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


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Erik Prince, Master of War, Blackwater USA

Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater USA, is the subject of a new book, Master of War, written by Suzanne Simons, an experienced journalist and presently an executive producer for CNN.  The book is a balanced assessment of an intriguing entrepreneur whose ambition and drive and vision resulted in the creation of a corporation that privatized operations in military combat zones.
But this book is about much more than the life of one man or the company he founded.  It is about fundamental change in the way the American government fights wars.  It is about a company that is in the business of war, a company that supplies fighters, security, weapons, equipment, training, spy capabilities, and airplanes for the purpose of profit.  It is about the outsourcing of the defense of America.
There is insufficient study and no evidence now that the cost of outsourcing some military duties saves money when there is conflict.  More than one thousand private military contractors were killed in Iraq and, as the author states, "The U.S. military does not count contractors who are killed in battle, though....taking their deaths into consideration more accurately reflects the total human cost of the war."
There was no oversight and very little coordination between the private contractors and the military.  Quoting from the book: "Combat commanders had a long list of problems when it came to contractors on the battlefield.  Teams of armed civilians were moving through battlespaces without warning.  Contractors had run through checkpoints and shot at U.S. forces, and in one case a contractor convoy had even run a military unit off the road."
To understand the lack of coordination, it should be noted that most of the Blackwater personnel were working for the Department of State in security functions and were not under the control of the Department of Defense.  Other problems with the outsourcing procedure was the lack of legal liability or punishment for private contractors who committed crimes or were charged with doing so.
A couple of incidents where innocent Iraqis died from Blackwater gunfire led to an investigation by the State department.  Former ambassador Patrick Kennedy was in charge of the investigative team.  Prior to releasing his report, he commented: "The answer is no one's ever done this before.  What is going on in Iraq now is unlike anything that I've ever read about.  It's not Germany in 1946 or Japan in 1946.  This is not Grenada, it's not Somalia, and so when you have something rolling out for which there is no precedent, you're inventing new processes as you go along." 
In other words, we were winging it.   
Blackwater is not the only private military contractor being used by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries.  Blackwater was the biggest but there are hundreds of companies with thousands of people approaching a one-to-one ratio with the troops.  Simons reports that, at one point during the war,  "70% of the U.S. intelligence budget was now being spent on private contractors with no slowdown in sight." 
People used to say that war was good for business.  Now, war itself is a business.  "The business of war."  Think about that.  Is that all it is now, another opportunity to make a buck?  How do private contractors equate profit with victory?  Which comes first in their world?
This book is more than a story on one man and the company he built.
This book is a signal fire in the night, an alarm, a warning to the American polity that the military institutions and the CIA and the Department of State are undergoing profound changes.  This is occurring without the participation, understanding, or consent of U.S. citizens.  And it is being done badly, without forethought or foresight.    Attention better be paid.

Friday, June 26, 2009


"Poetry is threatened when poets take too lively a theoretical interest in language and make it into a constant subject of meditation, when they confer upon it an exceptional status that derives less from aesthetics than from theology. ...
If we are truly to think, thought must adhere to the mind;  if it becomes independent of the mind, exterior to it, the mind is shackled from the start, idles, and has but one resource left - itself - instead of relying on the world for its substance or its pretexts.  The writer must guard against reflecting excessively upon language, must avoid making it the substance of his obsessions, must never forget that the important works have been created despite language.  A. Dante was obsessed by what he had to say, not by the saying of  it."
                                      E. M. Cioran, from Anathemas and Admirations

I wonder.  Is the above statement true?  Or merely plausible?


Thursday, June 25, 2009

The post before this one is Number Five in a series that I call A Changing America.  I try to write posts in this series without making them sound like complaints or laments.  I don't know how well I succeed because I am unhappy about the changes I describe.
I wonder if it sounds like an old man griping about a lost past and nothing more.  Can it be that people don't regret their loss?  I understand that they can't miss the examples I cite because they never experienced them.
But can it be they wouldn't prefer airline travel (to use my latest complaint) prior to deregulation?
Or not need police in their schools?
Or enjoy free air, water and service at the gas station?
Or get home visits from their doctor?
But these are primarily social or cultural issues. 
What of the huge change in our government?  Not just its size, but the range of its activities.
Why is there so much foreign involvement?  Why is there a seemingly unending string of wars:  Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq?  Are all of these countries serious threats to the U.S.?
Currently I am reading a book called Master of War by Suzanne Simons and published by HarperCollins last Tuesday June 23rd.  It is a disturbing work on the growth of private military contractors, outsourcing of military duties, and the confusion that prevails on the battlefield because there is very little planning for the interaction of private and official military operations.  I will be posting a full review of this book on the weekend.  I hope you take time to read it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Changing America (cont'd) No. 5

The following piece was written by the author Ann Hood and is taken from the op-ed page of the New York Times of December 23, 2008.  Ann Hood was a Flight Attendant for T.W.A. for eight years.  So, as Ol Blue Eyes used to sing,  Come Fly With Me !

"I know the days are gone when attendants could be written up if we did not put the linen napkins with the TWA logo embossed on them in the lower right-hand corner of the first class diners' trays.  As are the days when there were three dinner options on flights from Boston to Los Angeles - in coach.  When, once, stuck on a tarmac in Newark for four hours, a planeload of passengers got McDonald's hamburgers and fries courtesy of the airline.
I have experienced the decline of service along with the rest of the flying public.  But I believe I have felt it more acutely, because I remember the days when to fly was to soar.  The airlines, and their employees, took pride in how their passengers were treated.  A friend who flew for Pan Am and I have a friendly rivalry over which airline was better.  Friendly, yes.  But we each believe we worked for the best.
We tell stories about cooking lamb chops and dressing them in foil pantaloons;  we debate the beauty of my Ralph Lauren uniform versus her Oleg Cassini.  I like to tell her how we would have the children on board serve the after-dinner mints, delicious pale green circles with T.W.A. stamped on them, arranged on a silver tray.  We remember the service we provided - dare I say cheerfully?  Happily?  Proudly?  And when my friend and I part ways, although we hold on to our allegiances, we know that all of our passengers were served well.
Now, passengers aren't served at all.  During the meal-less flight, with scowling lfight attendants who have snickered when I asked for a blanket and the seat pockets crowded with trash,  I cannot help but remember how we passed out magazines, offered playing cards to bored passengers, refilled coffee cups.  If we didn't, passengerscomplained.  We had a stack of complaint cards at the ready, right next to the dry-cleaning vouchers we handed out if we spilled anything on someone.
....I remember the first time I stepped onto a Lockheed L-1011 as a flight attendant in 1979.  I marveled at the beauty of that plane.  I put on my apron with my name across the top, and I smiled at the people who had saved up their money, put on their Sunday best, and chosen T.W.A.  It was not so long ago that flying had that civility, that glamour, when flying through the sky really felt like something special.
Airlines offer valid excuses for cutting back service.  But what are they gaining when passengers leave a flight disgruntled, mistreated, and hungry?  It is surprising how easy it is to please passengers.  Cereal and lots of coffee in the morning can do wonders for someone who had to leave home at 4 a.m.  Pretzels and peanuts handed out with drinks make a difference in an era of flight cancellations and long security lines.
What works best of all, of course, is a smile.   I trained for six weeks to become a flight attendant.  Although the main focus was safety, I spent almost as much time learning good service.  Airline employees' frustration and exasperation are all too evident to their passengers.
When I was hired, we had a joke that to get the job we had to answer every question with, "I love people and I love to travel."  But it was true.  I loved bantering with businessmen and talking about books with passengers.  I looked forward to them telling me where they had been and where they were going.
I know times are tough for the airlines, but things weren't any better when I was flying.  The oil crises of the '70s brought not just long lines at the pump but mandatory unpaid furloughs for us in the air.  And then came deregulation;  our jobs felt as precarious as airline jobs do today.
Yet even so, we had dignity, passengers and crews alike.  We were together up there at 35,000 feet, and for those hours in the clouds and stars, all of our worries stayed on the ground below."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

From My Commonplace Book

"All of us know, whether or not we are able to admit it, that mirrors can only lie, that death by drowning is all that awaits one there.  It is for this reason that love is so desperately sought and so cunningly avoided.   Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."

James Baldwin

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Limo, anyone?

The first time I saw a 'stretch' limousine, that absurd caricature of a normal limousine,  I thought: how  juvenile are we? Can this possibly prevail? Who would not be ashamed to be seen in one?
Well, apparently, a great many people.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Short Story Where Nothing Happens

"Your life", she said, her voice heavy with concern, "is that lawn."
Arthur laughed to himself. Her statement hurt a little, was demonstrably untrue, yet he could see it as an allegory for his belief on Life.
A man will work on and care for a lawn with commitment and devotion, even love. Keep it fed, watered, and trimmed. Walk its perimeter looking for encroaching weeds. Trod its surface watchful for the brown patch that announces the arrival of a fungus, a cricket mole, or a disease. Keep clean, sharp, and well-oiled the tools, ready for their tasks.
Yet even while doing so, while walking the mower across the soft green expanse so lovingly cared for, he wondered about the future. About the man who would take his place on this lawn. How well will he keep it? Will he have the same dedication, the same love for its beauty? Or would he falter, not care, let brown patches mottle the perfect surface?
Most probably. Arthur thought to himself, indeed most likely.
Even now, no lawn in his neighborhood was as well preserved as his own. So, why, he would sometimes ask himself in moments of introspection, do I bother?
Because I must. Because it is what a man does. He knows his responsibilities by keeping them. And there is honor and pleasure in doing something well.
Arthur looked inward, smirking slightly at what he found there. I am a bourgeois, a philistine, and I know it. Easy to laugh at. Fun to scorn. But I am also a custodian. Helping in a very small way to hold things together. More by example than by results, maybe, but there is purpose.
One not only has to start somewhere; one has to finish somewhere.
Arthur stared at the house, forgiving his wife. This is the kind of thing, he thought, that a woman doesn't always understand.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Buzzwords are those annoying expressions that people use when they are too lazy or too busy to choose words of their own to express their meaning.
Over time, I have watched these phrases gets mis-used or over-used to the point where meaning is not only lost, it is garbled.
You know the buzzwords I mean: pushing the envelope, window of opportunity, a perfect storm, a tsunami, etc.
If someone experiences a flat tire and misplaces their keys and misses an appointment, all in one day, we must hear how they lived through 'a perfect storm'.
Our local TV news anchor recently described a special woman who 'not only pushed the envelope, she tore it up'.
In Monday's local newspaper, there was a front page article about judges establishing programs to help keep mortgage problems out of the courts because the legislature isn't doing enough about it. One judge is quoted: "It's very frustrating to recognize that consistently over the last three years we've sustained budget cutbacks and staff reductions in the court system and this tsunami has hit with forclosures."
The Court General Counsel stated: "We want to at least have some contact with these people so they're not deer in headlights."
Or bugs in amber?
Please! Enough, before someone pushes that envelope through the window of opportunity and kills someone.
Yes, if that happens, we will have to go back to the drawing board which every one knows is in square one and that can be found on the bottom line.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Road Not Taken

The head he had
when last he looked
was not the head
that darkness took.

The love he had
when last he cared
was not the love
his true love dared.

The pain he knew
when last he cried
was only pain
for her who tried.

Now when he hears
a church bell ring
he holds his breath
and listening

he fears that soon
his heart will know
that she has gone
two strides below.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Poem - Untitled

Summer birds have left the land, whispered south
by the urgent hands of a timeless clock.
The grass shrinks into sleep. Sticks clack to strike
the key for wind song. Winter storm has halved
the light of day. The land is dressed in white.
Red barns dwarf the boy exiled to the fields.
His footprints slur the snow to the farthest
treeless slope to look upon the buried
town below, while at his back his dog
becomes a dolphin in the snow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Unni and the Melmac plate

In October 2001 I attended the funeral of my older brother. After the funeral I joined family and friends at his home for food, chat and commiseration.
The wife of my brother's oldest friend, a Norwegian girl named Unni, related a reminiscence about meeting my brother for the first time.
Newly arrived from Norway in 1958, and newly married besides, Unni was brought to my brother's house by her husband, John, to be introduced to his best friend.
She told about her nervousness meeting new people, also remarking that, in Norway, one didn't go to someone's house uninvited so she was uncomfortable with that feeling too.
Imagine, she said, how I felt when we were asked to stay for dinner and John accepted. This is NEVER, I mean NEVER, done in Norway. Too impolite. Not proper.
Sitting at the table while it was being set, she remarked upon the dinnerware being placed in front of her. It was Melmac, a plastic dinnerware that was popular in the fifties. I gathered she found it hard to believe that it was used for dining.
My brother, never a shrinking violet, began to expound upon the virtues of Melmac, its low cost, its durability, its ease of cleaning, etc. "Besides all that", my brother said, "it's unbreakable." And saying that, he picked up a dinner plate and tossed it on the tiled kitchen floor to prove his point, only to see the plate shatter in pieces.
Everyone broke into laughter. Including Unni. She ended the story by saying she had felt welcome there ever since that day.
Unni died last Friday, June 5.
I want to retell her story here as a gesture, a blow against the End, the diminishment of Time. And as a thank you for giving another memory of my brother to me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Blackwater, Black Heart, Black Mark on America

President Obama is still using, indeed, he is increasing the use of private military contractors in the war in Afghanistan. Shame on him.
I have been opposed to this practice since I first heard of it early in the 1990's. And here is one, but only one, reason why:
Being private corporations, being capitalist ventures, these contrtactors have no incentive to end the fighting.
As we continuously hear from Capitalist Venture CEO's, their first obligation is to their stockholders.
Their corporation's importance, profits, and development will depend on maintaining the state of war.
That makes all those calls to Support Our Troops sound mendacious.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Saul Bass - look what you started!

In 1955 I saw the movie The Man With The Golden Arm. Except for braless Kim Novak, the most memorable thing about the movie (for me) was the roll of movie credits at the beginning of the film. (See video above) It was staggeringly different from the conventional presentation of credits. I noted that the person responsible for these graphics was a man called Saul Bass. What will he do next, I wondered.
Shortly after that I read a small article in the cinema section of Time magazine on Sual Bass and his work for this movie. It was full of praise for the originality and quality of the movie credits roll.
I would never have guessed that he had started a trend that would grow and grow until today the presentation of movie credits is a production of its own, separate and apart from the movie, sometimes detracting from same.
The people who make these designs won't agree with that statement, but they are the ones holding the tiger by the tail, not me, and they can't always see what they are doing.
Nina Saxon, a truly talented maker of these title sequences, has said about them: "It's about storytelling. The title sequence should feel integral to the movie, like something that was written into the script to begin with. If it feels disconnected, I don't think it's a success, even though it may be very elaborate and wonderful on its own."
Well, this is thr problem with many of these title sequences. Sometimes the words are illegible, or distorted. Other times they are presented between visuals and snippets of conversation among the movie's characters; this leaves one with the task of deciding which is more important at the moment: who made this movie or what the story is about.
Some might call this simple multi-tasking. I call it divided attention which is not what one should have when giving a close reading to a work of art.
Now I see a new element being added: the use of music, both instrumental and vocal, mixed with the credits and snatches of the story.
This becomes especially annoying when the vocals are not by singers but from moaners, groaners, screamers, shouters, criers, or hummers.
Enough already. Bring back the clean, no-nonsense, straight forward list of stars (one or two frames) and makers (five or six frames). And don't forget THE END.
I miss that too.

Friday, June 5, 2009

More on debt and the economy

Yesterday Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congress that it must do something about the projected debt the nation faces from enlarged use of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Again, we heard the same warning about the danger to the economic strength of the US from this projected but probable debt.
Bernanke did not apologise for his role in creating almost two trillion dollars worth of debt taken on to fight a danger to the economy, i.e., bank losses. He still thinks that was the right thing to do.
There is something circular and deceitful about his reasoning.
People like Bernanke never speak about raising taxes as a way to raise revenue.
People like Bernanke never speak about the year in and year out raid on the Social Security Trust Fund by every President starting with and since Lyndon Johnson.
I am still waiting for an economist to produce a paper study that would show how little of a debt threat Social Security might be today if the Trust Fund had never been used for as a subsidy for the General Fund.
But that won't happen. Why? Because it would reveal the true size of our Federal deficit. It would reveal that all our Presidents, regardless of party, have not been honest with the people.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Robert Hayden, Poet

This is Number 3 in a series of poems by professional poets listed here as a monthly entry for any and all to enjoy.

by Robert Hayden,
American Poet 1913-1980

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires ablaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?