Saturday, December 31, 2011

On fatalism

The worst type of fatalism is the elegant kind dispensed by the wealthy upon the poor.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Paul Krugman deceives, Part 1

A recent column by Paul Krugman left me asking a question of myself.  Is Mr. Krugman trying to deceive his readers or is this just one more superficial column written to meet a deadline?
The column is an attack on Ron Paul's views on economics.  The core principle of that view is the concept that printed money must be backed by gold. Mr.  Paul is opposed to "fiat money" or "monetary expansion" as practiced by the Federal Reserve since the early 1970's when the gold standard was abandoned.
Mr. Krugman points out that the "Federal Reserve doesn't actually print money (the Treasury does that).  But the Fed does control the "monetary base," the sum of bank reserves and currency in circulation. (italics mine)   So when people talk about Mr. Bernanke printing money, what they really mean is that the Fed expanded the monetary base."
I conclude this means that the Fed, using reserves and currency in circulation, i.e., existing, already printed,  "lends large sums to banks as well as buying a wide range of other assests in a (successful) attempt to stabilize financial markets, in the process adding large amounts to bank reserves.
Did you get that subtle tail of 9 words tacked to the end: 'in the process adding large amounts to bank reserves?'
Mr. Krugman ends the paragraph with this:  "The combined effect of these actions was that the monetary base more than tripled in size." 
I know that Mr. Krugman is trained in economics.  His work is recognized and read around the world.  Indeed, he has won the Nobel Prize for Economics. So why doesn't he explain how the Fed, without printing more money, can triple the size of the monetary base?
I conclude that Ron Paul is correct.  The monetary base is 'expanded' by fiat money.  Fiat is a latin term which means "let it be so."  Mr. Bernanke, finding the Fed needs trillions of dollars to stabilize the economy, says "Let it be so" and, magically, money is 'loaned', 'sent out', or 'transferred' as required or needed.  Thus the monetary base is expanded.
My dictionary defines 'expand' as "to increase dimensions of; cause to swell or distend." 
It then cites a quote from Virginia Woolf as an illustration:  "One's perceptions  blowout rapidly like air balls expanded by some rush of air."
How appropriate.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


"When a man can't piss in his own front yard, he's living too close to town."
                                                                                 Edward Abbey

Why hazing?

I do not understand the need nor use of hazing.   Never did.  As a child I read about hazing in books (Tarkington?).  Usually it was mild fraternity hi-jinks.  Still I thought it stupid and an assault on one's self-respect.
There are two instances where hazing or its equivalent is purposeful. 
The first is Basic Training for military service.  The purpose is to break down the individuality and personhood of each enlistee, resulting in people ready to accept orders without question.
The second is the initiation rite of different tribal cultures, such as the native American Indian.  These are rites overseen by a shaman and with a purpose benefitting the tribe and the individual together.
Every other version of hazing is just stupid human behavior which occasionally results in physical injury or worse, i.e., manslaughter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

An Observation

A superpower is the antithesis of conservatism.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Observation

Looking back over the past eleven years and the events that have comprised the news during that time, I have come to the following conclusion:

The cream doesn't rise to the top anymore.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vachel Lindsay and Johnny Appleseed

For me, Thanksgiving has become a day to give thanks for what we used to have.

The Apple-Barrel of Johnny Appleseed
   by Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

On the mountain peak, called 'Going-To-The-Sun,'
I saw gray Johnny Appleseed at prayer
Just as the sunset made the old earth fair,
Then darkness came;  in an instant, like great smoke,
The sun fell down as though its great hoops broke
And dark rich apples, poured from the dim flame
Where the sun set, came rolling toward the peak,
A storm of fruit, a mighty cider-reek,
The perfume of the orchards of the world,
From apple-shadows:  red and russet domes
That turned to clouds of glory and strange homes
Above the mountain tops for cloud-born souls: --
Reproofs for men who build the world like moles,
Models for men, if they would build the world
As Johnny Appleseed would have it done -
Praying, and reading the books of Swedenborg
On the mountain top called 'Going-To-The-Sun.'

Thursday, November 10, 2011

About Penn State

Some thoughts about the scandal at Penn State:

A man rapes a ten year old boy in a shower room.  Another man observes but walks away.
Both men had choices.  The choices they made were evil.  The choices that each man made did not concern the boy.  The rapist satisfied his need.  The coward was torn about his duty as a member of an organization that included the rapist.
One wonders: if the rapist had been a stranger, someone not associated with the university, would the observer have walked away?  We'll never know.
The most important thing to remember here is the Child.   Children have no power.  Their worth is minimal in situations like this.   I have posted about abuse of children before, here and here  That kind of crime is as old as the human race and will be with us forever or until we stupidly agree to be genetically and eugenically modified for 'the greater good.'
Homo homini lupus est, said a Roman, millenia ago.  "Man is a wolf to man."  Power is the source, and the motive.
One wonders, too, how these men, the coach, the assistant coaches, the university administration,  went about their daily business knowing what they knew.  What did they say to each other?  What feelings did they suppress?  What face, what mask did they wear?
People wonder about the institutional and personal failure to react as required by what we define as normal human behavior as well as the requirements of our laws.  How did this happen?  Why didn't the hammer of justice come down hard at the discovery of the first instance of abuse?
This is the way of the world.  Institutions protect their own.   It is the way of the world.
Now there will be lectures on the need to have or improve ethics training.  Such talk is busy work for frightened minds.  Most people know the difference between right and wrong. 

It might be more useful to consider this:
The last 60 years have seen  steroidal growth, an over-development of all institutions that are supposed to enrich, regulate and direct this society toward high aims and useful outcomes.  The field of athletics, of sports, of games, of adult play has grown into a multi-million dollar industry and  into a monstrous domain of money, zealous adulation, mis-placed power, and corruption of the soul.
Restore football to its original purpose as a college sport.  Restore the coach to his original position of teacher of rules, of training, of goals, of sportsmanship.  Restore football to the game.  It is not a religion.  College football is not for making money.

Consider this from an interview with Guy Davenport:
"The high schools are evidently teaching nothing.  I was getting students who had read nothing, knew nothing, and thought the university existed for the sake of the Kentucky Wildcats.  It's shortsighted of Disney not to have built an amusement park:  College World, with fraternities, sororities, sports, endless partying, but no classes or libraries or labs.  It would not be appreciably different."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Too big to fail, BUT NOT too big to jail

Tonight, on CBS News,  Mr. Jack Bogle, founder and CEO of the Vanguard Mutual Trust Fund (the largest mutual fund in the country) stated that "wire tapping" and "more law enforcement" were required to correct the abuses of Wall Street.  He believes there has to be "punishment" to make people change.
If someone from OWS spoke like this, blogs and pundits by the score would be ridiculing and condemning this as class warfare, socialism, crazy, and more.
I find it heartening to learn that there are major financiers who know that greed and fraud are killing the American economy.  I wish more of them would speak out or write op-ed columns.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Filibuster or cowardice?

When a vote in the Senate of the United States is 51 to 49, the side with 51 votes wins and the bill is passed.
No, I'm told, that is the way it used to be.  Now the opposition uses the threat of a filibuster and the victory disappears.
This is an expression of intellectual dishonesty and abdication of duty. 
I believe that the Senate should force the opposition to filibuster rather than cave in and accept it as a foregone conclusion.  Make the opposition talk and talk and talk until the nation has had enough of it and  sees who needs to be replaced or forces the opposition to give up and accept the will of the majority who voted for the bill.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Reading Wallace Stevens

    Sometimes I find poetry by Wallace Stevens very challenging.  To understand his work, I write it out in prose.  This provides a perspective to understand his intention.
Recently I wrote out in prose the Stevens poem titled "The Men That Are  Falling."  When done, I was struck by how effective the writing seemed.   My understanding of the poem in this form  surpassed any pleasure I had found in its original structure.  I was reminded of the stories of Joseph Conrad.  The words seemed to have more heat.

Then I got the idea of posting the prose form to see if anyone could mis-identify the original writer.  Of course, it got ID'd rather quickly by Frank Wilson of Books, Inq.  (See comments below.)

Here is the poem in prose, followed by the poem in its original poetic form.  Please read both and see what you think.

"Gods and all  angels sing the world to sleep, now that the moon is rising in the heat and crickets are loud again in the grass.  The moon burns in the mind on last remembrances.
     He lies down and the night wind blows upon him here.  The bells grow longer.  This is not sleep.  This is desire.  Ah!  Yes, desire...this leaning on his bed, this leaning on his elbows on his bed, staring, at midnight, at the pillow that is black in the catastrophic room...beyond despair, life an intenser instinct.  What is it he desires?  But this he cannot know, the man that thinks, yet life itself, the fulfillment of desire to the grinding ric-rac, staring steadily at a head upon the pillow in the dark, more than sudarium, speaking the speech of desolates, bodiless, a head thick-lipped from riot and rebellious cries, the head of one of the men that are falling, placed upon the pillow to repose and speak, speak and say the immaculate syllables that he spoke only by doing what he did.
     God and all angels, this was his desire, whose head lies blurring here, for this he died.  Taste of the blood upon his martyred lips, O pensioners, O demagogues and pay-men!  This death was his belief though death is a stone.  This man loved earth, not heaven, enough to die.  The night wind blows upon the dreamer, bent over words that are life's voluble utterance."

The Men that Are Falling

Gods and all angels sing the world to sleep,
Now that the moon is rising in the heat

And crickets are loud again in the grass.  The moon
Burns in the mind on lost remembrances.

He lies down and the night wind blows upon him here,
The bells grow longer.  This is not sleep.  This is desire.

Ah!  Yes, desire...this leaning on his bed,
This leaning on his elbows on his bed,

Staring, at midnight, at the pillow that is black
In the catastrophic room...beyond despair,

Like an intenser instinct.  What is it he desires?
But this he cannot know, the man that thinks,

Yet life itslf,  the fulfillment of desire
In the grinding ric-rac, staring steadily

At a head upon the pillow in the dark,
More than sudarium, speaking the speech

Of absolutes,  bodiless, a head
Thick-lipped from riot and rebellious cries,

The head of one of the men that are falling,  placed
Upon the pillow to repose and speak,

Speak and say the immaculate syllables
That he spoke only by doing what he did.

God and all angels, this was his desire,
Whose head lies blurring here, for this he died.

Taste of the blood upon his martyred lips,
O pensioners, O demagogues and pay-men!

This death was his belief though death is a stone.
This man loved earth, no heaven, enough to die.

The night wind blows upon the dreamer, bent
Over words that are life's valuable utterance.

(Which form is more effective for you?)

A Reckoning

The hated are dead.
The field is clear.
Yet pain lives on,
No answer here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wars of Liberation

Does anyone remember when the Soviet Union recommended starting Wars of Liberation around the world?
Remember how our government condemned these dangerous activities?
Now the Soviet Union is no more, and the United States of America is promoting Wars of Liberation.
What happened?   Did I miss something?

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Many important people are upset about the alleged attempt to arrange an assassination of the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil.  Many self-important people are upset, also.
I don't like it either.  But I can't quite feel the outrage that infects Hillary Clinton and Bill O'Reilly, for example.
I don't forget our history.  I remember the assassination of Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the U.S., who was riding in an automobile with his assistant Ronni Moffitt, and the driver, Ronni's husband, Michael Moffitt.  The car was blown up as it traveled through Washington D.C..  Letelier & Mrs. Moffitt were killed.  Michael Moffitt was injured.  The assassination was order by General Pinochet, the dictator of Chile, and our ally.
The American government was properly 'horrified' by this incident and 'condemned' it in the 'strongest possible language.'
But no one wanted to take action against Chile or invoke sanctions.  Why?  Because Chile was the main player in Operation Condor which consisted of a group of Latin American right-wing dictators who plotted to kill communist and socialist politicians whom they opposed.  The United States performed a 'supervisory role' in Operation Condor which is a euphemism for providing money, training, support and a target list.
In recent years the United States has assassinated people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Pakistan and continues to do so.
We violate national boundaries and international law on a daily basis.  We no longer operate from the moral high ground.  America is losing its soul.  It makes me sick at heart to say that.  But I won't lie to myself about it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Philip Larkin, The Old Fools

When you are as old as I am (and feel), that is, older than Olduvai, you will really appreciate this poem by Philip Larkin.


What do they think has happened, the old fools,
to make them like this?  Do they somehow suppose
it's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
and you keep on pissing yourself, and you can't remember
who called this morning?  Or that, if they only chose,
they could alter things back to when they could dance all night,
or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there's really been no change,
and they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
or sat through days of thin continous dreaming
watching light move?  If they don't (and they can't) it's strange:
                          Why aren't they screaming?

At death you break up:  the bits that were you
start speeding away from each other for ever
with no one to see.  It's only oblivion, true:
we had it before, but then it was going to end,
and was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
to bring to bloom the million-petalled flower
of being here.  Next time you can't pretend
there'll be anything else.  And these are the first signs:
now knowing how,  not hearing who, the power
of choosing gone.  Their looks show that they're for it:
ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines -
                        How can they ignore it?

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
inside your head, and people in them, acting.
People you know, yet can't quite name;  each looms
like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
a known book from the shelves, or sometimes only
the rooms themselves, chair and a fire burning,
the blown bush at the window, or the sun's
faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
rain-ceased mid-summer evening.  That is where they live
not here and now but where all happened once.
                           That is why they give

an air of baffled absence, trying to be there
yet being here.  For the rooms grow farther, leaving,
incompetent cold the constant wear and tear
of taken breath, and them crouching below
extinction's alp, the old fools, never perceiving
how near it is.  This must be what keeps them quiet:
the peak that stays in view wherever we go
for them is rising ground.  Can they never tell
what is dragging them back, and how it will end?  Not at night?
Not when the strangers come?  Never, throughout
the whole hideous inverted childhood?  Well,
                               we shall find out.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Puritan Dilemma

A Tragedy in 38 Words.

Girls aroused his interest when he was young.  But he never asked them out.  He did not see girls as persons.  He wished only to fuck them.  Since his motives were impure, he could not ask them out.

Burkean Wisdom

"Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral claims upon their own appetites, in proportion as their love of justice is above rapacity......Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without."
                                                                           Edmund Burke

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Death, I'm told, is part of Life,
a mere continuation.
Then why is that sky so blue?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Play Time

Email Zola.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Ogres, whether fictional or real, are the most self-satisfied people you will ever see.

Light Show

Mark Twain observed that if the stars appeared only once a year, on that night the whole world would step outside to see them.
Of course this was before man polluted the night with excessive light.
Some years ago a comet appeared in the sky.  There was much media hoopla.  When asked if I was excited about the comet, I replied "Yes, but I would be happy just to see the Milky Way again."

The stars once gave us signs,
shapes to see, myths to find.
Orion's belt is now our share,
half a fighter standing there
looking for a vanished bear.

Beneath the night's soft shade
a quiet and untroubled glade
abides with dreams of home and place
to calm the sad and puzzled face
of man and his sinful ways.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


How much of our loss is surrender?
Do we truly 'lose' or do we give it away?
Or maybe we just let it go?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Belief versus Fact

A disturbing fact about human beings is:  People believe the opposite of what they know to be true.

This fact has been true for the masses for God knows how long. 
This fact explains why people act against their own interests.
But I felt that our institutions (government, religious, educational, corporate) were managed by people who could actively control the intellectual clash between belief and truth.
I don't feel that way now.
One listens and reads, looking for signs that the President, the Congress, the bankers and corporate leaders, and university presidents understand what is happening and know what to do.  I find no signs.

Peter DeVries nailed it in 1961 when he wrote "What people believe is a measure of what they suffer."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Calf Slobber Pie

Overheard at the Duck & Cover Restaurant, home of the Scratch & Sniff Menu:

What do you like for dessert?
I'll have some calf slobber pie.
A pause, then - Never heard of it.
Well, you've got some right there in the case.
Show me.
He points.
That is called Lemon Meringue.
Well, back home, we call it calf slobber.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quotation For Today

Under the Republicans, man exploits man.  With the Democrats, just the opposite is true.

                                                                       Anonymous Bumper Sticker

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Capitalism and Education in Partnership

Last week we had dinner with friends at a local restaurant.  Halfway through the meal, the woman next to me turned to complain about the workers who were coming to her house to do repairs or maintenance.  It was not the quality of the work that bothered her;  it was her inability to communicate and perhaps relate to them.  All were foreign immigrants.  "Where are 'our boys'?" she asked me.
In a civilized world I would have formed an answer for her but in the world where I live, a world where restaurants cannot provide a meal without loud music cascading  from the ceiling, a world where fellow diners talk as if they were on cable talk shows, I did no more than shrug my shoulders and say "It's a problem."
Here is what I wanted to say:
American Society has  spent at least three generations teaching our young people that manual labor is an endeavor that must be avoided.  It is demeaning and unpleasant to work with one's hands.  We told our children they can do better than that.  They didn't need to 'waste their lives' when they could get a college education and do 'so much better.'  We fed them TV programs, movies, and stories about fathers who were ashanmed of their jobs and wanted their children to have it better.  Fathers were telling their sons to get an education so they didn't have to work in the mines, or fix automobiles, or labor on a farm.  These stories told us that these fathers were sacrificing their happiness so their children could have a better easier life.  Teachers and counselors reinforced these admonitions.
So we have millions unemployed who have never used a tool and can't fix things to earn money.  Or won't.
I might have asked if she didn't see it happening.
I also might have inquired exactly what picture came to her mind when she spoke of 'our boys.'
But she is in her mid-eighties.  Not enough time left to do or care anything about it.  I know this because I am only a few years behind where she is now.

Wikileaks under fire again.

If you like to watch Television News as presented by CNN in the belief that you are watching an objective truth-seeking program based on integrity and facts, then you may not enjoy the hatchet job that will be done on June 12, Sunday at 8:00 PM on CNN.
Titled "Wikiwars: The Mission of Julian Assange", it is little more than a rehash of old rumours mixed with inaccuracies and detailed revelations of Assange's personal bodily features and personality idiosyncrasies.  Qualities we all have,  by the way.
This is not surprising.  CNN has tried to denigrate Assange from the beginning.  Along with the New York Times and some other publications, they are an organ  of the American Government and do the bidding of same.
The question I have is: why Assange right now, at this time?  Is it another "pre-emptive strike" that our Government is so famous for doing? 
More likely, it just time to renew the lesson of the dangers of truth-telling and whistle-blowing to the American people.
A digression here:  I wish an enterprising reporter would research who was the first person to use 'pre-emptive strike' to justify putting the country at war without following constitutional procedure.
I bet most people think it means to strike first.  My understanding is that pre-emption means the seizing of public lands within one's own nation.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Katie Couric walks away.

Katie Couric has signed off as CBS Evening News anchor after nearly five years.  Couric ended her last evening newscast by telling viewers:
 "Thank you so much for coming along with me on this incredible journey."

Well, isn't that precious?  Five years is an 'incredible journey'? 

Walter Kronkite didn't become Walter Kronkite in five years.  He began with CBS in 1950 after a dozen years of reporting around the world.  He was assigned anchor of the CBS Evening News in 1962 and stayed until his retirement in 1981 (19 years as anchor).
Tom Brokaw stayed until he retired.
Peter Jennings stayed until he died.
When Couric got the assignment in 2006, there was a lot of chatter about her being the first solo female anchor of a primetime network newscast.
She will go down in the history books with that distinction but she doesn't deserve it.  She quit.  She walked away.  The so-called 'challenge' of her 'incredible journey' wore out and she moved on because in the end, everything she does is about her.  That is the modern way.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Quote of the Day

"How much more convenient do you want to make it?  You want to go to the house?  Take  the polling booth with us?  I wouldn't have any problem making it harder.  I would want them to vote as badly as I want to vote.  I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who's willing to walk 200 miles...This should not be easy."

Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, after the Republican legislature passed a bill making the voting process more difficult and complicated.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Economy 101

Once upon a time we made our own tools.  With these tools we made the things we needed: our house, our barn, our clothes, our food.  We made things to sell and trade and use.
Then someone told us that they could make the tools we need faster and more cheaply than we could do it ourselves.  We could purchase these tools for a small price and have more time to make things we need and things we sell.
Then someone told us that they could make the things we need faster and more cheaply than we could do it ourselves.  We could purchase these things for a small price and have more time to do other things.  Since we had become quite accustomed to letting others do what we can do on our own and accustomed to paying them to do it for us, we found this new offer easier to accept.
Now we had the task of selling and trading things that others made.  This was more necessary because we had to have money to buy what we needed since we no longer made these things ourselves.
What surprise to learn that our neighbor was facing the same problem, and a great many other people as well.  So much competition meant that no one person could sell or trade enough to support their necessities.  They looked for solutions and discovered that the people who sold us our tools and clothing and food needed people to make them for them.  They were willing to pay money for this labor.
So millions of us went to work  making tools for others that we used to make for ourselves.
Over time we learned to accept corporate structure as the legitimate source of societal fulfillment.
Personal survival skills were devalued and replaced by the acquisition of money or extravagance or power. 
What one could do was less valuable than what one could buy. 
We also learned that certain words that once seemed important, words such as civics, family, community, self-reliance, thrift, ethics, etc. had been overtaken by other words:  consumer, jobs, economy, jobs, bargain, jobs, career, jobs, education, jobs, diploma, jobs, power, jobs, credit, jobs, etc.
I wrote the thoughts above after reading the following piece  by the American writer Guy Davenport:

"Take back your body from its possession by the automobile;  take back your imagination from the TV set;  take back your wealth from Congress's bottomless pit and maniac spending;  take back your skills as home makers from the manufacturers;  take back your minds from the arguments from necessity and the merchants of fear and prejudice.  Take back peace from perpetual war.  Take back your lives;  they are yours."

Friday, April 29, 2011

Born 76 years ago today

This photograph of my brother Alan was taken two or three years ago.  He is beginning one of his favorite hikes: a walk through Goose Pond State Park between Chester and Monroe, New York.
Once upon a time this road was called Lazy Hill Road.  It ran a few miles from Route 17 (now 17M) to Laroe Road.  It was populated only by dairy farms.   I have forgotten some of the names now but all the farms were located on the right side of the road with their backs to Goose Pond mountian and the creek that ran through the fields along the mountain's base.
At the top of the rise shown in the photo was the Tom Roe farm.  A mile farther was the Joe Piekara farm and then a farm called Sunnyvale which was the home of our maternal grandmother and step-grandfather, Maude and Thaddeus Mapes.  Alan and I spent a lot of our boyhood there.
Alan died last June so this is the first of his birthdays that I will observe without him.  I wrote about his death here last year.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

American Capitalism is failing

-A report has surfaced that Katie Couric is leaving the post of anchor of the CBS Evening News.    An item included in that news report states that her salary is fifteen million dollars per year ($15,000,000 each year).
That's the equivalent of $300,000 a year for 50 years.  She has a five year contract so her 5 year gross earnings have been $75,000,000.  That's $1,500,000 per year for 50 years.
Ms Couric's job is not worth that size salary.  Her talents and background and education do not support payment of that size salary.  So what was CBS paying for?  If one asks, one will hear words like 'household name', 'celebrity', 'large fan base', 'cachet', 'star', etc.
Who someone is can be important but it should not be more important than what they can do.
I cite Ms Couric only as an example of a trend that has been evident for years,  especially in sports  and entertainment.  Less well-known but equally offensive are the inflated salaries and benefits for top corporate officers.
This is a serious symptom.  The wheels and gears and chains that move and drive the American capitalistic engine are badly out of balance or sync.  There is a disproportinate relationship between product and value.  This is an infection that  weakens and devalues the structure of our economic system.
The American ecologist Eugene Odum put it very well when he wrote "Growth beyond the optimum becomes cancer."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kakistocracy is ...

...the form of government we have had for some years.  Perhaps as long ago as 1964.  It gets worse with each passing year.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A FALLING OUT -- a short story

     All Spring and Summer there was talk about a ski area being built on Mount Forge.  This news seemed strange to me because I didn't know anyone who skied.  We didn't get a lot of snow in New Jersey.  Some winters we got hardly any snow at all.  But the word was they would make their own snow, if you could believe that!
     The news of this miracle came from Billy Romp, a high school classmate of mine.  Billy had gone to work at the ski area right after graduation.  He had always worked at some odd jobs, even when he was in school.  Anyway, Billy said he had spent most of the summer raking stones off newly graded slopes and then seeding the slopes and spreading salt hay on the seed so the rains wouldn't wash the seed away.  Now they were laying two lines of pipe up the side of each slope.  These pipes would carry compressed air and water to be mixed in a 'snow gun' and discharged under pressure to release a mist in the air that would freeze and fall to earth as snow.  He said there was lots of work, all kinds of laboring and construction, and they were hard up for help.  Chair lifts were going up, and rope tows, and it was all quite exciting.
     I had fooled around all summer, taking vacation, but near Fall I was feeling edgy.  I knew I needed to be doing something, getting on with my life as my father would tell me every day.  I should make something of myself, get a trade.  My father was a carpenter and he said he could make me one too but I said no.  I know that bothered him but I didn't want to be a carpenter.
     My friends and I talked about enlisting in the military or was it better to wait for the draft.  Vietnam was heating up then.  LBJ, the cowboy President with the sniggery smile, was throwing the good old USA deeper into the mud with every speech.  My father said that joining up would be good for me, make me grow up.  He had been in World War II and believed every man should do the patriotic thing.  I thought so myself, but I wasn't ready just yet.  I think that bothered him too.
So I went to Mount Forge and applied for work.  They hired me on the spot and they made it clear that I could stay on when the construction was done and work when the area was open.  Thee would be jobs manning the lifts and tows, making snow, grooming the slopes, maintenance of equipment, work in the ski rental shop, and other stuff like that.  The ski area would be open seven days and three evening a week.
Well it worked out fine for me.  I was willing to work all the hours they gave me and that made the owner happy because the jobs were seasonal and turnover was high.  Sometimes people just stopped coming to work and there would be no one to stand at a lift station or sell tickets and I would get called and say yessir and go racing in to save the day.
     Spring came and  the weather turned mild. The snow began to disappear from the slopes.  Skiing was open only on weekends to make the snow last longer but finally there just wasn't enough snow left so the place was shut down and layoffs began.  The owner asked me if I wanted to stay on to keep the place up, doing maintenance.  I had done a good job, he said.  I would get a nice raise and a title.  Mountain Manager, it was called.  I said yes, sure enough.  I loved that title.  Billy Romp and two other guys were kept on too.
     My father said I had taken hold really well but did this job have a future?  I told him that it had next year in it anyway.  Past that I didn't know.
     The next winter my father found out that his own job had future problems.  The USA was in a recession;  construction was off, and my father was out of work.  Temporarily.  Until next Spring.  After a week or so he asked me if he could get work at the ski area.  At first I thought he meant carpentry and I said no, but he said he meant any kind of work, something to do to make money.  Well, I asked the owner and he said sure, tell him to come on in.  He's got to be good.  Life father, like son, right?
     Dad was put to work as lift operator at the top of the longest chairlift on the mountain.  The platform where he worked was made of wood and stood about 25 feet above a jagged rocky slope. On the slope side of the platform there was a booth where the operator stood to watch the approach of skiers and make sure they were ready to ski off out of the chair.  Inside the booth was an intercom phone for communication with the base terminal and a mushroom button shutoff switch.
     My father did really well.  He was older than most of the guys who worked there but he knew how to fit in.  Things got better between us. He didn't even seem to mind that I was in charge of him, or that I was paid more than he was.
     One day when things were slow I made an inspection of the chairlift towers.  I had done this before.  I'd start with the bottom tower and walk my way up the mountain on the right-of-way under the cable.  I climbed each tower and checked out the sheaves for bearing noise or wobble and how the cable was wearing on the sheave lining.  As I was climbing down from the last tower near the upper platform I saw Billy Romp riding up to relieve my father for lunch.  He smiled and waved.  I yelled at him to tell my father to wait for me, we'd ride down together.  He nodded OK.
     I finished climbing down and walked the last 100 feet to the platform.  Dad was scrunched tight to the outside of the booth talking to Billy inside.  He saw me and waved come on.
Now the rules for safe operation of the chairlift were that the lift must be stopped for anyone getting a chair for a ride down to the base.  So when I got to the platform I stood to one side and watched an empty chair swing around the terminal and start toward me and I waited for the lift to stop.  Dad went by me and stood in the path of the chair and shouted "I told Billy not to shut it off.  Let's hop on."  I started to say no but I looked at Billy and he was laughing and I knew it wouldn't stop and that I had to get in front and do this horseplay thing with my Dad.
     I think he tried to bump me a little but I'm not sure.  I know he went for his part of the seat like a kid, fast, grinning.  Like I say, I think he tried to bump me over a little, maybe not.  I know I bumped him back but, just as the moving chair approached the platform edge, I saw I had bumped too far or too hard because I could see he wasn't on the seat and the chair left the platform and my father slid down and off onto the rocks below.
     For a moment I froze, then I looked back.  My father wasn't moving.  Billy was on the intercom calling.  I turned around.  Skiers going up on the other side of the towers pointed, gaping.  What happened? one of them shouted at me.  I saw a snowmobile with two ski patrolmen on it climb the slope, their jackets the color of dried blood.  They looked like statues on a frozen sea.
     I heard later that Dad, big man that he was, had hit the rocks hard, face down, breaking ribs, crushing his heart.
     People asked me What happened?   I don't know, I said.  I'm not sure.  Happened so fast.
I couldn't say what I thought, what I felt.
     Anyway, afterwards, I got on with my life, like he always wanted.  I was happy too. but I wasn't the same.  No, I was different in a way that I didn't understand.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Capitalism isn't working

The online firm Scottrade polled 226 registered investment advisors for their opinion on the amount of retirement money people will need to live at the level of comfort they are used to enjoying.
71% of them stated that one million dollars will not be enough.  People between the ages of 25 to 42 will require 2 to 3 million dollars for a comfortable retirement.  You young'uns better get hoppin'. 

Shortly after Katrina destroyed much of the Gulf Coast economy, the Governor of Mississippi was quoted as saying the first thing to do was get the casinos in Biloxi operating because "Casinos are the life blood of the state of Mississippi".  Wow, I wonder what Adam Smith would say about that!

Writing about a particular firm in the New York Times on April21, 2007, Brad Stone stated "revenues will inevitably flatten as the company matures.  If it wants to keep treating investors to torrid growth, the company needs to develop other ways to make money."  Again, what would Adam Smith say about that?

The Adult Entertainment Industry says there is room for pornography in the economy because "a market for porn exists".  The impramatur of the market is greater than the infalliblity of the Pope.

More news on gambling.  (Proponents call it 'gaming'.  Isn't that cute?)  The state of Florida is considering changing Florida into a state with full  casino gambling.  There are casinos in Florida now, mostly run by the Seminole Indians.  It is proposed to start with twenty-six counties and proponents claim the state could get S2.5 billion in first four years from license auctions and taxes.
Of course, this is being considered because the government is running a deficit and can't meet its obligations.  Legislators refuse to tax people because people who earn their money should keep it.  Except of course, they should remember to spend their money on slot machines and card games.  Then the state can tax the profits of the casino.  That's okay.
Not enough to fund education and schools with lotteries.  We must fund police, firemen, libraries, highway construction, etc. with gambling profits.
These are ideas from the 'family values people'.  What hypocrisy.  What cowardice.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The way my time passes

Each day I ride a great white stallion through the streets of my town but no one sees it happen. 
I stalk the halls of government, leaving instructions,  notes on policy,  economic proposals.   No one reads them. 
I court the most beautiful shopgirls in town but they remain unaware.

One of my standard night dreams is a failure to please someone.  My actions, or the way I live, are an affront to another person who lives (or hovers?) nearby.  I am troubled by this but take no action to remedy it.
The person whom I fail to please is always a stranger, someone I have never seen or met before.

Whoever I am to myself, I am a different person to someone else.
I am a different person to myself now than I was when I was twenty.
How many of me have there been?
Consider how people change as they mature.  The physical aspect becomes so different with age as to make one unrecognizable to acquaintances of 50 years ago.  Are there not interior changes, cognitive and emotional, that are as drastic as the exterior changes to the physical self?   Aren't there unseen scars, old healed-over wounds.  Isn't there  a graying of the soul?

How does  one remain happy when one knows there are reasons not to be so?
Are there no negative epiphanies?
Call it Jason's paradox:  a known secret, lost in found.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Howard Nemerov - The Vacuum (1955) (wife or dog)


The house is so quiet now
The vacuum cleaner sulks in the corner closet
Its bag limp as a stopped lung, its mouth
Grinning into the floor, maybe at my
Slovenly life, my dog-dead youth.

I've lived this way long enough,
But when my old woman died her soul
Went into that vacuum cleaner, and I can't bear
To see the bag swell like a belly, eating the dust
And the woolen mice, and begin to howl

Because there is old filth everywhere
She used to crawl, in the corner and under the stair.
I know now how life is cheap as dirt,
And still the hungry, angry heart
Hangs on and howls, biting at air.

I have had multiple reactions to this poem for the time that I have been reading it.  Who is speaking?  Who is being spoken of?  What is being spoken of?  What words have multiple uses?
I know there is a vacuum in a closet;  there is a vacuum left by a death.
Perhaps a dog has died, and recently too, his 'dog-dead youth' being the first months of bereavement. 'The house is so quiet now...'  Not only because the vacuum is stored away but the dog no longer howls or bites the air.  Who has not seen a dog snap and bark at a vacuum in use?  The vacuum with its grinning mouth howls back. 
The narrator says that his old woman has died but it couldn't have been a human who crawled 'in the corner, and under the stair.'  A dog would do that.  This sounds more like a man who lived alone with a dog which served as a substitute human companion.
'life is cheap as dirt' - a common thought for someone bereaved and unaccepting, but 'the hungry angry heart hangs on' howling.
There is a richness to this poem that I can chew on for a long time.

American capitalism fails again

A favorite trick is the reduction of size in a product while the price remains the same or, in some cases, even rises.  For example, a half gallon (64 ounces) carton of orange is now 59 ounces.  They don't hide the number.  The change is overt but deceitful.
A half gallon of milk (8 cups) no longer says 64 ounces.  Instead, the label reads: 
Serving Size: one cup.
Servings per container: about 8  (emphasis mine)
Covert and deceitful.
I wonder.  Have they thought this through?  How much lower can they take the size before it becomes an embarrassment?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Joe Bageant (1946-2011)

About three years ago I discovered Joe Bageant on the internet.  I don't remember the circumstances but I am grateful for the chance to have read his work.
Joe Bageant's writing was a joy to read.  He was  funny.  His friend, Fred Reed, tells of Joe describing a girl with pierced nose, lips, eyelids, and more, looking like she had fallen face-first into an open tackle box.
Joe could  put together a critical appraisal of rural America that  swept the stage of most other players
But I was most impressed by his fight for the underclass of America.  What underclass?  Why, all of it, but especially the poor whites of Scots-Irish descent who live in rural Appalachia.  Joe did not romanticize them.  He acknowledged their racism, their parochialism, their culture which was so much less stellar than that found in Boston, LA, or New York City.  But he recognized their pride, and their worth as humans.  And he railed against the system that ignored them, pretending they weren't there.
But let him say it:  


Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Bitter Philosophy

Lon Chaney's last words in this clip have a terrible truth that transcends cynicism or nihilism.  Yet, they do not represent an answer.  And, the lesson is always learned too late.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quotation from Wendell Berry

"And it is one of the miracles of science and hygiene that the germs that used to be in our food have been replaced by poisons."

                                         Wendell Berry,  "The Unsettling of America"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

American Capitalism isn't working

Lower wages and lower labor costs are desirable goals. 
Lower prices are not a desirable goal.  That's labeled 'deflation.'
Most people are required to borrow to buy what they need.
A policy of pay-as-you-go is not possible for most people, including the various governmental entities.
The so-called Law of Supply and Demand isn't working, viz., the oil market.
An economy that grows vigorously is preferred to an economy that grows slowly while remaining stable.
A 'higher' Standard of Living is preferred to a sensible Standard of Living.
It is wrong to 'make work' but it is good to take work away.
When labor costs are reduced, prices continue to rise.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What!  did the Hand then of the Potter shake?

                                      -Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat

Wisdom from George F Kennan

"This brings us to the questions of "human rights."  Let us first glance at the extent of our involvement in this cause.  The Department of State , as I understand it, in addition to harboring the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs headed by an assistant secretary of state, now has a "human rights officer" attached to the normally already redundant staff of every American diplomatic mission anywhere.  One part of the duties of these particular officials is said to be  the preparation of an annual report on the human rights record, so called, of the host country.  The department, for its part, maintains in Washington a "human rights reports team", to read and ponder such reports and to prepare a consolidated report for congress.  It does all this, to be sure, not solely of its own volition;  these procedures are now, at  least in part, required by law.  But what is under consideration here is not the involvement of the Department of State alone but of our government as a whole in the question at issue.  And thus extravagantly do we, like a stern schoolmaster clothed in the mantle of perfect virtue, sit in judgments over all other governments, looking sharply down the nose of each of them to see whether its handling of its domestic affairs meets with our approval.

That these commitments constitute one more limitation on our freedom of action in foreign affairs - one more instance in which we have committed ourselves in advance to behave in a given way in a wide category of instances, none of which can be specifically foreseen - is beyond doubt.  And is this justified?
Let us recall that the manner in which regimes customarily treat their subjects, worldwide, is largely a matter of tradition, habit, and popular concepts of what is right and what is wrong.  All these are subject to change, to be sure, over long periods of time, but seldom, if the results are to be lasting, can the change be abrupt.

It is the habit of a great many regimes, across the surface of the globe, to deal harshly with those of their nationals who have opposed their positions of power, or who are suspected of doing so.  In most instances, their opponents, if the shoe were on  the other foot, would behave in much the same way.  The incentives to such behavior are never-ending, and unless the national traditions and political habits sternly rule them out, they will normally be yielded to.  The pressures of outside opinion may occasionally cause the respective regime to  go a bit easier for a time in this respect; but unless these pressures are supported by the inherited political culture of the place, and particularly by the existence and tradition  of democratic self-government, such gestures of moderation  are not apt to be lasting.
The pressure of outside opinion about human rights sustained oer long periods of time, can indeed produce beneficial changes in both attitudes and institutions.  The role of private opinion in this direction, when applied in support of gradual change, is important and should be welcomed.  Whether governments, and the U.S. government in particular, should be involved in exerting such pressures is more dubious.  In this respect, governments have to take the world pretty much as they find it.  Their task - at least, the task of the U. S. government, as I perceive it - is to conduct its own relations with other governments in a manner conducive to a minimum of bilateral friction and to the maximum of usefulness to world peace and stability.  This will be most effective if the sound old principle on noninterference in the other's domestic affairs is respected - if the lines of responsibility, in other words, are clearly recognized.  This includes the responsibility of each regime for the governing of its own people.  Each of them has, alone, the power to shape the situation in this respect.  It must be, from the standpoint of morality, the judge of its own behavior.  Outside pressure, particularly from another government, is seldom helpful, and may be counterproductive.

For a foreign government to exert such pressure, in circumstances impossible to foresee, for an indefinite time into the future, strikes me as in all respects a questionable procedure;  and I cannot but regret the lengths to which we have shown ourselves prepared to go, and the leadership we have even taken internationally in promoting, on the governmental level, the cause of "human rights."

The die is now cast.  Formal obligations have been entered into.  The practice has found sanction in American public opinion.  So be it.  But I would ask it to be noted that this is one more instance where indulgence of the desire to appear virtuous in our own eyes has placed limitations on the area in which we should have the flexibility to act usefully in more significant areas of international life."

George F. Kennan (Around the Cragged Hill, 1993, W W Norton & Co.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Impeach Obama

Successive unconstitutional precedents on war powers have brought us to this:  a President will initiate military action on a foreign power without cause or congressional approval. 
 The decision was taken by the President when he was out of the country. The President did not consult with Congress.   Obama did not even notify Congress.
At a press conference today, President Obama said the action was necessary because a UN resolution "was a mandate" for conducting acts of war on the nation of Libya.
This man is a constitutional lawyer?!!!? 
Now, a President with the approval of a vote in the UN Security Council has the authority to use American military resources to conduct foreign wars.  If that is his position,  impeachment proceedings should begin at once.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dilbert's Aphorism

"Teamwork means you can't pick the side that's right."

Wallace Stevens speaks to us

Idiom of the Hero

I heard two workers say, 'This chaos
Will soon be ended.'

This chaos will not be ended,
The red and the blue house blended,

Not ended, never and never ended,
The weak man mended,

The man that is poor at night

Like the man that is rich and right.
The great men will not be blended...

I am the poorest of all.
I know that I cannot be mended,

Out of the clouds, pomp of the air,
By which at least I am befriended.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mind your DOR's

That's what Grandmother used to say.  "Mind your DOR's"
What are they, Grandma?
They are your Duties, Obligations, and Responsibilities."
What about our rights?
"You are born with those.  Your DOR's are given to you.  If you pay attention to them,  your rights will always be there.  ______________________________________________________________________________________

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's that again?

Last evening I listened to correspondent Ben Wedeman on CNN describe why the Libyan people were fighting so valiantly to overthrow their government.
Can't quote verbatim but he pretty much said the following:

"They're angry.   This is a wealthy country, rich in oil revenues but the people are not sharing in that wealth.  They are angry seeing their young men sent to fight wars in Africa that they have no interest in.  They're angry about having no real voice in how their country is run.  They can't afford an education.  They're sick of the corruption."

Listening to this, I turned to my wife and half-joking I said "He could be describing the United States."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Secretary Robert Gates on War

 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made an unusual statement while speaking to an assembly of West Point cadets on Friday, February 25th.  Secretary Gates is reported to have said the following:
"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it."
This statement is a disturbing example of the poor leadership pervading  our government.  At first glance, it seems daring.  After all, a prominent Defense Secretary has indirectly (i.e., without naming him) criticized the actions of his predecessor.  But  no boldness is required  to say this in a protected environment, and not a public place where it may get recorded on video and where he may receive questions about his statement.
Also, the remarks come seven years too late.  He offers no remedy for the mistakes  which he supervises and struggles to control as he nears the end of his career.
As a military historian, Mr. Gates is not doing a very good job either.  His interpretation of MacArthur's remark is flawed.  When MacArthur made the 'head examined' comment he said that a President should avoid  "a land war in Asia."  At the time, it was clear that the reference was to China.
Secretary Gates changed 'land war' to 'land army' and widened the geography to include the Middle East and Africa.  Of course, most of the propaganda machine, sometimes referred to as the American press, reworked Gates' comment and  put the phrase 'land war' in many versions of his quoted statement.
Another reason why Gates' statement  is no great shakes is the knowledge (finally!) among even the hardest of hard heads that the land wars of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were dismal failures and losses. 
I know there are still some neocons who believe we should police every nation in the world but they seem isolated at last.  But the trend outlined by the Secretary is to "reshape" the Army (meaning downsize) and depend more on naval and air forces to support our policies.
So the prospect of fewer wars isn't in the forecast.  The plan is to make war just as often as necessary but to have less loss of life and revenue in the undertaking of it.  How much less, of course, is up for speculation.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Oil spill? What oil spill? Didn't we fix that?

This nation's incompetency grows deeper with each day that passes.  Not only the government, but the institutions of education, religion, military, and finance seem unable to right themselves and restore direction and purpose to their tasks.
Click link below for one example:


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Music of Birds

I am grateful for bird song.  For many reasons.

1.  It doesn't change.  The Baltimore oriole, the wren, the white-throated sparrow, their warbling of 70 years ago is the same beautiful song today.  And I never tire of it.
2.  Bird song has no genres, no categories or sub-categories.
3.  No video.  Always live in concert.
4.  No batteries are required.
5.  It's free.
6.  No singing at night.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Meditation, by John Donne

Variable, and therefore miserable condition of Man;  this minute I was well, and am ill, this minute.  I am surprised with a sudden change, and alteration to worse, and can impute it to no cause, nor call it by any name.   We study Health, and we deliberate upon our meats, and drink, and air, and exercises, and we hew, and we polish every stone, that goes to that building, and so our Health is a long and regular work;  But in a minute a Cannon batters all, overthrows all, demolishes all;  a Sickness unprevented for all our diligence, unsuspected for all our curiosity;  nay, undeserved, if we consider only disorder, summons us, seizes us, possesses us, destroys us in an instant.  O miserable condition of Man, which was not imprinted by God, who as he is immortal himself, had put a coal, a beam of Immortality into us, which we might have blown into a flame, but blew it out, by our first sin;  we beggared ourselves by hearkening after false riches, and infatuated our selves by hearkening after false knowledge.  So that now, we do not only die, but die upon the Rack, die by the torment of sickness;  nor that only, but are preafflicted, superafflicted with the jealousies and suspicions, and apprehensions of Sickness, before we can call it a sickness;  we are not sure we are ill;  one hand asks the other by the pulse, and our eyes ask our urine, how we do.  O multiplied misery!  we die, and cannot enjoy death, because we die in this torment of sickness;  we are tormented with sickness, and cannot stay till the torment come, but preapprehensions and presages, prophecy those  torments, which induce that death before either come;  and our dissolution is conceived in these first changes, quickened in the sickness itself, and born in death, which bears date from these first changes.  Is this the honour which Man hath by being a little world, That he hath these earthquakes  in himself, sudden shakings;  these lightnings, sudden flashes;  these thunders,  sudden noises;  these Eclipses, sudden offuscations, and darknings of his senses;  these Blazing stars, sudden fiery exhalations;  these Rivers of blood,  sudden red waters?  Is he a world to himself only therefore, that he hath enough in himself, not only to destroy, and execute himself, but to presage that execution upon  himself;  to assist the sickness, to antedate the sickness, to make the sickness the more irremediable, by sad apprehensions, and as if he would make a fire the more vehement, by sprinkling water upon the coals, so to wrap a hot fever in cold Melancholy, lest the fever alone should not destroy fast enough, without this contribution, nor perfect the work (which is destruction) except we joined an artificial sickness, of our own melancholy, to our natural, our unnatural fever.  O perplexed discomposition, O riddling distemper, O miserble condition of Man!