Monday, January 30, 2012


Bubblehead: Of course you are right as usual. It is comforting to know that Big Brother is still around correcting my excesses and mistakes. I am not being sarcastic.

Fascism, according to Mussolini, one of its greatest proponents, is a marriage of government and corporations. According to other definitions there is a strong dictatorial leader and the state takes precedence over the individual. Since our (criminal) Supreme Court, throwing all precedent and pretences away, proclaimed that corporations were persons and could substitute money for speech, a decision rivaled in idiocy only by the famous Dred Scott decision of l857, we are now well on our way to a full-blown Fascist nation.

It is true we do not as yet have a fully established dictatorship, but it is clear that more and more power has been taken over by the Executive Branch, even to the point of taking us to war without the consent of Congress and even worse, the power to arrest and detain individual citizens indefinitely at the whim of the President. In our evolving Fascism the dictator will be chosen by corporations in collusion with each other and will serve as their representative. While we still pretend to have a democratic system whereby the President is elected by the people, the people are only allowed to vote for one of the two candidates chosen by the corporations. As both political parties are part of this same procedure the differences between them have gradually disappeared and does not matter very much.

This new fascist arrangement is working as planned. Those most in control have obviously decided that Willard Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican candidate to run against President Obama. Exercising their right to spend as much money as possible they have outspent Gingrich in South Carolina and now Florida by as much as four or five to one, denying him the nomination. Romney has received more money for his campaign from the powerful banks that all of the rest of the candidates combined, and Obama is not without their support as well. What we are witnessing is truly the buying of an election.

The issues that characterize the campaigns, whatever they are, are not truly issues that matter much. Corporations don’t care who marries who, who has an abortion, what religion is involved, or even what the unemployment rate is, provided it stays within reasonable limits so as not to impair their enormous profits, and high enough to guarantee the cheapest labor possible. Of course they are opposed to higher taxes (on themselves), Social Security, Medicare, and such because those are issues that bear directly on their potential profits in one way or another. They tolerate food stamps and other such poverty programs only because they have not yet figured out what else to do with the growing surplus populations.

Obviously I could be terribly wrong about this, perhaps they do in some sense feel some responsibility for the poor and the unemployed, maybe they would like ordinary citizens to have more to say about their lives, but this seems to me extremely unlikely. If they did feel that way would they fight anything that even faintly resembles socialism? Would they not be in favor of unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, health care for all, Social Security, food stamps, and other things that would make the lives of ordinary people more pleasant? Would they not recognize there is more to life than profit? They would, but they clearly don’t.

It takes only a moment of reflection to realize that our obscenely bloated and misnamed National Defense Budget is only marginally for national defense and far more importantly to generate unending profits for our Industrial/Military/Political Complex. Similarly, it is pretty obvious that our troops located in bases all around the world are not primarily for national defense, but rather, to protect international corporations that are exploiting resources wherever found, especially at the moment, oil, but many other kinds of businesses as well.

There was no doubt that the Bush/Cheney administration, along with Karl Rove, planned to create a one party nation that would endure forever, and it would have consolidated ultimate power in the Executive Branch of our government. This was to me a truly frightening proposition, but what I believe was even more frightening is that they basically would have used America’s superpower status to impose Fascism all over the world, hence the build-up of our military establishment, the addition of more and more private contractors, and the spreading of bases everywhere. They nearly succeeded in establishing Fascism here in the U.S., I fear the prospect still exists here, but it is doubtful that our once superpower status will ever exist again although some seem to think it still exists. They are going to have a rude awakening.

I will not allow yesterday's success to lull me into today's complacency, for this is the great foundation of failure.

Og Mandino

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Land of Naked People - book

The Land of Naked People, Encounters with Stone Age Islanders, Madhusree Mukerjee (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2003)

This is one of the strangest books I have ever read. I picked it up recently in our wonderful local bookstore, thought it looked interesting, and have only now finished it. Just interpreting from the book itself it is difficult, if not virtually impossible, to know what kind of book it is. It might be merely a travel book written by an Indian woman who traveled to the Andaman Islands, and because of her father’s influence was allowed to travel more than the usual tourist. But it is more than that because it also deals with the history of the Andaman Islanders. However, it is not a history book either. It is certainly not an anthropological work, although it contains some ethnographic information and cites quite a number of anthropologists. There are occasional flowery prose passages here and there throughout the text but it is clearly not literature as we usually think of literature, nor is it a purely journalistic account as it includes far more detail and lacks the precision of a journalistic book. It is certainly not a scientific work. I am left to wonder what she had in mind other than writing a kind of travel/adventure book for a broad audience, certainly the unfortunately titillating title suggests this. In spite of all, I did find it quite interesting, if somewhat depressing, as it does relate how the Andaman Islanders and their culture have, like so many other such peoples, been debased and virtually destroyed by their contact with the “outside world.”

Similarly, from the book itself, you have no idea just who the author is or what her credentials are. The dust jacket merely reports she once served on the board of editors of the Scientific American and that she received a Guggenheim grant to write this book. She must have had a project in mind but you cannot tell what it was (other than perhaps taking a trip and writing a book). By dint of careful reading you also are informed that she once studied physics and had a thesis advisor (for what thesis you cannot know). She also reports having been taught to be a journalist. From Google I finally learned she is considered a scientific journalist and has more recently written a second book, Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of Indian During World War II. I trust her experience with her first book will help focus her efforts on the latter.

The book itself is mostly an account of her travels in different areas of the Andaman Islands, the different tribal people she observed, and the incredible bureaucratic difficulties she experienced in trying to do what she wished. Some of the areas were/are off limits to visitors and it was only through the influence of her father that she managed as well as she did. When India became independent they also became responsible for the Andaman Islands, which by then had already been badly decimated, a condition that has continued under the Indian administration so there are now apparently only about 500 of the original inhabitants left. As in other areas of the world exploited shamelessly there are timber poachers and others illegally removing whatever of value they can find. The aboriginal population, one of the few groups of pygmies in the world, who once lived, literally, in a land of plenty, have been reduced to living off government handouts and are slowly dying out. There are a few, even now, the Jarawa, that have not been completely pacified, especially a small group on Northern Sentinel Island, but they, too, are doomed. The natives that were not shot or otherwise killed by the British and the Indians have succumbed to various diseases they did not previously have and of course their aboriginal culture has largely disappeared. Where they unashamedly went naked except for a few decorations and paint, proud of their fine bodies, strong and capable, so fierce ships did not want to stop there, accused (falsely) of being cannibals, they now dress mostly in rags and can no longer live as they previously did. It is much the same story that has repeated itself all around the world and, unfortunately, continues to the present day in some areas. If you have an interest in native people, the Andaman Islands, the deleterious effects of culture contact, and now even the possible effects of global warming, you will find this book of interest.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Fall Guy

It appears the latest Republican “Flavor of the Month,” Newt the Odious, is most probably going sour about as fast as I am typing this. I mean, really, when you are so despicable even members of your own party don’t want you as a candidate, you should gracefully withdraw. It is unlikely Newt will withdraw, of course, as he has his Sugar Daddy billionaire in Las Vegas supporting him. Sheldon Addelson and his wife have together so far donated 10 million to Newt’s campaign. This seems to me to be betting on a long shot, the possibility that if Newt could become President he will look out for Addelson’s financial problems and also move the Israeli capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (the worst possible thing that could happen in that troubled part of the world). Of course with a billion or more at your disposal betting on long shots is not really much of a risk.

Gingrich has had his moments of glory, three different times he has claimed he will be the Republican candidate, and has also now claimed that at the end of his second term (as President) we will have a permanent space station of the moon and, I guess, have claimed outer space for our own. If people have not figured out by now that Newt is nothing more than a bloated pontificating blowhard I think we should start to worry. Romney seems to have recaptured the polls in Florida and I suspect will win there. I cannot see how Gingrich can possibly resurrect himself once more even with the help of the Addelsons. Billionaires trying to buy elections are not too popular these days.

But Romney, unfortunately, is almost as flawed a candidate as Gingrich, although for different reasons. As a result of the attacks by the other candidates Romney has been damaged even more than he was to begin with. As a Mormon he has already forfeited probably 20% of the vote as Evangelicals will apparently not vote for him under any circumstances, believing Mormonism is a “cult.” But worse than that for Mr. Romney now, is the fact he has been identified as the personification of the 1%, this, at a time when inequality has become perhaps the single most important theme of the campaign. His handling of his taxes has certainly not helped him. What will prove to be even worse, however, is the fact that although he makes $57,000 a day he still wants more of a tax break for himself and his peers. Poor little rich boy, he just doesn’t get it.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that Romney will end up being the “Fall Guy” for the dismal performance of the Republican Party in the past few years, the sacrificial candidate allowing them to mark time for the 2016 election. There is talk of a brokered convention and another candidate such as Pawlenty, Christie, Daniels, or even Jeb Bush, but I cannot see this happening, and even if it did Obama would already have an almost insurmountable head start. Most everyone seems to think it will be a very close election with Obama winning by a slim margin. I’m not convinced. I suspect Romney will be the candidate and Obama will win by a substantial margin. This is because I cannot see a Republican getting the Black vote, the Hispanic vote, the Women’s vote, the elderly vote, the youth vote, the Evangelical vote, or the Muslim vote, leaving at best perhaps the Jewish vote and that of the extreme far rightists. This is what I think should happen, but I confess to being the worst predictor of Presidential elections ever. I think out of the last ten elections I can remember I probably have a batting average of no more than .200. If Newt the Odious should somehow pull off a victory in Florida I would like to say I’d eat my hat, but given my past failures that is too risky even for me.

When compared with Gingrich, Willard Mitt is as pure as the first snowfall of winter. He just happens to be the poster boy for the worst kind of capitalism the world has ever seen. He can’t help being rich, he was born that way, but being oblivious to the realities of life for the not rich, lacking empathy, seeing himself as merely an object of envy, and pretending to be someone he is not is unforgiveable. We have had many wealthy Presidents but none as divorced from reality as Romney would be. He is not only divorced from the 99%, he is also divorced from the rest of the world when it comes to foreign policy and the place of the United States in world affairs. I’m pretty sure we will bite the bullet once again and vote for our current President, as they say, “warts and all.” Think how great he might have been given even a tiny bit of cooperation from Republicans who, having stymied him repeatedly, now want to blame him for the mess they have created.

The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.

Casey Stengel

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Envy, Disgust, Outrage, Hatred

Envy, one of the seven deadly sins, I guess Willard Mitt believes we are all sinners because we envy him his wealth. Somehow I think I can hear echoes of his parents telling him as a child, “If the other kids don’t like you it’s because they are just envious,” a belief that he seems to have internalized and carried forward into adulthood. I wonder if Mr. One Percent has any idea of the lives that most people live. Looking back on my own life, and the hundreds, probably thousands of other people I have known, I cannot think of a single example of anyone who aspired to be wealthy at the level Romney is wealthy. Most ordinary people aspire to become engineers, physicists, chemists, doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, firemen, policemen, historians, geologists, botanists, psychologists, sociologists, and whatever. Others, not fortunate enough to attend a University settle for becoming plumbers, electricians, clerks, and so on. Virtually no one I have ever known aspired to become multimillionaires or billionaires. It is possible this is because they knew that would never happen to them so they did not think about it in the first place, but in any case they tried to make the best of their lives doing something they thought possible for them and managed to live reasonably happy and productive lives. In my own case I can assure you I did not wish to become an anthropologist because I believed I would ever become wealthy. I don’t believe Romney has any appreciation of these facts of life. I also believe his candidacy for President is now dead. I do not see how the Republicans could possibly run a candidate labeled Mr. One Percent, who has now proven to be even more wealthy than that, at a moment in history when inequality has become the leading issue in the race.

I think his insistence that anyone who dares to bring up the subject of his wealth or inequality is merely envious is simply disgusting and betrays an enormous ignorance of life in the world of ordinary people. He, and the others in his tax bracket, unless perhaps they have actually personally earned their wealth through invention and hard work, simply live in another world entirely from ordinary people. They live in different neighborhoods, eat in different restaurants, live in more elegant housing, drive better automobiles, go to better schools, and for the most part do not fraternize with lesser souls or peasants. This is precisely why Romney comes across as totally inauthentic when he pretends to be someone he is not.

Having now been informed of the true size of his fortune and the fact that he apparently makes $57,000 a day, more than most people earn in a year, and does nothing to earn it other than possess a fortune, I am outraged. And if he believes he is entitled to accumulate so much money so easily I am even more outraged. The fact that he also is allowed to pay less in taxes than ordinary working people outrages me even more than that. Quite frankly, I believe that anyone who makes more than, say, a million or two a year should be taxed 100 per cent. And no one, under any circumstances, should be allowed to have a billion or more in personal wealth. I don’t know exactly what the limit should be, but once that generous limit is met they should be taxed at 100 per cent. If the limit is established high enough this would not hurt anyone and would greatly benefit everyone. I do not believe anyone should be allowed to make millions year after year simply because they inherited or otherwise accumulated large fortunes which then have no further purpose other than allowing them to make even more money by doing nothing. Let them have plenty to live the high life up to a reasonable extent but no more.

I am not personally much of a hater. I have trouble staying mad at anyone for more than five minutes no matter how they might have offended me. But I can easily understand how envy (if it exists as Romney thinks it does), disgust, and outrage can lead eventually into outright hatred. When a few have so much, and so many have so little, and there is such an enormous disparity, it is not difficult to see potential trouble ahead. This situation can be made much worse when those who have so much resist even giving up a little. Some of them, like Warren Buffet seem to understand this and are willing to at least consider parity in their percentage of taxes. But even here we are talking about a mere five to ten percent increase in the taxes of the absolutely incredibly wealthy. I find this absurd, outrageous, and hateful. A person with billions of dollars could easily pay hundreds of millions in taxes and still not even notice the difference, a five or ten percent increase is little more than a tip for the shoeshine boy. I find it incredible that the American public accepts what is happening with our tax code, and now that it is becoming more public I doubt they will for much longer. In the case of people like Romney this is not a case of rewarding the successful, it is simply rewarding the accident of birth. If for some reason you have money you can easily make more money. If you are poor you are doomed to stay that way. The situation is getting worse. It is not as things should be.

Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth.

Rex Stout

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Will It Fly?

The “It” here being perhaps one of the greatest political hoaxes of all time, the question of jobs and the creation and responsibility for them. Republicans, especially Boehner, Cantor, and others keep asking where are the jobs, inferring that President Obama has failed to provide them. Thus they hope to make people believe that Obama is at fault when it comes to jobs. However, the Republicans have advanced no bills to create jobs and have, in fact, opposed every attempt Obama has made to create jobs. This is somewhat analogous to the situation when children kill their parents and then plead forgiveness on the grounds of being orphans. I have no doubt whatsoever that this has been the Republican plan all along, keep Obama from creating jobs or moving the country forward in any way and then blame it on him. As the Democrats rarely if ever seem to counter this with the truth it appears the Republicans may well pull it off, one of the greatest con jobs in political history that might actually fly.

Yes, I watched the State of the Union speech. There was nothing new. President Obama held forth with all kinds of ideas to move the country forward, reduce the debt, create jobs, and preserve our freedoms and so forth. Ever the optimist, he still clings to the idea that Republicans are eventually going to cooperate with him. I think he may be constitutionally unable to understand that any Americans, Republicans or not, would knowingly resist doing the right things by the country. He underestimates their hatred for him and refuses to believe they would sink the Republic rather than see him succeed. What Obama says is basically true, if we all come together there is nothing we can’t accomplish, but we are not going to come together to accomplish anything as long as Mitch McConnell’s single goal is to bring down Obama. Of course the President cannot moan and groan and talk doom and gloom, he has to paint a positive picture no matter what.

If anyone thought otherwise about bipartisanship, Mitch Daniels in his rebuttal speech made it quite clear there is simply no agreement on the part of Republicans for anything Obama suggested. Daniels predictably concentrated on the deficit with the usual doomsday scenario of national bankruptcy. He also spent time talking about jobs, implying that Republicans were going to create jobs, but as they have shown no interest in doing such a thing, it was, I thought, quite a stretch. It was mostly the usual Republican nonsense about too many regulations, too much government, too many taxes, and blah, blah, blah. Some people seem to think he was chosen to give the rebuttal as a kind of tryout for the Presidency. You may recall that he once talked of running but then did not do so. I believe there is a plan on the part of the remaining adults in the Republican Party to somehow install him as the Republican candidate at the last minute. It is obvious that Romney is fading badly and the only alternative to him is Newt Gingrich whom they despise (along with most everyone else in the United States). Santorum and Paul are not considered viable, the former because he is too radical mostly on a single issue, the latter because he is regarded as a “nut case.” Daniels did a credible job with his rebuttal but it was simply the usual Republican line, lower taxes, fewer regulations, smaller government. Republicans don’t seem to get the idea that we’ve tried that and it didn’t work, won’t work, and they should try to come up with a more sensible plan (I don’t think they can as they have now memorized this plan and play it over and over like a broken record).

I can’t really decide what I think Republicans are trying to do. It makes sense to me that they would not be at all happy with either Romney or Gingrich. This means the more responsible Republicans (if there still are any) might well want to put their foot down at the last minute and insist on another candidate, such as Daniels, Christie, or even Jeb Bush. But it is also the case they may believe they cannot beat Obama this year. That may well be the reason they do not already have a better candidate. In this case they might well just allow either Romney or Gingrich to sacrifice themselves for no purpose and wait until 2016. But that risks the possibility of disgracing the party at least in the near future. Of course the past few months of their circus has already done that so perhaps it doesn’t matter.

I cannot fathom why Republicans decided to have so many “debates.” As far as I can see all this has done is emphasize their appalling ignorance and their absurd proposals for running the country over and over again. Now they have degenerated into a personal battle between Romney and Gingrich that can only have the effect of damaging either one or them as a national candidate. You have to give them credit for having lots of money, too bad there is no correlation between money and brains.

I came from a disadvantaged home. They were Republicans.

Paul Tsongas

Sunday, January 22, 2012

First Contact - book

First Contact New Guinea’s Highlanders Encounter the Outside World, Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson (Penguin Books, 1987)

When I first acquired this book in 1987 I was working on a project so that I only read the first few chapters that had to do with that specific topic. I have only just now returned to it and found it even more fascinating than before. It is quite an unusual book in several ways.

Although Europeans and others had been in New Guinea from quite an early time, Germans, English, Dutch, Indonesians, and probably others, it was commonly believed until 1930 that the rugged mountain interior was uninhabited. In 1930 an Australian prospector, Michael Leahy, led a party into the Easternmost part of the Highlands and found, much to everyone’s surprise, that not only was there a series of fertile valleys, they were heavily populated, nearly a million people gardening and living where there were supposed to be none. Although Leahy was a prospector and lusted for gold, he also regarded himself as an explorer. He took thousands of photographs of the first contact with the various Highland peoples he encountered, and he also kept detailed diaries of his movements and experiences, thus providing a wealth of information about the incredible adventure of first contact with, as it was reported, “People living in the Stone Age,” and sometimes “The Land that Time Forgot.” The Highlanders were using stone axes and stone, bone, and wooden tools, but they were not truly living in the stone age; had they been they would have been able to protect themselves more adequately against the steel weapons, guns and axes, they suddenly encountered. What is all the more fascinating is that the authors were able to locate and interview many of the Highlanders who had experienced these shocking first encounters, providing a unique perspective virtually unprecedented in such histories, as well as incredible interpretations of just who these White people were, where they must have come from, and why they were there.

Although they were shamelessly exploited in many ways for years (and even now in some ways), they were extremely fortunate to have escaped the real horrors of colonialism that had occurred so widely in the rest of the world. By the 1930’s Australia was mandated to care for them and try to help them eventually become more “civilized.” This did not prevent them from exploiting their cheap labor, indenturing them for work on the coastal plantations and other areas. Although there was talk of maintaining the Highlands, with the fertile soil and marvelous climate as another Kenya, to be reserved for Whites, this movement was quickly stopped after only a relatively small amount of land had been alienated for coffee plantations. As Australia itself had a small population to develop their continent they were slow in providing aid to the New Guineans, but eventually government schools were constructed (there had been a few mission schools that mostly sought to make converts), some of the Highlanders began to learn trades and read and write, and finally in 1975 New Guinea achieved independence (although they were not really ready for it).

First Contact, in addition to being such an unusual account of an incredible discovery, follows Michael Leahy, his brothers, and others as they moved across the high valleys in search of gold, which they found, but not in the large quantities they had dreamed about. As you might surmise, they did not always find peaceful natives and they were sometimes forced to resort to killing. In his diaries Leahy confesses to some 31 or more, but it is obvious there were many more (one estimate put the number of native deaths before pacification at probably one thousand). All of these killings were technically against the law, but as there was only one Patrol Officer for the entire area, he supported Leahy on the grounds of self-defense. And although the administration attempted to keep prospectors and others from entering the as yet unpacified highlands, the lure of gold was too strong and the government was too weak to prevent them from doing so.

The Highlanders certainly benefitted from their late discovery by Europeans, but the tale is still one of the typical colonial pattern, the natives regarded as totally inferior, the arrogance of Europeans who felt no qualms whatsoever about invading their territory and removing their gold and, basically whatever else they wanted, having casual sexual relations with their women when it pleased them to do so. Although Michael Leahy took thousands of photographs of their rituals, and hired hundreds of native workers, he had no interest in their culture or beliefs, and always maintained the proper distance between “mastas” and “boys.” His brother Dan eventually settled in the Highlands, had two native wives and several children, but Michael, true to the colonial spirit to the end, opposed their independence and refused even to acknowledge the half caste sons he had fathered, even when face to face with them, afraid of what his Australian wife and others might think of him.

The book is about a dynamic personality (who was a true man of his time), a fantastic discovery, a marvelous adventure, one of the last examples of (a rather benign) colonialism, and the discovery by isolated, ignorant, but intelligent people, of the outside world. It is well worth reading.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Circus Continues

Newton Leroy Gingrich, one of the greatest entertainers since W. C. Fields, has won the South Carolina primary. That is quite an accomplishment for an ethically disgraced ex-Speaker of the House, serial adulterer, master hypocrite, consummate liar, loudmouthed pontificator, and all-around phony, that makes other politicians look like honest practicing Christians. Not only did he win and defeat the Romney that few people want as candidate, and have desperately been trying to avoid for months, by looking for someone, even anyone else, he apparently did so by a fairly large margin. But, after all, we are speaking of South Carolina.

The only reason I can offer for even watching this ring of the three ring circus is that I was bored and had nothing else to do. I particularly enjoyed what appeared to be Romney’s victory speech, even though he had just lost when he had been predicted to win. During his performance I searched carefully for a single honest statement but could not find one. Romney either actually believes the utter garbage that emanates from his mouth or is the world’s greatest prevaricator. Reduced to its fundamentals, he told us we were all on our own, sink or swim, live or die, succeed or fail, and never mind any problems. It was as if he lives in an entirely different world from most of us, which, I guess, he does. He didn’t mention jobs, poverty, Social Security, Medicare, or even Obamacare, as he extolled the virtues of the free market and the American empire. He obviously lives in a gated community of the mind.

Romney’s ode to capitalism was followed by Ron Paul’s overly long tirade against government, foreign aid, printing money, welfare, the importance of “liberty,” the tyranny of regulations, and the necessity to return to the Constitution. The longer he spoke the more apparent it became to me that he does not realize we are now living in the 21st century. He did not deplore the rise of civil rights, nor did he mention how fast Black teenagers could run after robbing someone, his previous racist newsletters, or his anti-abortion views (you know, the ones where the government tells you what you can do with your life and your body). He promotes the same kind of simple minded Social Darwinism of Romney and that characterizes the Republicans idea of non-government. Somehow they don’t seem to grasp the idea that you cannot manage a national population of billions without a government (or even, I guess, that you should).

I confess I was so exhausted from cheering these two extraordinary speeches that by the time Santorum spoke my eyes had crossed, my attention span was overtaxed, my patience was exhausted, my wits were scrambled. I felt I was trapped in never-never land. I have no idea what Santorum said but I’m sure whatever it was it was more Republican nonsense. He did say, I recall, that he would continue on, against all odds, logic, purpose, and use. I think he has nothing else to do. Republicans, I gather, are supposed to have another one of their “debates” on Monday night. I truly regret I will not be able to watch it. My wife does not allow me to watch them when she is not here to supervise and she teaches on Monday nights (she is concerned over my health, especially my heart, during these spirited Republican discussions).

And so, as we continue on towards the Republican promised land, shrouded in mist and mystery, that land at the edge of the earth where their Great Guru Saint Ronnie now resides, I am comforted to know that, god-willing, we will soon be in the good hands of somebody-or-other who will do something-or-other to save us from the Black villain who has stolen our country and is desperate to prevent us from raping and pillaging it even further than we already have, shutting down our profits and even trying to make us pay taxes. Lordy, Lordy, these Black folk don’t understand how things are supposed to work in the “civilized” world. Whatever happened to those wonderful days when they was singin’ happily in the cotton fields, eatin’ watermelon and fried chicken, and the sun was predictably revolving around the earth? Not to worry, the good ol’ times will return once we get a Republican in the White House, just ask ‘em.

The object of government in peace and in war is not the glory of rulers or of races, but the happiness of the common man.

Lord William Beveridge

Friday, January 20, 2012


I was crushed, absolutely crushed, to learn the other night that I will never be able to vote for Jennifer Granholm for President, as having been born in Canada she is a foreigner. Granholm, the ex Governor of Michigan, would be a terrific candidate for virtually any important office, she is about to become a television host on the rapidly improving Current Television channel. There is an organization (I forget what it is called) dedicated to seeing many more women elected to office. I’m all for it as the traditional male dominated Congress has proven itself to be so absolutely hopeless. I could vote for Hillary for President if she weren’t such a hawk. But most of all I’d like to see a contest between the Democratic women and Republican women. Give me Hillary, Granholm, Pelosi, Maddow, Wasserman-Schultz, and Melissa Harris-Perry and I would challenge any fifty, nay, even hundred, of the blond bimbos from Fox News and the Republican Party. I know there are other strong Democratic women but with just these six it would be no contest. I’d even give them Sarah Palin, Jan Brewer, Sharron Angle, Michelle Malkin, Christine O’Donnell, and Ann Coulter and a fifteen minute headstart.

It appears that President Obama may be able to sing as well as play basketball, but I have to say his musical talent pales into insignificance when compared to Vladimir Putin’s rendition of Blueberry Hill, one of the most marvelous performances I have been privileged to see. But not to worry, Obama’s smile itself is probably worth a couple of million votes.

I am suggesting Newton Leroy Gingrich for an Academy Award for the best dramatic performance of 2012. His response to John King’s question about his infidelity was marvelous, if not the phoniest claim to being victimized ever. I did think that King’s question, coming as it did at the very beginning of the debate, was ill-timed, but Gingrich’s response was a masterpiece of false outrage over a question he must have known would come up. Ah, the truth hurts.

Willard Mitt may well lose in South Carolina and if so it will clearly be deserved. He is so transparently phony it shines through everything he says and does. Pretending to be an ordinary Middle Class guy when you are so obviously not is just not going to cut it, and hiding your millions in the Cayman Islands will certainly not help. It’s true, he is so inauthentic, and apparently so unaware of it, he is doomed even if he does somehow get the nomination. He probably will, given that his main opposition is ex-Speaker Foghorn with delusions of grandeur.

I admire Steven Colbert for his expose of the absolute imbecility that is corporate personhood, but I wonder if it will make any difference when it comes to getting the ridiculous Supreme Court decision overturned. Some say a Constitutional Amendment is not even necessary as there are other avenues that would be easier and quicker. Let’s hope so.

I cannot help but wonder what the Republican Party will offer Ron Paul to not run as a third party candidate. If he does it will surely spell the end of any Republican chance to defeat President Obama. But what could they possibly offer Paul, short of the keys to the asylum? I fear there is no place for Pa Kettle in the 21st century.

Santorum, ah Santorum, perhaps he can withdraw gracefully from the race, pleading to need more time to design a tasteful, colorful, and relatively inexpensive burkha for American women, one that will make contraception unnecessary as desire can be minimized and the rhythm method abolished.

I truly wonder how much farther the Republicans can sink into the miasma of ignorance, greed, and surreality that surrounds them and drags them closer and closer to oblivion. To think they were once a legitimate political party that participated in governing. Pity.

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.

H. L. Mencken

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Four Worsemen of the Abomination

It is hardly possible to believe that the Republican Party could have ended up with four worse candidates for the Republican nomination after the abomination that has been their ongoing selection process.

Let me begin with Willard Mitt Romney, a Mormon who lies about something virtually every time he opens his mouth. Leave aside for the moment whether or not he belongs to a religious cult, I can’t imagine Mormonism is much more absurd than any other of our religious traditions, what with angels and demons, virgin births, swallowing whales, walking on water, speaking in tongues, handling snakes, visions of eternal damnation, fish on Friday, born again, and whatever. No, the real problem with Romney is that having been born into wealth and being enormously wealthy he is completely unable to relate to ordinary people no matter how hard he tries. He is so out of touch he is apparently unaware he is completely out of touch, telling us he is unemployed, corporations are persons, he has worried about being pink slipped, and changing his position on any topic mentioned according to the moment, a man with the courage of no convictions whatsoever, other than wanting to become President. He is a caricature, a cardboard figure, emotionless, apparently lacking even the basic human trait of empathy. As the classic flip-flopper he has already flip-flopped himself out of the Presidency even if he does get the nomination.

Of course Romney is a veritable Saint when compared to Newt Gingrich, quite possibly the greatest phony ever to become a serious candidate for the Presidency, a con man extraordinary who has managed to convince others he is an intellectual, an idea man, a conservative, and a repentant sinner, now a (professed) Catholic, having tried at least two previous religions. Gingrich is a thrice married, twice divorced fellow who has given speeches on family values on more than one occasion, even once the day following asking his then wife for a divorce. He also must have had polygamous desires as he reportedly asked his wife for an open marriage (that is, to allow him to carry on an affair with another women while married to her), perhaps a more noble procedure than his previous adulterous behavior. Newt also holds the record for blatant hypocrisy for criticizing President Clinton for having an affair while he himself was doing precisely the same thing at precisely the same time. The fact of the matter is, Gingrich is a loudmouthed, boastful, hypocritical  blowhard who will immediately pontificate on any subject that arises with all the authority of a snake oil salesman who has studied under W. C. Fields.

Then there is the sex-obsessed Richard John “Rick” Santorum, obsessively anti-gay, anti-abortion, and even anti-contraception, because this latter encourages people to do things they should not do (like have sex at all, I guess, unless for procreation). He apparently is convinced that homosexuality is the gateway to beastiality, incest, and polygamy. Santorum also has tried to get Intelligent Design taught in classrooms, claiming it is a legitimate scientific theory worthy of the same status as the theory of evolution. He is an unabashed hawk on foreign policy, believing we should not even consider negotiating with “radical Islam,” as it would be a waste of time. He is an implacable enemy of Iran and seems to have first introduced the term “Islamic Fascism,” is a big fan of the war on terror, apparently thinks we should stay in Iraq and Afghanistan forever, and has also suggested that John McCain does not understand “enhanced interrogation.” As near as I can tell Mr. Santorum knows virtually nothing about human sexuality or Islam, positions from which he believes he can speak with authority on both issues. If by some strange aberration of human behavior he were to become President I think he would probably legislate the Missionary position for sex, sex only on days when there is a cold wind from the north, invalidate all same sex marriages, undo DADT, install cameras in every bedroom, and promote public stocks for suspected offenders.

The fourth of the Worsemen is often neglected as no one believes he will ever become President. A kindly 76 year-old doctor who has delivered 2000 babies, he, too is opposed to abortion, is basically opposed to civil rights, published for years newsletters containing inflammatory racial remarks (that he claims he didn’t either write or read), and would like to have us return to the gold standard. He thinks people who cannot afford health insurance should be allowed to die because it is because of their own negligence. As a Libertarian he is opposed to government, would do away completely with most governmental organizations, and would, I guess, have us return to the Frontier days of the 18th century. His only positive virtue that I can see is that he is virulently anti-war, anti-empire, anti-nation building, and even anti-Israel (at least when it comes to giving them money year after year). If Gingrich is a reincarnation of W.C. Fields, Paul is a reincarnation of Pa Kettle (Percy Kilbride).

So you see, Republicans do offer us a choice, four of the worst candidates ever promoted as possible Presidential hopefuls. They are all anti-abortion, want to privatize Social Security, do away with Medicare as we know it, deregulate everything possible, increase tax breaks for the wealthy, and abolish unions. Whichever one of these completely unworthy candidates wins the nomination look for them to suddenly become a White Knight on a White Horse, saving us from the democratic (black) barbarian that has the audacity to actually try to govern rather than merely steal. However bad President Obama may be, even on his worst days he towers over all of these pretenders like a skyscraper over a cottage, a luxury liner over a dinghy, an elephant over a mouse, a dog over a flea. Take your choice as usual in the coming election, bad or badder.

Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.

Abraham Flexner

Wednesday, January 18, 2012






Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How, Indeed?

Jon Huntsman dropped out of the Republican circus, otherwise known as the quest to find the Republican candidate for President. He also announced he would support Willard Mitt Romney, thus prompting many to ask, how can he do that after having been attacking Romney for the last few months, saying Romney was a flip-flopper who would not be electable and so on. That is, after bashing Romney rather seriously he suddenly turns around and supports him, seemingly hypocrisy in motion. I suggest there is a perfectly good reason for this - no one pays any attention to such strange reversals because no one believes anything politicians say in the first place. When Huntsman was knocking Romney everyone knew he was basically lying, and now that he supports him it just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter what he says about anything because to the public it is just more noise. How can this be?

I think it is because the American public no longer even expects anyone to tell the truth about anything. Any American alive today has been exposed all of their life to advertising of one form or another, in print, radio, and television. After years of saturation with lies about products no one, with the possible exception of some mentally handicapped individuals, believes there is any truth in advertising. Similarly, over the years the advertising industry has grown and gotten worse than ever. Politics enjoys the same reputation for truth telling. No one believes politicians tell the truth, they know they will make all kinds of promises to get elected with little or no expectation their promises will ever materialize after they are elected. This is not a secret, it is a standard belief on the part of the public. Politicians and used car salesman occupy the same rung on the believability scale. And, as in the case of advertising, this practice of standardized lying in politics has become increasingly worse over time, the level of dishonesty culminating, I believe, during the Bush/Cheney administration. You would be hard pressed indeed to find a single honest statement by anyone during the nightmare years of Bush/Cheney, especially either one of them. Any semblance of truth has also disappeared from our MSM, and in particular, Fox “News.” It has been well established by now that those citizens who know the least about anything are the very same ones that get their “news” from Fox. In fact, it is no longer even a secret that Fox is simply the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. The other major networks have become little more than stenographers, simply repeating the lies they are fed by politicians.

This unfortunate situation is compounded by the fact that the majority of voters don’t really pay attention to begin with, and those that do pay attention know they are not being told the truth, and in either case their attention span is so short they cannot remember what they heard. Thus it is the entire political process has been reduced to just extraneous noise, endless noise, noise that has no other meaning. Candidates can and do say anything they want with no fear it will eventually make any difference, or that they will even be challenged about their lies no matter how obvious and egregious they are. How else, for example, can you explain that Willard Mitt, who has been on two or three sides of every conceivable issue, is now the frontrunner and almost surely the Republican candidate of choice? People are certainly aware of his monumental flip-flopping, they just don’t care, because what he says does not really matter. If he fails to become President it will not be because of his different positions on the same issues, it will be because he doesn’t pay enough in taxes, is too wooden and unreal as a person, doesn’t drink beer, belongs to a cult, or has too perfect hair. People know that flip-flopping is just a matter of telling lies when required to do so by the demands of the moment.

Thanks mainly to our recent experience with Bush/Cheney, truth is no longer something that is considered relevant to politics and is certainly not expected. No one expects to hear the truth, and in the rare instances when someone attempts to tell it, they are ostracized and often lose their jobs. People can no longer even distinguish truth from fiction, they neither believe what they hear or necessarily disbelieve it. They hear it as noise and decide who to vote for on the basis of who makes the most soothing sounds or appears to be the most like themselves. Ironically, probably the one person who is the most constrained from telling the truth is the President. If he told the truth no one would believe it, and he, too, would be ostracized by the Congress, and denied the cooperation he needs to accomplish anything. Truth has disappeared from politics, and it has virtually disappeared from American culture in general. At the rate it is disappearing it may eventually disappear even as a concept, becoming merely an historic curiosity.

The public will believe anything, so long as it is not founded on truth.

Edith Sitwell

Monday, January 16, 2012

Seize the Moment

I believe President Obama has a rare opportunity to “seize the moment” and take his place in history as one of the greatest United States Presidents ever. It might well cost him his Presidency, but that would be a small price to pay for the undying fame and gratitude he would reap for furthering the cause of peace in the Middle East.

There is no doubt Obama is under enormous pressure from the Israelis and our well-known neocon hawks to foolishly either attack Iran militarily or at least aid the Israelis in doing so. If this were to happen it would be a terrible disaster that would quite likely tear the Middle East apart, result in hundreds of thousands of more deaths, untold misery for millions, the waste of trillions of more dollars, and would no doubt be an even more stupid and illegal “war” than the one Bush lied us into in Iraq. It seems to me the stage is being set once again for just such an attack, relations between the U.S. and Iran are deteriorating by the day, what with threats to bomb their nuclear facilities, their threats to close the Straits of Hormuz, execute an American spy, and so on. And of course we have been fed nothing but lies for years about how Iran is a threat to Israel, the U.S., and indeed, the world, all nonsense of course. Most of this propaganda revolves around the belief, or assertion, that Iran is attempting to build a nuclear bomb, even if there is no concrete evidence they are, they deny it, and have every legal right to produce nuclear fuel for their reactors. Of course no one actually believes a nuclear bomb is really the problem, even the Israelis know that if Iran had a bomb they would no more use it than anyone else would. The threat is not from Iran’s nuclear ambitions, no matter what they might be, the threat is to European and U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, a situation that would be altered if Iran were to be allowed parity with other nations, especially Israel and the U.S.

President Obama, much to his credit, as near as I can tell from whatever news one can scrape together these days, has so far resisted Israeli demands that he attack Iran or help Israel do so. The Israelis threaten to attack on their own, something I doubt they would actually do, but the threat itself creates a terrible situation, as if they did attack the assumption would certainly be the U.S. would be inevitably dragged into it in spite of any reservations to the contrary. Israeli interests are not linked to those of the U.S., in spite of what they would like you to believe.

Obama could gain everlasting fame and the respect of virtually the entire world if at this moment in time he continues to refuse Hawkish and Israeli demands, and would make it absolutely clear that under no circumstances will the U.S. support an attack or a war with Iran, and, rather than rejecting Iranian attempts at diplomacy as we have repeatedly done in the past, would engage directly in diplomacy with them, recognizing they have legitimate national interests in their own neighborhood and that we do also, interests than must be solved diplomatically rather than militarily. This would not only curb Israel (a greedy, racist nation that needs desperately to be curbed), but would also dramatically change the situation in the Middle East by demonstrating our willingness to give up the use of force in the region to force our will upon all nations that do not happen to share our interests. It would signal an end to the American “empire,” allow us to escape the rogue state reputation we now share with Israel, and once again take up a position of respect in world affairs. Not only that, it would return us to fiscal responsibility, allow us to pay down the horrendous national debt, and save the lives of thousands, maybe even millions of innocent people. Finally, and more importantly, it would signal at last the final dying gasp of Western-European colonialism.

Of course the hawks would be outraged (the military/industrial/political complex panics at the thought someone might take away their candy), the Evangelicals waiting for Armageddon would no doubt flagellate themselves and go through various fits of religious hysteria at the threat of any delay in their mythical event. The Republicans would cry out: Muslim, traitor, coward, socialist, communist, fascist, Kenyan, stranger from outer space, and whatever else they could think of (they could no longer fatten their purses on the deaths of the innocent), but the deed would be done, something that should have rightfully been done long ago, and virtually the entire world would rejoice.

Do I believe something like this will happen? No, not really. But I believe it could and should happen, would be a resounding success, and would dramatically change international relations for the better forever.

But the greatest menace to our civilization today is the conflict between giant organized systems of self-righteousness-each system only too delighted to find that the other is wicked-each only too glad that the sins give it the pretext for still deeper hatred and animosity.

Herbert Butterfield

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Balzac's Omelette - book

Balzac’s Omellete, Anka Muhlstein (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter, Other Press, N.Y., 2010)

If you ignore the title of this book (which you might as well do as it has very little to do with omelletes) and consider only the content, you might imagine this was a PhD dissertation in French literature entitled something like “Balzac’s Use of Food in the Writing of La Comedie Humaine,” or perhaps, “Balzac’s Dietary Habits While Writing,” or maybe even “The First Restaurants of Paris in Historical Perspective,” thesis topics of interest primarily or only to Balzac aficionados, lovers of Paris, or “foodies.” In fact under the somewhat odd title, Balzac’s Omellete, Anka Muhlsteing has tied these topics together and written a delightful and informative book about them all.

Balzac did have strange eating habits; while writing feverishly, sometimes for fourteen hours straight, and sometimes for days at a time, he subsisted mainly on strong coffee (lots of it) and fruit. He was, of course, an unusually prolific author, but even so he seemed to stay only one step away from bankruptcy throughout his life. Upon completion of a manuscript he would send it to his publisher, go out and order prodigious amounts of food, sometimes beginning his meal with dozens of oysters, and then send the bill to his publisher. Strangely, even while in jail in Paris, Balzac could and did order enormous feasts that he would enjoy with friends while in custody (this was apparently a common practice at the time).

Balzac was also the first novelist to use food as an important prop in his writing, inspiring Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant and Proust to do likewise, although none of them used food as importantly as Balzac himself. To appreciate this you would have to read Balzac again (if you have previously read him), but happily Muhlstein gives example after example if you do not wish to return yourself to The Human Comedy.

When we nowadays think of Paris, or France, we usually think of fine restaurants and marvelous cuisine. It was not always so. In fact, until the late 18th century there were no restaurants (funny, I never thought of a time when there were no restaurants). Wealthy people ate well enough, but always at home, poor people ate not so well, but also at home. Travelers, without introductions to particular people, were at the mercy of whatever they could find, usually an inn of some kind where they could purchase the right to sit and eat at a communal table, to eat whatever unpalatable food was available. The first real restaurant with individual tables emerged in about 1780. It served poached poultry with sea salt, fresh eggs, and a rich stock. Before 1789 there were only four or five restaurants in Paris. Fairly quickly restaurants became more common and dining out in style, or putting on lavish catered feasts became the rage.

Interestingly enough, the gourmet dishes we now think of as the best of French cooking, were not terribly important at first, entertaining was primarily a social event featuring a huge abundance of food, and even more important, the ostentatious presentation of the food and drink. People who wanted to advance in society would often spend fortunes on one of these events, the eating and drinking would sometimes go on for hours, the guests would often become drunk on large quantities of different wines, including sometimes hundreds of bottle of champagne, and the party would resemble a riot. The ostentation was so pronounced and commonplace there were dealers who specialized in buying the leftovers. The great French food that we now treasure actually began in the provinces rather than in Paris itself. Eating there was more of a family affair, did not have the same social climbing implications, and the food was taken more seriously for itself. Of course this ultimately resulted in the famous French cuisine we find in Paris as well now in all the rest of France and all over the world.

I gave this book to my wife at Christmas as she is a truly wonderful cook with a consuming interest in food. I had not intended to read it and did so only “because it was there,” and I had nothing else to read at the time. I must confess I found it truly enjoyable, informative, and worthwhile. If you have any interest in Balzac, Paris, or food, you will also.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How Many Angels...

There is a new book out by a distinguished Harvard University Psychology Professor, Steven Pinker, entitled, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. This book has received an enormous amount of attention and will no doubt continue to do so for some time to come. I have not read this book. I haven’t even seen a copy of it. Obviously I cannot pretend to review it. In fact, I almost certainly will never read it or review it. I have read several reviews of it and I understand the central thesis, which is the claim that violence among humans has been decreasing over thousands of years and that in spite of claims to the contrary we are now living in the most violent free period in human history. I don’t want to say I don’t believe it. What I would suggest is that such a claim is basically impossible to prove, and is rather like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Pinker argues, as I understand it, that humans have in their psyches both Demons and Angels and that over the millennia the Angels have won out so that we, and our lives, are no longer as violent as they once were. To demonstrate this he has reportedly done an enormous amount of research in many different areas, archaeology, history, sociology, political science and so forth, and thus claims evidence for his thesis. It is said to be a truly astounding amount of research and most everyone is impressed. Most of the reviews I have seen are positive with others being skeptical. Count me among the latter, especially when it comes to Angels and Demons.

First, although I don’t know much about everything or anything, I do know that claiming from archaeological evidence that some 15% of human bones show evidence of possible homicide is not a statistic I would be willing to accept as definitive of anything. Similarly, his claim that violence among tribal groups indicates they were 9 times as violent as we are today, is more than merely questionable. He also claims on the basis of the historical record that whereas an estimated 40 million were killed during the reigns of the Khans, when the total population was much less than during the 20th century, this indicates a level of violence much higher than the estimated 55 million killed during the second world war. I find claims of this kind impossible to accept as meaningful enough to be uncritically accepted.

Pinker argues that the levels of homicide in general have decreased over time, that genocide, torture, child abuse, slavery, war, and violence in general have decreased. He attributes this to various developments in the history of culture, the rise of state societies that better control violence, the lessening of religious dogmas, and also the influence of reason on human affairs, calling into question the morality of violence and so forth. There is much more to his interpretation than this, of course, but as I have not read it all carefully I cannot legitimately describe or criticize it.

Even so, there are things I believe I can fairly say about this work. As he seems to think the decrease in violence is due to various cultural influences, the rise of state societies, and such, it is impossible to generalize to humans in general as people in different cultures would necessarily differ in their levels of violence, and in fact we know this to be true. Although he does cite evidence from other cultures, such as the Bushmen and a few others, it is obvious that he is really speaking about Western Europeans rather than humans in general. He cites evidence from Bushman studies that seem to indicate that although they are believed to be non-violent their homicide rate is roughly equal to the homicide rate in Detroit. I am aware of this work on the Bushman and other hunter-gatherers and while it may be true the evidence and interpretations are certainly questionable. There are known to be many small scale groups of people where violence was extremely rare. Similarly, from my own ethnographic work and the anthropological literature on the subject, I’m reasonably certain the level of violence in tribal societies has been exaggerated. I know this to be true in the case of the New Guinea Highlands and also for American Indians. And there were almost always controls over the level of violence long before states emerged, even in tribal societies. This was certainly true of American Indian societies and also Melanesian groups as well.

As this book does not really deal with societies world-wide, but mostly with Western-European ones, the only real claim he could make would be that in only those societies violence has been reduced. I am quite certain there were many societies in which child abuse as we know it did not exist and, in fact, was virtually unthinkable. What about violence in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East? If we are truly living in a time of the least violence ever these other countries must also have something to do with it. I have seen reports that claim that slavery now is greater than it has ever been, especially sexual slavery, completely unknown in most cultures. I may be wrong, possibly unfair, but my fear is this is just another Eurocentric study that keeps us on top of the evolutionary scale from savagery to civilization, more reasonable and more highly developed than anyone else.

I am also left to wonder if violence is truly just one thing wherever found, whether it can be adequately measured at all, how you can compare face-to-face slaughters with mass bombings and gas chambers, collateral damage to terrorism, physical to mental violence, self-defense to humanicide, and so on. It is no doubt true that we no longer have as much head-hunting, cannibalism, and torture as we once did, but we can hardly be said to have eschewed violence even now in the 21st century. Are humans genetically programmed for violence or is it mainly cultural? How does it vary from place to place, group to group? Please read this book so you can tell me about it, as I doubt I will ever read it unless provoked.

The only thing that's been a worse flop than the organization of non-violence has been the organization of violence.

Joan Baez

Friday, January 13, 2012

Reflections on Our Town

No, this is not reflections on the famous Wilder Play, these are reflections on our little town, here and now. Our town is the county seat of county with approximately 10,000 citizens, maybe a few more, so although the population of the town is only about 2500 it actually serves as the main urban center for the larger population. It’s a nice little town. I like it. But like many other such small towns it has seen better days and although it “hangs on” it doesn’t exactly thrive. I don’t personally have much to do with local politics or the town itself as I live a few miles out of town, but I do from time to time reflect on the local situation. There are a few things that puzzle me about our little town.

There is, for example, still a recognizable downtown, with several stores that appear to be doing okay. But there are also some vacant storefronts that seem to cling to their vacancies for reasons I do not completely understand. I mean, it ‘s not as if the downtown is actually dying, it’s more like it’s wounded. More importantly, however, are the buildings, almost all older two story brick affairs, virtually all of which have their upper story vacant. On the few occasions when I have asked someone why they don’t locate their office or business in one of these essentially vacant spaces the answer is always the same, “My customers wouldn’t walk upstairs.” As most of these buildings originally housed apartments on their upper stories it is obvious people don’t want to live there either. All together these vacant stories represent quite a lot of space that ought to be usable (or at least I think so). But year after year they remain vacant. Why, I wonder, could this space not be renovated and used for businesses that do not depend upon customers having to walk upstairs, billing agencies, for example, or call services, even artist studios, or some such thing?

Also in our little town we have a number of stores that seem to do a reasonable business: hardware stores, a fine used bookstore, a Radio Shack, a few restaurants, stationary, clothing, and etc. But strangely (at least it seems strange to me) if you want an ordinary necessity like a toaster or frying pan, or other ordinary kitchenware, you must drive 30 miles and back to the nearest Wal Mart. The same thing is true if you want anything as mundane as sheets or pillowcases, silverware, or other common household necessities. I think you could do an inventory of what you can procure locally and open a store that would provide the things you cannot procure locally. I would think it would be in the best interest of the community, to open a community store that would ensure such products would be locally available. As we hear often that we should “buy locally,” and as many of try to do so, buying locally is not always feasible, so we drive the 60 mile roundtrip often. So far the price of gasoline seems not to have affected this much. Along these lines you might also have expected some sort of bus service, not only to the next city 30 miles away, but even to larger urban areas up to 100 miles away. There is no such service. The U.S. is not noted for public transportation.

There is also, in our community, a thriving Casino and Motel, the majority owners being the local Indian tribe. I never go there because it is full of foolish people smoking and throwing their money away into machines made for that purpose, and also because their restaurant is not very good. But immediately adjacent to this successful business are a number of older, relatively inexpensive, and mostly run-down single family dwellings, built, like the Casino, along the banks of a lovely river. Now if I were in charge of things (happily I am not), I would buy all these older houses, demolish them, and build a number of medium priced condominiums, all with a view of the river with parking underneath. I would also construct a long walkway along the river. There are people who love to spend their summers here but go south for the winters, I would think they would be happy with a condominium. But what do I know?

Our local economy is based on agriculture and timber, but the timber industry has been declining. As far as I know there have been few attempts to attract other businesses to locate here, especially any kind of what you might consider “clean” businesses. There have been attempts to build a pulp mill and a waste to energy plant, but happily these environmentally destructive enterprises have been so far successfully resisted (anywhere you find Tribal lands that can be exploited you find these kinds of environmentally poisonous attempts as Tribal lands are exempt from many regulations). There are other small towns around here that are far worse off than we are, deteriorating badly, trying to survive on tourists and tourist junk, and having a very hard time. I think it is not too late for our lovely little town to not only survive but do well, but it would require lots of money, effort, and creativity, commodities not on the horizon as far as I know. There were in the past few years some nice touches to the downtown that have made a significant difference. I hope it will keep up. I live here and love it, and want it to survive and flourish.

Never forget that you're a member of your own community. Don't do something that you wouldn't like to see done.

Keith Richman

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Firing Insurance Companies, Choosing Leaders, and Stuff

Willard Mitt certainly did commit a rather nasty gaffe the other day when he made the rather thoughtless claim that he “Liked to fire people.” He was, it is true, referring to Insurance companies, but many focused on his use of “liked to” rather than on the particular context. He did say he “liked to” fire people when they didn’t give good service, and whether he was referring specifically to Insurance companies or not, doesn’t really matter. What crossed my mind about this, however, is wondering if he has ever had any personal experience with Insurance companies. It is not clear to me just how easy it might be to fire your Insurance provider. I suppose if you are speaking of car insurance or house insurance, and they didn’t treat you well, like charging you too much, or being slow to respond to claims, or something like that, you could probably fire them and find another company. You would have to be remarkably optimistic to believe you could find another company that would be any better, any cheaper, or any more efficient. When it comes to health insurance, however, you are confronted with a more serious problem. I suppose if you were in excellent health, had no claims or anything, and you wanted to fire one company and find another you might easily be able to do so. But if that were the case why would you necessarily want to change in the first place? But let’s say, you do have a health problem, especially a relatively serious health problem, and your company doesn’t want to honor your claim, on whatever grounds they could find, what makes you think you could fire them and find another company that would do better? I suggest this would probably be impossible, so for all intents and purposes, you really couldn’t realistically fire them expecting to do any better. You might “like to” fire them, but grim reality would be staring you in the face. I suspect that Romney has never in his life ever had to deal directly with an Insurance company.

There is an article today on The Huffington Post by Ann Lee, “Meritocracy in Democracy,” that I found of great interest. She suggests that the United States might learn from the Chinese system when it comes to choosing leaders. In China, leaders progress up the chain of command on merit, that is, they have to prove themselves as competent and qualified to move up the leadership ladder by demonstrating repeatedly over time they have the interest of the citizens and the nation at heart and the ability to lead. But what a stupid idea! No, not the Chinese merit based system, the idea that the United States would learn anything from them. This is the United States, after all, the greatest nation on earth, the finest democracy ever, the shining beacon on the hill, the nation everyone envies, the one that goes around the world telling everyone else how to behave. There is no chance we would learn anything from China (previously “the heathen Chinee,” nowadays Communists). We like our own system much better, where any moron can run for any office, especially if they have or have access to money. Where you can be appointed to high position simply by being loyal to who is in charge. Where people like Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and others of that ilk can seriously be considered candidates, at least for a time. We are not about to learn anything from the European socialists with their welfare states either. How disgusting that in some of those countries health care is free, a University education is basically free, and people are known to be much happier and more content than we are. No, no, no one is going to tell us how to do things, we know we are far superior, exceptional, great, wonderful, the highest standard ever for social, political, and cultural life. We are not even supposed to consider anything that comes from a foreign legal system as our system is the absolute best when it comes to jurisprudence. Ethnocentrism, false pride, and delusion… the American way.

Being currently involved with two different Insurance companies I am reminded of something I have said before but I believe deserves repeating. This has to do with what I believe is the myth of government incompetence. We hear repeatedly that government just can’t do anything right, that we can’t allow government to control things like health care because government is basically inferior to the private sector. I guess I must be a remarkable exception to this belief because in my relatively long life I have found the exact opposite to be true. I have had almost unbelievable trouble with all kinds of private enterprise: different insurance companies, banks, telephone companies, University administrations, and so on. I have NEVER had any serious trouble with any governmental agency: the Post Office, Social Security, Medicare, the IRS, Passports, Public Schools, whatever. In my opinion, in any comparison I can think of, the government has treated me consistently much more efficiently, fairly, and promptly than any private company ever has. Either I am either a remarkably exceptional case or the incompetence of government is simply a myth that somehow never seems to go away, another urban legend or fairy tale that gets passed on from generation to generation like the alligators in the New York sewer system.

In our civilization, and under our republican form of government, intelligence is so highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office.

Ambrose Bierce

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The First Trillionaire?

Yes, I know there is no trillionaire, at least not yet. Perhaps there will never be. A trillion is a thousand billion. That’s really a lot of money. But as there seems to be no limit to the amount of money Americans believe it is proper to have (earn, possess, accumulate), it is certainly theoretically possible for someone to become a trillonaire, so is it only a matter of time before our first trillionaire emerges?
 When I was a lad, in fact long after I was merely a lad, there was no such thing as a billionaire, millionaires, yes, billionaires no. In fact no one ever even spoke about billionaires. Billionaires are a recent phenomena, like computers, the internet or cell phones. And, as there are now not only billionaires, but also quite a few multi-billionaires (up to at least 50 billion), it seems that now this is  somehow considered right and proper, capitalism, you know.
Like so many other things about contemporary American culture, I do not understand this tolerance for allowing individuals to amass such huge fortunes. First of all, it seems to me to be entirely pointless as no one could possible need that much money. As money can only be accumulated through profit, and as profit can only be made by exploiting labor or the environment, or both, the accumulation of so much wealth obviously has had deleterious effects upon someone or somewhere. Those who accumulate even more profit simply by using money to make more money are only exploiting labor and the environment at a slightly more abstract level.
A more important reason than the basic absurdity of any one person having a billion or more dollars, is the fact that such an unequal distribution of wealth in a population (nation, country, community, society) is terribly dysfunctional. Over time, in a society when unlimited wealth can accumulate in the hands of one or few individuals, it is inevitable that the rich will grow richer and the poor will become poorer. We are seeing the effects of this right here in the U.S. at the moment. The number of poor people increases, more and more people are forced to live in poverty, the situation becomes more and more intolerable, and this leads often to (sometimes terrible) revolutions, or at the very least to widespread misery and unpleasantness for the vast majority, a most difficult situation for a society to succeed and continue to thrive over time. We are seeing at the moment how the flow of unregulated huge sums of money are influencing our politics, think of the Koch brothers and the billionaire who just donated 5 million to Gingrich to try to bring down Romney. Just image what a Trillionaire would do! Trillionaires or not, this is not a system that can be allowed to continue.
What truly amazes me is the apparent tolerance for this situation on the part of so many. Aside from monarchies or dictatorships this extreme inequality is not usually allowed to exist. In smaller, more traditional societies the possibility does not even exist. If a leader, headman or chief, attempted to accumulate wealth just for himself, he would quickly lose his position if not actually be killed. Inequality on the scale we now experience it is a result of industrialization, the loss of tradition, capitalism, and the institutionalism of money as a medium of exchange, coupled with the idea of interest. When the possession of money leads in and of itself to the creation of more money it is inevitable that those with money will accumulate more of it and those without it will remain poor. One obvious solution to this situation is to tax heavily what we now know of as capital gains. We, however, tax capital gains at a lower rate than we tax labor, a situation so pathetically stupid as to stagger the mind. Similarly, to control inequality it is necessary to tax the wealthy more heavily than others. Remember, for example, that during the Eisenhower administration the tax rate for the truly wealthy was 90%. Now, with taxes at their lowest in decades, the wealthy are resisting even a 3% increase in their taxes.
Willard Mitt Romney, almost surely to become the Republican candidate for the Presidency, is the poster child for the form of unregulated capitalism we have now adopted, the system that is slowly destroying our country. He believes that corporations are persons, that unlimited fortunes are fine, that labor is just another commodity that can be disregarded entirely when it comes to making a profit, and that essentially the poor are irrelevant. He denigrates European societies for their “socialism” with little or no understanding of social democracy. He insists that these socialist countries take money from those who have and spread it out equally to everyone, apparently unaware there are extremely wealthy people even in social democracies. He also has now said that if you criticize the wealthy it is because you are envious or jealous of their wealth. I am not envious or jealous of their wealth, I am outraged about it. I can assure you that had I wished to become wealthy I would never have become an anthropologist or an academic, and I am certain that the millions of people who become teachers, plumbers, firemen, policemen, scholars, mechanics, and whatever did not pursue those activities out of a desire to become wealthy. Romney, born to wealth, jokes about being unemployed or having worried about getting a pink slip, demonstrating that he has no understanding of the lives of ordinary people, and is completely out of touch with ordinary Americans. He has been accused of being a “Vulture Capitalist,” a description I believe to be true. With a fortune estimated at a measly quarter of a billion dollars, he probably regards himself as poor. People with large fortunes do not create jobs, they create profits, profits that come from exploiting labor and the environment, they are basically parasites, sucking the blood of labor and resources out of the environment. Hungry and out of work, Eat a Republican!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Right Way?

I don’t really like to belabor the same points over and over again, but I still confess to be completely bewildered by what is going on in our country. No, I am not bewildered about the outcome of the New Hampshire Primary, Romney was expected to win and did. The only thing of interest was that Ron Paul finished second and Jon Huntsman third. I guess if much of Paul’s vote was from Independent voters who are anti war and might go eventually to Huntsman, he might be in a stronger position than we realize (Huntsman is not anti war but has a much more realistic grasp of the problem than any of the other candidates, who seem eager to rush into war with Iran without pausing even to think about it). Even so, it looks like Romney will, as predicted, be the Republican candidate.

What has me bewildered is what seems to be the rather constant claim that the 2012 election is going to be very close. I have heard Democrats say this often and Republicans believe they really have a chance to win. Allen West , Republican “bizarro” from Florida has announced that Obama will lose after a “Bloodbath.” More importantly, along these lines, I have also heard Republicans repeatedly claim that “Anyone of these (Republican) candidates can beat Barack Obama.” One recent poll has Romney beating Obama 47% to 45%. I cannot help but wonder who it is they are polling. As I have said previously, I cannot see any Republican candidate getting much in the way of the Black vote. Nor can I see them getting much of the Hispanic vote. As all the Republican candidates want to do away with Social Security I can’t see them getting the older vote. Similarly, as they have mounted an all-out attack on Planned Parenthood and women’s health and right to choose, I can’t see them getting the women’s vote. As they are also anti-Gay and anti-Muslim they should not garner many votes there. As Republicans have also demonstrated repeatedly they are opposed to unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and even food stamps, and as so many citizens are now living in poverty or close to it, I should think the entire 99% would be opposed t them. So why would anyone assume the coming election would be close? I would predict an Obama landslide, except for the fact that all of my predictions turn out wrong. Is the youth vote, supposedly turning against Obama, going to elect a Republican? I don’t think so, especially as the youth vote is supposedly mostly anti-war and Republicans are far more interested in permanent war than even Obama. As I say, I am completely bewildered.

Even the things I personally hold against President Obama are not things I would think would bother Republicans. I think, for example, Obama is too much of a “hawk” for my taste, but why would that bother Republicans who are far more hawkish than I am? I have been very critical of Obama for not prosecuting the Bush/Cheney administration for their blatant war crimes, but why would that bother Republicans? Obama is criticized by the left for protecting the banks, but isn’t that precisely what Republicans would wish for? They rail against “Obamacare,” but that left private Insurance companies fully involved in health care (about the most ridiculous involvement one could ever conceive of) which should not have displeased them (except, I guess, for the fact they are so stupid they somehow think Obamacare is some kind of socialist enterprise). Anyway, nothing that is going on in our current political climate makes any sense whatsoever to me. Perhaps I am just too stupid to understand it, or maybe too liberal to even conceive of it, or maybe even too senile, but I just plain “don’t get it.”

The more I think about it, and try to understand it, the more I return to the same conclusion – they just don’t like Obama, he’s Black. I cannot think of any other explanation for their (to me) truly strange behavior. Even when Obama wants to do something they themselves have originated and wanted, they don’t want it. They say “We want our country back,” but I ask myself, back from who or what? I conclude the only thing they could possibly want it back from is Obama, not because his policies have been particularly bad, but because he’s Black. Apparently a majority of the electorate says we are going in the wrong direction. But they don’t offer any explanation as to what the right direction may be, other than lower taxes, fewer regulations, the very conditions that brought about this mess in the first place. Is that really what they think might be the “right” direction? If not, just what is the right direction?

If we did not know the Republicans have made it their number one goal to make Obama a one term President, their behavior over the past three years would have to be seen as just plain insane, as without this particular goal it makes no sense whatsoever. It seems to me a truly sad state of affairs when the only thing that keeps them from being seen as insane is their hatred of Obama. They have done enormous damage to our country, materially, ideologically, and in the eyes of the rest of the world. However much you may dislike it, President Obama is “the only game in town,” the alternative is too horrible even to contemplate.

“Corporations are people, my friend.”

Willard Mitt Romney

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Destiny of the Republic - book

It is not often you pick up a book and almost immediately realize you are in for a genuine treat. I was given this book for Christmas and it turned out to be such a book. As it is a book about President James Garfield, someone I knew next to nothing about, and as it was also a book about older presidential politics, a subject that has never been of much interest to me, I was initially skeptical. The subtitle did, however, titillate my interest: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President. The minute I started reading it I knew I was hooked and did not want to put it down.

President Garfield it turns out was a truly unusual man, born into genuine poverty he managed, through janitorial work and carpentry to acquire an education. He worked for a time on a canal boat, tried his hand at preaching for a short time, was a teacher for a while, eventually became a lawyer, served eight terms in the House of Representatives, was a successful General during the Civil War, was elected to the Senate, but almost immediately, through no effort on his own part, received the nomination for President, won the election, served for only a few short months before being assassinated by an insane office seeker who was hung even though known to be insane.

Garfield was a large, jovial, cheerful man who enjoyed people and was dedicated to his country. He was also a skilled orator. Although in office as President for a mere 200 days he managed civil rights and Post Office reforms and began to change the spoils system that up until then appointed relatives, friends, and supporters that were not usually well qualified. He believed that incompetents should be removed from their positions, I guess a somewhat novel idea at the time that met with some resistance. He had been opposed to slavery and, serving during the immediate post civil-war period, was a champion of civil rights and insisted that Blacks be treated with civility and respect. He appointed a number of Blacks to high positions in government. He was also opposed to greenbacks and thought we should have a bimetal based economy.

On July 2, 1881 President Garfield was shot in a train station as he was on his way home to visit his wife and children. Although badly wounded he clung to life for some 80 days before he finally died. It is this period of time that is perhaps of the most interest in this meticulously researched book. At that time the President had no bodyguards of any kind and traveled in the same manner as everyone else. This made him easy prey for Charles J. Guiteau, a deranged individual who thought he would become a hero by assassinating the President. Guiteau had for years believed he should have a high office in government, even the Presidency, and had become well known by hanging out around the White House and demanding an appointment. Guiteau had borrowed $15 to buy a .44 caliber revolver and, as he had never before owned or even fired a gun, practiced with it before shooting the President. Guiteau was immediately captured and placed in jail. There were calls for a lynching, on at least two occasions he was shot at, and troops had to be called out to protect him. Soon after Garfield’s death he was given a jury trial, pleaded insanity, and even though everyone knew he was insane, he was found guilty and hanged.

The medical attention he was given is largely the focus of Millard’s book. The President did not have a doctor, nor had any provision ever been made for something of this nature. Although Joseph Lister had discovered and was promoting antisepsis (preventing infection by destroying germs) there was much resistance to this on the part of the medical profession that did not at the time necessarily believe there even were germs and rather arrogantly (as was their professional wont) believed their traditional practices were perfectly sufficient. Thus as Garfield lay on the dirty floor of the train depot, and more than one doctor looked at him, following their usual procedure one or more of them stuck their finger in the gunshot wound, and later used probes to poke around in the wound to find the bullet. The wounded man was carried out on a dirty mattress and taken to the White House that was itself little more than a rotting structure at that time. One doctor appointed himself to be in full charge of caring for the President and did, apparently, gave him what was considered the best treatment he could while relegating other doctors to positions of relative insignificance. It looked for a time that Garfield would survive, and although he was in acute pain most of the time, he apparently remained cheerful until the end. The doctor poked an probed but could not locate the bullet which he believed was lodged in the President’s right side. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, worked feverishly day and night to produce a metal detector that might help. On the first try Bell made a mistake in hooking up his new invention, he then perfected it so that he knew it would work, but on his second try the doctor insisted he look for the bullet only on the President’s right side where he was convinced it would be found. Bell never had another chance as the President died before he had another opportunity. The invention was a success and was used for years in such cases.

The autopsy confirmed that in fact the bullet was lodged on the left side. By that time it didn’t matter as infection had spread throughout the President’s body and ultimately took his life. Unhappily, it was his medical attention that killed him, rather than the gunshot wounds. Some doctors pointed out that had he received no medical attention at all he might well have recovered (there were hundreds if not thousands of civil war veterans walking around with bullets lodged in their bodies). Had the doctors not arrogantly rejected Lister’s discovery the President would also have lived.

This book is what is now described as narrative non-fiction, a genre that has actually been around for quite a while but only fairly recently named. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which he described as a non-fiction novel, is perhaps the best example of this type of writing. Basically it is telling a true story but in a more literary form than, say, newspaper reportage. Destiny of the Republic is what I would regard as one of the finest examples of this genre I can imagine. I highly recommend it.

"There is no horizontal Stratification of society in this country like the rocks in the earth, that hold one class down below forevermore, and let another come to the surface and stay there forever. Our Stratification is like the ocean, where every individual drop is free to move, and where from the sternest depths of the mighty deep any drop may come up to glitter on the highest wave that rolls."

James A. Garfield

Saturday, January 07, 2012


Once, in the middle of winter, when he was bored, my friend Paul bought a putter in Wal Mart. He took it home, used it on his rug for a few days, and then, bored again, returned it. He told the clerk, a lovely buxom young blond who was probably a loser from some Beauty Contest, “This thing doesn’t work.” “Really,” She said, quite concerned, and allowed him to return it. That is the way I feel at the moment about a lot of things. I mean, how else would you react to such improbables, as when someone like Michele Bachmann says, for example, President Obama is going on a trip to India that is going to cost the taxpayers 200 million dollars a day. Really? Or when she says global warming is all “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax?” Really?

Or what about when Leon Panetta, our Secretary of Defense, announces that if the Industrial/Military/Political Complex budget is cut it will spell “doomsday” for America? Really? Or how about when Rick Santorum, candidate for the Presidency, says the recession in American was caused by Gay marriage? Or if Romney becomes the candidate for President it will “destroy the country?” Really? Of course there is also Rick Perry who has asserted that defeating President Obama is the equivalent of fighting D-Day on Omaha Beach during the Second World War?” Really? Then there is Romney, insisting that President Obama is a “job killer.” Really? Gingrich wants us to believe that Obama is “The greatest food stamp President ever,” and “Blacks should insist on paychecks rather than food stamps.” Really?

I find it impossible to either to comprehend such claims or take them seriously. They seem to me completely absurd, bogus, ridiculous. They have no substance to them whatsoever, and are apparently being made for no reason other than drawing attention to the nitwits that make them. In the case of Newton Leroy (The Asinine) Gingrich one might well ask, if you want Blacks to draw paychecks you might do something about providing jobs for them. Santorum’s position is even worse, he claims, for example, he does not want to take money from some (Whites, of course) in order to provide better conditions for others (Blacks), but to make it possible for them to help themselves through working (I gather in jobs that are nonexistent, having been opposed by his party consistently). It is interesting that the racism that infects the Republican Party is no longer even pretended to be hidden. When we hear “poor people on food stamps” we know it is Blacks we are talking about, even though there are more Whites on food stamps than Blacks. Similarly, when we hear of those lacking a work ethic, or male role models, we know who it is they have in mind.

Make no mistake, one of the most obvious reasons Republicans hate Obama is because he is Black, and being so, has also moved into their territory, the White power structure that has always ruled our country. A Black person is not supposed to be there, it’s an unprecedented attack on what Republicans believe is the natural order of things. They are terrified he might even move in next door to them, as their fear of such a terrible thing drove them in a panic in the not too distant past into a complicated and much despised program of “Bussing,” rather than pass an Open Housing Ordinance that would have allowed Blacks to live next door to them (and would have made bussing unnecessary). The only thing I find surprising about their racism is that it has more and more come out in the open. This can be seen not only in the comments of the Republican candidates, but also in the emergence of bumper stickers that read “Don’t Re-Nig,” and descriptions of Michele Obama as “yo mama,” and so on. Perhaps it is better these things become public, at least it makes it easier to recognize the bigots and racists that infest Republican circles. One can only imagine what terrible remarks they must circulate in private.

I doubt that anyone believed racism died the day we elected a Black President. But would you have believed in a hatred so intense that Republicans have failed to honor the Office of the President itself? Or what is worse, to allow the nation to stagnate and deteriorate in their single-minded attempt to make him a one term President? Would you have believed they could hate and denigrate him so much they would be willing to stand by and do nothing with millions unemployed and children going hungry, simply watch as half the nation falls into poverty, allow people to die rather than offer them health care, boo an American soldier because he is Gay? I would not have anticipated such cowardly behavior even on the part of Republicans.

Now it surfaces that Ron Paul, one of the Republican candidates for President, has himself published a newsletter filled with hateful racist comments. One of his supporters believes homosexuals should be executed, others produced an absolutely despicable ad about Jon Huntsman’s adopted Chinese daughter. The kindly old doctor disavows it all, claims he didn’t write the newsletter and didn’t even read it. Really, Dr. Paul? Really?

I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man.

Jane Austen