Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Snow Man

One of the more accessible poems of the American poet Wallace Stevens is The Snow Man.  The first three stanzas follow:

One must have a mind of winter
to regard the frost and the boughs
of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

and have been cold a long time
to behold the junipers shagged with ice,
the spruces rough in the distant glitter

of the January sun;  and not to think
of any misery in the sound of the wind,
in the sound of a few leaves..

I loved winter when I was a boy and well into my young manhood.  As a very small child (so I've been told) I liked to play outside in November without a shirt.  Later I welcomed winter at the rural home where I lived.  I trekked  through the woods and fields tracking animals.  I played at being in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  (Cowboys and Indians never seemed to have winter in their movies.)
In my teens, I ran a trapline which meant I had to rise before dark every winter morning and walk the fields and streams to remove any trapped animals there might be.  Most mornings the walk was for naught, but the walk itself was a joy.
Forty-seven years ago, I worked to build a ski area in southeastern New York State.  When it opened in December, I stayed on as assistant manager.  This was in the early days of the new popularity for skiing when snowmaking was a trial-by-error, hit-and-miss enterprise.  We learned quickly that the 4" aluminum pipe water line that ran up the side of the slope required an open outlet at the end of the pipe to keep the water running.  Without it, the water began to freeze in the pipe.
One brutally cold windy night, the water froze quickly and, before anything could be done, 44 lengths of 4" diameter aluminum pipe were frozen so solid that 2 or 3 splits appeared in each length.  All next day we (four men)  worked to disconnect the pipe and move it down to thaw out inside the maintenance shed.  As each length emptied out, it was carried into the garage and, using an acetylene torch, we welded the splits shut to reuse the pipe.  It was cold hard work performed under great pressure, but I loved every minute of it.
Like the Snow Man, I guess I had 'the mind of winter'. I saw trees crusted with snow and shagged with ice, and I never thought of any misery in the sound of the wind.   I saw beauty and heard music.

12/30/09:  I am adding a postscript to the above.  I have lived fulltime in south Florida since 1991.  Presently we are going through a cold spell where night time temps are in the low to mid 40's.  This happens about six or seven times each winter.  Whenever it does occur, I am reminded that I am not the Snow Man any more.  I could not endure a northern winter today.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Oursourcing Our Freedom

Jeremy Scahill wrote this for Americans to know because no major media outlets, electronic or print, are keeping us advised about the dangerous changes in the way our country conducts war and foreign policy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


"Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including 30 million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty.  No, I do not wish you success.  I don't even want to talk about it.  I want to talk about failure.
Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure.  You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss.  You will find you're weak when you thought yourself strong.  You'll work for possessions and then find they possess you.  You will find yourself - as I know you already have - in dark places, alone and afraid.
What I hope for you, for all of my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place  To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies."

Ursula K. LeGuin
from a commencement speech at Mills College, May 22, 1983

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Delmore Effect

While researching the life and works of the poet Delmore Schwartz, I learned that a tenet of modern psychology had been named for him called the Delmore Effect.
The term is the concept of one Paul Whitmore and it appears in his dissertation for PHD which was submitted the Psychiatric Department of Stanford University in 2000.
He defines it thusly: "The daunting nature of truly important goals may motivate the self to deflect this anxiety by attending to less important, but also less threatening goals."
The idea came to Mr. Whitmore after reading Selected Essays Of Delmore Schwartz. In the introduction to this book, the editors (Dike, D. & Zucker, D.) wrote: "A likely guess would be that an extended essay or book on Joyce was one of Delmore's long entertained projects and that he never accomplished the project precisely because he thought of it as crucial."

I wonder. Do I suffer from the Delmore Effect? Could that be the cause for this blog?
If so, I am in good company. Poor Delmore.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Summing Up

In the Beginning was the Word.
In the Word was the lie.
In the End, we learn the lie.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Pagan's Prayer

Nights without churches,
Days without banks:
For these conditions
I would give thanks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pfferneuse : The Recipe

Earlier this year I posted a piece of light verse titled "Pfferneuse".  Someone emailed me about the post and has asked for the recipe I have used over the years.
It was my grandmother's handwritten recipe so I am not sure how old it is.  She was born in 1876 and died in 1967.

1 cup soft shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 tbsp anise seed
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
6-2/3 cups flour

Cream the shortening and sugar until smooth.  Add the eggs and spices and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine the molasses, water and baking soda, mix together and add to the above.  Add flour and mix thoroughly.  (you will need an extra large bowl).
Chill at least 4 hours.  Then mold into long rolls 1/2" in diameter.  Cut into pieces 1/2" thick.  Place one cut side down on greased baking tins.  Bake in oven 400 degrees 8 minutes.  They should be as large and as brown as hazel nuts and makes about 400.

Now, let me say that I have never made pfferneuse exactly according to her directions.  I always felt that hazel nut size was too small.  And she doesn't mention powdered sugar coating.  So my modification of the recipe follows:  I use the same ingredients and prepare as per the recipe.  However I chill the dough overnight.  I mold into rolls about 1-1/4" in diameter and cut them 1/2" thick.  This will give you cookies about the same size as seen for sale in bakeries.  I do not grease the cookie sheet.  8 minutes is still just about the right time for baking. When cool, I put one cup of confectioner's sugar in a plastic bag, drop in the pfferneuse and shake to coat with the sugar.  Store in an airtight tin or container.  I usually get about twelve dozen cookies at this size.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson has been arrested and jailed for failing to report for overseas duty.
She failed to report, not because she didn't want to go, but because she couldn't find a responsible person to look after her 11 month old child while she was away.
Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think much of a government that will send mothers of infant children into combat zones. 
I don't think much of a military that will put assignment ahead of the health of a baby.
One more example of America losing its way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Report from the Home of the Brave

Firefighters were called to Jerry Thomas Elementary School when school officials told them that a boy and a girl could not be awakened after a class nap.  By the time fire-rescue got there, the students were awake and had no obvious medical problems.
The school was evacuated and the two children were taken to Jupiter Medical Center for observation.  Firefighters in protective gear took air samples in the classroom but found no contamination.
The two children were given a decontamination bath.
No cause has been found for the incident.

From the Palm Beach Post, 2007

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When you go looking for that special gift......

Consider this:

"The iCarta toilet paper dispenser comes with an iPod dock and dual speakers so you can always be with your iPod."

Featured in Residences magazine of the Palm Beach Post.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tom Wolfe Revisited

Twenty years ago this month, Harpers magazine published an article titled "Stalking The Billion-footed Beast:  A Literary Manifesto for the New Social Novel", by Tom Wolfe.
Not too often does an article on literature create the feverish tumult and debate that this one did.  Several writers responded in the Letters Section of Harpers in the following month.  Robert Towers took two pages in The New York Times Book Review to comment pro and con.  Lewis Lapham moderated a debate  on his TV program "Bookmark".   Many other outlets added to the discussion.  Ah yes, I remember it well.
I have my original copy of the magazine in front of me, (with the necessary address label in the lower left hand corner showing my former New York residence), and I am struck again with the term 'billion-footed'.  What could it refer to, I wondered 20 years ago, and found out that Wolfe seemed uncertain too.  At different points in the article, the 'beast' is either New York City, or the USA, or possibly the entire world. 
Mr. Wolfe seemed grieved that no one was writing the big novel about New York City that he wanted to write but didn't have time for just yet.  He thought poorly of literature that delved in fantasy or minimalism and other non-realist themes. 
Well,  people who make a living writing about literature had different opinions about the article.  Some critics saw it as self-promotion. 
Most pointed out that Wolfe had failed to cite many authors who satisfied the requirements of his screed.
Philip Roth, John Hawkes and Robert Towers said their past comments had been misinterpreted by Wolfe.
Madison Smartt Bell rang in that Wolfe was more of a social satirist than a social novelist but endorsed his call.
Mary Gordon called him "the thinking man's redneck".
Jim Harrison described the article as "the Babbittry of Art in a white suit".
Walker Percy gushed in his approval of it.
Twenty years later and all I can say is Ho-hum.  Episodes like this always bring to my mind the title of a popular song:  "What's It All About, Alfie?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day - the dark side

About ten years ago, a Vietnam veteran named Joe Kirkup wrote the following article for the Hartford Courant:

"Barbara was probably the softest woman who ever lived.  Everything about her was quiet and gentle.  Her eyes were delicate brown orbs set in tiny pillows of alabaster, open portals to the most vulnerable of souls.  They were filled with tears.
I was leaving, next stop Vietnam.  We sat in my car watching our last hour together slip miserably past.  She couldn't stand to see me go.  I couldn't stand to see her cry.  I felt so desperate to take away her pain, to make some sense of what had to be done.
Typical male animal that I was, I resorted to logic.  I explained the domino theory of international affairs, the threat of socialism, the obligation we had to help all people free themselves from the tyranny of communism.  'This is a democracy,' I said.  "We elect the best leaders we can, then we have to trust in their decisions.'
About a year before that, 32 years ago, we now know from the release of his White House tapes that the best leader we were able to elect,  Lyndon B. Johnson, was engaged in a related conversation with his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy.  Despite Mr. Bundy's attempts to cut in,  Mr. Johnson went on and on about the total fallacy of sending troops to Vietnam.  He groused angrily about how there was no way we could win a jungle war 10,000 miles from home.  And about the heartbreak of sending thousands of young soldiers, fathers and husbands, brothers and sons, to die in a conflict of questionable purpose with almost no hope of success.
But Mr. Johnson was trapped, as he explained to Mr. Bundy, if he failed to engage in what he clearly believed to be a totally hopeless and massive bloodletting, the pointless sacrifice of what would ultimately be 58,000 American men.  His political career would be in jeopardy, the Republicans would cast him as soft on defense in the next election, he might lose some votes.
Barbara's moistened and loving eyes watched me go;  they read my letters about the deaths of my friends, about my tortured dreams of killing and the paralyzing fear that gripped me from dark to dawn
When I returned, they gazed sadly into my own, into the nightmare, into the price I paid for Lyndon B. Johnson's popularity.  Then she closed them to me forever, knowing that the young man she had loved was never coming home.
I know I'm still crazy.  But this is what I want.  I want to take Lyndon Johnson from his grave and bury him somewhere far away from this country I love and nearly died for.  If I can never come home, neither should he.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dangling Conversations

Overheard at the Duck and Cover Diner:

"I am never 'here'.  I am always 'there'."
"Yes.  Someplace else.  Anywhere else.  I hate connections."

"I think it was called The Cafe of Two Maggots."

"I have no love for Death.
It leaves me cold."

"Why am I so reluctant, even fearful, of being seen?  This apprehension keeps me from walking."

"When did you stop folding paper airplanes?"

Monday, November 9, 2009

More things I have learned

Most of us don't grow. We simply change.

A mis-used truth is not much different from a lie.

It means little to be free if you keep your mouth shut.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

On the Death of Children

In today's (11/08/09) Parade magazine, Madeleine Albright writes on freedom and democracy and how important they are.  In the article, she describes a visit to Sierra Leone when she was Secretary of State under Bill Clinton. She writes "Militia groups there routinely chopped off people's hands to keep them from casting a ballot, even using machetes on the limbs of small children. I'll never forget holding one maimed girl in my arms. I couldn't help wondering how anyone could hurt her in such a cruel way. Whose enemy was she?"

When Albright was Secretary of State, she was interviewed by Leslie Stahl for the TV show 60 Minutes.  Stahl asked her about the half a million children who have died in Iraq due to the sanctions imposed by the US and NATO.  Stahl pointed out that was more children than were killed in Hiroshima.  Was it, she asks Albright, worth the price?
Albright responds:  " We think that's a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it."

Whose enemy were they, Madame Secretary?

Military Draft: the right idea?

Lately I see, hear, or read people recommend that the military draft be returned to active duty.  The reasoning behind this, as I understand it, is that with a Citizen Army as opposed to a Volunteer Army, more people will be affected by the war and  become so disenchanted with our war making efforts around the world that they will bring an end to the enterprises in Iraq and Afghanistan;  and that it may act as a brake on any future plans by the powers in government to invade countries.
That is the long way home.  Better to join anti-war groups and plan protests.  Better to vote out all people currently serving in the government.
Everybody claims that congress is corrupt and/or incompetent.  Everybody that is except their own congressman and senator.  This is why nothing changes.  At the next election, I will vote against every incumbent, even the ones I like.  It is past time to clean house.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Process

For  a score or more years now, people in advertising, po;itics and government have used an expression called "The Process".  A great many ideas and proposals have been subjected to the workings of The Process in order to validate their worthiness.
I never really understood what The Process meant.  For me, it remained a vague abstraction and therefore eluded my understanding.  The first President to use (even overuse) the expression was George Herbert Walker Bush.  It was obvious that he knew what it meant and how to use it.
It was also about that time that Joan Didion, a writer I admire, provided an explanation for what The Process is or means.  I have extracted three quotes from her writing on the subject:

"the traditional ways in which power is exchanged and the status quo maintained."

"consisting of a self-created and self-referring class who tend to speak of the world not necessarily as it is but as they want people out there to believe it is."

"they prefer the theoretical to the observable, and to dismiss that which might be learned empirically as anecdotal.."

Thank you, Ms Didion

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Parable for the United States

Once upon a time there was a land of sheep.  These sheep were divided into two large flocks, one of which was owned by an elephant while the other flock was owned by a donkey.
Most of the time, the two flocks were satisfied and relatively happy with their lot.  Occasionally, however, changes would occur and one or another of the flocks would become restless and unhappy. 
Perhaps they were sheared of their fleece too closely, or too often.  Perhaps inadequate food or shelter or veterinary care was provided.  When this happened, the sheep from that flock would move to the other flock because conditions seemed better over there.  After a time, this increase in size would cause the flock they had sought for a better life to develop problems as well, and then the sheep would move to the other flock again.
No sheep, it seems, was really happy with either the elephant or the donkey.  But, being sheep, they weren't able to do much about it.
One day a black sheep appeared and advised the unhappy flocks that their life could be better if they took control of their lives.  He offered to show them how and to help anyway he could.
This kind of talk made the sheep nervous.  Many wondered how the black sheep could be sure that life would improve.  And others wondered who would be their leader, 
But you don't need a leader, the black sheep, told them.  You can do whatever you need to do all by yourselves.
Leaderless?, one cried out.  No one to tell us what to do?, another bellowed.  The flocks were very unhappy.
Finally, they told the black sheep to go away.  You're weird, they said, and you are a black sheep with crazy ideas. You are too different.  Go away, and leave us alone.
So the black sheep went away.  The sheep accepted their lives.  The elephant and the donkey looked amusingly at their flocks, watching them switch sides as if it might make a difference.  They laughed together.  They knew that all the sheep were theirs.  They had nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quotation Nabokov

"What he really wanted to do was tear a hole in his world and escape."

Vladimir Nabokov

Friday, October 23, 2009

Medicine: where it went wrong

If one reads a great deal, and reads widely, it becomes clear that every serious social problem that confronts us, either sooner or later, has been described and forseen in the cultural works of the nation.
For example:
Teacher In America by Jacques Barzun, published in 1945, contains these lines in the first chapter: "Meanwhile I dwell on the necessity of teaching, that is to say on the need for teachers....The "call" (to teach) cannot be strong if a teacher will leave the classroom to floorwalk in a department store. Doctors are poor too, but they stick to their rounds and their patients." (Italics mine.)

"Are These Our Doctors?" by Ellen Barkins, published in 1952, contains these lines: "This is the time, therefore, for the public to take stock. This is the time to realize that Specialist Medicine, these past years, has been a sociological flop. Without rendering adequate scientific gain, it has done great harm. It has distorted the role of the general practitioner and the specialist in lay minds, thus causing both economic and professional waste.
It has reduced the human element and dignity in treating patients; and without gaining for them even half a world, it has forfeited the public's soul. It has gravely weakened the relationship between the two groups concerned..."

"The Last Angry Man", by Gerald Green, published in 1957, was a best selling novel that revealed the life of Dr. Samuel Abelman at work in New York City as a GP. The novel is a compelling story of his work for the poor and underclass, of his arguments with his patients for their inability to care for themselves, of his arguments with fellow doctors who became specialists for the money and status involved, and his arguments with himself for not doing more for himself and his wife. As one of the main characteers puts it: "There aren't enough people left who get mad, plain mad. Mad at all the bitchery and fraud. We take fraud for granted. We like it. We want to be had. That's where Abelman was different. He knew he was being cheated and he didn't like it one tiny bit. He was the last angry man."

"Coming Of Age" by Studs Terkel, published in 1995, contains an interview with Quentin Young, M.D. who was director of medicine at the Cook County Hospital, Chicago, from 1972 to 1983. Dr. Young says this: The darkest development in our troubled health care system is the advent of corporate medicine. The AMA had all sorts of laws - they still exist - against corporate medicine being practiced, yet these laws have been ignored. Large conglomerates came in.
Public hospitals, which were improving until about fifteen years ago, have become the absolute dumping pit. The system has always dumped on the public sector everything that had no profits in it. Today, it has become the specific behavior called 'prudent management.'"
The last sentence of Dr. Young's interview is the expression of a frightening vision: "An industrialized system, controlled by five or six monopolies, care allocated, excision of the unworthy or unfit, as we move toward a euthanasic society."

Enough said. Read it and weep.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More on the Economy

Yesterday I finished reading an article by an economist wherein he stated that the consumer represents 70% of the nation's economy, that without the consumer spending again the recovery will never happen.
Normally when one hears this bromide repeated again and again one comes to believe it is the truth. 
I am a little odd, I guess, because I ask myself what makes the other 30% and why don't they do more?
So I visited the internet in search of what constitutes percentages of the economy or the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
There are three important sides to the GDP figure.  They are:
household  which is called consumption
government which is called public expenditure
business expenditure which is called investment
Sure enough, as of September 2009, the consumer represents 71% of the GDP.  (Here, I digress, because this is what I don't understand.  If the recovery isn't happening, why are consumers spending at a higher rate than last year?  Because everyone agrees that is what the figures show.)
To continue, the consumer represents 71%,  government spending (or public expenditure) represents 41%, and Investment represents 15%.  Call me stupid, but don't those percentages add up to 127%?
There is something wrong somewhere.  This economy is sick and getting sicker and I don't read or hear anyone who seems to know what will happen next, or what to do about it.
And they call Economics a science?  And they give Nobel prizes for it?  Puh-leeze!

Elugelab and Operation Ivy - A Factoid

In late 1952, under the program name of Operation Ivy, the first test of a hydrogen bomb caused the Pacific island of Elugelab to vanish. The explosion was 700 times more powerful than the blast that destroyed Hiroshima.

How green was my Ivy?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Social Security Takes A Hit for The Economy

CBS News reported tonight that Social Security recipients will not receive an increase in their benefits this year, the first time ever.  CBS also reported that the COLA increase given last year was a record 5.8%.
I knew that the statements were incorrect, as proven by this chart.
Why can't CBS do a better job of fact checking?

The reason given for no COLA increase this year is due to the steep fall in the price of oil compared to last year.  Oil (or energy) must play a HUGE part in the calculations for the COLA because everything else we buy increased in price.
I note also, after studying the chart in the link above, that three changes have been made to the time of year that the calculations are used.  The chart shows a sharp decline in the COLA increase since those changes.  I'm certain these changes were not made for the benefit of Social Security recipients.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lessons Learned (cont'd)

People are as selective about their future as much as their past.  Their predictions are no more or less honest than their memories.

Friday, October 9, 2009

NASA shoots the moon !

Last night NASA fired a rocket at the moon with a follow-up space lab to read the results of the debris thrown up by the rocket. All this to find if there is water on the moon.
We were urged to rise early this morning to watch the event in the skies.
Well, excuse me, NASA and Main Stream Media, I stayed in bed.
Once or twice annually we are urged to stay up late and enjoy the meteor showers that occasionally take place. I have learned to stay in bed for that too.
When I was a boy, there was a beautiful sight to be seen in the skies every night it wasn't cloudy. The name for this was the Milky Way.
If it should ever appear anywhere along the east coast again, call me. I will get up for that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

John Keats, To Autumn

October always signaled the season of Autumn to me.  Officially, of course, September 21 is the start of Fall but the leaves that color the landscape are the true guide.  That and the quality of light and the musk of dying plants and the Harvest Moon and the change in air temperature confirm that October is the month of change.

John Keats wrote an ode To Autumn in 1819, two years before he died at the age of 26.  The poem consists of three stanzas of eleven lines each.  I am presenting only the last stanza here because it is my favorite of the three.

"Where are the songs of Spring?  Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Medea, meet Ed Ricketts

"Adults, in their dealings with children, are insane.  And children know it too.  Adults lay down rules they would not think of following, speak truths they do not believe.  And yet they expect children to obey the rules, believe the truths, and admire and respect their parents for this nonsense.  Children must be very wise and secret to tolerate adults at all."  Ed Ricketts

I was reminded of the Ricketts statement as I watched a News Hour reporter interview Annette Bening about her latest theater role, the lead in the Greek tragedy Medea, by Euripides.
Briefly, this is a play about a woman who falls in love with Jason and aids him in his quest for the Golden Fleece by, among other acts, killing her brother.  True love, indeed!
This is followed by some travel, bad luck, and another atrocity until we reach the 'heart of the matter' as the romantics are fond of saying.  Jason cannot marry Medea because she is a foreigner.  Worse yet, her intensity turns him away and he seeks to marry another woman.  This causes deep powerful anger in the heart and mind and soul of Medea.  She feels herself wronged and seeks revenge.
Revenge is what she gets and the audience is suitably shocked.  What is her revenge?  Among other deaths, she murders the two sons she had with Jason.
For me, this play reeks of misogyny. But why would Euripides gives these words to Medea to speak?

"Of all things upon earth that bleed and grow,
a herb most bruised is woman. We must pay
our store of gold, hoarded for that one day,
to buy us some man's love; and lo, they bring
a master of our flesh! There comes the sting
of the whole shame. And then the jeopardy,
for good or ill, what shall that master be....
home never taught her that - how best to guide
toward peace the thing that sleepeth at her side.
And she who, laboring long, shall find some way
whereby her lord may bear with her, nor fray
his yoke too fiercely, blessed is the breath
that woman draws! Else let her pray for death .
Her lord, if he be wearied of her face
within doors, gets him forth; some merrier place
will ease his heart; but she waits on, her whole
vision enchained on a single soul.
And then they say 'tis they that face the call
of war, while we sit sheltered, hid from all
peril! False mocking! Sooner would I stand
three times to face their battles, shield in hand,
than bear one child."

And probably, these words are part of the reason that actresses love this role.  This mother, Medea, is, as Bening says, "more interesting than a good mother".  'Interesting' is not the word I would have chosen.  But then, what do I know?  I'm a man.  But so was Euripides.
For me, the most remarkable thing about this play is that the children have no names.  The boys are little more than props for the playing out of a white trash relationship.

Footnote:  for those who aren't familiar with Ed Ricketts, he was a marine biologist (1897-1948) and a close friend of John Steinbeck.  They collaborated on the book The Log Of The Sea Of Cortez.

Friday, September 25, 2009


"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions whch they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly tauaght to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."
       Leo Tolstoy

Such persons as Mr. Tolstoy describes have stopped learning, haven't they?  Learning is being ready to question what you know when what you know is challenged by a new idea.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

3/50 Project and Other Good Ideas

The overpaid deadheads who run the banking system, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve may be trying to restore their credibility but some others who live and work at the lower level are finding new ways to recover their autonomy and their wealth.
One clever idea has been conceived by Cinda Baxter.  She calls it the 3/50 Project.  It is an initiative that encourages consumers to commit to spending fifty dollars a month at three independent local stores ($50 total, not $50 per store).  She is not asking shoppers to stop shopping at chain stores or malls but to balance their spending in ways that maintain the community.  The best approach is to choose three local stores that you would miss if they closed and commit to spending $50 a month between those three businesses.  Click on the link and read more.

Another clever approach is the deal struck between Kohl's, the department store, and the Hospice of Palm Beach County Resale Shop.  Vans from the Resale Shop appear in the parking lot at Kohl's on a designated Saturday.  Peolpe who donate clean, gently used clothing, furniture, accessories, books, etc. are given discounts of 15% & 20% on purchases at Kohl's.

Another innovative idea is to use a credit card for purchases only every other month.  Or, to put it differently, to use your credit card for purchases six months a year only.  Use cash or debit card in the other six months.  If even one third of the population did this, it would send a message to the banks that might freeze more than their assets.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Relaxing in Florida

My brother-in-law Dan and his wife Peggy just returned to Madison, Wisconsin after spending a week with us in our home.  The visit was a combination of taking a vacation and seeing each other after a gap of eleven or twelve years.
It was a pretty full week.  Our first event was a trip to Riverbend Park off Indiantown Road in western Jupiter.  The site is a large parcel of preserved land which represents Old Florida.  Only walking and biking are allowed on the dirt trails.  A typical farmstead is the first developed feature of the park.  Work has begun on a Seminole Indian village.  Attention will be paid to history.  This was a battlefield in 1838 between the US Army and the Seminole Indians who were supported by fugitive or runaway slaves.  Other features are planned and, when complete, this park will be an important tourist site, I'm sure.  We saw several birds including wild turkeys on the ground and pileated woodpeckers high in the overhead tree canopy.
We made three, maybe four, trips to the Atlantic ocean to swim.  The water was a little rough, waves 2 to 3 feet with shorebreak.  Water temp was 83 degrees.  On our second trip, I took my Morey Boogie bodyboard which I haven't used in a while.  I picked up a good size wave and rode the board  in.  I got knocked around pretty good. I'd like to think I am out of shape, but it's not that.  I'm just too old now.
Fish were running out from the shoreline that day.  On one occasion, we found ourselves swimming among a school of fish.  I was treading water watching these sleek silver fish leap over the waves when suddenly there was an upward explosive surge of fish and water around Peggy.  She let out a little shriek.  The lifeguard blew his whistle several times and we saw he wanted us out of the water.  I asked the lifeguard about the fish and he said that something was after them and that was why he called everyone out.   We were allowed back in shortly, but he called everyone out one more time that day.
I have been swimming at that beach off and on since 1987 and I have never been whistled out of the water before.  I have seen schools of fish many times but never witnessed the sight that Peggy experienced when about two dozen fish, 8 to 10 inches long, blasted from the water all around her in fright of whatever wanted to eat them.
On our first trip to the ocean, we walked from Carlin Park to the Jupiter inlet and back (59 minutes).  It wasn't a good week for finding shells, but we enjoyed the shore birds: gulls, pipers, sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, and, of course, pelicans soaring over the water.
A visit was made to The Loggerhead Marine Life Center which promotes the care and preservation of sea turtles.  They maintain a hospital for turtles there and assist in rescue when injured or sick tortoises appear on he beach.  The 'patients' recover in large circular tubs filled with recirculating ocean water.  Visitors to the Center are allowed to walk between the tubs to see the huge magnificent sea creatures.
Another stop was the Loxahatchee River Center, a non-profit facility located in Burt Reynolds Park east of Route 1.  Its primary purpose is the education of children of the need for maintaining river quality for the good of the community.  But its information is equally useful for those adults who have never learned the elements of what constitutes a healthy river.
Our final visit was to see the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, Florida.  90% of the animals here are recovering from injuries received due to human carelessness or meaness.  The walk-through is well-designed and enjoyable.  Plenty of information is posted about the various birds, animals, and plants found there.  We saw the red fox, gray fox, Florida panthers (2), river otter, alligator, corocodile, varieties of turtle, varieties of birds including wood storks, bald eagles, golden eagles, red tailed hawks, owls, buzzards, etc.
All four of the above facilities are free to the public althought they do encourage a donation of whatever one  can afford.

We ate out twice, the most notable being breakfast at Harry and the Natives in Hobe Sound, Florida.  This is a local landmark, in business since 1941, and great fun to visit.  Their standard breakfast is so hearty that you won't need lunch.  Three, not two, slices of bacon cut thick.  Two eggs scrambled but it looks like three eggs.  A generous serving of hash brown (red-skin new potatoes coarsely chopped), a biscuit, jam, butter, and all the coffee you need.  Check out the video if you click on the link to their website.
One morning, Peggy made German pancakes for breakfast, a treat that I had never had before.  They were delicious served with fresh squeezed lemon juice and sprinkled with powdered sugar!

Finally, the day after Dan & Peggy left to return to Madison, I discovered a bottle of Blue Moon beer lying on its side in the rear of the refrigerator.  Danny had bought a bottle sixpack of it while here but he must have missed this one.  I had never heard of the beer so I opened it and drank it down.  It is a Belgian style wheat ale.  From the label:  Brewed with white wheat and oats, Blue Moon features a crisp wheat finish and the perfect combination of orange peel and coriander.  Bring out Blue Moon's natural spices by serving it in a Pilsener glass with and orange-slice garnish.
I didn't need the garnish.  Thanks, Dan.

Monday, September 21, 2009

W. R. Rodgers - Poem for the Month of September

Take a few minutes to read this poem slowly, closely.  Savor, enjoy every phrase.  It is a wonderful poem.

Neither Here Nor There

In that land all Is, and nothing's Ought;
No owners or notices, only birds;
No walls anywhere, only lean wire of words
Worming brokenly out from eaten thought;
No oats growing, only ankle-lace grass
Easing and not resenting the feet that pass;
No enormous beasts, only names of them;
No bones made,  bans laid, or boons expected,
No contracts, entails, or hereditaments,
Anything at all that might tie or hem.

In that land, all's lackadaisical;
No lakes of coddled spawn, and no locked ponds
Of settled purpose,  no netted fishes;
But only inkling streams and running fronds,
Fritillaried with dreams, weedy with wishes;
Nor arrogant talk is heard, haggling phrase,
But undertones, and hesitance, and haze;
On clear days mountains of meaning are seen
Humped high on the horizon;  no one goes
To con their meaning, no one cares or knows.

In that land all's flat, indifferent;  there
Is neither springing house nor hanging tent,
No aims are entertained, and nothing is meant,
For there are no ends, and no trends, no roads,
Only follow your nose to anywhere.
No one is born there, no one stays or dies,
For it is a timeless land, it lies
Between the act and the attrition, it
Marks off bound from rebound, make from break, tit
From tat, also today from tomorrow.
No Cause there comes to term, but each departs
Elsewhere to whelp its deeds, expel its darts;
There are no homecomings, of course, no goodbyes
In that land, neither yearning nor scorning,
Though at night there is the smell of morning.

W. R. Rodgers
Irish poet  1909-1969

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Let's be thankful for the marketplace.

Private contractors in Kabul who work as security guards for the US embassy have been filmed living it up in nude and drunken revelry.  They also have  made unauthorized recon missions in Afghan neighborhoods.
Other private American contractors in Afghanistan are being investigated for diverting 20% of taxpayer money, to be used by them for specific tasks, being  paid instead directly to the Taliban for protection.  This protection money received by the Taliban  can, of course, be used in their efforts to kill American soldiers.
It's comforting to see the marketplace at work, performing so much better than the United States Army ever could.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Would The Founding Fathers Think?

I have read or heard laments from people who are upset about current affairs in the USA.  Very often they will ask 'What would the Founding Fathers think?'   Or, it may take this form, 'What would the Founding Fathers say?'
Usually, this complaint takes place at town hall meetings around the nation. We are supposed to believe, upon hearing this question, that the Founding Fathers would be very displeased if they 'could see what's going on in this country today'.
Maybe, maybe not.
We tend to forget that there were differences between those great men.  Some of them desired a strong central government;  others did not.  Some of them desired a central bank;  others did not.  Some of them believed that the people (the masses) should not have too much say;  others believed they should.
We know they would be surprised to see that women and non-landowners can vote;  that slavery is ended;  that senators are elected by the people and not appointed by state legislatures; that there is an income tax.
They would be shocked (I believe) to see that states use lotteries to acquire revenue;  that there is a CIA;  that we have military forces in combat around the world.
The would be saddened to learn (I hope) that we fought a civil war that killed more Americans than any other war we have fought.
Since there were only two hospitals when the nation began, I have no idea what they would think of a comcept called health care reform, or MRI's, or laser surgery, or dental implants, or DNA analysis, or nuclear weapons, or space travel, or television, or cell phones or computers. 
Or GATT, or the UN, or the World Bank, or NATO.
Or globalization, or air, water & ground pollution, or AIDS, or abortion, or test tube babies, or cloning.
This list could go on and on.  The point is that too much has changed for people to hope and believe that all we need to do is return to 1776. 
I believe the Founding Fathers would be as perplexed and troubled as we are.  There was, however, a sanity and dignity about their thinking that we could emulate in our town hall meetings.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Prosecuting Our Torturers

Imagine this scenario after World War II:

"These Nuremberg Trials are a distraction.  The War is over.  Let's not look back at the past.  We have a lot of work to do.  Europe needs to be rebuilt.  The Marshall Plan has to be implemented.  Germany needs to be brought back into the community of nations.  There is nothing to gain in prosecuting those officials who committed the crimes they have been charged with."

I know, I know.  The Attorney General's investigation is about charging and prosecuting our own.  That is very different.  Very unsettling.  It means, that no matter what we decide, we as Americans will have to live with the shame of what was done in our name or the shame of not having done anything about it.
Very unsettling.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Drew Barrymore is a Hit! Literary Snobs are not.

Many many years ago, when I was a young man in military service in the Far East, I discovered writers and novels that were unknown to me and (I assume) to my high school English teachers as well.
In a quonset hut library, I found the novels of Thomas Wolfe.  In fact, I thought I had discovered a great but unknown writer until a fellow service member disabused me of that.  Seems the rest of the world had heard about him.
I also read the novels of Frederick Manfred, Vardis Fisher, and Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner.  Another favorite was Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, a connected series of short stories of the interior life of people, most of whom were emotional cripples.  Anderson called them 'grotesques'.
I couldn't wait to return to the states and access the libraries and journals and find out more about these writers.
What a shock to discover that these literary giants were more or less regarded either as serious disappointments, or second rate authors.
Sherwood Anderson had his "limitations".  Manfred, Fisher, and Stegner were "Western" authors and merely "regionalist" in their efforts.  Thomas Wolfe was a "young man's writer" and simply "a phase".
All of this came out of the coterie of literary movers and shakers who gathered their wool on the East Coast, i.e., New York City.
I particularly remember that Sherwood Anderson's stories were characterized as depictions of small town or rural life and that they lacked serious relevance to the modern character of developing post-World War II American society.
I regarded them as universal stories of feeling human beings.  I felt their relevance would last as long as people walked the earth.
And that is what prompts this post.
Last week I saw a movie called "Grey Gardens".  It starred Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as mother and daughter.  They shared the same name: Edith Bouvier Beale.  They were family relatives, cousins, I believe, of Jacqueline Bouvier.  Grey Gardens was the name of the estate in East Hampton, Long Island, New York where the two Beale women lived.
The ghost of Sherwood Anderson walked through this movie as we followed the lives of two women locked in self-deception and personal failure.  They were people of stature and breeding living on a rich estate in the Hamptons, but could very well have been transported to Winesburg, Ohio to play out the tale of their lives.  The movie confirmed my opinion that Anderson's themes were timeless and universal.
Drew Barrymore, by the way, gives one of the most powerful and haunting performances that I have seen in a long long time.  This actress is a national resource.   That more directors and producers aren't finding roles for her to grow in is a stain on their cognitive abilities.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sunday Landscape

The live oak has a curve in its trunk.. One of the fan palms is leaning badly to the West.  A queen palm is tilted to the south.  Is something playing with my trees?   Is this spiritual deformity?   Was the grass a witness?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Corporation Hell. Keep buying. Shop till you drop.

Mr Bageant says it better than I ever could.  I am much too polite.  But I agree with him 100 per cent.

A Timeless Lesson

"There is one terrible thing in this life, and that is that everybody has their reasons."

Jean Renoir
French film maker

Sunday, August 9, 2009

U A Fanthorpe, Poem for August

August is vacation time.  This poem is for those who remain behind to mind the store.


There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it

Which checks the insurance, and doesn't forget
The milkman;  which remembers to plant bulbs;

which answers letters;  which  knows the way
The money goes;  which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely;  which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork;  insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dry rotten jokes;  remembers
My need for gloss and grouting;  which keeps
my suspect edifice upright in the air,
As Atlas did the sky.

U. A. Fanthorpe
English poet, 1929-2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What is important today?

I haven't been posting lately.  The next-to-last post was too depressing for me to handle, coming as it did after several reports about the increase in suicides among our returning servicemen.
It does no good to hate Bush and Rumsfeld (which I do) nor to have contempt for Congress (which I do).
Nor to wonder why so many Americans driving around with SUPPORT THE TROOPS stuck to the bumper of their cars don't raise a stink about our failure to do so.
Maybe, in our heart of hearts, we know it's a phony slogan.  That our so-called support is like the rope that supports the hanging man.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Carnes Lord on Weakness In American Policy

Carnes Lord, Professor of military and Naval Strategy at the U. S. Naval War College, and author of The Modern Prince, has written the following:

"A characteristic weakness of the American approach to war and force has been the tendency to draw a sharp distinction between wartime and peacetime."

I wonder, does he think that explains these guys?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More on the "Science" of Economics.

During the last Presidential campaign, the nation was treated to one of those so-called stimulating debates that the so-called conservative right is famous for, namely, "the redistribution of wealth".
That sterotypical American, 'Joe The Plumber", with the overt assistance of the teat-sucking media, reminded us all how much we hate the concept of distributing the wealth of America because of its ugly dirty association with that well-known European evil called SOCIALISM.
As often happens in moments like these, I find myself asking questions of myself that no one else seems to ask.  Here are some:  isn't all our wealth redistributed one way or another?  And isn't the redistribution of America's wealth controlled by the corporations and the government working together?   Isn't the trickle-down theory a form of wealth redistribution?
Isn't wealth redistributed daily in the form of setting prices, wages, salaries, bonuses, and, yes, Golden Parachutes?
When CEO's move our factories overseas, aren't they redistributing America's wealth, and yours , and mine?
So, we are not really talking about Socialism here, are we?  No, we are talking about keeping the redistribution of wealth in the same hands where it has been since the birth of the Nixon Administration.
So, how well is it going?  Here's one answer.  
In the 1960's, it was still possible to say that a hard-working enterprising young person could 'work his or her way through college'.  That was a famous American story, revered and justly so.  But it is long gone now.
Today, graduates begin life with an onerous debt.  This is the new American story.  This is the New Capitalism at work.  Or is it the New World Order?

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Scandal of Automobile Repair

No, I am not preparing to discuss how cars are so complicated that we are no longer able to repair them ourselves.  That is worthy of its own post.
No, this is about the cost of taking your car to a garage for repairs.
The pricing of automobile repair is established by coded standards based on units of time.  The labor costs based on these units of time are in excess of the actual time required.  The system rounds upward the unit of time, usually in 15 minute increments.  A 5 minute task will be charged as 15 minutes (or more).  A 35 minute task will be charged 45 minutes (or more).
These charges start with a base Labor cost of 60 minutes, due, I suppose, for the work required to start the process.   Some call it a 'hedge factor' to offset possible losses.
Added to these labor costs is the material cost of parts which is usually fixed at a straight 100% mark-up.
When the repairs are finished and billed, the customer finds at the bottom of the invoice, as a percentage of the subtotal for material and labor, a figure for Shop Costs, i.e., rags, hand cleaner, paper floor mats, etc.   This add-on percentage will run from 10% to 25% of the subtotal for material and labor.
I submit that this Shop Cost add-on is passing the cost of normal overhead on to the customer, a practice unheard of in the past.
I further submit that this whole policy is a form of price control and not free market capitalism.  It socialistic capitalism and works only to the benefit of the corporation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On The Good Ship Breckenridge

In a recent post I mentioned the naval troop ship U.S.S. John C. Breckenridge and, my personal memory thus aroused, I began to recall the experience and realized I was looking back fondly at a few weeks loaded with discomfort.
We (a thousand other military personnel and I) boarded the ship in Tokyo Bay for the return home after service in the Far East.  I spent the first night vomiting in the ship's toilets (or 'heads" as the Navy calls them).
This happened with the ship at anchor.  We were not underway yet!  Not a good sign.
I spent the next few days vomiting and trying to complete the cleaning details assigned to us to keep us busy.  A sailor in the boiler room advised me to eat saltine crackers until I couldn't eat anymore.  He said it helped fight stomach acids and reduced throwing up.  I waited in line for an hour at the ship's store to buy a box of crackers and learned I had been given good advice.
Our 'quarters' were the ship's hold with row after row of hammocks stacked 5 or 6 high with ladders to gain the high beds.  Hot, sweltering, smelly.  Meanwhile, each morning, a one or two page info sheet was distributed with weather information, a couple of news headlines, and a handrawn map of the Pacific with a tiny representation of our ship showing our progress across the great ocean.  It looked like we hadn't moved. Depressing.
Free movies on deck each night it didn't rain.  Calamity Jane, which most of us had already seen.  But I stayed to watch it again.  I remember Doris Day riding a horse on a trail telling us that she used to have a secret love but now she was shouting about it from the highest hill, she was even telling the golden daffodills that her secret love wasn't secret anymore.   
While at ships' store, I had bought a paperback novel, The Royal Way by Andre Malraux.  I read some of it on deck but most of my reading time was spent in my hammock.  The atmosphere of that hold augmented the atmosphere of the book which is the story of two men searching for treasures from royal ruins in the jungles of Cambodia.  The themes were the usual Malraux interests of death, individual quest, and adventurism with side trips on art and sculpture.  I enjoyed the book, admired Perken (I think that was the main character's name) even when he was not being nice at all.  A good read, but I know the book is rarely mentioned in any critique of Malraux.
To enhance the malaise of the trip even more,  I got a severe toothache.  Fortunately the ship had a dentist, and he pulled the tooth.  So when the ship flowed into the bay of San Francisco, I was  better able to enjoy seeing the Golden Gate bridge, the prison of Alcatraz, and the shoreline of California, the USA.
After two years absence, it looked very good.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Urine Sample

One of the joys of being male is the ability to pass urine in a variety of  situations, some of which are self-amusing, enjoyable, or challenging.
Of course, in the beginning,  a very young boy may wet the bed, or wet his pants when excited.   When I was in First Grade, I left a puddle under my chair in the classroom.  I remember looking back at it as I left the room at the end of class and wondering if it would be there when I returned the next morning.  It wasn't.
Then one advances into real boyhood and the exercise of one's imagination.  I peed from rooftops, either off the gable letting urine fall to earth or onto the sloping roof itself to watch the slow trickle of pee over the asphalt shingles drip into the rain gutter.
I peed from a tree house, and from many other trees I had climbed.  I have peed in pools, ponds, streams and lakes. Off docks.  Out of boats.  Behind trees, and shrubs, and in alleys;  against the wheels of a car (with a door open to conceal my act).  I have pissed in the manure drop of a cow barn and down woodchuck holes.  I have shot flies, mosquitoes, salamanders and other assorted wildlife with a forceful yellow stream. I have peed in bottles, cans, boxes, plastic bags, ditches, catch basins, french drains, and gutters.  I tried to see how far I could send it and how wide a sweep I could make of the stream.  It was, as Tony the Tiger would say,  Gr-r-r-eaat!
As a man I have been less silly but there were circumstances which accounted for some odd experiences.   Flying from Seoul, Korea to the island of Paengnyongdo I needed to relieve myself and was directed to a relief tube in the side of the fuselage.  "Don't aim for it" a crewman told me, "put it in there so you don't miss."  The urine went into the atmosphere to evaporate.  Very efficient! 
On the island itself, our camp had a 2 inch diameter  iron pipe sticking out of the ground at a 45 degree angle.  Again, this was a relief tube for urinating.  Packed yellow snow around the base of the pipe was confirmed by the footprints in the snow coming from all angles in the camp.
Returning to the states on the troop ship USS Breckinridge, we had gang toilets but the urinals were not stalls or wall hung fixtures.  Instead they were twenty foot long metal troughs for the men to use standing side by side.
I suppose that all these methods are gone now that we have a coed military.
Today of course my life is a different story.  I don't stream;  I dribble.  And I am afraid of heights and I am too old to serve my country again.  C'est la pee!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Shakespeare By The Sea XIX

For nineteen years community theater people have staged a production of a Shakespearean play on the lawn of Carlin Park on A1A in Jupiter, Florida.  Because the site is just a few hundred feet from the Atlantic ocean, the outdoor event has been called Shakespeare By The Sea.  The play has always been free to the public.  People only have to bring their own chair or blanket and use the upward sloping lawn as the seating area.  Bringing one's pet dog and one's own refreshments is encouraged also.  The atmosphere has always been relaxed and congenial.
Last evening we attended the first showing of this year's production of A Midsummer-Night's Dream and it was delightful.  The set design matched the occasions of the play but more importantly it permitted the many exits and entrances to occur expeditiously and unobtrusively.  The dance sequence by The Dancing Fairies looked professionally done.  Overall, the acting was well done with special praise for Alan Gerstel as Peter Quince and Kevin Crawford (also the Director) as Bottom.  An appreciative audience laughed loudly at all the right places.  The only flaw was the sound system which was overloud and out of balance.  Shouted speech was often indecipherable.
This year marked the first time the play was performed on a permanent stage built specifically for the event.  The architect has designed an open building that resembles a large proscenium arch.  Concealed behind and beneath the stage are air-conditioned rooms for dressing, storage, a green room and private restrooms.  The cost was $1.6 million.
Shakespeare By The Sea has come a far way from the first productions done in a dusty field with ant hills, and without water or electricity.  Park improvments over the years have given us established lawns, rest rooms, drinking fountains and hose bibb outlets for pets.  And all is still free but this year, for the first time, the company asks for donations.
I can forsee the future here. The event has become institutionalized.   It has a building, or, as bean counters prefer to say, a plant.  It will not be long before there is an admission charge and other improvements.
I am reminded again of the truth of an unfailing proverb:  Nothing fails like success

Monday, July 13, 2009


"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."

from The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stormy Weather

Yesterday I stood listening to the rain outside the open window.  I tried to differentiate and sort the many sounds:  water falling in a steady stream from the roof valley;  water dripping from one leaf to the next;  water falling from the sky to the shrubs and trees; high up and away the drumming of thunder;  rain splashing in the rock fountain, rain on the concrete walk, rain on the roof.  Such variety of sound!  And then a mockingbird sang.  And the wind chime moved in a breeze and gave off a thin piercing sound.  A ring-necked dove cooed.  An Orchestra !

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The C.I.A.Again

Here we go again.  CIA Director Panetta has canceled a covert operation that has been running secretly for the past several years without the knowledge of Congress and without oversight.   After 4 months on the job, he just found out about it this week.  I wonder what else he doesn't know.
Now, an Inspector General report advises that the Bush administration ran intelligence gathering operations that were unauthorized and illegal.
The former President was fond of saying that Al Qaeda hated our freedoms. 
I believe Bush hated our freedoms too.  Certainly he had contempt for them.
But don't look for an explanation.  Or charges.  The people who run things are afraid of the truth.
And the people who are run are afraid of the future.
We have become a fearful people waiting to be told what to think and what to do.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Name Game

Miss Ann Thropy

Archie Pelago

Justin  Credible

Tess Tickles

Cal  Isthentics

Bob Olink

Harry Naugahyde

Peter Putz

Bruce Losis

Tom Foolery

Penny Saver

Bill Board

Dr Heckle & Mr. Snide

Mother Smothers

Al Dente

Frank Blunt

Got some of your own?  Click on   COMMENT  and let's have'em !

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Racism: contribution to the dialogue.

Several years ago, Tahar Ben Jelloun, a Moroccan novelist living in France, wrote a book titled "Racism, As Explained To My Daughter".  In this book he tells his daughter "You are not born a racist, you become one."
Well, maybe, I thought, but ...... you are not born a non-racist either, yet very few people seem to become one.  Especially in America.
I find the term 'racism' to be a hurdle to addressing the problem of racial discrimination.  A mere recognition of differences is not inherently racist.  To think it is reinforces stupid thought.
The cover story of the March/April 2000 issue of Poets and Writers magazine was the novelist Ana Castillo.  In the interview, Castillo remarks that she doesn't write in "standard white English"  but in "second-language English."   In her creative moments, she "rejects hierarchical thinking characteristical of Western Culture" and chooses instead "spirituality."  She speaks disapprovingly of "the homogenization of Latino culture" and states that she doesn't write for a 'gringo audience."
Is this racist?  Or is it an honest recognition of differences?
I believe it is the latter.
What would  persons who became  non-racist be like?  How would they deal with the recognition of differences?  How would they employ the concept of difference without offending someone?  And if they were unsuccessful in this effort, would they be termed 'racist'?
What man hasn't felt at a disadvantage upon finding himself in a room full of women?   Or, vice versa?
What poor person wouldn't be intimidated by the wealth and luxury of Tiffanys?
At school bus stops, the girls cluster on one side while the boys form their own group some distance away.  This is normal, natural, even comical.  But if whites and blacks form their own groups in a college cafeteria, this is evidence of racism.  Why?
If we can be taught racism, is it possible that we can be taught to see racism where it doesn't exist in order to help us in the struggle to eliminate it where it can be found?
If so, how will we know when we have done the best that can be done?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Yesterday evening, freshly showered but tired after a day's work in our sub-tropical yard, and too fatigued to read or write, I went looking on TV for some escapist feature.  So much M. Jackson coverage, I was forced to  search the sports channels where I found an indoor volley ball match being played in Catania, Italy by the Italians vs the Americans. 
I have played a lot of volleyball in my life so I do know and love the sport.  After several minutes of watching the ball being batted back and forth, I observed a practice, a group gesture the like of which I have seen more and more lately.  I refer to the practice of a team coming together after a play has been completed to touch hands, pat rumps, hug, or otherwise acknowledge physically a completed play.  It matters not whether a point was scored.  Indeed, the bodies touch in congratulation even when the point is lost.
In baseball, too, when a player hits a home run or simply scores on someone else's single, that player is greeted with a standing ovation of handshakes, high fives, punches, rump pats, etc.  Very different from the game of my long ago youth when a three run homer might elict "Way to go, Joe!" from one or two sitting fellow players on the bench.  This group groping is definitely a trend.
Now, don't misunderstand me.  I have no moral objection to this practice and I am aware of the modern day need to reinforce self-esteem and team spirit.
What I don't get is why every single team and sport indulges in this activity.  Other nations emulate.  The Italian volleyball team performed the same New Age rituals as the American team.  One would think that somewhere there is a team that has thought for itself and simply does it differently.  But there isn't.   This seems unnatural me.  Nature  thrives on diversity.
Personally, I find it distracting from the game.  I find it not spontaneous but contrived.
Does this mean that it is being taught, or required?  Is it League or Association policy? I wish I knew.
Probably it is just old fashioned peer pressure.   It isn't easy being free.


"Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program;  in its paternalistic, nationalistic, and power-adoring tendencies, it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism.  And with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities, it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place.  A Conservative movement, by its very nature, is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege."

F.A. Hayek, from The Road To Serfdom

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Howard Nemerov Poem of his chosen for month of July

Atlantic City, June 23, 1957 (AP) - President Eisenhower's pastor said tonight that Americans are living ina period of "unprecedented religous activity" caused partially by paid vacations, the eight-hour day and modern conveniences.
"These fruits of material progress," said the Rev. Edward L. R. Elson of the National Presbyterian Church, Washington, "have provided the leisure, the energy, and the means for a level of human and spiritual values never before reached."
Here at the Vespasian-Carlton,  it's just one
religous activity after another;  the sky
is constantly being crossed by cruciform
airplanes, in which nobody disbelieves
for a second, and the tide, the tide
of spiritual progress and prosperity
miraculously keeps rising, to a level
never before attained.   The churches are full,
the beaches are full, and the filling-stations
are full.   God's great ocean is full
of paid vacationers praying an eight-hour day
to the human and spiritual values, the fruits,
the leisure, the energy, and the means, Lord
the means for the level, the unprecedented level
and the modern conveniences, which also are full.
Never before, O Lord, have the prayers and praises
from belfry and phonebooth, from ballpark and barbecue
the sacrifices, so endlessly ascended.

It was not thus when Job in Palestine
sat in the dust and cried, cried bitterly;
when Damien kissed the lepers on their wounds
it was not thus;  it was not thus
when Francis worked a fourteen-hour day
strictly for the birds;  when Dante took
a week's vacation without pay and it rained
part of the time, O Lord, it was not thus.

But now the gears mesh and the tires burn
and the ice chatters in the shaker and the priest
in the pulpit, and thy Name, O Lord,
is kept before the public, while the fruits
ripen and religion booms and the level rises
and every modern convenience runneth over,
that it may never be with us as it hath been
with Athens and Karnak and Nagasaki,
nor Thy sun for one instant refrain from shining
on the rainbow Buick by the breezeway
or the Chris Craft with the uplift life raft;
that we may continue to be the just folks we are,
plain people with ordinary superliners and
disposable diaperliners, people of the stop'n'shop
'n'pray as you go, of hotel, motel, boatel,
the humble pilgrims of no deposit no return
and please adjust thy clothing, who will give to Thee
if Thee keep us going, our annual
Miss Universe, for Thy Name's Sake, Amen.

Howard Nemerov
American poet 1920-1991


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day, July 4, 1776

We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes;   and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.  But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.  (italics are mine)

There is always talk about the need for a revolution in this country.  Some people are always unhappy and griping about conditions, trends, policies, etc. The American public is referred to as sheep without the will to fight for change.   From time to time I have been among those who felt that way.
But when weren't governments run by greedy despots, or foolish dolts, or evil murderers?  And for centuries the people have borne their crimes and sins and that appears to be the way of life.
Still there is great variety in the herd, and many ordinary people do lead full lives.  I do not have the power to know what every individual thinks nor the right to tell them what to think.  I do not have the right to decide what makes others happy.  I have no reason to interfere with their freedom to live their lives their own way.
Most people do not want to be in charge of the lives of others.  It is an onerous and thankless task.  And I have learned that revolution, even worthy ones, will kill its dissenters as easily and cheaply as any established despotism.
In the end, it seems, all systems will resort to the gun, the whip or the prison cell.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Obama is a big disappointment.

I have seen enough.  President Obama has lost my support.  He has not and will not provide the change he talked about and promised.
He is in bed with the Pentagon, with the lobbyists, with corporate America (the shadow government) and even with the worst of the Republican party.
He will sleep with any party or group or faction that makes him look good.
He knows how to talk;   he knows the right things to say.  If you listen to his words, he's wonderful.  But we need more than words.  Especially words that don't match  actions.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


"America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.  She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."

                    John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States