Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Scary Mexican Lady

The hoarse barking coming from the wingnutosphere on the subject of Sonia Sotomayor has been mostly high comedy, and though mean spirited, as effective as pelting the target with marshmallows. We've been warned that her love of "ethnic food" might add excessive spice to her legal reasoning (acid reflux, maybe?), that she got where she is today because of affirmative action, that she's a racist, that she's insulting the English language by insisting that people say her name right, and that she belongs to a revolutionary group, La Raza, which wants Mexico to retake the American southwest and make it Mexican again, which makes no sense because she's actually not Mexican -- a fine distinction which seems to have been lost on the clown brigade. This has all been documented by Josh Marshall at

However, the booby prize for pure schmoeism on this topic goes to Ed Whelan, who once called Obama a "former fetus," at the National Review website, The Corner. He refers to Sotomayor as "Her Majesty," implying that this Latina threat who rose from the Bronx projects to become some kind of wannabe princess is now gloating about lording over the rest of us.

All of this suggests a possible headline: "Former Fetus Appoints Scary Delusional Mexican Lady to Supreme Court."

I expected some winger opposition to this nomination, but I never expected this level of vapid silliness, considering that Sotomayor's seat on the court is a sure thing, since she's a rather bland jurist with a bland record of down-the-middle decisions who was originally appointed to the circuit by Dubya's dad.

James Wolcott supplied the link to Ed Whelan, and a lot of the other stuff that went into this post.

I think I sort of know what Whelan meant by calling Obama a former fetus, that it's an an oblique reference to O's desire to see Roe v. Wade remain as the salient point of law governing abortion policy. But what a goofy way to try to insult someone. I mean, aren't we all former fetuses?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I'm Walkin'

I've long maintained that the most revolutionary act a person can do right now is stop driving and get rid of the car.

Atrios says that the best way to get close to nature, paradoxically, is to live in "an urban hellhole" (he's being facetious about the "hellhole" part, of course). "(T)here is a weird tendency to equate environmentalism (sic) with being near nature when in fact the enviornmentalist thing to do is LEAVE NATURE ALOOOOONE and live a modestly-sized place in an urban hellhole with decent mass transit," is his typically concise and accurate take on this matter.

What I've wanted to do for a long time, I now have to do. Some time in the next year Parkinson's Disease will render me unfit to drive. So this fall I'll move to the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle (one of the better walking neighborhoods in the country), get rid of the car, and become re-acquainted with public transit.

I'm not the least bit hesitant or sorry about this. I've lived that way before for months at a time apartment sitting for my daughter in San Francisco, and I'm happier that way. And it's the future, I'm sure. As the suburbs contract and wither under the pressure of foreclosure, pricier fuel, and the need to deal with greenhouse gases, we're looking at a population housed in denser, multi-use-zoned neighborhoods and more public transportation.

Here's a big deal: Tucson, Arizona just ordered seven streetcars from the Oregon Iron Works. Portland ordered six cars not too long ago. This is the first company to build American-made streetcars in a long, long time. They're going to make a go of it.

Thirty years from now this country is going to look so different that the young adults of today won't recognize it.

Friday, May 29, 2009


I'm reading Frantz Fanon's classic 1961 study about colonialism, "The Wretched of the Earth." I'm almost ashamed to say it's the first time I've read it.

I see parallels between his description of a colonial society and our own, almost as if our corporate rulers came from Mars like those two slobbering space monsters on "The Simpsons" to colonize the American proletariat.

The proles are usually called "the working class." There are a lot more of them these days than there used to be. Thousands of formerly middle-class families have joined the proles recently, due to unemployment, foreclosure, or chronic debt.

Because of the banking, real estate, employment, and health care crises, many workers are now increasingly irrelevant, and they know it. They struggle, sometimes in vain to supply their families with life's necessities, especially medical care. The travel amusements, mediocre entertainment, and propaganda the ruling class has supplied to distract them over the decades is starting to wear thin, and they're in a sour and disruptive mood.

Fanon describes the "compartmentalized landscape" of colonial societies. Our own ruling class lives separate from the proles by enclosing itself in walled enclaves, protected by the police as well as private security teams. Even what remains of the middle class, the technicians and technocrats, high-level government agency administrators, etc., wall themselves off from the masses in the "gated communities" that got so popular during the Bush-Cheney decade. Meanwhile, the proles are stranded in the neighborhoods of Slurbia, which are starting to look like bombed-out ruins because of foreclosures. They're stuck in San Berdoo, swatting at the mosquitos which breed in what used to be the swimming pool next door.

Over the decades, the ruling class has done a good job of teaching the proles how to behave. State-sponsored education, the established religion, and even common codes of morality, Fanon describes how all these things help prop up the colonial order. He wrote that "those aesthetic forms of respect for the status quo, instill in the exploited a mood of submission and inhibition which considerably eases the task of the agents of law and order."

For our proles, "good citizenship awards" handed out in school and the worship of a symbol of their own helplessness in the nailed-down God of the Christ cult combine with the brain's own junk food, "American Idol," and the ruling-class political propaganda laid on 24/7 by CNN and the corporate-owned networks to indoctrinate the subjects into orderly behavior. But the indoctrination isn't working as well as it used to.

The proles are a sleeping giant. Whether they will wake up from their TV-and-beer dream and throw off the corporate interests who stole their government by buying it is anybody's guess. The proles are currently in a sour and restless mood, but that mood will have to get a lot uglier for them to actually become dangerous.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In the Tin Shack

I lived in the tin shack in Desert Hot Springs from March, 2006 until January, 2008. While I was there I died. I was very much aware of dying, and of the process by which death pushes outward from the inside.

But at the same time I was dying I was being reborn, and didn't know it.

The elements of death were numerous and relentless; the most prominent, because it was the most painful, was the sudden wreck of my marriage. And at that same precise moment, 50 years of smoking had finally caught up with me, and I was wheezing and coughing from emphysema and bronchitis, gasping for air at the same time as my heart hammered in my chest so hard it seemed about to burst. For a time I neither ate nor slept much, and when I looked in the mirror I saw a man grown suddenly old, sick, and dying.

Though I was not aware of it, springtime's buds were pushing up through the winter snows even as I lay dying. The first of these was already flourishing -- I had begun a regular yoga practice in early 2005, and continued with it during even the darkest days. Then there was the little matter of a chance, spur-of-the-moment decision to start eating an orange every day, something I stuck with, and which grew into a total revision of diet, which has been one of the four big changes that have entirely revolutionized the life of my sunset years.

The establishment of yoga as an integral part of a new life along with dietary changes were soon joined by smoking cessation. I'd reached the point where I physically couldn't handle another one, so I slapped on a patch and stopped. It was difficult, and there were relapses as time went by, but these tended only to strengthen the initial resolve.

It wasn't until this year that I realized I'd been reborn, as a single yogi, an abstainer, living on a mostly-vegetarian diet, heavy on fruit. I came to a sudden understanding of the meaning of the phrase "born again," although not the same understanding that fundamentalist Christians have of it.

"And how is it that a man be born again?" they asked. He must die first is the obvious answer.

This rebirth can occur at any age. Just ask the old man living in a tin shack near you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Northwest Sunshine

I don't think there are too many other places where writers are tempted to go on and on about the weather as often as we do here. That's because when the days finally turn fair, "fair" is an inadequate description. "Gorgeous" and "spectacular" are more appropriate descriptors, and a bright, sunny day in this preponderately gloomy region naturally produces feelings of spontaneous ecstasy in the pale residents.

So I'm going to cut this short and go out for a walk. Yahoo! weather reports an outdoor temperature of 55 degrees, but I know it's higher than that, especially in the sun. I'll take my usual woodland path up by the falls, and continue on to the little village convenience store and treat myself to a very rare treat, a candy bar. I don't usually indulge, but today's special because it's not raining or cloudy, the sun is shining, and it's actually warm outside.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Crumbling and Stumbling

If you don't do anything else today, take a minute to read Bob Herbert's column in the New York Times. It's truly excellent observation, to which I have nothing to add, and nothing to suggest taking away.

Our prospects for the future are very dim, in part because we don't appear to want to pay any attention at all to survival basics.

Bob Herbert: Our Crumbling Foundation.

Like the Ancient Roman Empire...

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Velvet Touch

It starts with decreasing sexual potency. Then after a while you notice that handwriting is becoming difficult, and that your formerly neat and highly legible hand is growing small, cramped, and barely decipherable. It gets harder and harder to get out of the car, and you notice you're walking much more slowly than you used to. You experience frequent bouts of moodiness and depression. Then the shaking starts, and the doctor tells you you've got Parkinson's Disease.

Though incurable, it's not fatal, and is treatable. Sufferers are always looking for effective treatments, of course, and there are plenty of possibilities available, most of them brought to us through the good graces of certified members of the American Medical Association. Some of these are more effective than others, and all are very expensive.

There are a few non-AMA-supplied remedies. One is physical therapy, and certain yoga postures have been shown to have some usefulness in moderating the effects of the disease, along with certain balancing exercises.

It was with relief in mind that I went to Wikipedia's entry on Parkinson's Disease to see what all is out there that might offer some relief from all of the above, and there, at the very bottom of what proved to be a very long page, beneath the extensive catalogue of frankendope pharmaceuticals with nightmarish side effects, under the heading "Complementary Therapies," was a brief reference to mucuna pruriens.

This is a fairly common tropical legume, commonly known as the velvet bean. Since it's a plant, Pfizer can't take out a patent on it. Extract of the black, shiny bean, which like the acorn is edible but highly toxic if not boiled several times, is sold in health supplement stores in this country as L-Dopa, referring to the plant's capacity for stimulating dopamine production. It's lack of dopamine that causes Parkinson's.

Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine in India have been treating Parkinson's Disease with it for over 4,000 years.

Shhh! Don't let the AMA know that we found out about this. They might send the EM wagon.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Like the Ancient Roman Empire

Like the ancient Roman Empire, this world is doomed to fall...
...People scorn the things our leaders do...
Just take a look around and see the writing on the wall...

--Merle Haggard, "Jesus Take Ahold"
(Capitol Records, about 1970)

Although I hate to find myself agreeing with reactionaries or political naifs, I think Merle has a pretty good point here, despite his mixing historical analogies a little. This country today bears a striking resemblance to the declining empire dissected in Gibbon's great study,* and despite this theory's great popularity among fundamentalist Christians, there's little doubt among knowledgeable observers that our empire is going down like a sack of coal falling off a shelf. The only unanswered question is "How long will it take?" Rome took a long, long time sliding into final collapse -- a couple of ticks longer than 300 years, from the advent of Emperor Septimius Severus, in whose reign Gibbon finds the first instance of catastrophic misrule indicative of future disaster, to the unseating of the last feeble remnant of the moribund office by Odoacer, the barbarian king of Italy, in 498.

One such knowledgeable observer, Chalmers Johnson, said in one of his numerous books or articles (I can't find the quote) that Rome collapsed when it was finally overwhelmed by the multitude of enemies it had made as it grew and accumulated power. He also points out the role of insolvency -- in their case and ours -- resulting from endless wars as the primary cause of an empire's inability to defend itself against the enemies it has created.

Another parallel between them and us -- one that's unmistakable and obvious -- is the preservation of traditional forms of republican government by the empires that succeed them, along with an emptying out of their content, producing a government that's a hollow shell of its former self. Thus Augustus, the first Roman emperor, preserved all the offices and forms of the old Republic, most especially the Senate, to whose rule the military dictator paid elaborate lip service. "After a decent resistance," Gibbon says of him, "the crafty tyrant submitted to the orders of the Senate; and consented to receive...the well-known names of PROCONSUL and IMPERATOR." Likewise, our own "imperators" have made a formal show of respecting the powers and dignity of Congress while accumulating more and more power to themselves over the past 60 years, with periods of counter-push from the legislature, as occurred during the Watergate era. This process culminated with the Bush administration's blatant and open subversion of the Constitution and their successful establishment of a "unitary executive." The refusal of Barack Obama to moderate the prosecution of endless war, or to curb the power of the financial corporations, and his usurpation of the Constitutional powers of the Justice Department indicates that the trend will not be reversed, that there's no going back, and that the days of the American Empire are numbered.

But what's the number? How long will this declining empire survive? There's no way of knowing, but I'd say don't hold your breath.

We do know enough, however, to adapt to this changed reality. It's time for the citizens -- the people -- always the forgotten element of the calculus of empire, to move beyond politics, for there is no political solution to the problem of the dying monster. What we need to do now is construct dignified and self-sustaining lives, as independent of the empire in whose belly we reside as possible, and henceforth give it as little time, thought, money, or allegiance as possible.

*Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, usually 3 vols., first published 1776--1788.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Acceptance II

On my other blog I was writing about acceptance, which I've found to be the absolute missing essential in my personal life. Without it, we're sunk.

But at the same time, I have to disagree strenuously with people who say acceptance is the answer to all life's problems. There are some things which remain totally unacceptable.

The way health care is delivered (or not, as the case may be) in this country is unacceptable.

The distribution of wealth in our society is unacceptable.

Living under the rule of a war machine which daily commits murder most foul in our names is unacceptable.

I've noticed that what I find unacceptable are all things larger than me, larger than us. A rational political and economic system would at least attempt to deal with these things intelligently. But our political and economic lives are ruled by an irrational, propaganda-driven corporatocracy, and that's unacceptable.

There's no political solution possible to this short of revolution, because the American political system is owned by the very people responsible for these problems. Unfortunately, revolution often delivers remedies worse than the problems they solve.

I feel about these things like the preacher Billy Sunday did about alcohol, and to paraphrase him, as long as I have a hand I'll hit them, as long as I have a foot I'll kick them, as long as I have a tooth I'll bite them, and when I'm old, and handless, and footless, and toothless, I'll gum 'em to death.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Mensch

The time has come again as it periodically does for me to sing the praises of my beautiful and extravagantly talented daughter once more. This time, however, I'm not doing so for the usual reasons.

The usual reasons would include a glowing account of her performance last night, and those of the people she has chosen to work with, and how they provoked a wildly enthusiastic response from a sophisticated Seattle audience by giving them something completely original, fresh, and different from anything else out there.

By now I've gotten used to the way people in the bellydance world respond to Rachel. That's a small, tight world in most communites, but nationwide Bellydance Scene USA adds up to a lot of people, and her following is immense, not to mention dedicated. They recognize that she created her own style, and it's no exaggeration to say she's now, as she approaches the end game of her performance career, a legend.

But that's not what I'm proudest of.

Despite all the fame and accomplishment, Rachel remains a warm, genuine, and down-to-earth person. She's never allowed her ego to run away with her, has never taken the notion of being a "star" particularly seriously, has none of the jealous impulses of the prima donna, and genuinely enjoys sharing the spotlight with performers whose talents are equal to her own. She remains devoted to her origins and the people who raised and nurtured her. She is, for lack of a better word, humble, or what in Yiddish is called "a mensch," and I thank my lucky stars for it.

Her mother and I must be singularly fortunate among parents.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Forget all the happy chatter about "change" he cranked out on the campaign trail. It's become painfully obvious that Barack Obama is nothing more than Bush-Lite.

He's continuing the same failed neocon war and economic policies he inherited from Dubya and his lunatic crew, only now they're dressed up under a gleaming new coating of public relations.

Enough of this guy. Glenn Greenwald, as is often the case, says everything that needs to be said on this matter.

Never trust the Democrats.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Old World Passes Away

"I saw a new heaven and a new earth," says John the Revelator, "for the first heaven, and the first earth were passed away..."*

Likewise, James Howard Kunstler this week sees, if not a new heaven, at least a new earth in which all the old institutions, economic relationships, and habits of mind are vanishing like doomed endangered species.

The wishes of the "green shoots and mustard seed" crowd really hinge on whether the various organs of the suburban economy can be jump-started back to life, Kunstler muses; the production home-builders, the granite countertop outfitters, the mall and strip-mall gang, the national chain discount retailers, all the people who make Happy Motoring possible from the factory to the showroom, and, of course, the banks who shovel money into these enterprises.

All these organs of our now-former economy are gravely impaired, and a realistic appraisal of them would have to conclude that they've entered the zone of congestive failure. The choice we face really comes down to this: do we put our dwindling resources and "hopes" into resuscitating those dying systems, or do we move forward to the next chapter of American life, cut our losses, and make new arrangements more consistent with the realities on offer from the universe? To take it a step further, can we remain one nation, a common culture, without such a conscious re-purposing of our collective spirit?

The short and accurate answer to Kunstler's question is "no," but I would also add that the re-purposing he speaks of is already occurring, in many cases unconsciously. The people formerly known as consumers are driving less and buying less. This is not a temporary expedient for dealing with a "crisis" as much as a permanent change, and the awareness of the meaning of the new reality will naturally follow the improvised adjustments to it.

The institutions in charge of our former way of life and the people who run them are not dead yet, however. They're still capable of mischief, as the bank bailouts have shown, and they have one more trick up their sleeves -- debasing the currency through inflation.

An article at Bloomberg News Service today shows how promoting inflation is stealthily becoming the new ruling class policy.

“I’m advocating 6 percent inflation for at least a couple of years,” says Kenneth Rogoff, a professor at Harvard Business School and a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. “It would ameliorate the debt bomb and help us work through the deleveraging process.”

And that's the idea -- to help debtors, like the banks and other large corporate enterprises who are holding all the bad collateral (nearly worthless, often abandoned houses) and bad paper they generated during the Great Mania earlier in this decade. They hope thereby to get out from behind the eight ball and "jump start" the economy, and don't care that such a policy will penalize and injure those of us who save money and have no debts.

It's not government policy yet, but where Harvard Business School goes, the gov is sure to follow.

It won't work, for a number of reasons. First of all, the experts might think they can control the rate of inflation, but once that monster is turned loosed it could easily spin out of control, ravaging everything in its path. For another, it's not going to make us spend more. People are already hoarding and stockpiling food and other supplies, and those who can will ride out the inflationary period eating rice and beans, heating their houses with wood they cut themselves (amazing how much you can get done when you don't have to go to work), and finding both meaningful work and entertainment at home.

Face it, banksters. What you want, and what you're going to get are two entirely different things.

*Revelation: XXI: 1

Monday, May 18, 2009

Modernity's Corporate Plagues

North Americans suffer the ravages of three plagues induced largely by corporate advertising and marketing policies: COPD, obesity, and diabetes. The latter two are closely related in origin, and often accompany one another.

COPD -- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- is either emphysema, or chronic bronchitis, or both. It nearly always is the result of long-term cigarette smoking. Obesity and diabetes, both of which have increased dramatically in recent years, are mainly caused by bad diet, especially diets containing a lot of processed foods, and loaded with refined-flour carbohydrates which contain high-fructose corn syrup.

The prevalence of these diseases is a direct consequence of corporate advertising and marketing policies. It's not that the corporations who market these products are deliberately plotting to kill us, but more a matter of their not caring whether we live or die. A corporation never has a conscience, except for those rare ones that decide they need to acquire one, and the only thing they value is the bottom line.

I'm not obese nor diabetic, but I do suffer from emphysema. Looking back at the circumstances of my early youth, I have to conclude that I was the victim of a culturally imposed drug addiction, that the culture of advertising and the cult of machismo which prevailed at the time required it, and that the culture of smoking within my own family demanded it of me as well.

The power of big tobacco has been broken over the past couple decades, however, and news reports indicate that half the people who were once smokers have now quit. I consider myself fortunate to be numbered among them, and while full recovery isn't possible, a reasonably high quality of life is.

But huge agribusiness corporations such as Archer-Daniels-Midland carry on their lethal advertising and marketing practices which render greater and greater numbers of Americans and Canadians (and, increasingly, Europeans) fat, diabetic, and dangerously ill.

This is a political issue, and one more instance of an area in which we need to short-circuit the tyranny of capital, imposed upon us by the mass brainwashing of advertising, expose the culprits for who and what they are, and take control of our own lives back from them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Something Good Will Come Out of This

On a discussion site I frequent, a poster named Ariel wrote:

The simple fact is that the Democrats complied for funds requested for the war for seven years.

And now that they are in power, they continue the war policies of the last administration.

Nobody is going to make me believe that the congress of the US is so ignorant, blind and stupid to go along with this war only because the CIA didn't tell them that torture was one of the methods used to fight the war. Was everything else OK?

This is not a fight between the good guys and the evil ones. The good guys went along with the evil ones every step of the way and that makes them not so good.

This whole discussion seems to be confined to whether Pelosi knew about the details of torture or not. If she didn't know about this, she knew a lot of other things and she kept quite, because she and most other Democrats agree with the basic premises of the war.

I responded:

Ariel, thanks for bringing a higher level of discrimintation to this discussion. You've reminded me again that what Pelosi and other Democrats didn't do matters just as much as what the Bush Gang DID do.

There are no innocent bystanders.

A rotten system bears rotten fruit. A few Democrats are worth picking up and putting in the basket. Very few.

This is something we knew back in the sixties. Back then, we were very much aware that Vietnam and environmental degradation were not matters deriving from the clash of donkeys and elephants, and we didn't differentiate. It would have been foolish then, just as it's the height of foolishness and irrelevance today.

We called our political-big business alliance "the establishment," an accurate and descriptive term. It still fits. And we knew then that the establishment was a machine out of control. It still is.

But we forgot. Somehow we got sidetracked in our mission to either get a collar on this violent, larcenous, and out-of-control establishment, or failing that, arrange things so its minions were unable to sleep at night. We were diverted by other things -- working, starting families, being responsible, fitting in -- all that happy horseshit. But that won't happen again.

There are a lot of people my age who share my disposition, and at this stage of the game we have nothing but time, along with sense enough to know who does what to, and for whom. And the truth will out.

The day of reckoning is coming, and sooner than people realize. It's time to put an end to this intolerable regime of institutionalized corruption, payoffs and patronage, sham democracy, and endless war.

"The dog starved at his master's gate/Predicts the ruin of the state," said William Blake. And the howls of a taxi driver from Lahore getting a broomstick shoved up his ass in Gitmo are going to bring down this rotten, lying government. The falling rubble won't discriminate between Republicans and Democrats.

Obama has said there will be no investigations into these matters, as another poster noted. What Obama doesn't know is that he doesn't have the last word on this issue. He can't finesse this mess because it's too big and too hot, and in the end we'll have the final say on what happens

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Changing the Subject

God, I'm sick of hearing about Nancy Pelosi and what she knew. If I was to turn on Fox News right now, I'll bet that's what the tards on that lugubrious propaganda machine would be bloviating about.

Yes, I agree, Nancy Pelosi is guilty.

Guilty of collusion. Guilty of being an accessory to the crime. Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.

Now that we've established that, I need to point out that this "Get Pelosi" campaign is just another lame attempt by the United yee-haws of this yoostabee a republic to change the subject. And the subject is torture.

Because they know and we know it's like this: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, assisted by teams of sycophant and servile lawyers willing to give them whatever abortion of the law they asked for, haphazardly took a bunch of Muslims from the Middle East and elsewhere captive, often on the flimsiest pretexts, denied them habeus corpus or any semblance of legal rights or even legal identity, then deliberately, illegally, and most immorally tortured them.

The main reason they did this was to try to extract false confessions from these mostly innocent victims of their rage, hatred, and ignorance. They wanted "evidence" that there was some kind of connection between al-Qaida, suspected of the terror attacks of 9/11, and Saddam Hussein, whom Osama bin Laden was in the habit of referring to as a "socialist infidel."

They felt they needed to establish this "connection" to publicly justify and excuse the illegal and immoral war they intended to wage on Iraq, for purposes of stealing control of that country's huge oil reserves.

These men are pirates and thieves.

In going about this filthy work they asked for and got the passive assent of the cowardly and hypocritical Democratic leadership. Big, big deal.

Having lied about their reasons for committing these outrages, the criminals remain defiant to this day, and will never give an inch. Cheney's most recent television blitz has had him compounding his earlier lies, and shouting from the housetops that his gang of sadists and perverts did what they did to "keep America safe." Yet the fact is they stopped doing torture when they were caught and exposed by the press, and America was no less "safe" then than before, judging by the historical record.

Pelosi should be ashamed for going along with these abominations without uttering a peep. She now claims she was "misinformed" by the CIA. Maybe she was, but she still knew what was going on. If ordinary people like me knew, so did she.

But if Pelosi and the Democrats should be ashamed, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their enablers should be hanged for their crimes against the human race. They, not Nancy Pelosi, managed to make the United States the most hated country on earth since Nazi Germany, and they need to pay for it.

So, Nancy Pelosi knew what they were doing. So fucking what?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Free Viagra for the Unemployed

Because of the compassion shown by the pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, many of the newly-unemployed will now be eligible to receive free viagra as well as a host of other medications.

The AP story reports that "Pfizer Inc. said Thursday it will give away more than 70 of its most widely prescribed drugs, including Lipitor and Viagra, for up to a year to people who have lost jobs since Jan. 1 and have been taking the drug for three months or more. The announcement comes as the unemployment rate topped 8.9 percent in April."

This is very good news. It's reassuring to know that a guy who loses his job and then has his house foreclosed will still have a place to hang his hat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

By Their Fruits

The new style of endless war under the Obama administration seems to be centered around these predator drone attacks, using unmanned aircraft to drop bombs on people rather than sending in the Marines. No Americans die in these drone attacks. They only kill a few hundred civilians and bystanders, and occasionally they might even hit one of the people they're targeting.

And who cares how many Waziristan hillbillies get smoked? Who's counting?

I'm so sick of the endless war I can't even talk about it any more.

It's been going on since I was a small child.

For a few years we had what they called "cold war," which worked out for everybody because no Americans died and the "defense" contractors still got our big bucks tax dollars for building their whiz-bangs. But then we had the opportunity to go kill some real people in Vietnam, not just by shooting them, but with exotic things like defoliants which work down through the generations. There's no outrage on the human race that has not been committed by the evil empire since the end of WWII.

What I've learned over the years is that there's no substantive difference between the two parties. The differences are cosmetic and a matter of style. They're all arrogant bastards who think the U.S. can do anything it wants, and who's going to stop us?

Obama is no different. He may be a newcomer to the ruling class, but he fits right in.

The only hope for ending the endless war is to import it, i.e., bring it on home to the people who are committing the mischief.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cozy at Home

Right. So my furnace crapped out on me, and I can't get anybody to come fix it because the bridge is closed, or their message box is full, or whatever.

But the day the furnace crapped out turned out to be my lucky day. Fortunately, before mom passed on she left a big pile of seasoned fireplace logs in the garage. She was always prepared for any eventuality. And now, any eventuality is here.

I always say, when life gives you lemons, hold breath and squeeze, and something juicy might come out of it. When there's a fire in the fireplace it's not only just as warm in here as when the electric furnace is running, it's also a hell of a lot quieter.

I like quieter. And not only that, but I'm getting tired of donating 200 bucks a month to the electric company. I noticed that the bill went down by nearly half that (about $90) last month just because the furnace was running less (it finally has started to warm up just a little here) compared to the dead of winter, when it ran full blast just about all the time. Still, the cost of running electric machines is going up all the time, and this cap-and-trade business is going to drive it up another 33 percent or so.

Time to cut that umbilical cord. Time to get off the grid to the extent that it's possible to do so. I realize that getting completely off is neither feasible nor desirable, but we can sure cut down that dependency, maybe by as much as half or even three-quarters if we put our minds to it. Most of my electric bill has gone to heating the place, and there are guys around here selling seasoned firewood very reasonably.

Plus there's something about watching and tending a fire that's relaxing and restorative.

I figured out what's wrong with the furnace. The part that's gone bad, a little black-and-silver box called (I think) a transformer, is buzzing real loudly and is hot to the touch when the unit is turned on. I guess that's a thing that transforms one kind of electricity into another kind, but then I don't understand electrical machines at all. I have a part number, which is all I really have to know about it, and now all I need is some local tech to find the part and put it in.

But I'm in no hurry, I can tell you. I'm feeling good right now, just sitting here watching the fire.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Alarums and Diversions

Jim Kunstler keeps mentioning the possibility of food shortages as one of the effects of the economic crisis. He comes back to it week after week, and this week is no exception. In today's column at CN he wrote:

It remains to be seen what may happen on the food production scene, but the current severe shortage of capital and the intense droughts shaping up around the world will resolve into a much clearer picture by mid-summer. The price of oil has resumed marching up and has now re-entered a range ($50-plus) that spun the airline industry into bankruptcy last time around.

I'd be interested in knowing what my friends who work in the retail grocery and restaurant businesses think of this possibility.

I'm not alarmed, but I believe prudence is more pragmatic, if less attractive, than bravado. Therefore, before spring unwinds much farther into summer and we head for the fall, I'll be laying in the following provisions in quantities sufficient to last me between six weeks and two months;

*Brown rice and whole wheat flour;
*Onions and carrots (to be stored securely in the basement);
*Potatoes and tomato sauce;
*Cooking oil, and vinegar and/or soy sauce;
*Pinto beans and split peas;
*Canned fruit and canned fish;
*Toilet paper and coffee.

No need for water; a freshwater creek runs near the house.

I suppose I should get shotgun shells too, but I don't have a shotgun.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Melancholia -- 34/7

I've got nothing today.

But I don't like to go a day without posting, so I thought I'd put up Albrecht Durer's famous engraving, "Melancholia." It suits my mood.

This is a strange and mysterious picture altogether, especially cryptic because of the "magic square" pictured behind the goddess's right shoulder. It looks like this:

16 3 2 13
5 10 11 8
9 6 7 12
4 15 14 1

Please note that the numbers of each of the vertical files and each of the horizontal ranks add up to 34. There are also six other groupings of four contiguous squares, each of which adds up to 34.

And that's not all, because the digits in 34 = 3 + 4 and that makes 7.

And all those 14 groupings of four numbers, if you reduce the digits as in 3 + 4 = 7 add up to 7. For example, the first vertical column is 16 which is 1 + 6 = 7 + 5 = 12 which is 1 + 2 = 3 + 9 = 12 which is 1 + 2 = 3 + 4 = 7. Try it for yourself.

But what does it mean?

The nice folks at Madison Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin, tell us that the square contains the year the work was executed, 1514. Okay, that's in the middle at the bottom, but what's with the "construction rule" they're talking about?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Armies of the Unemployed

Consider the armies of this country's unemployed, now over 20 million strong. Rather than uniting politically with the motive of petitioning the government for redress of their common grievance, they sit isolated and depressed in their living rooms, watching daytime television, the great sleeping pill and pacifier of the masses, and wonder why this is happening to them.

They don't understand, most of them, that they are helpless pawns and disposable machine parts in the endless capitalist cycle of boom, mania, panic, and collapse. As long as this government of capital exists to serve itself rather than serving those it governs, the cycles of boom-and-bust will continue, with the workers enjoying the expansions and suffering through the contractions of this mindless regime of starvation in the midst of plenty.

The regime of capital governs nearly every aspect of our lives, excepting only what we do in the ballot box and between the sheets. Everything else is up to them. But if I remember right, Jefferson had a few choice words to say about government that does not exist to serve the needs of those it governs.

As reported in the Washington Post, The Bureau of Labor statistics reveals that the "official" unemployment rate of 8.9 percent is "only half the story."

The total number of Americans who are not working full-time but ought to be is actually about 22 million, or 15.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Besides the 13.7 million "officially" unemployed, another 8.3 should be working full time but aren't.

Many of these people, whose ranks are disproportionately young, male, and/or nonwhite, have simply stopped looking for work out of discouragement.

Ever wondered what it was like to be alive in 1933? We're about two-thirds of the way there.

Unemployed people don't have much money, and if they're out of work for a long time, they spend very little.

Since prosperity is dependent on "consumer" spending, anybody who thinks there can be any kind of "recovery" with this many "consumers" disabled by joblessness obviously has his or her head in an inappropriate place.

Alas, Babylon.

"Unemployment," in ink and watercolor on paper, is by American artist Craig Irvin..

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Enchanted Forest

There's something out there, or maybe we should say "in there." I don't know what it is, but it's warm and hairy and non-verbal, and it's there.

The road in these parts takes you through places with strange and ancient names. Dosewallips. A river of the same name runs through it.

Shades of our recent but thankfully now former president echo in the name "Duckabush," a little further and deeper into the remoteness beyond Dosewallips. A mountain bears that name, as does a river that runs beside it.

Finally you reach the heart of greenness, at a place whose name is a sound like one that comes from a heart: Hamma Hamma. Of course, a river runs there also.

After that you leave the enchanted forest and its aura of mystery, and the feeling derived from travelling there, that it holds other, deeper worlds which crowd in closely on this one, threatening to push it aside like a toy.

Beyond are places with common, boring, un-magical names: Hoodsport, Union, Belfair. Dreadful civilized places, full of chaos and cacaphony. And then the mind returns to the deep, audible quietness of the Duckabush Trail, and the bend in it where softly at first, then with gusto, the sound of the nearby river rises through the leaves.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Me and My Lappy

Me and my Lappy 486, we got a good thing going. Real good connectivity, real good taste. Today we made it all the way from Port Lud to Port Seattle, usually a two-hour trip, but stretched to four hours today because the Hood Canal Bridge is closed. Half the span is being replaced.

The route from home to yoga class on Phinney Ridge for the next few weeks will entail going around the Hood (not actually a) Canal, down its west side on Highway 101. It's a beautiful drive, taking in a lot of unspoiled, intensely green country dotted with marginal, wood-burning dwellings, but the road is narrow, winding, and mostly unlit. It's not at all suitable for night driving.

So I won't be going home tonight. Instead I'll stop at my sister's house to sleep. She lives halfway between here and there. Then tomorrow I'll negotiate 101 during the daylight hours. My, what a dedicated scholar I am.

Other than that, it's a very slow news day. Obama and Biden went out for burgers, and Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post has an excellent op-ed piece on the subject of the president's attitude (or lack of it) toward civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Port Townsend

I'm seriously debating with myself whether I should move to Seattle or Port Townsend. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

*Seattle's become a big, ugly, noisy, crowded city, but it's got great energy and it's right in the middle of civilization, on the main corridor between L.A. and all points north. Port Townsend is a beautiful and serene small town, but it's stuck way out on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, cut off and isolated from the mainstream. To reach civilization from there you have to take a boat or two.

In times of infrastructural stress, should they occur, involving food and/or fuel shortages, places like Seattle would be supplied in order to forestall civil unrest, but places like Port Townsend would be thrown back on their own resources.

*There's a lively, accessible arts scene in Port Townsend. There is in Seattle too, but people there often seem too busy to pay attention.

*Rents are cheaper in Port Townsend, but it's not entirely walkable as many Seattle neighborhoods are.

The photograph shows downtown Port Townsend's Victorian skyline, with the ferry sailing off to Whidbey Island and its tiny port of Keystone in the background. I imagine living there would be sort of like living in Venice, Italy.

The town suffers a bit from cute overload and boutiquification, and it makes much of its living from the summertime tourist trade. But it's a great, manageable size, and I'm leaning toward it, as I prefer peace and quiet to the noise and congestion of the big city.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Words That Remade America

I've been re-reading a Pulitzer Prize-winning book from 1992 by the classicist and former newspaper columnist Garry Wills.

"Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America" appeared with great fanfare, and an extensive excerpt in The Atlantic coincided with its release. For some reason this elegant study has been mostly forgotten since then, but IMHO it remains important, and all the more so since the election of Barack Obama.

Wills argues convincingly that the Gettysburg address, with its acknowledgment of the almost religious blood sacrifice of the Civil War, was actually a "second foundation" of the United States. In his famous Address, Lincoln referred to the U.S. at its founding having been "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." But of course, as Wills points out, this simply isn't true, since the phrase is drawn from the Declaration of Independence, a declaration of general principles, rather than the Constitution, which is the basis of all law.

However by 1863, Lincoln saw abolishing slavery and fulfilling the promise of the principle of equality set forth in the Declaration as necessary for the country's survival. In his short, extraordinarily concise Address that day, he single-handedly revised the Constitution, striking out the three-fifths clause and inserting in its place the ringing phrase from Jefferson's Declaration.

He did this without openly criticizing either the founding document or its authors, and since his time few people have dared to take that step. One of the few to do so was the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who called the Constitution "a flawed document," and in a speech before the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association in May, 1987, said:

The record of the Framers' debates on the slave question is especially clear: The Southern States acceded to the demands of the New England States for giving Congress broad power to regulate commerce, in exchange for the right to continue the slave trade. The economic interests of the regions coalesced: New Englanders engaged in the "carrying trade" would profit from transporting slaves from Africa as well as goods produced in America by slave labor. The perpetuation of slavery ensured the primary source of wealth in the Southern States.

Despite this clear understanding of the role slavery would play in the new republic, use of the words "slaves" and "slavery" was carefully avoided in the original document. Political representation in the lower House of Congress was to be based on the population of "free Persons" in each State, plus threefifths of all "other Persons." Moral principles against slavery, for those who had them, were compromised, with no explanation of the conflicting principles for which the American Revolutionary War had ostensibly been fought: the selfevident truths "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Although he was roundly criticized in the mainstream media of the time for his heretical views, Marshall appears to have been totally in agreement with Lincoln. "Lincoln at Gettysburg" is the first and only in-depth study of this rather delicate historical subject I know of.


Monday, May 04, 2009

Your Health is Her Health

When you buy wholesome, locally-grown food at a local farmers' market, you're not just making a healthy choice for yourself. You're also giving a boost to your local economy and aiding in the creation of local networks of mutual interdependency. Such networks are crucial to our creating a viable economic future that serves OUR needs, and is beyond the deathly grip of giant corporations. Maybe even more importantly, you're doing something that addresses the global warming crisis.

Global warming is neither a mystery nor a theory; it's here, and easily gauged by monitoring the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"Before the industrial revolution, the Earth's atmosphere contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide," Bill McKibben wrote in a 10/07 Nat Geo article, "Carbon's New Math." "...When we began measuring in the late 1950s, it had already reached the 315 level. Now it's at 380, and increasing by roughly two parts per million annually. That doesn't sound like very much, but it turns out that the extra heat that CO2 traps, a couple of watts per square meter of the Earth's surface, is enough to warm the planet considerably. We've raised the temperature more than a degree Fahrenheit (0.56 degrees Celsius) already."

When people shop farmers' markets at locations close to home, the buyers and especially the sellers save transportation costs and cut down on fossil fuel consumption. Plus, local family farms, especially the organic operations, forego the petroleum "inputs" favored by agribusiness -- chemical fertilizers and pesticides. So besides eating better than you would if you bought Hot Pockets at Wal-Mart, you're doing your mother earth a favor.

Just as importantly, you're contributing to local enterprise and the growth of a healthy and robust local economy. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an independent nonprofit advocacy and lobbying group headquartered in Minneapolis, has studied the dynamics of local and statewide economies, and determined that "for every $100 spent locally, nearly $54 ends up back in the local economy...(but) for every $100 spent at a chain store all but about $14 flows out of state."*

(*Source: The Port Ludlow Voice; May, 2009 (p. 38).)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Civic Doody

A Montana citizen recently decided to tell local court system officials exactly how he felt after receiving a jury summons.

"Apparently you morons did not understand me the first time," Eric Slye, a painter of automobiles wrote on his notarized request to be excused from service. "I CANNOT take time off from work.

"I'm not putting my familys (sic) well being at stake to participate in this crap," the incensed potential juror continued. "I don't believe in our 'justice' system and I don't want to have a goddam thing to do with it. Jury duty is a complete waste of time."

Had he stopped there, Mr. Slye might have avoided trouble. But at this point he somewhat unfortunately moved from jurisprudential to anatomical observations. "I would rather count the wrinkles on my dogs (sic) balls than sit on a jury," the offended citizen declared. "Get it through your thick skulls." He then appended for good measure, "Leave me the F--K alone."

The Associated Press coverage of this minor occurrence notes only that Mr. Slye "was ordered by a judge to apologize to court clerks at a hearing last week," and that "His wife Jennifer says her husband couldn't be reached for comment...She says she was the one who wrote it."

Maybe so, but he signed it. I sympathize with the guy, though. I think we all can look back on times in our lives when we gave in to the temptation to exercise what can only be called poor judgment.

Sorry, folks, but it's a slow news day.


Saturday, May 02, 2009

Recession Rolls On

The stock markets are up and the shills on CNBC are celebrating. But the "real" economy depends on consumer spending for prosperity, and there's little or no positive news on that front other than the continuing depressed price of gasoline. Consumer spending hinges on people having reliable jobs and homes they can count on staying in. When they're living in fear, they hang on to what they've got, and we're doing little or nothing to address the primary sources of people's current fears: the ongoing foreclosure crisis and the ongoing loss of jobs in this country.


*The banks own the Senate, which yesterday voted down foreclosure relief legislation. The New York Times reports WASHINGTON — The Senate handed a victory to the banking industry on Thursday, defeating a Democratic proposal that would have given homeowners in financial trouble greater flexibility to renegotiate the terms of their mortgages.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approved a bill backed by the Obama administration that would limit the ability of credit card companies to charge high fees and penalties. The bill, approved 357 to 70, still faces obstacles in the Senate, where — as the action on Thursday illustrated — the industry has more clout, particularly among Republicans and moderate Democrats.

So at least the banks don't own the House of Representatives. But overall the government is refusing to address the elements at the heart of the recession -- foreclosure and still-rising unemployment.

*Foreclosure rates will continue to rise, because the majority of ARM's (adjustible rate mortgages) are still not yet readjusted, but most of them will be in 2010 and 2011. Atrios tells us Option ARM rates are going to be recasting soon and in increasing numbers. That's the magic moment when people can no longer make minimum payments, when they can longer make interest-only or neg-amortization payments.

When that magic moment comes, all of those people are going to look at how high their now unaffordable mortgage payments are. Then they'll look at how much their house is actually worth relative to how much though owe. Then, maybe, they'll try one of the various initiatives to modify their mortgage terms. And then, quite likely, they'll jut (sic) walk away.

Atrios provides a chart documenting what we have to look forward to, then adds This is why cramdown legislation (i.e., legislation defeated by the banks-owned Senate yesterday) was so important. It had the benefit of potentially helping people stay in their homes, but it's also necessary to help ease the pain of the next foreclosure crisis wave which, as the chart tells us, hasn't even really started yet.

It seems to me that dealing with the recession and moving forward into a reconstituted, 21st-century economy, based on production rather than debt and Ponzi schemes, will require us to confront our most fundamental problem -- the massive corruption and corporate penetration of government. And I just don't see that happening.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Graveyard of Empires (and Clueless Liberals)

At first I just wasn't all that charmed, but now it's becoming impossible to deny the obvious -- Obama is a just a clueless dummy.

He's sleepwalking into a meatgrinder in Afghanistan. He keeps committing more and more troops and resources to the Graveyard of Empires, with a strategy of trying to prop up a non-viable un-government headed by an overdressed twit (Karzai). The Taliban is winning, and really, when you think about it, they can't lose in the long run. They're not only the home team, they're an ideology, and you can't drop a bomb on an idea.

It's a sad day when the best available reporting on an American war in the Mideast comes from the Arab press (Aljazeera/English, 24 minutes) because our own reporters, with the exception of the New Yorker's Sy Hersh, are so totally out to lunch with regard to what's happening over there.

A hundred days in, it's already easy to discern the wreckage of the Obama administration. I see it piling up in two places -- the high valleys of Afghanistan and the low canyon of Wall Street.