Monday, January 31, 2011

Hate and Oblivion

After party, Oregon woman finds
hickey on husband’s neck, stabs
him to death with kitchen knife.

Do they really hate us? I’m not talking about Arabs, al Qaida, Muslims, or people in the Middle East in general,, I’m wondering about Republicans. Representative Tom McClintock, a Republican from California, has introduced a bill, H.R. 421, that specifies if the debt limit is not raised and we have to pay off our debts, we will have to pay China first, and Social Security recipients later. I have no idea if such a bill will get anywhere, but it set me to thinking about this perennial problem. I have concluded, for the moment at least, that Republicans probably do not actually hate us, they are apparently just oblivious when it comes to us, by “us” I mean ordinary working people and citizens in general who are not part of the elite, and who do not have golden parachutes wrapped in platinum and studded with diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones. I suspect this bill is really just another attack on Social Security rather than a serious attempt to so right by the Chinese. One reason I think so is because Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit in the first place, so making Social Security recipient s pay for our debt is basically ridiculous. But do not forget, Republicans have relentlessly been trying to do away with Social Security ever since FDR managed to get it passed some 75 years ago.

It is by no means just Social Security Republicans have been opposed to all these years. They have always been against labor unions. They are against unemployment insurance (think of the 99ers now with no benefits at all). They are opposed to food stamps, they would like to reduce veterans benefits, and they have encouraged corporations to move jobs overseas seeking cheap labor, just as they have encouraged illegal immigration for the same reason. They are always opposed to a minimum wage. In general they are opposed to spending money on public education or the arts and even on public broadcasting. They are opposed to universal health care, believing, apparently, that only the wealthy are entitled to health. In short, iIt seems they are opposed to anything and everything that might actually benefit ordinary people. Even so, I find it difficult to believe they actually hate us, I suspect they are somehow just completely oblivious to the fate of ordinary folk. What, for example, does McClintock think would happen to the millions of people who depend on Social Security while he worries about the Chinese? Republicans also seem oblivious to the fate of the so-called 99ers, who, having exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits have now simply been thrown to the wolves. And do they have any idea of how difficult it is for families to try to exist on minimum wages? Are they unaware that millions of our citizens now live in poverty, that American children are often going hungry? It seems to me that on the rare occasions they might actually think of us, their thoughts are tinged with contempt. We are too lazy to work, prefer unemployment, and expect the government to support us. But they don’t hesitate to support corporations, agribusiness, tax breaks for billionaires, and what have you. Their record on these matters is quite clear, they are not on our side, so to speak.

Hate, of course, is a strong word and may not be the best expression of their feelings toward us. It is quite clear, however, they are not concerned with our welfare and apparently would not care if we just disappeared through starvation, disease, accidents, or what have you, except for enough of us to perform cheap labor where required. I suppose it is probably not possible to hate someone that is not really part of your “life space,” or someone you merely hold in contempt. Hate is probably reserved for those who have enough potential power to harm you in some way. We, being largely harmless (except on rare occasions when they just can’t take it any more) are not objects of hate. I doubt the Tsars hated their serfs, or Plantation Owners hated their slaves, or that Marie Antoinette hated the poor. I have long wondered how the Republican Party has survived for so long when there are so many more of us than there are of them, but even now many ordinary Americans vote predictably against their own interests.

H. L. Mencken once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” Republicans seem to understand precisely the lack of intelligence of the American voting public and have managed to harness it to good use.

In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.
Mark Twain

Cave bears became extinct apparently about 27,500 years ago.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Apologies to Dentists

Florida mother shoots teenage
son and daughter because they
“talked back and were mouthy.”

I believe I should apologize for my intemperate remarks about dentists. I don’t really believe that dentists are sadists. I’m sure that most dentists do the best they can with what they have to work with and do not deliberately intend to inflict pain and suffering on their patients. Thinking about this, I believe my views of dentists and dentistry are far too influenced (and old-fashioned) because of my boyhood experiences. Dentistry, as it is practiced today, is only remotely related to dentistry as it was when I was a boy. My parents, rightly so, wanted me to take care of my teeth and this meant going to the dentist. As there were only a few dentists in our little town it meant going to my father’s dentist. My father was a large man, over two hundred pounds with a 19 inch neck, and strong as it was possible for a man to be. When he was in the army during the First World War they once pulled several of his teeth at one sitting with no anesthetic. With the help of a nearby telephone pole that he clung to for a few minutes he managed to recover and survive. Thus his dentist’s attack on his person later in life was for him merely routine. Not so for me, as a skinny, timid, nearsighted young boy, I was terrified of this dentist. I believe I actually went to him twice. He was a short man and I remember him vividly with his knee on my chest attacking my teeth with the jackhammers that passed for drills and the chisels and mallets that were also used in those days. Twice was more than enough. Although my parents made repeated appointments for me I simply refused to go, telling them I just forgot. My best friend also went to this dentist. We traded horror stories and with each telling our fear grew stronger. Going to my dentist now is not even remotely similar to these earlier experiences. If ever technological innovations and patient care have brought about monumental improvements in health care it would have to be in dentistry. I cannot say that going to the dentist is a pleasure even in these days, but I can say it is a thousand times better than it was, but enough about dentistry, at least for the moment.

I must say I am not in the least apologetic for not suffering fools gladly. Presumably Republicans made such huge inroads into the House of Representatives and lesser, but still meaningful inroads into the Senate, because of our current economic crisis, especially unemployment. Thus you might expect them to have some ideas about how to solve such problems. But have you heard of any plan of theirs to do something about unemployment? Other, that is, than their usual meme of “lower taxes and small government,” that we now know from experience is about as useful as “tits on a boar.” Another of their stated aims is to make sure than Obama is a one-term President. So we find them also now engaged, in another of their priorities, trying to repeal health care. Republican Governors are also all excited about slashing Medicaid. Still another priority, according to Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is redefining rape (another semi-subtle attack on Roe vs Wade). And, continuing their slavish devotion to the NRA, they are resisting any attempts to any form of gun control, not matter how sensible. Darrell Issa, having been given some power, is demanding the Federal Government identify everyone who has made a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (what he intends to do with this information I do not know). Still other Republicans are working on legislation that would take away automatic citizenship a la the 14th Amendment. Michele (Babbling) Bachmann wants to take away Veterans benefits. And, of course, they continue their attempts t o do away with Social Security, just as they continue to oppose legal abortions. They are also prepared to block anything that suggests global warming might be real, and a very large percentage of them believe evolution is a myth and that God created everything in about 10,000 years. Indeed, Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia has made it clear that he, at least, was made by God, and evolution is simply false. Still another state legislator in the South (I think probably in Oklahoma) has introduced a bill making it mandatory for teachers to challenge the idea of evolution. Someone has said that Republicans believe everything Democrats have done is unconstitutional and should be repealed. Now there is a positive program! It seems to boil down to either doing nothing at all or doing something harmful to President Obama and the Middle Class.

Oh, yeah, Egypt. I suspect most Americans don’t know where Egypt is, nor do they probably care much about what is happening there. They might know there is some sort of conflict going on but it can be solved by a Democratic election. This might well happen, I suspect Dictator Mubarak will be out by no later than next Friday (I am guessing), there will perhaps eventually be a “Democratic” election, but unless who is elected is acceptable to the U.S., it will not be considered valid (remember Hamas, and so much for democracy). Personally, I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end of U.S. influence or attempted control of the Middle East. John Bolton, who I am convinced would get us all killed as quickly as possible were it within his power, is at least being honest about this, his position seems to be, to hell with democracy, support Mubarak.

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.
Sir Winston Churchill

The stirrup is regarded as one of the most significant inventions in warfare prior to the invention of gunpowder.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Jig is Up?

Escaped Arizona convict
wanted to overdose on
heroin and let bears eat him.

The jig is up…maybe. That is, the United States somewhat hypocritical long-term attempt to control the Middle East may be about to come to a dramatic and perhaps fitting end. For far too long we have said one thing and done quite another. While claiming to promote democracy we have at the same time supported dictatorships, all in favor of the goal of stability, but dictatorships nonetheless. With the ouster of the Tunisian dictator by popular demand, that already caused a great deal of concern in the Arab world, we now have the real possibility that Egypt may follow suit. Mubarak, who Vice-President Biden naively claims is not a dictator, who has ruled for 30 years, is now seriously threatened. This puts the U.S. in an interesting bind, on the one hand claiming to want democracy for the Egyptians, but on the other hand wanting to continue to support Mubarak who has been a dependable ally for such a long time. And remember, Egypt is the only country that has signed a peace agreement with Israel. No one knows at the moment how this revolution may turn out, but if Mubarak goes most anything might happen. This revolutionary moment is not only being seen in Tunisia and Egypt but also in Yemen and other Arab countries as well. You might well say the Arab world is “fed up and not about to take it anymore,” “it” being most of the wealth concentrated in the hands of a few and poverty, unemployment, and exploitation for the rest. I wonder if the 2% of Americans with most of the wealth in the United States, and the corporate giants, are listening. Yeah, I know, it can’t happen here. Of course I have no idea what will happen but it is impossible to deny that something is happening, and I don’t think it bodes well for the already fading American empire.

Now for some not very important domestic news. I went to the dentist. Don’t laugh, this is serious business. You may or may not have read one of my earliest blogs having to do with wisdom teeth. I still have two of them in spite of many attempts to make me give them up. I was told in my twenties that I had to have them removed as they were non-functional, would get infected, would ruin the rest of my alignment, to say nothing of cause me untold grief. Dentists, I determined, hate wisdom teeth and insist you have to have them pulled. They are quite adamant about this. As I was very cowardly as a boy when it came to dentists I managed to eventually spend a fortune getting my teeth fixed, while at the same time refusing to give up my two remaining wisdom teeth (having the first two removed was for me extremely traumatic). So over the years I have had many dentists, both male and female, sadists and not so sadistic, but all seemingly enraged because I still had two wisdom teeth. This has been a battle between me and dentists that has raged now for about 60 years. I would like to tell you that just now, after 60 years of no problems whatsoever with these two fine molars, one of them has finally shown a bit of decay and needs to be filled. Ordinarily trying to get a wisdom tooth filled is an impossibility, dentists are a stubborn bunch and they want wisdom teeth out! However, my current dentist, who I believe is the finest dentist in the entire world, also, for whatever strange reason, has read my blog about wisdom teeth. Thus when he discovered this decay he approached the subject with great delicacy, advising me there were two possibilities, having it pulled (he virtually whispered this as he didn’t want me to either faint or fall into a rage), or filling it (he quickly told me that he was confident he could fix it). My gratitude at hearing this made me want to kiss the hem of his trousers, but thinking that undignified I merely floated out of the office on a cloud of euphoria. You might think it strange that the greatest dentist in the whole world practices his profession here in remote North Idaho, but it’s true. So, if you ever need a dentist brave enough to defy dental tradition and sensitive enough to care about you, drop me a line.

The other domestic news of note has to do with cooking. There is a new contest starting, world-wide, but allowing only 200 contestants. This contest has to do with charcuterie, that is, salting, smoking, and curing meats such as bacon, pancetta, corned beef, prosciutto, guanchiale, sausage, and such. My wife, who is a super cook, will be one of these contestants. Every month they will be asked to make some special kind of processed meat. This month’s challenge is pancetta (Italian bacon). Not only do they have to make the product, they also have to explain how they have used it to make other dishes. If you have any interest in such goings-on I refer you to her food blog: http://inlinda’

The internet is truly a wondrous thing, it allows you to communicate and interact with people from all over the world, even if you live in Podunk.

Most of the time I don't have much fun. The rest of the time I don't have any fun at all.
Woody Allen

Domestic geese cannot fly, although with considerable effort they can momentarily get airborn.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Invictus - movie

Invictus (Motion Picture, 2009, directed by Clint Eastwood).

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

According to this motion picture with the same name this is the marvelous and inspiring poem that helped Nelson Mandela cope with his long imprisonment. It is also the poem he reportedly gave to the captain of a South African Rugby team to inspire them to win the Rugby League Championship and help unite South Africa after the end of apartheid and during his Presidency. This film is thus based on a true story and represents Nelson Mandela and South Africa at their best.

Anyone who follows this blog at all knows I am not a fan of motion pictures and seldom watch one. You can be pretty sure that if I admit to watching one at all it will not have much in the way of gratuitous violence and/or sex. Quite honestly, I cannot even remember when I saw a movie advertised on TV that did not include a great deal of both violence and sex. This fine movie, that my wife insisted I watch, does not contain much in the way of violence or sex, unless you consider Rugby a violent game, which it is. But that is the game, the violence is not featured as such. Personally, having seen a bit of Rugby in Australia and New Guinea, I suspect it may have been the first contest accidentally invented by two groups of brutal cave men fighting over the last bone of a cave bear. It is roughly like American football without either pads or many rules. However, it is an important game in England, Australia, and many other countries. As Rugby is not familiar to Americans there is a brief discussion of the rather simple rules. There is, mercifully, no mention of the extremely rowdy and sometimes belligerent fans that often upstage the game itself.

Nelson Mandela was shrewd enough to realize that if he could employ the popularity of Rugby to help bring the citizens of South Africa together it would be an extremely useful tool in creating a new nation where Blacks and Whites could come more easily together. It was and it did. This wonderful film is the story of this attempt. I have never been a big fan of Clint Eastwood (or Spaghetti Westerns) but I have to admit I think he did an absolutely fantastic job directing this film. Morgan Freeman is quite outstanding as Mandela (Mandela’s own choice for the role), and Matt Damon is completely convincing as the captain of what began as an all white Rugby team, but because of a deliberate PR campaign and Mandela’s enthusiastic support, became a national symbol and helped to unify the country. The scenes of Rugby football are extremely realistic and well done, the film is quite inspiring, and will probably bring most viewers to tears at times. It is an outstanding film that I highly recommend for everyone.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Turkish man living in Germany
asks police to protect him
from wife’s demands for sex.

It seems to me the Republican Party is on a veritable blaze of self-destruction, so let ‘em keep talking, I say. Some of what they are proposing is rather petty and not really important, but virtually everything they are now promoting does not bode well for them in the future, unless, of course, the future is to be directed by apparent morons from another reality. Representative Aaron Schock of Illinois, for example, wants to abolish road signs that say projects were funded by the stimulus because that is propaganda. Mike Lee of Utah says that child labor laws are unconstitutional, as is Federal disaster relief. The state of Utah is now debating whether they should have an official state handgun. You know, if states have official birds, flowers, and such, why not an official gun? Maybe all states should have an official gun but it seems pretty silly to me, especially after the recent shootings in Arizona. Of course some in Congress now believe they should carry guns to work and at least one has suggested a law preventing anyone from possessing a gun within 1000 feet of a Congressperson. There is talk of abolishing oversize clips for handguns that allow shooters 30 or more shots at a time. The NRA opposes this on the grounds that having such clips is perfectly okay because it helps homeowners protect themselves. This is an argument so pathetically feeble it is laughable, but they might, as usual, get their way. I mentioned before the fact that game bird hunters have to use a special plug in their shotguns that allow them only three shells instead of five or more. Apparently this is to protect game birds by making it more difficult for hunters to kill more than they should. Interesting, isn’t it, that we have guns laws to protect pheasants and ducks, but not to protect humans. This is all great stuff, much of it pretty silly, but not terribly bad all in all compared to other Republican proposals.

Newt Gingrich, the poster child for hypocrisy, has now suggested we do away with the Environmental Protection Agency. He will say anything to get attention with little regard for the consequences. But Gingrich is mild compared with Rand Paul who is calling for a 500 billion dollar reduction in spending. He proposes cutting entire agencies like Education, Energy, and I don’t know what all. This is a super idea at a time of massive unemployment, especially as he would also do away with food stamps and other humanitarian aids to our citizens. Republicans started off, you might recall, promising to cut 100 billion from the budget, and have now had to back off even that as unrealistic. Of course they are still talking about repealing health care when the majority of citizens would much rather they work on creating jobs. They seem to be completely oblivious to reality when it comes to what they are proposing. They keep insisting “The American Public” wants this or that when, in fact, it is usually the opposite of what the public wants (doing away with Roe vs Wade and DADT, for example). Their spokesman, Ryan, who gave the rebuttal to the State of the Union speech, wants to abolish Social Security for those under 55, do away with Medicare and Medicaid, and other policies that help ordinary citizens, policies that even some Republicans refuse to acknowledge. Republicans have now allowed Michele (Babbling) Bachmann to augment Ryan’s rebuttal with a special Tea Party rebuttal, even though it is obvious she has little idea of what she is talking about (the Founding Fathers abolished slavery).

I said before that I thought Obama would eventually appear to be the only adult standing after all the Tea Party rubbish continued for a while. It seems, at the moment at least, that is what is happening. Obama is standing tall and Republicans are self-destructing at what I believe to be a rather alarming rate. If this continues I doubt Obama will have little trouble getting re-elected in 2012 and I’m pretty sure the Democrats will once again have the House and Senate. But speaking of other realities, think of Michele Bachmann as President, Christine O’Donnell as vice-president, Sarah Palin as Secretary of State, Sharron Angle as Secretary of Defense, with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as chief advisors to the White House. Wheee!

Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.
Robert Louis Stevenson

Timbuktu is a real city in Mali.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On History

On History

History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.
Napoleon Bonaparte

History is more or less bunk.
Henry Ford

History is a pack of lies we play on the dead.

Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.

History is written by the victors.
Sir Winston Churchill

So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history.


I wanted to comment on your interesting comments last night but was unfortunately interrupted. As you can see from the above your concerns about history have a very long history of their own. It appears to me, speaking to your concerns, that history is not only the version of the past people have agreed upon, but also those versions of history they have not agreed upon.

The question of the dress is a good case in point, and certainly does raise an interesting issue. If, after 150 years there is still no agreement on whether he wore a dress or not, one has to wonder what is going on. James Swanson, the author of Bloody Crimes, studied history and law and has collected Lincoln memorabilia and such since he was ten years old. One would think if there is an incriminating letter from Davis’s wife he must have seen it. But he is quite firm in his claim Davis wore no dress. As I said in my review, I have no expertise in this field and only described what Bloody Crimes said. Your contention that Jefferson Davis was a coward, was running away from his wife and children, certainly does not jibe with Swanson’s account in his book. Yes, Davis did apparently gather up the gold, but it was gold that belonged to the Confederacy, not himself, and he apparently was relatively impoverished after the war. Of course Davis was running away, but I have no reason to believe he was running away from his wife and children, other than, perhaps to protect them by distancing himself from them. I also personally believe the charge of cowardice is probably not warranted. If, indeed, he was wearing a dress and trying to escape, that indicates to me either cleverness or desperation, or both, but not necessarily cowardice. But of course I do not really know. And, unfortunately, I suspect that even if I dedicated the remainder of my life to Civil War history I would end up still not being sure of much of anything. I might have better formed opinions about things, but I doubt I would “know” in any absolute sense.

Yes, it is true that what we learned in school is far from what actually happened in history. Witness the fine book , The People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. I think when one finally realizes the truth about things it can be traumatic, rather like learning that your favorite childhood idol or your father has feet of clay. Of course Black people were regarded as little more than animals and were thus deprived of even the most basic rights. The history of Western/European colonialism in general is actually much worse and characterized by such savagery as is virtually impossible to believe (and this by so-called “civilized,” Christian people). It is not entirely surprising that those responsible for such reprehensible behavior try to deny it.

I am not sure that even reading the “original stuff” solves the problems of history. Original and first person accounts are themselves probably biased one way or another. Why bother to read history at all? That is a good question. I guess we read what we can and form our own opinions about things, opinions that are not necessarily “the truth,” but serve us in some sense anyway. The late Clifford Geertz said, “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.” Strangely perhaps, webs of significance do not have to be true, or even realistic (or perhaps not even entirely “sane”), and they are certainly not entirely uniform for all individuals. Our webs of significance are partially spun out of what we know, or think we know, of history. It is inevitable that people do not agree. And it is equally inevitable that authors and others are going to “spin” things their way. We do not even agree about what is happening before our very eyes at the moment, how could we ever agree on history?

There are things that may be absolutely true, or at least we think so, that John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the head, for example. Or that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, or that Jared Lee Loughner shot Gabrielle Giffords in the head from a short distance, or that Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John Kennedy, and so on, but even in these cases there are differences of opinion and interpretation about the basic facts, and even more controversy about when and how and why. History is a minefield of confusion but who is willing to give it up?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bloody Crimes - book

Bloody Crimes The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse, James L. Swanson (William Morrow, N.Y., 2010).

As I have never been a Civil War aficionado, or a Lincoln “buff,” when someone gave me this book for Christmas I approached it with a certain amount of skepticism. Without the subtitle I would have assumed it was a book about crime, perhaps serial killers or some such thing. In fact, as the author tells us in the Introduction, it comes from Ezekiel 7:23, “Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence.” “Bloody crimes” is also a phrase used by Lincoln when he warned in his second inaugural address that slavery was a bloody crime that might not be expunged without the shedding of more blood.

As I knew nothing about Abraham Lincoln’s elaborate funeral, and even less about the fate of Jefferson Davis, I came away having learned a great deal. I had no idea that Lincoln’s funeral lasted for some sixteen days and involved transporting his corpse more than 1600 miles in part by horse-drawn hearse and, more importantly, by train. During this long trip (with no refrigeration) the corpse was attended by a pair of morticians who employed all their professional skills to preserve it for viewing by a public that exceeded one million citizens. This funeral was an absolutely monumental task for that period of time, but it came off without a hitch, right on schedule, as the train traveled all the way from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln was finally laid to rest. It was a scene of unimaginable grief as thousands lined up to view the corpse and mourn at every one of the many stops along the way.

The bulk of the book is taken up with the description of this pageant of death, and it is described in such excruciating, and even somewhat gory detail, that I found it excessive. I believe the author is correct when he suggests this was more than merely a funeral for a President, but also represented the overwhelming relief on the part of most that the horrible, deadly war, with such an incredible waste of life, was at last over.

This is not a book about the assassination itself, although it is briefly described, as is the pursuit and death of John Wilkes Booth, nor is it a book about slavery. What makes the book of special interest is the author’s weaving of the time lines of Lincoln’s funeral with that of the fate of Jefferson Davis. While the death train is in one place, Davis’s location and state of mind is also noted. Communication being as it was at that time, Jefferson Davis was not aware for several days that Lincoln had been assassinated. Although he had nothing whatsoever to do with the assassination, Davis was aware that he might be blamed for it, and he was. A reward of $100,000 was offered for his capture (that was truly a huge amount of money at that time). Several of his aides were also charged, each with a $25,000 on their heads.

Although after Robert E. Lee surrendered his army it was obvious the war was over, but Davis did not think so and urged other Southern troops to fight on. Morale, however, was so low, and the desire to return to their homes was so great, most of them simply refused to fight on and began to disperse. Davis thought he might cross the Mississippi and fight on in the West, but that was not to be. He probably could have made his way out of the United States and found refuge in Mexico or even in Europe, but being a man of honor and a gentleman, he refused to do so. His wife and children were themselves fugitives and trying to escape capture. The few letters between Davis and his wife were truly moving in their expressions of love and loyalty. As Davis refused to run away as he might have, he was, of course, eventually captured, put in chains, and humiliated by his captors. Curiously enough, after he was held for a time, no charges were brought against him, he was released and, although without many resources, lived into his 80’s, never believing he or the South had done anything wrong. He and his wife were reunited and lived happily for quite a long time. Abraham Lincoln became recognized as one of our great Presidents, Jefferson Davis has faded into relative obscurity. Bloody Crimes offers some insights into the personalities of these two great men, and is well worth reading if, like me, you know little about the Civil War, those who fought it, and the final outcome of some of the participants.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Let 'em Starve

His way to the bathroom blocked
by a food cart, he kicks it over
and punches the stewardess.

I don’t watch Chris Matthews because, well, because it’s basically about Chris Matthews. He talks over his guests constantly and obviously believes his views are the only ones that matter. He is really terrible as a host. Anyway, that is neither here nor there. Today I happened in front of a TV when he was interviewing two fellows, at least one a Tea Party representative (I think the other one was also, but he was at least a conservative Republican). They were apparently discussing a plan to reduce our national debt by cutting lots and lots of Federal jobs. They obviously believed these Federal employees did nothing of importance, received far too large salaries, and would not even be missed. There might, of course, be some grain of truth in this. But what really stunned me was when Matthews asked them what would happen to all these laid off workers. One of them said, well, if they were any good they could find jobs in the public sector, and then said, literally, if they can’t they can just starve! I swear this is what I heard. So I guess that is what these people actually believe, let ‘em starve. This is of course perfectly consistent with their failure to offer any help to the so-called 99’ers, those unfortunate souls who have used up their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and have nowhere else to turn. This is also perfectly consistent with what I take to be their social Darwinist views in general, let only the strong survive. But is that the kind of society we want to live in? Do we truly want millions of people, including children, living in poverty, going hungry, in “the greatest nation on earth?” Republicans apparently are intent on taking away any safety net they can, health care, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, you name it. They also seem quite content to do away with a minimum wage, labor unions, and anything that benefits ordinary citizens. As far as I know there is no other “technologically advanced,” “civilized,” “modern,” society that shares this attitude and simply allows their citizens to starve. This is not the kind of society I wish to live in (although realistically I now have little choice).

I confess I find all this hard to understand. Why, for example, would anyone want to take away health care from people? The health care bill certainly is not perfect, nor does it go far enough, but it is far better than just allowing the insurance companies to make their profits out of people’s misery as they have done and continue to try to do. But Republicans are apparently owned lock, stock, and barrel by the insurance companies, and represent their interests rather than the public interest. Indeed, the public interest seems to be entirely a thing of the past. And they are so blatantly hypocritical about what they are doing. They say, for example, they are concerned with the deficit, while at the same time trying to repeal health care than, if successful, will add 230 billion dollars to the deficit. Similarly, their concern over the debt doesn’t extend to concern over adding billions to the debt to give tax breaks to the obscenely wealthy that do not even need them.

Republicans, and I fear perhaps American in general, apparently have priorities that are so bizarre as to be virtually impossible to understand. For example, they balk at having to pay taxes for universal health care, but if health care isn’t worth spending money for, what is? The answer, I guess, is to pay for permanent “wars,” because that is where most of our money goes these days and the military budget seems to be untouchable. This in spite of the fact that our military budget is greater than all the rest of the world combined. To help eliminate the budget deficit they suggest cutting Social Security, a program that does not add to the deficit, but they do not seriously consider cutting the bloated Pentagon budget. I find this truly bizarre, almost unbelievable, and yet it goes on year after year. We can’t, they argue, afford education, infrastructure, health care, environmental protection, improved transportation, police, firemen, health inspectors, and so on, but we can afford endless, completely unnecessary and even illegal, unconstitutional “wars.” This is, in a word, insane. I wish I could be around long enough to hear someone try to explain this to our grandchildren. Someone has sold us a system that is so dysfunctional it will eventually destroy us if left unchecked and we seem at the moment to not even have buyer’s remorse. Someone once posted a sign that read, “Tomorrow is canceled due to lack of interest,” and someone else said “Stop the world, I want to get off.” I don’t know who these people were but I do believe they were on to something.

Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.
Douglas Adams

There are 400,000 known species of beetles and new ones are still being discovered.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Now that the policy of DADT has been repealed I guess I shouldn’t still be thinking about it, but I am. First, I never really understood it very well. That is, why would anyone have been asked at all? I mean, what was it, a person’s appearance, their voice, some casual comment, an anonymous tip, what? And what, precisely, was asked? I can imagine someone, when asked if they were “Gay,” replying simply, “No, I’m miserable.” So what then? Were heterosexuals ever asked? Why not? We don’t usually ask people what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms, so why ask those who someone thought might have been “different?” If the goal of this witch hunt was to preserve the integrity, morality, or effectiveness of the military, why weren’t more people asked? Given the apparent attempt in recent years to proselytize and promote religion in the services (that I have been reading about for months now), and given the false belief, “There are no atheists in foxholes,”why didn’t the military expand DADT and ask heterosexuals if they were atheists, or perhaps practiced “kinky” sex with their spouses, or failed to use the proper missionary position, or maybe preferred sex with underage children (would you want to share a foxhole with a pedophile or an atheist)? This seems to me to have been not only very unfair, but even a bit unreasonable. But, of course, it’s too late now. Actually, I’m not even much interested in what happened in the military with DADT, what I really want to know is why this incredibly important advice was wasted merely on the military for so long?

Think of it, DADT is truly important advice that should probably be given to everyone just as a matter of course. I should think that certainly at weddings the minister should be required to close the ceremony with, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” (and above all, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). I bet this single piece of advice would immediately bring down the divorce rate. But the utility of DADT doesn’t stop there, especially when it comes to the institution of marriage. Think of those moments when she asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?” How about those situations when, upon entering someone’s absolutely ugly apartment, she gushes “isn’t this just a lovely room?” What if she asks, “Did you eat the last piece of pie I was saving for mother?” There are probably dozens of things you should not ask about in most marriages. “Did you use my toothbrush again,” “Why do you always leave that little wad of toilet paper in the toilet?” “Why don’t you put the lid down when you’re through?” More importantly, what if, in an extremely passionate moment he demands, “Did you just call me by your previous husband’s name? DID YOU!”

I believe DADT, if mandatory, could prevent a great deal of domestic violence. I recall a few years ago a man stabbed his wife some sixty times. When asked why, he said, “Because for 30 years she kept putting my orange juice behind the milk.” More recently a 90 year old man killed his wife of 65 years in a domestic dispute (I don’t know why, but it certainly seemed strange). When a policeman asked a man arrested for beating his wife why he did it, the man replied “If you were married, you’d understand.” Just think of how much a rigorous devotion to, or enforced prescription to DADT might have helped these unfortunate people.

I should think, however, that in the realm of international politics DADT is of even greater importance. You would not, for example, when questioning the Dictator of Pipelinestan, ask ,”Do you really boil your dissidents alive?” I’m pretty sure he would not want to tell. Likewise, you would probably not be advised to ask an Israeli leader, “Aren’t you attempting a slow genocide of Palestinians?” Indeed, I should think DADT is so critical in international relations they would absolutely not survive without it. This seems to be understood by all at however an unconscious level.

Of course DADT offers a number of different possibilities. You could, for example, have a situation of Do Ask, and Do Tell. “Do you still love me (after I just carelessly wrecked your new BMW)?” “Of course I do, darling.” Then you could find lots of examples of Do Ask, but Don’t Tell. “Where were you last night until so late?” Strangely, you can even have a situation of Don’t Ask, but Do Tell, as in the case of our war criminals, Bush and Cheney. President Obama and the Attorney General seem to have been very careful not to Ask, but Bush/Cheney have been keen to Tell, actually boasting of their war crimes. I guess you could also find Don’t Ask, Don’t Ask also. “I won’t ask you about where you were if you don’t ask me where all the money went.”

I hope you appreciate all we may have lost by not institutionalizing DADT a long time ago, actually making it the law of the land. I think it may be even more important than the golden rule, that is rarely followed by anyone anymore. You might even say it has become “quaint.” We should be willing to concede that it is DADT that makes life livable, promotes domestic and international tranquility. Pity it did just the opposite as it was used by the military. So good riddance for its repeal as far as the military goes, and hip hip hooray! for its much broader applicability. Admit it, it would make the world a better place (I think).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Shot Across the Bow?

Forida burglars snort
man’s ashes, thinking
they were cocaine.

As you no doubt know the United States (as well as some other countries) have had a very long history of labor strikes. Such strikes began in the U.S. as early as the 1790’s and have continued non-stop in one form or another up until the present time. In 1825, for example, carpenters in Boston struck for a 10 hour work day. In 1835 children working in the silk mills struck for an 11 hour, 6 day work schedule. By 1885 hundreds of thousands of workers were in the streets demanding an 8 hour work day. In 1890 the famous New York garment workers strike continued for 7 months until they finally were granted permission to unionize. In 1899 Idaho striking miners went so far as to blow up the Bunker Hill in Kellogg, Idaho. In 1903 occurred the Colorado labor wars. In 1914 Ford motors gave in to the unions went from $2.40 for a 9 hour day to $5.00 for an 8 hour day. In 1917 the Supreme Court approved the 8 hour work day under threat of a national railway strike. In 1926 the Railway Labor Act passed. Strikes have grown in intensity and violence over the years depending upon the amount of abuse workers were willing to accept. They were particularly violent in the early 1900’s when corporations employed strikebreakers to violently suppress them. In 1932 police killed strikers at Ford. By 1938 the Wages and Labor Act banned child labor and settled the 8 hour work day. In 1946 400,000 mine workers struck. In 1955 another textile workers strike. The New York city newspapers ended the longest strike in U.S. history in 1963. The Post Office workers struck for the first time in 195 years in 1970. Ronald Reagan fired the Air Controllers when they struck in 1981. My only point in mentioning these few events and the general pattern of labor/management problems is to point out that eventually the patience of workers does run out and they begin to resort to strikes and even violence to convince the powers that be they will no longer tolerate the conditions being imposed on them.

The problem has always been a result of powerful business interests demanding more and more from workers, more hours of work for less pay, no benefits, and so on. During most of the years mentioned above there was an almost constant demand for labor, workers arrived in the U.S. from China, Japan, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Mexico and many other places as well, welcomed as cheap laborers. It has always been about cheap labor, just as it is today. Except today we have a new problem, massive unemployment as a result of technological change and shipping jobs overseas. There simply are not enough jobs existing or being created in the U.S. to satisfy the available work force. This is a new form of labor abuse, basically telling workers they are no longer needed. But cheap labor is still in demand so we have allowed both legal and illegal immigrants into our country to continue this demand, and our corporations have not allowed the government to create jobs (as Roosevelt did) because that, too, would increase the price of labor (by shrinking the available labor force). And, since Reagan successfully fired the striking Air Controllers and destroyed their union the influence of labor unions, as well as their membership, has progressively declined. The once powerful union movement in the U.S., that gave us the 8 hour day, the 40 hour week, and at least some minimal benefits, has fallen into disrespect and, if Republicans have their way, will disappear entirely.

Interestingly enough, just yesterday (I think it was yesterday) a large number of sheetmetal workers in their hard hats and with megaphones burst into a private meeting of Mortgage Bankers demanding to know why there were no jobs resulting from the 900 million dollars the bankers had been given to create jobs. The bankers fled. If I were a banker these days, sitting on apparently two trillion dollars, and refusing to help out in this national crisis, I would take this seriously as a “shot across the bow” and change my ways before it becomes too late. Of course they could follow Jonathan Swift and suggest we begin eating our children.

Mankind have a great aversion to intellectual labor; but even supposing knowledge to be easily attainable, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take even a little trouble to acquire it.
Samuel Johnson

The giant African snail can grow to 15 inches from tip to tip and weigh up to 2 pounds.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How Dumb Can You Be

Montana Police Chief
says riding a horse
while drunk Is legal.

How dumb can you get? Or perhaps more interesting, how dumb do Republicans think we are? Their attempt to repeal the health care bill is turning out to be a complete disaster. The first problem is that it is a complete waste of time and taxpayer money at a time when there are much more important and urgent problems to solve. Perhaps what is even dumber is that it is allowing Democrats to explain just how good a bill it really is, and point out the disastrous consequences of repealing it. What is worse, however, is that most all of their arguments have turned out to be false. They claim the American public is opposed to it, false, a majority of Americans want it left alone or improved. They say it is a “job killer,” false, it will actually provide jobs. They say it will bankrupt the country, false, it will reduce the debt. They say it will harm small businesses, false, it will help them provide health care for their employees that they cannot now provide. They say it is socialism, false, private insurance companies (unfortunately) are still involved and will probably profit even more. I guess the current Republicans must have taken lessons from Bush/Cheney so they believe they can lie with impunity and the public will not be smart enough to understand they are being lied to big time. The ultimate absurdity ot this charade is that even if they could repeal “Obamacare,” they have offered absolutely nothing to take its place other than some vague mumbling that the marketplace will prevail. Of course the marketplace is what has been bankrupting people all along. The more it is discussed, and the more people become familiar with it, the better the bill appears. It appears to me their attempt to repeal health care, which they knew was doomed to fail, was, to put it simply, a really dumb idea.

There are lots of little tidbits worthy of mention today. If you began to fear that President Obama would become a one-time President, relax, he won’t be. How do I know this? Because Dick the Slimy who has apparently crawled out from under a rock once again, has said he would be, and we all know that Cheney has never been right about anything. Sarah Palin has announced she will not sit down and shut up. That is great news, as about the only way she could regain any credibility by now would be to sit down and shut up, at least for a while. John Bolton, one of the greatest warmongers ever, has said that if he ran he could capture the Republican nomination for President, “because he represents the mainstream of the Republican Party” (better sit down while you try to digest that, frightening if true). Glory be! Joe Lieberman has announced he will not seek office again in 2012! That is really great news. I hope he will decide to retire in Israel so he can watch, at first hand, the Palestinians being abused. A proposal first put forth by Orin Hatch some time back, that welfare recipients should be drug tested before being allowed to get help, has now surfaced again, I think in Kentucky. I don’t know, people on welfare don’t have much money to buy drugs, it would make far more sense to test white people, especially those on Wall Street, who seem to buy and use a lot of cocaine. Beware of Jeb Bush, married to a Latino, and lurking patiently among the Bushes for his turn to be President.

You may remember Spencer, the all-white cat with the blue eyes that slyly moved into our household. He was skinny, with a pathetic cry, constantly hungry, quite timid around us and the other cats, and unwilling to stay in the house at night. I must report things have changed for Spencer (and us). After a few months of being properly fed, putting on some weight, filling out beautifully, and being well-treated, Spencer has pretty much taken over. He now stays in the house whenever he wants, sleeps wherever he wants, eats whenever he wants, and is afraid of nothing (except little Kati who takes no guff from anyone). He also sleeps nightly on our bed (having ousted Claire who used to sleep here) where I said I would never want him to sleep. Aside from a tendency for foot fetishism, he has become a good citizen. Unlike the others he does not tear up furniture and, relatively speaking, is a gentleman.

Cats and monkeys; monkeys and cats; all human life is there.
Henry James

The lowest temperature on earth was -128.6 (F) at a Russian station in Antarctica.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Herding Idiots

Okay, okay, I apologize. In this new era of toning down the rhetoric I should not refer to Republicans as idiots. But I am concerned about just who it is that is going to take charge of what is now a rather disparate collection of Republican individuals with such a wide range of issues they seem desperate to attend. Gone apparently are the days when the Republican agenda was simple, reduce taxes and government. Take, for example, their very first priority, repealing the health care bill. This is a big mistake on their part if for no other reason than it is not going to happen, nor should it. At best it is a waste of time for a symbolic gesture to their “base” of know-nothings, and at worst, from a realistic point of view, it may give Democrats an opportunity to improve it. Their desire to make tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy permanent is also going to brand them as ridiculous.

Then there is Senator Mike Lee of Utah who thinks that child labor laws are unconstitutional. How far do you think that will go? Then there is Pawlenty of Minnesota who not only is opposed to raising the debt ceiling (a virtually suicidal act for the U.S.), he also wants to reverse DADT. There is also Trent Humphries, Tea Party founder in Arizona who thinks Gabrielle Giffords was responsible for her attempted assassination. And don’t forget Louie Golmert of Texas who thinks members of Congress should carry guns while in session. Representative Burton has suggested a plastic dome to protect Congress from potential assassins, and another Republican Representative, Steve King, wants a law against anyone carrying a gun within 1000 feet of a Congressperson (how one would determine this is not very clear). Another Republican stalwart, the new Governor of Maine, Paul LePage has announced the NAACP can “kiss his butt,” and President Obama can “go to hell.” That has to be a real winning strategy for the state of Maine (one might wonder how he got elected in the first place). Not to be outdone is Texas State Representative Leo Berman who has introduced a bill to prevent any religious or cultural law that might result in a Judicial use of laws from other countries (this is basically a law against Shari’a law that is actually not an issue). Congressman Duncan Hunter is another who wants to repeal DADT. Arizona Republicans in general apparently want University and College faculty to carry guns, and our good ol’ Rudy Giuliani thinks we should be able to involuntarily commit anyone who talks “crazy” (according to whom and what definition?). Of course there are also those Republicans who want to repeal Roe vs Wade, attack Iran, impeach Obama, and revive the gold standard (is there actually enough gold in the world to now back U.S. currency?). And last but not least is Representative Darrell Issa, recently given subpoena powers, who, mad with his newfound power, is apparently going to investigate everything about the Obama administration. Usually investigations occur after someone has been accused of something, in this case it appears that is not the case, Obama is apparently to be investigated simply for existing at all.

I haven’t even mentioned those perennial blabbermouths, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. Sarah, the Housewife from Hell, is trying to convince us that she, not Giffords, is the real victim of the Tucson shootings. Bachmann, the Loon from Minnesota, still wants her constituents to be “armed and dangerous” while she contemplates running for President (of the U.S., no less). Happily Sharon Angle and whats-her-face O’Donnell have temporarily fallen by the wayside (not to worry, they will both be back with even more absurd ideas). Of course there are the religious ones also, represented not only on the extreme right by Palin but also by the more moderate Huckabee who, along with others, does not believe in evolution. Mormons, too, will have a candidate.

I have also not mentioned Rush Limbaugh who seems at the moment to be the main voice of the Republican Party. And there are others as well, with more than just nominal influence, Beck, Hannity, O’Reily, and others who spew their nonsense and hate on a daily basis. They, along with all of the above, are all presumably members of the Republican Party. This is indeed a bizarre mix of belief and desire. Who, I wonder , is going to be able to “ride herd” on them? There seems to be no agreed upon leader of the Party at the moment who can organize this disparate bunch and somewhat integrate and pursue their various interests. Herding cats, I suspect, will be much easier than trying to deal with this mix of Tea Party, Libertarian, and more traditional Republican ideas, especially with no strong leader even on the horizon. John Boehner, the new leader of the House, will certainly have his work to do, and many of these other influential Republicans are completely out of his jurisdiction. It’s going to be a most interesting year or two.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Travels in Siberia - book

Travels in Siberia, Ian Frazier (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, N.Y., 2010).

Ian Frazier, the author of this interesting book, admits to a long time fascination with Russia and Siberia, something that I myself admit to, although in my case, having been there only once, only in Moscow, and only for a few days, remains unsatisfied. I might say it has become partly more satisfied by this book. Frazier has traveled to Siberia five times and to Russia the same amount of times. The main part of this work is his account of his incredible trip, with two Russian “guides” (or helpers, or friends) all the way from Moscow on the West to Vladivostok on the east. This was a trip overland of some 9000 kilometers in a diesel-powered Renault van, that often broke down, only to be repaired by the apparent genius of his Russian companions, and over roads, bridges, and the absence of bridges that testify to the same lack of infrastructure maintenance we experience here at home. While this particular trip takes up much of the book there are descriptions of other trips, particularly one undertaken in winter to the very interior of Siberia, as well.

But there is much more to this book than merely the descriptions of his own travels in Russia and Siberia. There is, to begin with, his discussion of previous travelers in this part of the world, particularly the earliest travelers in Siberia. There is also a considerable amount of Russian and Siberian history, especially as it relates to the fate of the” Decemberists” and the prisons of Siberia. As his latest (and shortest) trip was in 2009 you are privy to what living and traveling in Siberia is like, and you also learn a great deal both about Russian scientists and ordinary Russian and Siberian citizens. They are, for the most part, little different from people everywhere, helpful, interested in America and Americans, and friendly. As there are few hotels in the small towns of Siberia, as well as few restaurants, Frazier and his companions most often made camp and slept in tents, seemed to eat an inordinate amount of kielbasa, but also were welcomed into Russian and Siberian homes, fed, and made comfortable. It seems that virtually every town and village has its own Museum with caretakers more than willing to welcome visitors. Frazier was able not only to visit these disparate local Museums but also many businesses and governmental agencies as well. I believe the reader gains a decent understanding and insightful appreciation of life in Siberia at the present time.

Frazier offers two very different views of this incredible part of the world. One of the most striking features of the landscape as described by him, is the trash. It seems that everywhere they camped, and everywhere people had been there were incredible amounts of trash. Either Russians are not disturbed by this or they lack the motivation or the means to deal with it. Similarly, there are apparently many virtually abandoned cities and prisons, acres of crumbling concrete and wooden structures that flourished for a time during the Stalin regime but have now been all but abandoned and forgotten. This is a rather sad and depressing view of the countryside. Russians apparently have no more respect for the environment than we do. At the same time he also described cities of remarkable charm and beauty, fisheries still as rich as ever they were, and wildlife in abundance.

There is also a very different view of a Siberia, a place that represents one twelfth of the land mass of our planet , a land so vast it is virtually impossible to comprehend, a land of huge rivers, swamps, and taiga (boreal forest) that stretches endlessly and still harbors the original and pristine flora and fauna, so pure as to be free from any pollution. And there is that marvelous jewel of the planet, Lake Baikal, the largest body of fresh water on earth, with waters still so pure you can see into great depths. Still living in the interior of Siberia are various tribes that exist by reindeer herding, fishing, and trapping, virtually untouched by the outside world. In his next to last trip to Siberia, deliberately taken in winter to experience the incredible cold, Frazier traveled into this remote frontier and describes it eloquently.

It is almost impossible to believe that during the medieval period the main source of income for Russia was sable fur, and almost as impossible to believe just how many sable furs were involved. For example, in 1586 it is said the Russian treasury received two hundred thousand sable furs, furs that were traded to China and virtually around the world. It is said that fully one third of the Russian economy was based on the fur trade. In fact it was the quest for sable that was largely responsible for the exploration and eventual colonization of Siberia. In addition to sable, Siberia also produced ermine, fox, beaver, and northern gray squirrel furs, traded mostly from Kiev, the most important medieval center of the fur trade at that time. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that mammoth ivory, exported by the tons, was also one of the most important exports that constituted the early Russian economy. Even more incredible (to me actually mind boggling) is the fact that scientists estimate the Siberian permafrost may still hold as many as 150 million mammoths, more than the human population of Russia today. If this doesn’t give one an idea of just how awesomely huge Siberia is I don’t know what might.

Anyway, Travels in Siberia is a wonderfully well written account of Frazier’s travels in that far off and mysterious land, educational and insightful, and well worth reading if you are interested in the contemporary scene and the history of this incredible part of the world. I have not mentioned the incredible natural resources, especially natural gas and oil, that are now so crucially important to the world economy, and who knows what other unexplored resources must exist in this still relatively unexplored wilderness. For me, at least, there is nothing more awesome, mysterious, fascinating or beckoning than “Mother Russia,” still more undeveloped than any other place on the planet.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Guns, Again

I hesitate to comment on this problem because gun control is such a hot topic at the moment and (strangely I think) such a highly emotional one. But having been a gun owner for most of my life, and also being an ex-hunter, and having lived both in highly urban and rural environments I believe I can understand both sides of the argument. Or at least I would if both sides were equally rational. Anyway, first of all, I wonder if the control of handguns is even theoretically possible in the United States. There are an estimated 65 million handguns in the U.S. (my guess is there are even more). Many of these guns are probably registered but I suspect a great many (quite likely most) are not. Most of the individuals who own these handguns obviously believe they not only have a right to possess them, but also believe they need or want them for one reason or another. Thus they are not likely to want to give them up and would probably not turn them in voluntarily even if they were financially reimbursed for them. While there are some laws regulating the ownership of such weapons, in reality they are not well regulated and in some instances not regulated at all. For example, here in Idaho, if you want to purchase a handgun from a dealer you must fill out a form claiming you are not insane, a felon, and so on. The dealer then calls Boise, gives your name, and if you are not for some reason on a list of those who are not supposed to own guns, you walk out with your new purchase. This takes about ten minutes, you have to show your driver’s license, and that’s it. Of course there are periodic gun shows, usually called “Gun and Horn Shows,” because hunters bring their trophy antlers to show as well as their guns for sale. There are no background checks whatsoever at these shows and anyone can buy a gun if they have the means. But rarely mentioned in this context is the fact that individuals can buy and sell guns indiscriminately with no checks of any kind. If you want to buy or sell a gun all you need to show is a bill of sale. Guns are advertised in the local papers and on bulletin boards and so on. I believe it is almost certainly the case that if this were made illegal it would have the same result we had with prohibition, and have now with drugs, there would be a black market, gun owners would become criminals, enforcement would be mostly impossible, and it would, I think, be a disaster.

Having been raised in Idaho around guns and hunters, I was surprised when I entered the University and began to live in cities, to learn that there were people (my new friends and acquaintances) who were absolutely horrified even at the thought of owning guns. Thus in general there are two distinct groups of people when it comes to guns, those, like me, raised in a rural environment, and those, like them, raised in cities. These two groups are at cross-purposes when it comes to even discussing the problem of gun control. What this also means is that there are also, generally speaking, two different realities, one in which guns are not really considered a problem, and one in which guns really are a problem (as in the inner cities). For all intents and purposes these two realities are not considered when it comes to gun control. The National Rifle Association, an extremely powerful lobby, is opposed to gun control wherever found, and therein exists the biggest single problem.

The NRA is basically opposed to any form of gun control. The issue of the moment, after the horrible Tucson affair, has to do with clips that will hold additional rounds. Most semi-automatic pistols will hold anywhere from probably seven to ten rounds, the special clips will hold many more, thus allowing a shooter to potentially kill more victims, as happened in Tucson. These extra clips were illegal for a time but the law against them expired in 2004 and was not renewed. There are other problems with control as well, so-called “cop-killer” bullets, fully automatic weapons, licensing of firearms, restrictions on ownership, carrying concealed weapons, how many guns one can buy in a certain amount of time, and others. Generally speaking the NRA is opposed to all of these restrictions. Basically, all you have to do is mention any form of control and they are automatically opposed to it. You might think this is completely irrational. It is. One example that was pointed out by Ed Schultz the other day is that shotguns that can hold five rounds are required by law to use a special plug that allows them to hold only three rounds. There are, of course, no such restrictions on how many rounds a handgun may hold.

Having been a hunter I know that you do not need fully automatic rifles to hunt deer and elk, or any other game animal. You certainly do not need .50 caliber guns to do so. You also do not need handguns at all. The only point in having a handgun with extended clips is basically to shoot as many people as possible (you do not need them for target practice or home protection). It probably makes sense for a homeowner, especially one living in a rural environment, to own a handgun, but even this is rather questionable. Obviously if you are a hunter you need a rifle and/or shotgun. But you do not need the additional firepower the NRA seems to think you need.

Of course part of the NRA argument, especially on the part of the more ardent members, is that we need all this weaponry to protect ourselves from an abusive government. But we haven’t had an abusive government (in the sense they imply, government has more sophisticated ways to abuse us without weapons). This is a form of paranoia that is hard to overcome. Furthermore, carried to its logical extreme, individual citizens would have to have cannons and tanks and whatever to protect themselves from an abusive government. There are laws against having these kinds of weapons that make it clear that some regulations do exist and are in the provenience of government control. But resistance to control is so great, and the NRA is such a powerful lobby, our current Congress and Executive are unwilling to even attempt any serious action. You might think we could have some control where control is obviously necessary, and you might think that common sense might prevail in most cases, but it doesn’t. It’s the American way.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rush Limbaugh, Provocateur

Minnesota “Soul Collector” and
“Medicine Man” arrested for attempting
to cut off neighbor’s toes and scalp him.

If you look up the word provocateur on the online Merriam dictionary this is all you get:
: one who provokes

I never listen to Rush Limbaugh, but here where I live he is featured on the local radio station. Thus you may well overhear part of his program in the barber shop, the court house, and even the health food store. And of course I sometimes see reports of his latest blubberings on the internet. One that fascinated me the other day was when he said, “Jared Loughner has the full support of the Democratic party.”

How could this be? I wondered. Here is a mentally disturbed young man who attempted to assassinate a Democratic Congressperson and Limbaugh claims he has the full support of the Democratic party. On the face of it this would seem simply absurd. Trying to figure out how he could possibly have arrived at such a conclusion I think his reasoning (if he actually has any reasoning) has something to do with the fact that Democrats (liberals) tend to believe that sociocultural conditions have something to do with the creation of criminals. You know, the old nature/nurture controversy. Rush would have us believe that Democrats (liberals) will try to blame Loughner’s behavior on society at large rather than on his individual psychology. It is true that people (not just liberals) are trying to ascertain what it might have been that drove Loughner to his terrible act. But for Limbaugh to jump from liberal (and others) ideas about social ills to the support of Loughner is, of course, absurd.

On the one hand this is pretty simple to understand as the Republicans, Limbaugh, Palin, O’Reilly, Beck, and others, must know they are guilty of creating a constant barrage of threats, hate speech, and false accusations against Democrats, so it is important for them to shift the blame elsewhere. Some have even accused Loughner of being a “leftist,” rather than associated with the far right, a charge transparently false. But no lie is beneath them. It is true that Loughner was a confused and undoubtedly mentally ill young man, but it is equally true that his rantings and actions were much more in line with right wing beliefs than anything on the left. It is also imperative that Republicans, especially the more guilty ones, insist that their actions had nothing to do with the violence that occurred. They claim there is no connection between their hate speech and what happened. It is true there is no direct connection, just as it is true there is no direct connection between advertising for coca cola and the fact that many people eventually buy coca cola. It is the message repeated over and over that eventually leads some to act. Talk of reloading, 2nd amendment solutions, government abuses, death panels, monetary problems, socialism, and putting people in the cross hairs of their telescopic sights, could easily lead those on the margins to take inappropriate actions against those who are being constantly demeaned and accused.

What I think is interesting about this is that Limbaugh could easily have merely stuck with the Republican talking points: they are innocent, there is no connection between their speech and the murders, Loughner was obviously just an insane loner, he alone is to be blamed, and etc., etc. Limbaugh did not have to make the obviously absurd, even outrageous and fundamentally irrelevant claim that Loughner had the full support of the Democratic party. His claim, then, in my opinion was a deliberate and unnecessary provocation, motivated solely by a desire to cause dissention in our political system. I can see no other reason why he would have said such a thing if it was not to provoke his so-called “ditto-heads” and others into hatred of Democrats (liberals). His role in this matter is identical to the role that would be played by an “agent provocateur,” precisely the role often used against labor unions, political parties, governments, and so on. Communists and socialists often used such provocateurs, as did corporations against unions. If Rush Limbaugh was being employed by another country or some corporation to deliberately cause dissent and trouble, and if that were proven, he would not doubt face at least some kind of punishment. But as he is apparently just a big fat, lying, private provocateur who does it only for the money (lots and lots of money),, and he lives in a society that treasures free speech, he is allowed to continue seeding dissent and hatred day after day and can go totally unpunished. Our enemies don’t have to send their agent provocateurs, Limbaugh does it for them. Neither Limbaugh nor Palin pulled the trigger, of course, but they and others of their ilk have blood on their hands just as surely as the sun sets in the West. To expect them to admit their guilt is futile, to expect them to shut up and stop their irresponsible behavior is probably equally futile. Republicans are apparently not influenced by their sociocultural mileu, they are just born that way.

Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.
George Carlin

There are at least 440 species of sharks.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Huckleberry Finn

Tawainese man sues neighbors
for teaching their Myna bird
to call him “clueless big-mouthed idiot.”

Now that Sarah Palin has exposed herself for all to see what a petulant, egocentric, ignorant, uncaring, airhead she clearly is, perhaps she will slowly disappear from sight (no doubt a false hope as her supporters seem to think she walks on water) and leave us in peace (no more reloading, targets, death panels, and such).

Anyway, I have been thinking of some recent developments I would like to consider. First, the question of publishing a new version of Huckleberry Finn without the “N” word. This strikes me as a particularly silly thing to do, if for no other reason that it might establish a precedent we will regret. Actually, there already is a precedent. When Joseph Conrad published his novella, The Nigger of the Narcissus, in England, the American edition was called, Children of the Sea: A Tale of the Forecastle. This was because the American publisher (Dodd, Mead and Co.) said no one in America would read a book with the word “Nigger” in the title. I guess that wonderful comedian, W.C. Fields, was also concerned about the delicacy of the American public when he offered “There must be an Ethiopian in the Fuel Supply” to replace the more common expression, “There’s a Nigger in the woodpile.” There is also the fate of the children’s book, Little Black Sambo that was eventually changed in various ways because it was deemed offensive to Blacks. The original book was about a little Tamil boy but eventually the boy became an African. A particularly offensive version was published in Japan and sold more than a million copies before it was changed (I think it was changed to “Brave Little Sambo”).

Huckleberry Finn is not an exception to this problem, but should we consider the “N” word taboo wherever it appears? We could of course search the English language literature for the past two or three hundred years and strike the offending word wherever found. It would be of course very time consuming and expensive but with the internet perhaps it could even be eventually accomplished. Of course there are other offending aspects of our history that probably would require somewhat similar treatment. For example, how about that scene in Casablanca where Ingrid Bergman asks the waiter to ask the “boy” to come to her table? Everyone knows that “boy” is as offensive as Nigger. The scene could be changed and she could ask for the piano player, or even “Sam.” Then there would be the problem of Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry), the first Black movie star, who became internationally famous and very wealthy playing the stereotypical role of a shiftless, lazy, no account “Coon” (Negro). Although he was very successful, the role was terribly controversial as it portrayed Blacks in such an awful prejudiced way. His movies are rarely played anymore and most people may not even be aware he existed (he was incredibly famous at the time). I suggest, however, that we refer to him henceforth as a romantic lead.

There are other offensive words that should probably be dealt with as well. Cannibal, for example, is very derogatory to those whose ancestors were cannibals. I bet “savages” is similar. Let’s get rid of these too. Of course we should get rid of words like “Jap,” “Hun,” “Kraut,” “Coolie,” “Chink,” and so on, as they are clearly offensive to those who used to be called by those terms. No doubt “towel-head,” “Jungle Bunny,” “Gook,” and many more should go, we wouldn’t want to offend anyone.

The word “Slave” itself has become an issue of late. When one of the Southern States (South Carolina?) recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Civil War they attempted to ignore the issue of slavery, some even insisting (falsely) that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War. At this very moment the new Republican House has stricken “Civil Rights” and “Labor” from certain committee titles. There seems to be a surge of interest in rewriting history, especially the history of the recent Bush/Cheney years. I don’t know if the issue of Huckleberry Finn is related to the rest of revisionist history or not, but lumping all these together I suggest we start all over from the very beginning. What the hell, let’s do away with colonialism, slavery, genocides, wars, plagues, Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and what-have-you, and pretend that none of it ever happened. The history of the human species has just been one groovy party after another. This shouldn’t be as difficult as you might think, as the history we recognize now and teach our children is pretty much just as fictionalized as not. Until The “People’s History” appeared how many people knew (or knew but wouldn’t tell) that Christopher Columbus was a brutal thief that murdered and robbed at will? How many people were aware of the genocide of the American Indians and the means that were used? I’m sure most of the history I was taught was false.

Mark Twain was very careful with the language he used and he used the language in Huckleberry Finn precisely as he wished it to be. If contemporary readers are too stupid to realize the book was written in an earlier period, and the word “Nigger” was in those days commonplace, they will surely not be enlightened by changing things now. Works of art are timeless and should not be desecrated by the whims of more recent generations.

Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history.
George Bernard Shaw

Hares less than one year old are called leverets.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No Shame

Missouri man brandishes shotgun,
demands food for pregnant wife
even though restaurant is closed.

What we commonly refer to as the “Right Wing” has blood on their hands, and what is worse they have NO SHAME! I hate what happened in Tucson and I hate this story. But do not allow yourself to be misled, this shooting was political (no matter how confused and psychotic), and both sides of the political spectrum are not equally guilty. There is no doubt which side of the political spectrum has been guilty for years of spewing forth hate and suggesting violence. There is no doubt whose side Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck, Coulter, and others are on. There is no doubt which party Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Sharon Angle, and others of their ilk represent. There has not been and is no equivalent bunch of vicious hate-mongers and outrageous liars on the left, none. MSNBC, while liberal, is not the equivalent of Fox “News.”

Predictably the right wing spokespersons are trying to spin this horrible event as having nothing to do with them. Limbaugh even has the gall to try to blame Democrats for the attempted assassination of a Democratic Congressperson. Fox is trying to convince people that Sarah Palin is actually the victim! Others are claiming there is no relationship between the vitriolic language and the murderous act. If you want to understand this relationship I suggest you see the truly insightful piece, “Surely Some Revelation is at Hand,” on Truthdig today. You should also see William Rivers Pitt’s fine piece, “The Wrath of Fools: An Open Letter to the Far Right,” on Buzzflash. I have never been particularly upset because of the existence of people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and others like them. They are, after all, merely individuals with little or no talent who make their very generous livings simply by saying outrageous things on a daily basis. What truly bothers me is the fact they have audiences, there are thousands, even millions of people, who actually seem to believe their outrageous lies and bask in the hatred they spew. This is not only difficult for me to believe but frightening in its implications for our nation.

American politics has always been a dirty business and there have always been insults passed back and forth between candidates, and even open hostilities between business and the working class, but I do not believe there is any genuine equivalent of what has been happening in American politics in the past few years. When the Republican Party turned into a criminal enterprise during the Clinton administration, attempting to defeat him by dirty tricks when they could not otherwise do so, it signaled a new and more unprecedented political strategy. Never before had a sitting President been subjected to impeachment because of his private sex life (had this been so President John Kennedy would not have lasted a month). Granted this was an act of desperation on the part of the Republicans who could not make their other false charges stick, it was still a precedent, and, in my opinion, began a new era in American politics where “anything goes,” no matter how despicable. “Roviation” became respectable.

The next truly unprecedented and underhanded move came during the 2000 election when the Supreme Court intervened to give the election to George W. Bush when he would not truly have been the winner had they not committed this unprecedented and unconstitutional act (an act so terribly outrageous even they announced it could not be used as a precedent). This, however, was only part of the problem. When the “brown shirts” of the far right traveled to Florida and physically stopped the legal counting of ballots we should have realized that Fascism had come to America. These people should have been arrested and charged with interfering with an election, you can’t even stand too close to a voting station and electioneer, so why should this have been allowed.

It’s been downhill for our politics ever since that shameful event. Right wing radio and TV has relentlessly demonized “Liberals” and President Obama, their spokespersons have talked of using “2nd amendment solutions,” citizens have been asked to “reload,” right-wingers have begun carrying guns to political events, threatening to bring them loaded “next time,” Sarah Palin has put Democratic candidates in her “cross-hairs,” and on and on. There has been no lack of venom and hatred from the “right,” that has accelerated since Obama was elected President (he’s Black, you know). Some have warned for a long time this would eventually lead to violence and it has, not only in Tucson but in other places as well. But the right will and is doing everything possible to distance themselves from the result of their own activities and guilt, to convince us they are innocent of any wrongdoing. At the very least they are partly responsible for scrambling this young man’s brain to the point where he carried out their fantasies for them. Had it been President Obama they would be dancing in the streets (perhaps secretly, but celebrating nonetheless). The behavior of the right wing, and even the Republican Party in general, has been for the past three decades absolutely despicable. Try to name even one thing they have done to better the lives of ordinary Americans. And consider what it means when one of their most powerful leaders has announced publicly their primary goal and purpose is to make certain President Obama will be a one term President. I think this is contemptible almost beyond belief and yet, they have no shame, they will continue until they are stopped, And who, pray tell, is going to do that?

I have nothing but contempt for the kind of governor who is afraid, for whatever reason, to follow the course that he knows is best for the State; and as for the man who sets private friendship above the public welfare - I have no use for him either.

The hunting of wild pigs with swords is said to be a growing sport.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Dillinger's Wild Ride - book

Dillinger’s Wild Ride The Year that made America’s Public Enemy Number One, Elliott J. Gorn (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Why, you might ask, is there a book published in 2009 about a bank robber killed by the FBI and Chicago Police in 1934? Read this book and find out that this particular work is but a drop in the bucket compared to the recent explosion of works on the subject of John Dillinger. It took apparently 25 years after Dillinger’s death for the first full-length book about him to appear. There was quite a lot of interest in the subject around that time, both in print and in the movies, lasting up to the 1930’s, when the interest waned and Dillinger was pretty much ignored for a time. In the 1950’s and 60’s a series of cheap pulp novels, mostly falsified versions exploiting the Dillinger years, appeared. By the 1960’s more serious works began to appear and in recent years this interest in this old-time bank robber has substantially intensified (witness, for example, the movie about Dillinger starring Johnny Depp, currently one of our most accomplished and important actors).

Why this particular book about John Dillinger? In the author’s own words: “I take a little different tack here. Like the others I tell the story of Dillinger’s wild year. Using government documents and newspapers I describe the activities of the gang and the efforts of law enforcement agencies to stop them. More than that, however, I seek to explain how the Dillinger story was created, interpreted, and reworked, how Americans felt about his exploits and how we have come to remember him.” I believe Mr. Gorn does a credible job on this score. And I think he does a good job of reviewing the chronology of Dillinger’s exploits and clearing up some of more glaring falsifications of the story.

There is more to this book than that, however. The Dillinger story is fascinating from a number of different perspectives and more complicated than one might think. First, the story also relates to the beginnings of the FBI and how the success of that institution rested with the young J. Edgar Hoover, who might well have lost his job had he not finally succeeded in killing Dillinger. If that had happened there is no doubt the FBI would have developed differently than it did under Hoover. Second, this story is symbolic of the changes that were occurring in American society at that time, particularly the change from a rural agrarian life to an urban one and what were believed to be the ill effects that change was bringing about. Third, the author’s brief reviews of what was occurring in print about Dillinger at the time reveals the rather undisciplined and haphazard ways of the press. Some accounts of Dillinger made him out to be a sort of folk hero in the style of Jesse James, but others portrayed an entirely different picture of a ruthless killer and bandit. I take exception to the author’s claim that, “Given the integrated nature of print culture by the 1930’s, the Dillinger story was told with considerably uniformity.” As there were quite contradictory accounts of Dillinger and his activities I suppose this boils down to what he means by “considerable uniformity.”

Still another fascinating aspect of this book is that it describes a situation eerily similar to what we are experiencing right now, what with banks taking advantage of the public, public outrage at what they are doing, and a belief they are responsible for our truly bad times and deserve whatever they get. Dillinger’s robberies met with sympathy from the public as they felt Dillinger was only doing what the banks themselves were doing, robbing people. Thus it was that Dillinger was perceived more or less as an innocent farm boy (which, strictly speaking he was not), abused by the penal system, who then turned to a life of crime, but more in the style of Jesse James than Al Capone. Dillinger was a bank robber but not really a gangster in the mode of Al Capone, at least in the eyes of the public.

Finally, Dillinger himself was a fabulous creature, on the one hand a hardened criminal, but on the other a loving family member, loyal and friendly, outgoing, fearless and brave, and able to joke and banter with the police even when in their custody and threatened with the electric chair. He was apparently a truly likeable, even charming guy, who enjoyed the company of women, movies, and the good life in general. It is not surprising that over the years Dillinger has grown into a mythological figure, even a kind of folk hero, especially at a time when there is the same need for such a figure as there was in the 1930’s. It is not as easy to rob banks as it was in Dillinger’s day, there are few, if any, daylight robberies involving shoot-outs with the cops, fast cars, and handsome gun molls. Law enforcement has grown much more sophisticated with respect to communication, helicopters, better armed police, and so on. The “romance” you might say, has gone. But Dillinger and his gang, and the events that made him so famous, have now become part of the irreality and mythology that makes up American culture.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Psychopolitical Psychosis?

Maine woman stabs husband
in the back because “she can’t stand
him and he drives her nuts.”

I assume that no one by now has failed to hear about the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a number of other people at a political gathering outside a Safeway store in Tucson. I realize it is far too premature to come to any conclusions about this event, but following in the immortal footsteps of war criminal Donald Rumsfeld, and paraphrasing his famous saying, “you go to blog with what you have, not with what you wish you had,” I offer the following comments.

On one television broadcast I heard an analyst say there was no indication this was politically motivated. I give him the benefit of the doubt as he made this statement before much information was available. I don’t believe it was entirely apolitical as there are just too many hints that it pretty clearly had a political element to it. I do not deny the 22 year-old shooter is almost certainly a bit insane, but I do not believe his insanity is divorced from politics. First, the shooting occurred at a political even that had been announced as such. Second, Gabrielle Giffords had been a political target previously when the door to her headquarters was smashed after she voted for health care. Third, her rival for office in the last election held a fundraising event in which he urged his followers to come and shoot a fully automatic M16 to help get rid of Giffords. Fourth, Sarah Palin had her on her hit list, and even featured her district in her famous cross-hairs. Fifth, when her father was asked if she had any enemies he replied, “Everyone in the Tea Party.”

While it is true that the web page of the 22 year-old shooter consists of various rambling remarks that are difficult to penetrate there is no doubt they had a political cast to them. He speaks of the abuses of government, his dreams of political business, illiterates in his district, and more incoherent remarks about making new money and so on. He is said to have used a Glock pistol with an extended clip so he could fire many rounds without stopping to reload. I’m not certain this modification is legal, but legal or not it has NRA written all over it. He obviously had plenty of rounds as he apparently wounded or killed at least 17 individuals, including a Federal Judge (who had also at one time been given special protection because of threats to his life after he had decided in favor of some immigrants in a lawsuit against an Arizona rancher). He also shot and killed a 9 year-old girl. Eyewitnesses said he just fired at random after he first shot Giffords in the head, apparently up close and from behind.

While I could be terribly wrong, of course, I must say that in all honesty I am not surprised that something like this could happen after the past few years of hate radio, partisan politics, threats of death to Obama, people carrying their guns to political rallies, threatening to bring them loaded next time, Palin’s comments about reloading, turning to the 2nd amendment if they don’t get their way, and so on. Others have been saying the same thing for quite a while now even though the hate merchants feign complete innocence. What I see here is a young man whose brain represents a scrambled version of Fox/Limbaugh/Beck/ Palin/NRA/Tea Party/racism/and non-stop conservative ultra-right venom, encouraged by the quasi-treasonous party of “no,” their irrational hatred of President Obama, and their repeated desire to see and force him to fail.

Yes, young Jared is probably mentally ill in some sense, but perhaps we are seeing the emergence of an entirely new psychosis, one that has of yet gone unnamed. For want of a better term we might call it the “psychopolitical psychosis,” its etiology grounded in too much exposure to ignorance and hate and its symptoms incoherent political ramblings and irrational violence.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Martin Luther King Jr

Although the exact place of origin is unknown, date palms probably originated around the Persian Gulf.

Friday, January 07, 2011


Pu-leeze! Can’t anyone do something to stop them? Possible Republican candidates for President, that is. Today I saw somewhere that Rudy Giuliani is contemplating running again for the office. Yeah, that Rudy Giuliani, you know, the guy that spent millions last time and ended up, if I remember right, with a single vote. The ex mayor of New York City who had a criminal Police Chief that he tried to get appointed as Homeland Security czar (I think this is right). I suppose he is thinking of the Republican Party nomination as there doesn’t seem to be any other criminal party yet.

I had barely recovered from the shock of hearing the news that Michele (the Minnesota Loon) Bachmann was thinking about a possible candidacy. This, in turn, followed the announcement that Newt (The Greatest Hypocritical Pontificator) Gingrich was thinking about running for President. And this was after the persistent rumor that the Housewife from Hell, Sarah the Deerslayer, was running. I even heard a while back that Rick (Man on Dog) Santorum might run. Earlier I heard a rumor that ex Virginia Senator (Loose Lips Sink Ships) George Allen was thinking about it also. Wow! So many terrific candidates, all apparently equipped with gigantic oversized egos, delusions of grandeur, but only tiny microscopic grips on reality. Perhaps I am being unfair. I suspect that none of these people truly expect to be candidates, and they almost certainly do not even dream of becoming President (I hope). What they seem to have in common is the obsession with keeping their names in print as often as possible, hoping something may come of it (like someone said, “even a blind dog finds a bone sometimes). Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that Christine O’Donnell has not announced her candidacy. Maybe she doesn’t want to compete with Sarah. Oh, hell, what do I know?

Looking beyond these, what I might call pretend candidates, what might be found? Happily John McCain is out of the picture. This leaves Mitt Romney, a kind of perennial Mormon candidate not well known for telling the truth (this might be unfair as no one else in the Republican Party ever tells the truth). At best I think he would be a long shot. Then there is Mike Huckabee, a religious fundamentalist who doesn’t believe in evolution (a very strange choice for a 21st century candidate), and may even be considered not conservative enough for the current Republican crowd. I guess Bobby Jindal has already flunked out as we never hear about him anymore. There is also Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who wants to be President so badly he has taken to telling sex jokes about his wife and pretending to be a lumberjack (or some such thing). Mike Pence is a possibility, as is John Thune, but neither one of them is very well known, and Thune being from a state (South Dakota) with so few votes would seem unlikely to ever get the nomination. Besides, both of these possibilities, although very conservative, are not members of the Tea Party and therefore probably not to be taken seriously. There may be others I have neglected, but all in all I would say it does not look very promising for the Republicans unless some new charismatic and dynamic candidate appears. I know! Just the ticket! General David Petraeus! Having lost the “war” in Afghanistan (through no fault of his own of course), he will probably have some leisure time, thus he could come home, mount one of his famous “surges,” and save us all from Obama and socialism (don’t laugh).

I’m sure nothing can be done about it, but I find it extremely annoying that anyone in the U.S., no matter how unqualified, stupid, or even insane, can announce their candidacy for President and, if they have any name recognition at all, can manage to get some press. This appears to be true even if they are not even serious candidates with no chance whatsoever of being nominated or elected. There ought to be a law, or rule, or procedure, or something, whereby candidates should have to be vetted by their party or whoever they profess to represent, before being allowed to announce their candidancy, and anyone who was not should be completely ignored. That is, only legitimate candidates with serious intentions, significant support, and at least minimal qualifications, should be allowed. Of course this will never happen as our 24/7 “news” organizations are so desperate for infotainment to fill up time they will eagerly print anything and keep it going as long as possible no matter how trivial or absurd it might be. They are certainly not going to pay reporters to cover the nation and the globe to actually find real news. It is so much cheaper and easier to just report what they are told.