Wednesday, August 31, 2011

They're Trying to Kill Us?

If you think about it it’s hard to believe Republicans are not actually out to kill us all. Their latest obsession seems to be the EPA which they would like to eliminate. Now, really, does this make any sense? There are reasons we had to create the EPA, truly good reasons having to do with clean air, clean water, and the protection of our somewhat fragile ecosystem (and planet). Why would they want to do away with these protections? It seems to me there are only 3 possibilities (1) they are so stupid they don’t realize it will harm them as well as everyone else, (2) they are basically just evil, or (3) they are so greedy they just don’t care what happens as long as they get their short term payoffs. It’s as if they believe the EPA was created for no other purpose than to stifle business. Apparently they believe it just doesn’t matter if you remove whole mountain tops, pour filth into the rivers, oil in the oceans, pollution into the skies, and dump toxic waste and plastic wherever is convenient. It takes really stupid people to be so short-sighted and/or greedy, evil, and unthinking.

But it is not just eliminating the EPA that would seem to be an attack on the lives of people. They don’t want people to have unemployment insurance after so many months, people who have no other safety net. Presumably these people should just wither away die? Similarly, they don’t want everyone to have health insurance unless they are wealthy enough to afford it. This, it seems to me, is a sentence of death for many. They are opposed to a minimum wage, opposed to welfare, opposed to food stamps, and opposed to Social Security. Just what is it they think will happen to people without any of these safety nets? Virtually everything they stand for is the opposite of what would be good for the general public and human life in general. Maybe they believe if they get their way they can survive in expensive enclaves where they will have their own air and water and safe environments while everyone else slowly perishes.

Even more importantly on the stupid dimension is their denial of global warming. When the vast majority of scientists all over the world believe the earth is warming and that human behavior is contributing to it, and this is perhaps the most serious threat ever for life on the planet, human, plant, and all other animal life, they are willing to flatly deny it is happening. This is a potential death threat to all those who do believe in global warming. Are we just supposed to let them potentially kill us all to protect corporate welfare? Their apparent love of nuclear energy is another matter of grave human concern. In spite of Chernobyl and now Fukushima they are still touting this unbelievable potential threat to life on the planet. It seems there is nothing they will not risk for short term profits even if it carries absolutely deadly risks. In the U.S. we seem to have an attitude towards “shooting first and asking questions later,” that is the same as “go ahead and do it and worry about the consequences later.” This is why we have so many drugs recalled after they have already done their damage, the same with pesticides and other chemicals. You might think that if there is a serious question about health risks or environmental damage the prudent response would be to not risk it until you know for sure, but it’s just not “The American Way.”

And so it is, too, with the Endangered Species Act. There are very good reasons to believe the oceans have been, and continue to be seriously overfished so that important part of the food chain may be about to vanish. But they do not want anyone to interfere with this destructive practice because, again, it may interfere with profits. This presents a genuine threat to our future. Similarly, they insist on promoting Genetically Modified crops even though the long-term effects of this may be dangerous to the food supply. Most European countries have already banned these crops but we still promote them around the world. The pharmaceutical industry continues to create new drugs by the thousands and many of them reach the market without proper testing and with no regard for the consequences. But these industries are so powerful, and so protected mainly by Republican interests it is as if they are untouchable. You might say “it’s just politics as usual,” but when it comes to genuine threats to lives of everyone I don’t see why it should be tolerated. Why should we all be made vulnerable to disease and death and misery because of the ignorance and greed of a few? Waiting from one to six years to vote someone out of office is not very helpful when it comes to more urgent life or death matters. We seem to have no other recourse.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Platform?

Ssdpctsg&p. What does it mean? As it has no vowels I would like to believe it might be a Polish word meaning “hope” or “progress” or something positive. Obviously it is not a word in any language and has no meaning as it is. It is an acronym for what I think the planks for the Republican platform will be for the coming election, as I understand them at present: stop spending, deregulate, privatize, cut taxes, shrink government, and pray. This last element is very important because without it the result will surely be disaster (with it, it may be an even greater disaster). As it is unpronounceable as is I suggest referring to it simply as the “Disaster Platform.”

It would seem obvious that we cannot just stop spending, unless that is, we are willing to condemn millions of people more into poverty and misery (Republicans seems perfectly willing to do this as near as I can tell). If you have been paying attention for the past few years you know what deregulation and privatization have done to us (you simply cannot deregulate and privatize basic human requirements like water, air, food, medical care, energy, education, prisons, and so on without disastrous consequences for the public (again, Republicans seems perfectly prepared to do this). Cutting taxes at the very moment when the exact opposite is required should be an obvious no-no (but not to Republicans). Cutting government similarly cannot be done as readily or easily as Republicans seem to think (unless, again, you are willing to do without things like highways, police and fire protection, free elementary education, Medicare and Medicaid, and etc.). If this is the Republican platform for 2012, which it seems to me in general it is, I believe it portends a very dismal outcome for our future.

But then you have to consider the various means by which they would bring this about. They have, of course, already started, they began the moment President Obama was elected. First, and continuing, the “roviation:” he was not born in America, he’s a Muslim, he’s a socialist, he’s a Kenyan, he must be an “other” of some kind, he’s afraid of the generals, he’s weak on Foreign Policy, he’s not a leader, and etc. Accompanying these various attempts to denigrate him were the racist cartoons: he’s a witch doctor, a cannibal, a clown, etc. Then there was/is the disrespect, “you lie!” (can you imagine anyone saying this in Congress to a White President). The next step was to announce they would not cooperate and would say “no” to everything, which they have done religiously, even refusing to cooperate on bills and such they originated themselves. Having bribed and cheated their way into several Governerships they have now mounted coordinated attacks on organized labor, on “Obamacare,” abortion, and, more importantly on voting rights, targeting those precise groups that might vote democratic, young people, old people, minorities, and so on, unconscionable attacks on the basic right to vote.

It seems inevitably the case that when you don’t like the President or his administration the cry of “State’s Rights” is increasingly heard, the Federal government comes under attack. Unfortunately it has never been entirely or precisely clear just what rights states have or ought to have. Nor is it always clear what rights they want to have. Different states want different things, some probably want segregated schools, others want their own health care, or no health care, some want to hang people, some want to electrocute them, some don’t want capital punishment at all. But not everything they want is something that others may or may not despise. I have little doubt that some states would reinstate Jim Crow laws in an instant if they thought they could, segregated schools, facilities, and so on. Some want citizens to be able to carry concealed weapons into bars and even churches, some do not. Some want to do away with environmental protections entirely, some would do away with endangered species, and so on and on. I personally have little doubt there may even be some who would go back to hanging people indiscriminately, unregulated lynch mobs like there were “in the good ol’ days.” Personally I am very skeptical of state’s rights for just these reasons (and in fact it is because of abuses the Federal government intervened in the first place). I suppose there might be some areas in which states could decide for themselves but with respect to important matters, like human and civil rights, I think Federal guidelines are appropriate. Frankly, I think it is rather silly to allow Gay marriages in one state but not another, or abortions in one but not another, or 18 year-olds to drink in one state but 21 year-olds in others, or why some states should have kindergartens but not others, and so on. I see no reason why there should be such unnecessary, complicating, and often petty differences. Furthermore, as rivers and forests do not begin and end at state boundaries I don’t see how different standards could be applied to river traffic, fish, water, and so on. It seems to me we are one nation and the rules and regulations, laws and such should be fairly standardized. Besides, I suspect if some states have more rights than others, and demand more, it will lead to talks of secession. In extreme circumstances I can imagine having to have visas to visit other states, or special state passports, restrictions on movement and living arrangements, political or religious affiliations, and on and on. Basically I think states’ rights, if carried too far, would result in chaos if not potential civil wars, over boundaries, water rights, civil liberties, and more. We should, after all these years, spend some serious time establishing just what rights can be left to states and which either cannot or should not. But we’ll probably just continue arguing about it endlessly. It’s the American way!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ford Madox Ford - book

Ford Madox Ford, by Alan Judd (Harvard University Press, 1990)

He had mastered Latin and Greek, spoke English, German, and French, had four published books, was married, and just twenty years old. He went on to write 81 books, including one often considered as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, wrote hundreds of articles and essays, started and edited two of the most influential literary magazines, helped along many younger writers such as Joyce, Hemingway, Pound, Lawrence,Wyndam Lewis, Graham Greene, and more. In addition he collaborated with Joseph Conrad on three novels, lived as an English gentleman even though chronically short of money, was also, somewhat paradoxically, the epitome of an English “Bohemian,” and although still married was at one time technically a bigamist, and also lived in sin for years with at least two talented and gifted women half his age. He can easily be considered a “writer’s writer,” and is now, apart from certain literary circles, almost unknown.

Ford Madox Ford (born Ford Hermann Hueffer) became Ford Madox Ford when he changed his name because it was too German (it was not wise to be identified as German at the time) and he wanted to honor his grandfather, Ford Madox Brown, whom he adored. He was prolific almost beyond belief and, it is said, wrote everyday of his life from adolescence until his death in 1939 at the age of 66. I found this biography by Judd to be quite fascinating as I previously knew very little of Ford (he is usually found mentioned only briefly in the biographies and autobiographies of others or in books about Paris in the 30’s). This book is in a sense much more than a biography as Judd, himself a writer, discusses much of Ford’s writing and makes observations about writing in general. It is long and detailed, academic in tone, and, because this is not the reading season, took me an unusually long time to finish. It was well worth the effort.

Perhaps because writing came so easily for him, and because he wrote to earn a living, many of his books were perhaps not his best efforts, but none of his books, including even the best ones, sold well, and he lived a rather hand-to-mouth existence at times, often having to borrow from publishers or friends to survive. It was an interesting form of “poverty” in that he and his “wives” always seemed to have enough for a maid and also entertained. This seems to be true even when, after WWI, they were living in reduced circumstances in a remote and decrepit cottage, raising their own pigs, chickens, and other livestock and dreaming of self-sufficiency on their ten acres of rented land (rather like the more recent “hippies” who became “back-to-the-landers”). This was the period following the war when Ford was trying to overcome the trauma he experienced during that terrible time. Fortunately his “wife” at the time, an Australian painter, was as unconcerned as he was with their immediate surroundings and relative poverty. But they continued the same life style when later they lived in Provence in much better surroundings but with little more in the way of resources. Ford was apparently not in the least concerned with either clothing or his immediate surroundings, adapting to wherever it was he was living and largely irresponsible when it came to money. His life-style was made possible because in those days one did not borrow from banks but, rather, from relatives, publishers, and friends who did not charge interest and were flexible about being repaid (Ford did repay when he could). It is much to Judd’s credit that he resisted what might well have been a temptation to sensationalize or “romanticize” (if that being the right word) Ford’s life (which was as “Bohemian” or “romantic” as could be). This could have easily been achieved as others writing of the “lost generation” or the legendary “Paris years” have romanticized the period. Ford was certainly a Bohemian but I don’t think it would be fair to characterize him as an “English eccentric.”

Ford obviously liked women, and they obviously were attracted to him. It is clear he had several affairs but it is not clear if all of these included sex. In any case Judd spares us any lurid details and is more concerned with Ford’s dependence on them for emotional satisfaction and support. His affairs and multiple “wives” were complicated by the fact that his first wife, with whom he had two daughters, absolutely refused to divorce him so he could marry again. This did not matter much to his actual living arrangements but did create legal and monetary problems. Ford was extremely knowledgeable about writing, as well as many other things, and was also a brilliant conversationalist who could apparently hold one’s attention for hours, part of his appeal to the opposite sex. But the book is more about his writing and the history of twentieth century literature in general than it is about his life style and affairs. It has been on my biography bookshelf for almost twenty years, one of those I bought with the intention of reading it “someday.” Better late than never, I am now determined to read his masterpiece “The Good Soldier,” and an even more neglected work, “No Enemy,” said by Judd to be perhaps one of the best books on war ever written.

Ernest Hemingway, in his book about Paris, “A Moveable Feast,” has a chapter on Ford that represents one of the pettiest “cheap shots” ever. Many have commented on this and wondered why Hemingway wrote it. I cannot say I know why he did it, but I have ideas about it. Remember, it is well known that Hemingway had a “thin skin” and did not react well to any criticism. He was also known as a sometimes obnoxious bully. In addition he was also his own greatest PR man and much of his reputation rests on the “Hemingway legend” that he himself created. In all of these respects he is the opposite of Ford. I think he resented the fact that Ford knew more about literature and writing and had earlier commented on his writing. There may even have been an element of jealousy involved. Ford knew nothing of PR and never tried to inflate his own work, life, or importance, being self-effacing and modest to an extreme. He gave generously of his time and help to hundreds of aspiring authors whether successful or not and wished everyone well. I have no doubt this is part of the reason he is not now more well-known than he should be (nice guys finish last). More importantly, in spite of the dissimilarities, I think, he may well in a way actually represent Hemingway without the PR. Ford actually lived the life that Hemingway wanted people to believe he had lived, Ford had experienced war and been wounded, he lived the romantic Bohemian image of Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s, and was a serious writer, although gradually losing out to a younger generation of writers he had mentored. Not only that, Hemingway had been criticized by Spanish War veterans for writing a (frivolous) novel about the Spanish Civil War when they had expected a more serious book. Ford had written more seriously about war and had experienced it in far more important ways than Hemingway. Not only that, Ford had much healthier and successful relationships with women, even as he grew older, heavier, and unhealthier. It was not in Hemingway to praise others or to share his fame. Thus instead of commenting on Ford’s positive contributions and achievements, that were many, Hemingway chose to humiliate and denigrate him, and in so doing only managed to cheapen and denigrate himself. Obviously I could be entirely wrong about this, but in any case, Ford certainly did not deserve Hemingway’s shabby insulting digs, similar insults Hemingway gave to Gertrude Stein who had also befriended and helped him. Graham Greene said of Ford at the time, “There is no novelist of this century more likely to live than Ford Madox Ford.” Perhaps there will be a resurgence of interest in Ford that will go beyond merely “The Good Soldier,” and perhaps the reputation of “The Sun Also Rises” will diminish over time. We’ll see.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Modest Proposal Revisited

While I do not always agree that “history repeats itself,” in certain respects it does. You may know from reading your history (you did read your history did you not) that when the great transformation occurred from the previous agrarian medieval system to the industrial system that was driving people from the land and into the cities, there was a terrible problem of unemployment and poverty. The streets were full of beggars, mostly women begging food for their children. We do not have women begging in the streets much (at least not yet) but we do have a terrible problem with children in poverty. It is said that one child in five is now living in poverty and often does not have enough to eat, we have increasing numbers of families on food stamps, unemployment is rampant, and there is no solution in sight. Looking back in time I remembered there was once a solution offered that seems to me perfectly suited to our present condition:

A Modest Proposal
For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland
From Being Aburden to Their Parents or Country, and
For Making Them Beneficial to The Public

This was written by Jonathan Swift in 1729 who reported:

”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled ...”

So, you see, this might be the very solution we have been seeking. It fits in perfectly with the Republican program for America: no unemployment insurance, no minimum wage, no universal health care, no Social Security, no abortion, no planned parenthood, no day care for working mothers, no pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and basically (if possible) no free elementary education, and according to some, no birth control. While Republicans are vitally concerned with the well-being of the fetus, and perfectly adamant that women must bear their children to term even in cases of rape and incest, after the birth of the child it is clear they have little or no further interest in its well-being. I suggest, just as Jonathan Swift did, that rather than let these children go to waste they could be eaten…”stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.”

It is rare to find a previous solution to a problem, especially one almost 300 years old, that seems as suitable for the present as this one. Jonathan Swift, it is true, thought he was writing a satire about an unprecedented problem brought about by massive sociocultural changes, little did he know the same problem would endure for so long. I think he rather naively thought someone would do something about it.

I regard myself as being unusually cynical and pessimistic, although I would like to be different. Today I ran into one of my friends whose ideas about the United States and the world made me feel like Pollyanna. I confess to being susceptible to such predictions of gloom and doom. It seems to me true that gobal warming is not only real but also importantly man-made, and also true we seem to be doing little about it. It seems to me true we are witnessing the failure of our much vaunted capitalism and the inevitable collapse of our current economic conditions. It seems to me true we are now engaged in endless “wars,” that seem to have no useful purpose other than supporting a massive military/industrial/political system that is destroying the middle class and the poor in favor of the rich and the giant multinational corporations. It seems to me true that our members of Congress, as well as those in the Executive and Judicial branches of government, being bribed by those that have, have no longer any interest in protecting ordinary people and that our democracy has become a sham, a charade, a bad joke. I do not believe it is even theoretically possible to find (or “create”) jobs for some 18 or more million people under our current economic system. As meaningful change seems unlikely, at least in the near future, if ever, I suggest eating our children may be a useful strategy. Cannibalism is by no means unknown in human societies. You can probably develop a taste for it, just as you have for spinach and broccoli, or even pickled pigs’ feet and head cheese, maybe even limburger cheese, lutefisk and haggis. If you do not like this idea, please advise.

W. C. Fields, when asked how he liked children, reportedly answered, “parboiled” (actually he was very fond of children even in their natural condition).

Friday, August 26, 2011

To Read or not to Read...

“In My Time,” that is, Dick the Slimy’s new book that he assures us will cause some heads in Washington to explode. After a full two seconds of thought I decided against reading it. I would not, first of all, do anything that might put even one more cent into the pockets of this unrepentant evil war criminal. More importantly, as in the eight years of the Bush/Cheney administration neither one of them ever said even one thing that was true, why would I believe they would say anything that was true now? The only true thing either of them has said was that they did in fact torture people, a blatant war crime that goes completely uninvestigated and unprosecuted. I assume there must have been assurances given by Obama that he would not pursue any investigation, itself I believe a violation of his obligations under the Constitution, making him, if not a war criminal himself, at least a fellow traveler, an accomplice. Finally, I won’t read it because I know it would make me so angry it would quite likely shorten my life (by making my head explode). Besides, I don’t need to read it as I’m certain it will be reviewed, dissected, analyzed, summarized, reviled, praised, and critized by dozens of others, on the internet, in the press, and on television. I can’t truly say he is the most evil man that ever lived, after all he has some really stiff competition from Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Amin, and others, but if the next revised dictionary doesn’t place his picture next to the word “evil,” they certainly should. Anyway, having not a whole lot longer to live, and having displayed no previous concern about what anyone thinks (but himself), what does he have to lose, especially after having been granted amnesty by the current administration? It is true that it has not been the policy for one administration to take any kind of action against its predecessor, but there has never been a precedent where a previous administration strutted around boasting of its war crimes.

One of our most well-known religious nut-cases, Pat Robertson, has suggested the recent earthquake that caused a crack in the Washington Monument might be a sign from God that Jesus is about to return to earth (and Armageddon is coming, I guess). It would seem to me this attack on our most famous phallic symbol, along with the current hurricane, is far more likely a warning from Mother Earth that we had better bloody well change our ways, and fast. Even the most terribly abused women often resort to violent rebellion, and Mother Earth has had more than her share of abuse from the human species.

Hungary has destroyed 1000 acres of Monsanto Genetically Modified crops. Peru has passed a ban on such crops. Many European countries have indicated they do not want GM seeds. In spite of this the U.S. is apparently still promoting them around the world. Monsanto obviously has more influence on the U.S. than all the countries that have made it clear they do not want their GM seeds. I guess this is another example of “American exceptionalism.” We always know best.

Now that Governor Perry is leading the pack of Republican candidates more and more information about him and his record in Texas are being revealed, his blatant pay-to-play philosophy, his attempt to con retired teachers to sign away their life insurance, his executions, and so on. I wonder if all this is going to make any difference to his supporters, and more interesting, what if it does? I guess there are always Bachmann, Santorum, Gingrich, Palin, Giuliani and others waiting (lurking) in the background, oh happy day! It is certainly an interesting situation when no matter how bad Obama may be, perhaps no matter how much worse he may become, he will still be far better than any of the Republican semi-lunatics wanting to replace him. This is American democracy at its finest, the culmination of more than 200 years of “the noble experiment,” most probably even the “final solution.” But be of good cheer, great strides have been made in artificial erections and growing eyelashes, dog and cat food is so fine it can be consumed by humans, and peace is no longer even a remote possibility.

In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.

H. L. Mencken

Thursday, August 25, 2011

American Tragedy

I believe we are witnessing at this very moment in time the beginnings of a genuine American tragedy. As it can’t be a tragedy without a tragic ending, and as that has not as yet finally occurred, you have to be patient for the end that I’m pretty certain will occur. As with most if not all tragedies this is a result of the conflict of two parties ultimately resulting in a tragic outcome for one or both of them. In this case it is a tragedy of our own making and involves two different parties. On the one hand we have a small number of very wealthy people allied with powerful and wealthy international corporations. Their position, once summed up by one of them, is expressed in its simplest form by the phrase, “Greed is good.” Their modus operand has to do with making short term profits with no regard for anything else, not the environment, not the citizens, not the nation, and not even the planet itself. Left alone this would ultimately result in a tragedy of its own, but unfortunately it is being helped along by the second party.

The mantra of this second party was summed up brilliantly by a young college student who did not realize she was speaking for an entire nation when she tacked up on a bulletin board one day a message for her school peers, “Tomorrow is canceled due to lack of interest.” This is a brilliant description of the attitude of the majority of American citizens. By not paying attention over the past few years they have allowed the wealthy minority and the corporations to insidiously infiltrate all the corridors of power, the Congress, the Executive Branch, even the Justice Department and the Supreme Court. They have been very successful and have virtually achieved their apparent goal of a Fascist state, that is, a marriage of corporations and government. This is by now so far along there is some doubt that it can be overcome. It certainly cannot be overcome if ordinary citizens continue their disinterest in government. This disinterest has allowed their civil rights to be slowly eroded, their money to be transferred by various means to the wealthy and corporate interests, unconstitutional “wars” to go on endlessly, children to go hungry, education and superstructure to disintegrate, and millions to go without health care. Left unchecked things will get worse. In my view this is a terrible tragedy that could have been prevented had ordinary citizens been paying attention. The powers that be have cleverly hidden their greedy and evil plans through years of propaganda designed to convince ordinary citizens that unregulated capitalism and privatization are the best policies, government itself is intrinsically bad, and if we give them our money it will trickle back down to us in the form of jobs. Apparently large numbers of people believe this nonsense.

Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, and now the leading contender for the Republican nomination, I thought would self-destruct after his first week on the campaign trail. It appears this is not going to happen and in fact he seems to be getting more and more credibility as the days pass. It seems the more swagger and ignorance the better as far as Republicans (and I guess a few others) are concerned. It worked for George W. Bush so why won’t it work again. I believe it is indisputable that ignorance is preferred by the Republican Party. This can be seen in their attitude towards education in general, and Universities in particular. They constantly whine about the fact that there seems to be a preponderance of liberals in our Universities. I believe this is true. Think about it, those who become University Professors have spent most of their time in studying, history, philosophy, political science, sociology, government, and so on. Does it not stand to reason they would know more than people who do not study such things? And if studying inclines them towards more liberal positions that seems to me perfectly understandable, they understand how things came about, how the system works (or doesn’t) and so on. The Republican response to this fact of life is to deny it, to disavow education, to demean and denigrate University people. They refuse to adequately fund education, they portray Professors as “Egg Heads,” “Pointy-headed intellectuals,” “Absent minded Professors,” “Ivory Towerists,” those who teach because they cannot “do,” and insist their opinions are no better than anyone else’s, even those who sum total of information comes from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Beck, or Hannity. I do not want to appear an educated “snob,” but I simply do not believe this is true, even though I continue to believe in one person one vote (although I’m not exactly sure why). Part of the tragedy lies in the fact they have managed to convince most of the American public this is true. Learning, education, “book-larnin,” intellectualism, are simply not highly valued in American culture, even though I believe they once were more highly regarded than they are now. The tragedy lies in the fact that the public has apparently lost the ability, and sometimes I think even the will, to resist this almost complete takeover of what used to be proudly proclaimed a democracy. Our so-called “leaders” have succumbed to the philosophy of, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” and join up they have.

“Any man…is any sort of man, some time or other…”

Ford Madox Ford

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Intellectual Bankruptcy

The Republican Party, it is said, is still looking for their knight on a white horse to appear, a “Great White Hope” to restore things to order, being apparently unsatisfied with not only President Obama, but also their candidates who have already announced, as well as with a number of other possibilities (Palin, Christie, Giuliani, Ryan, Rubio, and etc., etc.) who have not as yet announced (and quite probably won’t). It is said they are looking for an “ideas man” (not, I guess, an ideas woman). In any case is this not a tacit admission that it is a party with no ideas, no program, no plan, only the commitment to say “no” to everything Obama has tried to do? Even Jeb Bush (remember him, the one brother with at least half a brain) has announced they cannot expect to win without some ideas of their own, that just saying no and going negative on President Obama will not be enough (he is apparently astute enough to realize that this would be no time for another Bush to run for the Presidency).

Perhaps they actually do have ideas, other, that is, than the insane ones the current candidates are mouthing every day, but they feel they do not have to reveal them. It is possible their hatred of Obama (he’s Black, you know) is so intense they cannot imagine him winning a second term so therefore there is no necessity to go public with any ideas of their own. Or perhaps they believe their strategy of just saying no to everything will be sufficient to bring him down, which it might as it has prevented him from making any progress towards solutions for our many problems, and with the help of the MSM they control they can unconscionably blame Obama rather than themselves.

I suspect they are, in fact, completely bankrupt of any positive ideas. Their entire philosophy for years has been simply “no taxes” and “smaller government.” As the public is now aware of this, and of its failure in practice, it is necessary for them to create newer ideas, that they are incapable of doing. They are intellectually bankrupt. Furthermore, the implications of their only two ideas, fewer taxes, less government, are so threatening to the well-being of both citizens and country, they dare not try to push them as far as they might like, although they are still trying. Doing away with Social Security (their fondest wish) and repealing Obama’s health care legislation, including also Medicare and Medicaid, eliminating the EPA, the Department of Education, denying global warming, pushing more tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy and corporations, and so on, are just plain suicidal planks in any political platform. Now they say they want to do these things “for the good of the country,” or what they claim is “what the America public wants,” claims so contradictory to what is true they cannot convince anyone other than their “base” that is so dimwitted they will apparently believe anything (God created the earth and everything on it in six days, the earth is only 6000 years old, people and dinosaurs roamed around together, scientists don’t know what they are talking about, etc.). Some of the few remaining more sensible members of the party, sensing now these kinds of ideas will go nowhere in the general election, are increasingly nervous about their current candidates and dreaming of a more presentable candidate who might magically maneuver through the primaries but still be acceptable as a general candidate. This must be truly frustrating for them when it appears that Obama might actually be vulnerable and so far they are unable to come up with a candidate that represents earth rather than outer space.

The polls show this and that and the results of them are announced almost daily. As it is fourteen months until the election these polls are worse than useless, their only function is for infotainment, something to keep us all occupied with nonsense while the powers that be continue to rip us off. The idea of spending two years campaigning for the Presidency, spending probably more than a billion dollars, is such an incredible waste of time and money it is utterly absurd. But it does help to keep our minds off why we are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the rest of the Middle East (Oil). Oh, I forgot, we’re in Libya to prevent Khaddafy from slaughtering his own people (wink, wink). The whole business is disgusting, but it’s the “American way.”

“This story has no moral,
this story has no end,
this story only goes to show
there ain’t no good in men… “

From the old song, “Frankie and Johnny”

Monday, August 22, 2011

The United States is "So Yesterday"

“So Yesterday” is a phrase that has fairly recently entered the American common language. I guess it means old fashioned, out-of-date, passĂ©, or something like that. It has helped me figure things out and I am so relieved. Here I have been worrying about who the next President might be, whether any of the Republican candidates could win, will President Obama get a second term, and so on. I wouldn’t say I had an epiphany, as my doubts have been fairly long-standing, but having finally reached a conclusion about things I do feel relieved. This is because it doesn’t matter who the next President is or isn’t, doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat, whoever it is will merely be a figurehead for the multinational corporations that are now in control of the U.S. as well as other nations around the world. Nations have now become irrelevant as a few giant corporations have larger budgets than most nations and far more power than most nations. Thus the quest for the Presidency has become basically just another example of infotainment, a charade to occupy the time of the mindless while what goes on in the world passes them by. We have known for a long time that most nations have little or no say in what happens around the world, but now, for the first time, it is becoming clear that the U.S. is joining the rest of the world’s nations in irrelevance. As I have concluded this is true it does relieve my mind and also the responsibility I once felt about various problems and solutions. In that sense it is somewhat relaxing, takes the pressure off, so to speak, and allows me to think of other more important things, like where my next meal might come from.

One of the reasons I have come to this conclusion is the sudden realization that the U.S. is not a serious country, at least not in the sense of governance. If it were we would quite definitely not have candidates like Bachmann and Perry taken seriously, to say nothing of some of the others, and especially some on the periphery claiming they are going to run. Sarah Palin certainly comes to mind but there are others as well, Trump, Giuliani, and so on. You might think that being the leader of what is generally recognized as the strongest country in the world would be a position requiring someone with at least half a brain, but that seems not to be the case with us. Bachmann and Perry, for example, being religious nut cases and anti-science would not be taken seriously by a serious country. Palin would have been laughed off the stage before she could say “reload.” It is as if for some strange reason we have all suddenly become completely devoid of either common sense or reason. It is not surprising that we are rapidly entering the ranks of the Third World.

Our “leaders” no longer lead, at least not in the sense of looking out for the citizens (unless they happen to be multi-millionaires or billionaires). While it is true we face problems, the most important problems would not be that difficult to solve. Health care is a good case in point, ours is about as dysfunctional as it could possibly be, it’s far too expensive and out of reach for millions of Americans. Medicare for all is the obvious solution and the only way to make health care available to all and cost effective. The failed “war on drugs” on which we lose billions could be fixed simply by legalizing drugs and recognizing it is a medical problem and not a political one. Our failing educational system could be fixed and returned to greatness simply by emulating Finland. Unemployment, too, could be readily improved by increased government spending on worthwhile projects like infrastructure, education, and scientific research. And all of this could be funded and the national debt paid down simply by withdrawing our troops from all over the world, especially Afghanistan and Iraq, but also from all the countries where they are not needed, like North Korea, Germany, Japan, and others. Our “national defense” budget, larger than all the rest of the world combined, could easily be reduced by half and the military/industrial/political complex replaced by spending to improve our country in general. Our military exists far more for protecting corporate interests around the world than it does for national defense.

The media, that used to be the “fourth estate” has become in the hands of its corporate owners nothing but a waste of everyone’s time with programming so stupid and infantile no one with a brain larger than a pea can even watch it. Rather than concentrate on our problems we are led to worry about such monumental problems as who designed some Bimbo’s wedding dress, how much money is paid one movie star or another, the latest shocking gossip about Lohan or Sheen, Gay marriage, Gays in the military, perfectly legal abortions, or the necessity for carrying guns in bars and churches. Of course we are expected to watch the really important stuff, like which Republican nitwit might become the candidate of a meaningless election, infotainment put on for years at a time to keep our minds off what is really happening. Even watching or listening to this basically fake contest is demeaning, actually participating in it must be much like rolling around in a pig sty. Unhappily, 2012 is a long way away.

Watch enough television and it won’t hurt a bit.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On Restaurants

There is a fairly new restaurant on the huge lake not too far from where we live. It has an unusual name that attracted me although I knew nothing else about it other than it existed. Having come into an unexpected bit of money I wanted to take my wife and a friend there but was told to google it first. I did, and horrors, it turned out to be a “Family” restaurant. What a disappointment! I have learned to avoid family restaurants like the plague. Family restaurants cater to children. I rather like children in general but I do not enjoy trying to eat while surrounded by the non-domesticated little creatures that cry, run about, throw food, and in general disrupt what should otherwise be a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

This experience has led me to reflect on restaurants in general. As you might well imagine, by eighty years of age I have experienced all kinds of restaurants around much of the world. I will restrict my (unsolicited and perhaps unwanted) comments here only to restaurants in the U.S. First, one thing you should always avoid are restaurants with cute names (I violated this rule above) like “The Mangy Moose,” “Mugsie’s,” “The Rusty Moose,” “Bigfoot Pub and Eatery,” “Frankie Doodles,” “Shenanigans,” “Annie Fannie’s,” and such. Actually some of these particular restaurants may be quite good, but in general places with cute names are not. They try to attract you by the names rather than by the food they serve. There was a restaurant named “Dewey, Cheetum, and Howe,” that was not too bad, but it was at best a borderline exception to this rule.

You should also avoid restaurants that cling to cliff tops with a view of the ocean, lake, river, or waterfall, or offer some other exceptional attraction. Restaurants on the top floors of buildings that offer views are in this category as well, such places attract customers by their views or whatever and the food often suffers. The same thing is usually true for restaurants that boast of their celebrity customers , as if you are not yourself a celebrity you will likely get the table by the door or behind a post and the food will likewise tend to be not the best. Also to be studiously avoided are floating restaurants or those that revolve.

Chain restaurants are also best avoided because their food is often pre-prepared and merely heated in the microwave or oven, is standardized and usually unimaginative. The chefs are not truly chefs but simply those trained to serve these already prepared meals. There may be exceptions to this rule but you cannot depend on it. The food in places like Olive Garden, Chili’s, Red Lobster, Appleby’s, and others of this ilk may be a cut above that served in lesser chains like Arby’s, Burger King, MacDonald’s, and others of that class, and while the food is edible is certainly not outstanding or a gourmet treat. Of course the real fast food places like MacDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, must be avoided at all costs (never, ever eat hamburger at them). The only places worse are those that offer “All you can eat ,” whether it’s catfish, shrimp, fried chicken, or anything else. All you can eat places make a mockery of food and raise gluttony to unprecedented heights. Pancake restaurants should always be avoided, no exceptions.

Chinese restaurants, with rare exceptions need also to be avoided. I have long suspected there is a gigantic central Chinese kitchen somewhere centrally located that regularly ships Chinese food to thousands of Chinese restaurants around the country. You will note the menus in Chinese restaurants are remarkably similar wherever found. Japanese restaurants are usually a bit better than run-of-the-mill Chinese ones because the demands on the chef are greater, ingredients must be fresher, and usually require personal attention for presentation and preparation, as in sushi, for example. Even so there are some not very good Japanese restaurants around, usually, I think, because they get too large, stereotypical, and require shortcuts in preparation.

I have also found, although with limited experience, that restaurants in Casinos should seriously be avoided. You might think that because casinos make so much money from the simpletons who apparently like giving their money away they would be able to afford really fine restaurants with the finest chefs and the best food available, but they don’t. I think this may be because they really cater only to those who have lost most of their money and cannot afford to eat well, or those in such a hurry to continue losing they cannot waste time by eating. Restaurants owned by famous athletes are also questionable, especially if the walls are covered with pictures and statistics, because the food is not generally the most important feature. Fortunately, these are usually steak houses and it is inordinately difficult to ruin a steak (but it certainly can be done).

I suspect that in general the best chance to get a decent meal is found in French, Italian, Spanish, and Basque restaurants, sometimes even in German ones. I think this is because these particular cuisines have long-standing reputations and even the least of them attempt to live up to their reputations. This is not to say there cannot be pretty bad examples, but your chances are better than with other cuisines. Unless advised in advance you should in general avoid English, Australian, Indian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern restaurants, although in each of these cases there can be rare exceptions. The trouble is, you never know until it is too late.

If you follow this advice you will, of course, probably starve. You will at least find it difficult to eat. You may have already noticed that on long road trips, especially on freeways, it is virtually impossible to find any kind of palatable food. If you want truly delicious and authentic food you must always look for exceptions. Restaurants that have been in existence for a hundred years or more are almost a sure thing. Small, privately owned and operated restaurants, ethnic and otherwise, can be marvelous if the owners are serious about their offerings, but unfortunately these kinds of places don’t last very long because of the more commercialized and usually cheaper competitors, and often because the finest fresh foods they require are not available. They are also not easy to find as they either cannot or do not advertise. It is possible to find incredible examples of almost any cuisine if it is small, privately owned and operated, uses fresh local ingredients, and has a serious cook or chef. Such places do not exist along freeways. You might sometimes be pleasantly surprised even by places with signs that read simply, “EAT,” “FOOD,” “CAFÉ” or “DINER,” but you must be wary. The moral of this stupid blog, if there is one, is you are far better off eating at home, and when traveling, take your own food.

Sham Harga had run a succesful eatery for many years by always smiling, never extending credit, and realizing that most of his customers wanted meals properly balanced between the four food groups: sugar, starch, grease, and burnt crunchy bits.

Terry Pratchett

Saturday, August 20, 2011


You may be pleased to know (maybe not) that the American Society of Addiction Medicine has released a brand new definition and description of addiction. They say it is a “bio-psycho-socio-spiritual illness” (I am not joking). No doubt it is, as that seems to cover most every possibility. They also say it has a genetic component but is also influenced by personal environmental factors. Got it? In other words they don’t know what it is. They do, however, claim that all addictions are the same. That is, an addiction to tobacco is no different than an addiction to alcohol, opiates, or other drugs. It is, they further claim, a “disease” (as opposed to a moral failing) for which the addict him or herself is not responsible, they simply cannot help it (this seems to be modeled on the disease theory of alcoholism that came into vogue quite a long time ago). As it is a single entity, any addiction is like all others, and presumably should be subject to the same treatments (I guess). As far as I know the pharmaceutical industry has not yet created an anti-addiction pill but they probably will. Sometimes I believe they create a pill first and then invent an illness for its use later, but perhaps I am over cynical. But as you might surmise, this new definition is a radical departure from how addictions have been treated up until now, as separate entities that is: alcoholism, opiates and other drugs, nicotine, and so on. As these specialists admit the disease of addiction cannot be treated only with drugs, it is also necessary to provide some form of therapy (talking, that again covers all bases). As many people have a propensity to addiction, and it is theoretically possible to be addicted to all sorts of things: sex, violence, stealing women’s panties, chewing gum, soft drinks, masochism, baseball, and etc., etc., this is good from the standpoint of those who make their living treating addicts, the more addictions the better. And as they are all the same treatment should be much simpler.

The American Psychiatric Association has reportedly been working on a new definition of addiction for their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM). This has not yet appeared but reportedly sticks with the traditional view of different addictions as indeed different. Going by past psychiatric definitions this new one will probably be as near to meaningless as many other psychiatric terms. This is going to set up an interesting battle between these different approaches, especially as by law practitioners are required to use the DSM. Unfortunately the DSM is not always very precise or even very helpful. If you peruse it even briefly you will be struck either by the lack of precision or by the questionable attempts at precision. There are, for example, 31 different categories of Bipolar disorders, 14 different categories of Depression disorders, and so on. There are categories like Adjustment Disorder – unspecified, as well as several presumably specified Adjustment disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, and other general terms that are quite arbitrary, or so they seem to me. Not only that, but in recent years new psychiatric terms seem to multiply rapidly and also, I think, for questionable reasons. This is especially true for children who seem to be drugged nowadays for what in the past were probably regarded as typical childhood behaviors. ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) for example. If a child does not attend well to the teacher and moves about too much to suit the teacher, he/she is very apt to be labeled ADHD and given drugs. Drugs are also sometimes prescribed to keep children better behaved at home. While there may be extreme cases that would require drugs I’m pretty certain that this is normal childhood behavior, especially when you consider that children are not really programmed (as yet) to sit still at attention for several hours a day. I know people who work with children diagnosed with one thing and another who all agree the kids are being unnecessarily drugged, even children as young as two. Raising children, not yet domesticated, is a difficult task, how easy to just give them a pill to keep them quiet and submissive. There seems little doubt that Americans in general, and American children in particular, are taking more and more drugs every year, Adderal, Prozac, Ritlin, and others. This certainly does not bode well for our future, unless, of course, that is the kind of submissive, unthinking, and completely non-threatening populace you want, sheep to uncomplainingly follow the corporate Judas goats into serfdom and poverty.

Half of the modern drugs could well be thrown out of the window, except that the birds might eat them.

Dr. Martin Henry Fischer

Friday, August 19, 2011

Economies of Scale

There is no doubt there is something to the facts of economy of scale. That is, if you can produce more than one copy of something the subsequent copies cost less and less per unit. I know this best from publishing where the more copies of a book you could produce the less expensive the cost of each copy (this is not exactly true anymore what with the new presses and all). That is, the individual cost of each of 5000 books was much less than the individual cost of, say, 100 copies.

This idea seems to work also with respect to other things as well. Wal Mart is a good example, a company so huge and so powerful it can buy things in quantities so large as to bring the prices down considerably. The same idea seems to have been at play in other industries as well, or at least the argument has been than with certain mergers costs could be reduced. Similarly, huge corporate farms can produce food much less expensively than small private farms. In a sense this is true, but there are at least three important elements of this kind of thinking that need to be considered. The cost savings involved only exist if you consider only the monetary costs involved. That is, a bushel of corn may cost less in dollars when produced by agribusiness, but that is not the only cost involved.

There are human and other costs that need to be considered that are not generally mentioned. Not the least of these additional costs have to do with unemployment. Corporate farms working with machinery can produce crops more cheaply, but they also displace many workers who might well have been making a living working on those same acres. In the case of Wal Mart you have to consider all the small businesses that have been closed because they cannot compete, thus resulting in more unemployment. There is also the facts of production and wages, in the drive to reduce costs by buying in bulk, factories necessarily try to reduce the costs of production, so wages are low (often dangerously low), perquisites like vacations, shorter hours, medical leave, and so on are not provided. Workers, rather than being human beings, become merely parts in a machine that runs for the sole purpose of making owners a profit. Thus while the market value in dollars may be desirable the human costs (not usually calculated) are enormous. Is it really worth it to make profits at the expense of human suffering? That is how profits are made, along with exploiting the environment.

Not only the workers suffer under such conditions, the products themselves suffer. The objects produced, generally speaking , lack quality, being produced by workers with no particular pride in what they are making. This is also encouraged by the propensity to build in obsolescence. Instead of having products made to last (that might exhaust the market) they are made to last only a certain amount of time (usually about when the warranties cease), thus guaranteeing further production of even more inferior products. It is not only the workers who suffer from this but also the consumers.

Also, the principle of economy of scale does not actually work when it comes to corporations. Although the idea behind greater size is usually couched in economic terms (it will be cheaper if X merges with Y), once X plus Y become large and powerful enough they can set their own prices that might eventually even be higher than previously. I suspect the Oil companies are probably the best example of this. It seems that no matter how large they become or how often they merge the price of oil stays whatever they say it is. Prices, when huge corporations are involved, have little or no relationship to the actual costs of production. This becomes even more true when you consider the costs of advertising, packaging, and so on. While I don’t know for certain, I suspect that when you buy a box of breakfast cereal you get maybe ten cents worth of cereal, a dollar’s worth of packaging, and another dollar’s worth of advertising. While economy of scale may work in principle it does not work in the facts of the marketplace where economy of scale appears to be largely irrelevant (in spite of its claims).

Should we return to earlier times when every city had its own brewery, there were real butcher shops, bakeries, hardware stores, convenience stores, and so on, when more people had jobs or businesses, more people were involved in producing food, the quality of life was better (if not cheaper), people took pride in their products and sought to please their customers, there was more competition to produce better products and better service? In my opinion the answer is yes, there is far more to life than lower prices and Chinese junk. I know that mass production has allowed more people to live more cheaply and to have more possessions, but, as I have said before, there is something intrinsically wrong with a culture that needs so much storage space.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What is Going On?

What is Going On? Is it, perhaps, the end of the world, at least as we have known it up until now? Is it maybe the end of democracy as we have known it? Is it the end of “The American century?” Possibly the end of the American “empire?” Or is it, as some believe, the end of the Middle Class? What is happening to our nation, seemingly unable to cope with the crises threatening to bring us down? Our credit worthiness is under attack, the Stock Market is in free-fall, unemployment is rampant, more people are living in poverty, children are going hungry, millions have no health care, people are frightened, as a nation we are deeply in debt, politically paralyzed, and there is seemingly no significant help in sight.

It is not literally the end of the world, but it probably is the end of the world as we have known it. It may also be the end of the American century, and quite probably the end of our world-wide empire. The middle class is rapidly disappearing what with unemployment, foreclosures, minimum wages, lack of health care, the collapse of the market, and so on.

There are, I think, speaking strictly from the perspective of the U.S., six significant and related developments that have brought us to our now perilous position. First, we have neglected and exhausted many of the earth’s natural resources, second, we have abused and neglected the environment shamelessly, third, it is not as easy to criminally exploit other countries as we have done up until now, fourth, we have failed to invest in the future, both with respect to our superstructure and more importantly our children, fifth,our (pretend) democracy ended quite some time ago (As Marx observed, the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them), and sixth, and most important, capitalism, related to all the above, as predicted, is bringing about its own demise.

“According to Marx, competition compels capitalists to introduce labour-saving machinery; as they do the rate of profit falls, which increases the pressure to innovate, and so on. Eventually there will come a point where production is no longer profitable, and where so much labour has been displaced that the working class does not have enough income to buy what is produced. So there is a crisis of 'overproduction'. There are several other kinds, but this is interesting because of the paradox (the 'contradiction', Marxists would say), that to make a profit in a competitive world the capitalist must put out of work the people who must have incomes to spend if capitalists are to make a profit.”

When this happens (is it not happening now) the result is a recession (or depression). This means that everything, including labor, becomes less valuable, which also means the wealthy and powerful can buy everything cheaply and the same process begins again. I read Marx some sixty years ago when I was in college, I was far too young (and far too lazy) to truly understand it. But after all these years of observing, especially the last three decades, I have finally come to realize the brilliance of Marx (even though he was quite wrong about some things). He predicted, rather uncannily I think, what would inevitably happen when unrestricted capitalism would be allowed to flourish, and we are now seeing his predictions come true. When wealth increasingly becomes the property of a few at the expense of the many it creates an intolerable situation for those at the bottom, and thus threatens the status quo with potential violence and even revolution. While I like to believe Warren Buffet is perhaps basically altruistic at heart, it is just as likely the case that he recognizes the dangers of concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. He is not alone in this as it seems the wealthy are increasingly turning to bodyguards and other protections to guard against potential dangers. You might think they would be wise enough to give up a small percentage of their obscene wealth to avoid potential dangers, but it appears even if they wish to do so the Republicans (now captive to a minority of true believers (better yet, corporate shills) will not allow it. The question that is yet to be answered is what do you do with those who simply refuse to compromise? Either you give in or…what?

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone

John Maynard Keynes

“Capitalism turns men into economic cannibals, and having done so, mistakes economic cannibalism for human nature.”

Edward Hyam

"Karl Marx, it seems, was partly right in arguing that globalization, financial intermediation run amok, and redistribution of income and wealth from labor to capital could lead capitalism to self-destruct (though his view that socialism would be better has proved wrong)," writes Roubini. "Firms are cutting jobs because there is not enough final demand. But cutting jobs reduces labor income, increases inequality, and reduces final demand."

Nouriel Roubini

Predatory capitalism created a complex industrial system and an advanced technology; it permitted a considerable extension of democratic practice and fostered certain liberal values, but within limits that are now being pressed and must be overcome. It is not a fit system for the mid-twentieth century

Noam Chomsky

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

So, What if it is...

socialism, that is? It’s about time we gave up this completely irrational attitude, even fear, of socialism. I’m not exactly sure how this nonsensical belief about socialism originated. I suppose it is somehow related to our previous fear of communism, but however it came about it makes no sense whatsoever. First, most of the people who rail against socialism seem to have little or no idea even what the term means. The claim that President Obama is a socialist is a good example. He has a law degree from one of our most prestigious Ivy League Universities and gets much of his financial support from Wall Street, that is about as far from being a socialist as one can get. They criticize “Obamacare” as being a socialist attempt at medical care, even though it left Insurance companies and the private sector in charge, reaping obscene profits on the misery and failing health of the insured. The same critics would like to do away with Medicare and Medicaid, along with Social Security, but wait a minute.

Yes, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are socialistic, no doubt about it. But a majority of the American public, including even many Republicans, truly approve of these programs and do not want them reduced or changed. So how does that fit with this fear of socialism? Similarly, we have free universal elementary education, the Post Office, Veterans benefits, Police and Fire Departments, etc., all funded by taxpayers, and all basically socialistic. Most citizens, as far as I know, support all of these programs. Furthermore, most of the benefits our working public enjoy came to them as a result of socialistic labor unions after years of horrible anti-unionism, strikes, and yes, a great deal of violence. But out of that emerged the 8 hour workday, the 40 hour workweek, paid vacations, sick leave, and so on, when previously the conditions of ordinary workers was truly dismal, long hours, no benefits, lives of poverty, misery, and “quiet desperation.”

Somehow the benefits of socialism that we now enjoy have been mysteriously forgotten, Management and the wealthy, mostly Republicans, have waged such a propaganda war against socialism that many people just automatically recoil even upon hearing the term. They have been successful in the past few years in breaking unions, passing right-to-work laws, and in general badmouthing socialism to the point where unions are nowhere near what they once were and attempts to improve the lot of the middle class and the poor are summarily dismissed as socialism and usually fail. This anti-union, anti-middle class, even anti-American behavior, persists to the present day as in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and elsewhere.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are termed “entitlements,” itself having become a bad word, basically a euphemism for socialism, and Republicans single-mindedly attack them constantly. Someone has suggested they should be termed “The Middle Class safety net,” rather than entitlements, as if that might make a difference in people’s attitudes. This attitude that has developed toward socialism, even the term socialism, is in my opinion no more sensible or realistic than children’s fear of the boogeyman, and has its origins in the same idle threats used to promote such fears in both cases. Our fear of socialism is absurd, without foundation, unrealistic, and harmful. I suggest we grow up and give it up just as we grow out of our fear of the boogeyman. Yes, there are socialistic elements of our society, some of which we hold dear and do not want to give up. Medicare is very popular and should be extended to all, in fact it ultimately will be, because eventually it will be the only way we can even afford health care, and also the most important factor in doing away with the deficit. If this does not happen the only people who will have health care will be the very rich, the rest of the population will have to “make do” as best they can, dying prematurely and painfully on the streets, having already lost their homes, jobs, unemployment insurance, and hope. If Republicans are serious about their aims, and if they gain the power to bring them about, this is what the future looks like for the middle class and the poor. Their motto seems clearly to be, “Let ‘em starve.” I suggest that the next time someone tells you Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are socialism, say yes, isn’t it wonderful.

Governor Rick Perry has lost no time in establishing himself as an aggressive, loud-mouthed, ignorant, arrogant, bible-thumping, loose cannon, Texas loony. I hope he gets the Republican nomination, what a ball we’ll have!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mr. Romney, I Presume

How wonderful! Mitt Romney, who belongs to a religion that believes their underwear is sacred, as well as a number of other somewhat unusual beliefs, a religion that many believe is really a cult, is the leading contender for the Republican nominee for President, and is also regarded by most non-Tea party folks as probably the most “respectable,” as well as probably the least insane of their top three choices. By all measures of reason I can think of it would seem to me he will inevitably become the choice to run against President Obama. I mean, seriously, do you think the Republican Party, “when the chips are down” is going to allow Michele Bachmann to run? She has a history of saying things that are either so patently “crazy,” or often outright lies, I do not see how she can expect to be taken seriously once outside of Iowa. I don’t think she is helping herself when her response to every question she doesn’t want to answer is, “I’m running for President of the United States.” Her supporters complain that her photo on the cover of Newsweek makes her look insane, that it was a deliberate attempt to make her look that way, and perhaps it was, but frankly speaking, on the basis of her record to date, it is somewhat difficult to think otherwise.

Then there is Governor Perry of Texas, a truly far-out right-winger if ever there was one. I can’t believe Republicans can be serious about running this guy for President. He just finished his famous Prayer Meeting, an absolutely blatant violation of the Church/State rules, featuring speakers that represented the farthest lunatic fringes of the already lunatic far-right, has announced publicly that he believes Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, seems to falsely believe there is some reason Texas ought to have the right to secede from the Union, has been Governor for nine years in a state where more children are uninsured for health care than any other state in the union, and tells demonstrable lies about the so-called “Texas miracle.” He boasts about having created more jobs than any other state, but it turns out most of those jobs had nothing to do with him and, in fact, are mostly poorly paid service jobs. He fails to mention the nine billion dollar shortfall in the Texas budget and is basically little more than a huckster for a failed state. This is doubly so in that the Governor of Texas is little more than a figurehead while the Lieutenant Governor in Texas has most of the responsibility for the budget and other important matters. Apparently Republicans are so determined to not want Romney they are trying to rally behind Perry. He is a handsome fellow, has nice hair, a Texas swagger, and appears to be Presidential, but there is, as Gertrude Stein said, “No there, there.” Perry is another religious nut-case just like Bachmann. If Republicans think he will garner many votes outside of Iowa, Texas, and a few other truly conservative states, they are living in dreamland. Either they are just desperate or their opinion of the non-Tea party voting public is one of outright contempt. Can they really believe we are all so stupid? Horrors, what if they should turn out to be right? I cannot bear the thought. But not to worry, in the background we still have Rudy Giuliani, hero of 9/11, champion of civil rights, defender of Bernie Kirk, still making noises about running again, as if we should be thrilled. And don’t forget that other fake candidate, who used to represent “The Great State of Alaska,” intrepid fisherman and hunter “par excellence,” particularly of moose, mooses, (mice?), wolves, caribou, (I’ve heard tell she even wrestles grizzly bears), attention and publicity, who still has the audacity to claim to be running for President (maybe, perhaps, possibly, tee-hee, we’ll see, I’ll announce someday if not before, or after, or whatever).

I think it’s fair to say the Republican attack on President Obama has been in some measure a success, he’s been wounded and is vulnerable. But if Republicans can’t do any better than Romney, Bachmann, and Perry (the MSM has decided we are never to hear again of Ron Paul), I think they might well have thrown in the winning hand. Obama will probably win some kind of pyrrhic victory and we’ll be in for another four years of Republican recalcitrance and failure to compromise. A Black President is not going to be allowed to succeed, it is too threatening to the basic paradigm into which we have all been enculturated. Obama is ahead of his time, perhaps in another generation or two things will be different (if, indeed, we last that long). I’m beginning to believe the situation is far too complicated for any single President to deal with. It ‘s like the well-known case of killing moles, one pops up in Egypt, then another in Syria, still another in Yemen, once more in North Korea, then Iran, Somalia, Pakistan, Libya, the Sudan, and so on and on. And that doesn’t even mention the other important and critical problems facing a President: global warming, the environment, unemployment, health care, debt, natural disasters, and those simpletons who believe it’s just a matter of “lower taxes and less government.”

“Rick Perry is George W. Bush without the brains.”

Unknown speaker.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Who Cares?

Like, seriously, who really cares what the outcome of the Iowa Straw Poll is? Iowa is not even remotely representative of the rest of the United States. The Straw Poll is a good 14 months before the 2012 elections, making it meaningless on that score alone. Similarly, the winner of this strange contest virtually never (if ever) goes on to become President, or even the nominee of the party, so what is the point? Today’s winner, Michele Bachmann, won by only one percentage point over Ron Paul, neither of whom has any realistic chance of ever becoming President. The presumed front-runner, Mitt Romney, did not even participate, and the presumed “Great White Hope,” Rick Perry (another religious nut case), didn’t even announce his candidacy until today. Pawlenty, who had to make a good showing, came in a rather distant third, which may well allow him to continue, knowing that Bachmann and Paul are not going to go much further, but probably will prove to be a waste of time against Romney and Perry. Sarah Palin, whore for public attention and housewife from hell, still teases her followers about a possible run that is not going to happen. In fact, even those who finished far behind in this “poll,” like Huntsman and Santorum need not necessarily give up all hope (unless their contributors stop funding them) because the whole contest is basically absurd, settles nothing, and anything could potentially still happen.

I don’t know how this Iowa straw poll tradition got started, but you have to give the State of Iowa, and especially the good citizens of Ames, some credit for creating (for them) a good thing. Just like the merchants that created Valentine’s Day, they have managed to raise a lot of money for an exceedingly questionable purpose. I’m sure the merchants of Ames, especially the hotels, restaurants, and bars do a lot of business during this basic “fun fest” that serves no truly useful purpose. And even the worst of the losers can one day regale their grandchildren about how they once ran for President of the United States. They needn’t mention it was during the period of (hopefully) temporary insanity that characterized the second decade of the 21st century.

Looking around the rest of the world leads me to believe there are powerful forces at work to bring about meaningful changes. There are terrible riots in England, Spain, Greece, France, Italy, and elsewhere. There is the so-called “Arab spring,” featuring uprisings in many Arab countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Libya and others. In the U.S., so far there have been mostly the demonstrations in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, and now a potential strike by Verizon workers. I think the labor unions are beginning to see increases in membership and many unions are going to refuse to attend the Democratic convention because it will be held in a “right-to-work” state. It appears to me the rumblings of discontent are picking up steam and there is no guarantee we will not see rioting in the U.S. It is also said the wealthy are beginning to hire more and more bodyguards as protection from the growing discontented. You would think they might be willing to give up a small percentage of their ill-gotten gains to avoid what appear to be coming “troubles,” but don’t bet on it. There is little doubt the depth of anger is growing and also little doubt that Congress and the President are failing to act seriously to alleviate it. I note that even a respected and important economist has recently observed that Marx was right and capitalism is in the process of destroying itself as predicted. It is obvious, at least to me, that massive changes will have to occur in our economic and political systems, wresting control from the corporations and returning government to the people. I fear, however, that the Fascist takeover may have already gone so far as to be impervious to change, at least without months or even years of resistance. The “people” in a so-called “people’s democracy” have become so irrelevant their wishes and desires and demands are simply increasingly ignored. They want jobs, ignored, universal health care, ignored, and end to the useless “wars,” ignored, more taxes from the wealthy and the corporations, ignored, accountability for war and other crimes, ignored, and their voices are drowned out by unlimited and uncontrolled corporate spending to insure corporate interests are put above all others. It is, at the moment at least, the American way.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The "Wrong Way"

You have no doubt seen the reports on the polls that show 73% of Americans (more or less depending upon the poll) think we are going “the wrong way,” are on the “wrong track,” going in the “wrong direction,” are dealing with the “wrong problem,” and so on. Similarly, a recent poll indicates that a mere 14% of Americans believe Congress is doing a good job. What do these kinds of polls tell you other than the fact that people are very discontented with what is going on in Washington, D.C.? Nothing, unfortunately, they tell you nothing other than that. The question that needs to be asked, that seems never to be answered, is what is the “wrong way,” and according to whom? Personally, I believe we are going in the wrong way because we are not about to have universal health care (Medicare for all), we are not about to withdraw our troops from the useless “wars” we have been pursuing around the world, we insist on continuing the obviously failed “war on drugs,” we are in the process of destroying what was once the finest educational system in the world, we are not going to raise taxes on the rich, and so on. But I am sure there are others who think we are on the wrong track because we are continuing “Obama care,” we are not attacking Iran, we need to accelerate our war efforts, increase funding for the war on drugs, and so on. In other words, while we are all upset about going the wrong way, there is no agreement on what the wrong way is, and absolutely no apparent interest in what might be the “right way.”

Some believe the right way is the way we have been going, free-market capitalism, privatization of everything, while others believe we should have a much stronger governmental presence, better ”entitlement” programs, more regulation, and so on. There are those who wish to continue the status quo and those who absolutely do not. Given there is no agreement on the “right way” how on earth are we ever going to cooperate to do anything? We desperately need to decide what kind of society we wish to be. Are we going to continue preying on the poor and the middle class, transferring more and more of the public wealth to the wealthiest among us and the corporate giants, or are we going to improve Social Security, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, health care, rebuild our infrastructure, improve our schools, and etc.? To me the answer is perfectly obvious, but it does not seem to be at all obvious to those who are willing to protect the wealthy and the corporations at all costs. We are, it appears, at an impasse, unable to come together to solve our problems, and unable to even agree to what the problems are, or what the solutions to them might be.

With one side absolutely unwilling to budge on their apparently hypnotic mantra of “no tax increases” no matter what, it seems to me there is no way out of this dilemma, short of revolution, a possibility in America to be virtually out of the question. We have no solution other than depending on the next elections when we may or may not be able to disenfranchise those who refuse to cooperate. But with corporations allowed to donate as much money as they wish, to win, even this might not be a solution. At the turn of the 20th century, when we faced a similar situation, there were sit-down strikes and violent protests of different kinds, workers against management, citizens against strikebreakers and hired goons, and so forth. It seems to me when one side remains unwilling to give even an inch to compromise they are deliberately provoking such confrontations. Will we have to go through such violent times again or will “better heads prevail?” Might we have learned enough to know that non-violent protests will work better than violence? Will it, alas, come to that? It appears to me that it will, but I wonder if we are any longer up to the task.

Once I made a telephone call where I had dialed a wrong number. Realizing this I apologized, saying, “Sorry, wrong number.” The recipient of this innocent mistake replied immediately in a loud, unpleasant, and sarcastic voice, “Why doncha get the right number?” This unnerved me at the time and still bothers me to this day. It seemed to me to be so unreasonably angry over an innocent mistake, so uncalled for, so unnecessarily unpleasant. What was worse, however, was the implicit message left out, “you stupid jerk” (or some such other) accusation. Even though this unpleasant experience has bothered me to the present day, I would not hesitate to say the same thing to Congress, “Why in the hell don’t you get the right way!” (You morons).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Having never been in the situation I guess I can’t speak with absolute authority about taxes on the wealthy. I am pretty certain, however, actually I am as close to positive as one can be, that if I were a billionaire, a multi-millionaire, or even a relative poor millionaire, and someone wanted to raise my taxes by three or four percentage points, I would not object. In fact, unless one of my many financial advisors or my personal accountant told me about it I doubt I would even be aware of it. Thus I do not understand this obsession Republicans have about taxes. Is there some correlation between having more and more wealth and greed, such that as you become more and more wealthy you become more and more greedy? What is this apparent deathly fear of taxes, where does it come from, what does it mean? As there seems to me to be absolutely no rational reason for this fear, and even some of the wealthy themselves say they should be more highly taxed, how might one explain the Republican position of no taxes under any circumstances? Surely they are not fearful of losing all their money because their taxes might be slightly raised. I have come to the conclusion this must be a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, in simpler terms, a mental disorder. As it is generally not found in such an extreme state elsewhere, I think it must be spread by contagion within the Republican Party. It obviously has to do with the signing, by a majority of Republicans, of an oath to never raise taxes, no matter what (even if the nation is going to fail), though there was no serious or compelling reason to do so (other than a vague threat to run a candidate against whoever did not sign, almost surely an idle threat with only a questionable chance of succeeding). I believe no serious candidate for public office with even half a brain would have agreed to this, but most Republicans did. To put this in even simpler words, it is “sick.”

This obsession with no taxes is related to their other belief that government is “bad.” They not only want to shrink government enough to “down it in the bathtub,” according to some they would like to eliminate government entirely and turn everything over to the private sector. Of course the idea that a nation of 300 plus billion people could survive massive privatization is equally as crazy as their fear of taxes. No human society has ever existed without some form of “government,” even if the governing authority is invested merely in the eldest male or the most successful hunter. Societies have existed successfully without an overriding profit motive, but it is doubtful a society operating chiefly in terms of private profit can survive for long. We have already witnessed the dismal failure of this attempt. The idea that the wealthy and the corporations are necessarily “job creators” has already been exposed as a myth as our recent history has made quite clear.

When our country is in (not impossible but) serious debt, when taxes on the wealthy are at one of the lowest points in history, and corporations are making unprecedented profits, they should not be asked to pay somewhat more in taxes, or give up totally unnecessary subsidies, is absurd, unfathomable, idiotic, preposterous, inane, illogical, irrational, unreasonable and inappropriate, to say nothing but absolutely daft, but that is the Republican position, and they have clung to it as if it were some sort of security blanket. It is so unrealistic there must be some underlying reason for it. I believe there is. It has to do with their equally obsessive desire to make it impossible for President Obama to succeed at anything (governing), including creating jobs or rescuing our economy. It is the main pillar of their stated desire to make Obama a one-term President. To achieve this goal they have refused to cooperate entirely with the Obama administration. An outright assault on a President of this magnitude is unprecedented no matter how much any former (White) President was disliked. The minority party has always accepted its role and however much their views differed from the majority they at least tried to cooperate on the governing of the nation. The current Republican Party with their basically extortionist tactics, their unconcern with the state of the nation and its citizens, their obsessions with taxes, government, and Obama have now brought us to the lowest point in our history. As no one, certainly not the Founding Fathers, envisioned a situation like this, there is no provision for dealing with it other than the next election which may well be too late to correct the damage already inflicted on our nation. Our elected officials, now themselves “privatized,” are not going to help. Our citizens, virtually insensitized, demoralized, and immobilized by years of lies and propaganda may not be up to the task required of them. Wisconsin made a valiant attempt, let us be inspired by their actions and continue to fight the growth of Fascism in our land.

The Afghans are a brave, hardy, and independent race; they follow pastoral or agricultural occupations only ... With them, war is an excitement and relief from the monotonous occupation of industrial pursuits.

Engels, On Afghanistan (1857)

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Lynching of a President

You may recall Clarence Thomas’s comment during his hearing for the Supreme Court nomination that he was a victim of a “High-Tech Lynching” that was a national disgrace. He won the day, won his appointment, and we have had to suffer this mistake ever since. He should not have been appointed, should not have served, should not serve now, and ought to be impeached. He compared what was happening to him as similar to an actual lynching although it had nothing to do with such a physical act. I believe his argument, in his particular case, was nonsense. But a similar lynching has been taking place in American politics involving President Obama.

It doesn’t matter whether you like Obama or not, or like some of his policies and not others, or even if you truly dislike him entirely. He has, in my opinion, certainly been subjected to a kind of “high-tech lynching” by a lynch mob that has been and continues to be out of control, the Republican party (and not just the Tea Party wing). There were many political cartoons about Obama that were incredibly offensive, Obama as cannibal chief and so on, but as these were so blatantly disgusting they were toned down or disappeared from the public forum. The racism involved did not disappear but merely went underground where I am certain these kinds of things still circulate in Republican and conservative circles. All of the attacks on Obama seem to me to have at least their origins in the fact that he is Black (they ignore the fact that he is also half white). The issue of his birth is a good example. Do you really believe a White President, born in Hawaii, would have been challenged about his birth? I certainly don’t believe that, even if he had also spent a couple of his childhood years in Indonesia. Would a White President with a father from Norway or even Russia been suspected of being a Muslim or even a Socialist? I doubt it. Obama’s father was born in Kenya, which means he was Black, also implies to some that he must have also been a Muslim Socialist of some kind, and if he was, so must his son be. This is nonsense and would never have happened to a White President no matter where his father was from. For many on the Right, if Obama is not really a Muslim or a Socialist he is certainly an “other,” not quite like us, and as an “other,’ a suspect of some kind. Many doubt Obama is even a Christian although there is absolutely no evidence he is not. I do not believe they dislike Obama so intensely simply because he is a democrat.

Do you believe that if a White President had been elected, say John Kerry or Hillary Clinton, the Republican party would have announced they would be the party of “no,” and would refuse to cooperate at all? Would they have religiously followed this strategy even to the point of voting no on bills and suggestions they themselves had originated? Would their objections to a White President have been so profound they would have announced their first priority was to make him/her a one-time President? I doubt it. That might well have been a goal but they would not have announced it so publicly. They set out to undermine and destroy Obama from day one and have been ruthless in this pursuit, and not simply because he is a democrat. Would an outstanding lawyer from a prestigious Ivy League University, financed importantly by Wall Street, be accused of being a socialist? I don’t think so.

There is no doubt in my mind that Obama’s race has played an important part in the resistance he has encountered. It may have gone mostly underground as it is not fashionable to be a racist these days (except in Republican and a few other conservative circles), but it is still there and it slips out every now and again. Pat Buchanan, for example, referring to Obama as “your boy,” or someone else bringing up “Tar Baby,” and so on. There has also been a notable lack of respect that I think would not have been so obvious with a White President. The racism is there, however hidden and below the surface. I do not say this in defense of Obama but, rather, just as something I believe is a matter-of-fact. Obama has been a great disappointment to me, certainly with respect to his “wars” and his failure to hold people accountable for war and other crimes. But I must say it takes an enormous amount of “gall” for the very people who have prevented him from doing much of anything for the economy to now try to lay the blame at his feet, and to accuse him of a failure of leadership. How many times has he tried to bring some form of bi-partisanship to a problem only to be summarily rejected by Republicans. There is no doubt where the blame for this recent debt ceiling crisis lies, none at all. Republicans created a crisis where there need not have been one, just another step in their attempt to lynch Obama in the only way it could be passed off as perhaps not actually criminal (although I personally think it is criminal). When it comes to High-Tech Lynching, Clarence Thomas had it easy, and he is among those who are attempting the same thing to Obama. If all it took was hypocrisy, greed, and dishonesty, Republicans would indeed rule the world. We had better hope that Progressives win tomorrow in Wisconsin because otherwise we will surely be doomed, the last bus is about to pass us by.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

A Sportsman's Notebook - book

I have just finished reading this work of some 160 years ago. Why have I been doing this? Well, I had so much enjoyment reading Tolstoy’s The Cossacks I decided to go with another of the great Russian writers, besides it was right next to Tolstoy on one of our bookshelves. Also, it has become much warmer now than it was so by about 10:30 a.m. I can no longer work outside. What better way to spend some time in the afternoon reading in the relative cool of the house. But, you may ask, isn’t such a book badly “dated?” Yes, in many ways it is, but when you consider that human nature seems not to change much, we still experience many of the same passions, conflicts, life experiences, and follies that people always have, certain themes have changed very little. Besides, great literature never truly goes out of style, which is why books like this rarely go out of print for long.

I had not read this particular work previously and I must say I found it rather fascinating for a number of reasons. First, Turgenev is a fine writer and reading his prose is a pleasure. It has been said that of all the Russians he is probably the most difficult to translate because of the nature of his prose and the fact that he sometimes wrote in the manner of speech characteristic of the “lower classes” (serfs and peasants). Turgenev was a member of the Russian upper class, owning villages and serfs. He was also an avid hunter (mostly of birds). With his various hunting dogs and a serf to aid him he apparently spent a great deal of time at this pursuit. This book is an account of the people and places he encountered. As one of the first Russian “realists” he presents pictures (in prose) of what life was like during the 1850’s in Russia. This can be seen in the fact that the pieces collected in this book are difficult to characterize. They are not short stories but, rather like vignettes, little descriptions of encounters he had with different characters and locales. They have no plots, no morals, no condemnations, no analyses, they just present the reader with what it is the author saw and heard without commentary. They are truly “notes.” What I found of the most interest, being an anthropologist (or at least an ex-anthropologist), was that the books could almost as easily have been titled “An Ethnographer’s Notebook.” Ethnography, the description of other ways of life, was the main preoccupation of American Anthropologists beginning with Boas and lasting until the time of Sputnik. The early great American Anthropologists, following the lead of Franz Boas, believed it was their responsibility to record the different “ways of life” of cultures that were quickly disappearing, and they did so often in excruciating detail. After Sputnik the government immediately poured huge sums of money into scientific research of all kinds. Some of this money made it to anthropology which quickly strove to become “scientific” as that’s where the money was. “Mere ethnography” came to be frowned upon. In order to get grants one had to have a (scientific) “problem” of some sort. “Problem-oriented research” was the fashion of the day. Traditional ethnography was commonly badly written, pretty dull stuff, of interest only to specialists in the field, but the turn to the more scientific approach did little or nothing to improve the writing of anthropological materials.

Some anthropologists, aware of the limitations of ethnographic reportage (which continued in spite of the change in orientation, because even those with problem-oriented projects still had to describe “their” tribes or peoples), began to try to write in a more novelistic style (they wanted to appeal to the public, not just to other anthropologists). Probably the most important and earliest contribution to what is sometimes referred to as “ethnographic fiction” (an existant but little known genre) was the book The Delight Makers, by Adolf Bandelier, but there were others as well (Elsie Clews Parsons edited a book on American Indians that consisted of fictional accounts by a large number of well-known anthropologists of that period). Later there were other attempts, some quite fine, like Return to Laughter by Laura Bohannan (under a pseudonym as such attempts were frowned on by the profession), The High Valley by Kenneth Read, and many others not so well known. Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict were often criticized for being too “novelistic” (and by implication not scientific enough).

Anyway, this raises some interesting questions for ethnography and anthropology. Namely, what is the real difference between ethnography and fiction, a subject far too complex for this blog, but interesting in the case of Turgenev and some other fine writers. Turgenev was writing notes that were realistic descriptions of what he saw and experienced, precisely what ethnographers had always done. But unlike ethnographers, Turgenev was a brilliant and exceptional author whose descriptions far surpassed anything one would find in anthropology. Interestingly, it is because his writing is so descriptive and beautiful at the same time that one does not perceive it as ethnographic description. It appears that it is the writing itself that was Turgenev’s goal, or at least was of equal or more importance than merely factual reporting. So one might ask, what is the proper writing style to convey other ways of life? Anthropologists were not trained in writing and just muddle along as best they could. Balzac said at one point that his goal was to describe “the manners and customs of the France of his time,” and in fact did so in many volumes. There is, I know, a tremendous amount of ethnography in fiction if you take the trouble to look for it. This is especially true in the genre of literary realism, take Truman Capote’s much touted “Non-fictional novel,” In Cold Blood, for example. Thus if you wish to know what life was like in Russia of the 1850’s, before serfdom was abolished, read A Sportsman’s Notebook (in fact this book was partly responsible for the end of serfdom in Russia).