to regain his balance and stood awkwardly, his nose and face bloodied, a cut over his left eye, his hands at his sides. But Paddy, exhausted by his efforts, made a careless mistake and relaxed his grip for an instant. Victor’s famous straight right hand shot out smashing bone and cartilage, blood gushed from Paddy’s broken nose, he fell heavily backwards to the ground, unconscious. It was over just like that. No one cheered, the entire bar was engulfed in a momentary silence, the room quickly cleared, the sport was over.

When Paddy regained his senses and rose to his feet, the two gladiators shook hands, and each held up the other’s arm as if they were both triumphant. It was not an unusual event. Such fights were common on Saturday nights, the opponents often didn’t even know each other, or have any particular grudges to bear. It wasn’t that they didn’t like each other, nor was it really the Irish against the Italians, or the French against the Germans, or the Finns against the Russians. More often than not these Saturday night events featured fights between Missourians and non-Missourians. Missourians were disliked far more than either the Irish or Italians. Indeed, Missourians were regarded with utter contempt because once a battalion of soldiers from Missouri had been brought in as strikebreakers. The town never forgot or forgave.

Where the fight occurred was unusual in that ordinarily fighters were ordered outside into the alley or onto the sidewalk in front of the bar. Usually there was no damage to property or a mess to clean up. But in this case the barroom was spattered with blood, chairs had been broken, card games interrupted, and the pool table left far from level. Tiny was outraged at this violation of protocol but knew his chances of reimbursement were non-existent. It was just another cost of doing business and as he had plenty of that he simply stood with his arms crossed and stared glumly around the room. He knew that “Idaho,” the janitor, whose speech was badly garbled as a result of a similar fight, would clean it up before opening time the next morning.

Why the fight occurred was the topic of conversation for weeks, months, even years. And of course the accounts became increasingly confusing over time. Some thought Victor had it coming, for reasons they never made clear. Some admitted that Paddy had been provoked by his friends into insulting Victor. Still others claimed there had been bad blood between the two for years but offered no evidence for such a claim. Paddy was described as a hothead who was always looking for a fight, some said Victor was to blame for having tried to stare the Irishman down. It was even suggested that Paddy was jealous of Victor’s good looks and wanted to change them. There was for a time even a rumor the two had fought over a woman, but everyone soon recognized the absurdity of such a notion as no one had ever seen Paddy with a woman. In fact, they fought simply because they were men, and men at that time and in that context, fought, especially if they had reputations to defend. Victor was undefeated, that was challenge enough. It was the argument over who was really the best man that continued most often over the ensuing years. Many thought Paddy was clearly the best and that Victor had merely landed a lucky punch. “Paddy mopped the floor with him,” was the phrase most often repeated, and there was some truth to the claim. But others defended Victor, pointing out that Paddy had sucker-punched him and not given him a fair chance in the beginning. One of Victor’s two younger brothers usually brought the argument at least temporarily to a close when he said, “It don’t matter what the ‘Mick’ did, when Victor saw his chance he dropped him like a used rubber,” a point as indisputable as it was colorful.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Woman falls out of third story
window, lands on hood of car,
goes to sleep in neighbor’s house.

I hate to have to say it but I think what is happening now with respect to American Foreign Policy is, in a word, PATHETIC. After nine years of “war,” against Afghanistan (the longest war in U.S. history), one of the poorest nations on earth, against fighters armed mostly with small arms, no air force, little or no artillery or tank support, and etc., we are obviously “losing” (or at the very least not “winning”). With supposedly the greatest military in history, with the most sophisticated arms and equipment, the best technology, a military budget that is greater than all the rest of the world combined, supposedly the greatest intelligence and spy satellites possible, drones, and who knows what all else, we have not only failed to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, WE DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE HE IS! It seems to me there are only two possibilities, either we are unbelievably, even pathetically incompetent, or there are unknown reasons we have not really wanted to capture or kill him (I truly do try to resist any form of conspiracy theories but this situation is demanding too much of my feeble intellect).

What is even more pathetic, we don’t even know who we are fighting or why. According to Leon Panetta, the Director of the CIA, there are only 50 to 100 al Quaida in Afghanistan. We have something like 150,000 troops there plus untold numbers of civilian personnel and spend billions fighting them. Is that not pathetic? What is worse, we show no signs of giving up. President Obama is now concerned over our apparent “obsession” with the deadline for getting out, even though he established the deadline himself and up until now has insisted we will meet it (and it is obvious we cannot afford to continue). We are now fighting the Taliban where previously we were fighting al Quaida. The Taliban were not, and are not our enemies. They merely want us out of their country. They are NO threat to the U.S. (or anyone else for that matter). This is even worse than pathetic, it’s insane.

Because we have managed to impale ourselves on a massive national debt there are those who are now suggesting we should give up social security because we cannot afford it. It is no secret these are the same people who have always opposed social security and long wanted to repeal it, but their argument that we cannot afford it, while fighting two phony and unnecessary “wars”, and maintaining a pseudo-empire that we clearly cannot afford, is transparently pathetic.

Elena Kagan is in the midst of demonstrating that her description of Supreme Court confirmation hearings as a “charade” is right on. It appears she will be confirmed. But some Republicans are determined to stop any Obama appointee, no matter how qualified. So of course they are bringing up every tiny nitpicking detail they can think of to attempt to derail her. As even that is proving difficult they have decided to trash Thurgood Marshall, one of the greatest Supreme Court Justices ever, who also had Kagan as an aide. I guess that although they would never admit it, they are still upset that any civil rights legislation was passed. Their opposition to Kagan is not only disingenuous, it is pathetic. These hearings are a complete waste of time and money, the major point being that every blowhard self-important Senator gets his/her few minutes of national attention to make a fool of him/herself.

Perhaps most pathetic of all (ignoring the Oil spill for the moment) is the Republican opposition to extending unemployment benefits to over a million people. One of these unprincipled nitwits has even argued that denying them further benefits will force them to get jobs, a kind of Panglossian argument that even the good Dr. himself would probably choke on.

How the mighty have and are falling. There was a time when the U.S. was more or less solvent, when the rest of the world admired, envied, and copied us, when we at least gave the appearance of knowing what we were doing, when we adhered to our principles of fighting only when attacked, no torturing, and observing international law and our Constitution. Thanks to Reagan/Bush/Cheney and the Republican criminal conspiracy, those days are gone, probably forever. Get used to living in the Third World.

People are fond of spouting out the old clich%uFFFD about how Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime. Somehow his example serves to justify to us, decades later, that there is somehow merit in utter failure.Perhaps, but the man did commit suicide.
Hugh Macleod,

Herring was once known as “two-eyed steak.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Last Hero A Life of Henry Aaron - book

The Last Hero A Life of Henry Aaron, by Howard Bryant (Pantheon Books, New York, 2010).

Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am not a baseball aficionado. I never watch it, do not follow it, and only rarely even watch a definitive World Series game. Even so, I am not so far removed as to be unaware of Henry Aaron and his remarkable career as a baseball player, as well as his famous home run record and those remarkable wrists that made it possible. There is too much baseball in this book for my needs, but there is much more to this fine biography than baseball.
The Henry Aaron story is probably one of the worst, if not the all-time worst case of stereotypy ever, and it haunted and punished Aaron all his life. When he first arrived in the major leagues, as a result of his unusual success as a hitter in the minors, he was featured in an article by a sports writer who not only brought his prejudice with him but was also either unable or unwilling to distinguish between ignorance and stupidity. He portrayed Aaron as just another gifted but not very bright black athlete, a portrait that poisoned Aaron’s attempts to ever be anything else. This writer apparently did not consider that Henry Aaron was barely 20 years old, a High School drop-out, raised in Mobile, Alabama, where Jim Crow was still alive and viciously active, and had been taught all his life to be wary of and distrust Whites. Being shy and reticent, he obviously did not come across well in an interview, did not like or enjoy speaking in public, and was in fact ignorant of many things in life. As a result of this shamelessly careless portrayal, Henry Aaron went through his 23 seasons as a major league star known as a hitter, but not as a man, or even as a person. Remember, Jackie Robinson had broken the color line, but major league baseball was still not integrated. The few black players had separate quarters, could not live in the same parts of town where their White teammates resided, didn’t shower with them, their lockers were apart, and there were no White/Black roommates. In many ways, both subtle and not so subtle, Black players suffered racial taunts, insults, mistreatments of all kinds, and, being Black, knew they could not display anger or retaliate. As Aaron proved season after season his incredible ability to hit a baseball things slowly changed for him, but he knew it was only because of his hitting. The more he suffered the more bitter and withdrawn he became, and the more withdrawn he became the more the stereotype was reinforced. All his life he struggled to be known for more than just a baseball player. But even when he did begin to speak out on issues of the day it was assumed he was put up to it by Jesse Jackson or his second wife, Billye, who was also an activist.

Henry Aaron was by no means stupid, and in private or in small groups he came across as intelligent, quick-witted, with a dry sense of humor, an infectious laugh and smile, and a great deal of self-confidence. As he became increasingly famous, and only after his active career was over, he began to meet important people such as Ted Turner (whose ignorance of baseball was so profound he offered Aaron an important executive position with the Atlanta Braves, unaware that Blacks were not regarded by the leagues as competent to hold such jobs), Jimmy Carter and later Bill Clinton, who asked him for help in his successful campaign. Having been financially cheated at times, Aaron finally found an advisor whom he trusted and became a successful businessman, and still later, a philanthropist. Rewards he had been denied began arriving regularly. He made the Baseball Hall of Fame, his childhood home became a Baseball Museum, he was influential and listened to seriously at last. But even all of his later-in-life successes could not completely erase the bitterness of the years of racial animosity, the hundreds of death threats he received when he was about to break Babe Ruth’s home run record, the unfair comparisons being made still to this day.

In addition to being a consummate baseball player, Aaron was a paragon of dignity and honor all his life. It was this that ultimately made him the hero he became. During the 1990’s when baseball, seeking to maximize profits, encouraged the great home run battles between Mark McQuire and Sammy Sosa, as well as the Barry Bonds extravaganza. While this worked for the box office it was soon exposed as the fraud it was and the heavy hitters were all known to have used performance enhancing drugs. Of course they all denied it but the evidence became irrefutable. Thus Bond’s breaking Aaron’s home run record was questionable at best and entirely dishonest at worst. Henry Aaron refused to take sides in the controversy, knowing that if he endorsed Bonds he would be seen as endorsing steroids, and if he criticized him he would be seen as a bitter and jealous rival. He turned down huge offers of money to appear with Bonds to promote this phony record, but finally agreed to at least write a polite letter of congratulations. The outcome of this was the re-examination of Aaron’s career and statistics, all accomplished without the use of artificial aids, making him still the legitimate owner of the home run record, the “Last Hero.”

Possessing the home run record is a mixed blessing. In addition to the death threats and racial insults, it also contributed again to the failure of people to understand the man and the person, Henry Aaron. Most cannot see beyond the awesome records, especially home runs. It was not until he was 75 years old that he felt a moment of freedom:

“Not too long ago, we went away for fifteen days on a cruise to the Panama Canal (he said)…I remember when the boat was in the Canal, in that narrow space. I looked out at the blue ocean and saw the birds swoop down into the water and then settle on the land. And then I understood how much I wanted to be like them, free. I leaned over to my wife and I told her that at that very moment that I finally felt like them. No one was asking me about baseball. The people that were around us weren’t interested in me because I played baseball. I was free as a bird. And I told my wife. I said, ‘I’ve never felt this free in my life.’”

An unusual Black man’s burden was lifted, if only for a few short days.

One final comment on the sub-title, “A” Life of Henry Aaron,” rather than “The” Life of Henry Aaron, which implies to me there may be other lives of Henry Aaron. I doubt this was intended, but in a sense it could be true. If another biographer had written a biography of Aaron it might well have been different. But as for me, I am quite content with this one, probably definitive, and I think you will be also.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The "Long Run"

Kindergarten graduation
Interrupted when brawl
breaks out among parents.


Back in the early 1900’s Idaho had a Senator named Weldon Heyburn. Heyburn and his friends were amassing fortunes mostly in the timber industry and were cutting timber as fast as possible. When he was asked about future generations he replied “Let future generations look out for themselves.” I have quoted this before, I know, but it perfectly represents an American attitude that prevails to the present day. It seems to me that people in the U.S. have never been, and are not now, future oriented. They are apparently unable to conceive of “the long run.” Obviously there may be some rare individuals that are concerned about the future, environmentalists and conservationists, for example. But generally speaking, most Americans are unable to think of anything but the present and the short-term. This can be readily seen both in history and in the present. Passenger pigeons existed in the billions and were destroyed completely in a relatively short time. We attempted to annihilate the buffalo, and almost did so also in a relatively short time. We have overfished most of our fisheries, arguing that fisherman needed to fish in order to support themselves, without even considering what would happen to the fish and the fisherman once the fish were gone. Here in the Kootenai River, ling cod (burbot) were once so prevalent people caught them by the wheelbarrow load and fed them to their pigs. Now they are virtually extinct. The same is true of the Kootenai River sturgeon, virtually extinct. We created dams on most of our rivers with little or no regard to what would happen to the salmon runs and other fish. We mined our ores and dumped the slag into the rivers until they were so polluted nothing could live in them. And there are still those who would clear-cut the forests with little regard for the future. We starve our schools and educational system without thinking of the future effects of a poorly educated and non-competitive population. And, of course, we burn oil as fast as we can with no regard for the future of oil and other non-replaceable resources. We seem to be congenitally unable to think beyond instant gratification, as if we are still simply impulsive children who want everything right now.

I am sure that this lack of foresight is not exclusively American, but I believe it is far more common here than in many other countries. I am quite certain that both China and Japan, for example, are much more future oriented than we are. When the Norwegians discovered oil in the North Seat and were confronted with a choice of what to do with this new-found wealth they decided to preserve it for their children rather than just spend it immediately. But more often than not the human species, especially those living in the United States, do not defer gratification when given a choice. Drugs are put on the market before they have been fully examined for possible future damages, food is marketed before it can be adequately inspected, and so on. Now, in spite of the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf, the Governors of some states insist we should keep on drilling without further precautions or waiting because oil workers need their jobs. But is further damage to the entire Gulf Region, and even beyond, worth risking for the jobs of some oil workers? I’m sympathetic, I know they need their jobs, but we also need our environment and once it’s gone oil workers and many others certainly won’t have any jobs. Not only are our citizens unable to think of the future, they are actually antagonistic to those who do think of it. That is why you see bumper stickers like, HUNGRY AND OUT OF WORK? EAT AN ENVIRONMENTALIST, and so on. And many people still disparage the Forest Service and Fish and Game. They seem to think that these organizations, as well as scientists in general, exist for the sole reason of keeping them from doing what they want to do. There is a short-sightedness and anti-intellectualism among Americans that is pathological, and left to its own will certainly destroy us over time.

This inability to think beyond today I think has something to do with our history. Blessed with a large and seemingly inexhaustible supply of timber, water, minerals, land, and so on, we were always able to “Go west young man,” and now that is no longer possible we seem to be unwilling to admit it. But it also has to do with our capitalistic economy that puts profit, especially short-term profits, ahead of all else. This is why BP decided to drill without taking any real precautions, it’s why we see drugs being recalled that should not have been marketed in the first place, why our food is sometimes contaminated, and why even the destruction of our only planet can be sacrificed for the shareholders. There are, beyond any reasonable doubt, “Sick Societies.” The U.S. has certainly become one of them. Oh, I forgot, there is no global warming, no peak oil, no problem with extinctions, no end to consumption, no nation unexploitable, environment, ecology, and even innocent children are not allowed to stand in the way of profits, and there will always be canned salmon. Greed is good and the more profit the better. It’s the American way.

“It is true, I suppose, that nobody finds it exactly pleasant to be criticized or shouted at, but I see in the face of the human being raging at me a wild animal in its true colors, one more horrible than any lion…Anger makes them reveal in a flash human nature in all its horror.”
Dazai Osamu

There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mechanically Uninclined

Man stabs his roommate
for being too loud while
having sex with homeless woman.

Some people are mechanically inclined. I am not one of them. Show me any machine, no matter how simple, and I will either fail to make it go, or if I get it started at all, will have it quickly fail. I think this may have to do with the fact that I am basically afraid of machines. But maybe I am afraid of them because I can’t make them work. In any case, I’m hopeless when it comes to mechanical gadget s and machines. I am so hopeless my mechanic (who fortunately is also my friend) looks at me in awe when I show up with whatever latest failure I have experienced. He is a mechanical genius. He understands machines in a way that I cannot even comprehend. But living here at Sandhill (aka Sandpile) you cannot exist without machines of various kinds. My recent adventure with my little Lawn Tractor is a good example. Initially we had a bit of lawn so I bought this little tractor mower. But then we changed the front lawn into a flower garden (mostly because I did not like to mow it). Even without a lawn I need a lawn tractor as the weeds here in our garden grow at a rate I suspect is unprecedented elsewhere. At least some of them can be mowed, if, that is, you can get the lawn mower to work. After spending the winter in an unheated garage the battery was dead. As this was not the first year of this problem the battery was not only dead it was truly dead. I had to buy a new one. I installed it. But I could not see how to connect the cables as the posts (or whatever they are called) seemed to be encased in plastic and the cables could not be attached. I asked my mechanic how to connect them. He looked at me with contempt (fortunately a kind of loving contempt) and lifted off the plastic covers that protected them. Fine, I started to mow. The ground in one of our two gardens is quite uneven so I did not immediately notice one of the back tries went flat. The hydraulic jack would not work. I guess it was out of fluid. Using a combination of levers and blocks I managed to raise the side enough to remove the wheel. But, alas, unlike anything I had ever seen before, it was not held on by lug nuts. There was a kind of “C” clamp that seemed to hold the wheel in place. I could not figure out how to remove this clamp without potentially breaking it. I appealed once again to my mechanic friend. He gave me a special tool for removing such things, but warned me that as the wheel had been on there for years it would be difficult to get it off the axle. He was right. I took me at least 40 minutes before I succeeded. I took the wheel to our local Les Schwab and it was repaired. It took me about half an hour to mount it again (there is a real art involved in using this special tool). Proudly I set out to mow, and mow I did, marvelously, for at least ten minutes. Then I carelessly ran over some old chicken wire that I forgot I had not picked up. This, of course, fouled the mowing blade so badly it refused to work. I ran the tractor up on some planks so I could peer under it. It took me a good hour to untangle the wire and free the mechanism. You have no idea how hard this is on 80 year-old knees and legs. I abandoned mowing for the day and took refuge in a huge martini.

I would like to say this was a unique event, a once in a lifetime kind of problem. But it wasn’t, for me it was pretty typical. When first I moved here I wanted to garden so I needed a roto tiller. You know, the ones you see in the pictures with the beautiful young woman walking alongside her tiller preparing the soil for the marvelous garden she is about to plant, steering the thing with one hand. What they don’t tell you is that this only works if you want to make a furrow on level ground completely around the world with no bumps, hills, or turns. If there are such bumps, hills and turns, it is virtually impossible to manage a large tiller unless you have Herculean strength. Then I decided to garden with small, raised plots. I bought a Mantis tiller. You know, the one you see advertised that moves swiftly across the fertile ground, making gardening a joy. However, they only show you this tiller in use on already prepared soil. If there is any grass or weeds they immediately clog the tines and make the tiller useless, until you spend an hour or two on hands and knees trying to unclog the thing. In all fairness I must say that the Mantis tiller is the greatest machine I have ever owned (at least so far). It starts, it runs fine, it does its job, and I love it (or course I have learned to use a shovel to prepare the ground before even attempting to till it).

It’s the same with all my machines. I have a gas operated string mower. I had an electric one but as it needed a cord so long it was impossible I had to change to a gas one. I can’t get it started. Not ever. My wife can start it. I don’t understand this but that is how it goes. I have a great chain saw. I love it. But I can rarely get it to start. My neighbor or my son can start it immediately. Once it goes it really works fine. Once I had a gas powered outboard motor. It wouldn’t start, and when it did, it quickly died. I bought an electric motor. The battery died because I didn’t use it often enough. Some fool once gave me a battery operated shoe polisher, the ultimate in ridiculous, useless, nonsensical machines. I refused to use it, knowing the batteries would almost surely fail. I will not even attempt to tell you of my experiences with autos, trucks, computers, telephones, toasters, microwaves, and other such newfangled gadgets. There are some people who should not be allowed to have machinery of any kind. Unfortunately, I am one of them. But as an Italian friend once said to me, “but how can you leeve without them?” Sigh.

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.
B. F. Skinner

The average life expectancy of a camel is 40 to 50 years.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Drunken New Zealander flips
his car on its roof, with nothing
better to do, cracks open another beer.

Hahaha,heehee,hohoho and a bottle of rum (take that as hysterical laughter). It was only a matter of time before the whole phony “war” in Afghanistan would collapse in a sea of confusion, recrimination, frustration, and hopelessness. So General McChrystal vented his frustration to Rolling Stone magazine, thus being forced to offer his resignation. What he did was such an egregious violation of military protocol there was no doubt he would have to go. President Obama had no choice whatsoever but to accept his resignation, which of course he did. Is this going to make any difference in the “war” in Afghanistan? No, it’s not. General Petraeus will replace McChrystal and follow the very same idiotic strategy that is quite obviously failing. There is no way counterinsurgency can work when there is not enough support from everyone and not enough troops and other personnel available. The only reason this misadventure has continued as long as it has is because the American public basically forgot about it, what with all the other problems surrounding us, unemployment, the stimulus, health care, the tea party, Sarah Palin, and now the great oil spill disaster. It has been obvious for some time that no one has any idea what the hell we are doing continuing this phony “war” in Afghanistan, and when people do stop to think about it they understand it is an unbelievable and very expensive project with no known or precise goals in mind other than perpetual “war” that benefits no one except the military/industrial/political complex. It certainly doesn’t benefit the U.S. public. Perhaps this flap over McChrystal will return us at least briefly to reality and bring about an end to this longest lasting, least productive, and senseless “war” in our history. How the Bush/Cheney administration managed to justify a “war” involving hundreds of thousands of American troops fighting against a handful of Muslim extremist criminals, and how the Obama administration managed to continue this absurd enterprise should keep historians busy for a very long time. What began as a criminal act turned into a full-fledged “war,” that should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. And don’t forget, the Taliban were not even our target or enemies in the beginning, merely replacing the now pretty much defunct Al-Quaida. The Taliban were not and are not a threat to the U.S. or anyone else, they simply want us out of their country. And if we were out of their country, the Afghans would take care of the Taliban and the rest of their business as they have for thousands of years. Nine years, the longest “war” in U.S. history, and nothing, absolutely nothing, to show for it, except a record of waste, endless deaths, and massive destruction. Obama is insisting that we are going to withdraw by August of 2011 as he previously outlined. But Gates is saying that it will depend upon the circumstances at the time. Does anyone believe we are truly going to withdraw? Especially now that it has been reported there is a trillion dollars worth of minerals just waiting to be developed (stolen). Actually, the presence of minerals has been known for many years, and no one really knows what the ultimate value may be, so this announcement is apparently another Pentagon ploy to potentially keep the “war” going for as long as possible.

If it is true that support for this Afghanistan “war” is waning, and if it is true that people are seeing the end of it next year, why not end it now? Obama may believe that within a year circumstances will be better and we will be able to begin withdrawing out troops, but given the history of this farce, and given the fact that it has been progressively deteriorating, there is little reason to suppose things will be much different a year hence. This is, I think, merely wishful thinking. In the meanwhile there will no doubt be more unnecessary deaths, misery, and failure. Let’s just admit the whole thing was a terrible mistake, apologize, get out, and agree to help if the Afghans actually ask for help. I’m sure another totally unnecessary, stupid, illegal, and unconstitutional “war” with Iran will suffice to keep our military busy as usual. Let’s just keep swimming in our sea of immorality, greed, and profiteering. It’s the American way.

In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.
Edward P. Tryon

The largest giraffe recorded was nearly 20 feet tall.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Where Was I?

Modern day Goldilocks
eats, drinks, sleeps in bed,
is arrested for burglary.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, talking about the disappearance of the concept of doing the “right” thing. I conceive of leaders, especially elected leaders, trying to do the right thing for their constituents. That is, when the group is confronted with a problem the leaders sit down together and try to figure out what is the right thing to do. This no longer happens in our government. The right thing to do is totally irrelevant. There is no attempt to do the right thing. In our current government the goal is not to do right, but to do what is feasible. For example, during the great health care debate no attempt at all was made to do the right thing, but, rather, to pass what was considered feasible. Given the nature of our current system the best that can be expected is to pass some kind of compromise. Thus what might be right is not even considered, it is a concept nowadays completely foreign to our legislative process. Now you may argue, as many do, that the process of government is to arrive at compromises, decisions that provide the best outcome for all concerned. While that may be satisfactory, it has nothing to do with what might be conceived of as the right outcome.

Being a cultural anthropologist, or perhaps an ex-cultural anthropologist, I am well aware of the unsettling and often useless idea of cultural relativity. Yes, it is true that values are relative to the cultural context in which they are found. Infanticide and senilicide are acceptable in some cultures as a matter of necessity. Even cannibalism can be seen as understandable in some contexts, as can such rather bizarre customs as circumcision, subincision, cliterodectomy, suttee, and so on. But even extreme cultural relativists inevitably encounter practices that seem to demand the idea of absolute value. The original proponents of cultural relativity, Melville Herskovits and Ruth Benedict, had to draw the line at Nazi Germany. And we here in the U.S. profess to believe in absolute values: killing is wrong, torture is wrong, child abuse and adultery are wrong, and so on. In practice, however, we do not seem to hold to these values very well, some perhaps better than others. Our claim that killing is wrong is obviously absurd given the frequency and willingness we have to make war. Adultery is far more common than we are willing to admit. We probably come closer to enforcing prohibitions on child abuse, but even child abuse in the U.S. is not uncommon. These are supposed to be basic values, those that we commonly profess to hold. Yet I find it curious that we are much more likely to observe cultural proscriptions about eating cats, dogs, and horses, than we are to observe these supposedly more basic and important values.

Even murder, the most heinous of crimes, is negotiable here in the U.S.: who was killed, who was the killer, was it premeditated or a crime of passion, were there extenuating circumstances, insanity perhaps, was there a history of animosity, was hate involved, what was the relationship between victim and perpetrator, was it first, second, or third degree, was it justifiable homicide, and on and on and on. Some people who believe killing is wrong believe it is wrong in all circumstances, it doesn’t have to be negotiated. War crimes are said to be wrong, illegal, unconstitutional, immoral. But we have war criminals walking around free and boasting about their crimes. It is regarded as unfeasible to do anything about it. Even massive crimes like the BP oil spill will take years of litigation before it is settled, if, indeed, it ever will be settled. In China the officers of BP might well have been executed already, in Japan they might well have committed suicide. Here they go yacht racing, comfortable in the knowledge that their legions of lawyers will keep them free most likely until they die natural deaths. To say, as some do, there is no justice, is to say basically, there is no “right.” Our most basic value seems to be the belief in endless litigation.

The partisan, when he is engaged in a dispute, cares nothing about the rights of the question, but is anxious only to convince his hearers of his own assertions.

Aardvark cubs are weaned by 16 weeks.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Doing what is "right"

Florida woman leaves millions
in trust fund for Conchita,
her pet Chihuahua.

Apropros of my comments about the powerlessness of the President, I have been considering another, perhaps even more serious problem of our contemporary government, the concept of doing the “right” thing has disappeared. That is, in my rather idyllic view of government, especially a democracy, people elect representatives of various kinds to use their collective judgments to do the right thing, be it for the clan, the tribe, the nation, or some particular group. This assumes that there is a right thing to be done in the interest of the group, and the right thing can be determined by careful thought and consideration of the various options available. This is a process no longer possible as there is no longer any way to determine what the right thing to do is. First of all, right no longer has to do with what is best for the community. Second, in a large and complex society, what is right for some is wrong for others, and thus no consensus can ever provide the right thing to do. Doing right is not even possible when decisions are made based upon political expediency, and different points of view must be considered. What emerges is not what is right but, rather, what can be agreed upon by those who have been given the authority to decide. What is right is decided by negotiation and there is no possibility of an absolute right. For example, it would seem to me to clearly be the case that getting out of Afghanistan is the right thing to do. But this cannot happen because there are too many conflicting points of view. What is right is simply irrelevant. Malcolm X once said something to the effect that “You should not be so blinded by patriotism that you cannot see reality, wrong is wrong no matter who does it.” However, in our present society we often do things that are wrong because they are expedient. For example, our uncritical support of Israel when they commit a blatant crime is wrong, but it is apparently expedient. The issue of whether something is right or wrong simply doesn’t matter when right and wrong are decided by political negotiations.

Sorry, something has come up, to be continued tomorrow...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I Don't Know

London man participates in
bikini waxing contest for charity,
almost loses a testicle.

I don’t know what is going on. I doubt that anyone does. I wonder about President Obama, and although I still like and support him, he is doing things that I seriously do not like. But I wonder about this a lot. Perhaps it is the case that in many respects he is helpless and might want to do things differently but for political or economic or other reasons cannot. For example, does Obama himself really believe in this senseless, useless, even ridiculous “war” in Afghanistan? And even if he does not believe in it what can he do? Can you imagine what the neocons and right-wingers would do if Obama did the sensible and right thing to do and withdrew our troops? He would immediately be branded as weak, not experienced enough, anti-American, and even cowardly. As in Vietnam, they would say we could have won if it hadn’t been for Obama and blah, blah, blah. They would raise such a ruckus it would surely end his Presidency. Thus it is he couldn’t realistically end it even if he wanted to do so. The entire military/industrial/political complex would rise up and crucify him. And this would mean he would be unable to complete any other goals he might have in mind. Would he like to end the “war” immediately or does he believe in it? I don’t know.

I am especially angry and upset with Obama because he has not done anything to bring Bush/Cheney and their criminal administration to justice. This infuriates me. But here again, what would happen if he tried to bring them to justice? His critics would immediately say it was just political (even though it would obviously be a criminal matter rather than political). They would say it was revenge, or an attempt to destroy the Republican Party. They would argue that it is unprecedented, no previous administration has ever before tried to investigate and punish their predecessors (of course no previous administration was ever confronted with confessed war criminals who actually boast of their criminal deeds). Perhaps Obama would like to bring these criminals to justice but realizes just how risky and virtually impossible that would be. On the other hand, perhaps he actually approves of what they did and doesn’t think they deserve to be punished. I, of course, do not know. In any case, as in the case of Afghanistan, he is practically powerless.

Similarly, with respect to this horrific oil spill business, he might want to punish BP severely, fine them until they go out of business, throw them all in the slammer, or whatever. But how can he do that knowing the crucial position they occupy in Britain where their pension system depends importantly on BP, to say nothing of the British economy in general. Here again, I don’t know what Obama would like to do, but it doesn’t matter because in very important respects his hands are tied. BP is too big to fail, unfortunate, but true. I don’t know how Obama truly feels about this, perhaps he is furious because of being so helpless. But perhaps he doesn’t believe they deserve to be severely punished and is caught now trying to placate the victims while at the same time letting the guilty off the hook. I just do not know.

Then there is the situation with Israel. I am absolutely opposed to our uncritical support of everything they do even when they are committing acts so blatantly illegal and even horrifying. I cannot (or at least do not want to) believe Obama truly supports this near genocide, but he seems to support everything they do no matter how awful, unpopular, or illegal. He claims to support the Palestinians in their desire for a state of their own and the right to manage their own affairs. But time after time he continues to side with Israel. Of course it is true that the Israel lobby is powerful, and it is also true that the Jewish vote and financial support are significant, so here is another case where Obama cannot do what he may want to do, but on the other hand, maybe he is doing what he wants to do. I do not know.

Paradoxically, President Obama is said to be the most powerful person on earth, but he is often powerless. But it doesn’t even matter what he may personally believe or feel because in any case he cannot practically do anything about it. In fact, the most powerful people on earth are not even in the administration but still have the power to control it, which they do. So here I am, wanting to believe in Obama, trying to continue to support him, wanting him to succeed, and trying to believe that he would really like to do what I would like him to do, but I don’t know. What a way to run a railroad!

I guess I also continue to support him because he is basically “the only game in town.” The party of NO has been so despicable as to be beneath contempt. And most of his critics are so predictable, petty, and often absurd, to say nothing of usually being completely ignorant of that of which they speak, they are not worthy of a second thought. In this context Obama is still a giant being set upon by Lilliputians and the demented. Long live Obama! (I think and hope).

We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.
Oscar Wilde

There are an estimated 22,000 species of ants.

Friday, June 18, 2010


She wants the last beer, grabs
it from his hand, slaps his face,
and kicks him in the groin.

I am not an economist. I have never studied economics. I have always believed it is truly “the dismal science.” Therefore, you should never take seriously anything I have to say about economical matters, like unemployment. It does seem fundamentally simple to me. There are not enough jobs for the number of people who want and need them. A capitalistic economy cannot create jobs for everyone unless it can constantly expand production, demand, and consumption. To constantly expand production, demand and consumption requires unlimited resources in the form of land and the products of the land, timber, minerals, water, plants, etc. Under capitalism these resources have to be managed solely for profit. The only way to insure profit is by exploiting resources, including labor. In a capitalistic economy labor has to be a commodity like everything else. If you had a constantly expanding economy, with unlimited resources and unlimited demand, you might approximate full employment, or at least everyone would have a niche of some kind, be it serf, peasant, slave, landowner, businessman, or whatever. When the earth was regarded as having unlimited resources and young men could still go west, and life was much simpler, unemployment was not a serious problem, although there was, of course, some poverty. But as the earth has shrunk, and the human population has expanded, we have a surplus of labor. While this is good for business it is terrible for the general population as it means there will be many unemployed persons. Corporations get cheap labor while the unemployed suffer. As the earth and its resources have been shamelessly exploited for so long, and as the population has inevitably expanded, we are faced with the problem of the unemployed, both temporary and permanent. If businesses were formed to hire as many people as possible, rather than to make profits, there would not be so much unemployment, but they are not. The only ways to solve this problem are to ignore the poor and just let them starve or to somehow provide employment for them, some form of what is usually called socialism. Many European nations have done this and are social democracies of one kind or another. They provide at least minimum support for most everyone, universal health care, relatively inexpensive education, require fewer hours of work per person, take longer vacations, and so on, in order to provide as much as possible for everyone. Here in the U.S., where we still live by a form of primitive social Darwinism coupled with a seemingly untouchable belief in “free market capitalism,” we are unable to deal with the problem of unemployment. We dabble around the edges of socialism, like food stamps, free elementary schools, unemployment insurance, subsidies of one kind or another, but pretend this is not truly the “horror” of socialism. Even so-called “primitive “societies take care of their citizens, when one eats, all eat, success and hunger are shared. Indeed, it is not unknown for people to sometimes sacrifice themselves for the good of all. Not so here, where the credo is more, “I have mine, you get yours.” We have our priorities, they are quite clear, billions for fighting unnecessary “wars,” but not another cent for the unemployed or other serious problems here at home. It is, I fear, the American way.

More people out of work leads to higher unemployment.`
Calvin Coolidge

There are three bat species that feed on blood, all found in the Southern Americas.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


South African man beaten to death
by his family for watching World Cup,
rather than their religious program.

So…what really happened? I don’t know. But I’d like to know. First, let me say I have no sympathy whatsoever for BP, probably the worst scumbaggy (I know that’s not really a word) corporation even when compared to the other scummy Oil giants. They have lied repeatedly, and for years have basically ignored rules designed to protect workers, have repeatedly been cited for violations, and have used short cuts and cheap tricks to fatten their already too fat profits. Thus I find it truly funny to hear Congressman Joe Barton suggesting they were somehow browbeaten into setting up a 20 billion dollar fund, a poor, helpless, defenseless, private corporation subjected to a “shakedown” by a Black/communist/socialist/fascist thug. Similarly, I find it hilarious that Michele Bachmann, running off her mouth true to form, suggesting they were being made “chumps.” Other Republicans started defending BP also but soon of backed off when the scope of the “full catastrophe” became more obvious and could not be “spun.” Barton himself is now being castigated for making Republicans look as bad as they are and always have been.

But I really would like to know what happened. I cannot believe that President Obama just walked into the room and they immediately agreed to give up 20 billion, just for starters, without a fight, and without asking “what’s in it for us?” I hate to be so suspicious, but eight years of Bush/Cheney have conditioned me to not believe anything and certainly to not believe the best about everything and everyone. Obama’s behavior up until now has done little to change my suspicious mind (in many ways he does seem pretty much like “Bush Light”). I have absolutely no idea if what is running through my mind is true or has any basis whatsoever in reality. I can’t believe there was not at least some kind of a “deal.” I don’t believe they were actually coerced or blackmailed into giving up money, but I think they may well have been not-so-gently persuaded that, perhaps if they didn’t, they might end up in jail. Could Obama have promised to keep them out of jail if they went along with his request? Why do I think this? Because I have a suspicious, doubting mind, and I also think Obama may well have assured Bush and Cheney they would not go to jail. I can’t conceive of any other reason they are still walking around completely untouched and boasting of their war crimes.

One other thing about this deal (if, indeed, it is a deal) I don’t understand (I don’t understand a lot of things these days) is who is actually going to pay for all this mess. At least a couple of Republicans have hinted that the taxpayers should help (Boehner, for example), an idea being dismissed out of hand (but still entirely possible in the long run). But consider what is happening. BP is not going to pay a dividend for at least three quarters. That means their shareholders are going to pay. But shareholders are also taxpayers. Thus BP, as a corporation, will not actually be paying, but, rather, all those “little people” whose retirement funds and such are tied up in BP. Obama is obviously aware of what the collapse of BP would mean to Britain and for obvious reasons has to try to protect our long-time and closest ally. He must have worked out some kind of deal, some plan that would benefit everyone the most. Whatever he did, it had to look more or less kosher. This way BP itself, and its officers, are mostly off the hook (except for its reputation), the shareholders/taxpayers will ultimately pay, Obama will look like a magician, and the little guy will get shafted once again. A classic case of “What’s good for BP is good for the country.”

Is man merely a mistake of God's? Or God merely a mistake of man's?
Friedrich Nietzsche

Belcher’s Sea Snake (Hydrophis Belcheri) is quite likely the world’s most venomous snake.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The 2% Solution

Two Canadian men found
drunk, naked, covered in mud,
after dancing naked in the woods.

It appears to me that virtually no one was very satisfied with President Obama’s speech from the Oval Office. He basically just repeated what we already know: we’re going to investigate the cause of the spill, we’ve been talking about energy independence for a long time but doing nothing about it, he’s going to create a commission to study what went wrong (with the implication, I guess, that once we know that we can go ahead and drill some more), now is the time to move toward renewable energy and stop spending a billion a day on foreign oil, and etc. There was no detail, no plan put forward to do any of this, nothing but the same basic platitudes we have heard before. It was for me very disappointing. What I find the most troubling is when he says things like, we’ll make the Gulf even better than it was, or we’ll restore it to be just like it was, and so on. These are impossible claims, there is no way the Gulf can ever be restored completely or made better than it was. And the unfortunates that will have lost their livelihoods, their businesses, their wildlife, their environment, their very being, will never be able to fully recover their lost culture. The final result of this disaster is still unknown, but it looks like it will be far worse than anyone could have imagined. In spite of this horror, this unprecedented disaster, in spite of the Oil Companies admission they are not prepared to clean up the damage their do, there are still those who insist we should just keep on drilling. I understand that many people depend on the oil industry for their employment and they would suffer if drilling were to stop, but is the irreparable damage to our planet not more important? It is, after all, the only planet we have, and we have certainly not treasured it as we should have.

This leads me to consider the 2% solution. It is claimed that we use 20% of the oil but have only 2% of the reserves, reserves that will of course eventually be exhausted. So I ask, why bother? Why bother trying to recover a mere 2% of the world’s oil when the potential cost to the environment and ecosystem is so great? To me this seems foolish in the extreme. The fact that we have only 2% (and basically that is all we can truly depend on), should make us wary indeed of using it up as fast as possible. There will no doubt always be a need for some oil. Furthermore, I suspect that much of the oil we are producing is probably sold to others anyway. We should stop drilling now, period, and mount an all out effort to produce renewable energy from wind, tide, sun, water, and any other way we can devise (but no nuclear). Furthermore, I would strongly suggest that as we have so little in the way of oil, we cannot afford to let international corporations turn it into profit for themselves. We should nationalize it and guard it carefully.

Once again I would like to challenge the conventional wisdom. Many are assuming and claiming that this will be a big year for Republicans who might even gain a majority in the House of Representatives. I do not think this will happen, not because the Democrats are so great or necessarily deserve to win, but because the Republicans are so unbelievably worse. Republicans have nothing whatsoever to show for their years in the minority other than boasting of being the party of “no,” and opposing anything and everything Obama has tried to do. Is this really a record they can use to their advantage? I cannot see it. And this is not the only problem they have, now that they have extreme candidates like Rand Paul and that awful woman from Nevada representing them. I admit to being often wrong when it comes to politics, and perhaps I will be proven wrong once again, but if so it will because I never seem to understand the perversity of the American voting public. I saw a bumper sticker yesterday for the first time that said, “One Bad Ass Mistake America.” It was paired with another one that read simply, “Palin.” In my opinion there should have been a third one that said, “I am an absolute drooling Idiot.” It is hard to understand exactly what it is these people are objecting to, or what it is they want, as they seem to be a pretty disparate lot, not very well focused, and not very able for the most part to tell you what it is they either want or expect of their President. I could be wrong but I cannot see such people making much of an impact on the coming election, there is, after all, a limit to the amount of idiocy even in the United States. I am pretty sure that for many of these confused protestors Obama’s real problem is basically just “Being President While Black.”

America is a country that doesn't know where it is going but is determined to set a speed record getting there.
Laurence J. Peter

A postage stamp featuring Ogden Nash, printed in 2002, was the first stamp where the word “sex” appeared (as meaning gender).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Moment of Truth

Attorney’s underwire bra sets off
alarm, denies visit to client, removed
it prevents it because of being bra-less.

I think we have now reached the moment of truth when President Obama, acting on behalf of the citizens of the United States, is going to have to make the decisions that will determine our continued survival as a nation as well as his continued Presidency. He is to speak to the nation from the Oval Office tomorrow evening. I do not know what he will say, but I do know what he must say if we are to survive as an important nation. No more dithering can be permitted, he has to say for one thing that our addiction to oil is finished, over and done with. He should order a permanent moratorium on drilling for oil and mount an all-out effort to convert to renewable sources of energy as soon as possible (and without nuclear). If he merely says we will not drill for six months, pending new controls that will make spills impossible, and we will then begin drilling again, you will know that he has either been compromised by Big Oil or he is subject to magical thinking, and in either case there will be little hope for significant change.

Far more importantly, I think Obama will have to decide if our nation even has a future. We have an almost impossible national debt, we are involved in a “war” that is going nowhere, unemployment is rampant, our infrastructure and schools are badly deteriorated, recession/depression is imminent, there are increasing suggestions for a revolution, either peaceful (Nader) or violent (Militias), a massive oil leak is the most serious ecological and economic problem we have ever experienced, national morale is low, there seems to be little hope that things will get better very soon, especially in the Gulf (and this disaster may eventually spread even farther). We have a national defense budget that is totally out of control, and far from being that wonderful “beacon on the hill,” we are increasingly despised around the world, partly but not exclusively because of our defense of the racist, colonial, vicious, pariah nation of Israel.

President Obama is the only person in the world who could reverse all this and restore our nation to its former greatness, although it could well cost him his Presidency. He could simply admit we can no longer afford our “empire,” and bring our far-flung troops home. He could admit that our defense budget is no such thing but is, rather, merely an excuse for permanently enriching the huge corporations that profit from it. He could create hundreds of thousands, even millions of jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure, promoting clean renewable energy, improving our impoverished educational system, improving health care, curbing the terrible excesses of the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance giants, along with Wall Street and the Banking industry in general. And he could insist on rebuilding and supporting our own manufacturing industries instead of those in China and elsewhere. He cannot, however, do any of these things very well because we are, to put it bluntly, broke. And we are broke because of our endless “wars,” our military/industrial/political complex, our empire, and our profligate ways. So…we cannot go on pretending that we are the greatest (debtor) nation on earth, we cannot continue to be the world’s policemen, we cannot continue to waste our resources, both financial and human, on stupid and unnecessary “wars” that lead nowhere, nor can we put up with much longer a political party that says “no” to everything and wants us to fail.

Will Obama save us from our own greed and short-sightedness, not likely. Can you imagine what the reaction would be on the part of some if Obama simply announced the “war” in Afghanistan is going nowhere and we can no longer afford it? Or what would happen if he was to dramatically raise taxes on the obscenely wealthy as he should, or if he were to order no more drilling for oil offshore (or anywhere else for that matter)? What if he announced we were giving up our bases in Japan or Germany where they are not even needed? If he were to do anything at all that was perfectly sensible and would help us recover our position in the world it would cost him his Presidency, his critics, especially in the right wing, would raise such a fuss you would think it was the end of the world. So here he is, caught up in an impossible situation where, to do anything sensible, would require the cooperation and collaboration of a Congress that has no interest whatsoever in doing what is the right thing for the nations or its citizens, and is solely interested in suckling at the corporate teats that keep them in power.

I suspect Obama’s speech tomorrow night is going to reveal just whose side he’s on, the corporatists or the people. His statement that in a year or two the beaches and the marshes will be back to normal indicates to me he’s either not on the side of the people or is, perhaps, demented.

No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.
President George Bush

Mahi-mahi live four to five years and seldom exceed 33 pounds in weight.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Florida man trapped in recliner
when mounted water buffalo
head falls on him.

I am trying (and I fear failing) to come to grips with the concept of “worth.” The dictionary, as usual, is not a great deal of help, but it does suggest the value of something measured by the esteem with which it is held, or the value of something in material (or monetary) terms. Henry David Thoreau once said, “It is not worth it to go around the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.” I guess it could be worth it to someone if they had something to do with research on cats or doing a cat census, or some such thing. It seems obvious that worth, having to do with value of one thing or another, is basically a relative kind of concept. Where I run into real trouble with the idea of worth is when I try to apply it to specific activities. For example, is it “worth it” to spend billions of dollars in Afghanistan when those billions could be used here at home for all kinds of useful and important projects? Speaking for myself I have to conclude that it is not worth it. I guess President Obama and the Congress don’t agree with me. At the moment I’m thinking about drilling for oil. Is it worth it to drill in the deep ocean for oil when the potential for disaster is so great? Again, I have to say no, it is not. Whatever amount of oil we might get, no matter how great, is not worth sacrificing the Gulf of Mexico and who knows what else. Again, I guess Obama and Congress don’t agree with me as they keep on talking about more drilling, “once we figure out how to make it completely safe.” To me this is little more than magical thinking as it will never be safe enough to guarantee the life of the planet or large portions of it.

When Madeleine Albright was asked if the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children (as a result of our sanctions) was worth it, she replied that yes, it was. This is the most horrifyingly terrible and inhumane thing I have ever heard, it shocked me almost beyond belief. In fact, to this day I still have trouble believing she actually said this, but she did. Clearly her idea of worth, to me, is insane. Nothing we could have gained in Iraq could possibly be worth the lives of half a million innocent children (of course they were “only Arab children”). We were in Iraq for mainly one reason (in spite of what we have been told) and that reason had to do with oil and control of that product of the Middle East. Is it worth it to go around the world to control the oil? This is, I assume, the major reason we are keeping garrisons all around the world, primarily for oil, but no doubt for other valuables as well. I think it is not (think of all the oil we could have purchased for these trillions of dollars).

Getting away from oil for a moment, is it really worth it to criminalize marihuana and fill up our jails with users of this relatively common weed? Has our (completely failed) “war on drugs” been worth the billions we have spent on it? I cannot believe it. A more difficult question perhaps: is it worth it to keep someone artificially alive in a vegetative state for years even against their own wishes? Sometimes the concept of worth is masked or hidden by claiming that what we do “is in our best interest.” But is that just not another way of saying it's worth it? Or could we say that defending Israel is in our best interest but is actually probably not worth it? Obviously what constitutes worth for one person, or one country, is not the same as for others. With respect to Iran I would say that starting a “war” with them is not in our best interest, nor would it be worth it. There must be something I have missed entirely when it comes to this Iran situation. The last I heard Iran denies they are trying to make a bomb and there is no conclusive evidence to the contrary. Thus I guess we may go to war with them even though they are not in violation of the nuclear rules and are not a threat to us in any way. Of course such trivial things like that didn’t keep us from attacking Iraq. And oh, yeah, I guess there are those who think attacking that relatively helpless country was worth it. I don’t think so, and personally, I’d rather go back to a horse and buggy than go on with all this senseless killing and maiming of innocent people.
Are we so afraid of the withdrawal symptoms we would have from trying to break this addiction we are truly willing to kill for it? I fear we are.

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.
Carl Jung

Koala bears are not bears and are not found in Western Australia or Tasmania.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Idaho's Forgotten War

Oregon man gets two years
for surreptitiously snipping
hair of female bus riders.

Karzai has apparently said he has lost faith in the ability of the U.S. (and NATO) to defeat the Taliban. General Petraeous has now said that we cannot succeed without the help of the United Kingdom (which is having serious economic problems and may not wish to continue much longer). This “war” is now the longest one in U.S. history (can you believe it). It appears to have accomplished nothing whatsoever. The Taliban we are now fighting were not our enemies in the first place and are now stronger than ever, al-Quaida, that was/is our enemy, no longer exists in any significant way in Afghanistan, it is pretty much common knowledge (and has been from the beginning) that we cannot “win” militarily in Afghanistan, nor can I see what it would be if we were to “succeed.” As far as I can see there is no acceptable explanation for why we are continuing this unnecessary “war” unless it is merely another “business” - that is, as part of our desire for endless “wars” to insure the continuing profits for the military/industrial/political complex and war profiteers. I am beginning to think that Obama would just be too embarrassed to end it even if he were allowed to do so.

I have just returned from watching an interesting movie, “Idaho’s Forgotten War,” at our local Museum. This is a documentary of when the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho (all 68 of them) declared war on the United States and began collecting tolls on the highway and issuing bonds to raise the money to continue their “war.” This came about because the Kootenai had never signed an agreement with the Government and were never given a reservation. They had fallen into such abject poverty and misery they had nothing to lose by this dramatic action. And they did win, at least something (12.5 acres, I believe), so they now number 141 members and control over 2,000 acres they have managed to purchase with funds from the Casino they now own and operate, quite a success story, but certainly a far cry from what was stolen from them. The Klallam on the Olympic Peninsula are another somewhat similar story and also now own a Casino that has changed their situation importantly. But of course no amount of money can ever compensate for what these tribes lost when overrun by Europeans during the Colonial Period.

And speaking of loss, it is not going to be possible for the people of the Gulf to ever be compensated for their loss. While BP must be held accountable for their reckless greed, in terms of money, there is no way the lives of the fishermen, shrimpers, and others can ever be replaced. It will never be possible to return to the pre-spill culture that had existed for so many hundreds of years. It is far worse, I think, than anyone can imagine. It’s like what we have been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan (sorry we killed your entire family, here’s a couple of hundred bucks) multiplied a trillion times over, an ecological disaster so great it can never be corrected (contrary to their ridiculous claims of paying for it all). I guess we cannot conclude that BP actually planned to commit ecocide, and in a sense it was an accident, but it was an accident that could have been foreseen and prevented had not unfettered greed been their primary motive. If ever there was a case of criminal negligence this is it, and they should be held fully accountable and not just financially. Had this happened in China they would all be dead by now, I don’t think some lengthy prison terms would be at all out of place.

Criminal: A person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation.
Howard Scott

It’s true, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Alas, Poor Helen...

Woman charged with lewd act
and adultery when found
having sex on park picnic table.

Helen Thomas, just before her 90th birthday, said something she should not have said: “Israel should get out of Palestine,” and they should go back to Germany and Poland.” It is impossible to justify these remarks, and Helen, after almost 60 years of reporting, is now feeling the ire of most everyone. Forgotten are all of the marvelous moments of her work when she repeatedly (and mostly solely) challenged President after President on their behavior, mostly Foreign Policy. In the more recent years she alone has had the courage to ask the difficult questions, questions she must have known would not receive straighforward answers, but would at least bring issues out of the darkness and into the light. She has apologized for this recent unprecedented outburst and I am sure sincerely regrets it. I am not interested in defending her outburst, but merely in why it might have happened.

First of all, remember that Helen Thomas is of Lebanese descent, and as such has never been sympathetic toward Israel. Second, at almost 90 years of age, she has been alive since the very beginning of Israel as a nation. Third, this means she has personally witnessed what the Israelis have done to the Palestinians (and the Lebanese) over the years, a record of virtually unabashed racism, violence, and theft of land and water. Fourth, this has had to have left her with very little, if any, patience with Israeli colonialism and their repeated refusals to establish truly meaningful discourse with the Palestinians over their just claims to their own land and nation. Fifth, the result of this has to have been a high level of frustration over this seemingly never-ending problem. Sixth, frustration, as we know, leads to anger. I believe her angry outburst, although it used inappropriate language, actually said, “I’m mad as hell (at Israeli intransigence and racism), and I’m not going to take it anymore.” I believe she was entirely sincere and perfectly correct when she said there can never be peace until all parties are treated as equals. The most basic question is if Israel can bring itself to accept the Palestinians as equals, because up until now, in order to justify their treatment of the Palestinians, they have had to dehumanize them, consider them less than human, less than deserving, less than responsible or competent enough to negotiating a just peace. I cannot see how any thoughtful person would not believe the Israeli/U.S. treatment of the Palestinians has not been shameful in the extreme. Obama has just committed 400 million dollars for aid to these unfortunate and mistreated people, several more aid flotillas are in the works as I write this, perhaps this is a beginning, however small, of justice at last.

Well, so much, once again, for the conventional wisdom business. We have been hearing for months about the powerful anti-incumbent sentiment sweeping the country that would sweep out incumbents and replace them with new incumbents. However, as Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart both pointed out this evening, out of 84 incumbents who were involved in political races yesterday, 82 won, one (1) was put into a runoff, and one lost, but not because he was an incumbent. How’s that for political prognostication? What does this really mean? I have no idea. Maybe it means voters are happy with the status quo, but somehow that seems unlikely. Maybe voters are afraid to change horses in the middle of a stream, even more unlikely. Personally, I think it means voters are too ignorant to know the difference and too lazy to want to find out so just took the easiest path and voted for the name they recognized.

You know how traumatic it is when you first learn that your idols have feet of clay, at least I assume you do because it has often happened to me. So it seems to be now with President Obama. Much to the dismay of many, they have learned that Obama does not leap tall buildings at a single bound, stops runaway locomotives, or catches bullets with his hands, nor does he change clothes in a phone booth or swim to the bottom of the ocean and plug oil leaks by using his laser-like vision. Even so, for many, this disaster is all Obama’s fault. I wish he’d get blamed for things that probably are his fault, like the absence of a public option or equivalent, or the escalation of the “war” in Afghanistan, and the failure to hold Bush/Cheney et al, accountable for their myriad war crimes. Some seem to think that if he fell to the ground, held his breath until he turned blue, and kicked and screamed, everything would be okay, seems a strange thing to want from your President.

The sign of an intelligent people is their ability to control emotions by the application of reason.
Marya Mannes

Apparently all kittens are born blue-eyed with their ears folded down.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Man tries to strangle wife,
tells officer, “if you were
married you’d understand.”

There is nothing in the world more difficult to comprehend than human behavior, or so it seems to me. I have commented previously on the perversity of humans but recently I have had to rethink these claims. I have been led to rethink things probably because of the relatively innocent behavior I have been witnessing at our small but excellent library. The library has a generous parking lot, courtesy of a pizza parlor than burned down a few years back and was never rebuilt. There is an entrance to this parking lot marked with a large sign that says in large letters ENTRANCE. It has an exit marked with equally large letters that says EXIT. The entrance is not far from the exit and it is quite clear which is which, but fully 50% of the patrons enter through the exit, and exit through the entrance. I have been studying them for some time and have concluded they are not acting perversely, they are completely oblivious. They apparently just do not perceive the instructions at all. Thus things that I once described as perverse now strike me as more oblivious than perverse. For example, when people consistently pick up puppies in the pet shop even though there is a large and very prominent sign that says “PLEASE DO NOT PICK UP THE PUPPIES,” I am beginning to believe they are perhaps not perverse but merely oblivious. Similarly, at our garbage dump there is a container that is marked “ELECTRONICS ONLY, NO TELEVISIONS,” into which one can find on any given day several televisions right on top of the pile. I could give you many more examples where it is not at all easy to determine whether the behavior is perverse or merely oblivious.

Now, this would be a relatively trivial matter if it were restricted merely to the mundane everyday behavior of ordinary human beings. But it is not. Take the case of Afghanistan, for example. Is President Obama simply oblivious to the fact that this “war” is the longest one in American history and has accomplished absolutely nothing except a lot of death and destruction? I can’t imagine that he is accelerating and enlarging this “war” simply to be perverse because he knows that I and many others do not want him to do so. This could be more complicated than it seems. If Obama is neither perverse nor oblivious there must be some other reason for continuing this absolutely useless and ridiculous enterprise. Perhaps he does not want to offend the corporations that are making so much profit from this seemingly endless and pointless business? Perhaps he fears dumping a bunch of ex-military personnel on the job market when unemployment is already such a problem. Perhaps it is both of those things plus others that I am unaware of, or maybe only dimly aware of, like maintaining an “empire.”

Similarly, one can only wonder if Congress is completely oblivious to the plight of all our unemployed. It would seem so when they continue to allocate more and more money for our useless “war” in Afghanistan but refuse to extend unemployment benefits. Can Obama and others, like the mouth that roars, be oblivious to the unprecedented damage that is being done to the Gulf, such that they can continue to talk about even more drilling offshore? Maybe they are just being perverse for the publicity. If not they are either oblivious, stupid, or greedy. Again, are they oblivious to the fact that their recently enacted health care bill, with no public option, is nothing more than a huge gift to the insurance companies? And are they oblivious to the fact that the pending banking and Wall Street reforms will do nothing of substance to regulate what needs desperately to be regulated? And finally, for the moment, are they completely oblivious to the obvious, that all the money being wasted on the Pentagon and their endless “wars,” our unnecessary “empire,” and the military/industrial/political complex, if used for our national debt, urgent domestic problems, global warming, and renewable energy, we would all, including the world at large, be much better off and might even escape oblivion. I don’t know, perhaps they are just perverse.

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
Mark Twain

In the wild, mountain goats live twelve to fifteen years.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Neutral Broker

Convict breaks out to prove
he’s not a danger to society,
gets an additional nine months.

Bubblehead: Are you so bored with life you have nothing to do except ask ridiculous questions of me? Or do you just keep hoping you can somehow make me out to be a hypocrite or stupid or something? I’m beginning to think you can’t be serious. Obviously if you wanted a NEUTRAL party to help negotiate a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians you would not want known partisans to be involved, either Muslim or Israeli. Unless, perhaps, you might want Muslim partisans on the one hand against Israeli partisans on the other, in which case you would not even be talking about neutral parties. I suppose, that hypothetically at least, you could have either a Jew or a Muslim broker if you could find a highly respected, mutually agreed upon individual known to be fair-minded and serious about peace, but that seems unlikely. For years there has been talk of the U.S. brokering a peace, indeed, arguing that only the U.S. could do such a thing, but it has become obvious (especially after the Bush/Cheney administration and unfortunately continuing under Obama), the U.S. is not a neutral party, supporting repeated Israeli atrocities without fail. Anyone with even a partial brain would have known that things would deteriorate badly if Netanyahu came back into power, which they have. As far as this recent Gaza incident goes, I suppose if you could find someone who was deaf, dumb, blind, and mentally handicapped, you might find someone who would believe the Israeli account of these incidents. Armed Israeli commandos just accidentally fell out of the sky over international waters onto a Turkish ship and were viciously attacked by unarmed people trying to deliver much needed aid to the Palestinians (that, according to Israeli, is not even needed as the Palestinians have everything anyone might desire). One of these unarmed individuals, an American, was just accidentally shot four times in the head, the ship which was known to be on the way for such a mission and (unbelievably stupidly) might have been trying to smuggle arms into Gaza, if it succeeded it would open up the port to the Iranians to supply arms (no doubt nuclear bombs they don’t even have), the Israeli blockade is legal and the Israelis are really the victims. You really expect anyone to believe this? Does the fact that virtually the entire world community is outraged and has condemned this Israeli action not make you even pause for a moment to think it might have been an outrageous violation of not only international law but human decency as well? The Israelis have long since lost any sympathy or credibility they might have once had and make things worse for themselves and the world every day. They are fouling their own nest and have been for years. Perhaps it is finally catching up with them. It’s about time. Yeah, I know, Israeli has a right to defend itself. It must be nice to have rights but no obligations to either law or morality. You probably won’t believe this, but I used to be a strong supporter of Israel.

Anyway, it’s Sunday. I don’t like Sundays, except for being able to work in my garden, but as it has rained everyday for ten or more days even that has not been very possible. I find that whatever optimism I once had about human affairs and the future has seriously waned, especially since the nightmare years of Bush/Cheney. For all intents and purposes I no longer watch much television as I find it insulting and depressing, except for Rachel Maddow who seems to think that news ought to be news as it used to be. I no longer read the only major newspaper available to me as it is just another conservative rag. Decent movies have become almost a thing of the past. I take comfort in good food and good books (when I can find one), and in the fact that I mercifully won’t be around to watch the painful end of the planet, foolishly placed in the hands of a species too foolish and incompetent to treasure it.

My Hovel
The world before my eyes is wan and wasted, just like me.
The earth is decrepit, the sky stormy, all the grass withered.
No spring breeze even at this late date,
Just winter clouds swallowing up my tiny reed hut.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Acts of God

New Zealand “Grim Eater,” attending
multiple funerals just for the food,
not allowed to take any home.

Bubblehead: IF a major goal of any American administration is to broker an honest peace between Israelis and Palestinians, I do not think it would be useful, wise, or prudent to have a known partisan Jew as Secretary of State, or in any other crucial and important position having to do with brokering such a peace. This is not to say Jews should not serve in important positions at all, just not in one where there is an obvious conflict of interest. How is this any different than a Judge recusing him or herself from a case in which he/she has a conflict of interest? Indeed, I don’t think it is useful to have a President who is a known partisan either. As Our U.S. administrations have almost always been so demonstrably on the side of Israel I think we should butt out and let some other country try to broker a peace (of course we would never let that happen, look what just happened to Turkey and Brazil for their “meddling” in “our” affairs).

As an avowed Atheist I obviously cannot believe in “Acts of God” (and other nonsense) as an explanation for events over which we have no control. For some to claim, as in the case of the BP Gulf Oil disaster, it was an act of god is, to me, utterly ridiculous. This particular event was clearly the result of human greed, negligence, and error in pursuit of profit. Some say it was merely an “accident.” There is one definition of accident that certainly applies here, that is, something unplanned that happened as a result of human error or miscalculation. In this case it is very clear that what happened was not an act of god. This is no doubt true of nuclear accidents as well. That is, the plants are built by humans and their potential malfunctions cannot reasonably be attributed to an act of god, but, rather, to human error of one kind or another. Similarly, many, if not most forest fires are the result of human negligence and cannot be considered acts of god. But what about forest fires caused by lightning? Not so clear, I think.

And what about other natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, tidal waves, floods, plagues, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and such? At one level we do not consider these to be acts of god because we understand at least some of the basic conditions that bring them about. For example, in the case of hurricanes we know they have something to do with the prevailing winds, the temperature of the ocean, the time of year, and so on. In the case of earthquakes we now know about tectonic plates shifting, sometimes perhaps relating to volcanic activity, etc. Some forms of plague we know are related to rodents, birds, insects, and such. But of course at the most fundamental level we do not know why these things happen. But to say they are acts of god is basically to say we just don’t know. If a particular act is deleterious to humans and contradicts our Christian vision of an omnipresent and omnipotent supernatural being we invent another supernatural, in this case, the devil. Some religious beliefs provide for all sorts of both kinds of supernaturals, but none of these cosmologies explain anything other than human insecurities and helplessness in the face of nature. People don’t know so they simply invent gods and goddesses, devils and demons, wood sprites, ghosts, goblins, witches and sorcerers, huna spirits, and an absolutely bewildering number of powerful and not so powerful supernatural creatures in general. These beliefs are believed to give comfort to some, they don’t to me. You might as well say that volcanoes are just little pimples on the backsides of the universe, or floods are the result of the tears of celestial bloodhounds who have lost their sense of smell, or hurricanes occur when one of the planets is breaking wind, or…or whatever.

The same thing holds true when people speak of their “God-given talent” and thank God for their performance, conveniently forgetting for the moment the thousands and thousands of hours of practice, training, coaching, and dedication that went into making them what they are. Yes, some individuals are more naturally gifted than others, and we don’t know why, but we do know it has something to do with genetics, ancestry, childhood experience, opportunity and nutrition, among other things. If someone excels more easily than others we say he/she is “gifted by god,” again merely saying we don’t know.

Then there is the question of “God-given” rights. It is common to hear these days that people have a god-given right to health care, or a god-given right to clean water, and so on. I do not believe these “rights” are given by God. I am not even certain they are “given” at all. When people make such claims I think they are saying that in decent, adequately functioning human societies based on civil contracts (or whatever you want to call them) or successful cultural traditions, people “ought to have” such rights, just as we specify people should have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is nothing in nature that automatically confers such rights. Indeed, in a sense it is the genius of some human societies and cultures that have allowed individuals to have such non-natural rights (I suggest such rights do not exist in all human cultures). In the anthropocentric universe humans live in I think we do not understand that in nature (sans humans) there is no waste, no crime, and no evil. These are all artifacts of human activity. I guess there might be the rare animal with rabies, or elephants tipsy on too much fermented fruit, that might act in rather strange ways, but in general, without humans, nature seems to get along pretty well on its own.


Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say that there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.
Frank Zappa

Polar bears, the Inuit claim, are smart enough to avoid extinction by moving their hunting grounds.