Tuesday, August 31, 2010


California beer belly pageant
cancelled because of
lack of proper permit.

I have never been a student of the constitution, the bill of rights, or any of our other important founding documents, merely, like most Americans, I think, just accepting they exist and are vitally important to the functioning of our government. Lately, however, I have been forced to reflect on them. I have come to the conclusion there is a serious absence of one important concept. It seems to me that in our overwhelming desire, even eagerness, to become free and independent, we may have gone too far in one direction and not far enough in another. I am speaking here of responsibility. That is, nowhere do I see any mention of responsibility. Whereas concepts like liberty, freedom, justice, equality, free speech, and others abound, the concepts of responsibility and accountability are remarkably absent. I find this to be problematic when it comes to trying to truly understand what our democracy is all about. For example, take a phrase like “liberty and justice for all,” found in our oath of allegiance. It seems to me that should be liberty, justice, and responsibility for all. You can’t just have liberty to do anything you want, and, indeed, we implicitly acknowledge that by passing laws and having culturally understood rules that restrict liberty. You cannot simply murder someone who stands in your way, or burn down your neighbor’s house, or steal his possessions. Liberty is not absolute, there have to be restraints.

Perhaps a better example has to do with free speech. Although we pride ourselves on having free speech we do recognize at least one responsibility that goes along with it. That is, you cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater or crowded building when no fire exists. Unfortunately, this seems to be about the only restriction we have on freedom of speech, at least the way it seems to be widely used currently. We have, I believe, a whole host of people who in fact are making themselves rich by being totally irresponsible with their speech. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Hannity, Coulter, O’Reilly, and others come easily to mind. When they say or repeat things that are demonstrably untrue is that not irresponsible in the extreme? When they say repeatedly that Obama is a Muslim (not true), or that he was born in Kenya (not true), or he is a socialist (not true), should that not be treated in the same way as unnecessarily yelling “fire?” These statements do nothing but spread hatred and false information and tend to divide the country. We allow them to continue their irresponsible, sometimes even borderline treasonous statements because we allow freedom of speech, but is not this carrying the right of free speech to an extreme? If these people occupy positions of power and influence, and can reach audiences of millions, should they not have to be responsible for what they are saying? I do not believe in censorship, generally speaking, but should there not be some way to curb the obvious excesses of these ranting lunatics who are in fact damaging our democracy rather than promoting it? Occasionally something happens that is viewed as so outrageous it gets fined or someone gets fired. Sometimes this is in itself somewhat outrageous or downright silly, like the terrible outcry over Janet Jackson’s little bitty titty exposure during the Super Bowl. Sometimes, when a newscaster makes a particularly egregious racial slur they get fired or at least reprimanded. To me, these occasional reprimands have to do with situations or violations that are nowhere near as important or as bad as what passes for commentary on right-wing radio and TV on a daily basis. It is true that recently some talking heads are beginning to hold some of the right-wingers more accountable, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Keith Olberman, Rachel Maddow, and others come to mind. But the outpourings of hate and misinformation are so overwhelmingly dominant it is impossible to keep up with on a daily basis. I do not think one should be allowed to become obscenely wealthy by spinning lies and hatred as an everyday profession. This is especially true, it seems to me, when they are obviously saying things they have to know are completely false. For example, they have to be aware that what they are saying about the Muslim Mosque in New York is utter nonsense, but they say it anyway, thus creating suspicion and hatred of Muslims. Why should they be allowed to do this when it is obviously not in our best interest to cultivate animosity between ourselves and the Muslims of the world? I also am not certain I think curbing such individuals should necessarily be the responsibility of the private sector, as it is the private sector that seems to be chiefly responsible for these violations of responsibility. Holding these violators responsible should be an ongoing process. I am not suggesting some rigid, all-powerful censoring organization such as the late Hays Office, but a way to insure there actually is truth and fairness in broadcasting. The public does have a right to know, to be sure, but should that not be the right to know the truth, something we are definitely not getting at the moment from the MSM?

In our quest for freedom it seems we have created a system that encourages, or at least allows, excess at the expense of restraint. For a culture to survive and remain viable the citizens have to be encouraged to want to do what they have to do. Our citizens, for the most part, do not want to do what they have to do, and even refuse to do what they have to do, there is little responsibility and not much accountability, precisely why the survival of our nation is seriously at risk.

To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.
Wendell Berry

During the first 250 years of the Russian occupation of Siberia it is believed more than 45,000 mammoths were found and their ivory sold to Europe and China.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Consensus, Compromise, and Democracy

Someone once said that “Politics is the art of Compromise.” I wish it was so simple. Consensus, a type of compromise, was fairly common among American Indian tribes and also in other small-scale societies around the world. This was not necessarily consensus among absolutely everyone but was, rather, consensus reached by the tribal elders, chiefs, or those in charge of such things. Consensus is fairly easy to obtain when you have societies that consist of only one ethnicity, one tribe, or clan or lineage, and everyone pretty much shares in the same beliefs and values. Consensus is virtually out of the question when it comes to large and complex societies that consist of different ethnic groups, different religious groups, different interest groups, and members who do not always share the same beliefs and values. It would be absurd to expect consensus in our large and complex culture and we rarely, if ever, either expect or achieve it.

We do commonly expect compromises, however, and our leaders spend much of their time trying to achieve some kind of compromise on virtually all issues of importance. Basically this is what attempts at bipartisanship are all about. The problem of compromise and bipartisanship, it might well be argued, are fundamentally opposed to good government, or at least in achieving satisfactory results, in spite of the fact we tend to think otherwise. Perhaps the best current example of this is the recent health care bill. What should have been a system of single-payer universal health care (as all other major industrialized societies have) turned out, as a result of compromises, to be something entirely different and, in fact, not very good, although it did have some new and useful features. It is not universal, not independent of insurance companies that continue to profit needlessly from health care, and so on. The same thing was true of the stimulus bill that, because of compromises, was not as strong as it should have been. If there is a compromise on the repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, who do not even need them, we will, once again, have an undesirable outcome because of the presumed necessity for bipartisanship and compromise.

There is an even more important problem with compromise as the cornerstone of a democratic society, the fact that some things simply cannot be compromised. If the outcomes of legislation are often watered down and emasculated by compromise, what happens when there are issues that cannot be compromised? Abortion is probably the best example. In its most basic form abortion cannot be compromised, either one is for it or against it, it is like the impossibility of being a little big pregnant. Of course there have been some compromises. In some cases, for example, people have been willing to allow abortion for the health of the mother or in cases of rape or incest. These compromises do not really get at the heart of the issue, however. In the case of abortion there are true believers who will not, and actually cannot, give up their beliefs because of their religions. There are other instances where people could in principle compromise, but refuse to because of their principles. I, personally, for example, would probably never agree to compromise on nuclear energy, because I believe it is dangerous, stupid, and short-sighted and would definitely not be in the best interest of humanity or even life in general if pursued. There are apparently Republicans who are so dedicated to tax breaks for the wealthy they refuse to compromise, although in cases like this, compromise would be easily possible and not too difficult to achieve. Most issues of economics and budgets are amenable to compromise if the parties are serious about wanting something done. Religious matters, however, are not very amenable to compromise.

What can one do in the face of situations of no compromise? In the case of Stalin, and some other dictatorships, it is easy, you just eliminate those who refuse to compromise. In general this is not a solution we have employed here in the U.S. It is our democracy that is supposed to settle these situations of no compromise. Basically that is what democracy is designed for. In theory, at least, this is what majority rule is supposed to solve. You have disagreements, you vote, and the majority wins, thus settling the problem. But this assumes that everyone in the democracy agrees to abide by the rules, and sometimes, as in the case of abortion, they do not. Another possible solution is violence in the form of revolution or acts of terrorism meant to force change. The Civil War was a case in point and nowadays we have the occasional Timothy McVays or those who shoot abortionists. So far we have avoided another all out revolutionary war, although the Tea Partiers seemingly threaten one. “We came unarmed, this time,” they say, or talk about “2nd amendments solutions.”

There is another method that sometimes works, at least temporarily. We had a recent local example of this having to do with consensus, but it applies to compromise as well (although consensus and compromise are not one and the same thing). We had a large committee set up to attempt consensus on an important matter having to do with a fish that was going extinct. All interested factions were to be members of this committee, including environmentalists (who are very unwelcome here to begin with). After many months of meetings all the factions agreed to a solution that was environmentally unsatisfactory. The environmentalist refused to sign on, so the committee simply changed the rules (improperly) of membership in such a way as to get rid of the environmentalists as irrelevant. They then announced consensus. You see how simply this is? Unlike Stalin, you don’t have to banish people to an American Siberia or assassinate them, you just change the rules. This doesn’t really solve the problem (in fact, even Stalin didn’t really solve his problems), but it puts it off for a time so they can proceed with their intentions anyway.

So, what is President Obama to do? The Republicans announced very quickly they wanted him to fail and would say “no” to everything. That is, they were not only not going to compromise, they were not even going to try. They have not stuck religiously to this pledge but pretty consistently have honored it (they did insist on changes to the health care bill and stimulus, for example). But they have prevented any actions that would allow us to overcome our serious and urgent problems by their failure to cooperate and try to achieve a compromise. If Obama was truly a Fascist they would all be in jail by now, or at least banished somewhere. For obvious reasons (our laws and constitution), Obama cannot take such action even if he wished to do so. It seems the two greatest problems for a democracy as we (at least pretend to) practice it is that (1) it is far too slow in decision making, and (2) it operates too importantly on compromise that produces rather half-assed results, and (3) it cannot, or at least does not, deal effectively with those who refuse to follow the rules.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Two Cultures

Colorado man banned
from Safeway for one year
for preferring large breasts.

Perhaps you remember the famous work by C.S. Snow, The Two Cultures, in which he discussed the lack of communication between the scientific community and the humanities. I have come to believe we have two distinct cultures in the U.S. at this time. For want of better terms I will call them the Know-nothings and the Know-at-least-some things. This involves in part a distinction between those who believe in science and those who do not. But it is much broader than that, as it also involves those who are much better informed than others who are not. It is probably more complicated than that, as it also involves an element of being informed by those who issue totally false and absurd, what I guess could best be considered pseudo-information. Perhaps it is too simple to say these individuals are not informed, as I guess they are informed, but by those who have reason to falsely inform them of things that are patently ridiculous (but they can come to believe anyway). On the other hand are those who at least make some attempt to find out the best information available. On the one hand this involves the difference between those who believe in evolution and those who do not, or the difference between Evangelistic Christians and more sophisticated versions of Christianity, or even atheists, or perhaps even the difference between those who get their (non)news from Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, and Beck, and those who get their more obviously serious news from MSNBC or from the actual reading of serious books and articles on various subjects of current interest.

Consider, if you will, that a relatively large percentage of Americans apparently believe that President Obama is a Muslim. This is clearly untrue but they believe it anyway, being encouraged to do so by Limbaugh and others who have ulterior motives in promoting this total falsehood. These are people who get their “information” solely from Limbaugh or others of that ilk, do not read, and repeat these lies to each other routinely. Related to this, of course, is the claim that Obama was not born in the U.S., also completely false. Then there is the anti-Muslim sentiment going around now that assumes Muslims are enemies of the U.S. and were responsible for 9/11, completely ignoring the fact that it was a small group of extremists rather than Muslims in general that were responsible. Creationists are another example. It is completely absurd to argue that the earth is merely some 6,000 years old, or that humans were contemporaneous with dinosaurs, or the earth was created in six days, and so on. This is particularly troubling in that the relative age of the earth was settled in the scientific community in the mid 1850’s and the evidence is overwhelming. To continue to believe such nonsense reveals a total lack of serious interest in the problem and labels one immediately as a Know-nothing. Homophobia is another case in point. There is more than enough evidence by now that homosexuals are born, not made, and that there is no conceivable “cure” for it. This evidence is available for anyone with the willingness to spend a little energy to learn, but the Know-nothings are not interested in facts, only in opinions passed on through misinformation and in-group repetition. The common claim that the U.S. was established by the founding fathers as a Christian nation is likewise false and easily disproven, but facts are routinely ignored by the Know-nothings, as is the fact that the U.S. is not innocently promoting democracy around the world and murdering innocent people in large numbers.

It is tempting (for me, at least) to say that Know-nothingism is a characteristic entirely of Republicans, but that is not, strictly speaking, true. There are Know-nothing Democrats as well, but perhaps fewer of them. And there must be some Republicans (of the old-fashioned type) that know better than what the Tea party is promoting, but they are pretty much silent these days, thus the Know-nothings are threatening to take over the Republican Party and hoping even to take over the country. What was once a respectable political party (however misguided) has changed over the years, starting with Reagan but greatly accelerated under Bush/Cheney, into becoming little more than a criminal conspiracy designed to steal from the public and give to the rich. Al Capone never ever dreamed of such corruption.

I guess you might say there is a third group involved in contemporary politics and culture that might, for the sake of the argument, be termed the “Know-every-things.” That is, those in power, the filthy rich elite and the corporate masters of the world. They are not even concerned with either Know-nothings or Know-some things, simply staying mostly out of sight in the background of contemporary world affairs while they manage them for their own benefit. They encourage, finance, and support the Know-nothings because it is in their interest to do so, guaranteeing them the votes they need to stay in control. They have no interest in simple things like Gay marriage, abortion, prayer in schools, guns in churches, homophobia, racism, or the age of the earth, their sole and compulsive interest is merely in profit, the more the better, and at whatever cost in environmental degradation and human misery. It is good to be in the camp of the Know-every things, and most unpleasant to be a Know-somethinger. The Know-nothings are much happier, of course, for we know that “ignorance is bliss.” This is not a conflict between science and the humanities as the Know-nothings know nothing of either science or humanities.


I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

Unknown (sometimes attributed to Abraham Lincoln)


The earliest known cave paintings in Europe are said to be 32,000 years old.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Living in the Past?

Drunken Florida man arrested
for having a loud obscene
argument with his bicycle.

One of the “problems,” if they can be called that, is a tendency to live in the past. I have come to the conclusion that I suffer from this “malady,” if it can be called that. That is, for example, I have had a great deal of trouble understanding how it is my son and other young people I know can spend so much money on food, especially junk food. They think nothing of spending three dollars or more for an ice cream cone, five dollars for ten cents worth of processed corn in a too large box, twenty five dollars for a haircut, really big bucks for a gallon of gas or a movie or whatever. I finally realized, after being concerned with their profligate ways for so long, I was living in the past. That is, I realized they simply did not know the difference because they had no background against which to measure these things. How would they know, for example, that an ice cream cone once cost five cents, or a hamburger cost a dime, or a gallon of gas twenty some cents? They simply buy things at the cost they have always known, and are not compelled to compare it with past prices of which they know nothing. As far as my personal case goes it obviously makes little difference to anyone (except, perhaps, those I have been criticizing for spending so much money).

Unfortunately, you can see this same problem when it comes to matter of much more importance. Take the case of marihuana and its possible legalization for example. I saw today that Clinton, Obama, and all the past drug czars are opposed to the California attempt to legalize the weed. They are clearly out of step with public opinion on this, as I understand that a majority of the public is in favor. The most basic part of their opposition must be a carryover from the “Reefer Madness” days, as it has become quite clear over the years that all of the claims against the dangers of marihuana have been greatly exaggerated. I believe it is fair to say they are in some sense “living in the past.” The same thing seems to be true of several of the current issues facing our country, Gay Marriage is another case in point. Arguments against Gay Marriage are so unconvincing in the light of what we now know about Gays, marriage, and child rearing, they can no longer be taken seriously. Similarly, a majority of citizens are in favor of letting the ridiculous tax breaks for the filthy rich expire, but there are those who still argue in favor of them, with arguments that make no logical sense whatever. They too, I suggest, are living in the past, the time of robber barons and the landed gentry. I am somewhat surprised that no one has so far suggested that only the wealthy should be entitled to vote.

More importantly, I believe that many of those in positions of power and authority have never accepted the idea that Colonialism is dead. All of the great Colonial powers have long since given up their empires, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, as well as Spain and Portugal. Only the U.S. (and to a lesser extent Israel) continue to try to maintain empires (that are about to fail). Those who believe in empire are clearly living the past. Having now added Iraq to our empire (or at least we think we have), we have our sights set on Afghanistan (where we will surely fail) and Iran (that, like Afghanistan, will never succumb). It should be clear by now, after Korea and Vietnam, that it is no longer possible to conquer other nations by force and coerce them into our empire. Even the nations of South and Central America, long duped and maneuvered into becoming “Banana Republics” as a result of our economic and military aggression, have now broken free and no longer merely do our bidding as they have in the past. Of course countries like Russia, China, India, and even Brazil and Turkey are no longer even considered targets of our dreams of empire. We are, it seems to me, living in the past, and it is long past time to realize it and turn to new and more cooperative methods to deal with the world. As long as we maintain our unconditional support of Israeli colonialism, and as long as we continue the “war” in Afghanistan, and as long as we maintain our hundred or more bases all around the world, we will remain unregenerate colonials.

He who loves the world as his body may be entrusted with the empire.

Historically, pancakes were made on Shrove Tuesday.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Question of Disbelief?

Florida man, angry over losing
arm-wrestling contest, attempts
to run over four people.

Remember when John Kerry was running for the Presidency and was attacked by the Swift-boaters? And remember how he was criticized for not responding to them quickly enough? President Obama has been similarly criticized because of his repeated attempts to enlist Republican support for his various proposals. And remember how it took so very long to get any legislation passed having to do with health care? The Obama attempt to bail out the auto industry was similarly held up for a long time because of Republican opposition, the stimulus bill as well, and now there is this problem with the Bush tax cuts that are about to expire. There have been many other instances where things have had to be delayed or postponed or dropped altogether because of Republican opposition. Democrats have been soundly chastised for not moving faster or more confidently on many issues. Why is this so?

I believe I have figured out part or even most of the problem of why Democrats have often been so slow to act without trying for bipartisan support. I think it is a question of disbelief. I think much of the problem is the inability of Democrats to even believe Republicans can be serious about various things, and not being able to believe what was happening simply believed (wrongly) that if they worked at it they could get common sense or common decency to prevail. Take the health care issue, for example, I think Democrats found it impossible to believe that Republicans (at least all of them) would be opposed to universal health care. How on earth could any decent citizens of the only “civilized” nation on earth without universal health care be opposed to it? I confess that even now I find this hard to believe. As Democrats must have thought at first Republicans were just holding out for some kind of negotiations they didn’t take this irrational, even almost insane opposition to health care seriously enough. Similarly, on all the attempts to extend unemployment benefits I think Democrats did not believe anyone could or would seriously oppose such legislation. The same thing has been true of virtually everything Obama has tried to do to get us out of recession and back to work, Republicans have been opposed to everything. Who would have thought such a thing was possible? It seems that Democrats still have at least some concern with the middle class, getting us out of the recession, and improving the lives of ordinary citizens, and they have been slow to understand that Republicans simply do not share these goals. I know, it is hard to understand, but it seems to be true. Republicans truly want Obama (and by implication the nation) to fail. Basically this is nothing but politics, but they sometimes want to claim it is “ideological,” apparently believing that makes their inhuman opposition to basic human rights more palatable, more philosophically respectable, as it were. I, too, have had much trouble believing Republicans could possibly be as stupid, ignorant, short-sighted, stubborn, and greedy as they apparently are.

We are now witnessing this disbelief being played out with the issue of the Bush tax cuts. These tax cuts were designed purely for the obscenely wealthy in the first place, and knowing they could not get them through Congress without putting a time limit on them (they had to do it through reconciliation), they designed them to end at the end of ten years. These absurd tax cuts should not have been allowed in the first place and they are supposed to expire next year. Unless some specific action is taken to extend them they will expire as planned. If they are to continue it is estimated they will add more than 2 trillion dollars to the deficit. Republicans are violently opposed to the deficit but insist on renewing the tax cuts anyway, claiming they do not have to be paid for in any way. This is an argument so patently absurd, so illogical, so fantastically bizarre, so insane, it should be dismissed without any further comment. But the Republicans still insist on it. I suspect that it is so obviously absurd most Democrats cannot even believe it, but for some strange reason I cannot fathom they seem to take the argument for the tax cuts as having some kind of merit and worthy of consideration. Democrats have been far too slow to learn that you cannot deal with the insane, and far too slow to understand their right to disbelief, to dismiss crazy ideas for what they are, crazy. Their disbelief that Republicans could be so insane has cost them much valuable time, they need to get over it soon and stop Republican insanity before it does irreparable damage to our nation. They have certainly done more than enough damage already.


They were so strong in their beliefs that there came a time when it hardly mattered what exactly those beliefs were; they all fused into a single stubbornness.
Louise Erdrich

A group of baboons is called a troop or a congress.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Peace, Really?

Montana pig wrestling event
canceled when wild boars
cleverly avoid captivity.

What are they smoking or otherwise ingesting at the White House these days? Peace in the Middle East? By the end of the year? Israel and the Palestinians agreeing on a two state solution? Don’t make me laugh. I hate to sound so cynical (actually, by now I am very used to it) but I don’t believe it. It appears to me that after a great deal of arm twisting and other pressure the Obama administration has made Israel and the Palestinians agree to resume face-to-face negotiations. They have not, however, agreed to agree to anything. After all this time I am pretty thoroughly convinced that Netanyahu does not want peace with the Palestinians, nor does he want a Palestinian state. He will almost certainly doom any solution, probably before anything serious even happens. Why should he want a solution, he likes things just the way they are, Israel sitting on stolen Palestinian land, using precious Palestinian water, Palestinians in Gaza slowly wasting away, overwhelming military superiority, and a terribly misguided United States willing to support even the most odious practices against the helpless Palestinians. Israel stands to gain nothing, only to lose some of the territory they have already filched. And why do they need security, they already have it, in the form of their own far superior military supported and backed up, no less, by the U.S. Government. I guess Obama and Hillary Clinton deserve some credit for actually getting the two sides to pretend they want to settle their differences, but don’t realistically expect any solution. Israel won’t even stop building in Jerusalem and the West Bank long enough to think about peace and they have already claimed Jerusalem is exclusively theirs forever, not exactly a foundation for a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians after all this time would be wonderful, but as for me, I doubt it.

Of course there is the problem with Iran as well, at least a big problem in the eyes of the Israelis and the U.S. Israeli paranoia over Iran is virtually pathological in its intensity and duration. They now insist that the new Iranian nuclear energy plant, with aid from Russia is “unacceptable.” I’m sure the U.S. thinks so also. So what are we going to do about it, start another “war” that would be so horrible as to be virtually unimaginable, a war motivated by the unproven belief that Iran is going to produce a nuclear bomb, and not only produce it, but presumably use it on Israel. What nonsense, Iranians are not stupid people, nor are they vicious warmongers. The danger to Israel and the U.S. is not because they will be attacked with the Iranians new bomb (if, indeed, they ever have one), it’s because the control of the Middle East will no longer be exclusively in the hands of the West. The Iranians might actually sell their oil to China or India unless, like Iraq, they can be made to obey the dictates of the U.S. and Israel. It is not Iran who is constantly threatening to bomb someone with their “all options are on the table” threats. If Israel and/or the U.S. attacks Iran there may not be enough left of the Middle East to bother about.

The apparently growing chorus of the “we hate Muslims” crowd is certainly not helping matters. What’s with these people anyway, they seem to hate most everything: Muslims, immigrants, gays, choice, Blacks, Hispanics, the poor, anything that might possibly help the middle class, health care, regulating banks, asking the filthy rich to actually pay their share of taxes (out of the piles of money they cannot possibly ever spend), taxes in general, government, and also, with unabashed pride, workers and unions. In fact, they seem to hate anyone or anything that is not precisely like them, stupid and greedy.

The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated.
H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

Apparently at some time in the past, someone manufactured .25 caliber revolvers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Private vs Public

After twenty years of aggressively
attacking canoes, English swan
known as “Hissing Sid,” relocated.

Bubblehead: So nice to have you surface now and again with another snide comment. I had almost forgotten the Gannon/Guckert thing, I’m glad you reminded me. I still find it fascinating and I still wonder who it was that was so powerful they could keep it completely under wraps for all this time. I have always thought that all other news should be discontinued until we get to the bottom of it. It should certainly be worth as much attention as Michelle Obama’s trip to Spain, or President Obama’s birth certificate, or even his despicable golfing. I wonder why the MSM haven’t pursued it, perhaps, you think, too close to home?

Whatever happened to the concept of the “public good,” or the “public interest,” or “public well-being,” or whatever you want to call it? It seems to me that historically speaking this must have been merely some kind of myth. When, seriously, did anyone in the U.S. truly pay any attention to the public good? Consider, for example, the fate of the Passenger Pigeon. There were an estimated billion or more Passenger Pigeons at one time. They disappeared fairly rapidly, being hunted to extinction. People harvested them by the thousands, partly I guess to feed the slaves. Passenger Pigeons did not become extinct because of any government control designed to protect the public interest in this resource. Of course there were also the buffalo, estimated at 50 million at the time of contact, soon reduced to a mere few hundred, shot for their tongues and hides by anyone who chose to do so. Was this in the public interest? How about the salmon, many runs extinct now and others threatened by private interests who demanded power and dams? Here in the Kootenai River there were burbot (ling cod) so thick you could apparently almost walk on them at times, now extinct, or so close to it to be probably inevitable. People harvested them by the wheelbarrow load to feed to their pigs. The Kootenai River sturgeon basically the same, on the verge of extinction because of lack of control over private interests.

I bring this up now because of the controversy over continuing deep offshore drilling. Apparently there are some 4000 people dependent upon this industry for their employment so they, rightly I think, at least from their point of view, want it to continue. But is it in the public interest? Is it somehow in the public interest that the Gulf should continue to risk serious contamination that will threaten the well-being of not only the environment, but also all the others people who depend upon its resources? This is similar to the fishing industry in various places, the fishermen desperately needing employment but at the risk of overfishing to the point of the destruction of the very species they were dependent upon. The timber industry the same, loggers needing employment but at the risk of decimating the very trees they needed to continue, trees, that unlike some vegetation, but similar to the fish, are not annually renewable. I remember one old man here who said to me, “if it’s a choice between an owl and jobs I’ll go for jobs every time.” He did not seem to understand it was not about the owls, but about the forests that supported them, forests that if depleted would mean no jobs at all. But, of course, he had a point.

There are different ways of looking at this, at least in historical perspective. For example, it would seem to indicate a tragic failure of leadership throughout all of human history. I mean, what was/is the function of any form of “government” if not to look after the public interest? Even in the most “primitive” of societies, when the game became scarce they chose to move on until the hunting grounds could regenerate. Or when the soil was exhausted they were convinced to move by their leaders, or when the fishing became difficult they moved elsewhere at least for a time. The leaders, chiefs or “big men,” or clan elders or whomever were responsible for the public interest, that was their major function besides keeping order and performing the proper rituals. On the other hand you can see this as a failure of the species itself, a species so greedy and short-sighted they simply paid no attention to their behavior or where it might eventually and inevitably lead them. You can argue cynically, I suppose, that the only reason American Indians didn’t themselves exterminate the buffalo or the Passenger Pigeons or other species was because there weren’t enough of them and they didn’t have the proper technology. There might even be some truth to that. But they didn’t and we (supposedly “superior,” more “rational,” and more “civilized” people) did. And we seem intent on continuing this ultimately suicidal behavior. So there may be well be more offshore drilling (not in the long-term public interest), more nuclear energy (also probably not in the long-term public interest), more “wars” for natural resources ( not in the long-term public interest), and more “privatization,” (the very antithesis of the public interest). It appears we have decided that anything in the public interest is “socialism,” and “bad,” while anything that is “privatized” (by definition opposed to the public interest) is “good.” We are, I believe, truly a strange species, perhaps in evolutionary time, “short-timers.”

You can describe this situation in any terms you like: rich versus poor, capitalism versus socialism, class versus class, management versus labor, “haves” versus have-nots, bourgeoisie versus proletariat, royalty versus peasants, lords versus serfs, “Insiders” versus others, Government versus the people, or whatever, but it has existed for a very long time and threatens to keep us from every living in peace and harmony. Perhaps peace and harmony are themselves merely stupid myths designed to keep the Gods (if there are such things) amused for a time.

We have among us a class of mammon worshippers, whose one test of conservatism or radicalism is the attitude one takes with respect to accumulated wealth. Whatever tends to preserve the wealth of the wealthy is called conservatism, and whatever favors anything else, no matter what is called socialism.
Richard T. Ely

Lenten dinners of muskrat are traditional in parts of Michigan.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Worthy of Discussion?

Virginia woman cited for
animal cruelty for driving
with bound goat in car trunk.

One problem with our (so-called) democracy is that it’s democratic. That is, citizens have the right to do and say all kinds of things that are basically not even worthy of discussion or consideration. Take the Orly Tate matter, for example. The Supreme Court let stand her $20,000 fine for filing frivolous lawsuits. So what does she do, she appeals the decision! This is not worthy of even 30 seconds of time. More importantly, take the Mosque at Ground Zero controversy that has occupied the news for days now. Again, it is really not worthy of consideration, it is a non-problem made into one by Republican terrorists who make an issue of anything and everything that might be used against President Obama. Muslims have the legal right to build a mosque on private property wherever they are able, period. Muslims are not enemies of the United States, they have complete freedom of religion just like the rest of us, or at least legally and morally they do. This whole business is a non-issue.

Similarly, consider the absurd tax cuts for the wealthy that Bush managed to con us into. They are about to expire as they were planned to and ought to. There is no cogent reason for tax cuts for the wealthy to continue, especially at a time of virtual national emergency over the economy. There should be no discussion of this, none, the argument in favor of continuing the tax cuts is basically absurd. This, again, is really a non-issue that should not require more than a passing thought.

More importantly still, the argument about socialism. Republicans and some others are carping incessantly about Obama being a socialist and trying to turn our country into a socialist state. It is obvious that most of these people, and most of their arguments, are basically too stupid to warrant any consideration whatsoever. In many ways the U.S. already is a socialist country: we have public schools, public libraries, public swimming pools, the Post Office, Medicare and Medicaid, Police Departments, Fire Departments, a Forest Service, highway maintenance, social security, farm subsidies, food stamps, a huge military establishment, and so on, all funded by public monies. People who should know better apparently do not. A woman who has worked as a public school teacher all her life rails against socialism, an old man wants to retire, partly on social security, hates and fears socialism, farmers who gladly accept farm subsidies with one hand shake the other hand hatefully at socialism, those with no medical insurance get treated with public money, and on and on and on. I live in a “right-to-work” (non-union) state. People here are free to work without belonging to a union and tend to despise unions. They work a 40 hour week instead of a 60 or 80 hour week, they earn at least a minimum wage, they work 8 hours a day, they usually get at least some benefits in terms of medical leave, vacations, and such. Where do they think these rules came from, the benevolence of businesses and corporations? They came from the unions, often socialist unions, the very unions they profess to despise. So what is with these people? Are they merely ignorant or also stupid? How long do you think our society would exist without government action? This “issue” that appears to be so vitally important to many, is not really much of an issue, to be on Medicare and complain about socialism, as many do, is either stupid or ignorant, to say nothing of completely ungrateful.

I do not understand these people and I have learned from experience that trying to reason with them is much like having a conversation with the chronically mentally ill. I would venture to say there is not a single family in all of our county that is not benefitting in one way or another from the government “dole,” and this can even extend to the Future Farmers of America who sometimes received funds for merely raising their livestock for show. Our love affair with privatization and free market capitalism has led us very close to complete disaster as a nation, some things are far too important to be left to private industry interested merely in short term profits at any cost, we will have to change or pay the rather severe consequences. But “socialism,” never! Let’s call it something else, like Reasonabalism, or even Commonsenseabilism, or Cooperatism, perhaps even American Beaveratism, but at least try to live as human beings once again rather than the corporate savages we are becoming.

Socialism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen.
Leon Trotsky

The North American Beaver population was once more than 60 million.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Empire Lives!

Man gets stiff citation for
telling woman in express lane
she is fat and ugly.

The Empire lives, at least for a while longer. MSNBC seems to believe that our last combat brigade leaving is akin to the end of WWII, breathlessly following their caravan as it slowly leaves Iraq for Kuwait. I cannot get excited about this. I guess it is technically true that our last (specifically labeled) combat troops have left, and I guess that should be cause for celebration, but what about the 50,000 troops left behind (that are apparently trained for combat should the need arise), to say nothing of the unknown numbers of private contractors fulfilling other previously military jobs? What this means to me is that Iraq will now join our other satellites with 50,000 troops to go with the 50,000 in Germany, X thousand in South Korea, X thousand in Japan, X thousand in Columbia, and who knows how many spread around the world in our other approximately 100 bases? So far we have not yet established ourselves in Afghanistan or Iran but that may only be a matter of time (if we have our way about it). In a strange way this means that our Iraq “war” did have a successful outcome, we did in fact replace an unfriendly (but almost pathetically toothless) dictator with a new regime more favorable to our interests (or at least it appears that way at the moment), and all this at the” reasonable” cost of perhaps a trillion dollars, millions of deaths, and misery so widespread as to be unimaginable. Good job Bushie, but don’t try to travel too far from the U.S. where war criminals are uniquely protected.

It appears that the campaigning for the November elections is now fully underway. Obama has more or less gone on the attack and Republicans are going to find themselves increasingly exposed for what they have been doing, which, of course, is saying “no” to everything and inhibiting progress at every turn. Will they have to pay for this recalcitrance? I sincerely hope so because it is true, and it remains true no matter how Democrats may have failed. It is also true that if you look objectively at the record Obama has actually accomplished a good deal and has not been given credit for it. Everyone seems more interested in what he has not accomplished than what he has accomplished. I suspect that if Democrats stop giving in to Republican demands and actually stand up and fight they may survive much better than anticipated. Tell me one useful or positive thing Republicans have done in the past couple of years (indeed, over the past ten years). Their all out and unrelenting attempt to bring down Obama rather than cooperate and try to help us recover should cost them dearly, but, hey, this is the U.S., the land of ignorance and bliss, so don’t count on reason or truth having anything to do with it. Sarah, Michelle, Angle, Rush and Beck will fill you in on the facts.

Does it occur to anyone that the trial of Milorad R. “Rod” Blagojevich (you know, the ex Governor of Illinois with all the hair and the big mouth) may be setting a truly undesirable precedent. That is, as I understand it, much of his defense is based on the argument that he can’t be held accountable for corruption because all politics is conducted that way, and/or he was also simply incompetent. This implies to me that no politician can ever again be prosecuted for corruption because corruption and incompetence are the normal conditions of American politics. Neat, huh?

General Petraeus is going to convince us that the “war” in Afghanistan is “winnable” and all he needs is more time. How many times do you think he has sold the Brooklyn Bridge to some yokel or another? It is widely conceded by most everyone, including those in the “know,” that we cannot “win” in Afghanistan, that it is a lost cause and it continues mainly because it continues, and continues, and continues. No one seems to know what “winning” would actually mean in the case of Afghanistan. Perhaps they believe that we can “win” as we have just “won” in Iraq, that is, we can establish a friendly central government that will concede to our interests and thus expand our empire further. Sorry, that’s not going to happen in Afghanistan. There is not going to be a strong central government that has the power and authority to rule the entire country (in fact it is not really a viable country in the first place, being an artificial British creation of disparate peoples and territories). Personally, I don’t see why it even needs to be a country in the first place. The various tribes and clans have managed their own affairs for a very long time, some joining together at times for a common purpose, some withdrawing from alliances when necessary, but always joining together to repulse invaders from the outside. It has always been so and quite likely will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. We seem to lack the imagination (or even the knowledge) to understand that people can exist without strong central governments presided over by one single all-powerful authority. Many times in the past the demand “take me to your leader” was met with blank expressions, and unable to believe there were no “chiefs,” the colonials arbitrarily appointed them, a situation that most often led to much unnecessary trouble.

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

Perth is geographically closer to Singapore and Jakarta than it is to Sydney.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What's Harry Reid Got to do with It?

Australian man wakes,
finds his wife dead, has
a beer and goes to bed.

What does Harry Reid have to do with it? Come to think of it, what does most everyone have to do with it? Muslims in New York want to create a mosque and a community center that happens to be near what has become known as “ground zero.” They have the space, they have the money, and they have the right. So what’s all the fuss about? Some of the people who were affected by the tragedy at the towers have expressed opposition because they think it is somehow inappropriate to build a mosque so close to ground zero, some going so far as to claim it is a slap in the face or even an attempt to start a terrorist center, and so on. This, of course, assumes all Muslims are terrorists or otherwise enemies, but that is obviously not true. Al Qaida, a small group of Saudi extremists attacked the towers, not Muslims in general. Furthermore, there has apparently been a smaller mosque at that location since long before the attack occurred. There is also said to be more than 100 mosques in New York City. And what you do not hear much about is the fact that not all of those affected by the disaster are opposed to having a mosque there. So why has this grown into such a monumental problem that it occupies the news most of the time every day now?

Republicans, that’s why. Once again the Republicans have taken what should have been basically a private matter between the builders and the city of New York and magnified it into something it is not. And once again the Democrats fell for it and have gone along with the gag. President Obama, who probably had no choice but to comment on the situation said simply that of course Muslims have the same rights as all other religions in the U.S. (what was he supposed to say, he doesn’t support the constitution), but then he foolishly later said he was commenting only on their right to build, not the wisdom of doing so (perhaps he had in mind the exaggerated claims of the MSM that “Obama strongly supports…”. Now having exposed himself to charges of being wishy-washy and trying to have it both ways, the Republicans are having a field day. And leave it to Republicans to turn it into a serious terrorist threat as well as an utter nonsensical dispute. Newt Gingrich, the world’s greatest pontificating, hypocritical, fake intellectual blowhard, suggested no mosques should be built in the U.S. until Christian religious buildings are built in Saudi Arabia, implying I guess, that we should model ourselves after that fine bastion of democracy. Other Republicans have said we wouldn’t allow the Japanese to build a place like that in Pearl Harbor, or allow Nazis to build something like that next of Auschwitz, and so on. Never mind that Nazis and wartime Japanese were our sworn enemies whereas Muslims are perfectly legitimate American citizens with all the attendant rights that go along with that exalted status.

What should have been an ordinary private transaction between some Muslims and the City of New York has been made into a serious national, and even international problem, mostly because of the unconscionable and purely politically driven lies and distortions of Republicans. About the only person that has kept his head about this was Mayor Bloomberg. The Governor of New York, Patterson, want to negotiate a different site, Obama belatedly wants to not have to say one way or the other what he thinks about it, and Harry Reid, who doesn’t live in New York, and has no legitimate reason for opposing it, or even commenting on it, has said he thinks it should be built elsewhere. I find it impossible to believe that Harry Reid is anti-Muslim, or that he truly cares where they build a mosque, but he has to out-extreme what’s-her-name Angle in order to prove to conservative voters in Nevada that he’s just as bigoted as they are. Someone said he lacks moral courage, I suspect that is only part of the problem, he knows what it takes to get re-elected. It is true, however, that once again Democrats have proven themselves incapable of exercising the courage of their convictions. They should have said the Muslims have the right to build a mosque on private property wherever they wish and then butted out entirely. It seems that right is right and wrong is wrong, except when it comes to politics. Democrats have proven time and time again they are apparently too dim-witted to understand the Republicans don’t want to merely retake power, they want to utterly destroy them. Not only that, Republicans seem to be willing to even destroy our country in their mad quest for power and dominance. And why not, now that their Corporate masters virtually control the world and have economies that dwarf those of most nations, who needs old-fashioned nation-states anyway?

As witnesses not of our intentions but of our conduct, we can be true or false, and the hypocrite's crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.
Hannah Arendt

DNA test have established that King Tut was the result of a union between brother and sister.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Who, Indeed?

Who, indeed, is going to vote for Obama in 2012? It does appear he is pretty much uninterested in his base, with his spokesperson basically insulting them by saying they should be drug tested and all. There obviously is a great disconnect between what the White House thinks it has accomplished and what it is the base expected. It is entirely possible the base expected too much and also possible the White House has accomplished too little. None of this would probably be regarded as particularly important if there were jobs, and more jobs. There is unlikely much chance there will be jobs as long as we continue our nonsensical unregulated capitalistic ways, as the goal of corporate and business profit is fundamentally incompatible with the creation of many jobs, and even the jobs that might be created will be based on the lowest wages and benefits possible. The road to profit is paved with the exploitation of labor and the environment. It’s pretty simple really. It would be possible to pay more decent wages and hire more people but that would require reducing profits, and reduced profits would mean no more multi-million dollar salaries and benefits for CEO’s. Does anyone truly deserve several million dollars or more a year for doing anything? It’s absurd.

Obama has even greater problems that merely dissing the progressives. In a way he is often caught in situations in which it is impossible to please everyone and sometimes anyone. The Mosque in New York is a case in point. As President of the United States he has no choice but to insist they have religious freedom just like any other religion. He said so and should have just left it at that. But then he had to add that he wasn’t commenting on the wisdom of building it, merely their right to build it. This, I think, was unnecessary, even superfluous. He should have left well enough alone. However, as many of our free-ranging loonies still think he is a Muslim he must have felt he had to in some way disassociate himself. It’s not easy being President, especially when you are both black and white, but you should a avoid looking wishy-washy at all costs.
Another issue I cannot understand (as I have no access to the facts or what goes on in the administration) is the fuss over the appointment of Elizabeth Warren. She does seem clearly to be by far the best candidate, indeed, even a dream candidate, and she has enormous support from many important people and even the public. So why doesn’t Obama just appoint her? I have no idea but it certainly gives again the impression of wishy-washy. If he’s not going to appoint her why doesn’t he say so and offer some cogent reason for it? Similarly, if he doesn’t believe in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, why doesn’t he do something about it, at least suspend it until further notice? It’s the same when it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian issue; Obama could use his power and authority to demand the Israelis stop their blatant war crimes against the Palestinians, stop their slow genocide of their captives in Gaza, stop the illegal expansions in Jerusalem and the West Bank, insist the Israelis come clean about their nuclear arsenal, but he doesn’t, he gives in to the colonialist Netanyahu at the drop of a hat. He could have virtually ended the hostilities in Afghanistan but chose instead to make the situation worse for no comprehensible reason I can see. He seems to think he should get credit for what he has done but be excused from not doing the things he either promised or should be doing. This does not bode well for the future. He may survive but if so probably because the alternative will be so much worse it will be unthinkable.

I did not expect miracles when I voted for Obama, but I did expect a bit more leadership and backbone. He should have insisted on the public option. He should be standing up more for labor. He should be paying no attention to what Republicans want, because all they want is for him to fail, and they have made this crystal clear. He should be standing up for Main Street instead of Wall Street. It is not all Obama, of course, the spineless Democratic Congress has to share in the disgrace they have become. They have failed to act decisively on anything, caving in time and time again to Republican stalling and demands.

I am normally not in favor of tinkering with the Constitution or the Amendments. And usually if an idea is put forward by Republicans I reject it out of hand as they have established themselves as enemies of the people. But the question of birthright I think is far more complicated than it appears. First of all, it had nothing to do with immigration when it was established, but over the years it has become used in that context. But also when it was established there were not some 20 million or so illegal immigrants dropping babies at a very high rate. Now, if we had immigration under control, this would not be much of a problem, or even any problem, but under the present circumstances it seems to me to create a problem that should be dealt with. I would prefer something be done about illegal immigration rather than messing with the 14th Amendment, but here again, we have an apparently wishy-washy Congress who can’t seem to take any decisive action.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Kitchen Stuff

Kitchen Gadgets

Twice now I have seen this new kitchen gadget featured on TV, an “egg cracker.” You know how difficult it is to crack an egg, but no more! You just place an egg in this thing, squeeze the handles, and the egg is cracked perfectly (or so they claim). Not only that, it is so sophisticated it will even separate the yolk from the white. Cracking eggs is such an onerous, hard, and tricky task I should think every kitchen should have one of these fine new egg crackers.
Of course there are many other items now that no self-respecting kitchen should be without. Take the Original Bagel Guillotine, for example. Now you don’t have to struggle with a knife and all the dangers that accompany trying to slice a bagel, you just put it in this guillotine and press the handle. What could be easier?

I’m sure you must be familiar with that famous French cookware, Le Creuset. Anyone who is anyone at all should certainly have one or more of these fine and quite expensive cooking pots. And, if you are the kind of person who agrees you should also then purchase a “Sleek Maple Tower” to display your Le Creuset. A 6-shelf Pot rack retails for a mere $229.95 and allows you to “display” your expensive pots for all to see, admire, and envy. For those less wealthy there is a more modest 3-shelf rack, not quite as ostentatious, but adequate, and certainly better than what the peasants have.

Something else I regard as an absolute “must,” would be the Electric Salt and Pepper Mill. You know how hard it is to shake the salt cellar, and twisting the pepper mill requires even more skill and strength. Now, with the mere touch of a button, you can help yourself to as much salt and pepper as desired. (batteries not included). Perhaps one day they will develop this so as to even eliminate the trouble of having to push a button (oh, I guess we already have that now). You also wouldn’t want to pass up the “Titanium Mesh Spice Infuser.” No more having to wrestle with and tie up a recalcitrant bundle of stubborn herbs (that bouquet garni), you just place them in this handy stainless steel titanium holder, with a convenient attached small chain with which to remove it, and stick it in with your stew or whatever. It ‘s real genuine titanium, “antimicrobial with no metallic transfer .” Don’t be caught without one. Think of all the string you’ll save.
Remember how hard it is to get those stuffed green peppers to stand up when you want to bake them? Worry no more, there is now a special pan guaranteed to keep them upright. It features specially dimpled holes designed specifically for them that will eliminate any tip-overs. This is not as specialized as it may appear (thank goodness) as you can also use it for cabbage rolls and stuffed tomatoes. And speaking of specialization, you must get one of the specially designed ventilated garlic holders, hand-washable and made to keep your garlic warm and dry. No more hanging those unsightly braided garlic wreaths around the kitchen where your garlic might get cold or wet. There is now also a special pan for cooking meatballs, it elevates them above the bottom of the pan, out of the grease, so you no longer have to expend any energy turning them. Of course you dare not go without a pair of onion goggles, guaranteed “to block vapors to prevent tears.” They have fog-free lenses with a special soft foam seal. Worried about cutting your fingers when slicing roasts? You don’t have to worry any longer, just buy a pair of “roast-cutting tongs” that will not only protect fingers but allow you to slice perfectly even slices every time. Speaking of perfectly even slices, there is also a special gadget that features stainless steel tines that you sink into tomatoes to allow you to produce beautiful even slices. Although it doesn’t say so, I assume this is dishwasher safe. Also in the interest of finger safety get the stainless steel finger guard, “the secret tool used by professional chefs” (strangely, I confess I have never, ever, seen a chef use such a gadget, but what do I know). Still emphasizing safety, there is a specially made pounder for flattening chicken breasts, veal, and other cutlets, that features a carefully designed and thoughtfully offset handle to prevent any potential damage to the knuckles. You can also acquire, for a very reasonable price, a special “cool gripper,” for lifting pans from the burners or oven. No more having to use those inconvenient hot pads. I should think this would be an absolute necessity for those forced to cook in tin cans over an open fire.

For a mere $150 you can acquire a Touchless Paper Tower Dispenser that not only dispenses paper towels with dispatch but even cuts them, thus saving money (somehow). This indispensable gadget fits any paper towel brand and will easily fit under cabinets. I assume this is another part of the plan to create a form of cooking entirely free of human hands or effort.
There seems to be an endless supply of increasingly specialized gadgets for the cook who has to have everything (including, I gather, an exceptionally large kitchen with unlimited storage, see my essay, Valley Girls in the Kitchen, 12-24-04). I fear I cannot deal with all of these clever innovations here (there must be hundreds if not thousands of specialized pans, pots, dishes, utensils, racks, holders, and other kitchen aids). Let me close with what I guess is my favorite to date, the “turkey cannon.” This clever device is a rack constructed with a special cannon-like tube that is shoved up inside the ass (cavity, that is) of the bird. The heat of the oven plus the moistness of the hot liquids causes them to shoot up inside the bird (it is said), thus guaranteeing the fowl will (somehow) be perfectly seasoned and never dry. I love this stuff!

It seems to me it was only yesterday we discovered how to make fire, eventually cook by one means or another, and now we already have all these fine new gadgets designed to make life so much easier, eliminate the terrible dangers associated with everyday cooking, and presumably enhance the enjoyment of what would otherwise be such a terrible and difficult routine chore. This is what real progress is all about. I bet pretty soon someone will invent a way to keep cooks from having to touch or deal with food preparation at all. Oh, I guess Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, and some of the other Glycemic index people have already done that (interesting that Nutrisystem never bothers to mention you won’t have to cook for weeks). I guess The “Joy of Cooking” didn’t really ring many bells. Sigh!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

American Exceptionalism

Judge denies Pittsburgh man’s
request to legally change his name
to “Boomer the Dog.”

For a very long time, probably at least from Alexis de Tocqueville, we have heard about American exceptionalism in one form or another. This has to do with the belief that somehow America holds a special niche in the world because of its political and religious institutions, because it was built by immigrants, because it was in de Tocqueville’s time the only truly functioning democracy and so on. Others have argued for exceptionalism because of its geographical location, protected on two sides by huge oceans and with friendly powers on both borders. Still others believe it was selected by God to be exceptional. Hitler believed it was doomed because of the mixture of Jews and Negroes that he believed to be inferior races. But by and large America has been considered exceptional, you know, the great “beacon on the hill,” the “thousand points of light,” home for the huddled masses, and all that. Certainly America itself has believed it is an exceptional nation. It became exceptional primarily after WW II when, unlike most of Europe, it was not decimated and became the great superpower when compared to those nations who actually experienced the devastation and killing first hand. It has remained that way ever since, and now, especially since the collapse of Russia. And of course it is true that in many ways America has been exceptional, but American exceptionalism needs a closer look.

America has been exceptional in some ways that are by no means anything to boast about. For example, we have been exceptionally greedy. With some 5% of the earth’s population we have traditionally used 25% of the earth’s resources. To maintain this exceptional life style we have had we have traditionally and shamelessly exploited the resources of others. We have done this by means of economic imperialism backed up by the use of force. We have quite an exceptional military with a budget that exceeds that of all the rest of the world combined. We have been exceptionally arrogant and paternalistic, looking down on others and insisting that we always know best . We have certainly been exceptionally militaristic in recent years, involved in more wars than any other nation. And also in recent years we have exceptionally argued that we have the right to attack any nation we want merely on the suspicion that they might someday be a threat, a position regarded by the rest of the world as a war crime. And although we were in the forefront of the Nuremberg trials and the establishment of international laws having to do with war crimes, we apparently believe these laws do not apply to our own war criminals.

Finally, in recent years I believe we have established ourselves as exceptionally stupid. Our country is rapidly disintegrating. Our educational system is basically a joke, our infrastructure has been neglected for years, our economy teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, our middle class is disappearing and unemployment is rampant, large numbers of our citizens are on food stamps that are being reduced, some of our long-term unemployed have been thrown to the wolves, we are the only major country on earth that does not provide universal health care, and we are in debt virtually beyond our means. All of this could be easily remedied as the reasons for it are quite clear. If we were not involved in utterly useless “wars,” and did not maintain military bases all over the world to presumably defend our “empire,” and did not provide tax breaks for the filthy rich and the huge corporations that don’t even need them, we could probably revive our country and place it once again at the apex of greatness. Apparently we are too proud to admit we are overextended, too proud and stubborn to admit we have been defeated by nations armed with little more than slingshots and rocks, and unwilling to share the enormous wealth that actually exists in our country. We continue to believe in unregulated capitalism even though its failure is right before our eyes. We abhor socialism, a concept that we take to mean anything that benefits anyone but the obscenely wealthy and powerful. We allow our country to be run by dishonest politicians bribed by the corporations and the wealthy to do their bidding, uninterested in governing and beholding to special interests dedicated to making profits and letting the citizens fall where they may. We cannot even do the things that we know are obviously “right,” such as doing away with the completely absurd DADT, allowing Gay marriage, and ending the ridiculous and failed “war on drugs.” We appear to be paralyzed, unable to do even the basic things we need to do, usually because of some minority or other that can impose their will on the majority. Our government has become divorced from the needs of its citizens and interested only in its own survival year after year. Even global warming, the greatest danger facing us at the moment, an unprecedented danger that has been scientifically established as real, is largely ignored in the pursuit of short-term profit. Our nation is being sacrificed by the greed of a few and the disinterest and ignorance of the many. American exceptionalism boils down to nothing more than exceptional, even deliberate and conscience stupidity. Basically we have brought it on ourselves. Whoever first wrote, “Tomorrow is canceled due to lack of interest,” must have had us in mind.

The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeois.
Gustave Flaubert

More than half of all Mustangs in North America are found in Nevada.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Yes, Why?

Restaurant owner fined after
head chef videotaped
kissing and licking toads.

Yes, Why? Rachel Maddow (bless her) spent her program tonight reviewing three cases of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell situations and concluded by asking outright of Obama, if DADT is scheduled to be overturned, as everyone agrees it will, why does he not use an Executive Order to stay the proceedings in the meanwhile. I believe this is a perfectly reasonable question, Obama apparently does have the authority to stay the proceedings, there is no reason he should not do so, but it would require courage. It seems to me that if Harry Truman could integrate the U.S. Military against tremendous opposition from most of the population, because it was the right thing to do, Obama ought to be able to do the same. It is not clear to me just who it is he is afraid of upsetting, the far right (they will be upset no matter what he does about anything), Independents (I see no reason why all Independent voters would be assumed to be outraged), and certainly not his base. Strangely, it seems he is less concerned about his presumptive base than he is about Republicans who continue to spit on him at every opportunity. As every other major military force around the world has openly Gay people serving, why should the U.S. be any different? Oh, I forgot, we are exceptional. Sorry. There is a psychoanalytic concept called “identification with the aggressor.” I think perhaps Obama suffers from it when it comes to Republicans.

As utterly disgusting as our current political scene is, I think it will prove to be a most interesting election season. Republicans seem to think they are somehow going to take back the House and perhaps even the Senate. But the Republican candidates for office favored by the Tea Party are often being selected. As all of these candidates are so extreme as to be laughable it is not clear to me how any of them could possibly be elected (except perhaps in places like Idaho and maybe Nevada). And if they are elected I’m not sure what that might mean for the future. I rather doubt any of them could make serious inroads into the existing political establishment (as not everyone is crazy) but I suppose they could cause a lot of trouble. Democrats, who probably deserve to lose as they are such a spineless, timid bunch, may be saved only by the fact that their alternatives are even worse. Like I say, interesting.

I should mention the case of the vanishing sewer pipe, if only for personal interest material. When we bought this house, twenty years ago, there was a sewer hookup for a trailer located on the edge of the driveway. I clearly remember placing some boards over it and covering it up, never dreaming we would ever use it. Now, however, we have reason to want to use it and we cannot find it. I was certain I knew fairly closely to where it was. We even have old photographs that illustrate that location. But after two days of digging we have been defeated by this presumably stationary object. We simply cannot find it. It seemingly has vanished into thin air. We have no recollection of anyone moving it, or even knowing of its presence. It is a great mystery. Because it’s North Idaho I think maybe Bigfoot. I doubt it was flying saucers. Maybe the black helicopters from Canada coming for our lawn chairs? No, I bet Bill Clinton did it. Well, shucks, I guess maybe sewer pipes disappear every day. Who cares, besides me?

I am not one given to hero worship. Indeed, I am far too cynical for such things. But if I had to have a hero to worship at the moment it would have to be Rachel Maddow. Her show is the only thing I consistently watch on television as for all intents and purposes I have given up watching the idiot box entirely. I find it insulting and offensive in every way, the commercials, and the infotainment. Maddow deals only with the real nitty-gritty (except for an occasional misstep as her recent treatment of the fife and drummer nonsense), and truly confronts important issues. I believe she is now so popular and confident she may be occasionally getting “too big for her britches” (she does wear britches, you know). Tonight she presented Obama with a direct challenge, something along the lines of “are you a man or a mouse?” I think this may have been a mistake because now if he acts like a man and does away with the policy he will be accused of surrendering to Maddow, and if he doesn’t do it, he’ll be seen as a mouse. What is a President to do when surrounded by some people who can never be completely satisfied no matter what he does, and others that will never be satisfied with anything he does? Good question. If anyone has an answer please advise.

To see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage or of principle.

In Asian elephants only males have tusks.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who Says They Lack Ideas?

Denied chicken McNuggets,
she punches two employees,
throws bottle through window.

Remember the United States of America, where freedom of religion is a constitutional right? Some people obviously don’t think so, consider the outrage over the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. Apparently this discrimination is spreading all over the country and mosques are everywhere becoming subject to suspicion and animosity. I guess we have freedom of religion as long as it doesn’t involve Muslims. What would you expect in a country of loony right-wing bible thumpers?

Some people seem outraged because the First Lady, Michelle Obama, took a trip to Spain. I guess this is just another example of the Obamas being criticized no matter what they do. Like, why should it make any difference to anyone if the First Lady takes a trip to Europe? I hope she enjoyed every moment of it and will take many more trips. President Obama is also criticized for playing golf, like no President before him played the game or had any recreation at all? What about the fact that Bush spent almost half his time in office on vacation? I can understand why Republicans or others might criticize Obama’s Foreign Policy or economics or support of the auto industry, but criticizing him and his wife for having a bit of recreation or travel is just too pathetic for words. The criticism that she should not have taken such a trip because these are hard times rings a bit hollow when you compare it to the “royal” wedding the Clintons just put on for Chelsea. What’s in a name? Not much unless your name is Obama.

The latest bit of Republican stupidity has to do with the son of the notorious Phyllis Schlafly who has now decided that Einstein’s theory of relativity is a liberal plot of some kind. The Republican Party is full of these types nowadays: Angle of Nevada who claims the constitution does not mention the separation of church and state, Bachmann who has 6 utterly ridiculous ideas every day before breakfast, Palin who actually knows less than nothing but gets paid big bucks to prove it over and over again, Huckabee and many others who don’t believe in evolution, some idiot whose name I can’t recall, who thinks community bicycles is a plot to turn us all into communists, Jindal who thinks guns in church is a fine idea, Brewer of Arizona who passed the immigration bill to stop (nonexistent) beheadings in her state, Barton who thinks we should apologize to BP, Gingrich who has 6 utterly stupid ideas every day after dinner, Inhofe who insists global warming is a myth, another guy I can’t remember who suggest Islam (with more than a billion members worldwide) is a cult, and on and on. I think perhaps the worst are those who claim evolution is only a theory and don’t believe it because that is more than it seems. It not only denies evolution but also indicates quite clearly they have no idea what they are talking about. Those who think Obama is a socialist are not far behind in not knowing what they are talking about. These idiotic ideas could be fun if it were not for the fact they are held by people in position of power and influence. Anyway, who says Republicans have no ideas?

Of course when it comes to really stupid ideas it’s hard to beat continuing the “war” in Afghanistan, continuing the totally failed “war on drugs,” allowing more offshore drilling, supporting more nuclear energy plants, continuing tax cuts for the rich, abolishing social security, trying to work with Republicans when they have already announced they are going to say “no” to everything, and the related failure to stop the horribly abused filibuster. An attack on Iran would no doubt top everything in terms of stupidity but it appears that (hopefully) that will not happen, at least not in the near future.

Truth stood on one side and Ease on the other; it has often been so.
Theodore Parker

Timbuktu actually exists as a place, a city in Mali.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Adland - book

Adland Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet, by James P. Othmer (Doubleday, 2009)

I might have thought the title of this book should have been Ad Land, but we are dealing here with an advertising man. So put aside your morals and ethics, and especially your “taste,” and consider the world of advertising. Othmer does, of course, mention the moral and other problems that beset those who make a career in advertising. How, for example, does one deal with having to create advertising programs for things like paste for false teeth, suppositories, or tampax? More importantly, how would you sell things you might well entirely disapprove of, things like sugary cereals to children, or fast foods, perhaps even a Presidential candidate you thought was a terrible choice? How about pesticides or insecticides, sleeping pills, pills to induce erections, or how about selling an oil company you knew was doing terrible things to the environment? What kind of person would you have to be to spend your career creating advertising programs that you knew were misleading or completely dishonest? All of these things get mentioned in this book by an ex-advertising man, but they are not the major subject of the book and he spends little time on them. This is a book written primarily, as near as I can tell, for those who are knowledgeable about the industry, familiar with some of the changes, conversant with the language of the profession, and interested with the future of this strange profession.

I have long wondered about advertising that is, in general, something I despise. It is one of the main reasons I no longer watch television. When I was a child I had an eccentric uncle who lived on a sailboat. There was only radio in those days and we listened to the news rather than watching it. Uncle Otto hated the advertising and had rigged up a mercury switch to combat it. When a commercial came on he would lift up the switch and it was timed to last as long as an ordinary radio commercial, thus allowing him to never listen to one. He also had a rule that he would never buy a product that he saw or heard advertised. Uncle Otto was a great influence on my life in many ways and his hatred of advertising rang a bell with me that I have followed ever since.

It becomes clear from Othmer’s account that the primary reason people go into advertising is because it’s where the money is. If you create even one single commercial that is a resounding success you have it pretty much made for a long time. Simple slogans like “The Jolly Green Giant,” “Where’s the Beef?” and “Fruit of the Loom,” for example, easily made a career for someone in addition to a lot of money. The author, who worked in advertising for twenty years and was reasonably successful, confesses he never made up a slogan that made it “to the big time.” But he did make up many successful programs that were of lesser importance but nevertheless successful. He, himself, became involved in advertising mostly by accident, but once hooked he stayed with it for a long time. This is where another interesting fact emerges from his book, in the process that is advertising those that are involved don’t even pay much, if any, attention to the item being advertised. The excitement and reward comes from the task itself, the challenge, the demands on creativity, and have nothing much to do with the product involved. Indeed, in some cases they are more highly motivated the more difficult the challenge. The simply slogans that emerge from their creative competitions are not simply come by, but involve hours and hours of creative thought as well as trial runs and so on.

But even the professionals, like Othmer himself, can reach a point where they just burn out or decide they cannot continue doing some things. After working on pharmaceutical ads for a time, he decided they should not even be permitted, or, if permitted, should have to have full length ads describing the side effects as well. He seems to have decided he was more or less “burned out” and perhaps “over the hill,” when he found himself in charge of creating a program for a new “turd-shrinking Japanese cat food.”

The main subject matter of this interesting work, however, has to do with the changing profession of advertising and how it is they are going to meet the challenges of advertising less on television and much more on the internet. They talk now of viral advertising, multi-media ads, participatory advertising, digital, and other such things that I do not completely understand. But it seems clear that the traditional advertising agencies, along with the tradition television ads, are becoming far less important and new directions are being called for. Ad agencies are being replaced by “Creation Centers,” and such, and creative talents are now being teamed to collaborate with experts from other professions like computer freaks and even the management professionals that previously had nothing to do with the creation of their ads. No one seems to understand completely where all this will lead but it is certainly the main topic of interest in the schools that exist for training those who wish to make a career of this rather strange profession, places like Brandcenter at Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University (I confess to being unaware there even were such graduate programs in advertising, and personally I’m not certain there ought to be). There is much more to this work than I can possibly mention here. If you have an interest in this subject you will no doubt benefit from reading it.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Winners and Losers

It is no longer difficult to tell the winners from the losers. Just consider the case of WalMart. Whenever I enter one of the zillions of WalMarts around the country I cannot overcome the feeling that I am entering a huge warehouse full of losers, losers as far as the eye can see. It might appear that I am disparaging the good people that shop and work there, but that is not my intention. They are losers only in the sense that those who work there work mostly for minimum wages, are not allowed to unionize, and are otherwise exploited. Those who shop there are losers in that they are desperate to save money as they don’t have much (any more, if ever). The winners are not hard to locate, just look at the list of billionaires, they are right there. It is also hard to escape the knowledge that those who are producing the cheap goods available there are even worse off that the clerks and shoppers. Sweat shops all around the world, but mostly in China, produce most of the items working for very low wages and with virtually no benefits at all. WalMart is the epitome of what is wrong with unregulated capitalism, the exploitation of the labor of others and the exploitation of the environment. It is obviously true, the middle class has almost completely disappeared, leaving only the obscenely rich and powerful and those who are shamelessly exploited and powerless. Of course it is comforting to know that recently a group of billionaires have agreed to give half of their fortunes to charity. What a sacrifice! Now they will only have a half billion or twenty or thirty billion left. I can see no reason why any individual anywhere on earth should be allowed to have a billion dollars. Remember, as above, the only way capital can accumulate is through the exploitation of others labor or the environment. Instead of measuring their fortunes in dollars there should be a misery index showing how much human misery went into their fortunes.

This situation is the inevitable outcome of allowing unregulated capitalism to flourish over a period of time, it is always the case that money will tend to collect in the hands of a few at the expense of the many. WalMart is not the only corporation guilty by any means but it is, I think, the prime example. As money also equals power it is not surprising that those with the money will tend to make the rules, and the rules they make will naturally benefit them, allowing them to increasingly profit at the expense of the increasingly powerless. Money also buys influence so that the individuals who are elected to manage the country are easily bought, and once bought, as long as they continue to do the buyers’ bidding, they will remain in office. Citizens should have run for their lives into the mountains when they heard the words “deregulation,” and “privatization,” but they foolishly did not. They did not decide to stay and fight either, being bamboozled by the powerful into believing all kinds of nonsense and myths about the joys of capitalism and the benefits of things actually opposed to their best interests. This was overlain with all kinds of scare tactics about gay marriage, abortion, black and brown ambitions, and so on, all falling on ears tuned to scapegoating and propaganda. Education and a love of learning would have helped eliminate this but education itself has been commandeered, emasculated, and used for the same propaganda purposes as the similarly captured media. These United States that we have traditionally been so proud of, and our democracy that has historically treated us so well, have changed over time in ways that from the point of view of ordinary citizens are both dysfunctional and undesirable. Government, that device employed by humans over time to presumably regulate themselves and look after the interests and concerns of the citizens, has almost completely divorced itself from those concerns and become an independent organization completely, an entity now totally self-centered, self-regulated, self-renewing, self-justifying, and self-controlled. Votes are no longer cast with the public in mind but, rather, how they perpetuate this ongoing profit-making industrial/military/political complex that now controls our country, and seriously attempts to control the entire world.

It is rather amazing to contemplate the fact that this enormous organization, this attempted empire, this enormous complex and the country that created it, may all come crashing down fairly soon largely due to the simple acts of one man, the now notorious Osama bin Laden. Remember that bin Laden said he would bankrupt us just as the Russians were driven into bankruptcy. With a few men, armed with some primitive knives, he has created a situation that will fulfill his prophecy. How he must be chuckling and enjoying himself, wherever he is, watching us slowly borrowing more and more money, going farther and farther into dangerous debt, winning battles here and there but obviously losing the “war,” to say nothing of how he must enjoy watching millions upon millions every week taking off their shoes just to board an aircraft. Osama bin Laden may your tribe decrease, you certainly woke us from a strange dream of peace.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Critized in Dubai mall for
wearing low-cut blouse,
English woman strips to bikini.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock somewhere you will know that a Federal Judge has declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional. I am not a lawyer, have never studied law, but I have often been told I have a “legal mind” (read devious). This Judge not only declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, in a 138 page decision he virtually demolished any arguments in favor of that particular form of discrimination. I believe his decision is so definitive even the current Robert’s Supreme Court, those five judges that constitute a majority, that capitalistic worshipping, corporate toadying, activist cabal, will not be able to overturn it. But don’t count them out, anyone who believes corporations are persons is probably capable of anything. Even more fascinating, if true, is that the Judge himself is gay (I have heard someone say this but I don’t know if it is true). So…if the Judge is gay, does that disqualify him from deciding the issue of gay marriage? One might think so, but then, it seems to my lawyerly mind, you would have to disqualify heterosexuals from deciding issues having to do with heterosexual marriages. Would this make sense? It would only if you assume that gays are somehow less competent or honest or qualified than others. Actually, I never wanted to be a lawyer.

Elena Kagan was confirmed for the Court, 63 to 37. This was a foregone conclusion. But interestingly, even strangely, five Republicans voted to confirm her, so even the defection of Democrat-in-Sheep’s-Clothing, Ben Nelson, was irrelevant. What I find the most interesting about this is that I don’t believe those who voted against her had any truly valid reasons to vote no, they just voted no our of their usual opposition to anything Obama wants. In any case, their votes were obviously political, having nothing to do with what was right or wrong or the facts of the matter. This is the problem with our lost democracy, our Congresspersons no longer vote according to what is right or wrong, or what might be good for the country or the citizens, they vote on purely political grounds. This means, in effect, there is no longer any genuine connection between the acts of Congress and the needs of the citizens or the nation. It has become just one gigantic charade, attempting to pull the wool over our eyes, while at the same time insuring their continuing elections and positions. The five Republicans who voted for confirmation obviously knew they could safely do so, while those who voted no simply voted the party line, proving their loyalty to party rather than nation.

What is even more interesting is the similar complete disconnect between what our corporate masters care about and what they encourage their paid-for-Congresspersons to vote for or against. Corporations don’t care in the slightest whether gays marry or not, nor do they care about abortions or even about the rule of law. They only care about keeping in power those who will faithfully perform their duties as instructed. If fringe, fake social issues help things along so much the better. It is simple for business at all levels as they do not have to consider such mundane matters as morality or ethics, or even what the electorate wants, their interest is purely profits. If it makes a profit it is good, if not it is bad. Those who major in business don’t have to concern themselves with anything but economics and business strategies, no liberal arts for them. In this respect they are just like those in Medical Schools where they turn out mechanics who work on the body but know little or nothing outside of their specialties. I realize it seems laughable nowadays that a “liberal education” used to be the main goal of the universities. There are many people even now who believe professional schools like Business, Nursing, Medicine, and Law have no business being part of the university system, and even some old-fashioned enough to believe the function of the university should not be merely to train people for a job. Nowadays we hear that “the business of America is business,” “ what’s good for General Motors is good for the country,” and similar statements that confirm what Margaret Halsey said long ago, the U.S. is a one institution society, and that institution is business.

I would like to pay a belated homage to President Harry Truman. I did not care for Truman as President and I still believe his ordering of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima was both unnecessary and unconscionable, but I have also learned that he ordered the integration of the military in spite of the overwhelming opposition of most everyone, an act of great courage and nobility, done simply because it was the right thing to do. How long has it been since you have seen our Congress do anything because it was the right thing to do?

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
Peter Drucker

Merkeets are immune to the poisonous venom of scorpions.