.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Nine Trillion Dollars!

The U.S. Congress just passed a last minute bill authorizing the U.S. Government to deepen its debt still more, so that now it stands at nearly nine trillion dollars. This goes along with the modern Republican policy of keeping the country awash in red ink, along with their other policies of keeping the nigg- -- er, the Muslims -- down,engaging in wholesale corruption, destroying hard-won rights of all kinds, and on and on

I expect that Mr. and Mrs. America, as usual, will little note nor long remember this nominally disturbing situation. One reason for this will be that the size of that debt is so astronomical that it can't be easily grasped.

On her program this morning, Rachel Maddow passed along a striking image that is intended to help us. Nine trillion dollars would be the value of twenty-eight (28) full-sized Eiffel towers made entirely of gold!

But I'm not sure that even picturing that is of much help.

In reporting this debt people like to add that this means that every American individually owes thirty thousand dollars.

Fat chance however that anyone has of making them band together in an enormous patriotic effort to gather it together.

So how will such an enormous debt be paid, to the shadowy figures here and abroad to whom it is owed? And why are so few normally prudent people worried about it?

After they mention the 30 thou that each of us owes, commentators like to suggest that we are passing on the burden of repaying this lordly sum to "our children." But that ignores the fact that distant generations are only extensions of this one, and the characters will be almost exactly the same, and they won't have any more interest in coughing up all that dough than we do.

It is of little comfort to recall that the first and last time the U.S. government was free of debt was during the administration in the early 1830's of Andrew Jackson -- except, maybe, to note that he was also the first President of the newly formed Democratic Party.

Alone Again

I haven't laid eyes on another human being in nearly five days.

No, I'm not in solitary confinement or deep underground or even holed up in an apartment somewhere. My life is going on pretty much as always, and I'm outside a lot, and my house is little more than 100 feet from a road. The road, being gravel and in one of the less fashionable parts of a small, deeply rural county in Virginia, is very lightly traveled. Nevertheless I can easily see cars passing by now and then, and I suppose some of the drivers see me, especially if I'm in motion, but the distances and my vision are such that I can never make out even blobs inside the vehicles.

This isn't the first time that this has happened. Actually it's a regular thing, due to the frequent trips that my wife takes, to see her numerous relatives or on trips to foreign countries. And that is where she is now, in Florida to check up on her mother and stepfather.

I wonder what the statistics are on this kind of thing. I wonder how many people never go through even one day in their entire lives without seeing another person. I would guess that that is a huge percentage, and maybe I could flatter myself in thinking that out of the world's total of six billion-plus humans, in going for days without seeing even one of them I may be in a minority of less then a million!

Yet I am not lonely, for in many ways this is the way it has always been.

My mother liked to tell the story of how when my sister and I were small children, my sister contracted scarlet fever, and while she was in the house recovering from that highly serious malady, I sat on the front steps for long periods and happily told everybody who passed and who might have the slightest interest, that they couldn't come inside because my sister was sick.

Now, so many decades later, I have plenty of interesting things to do, indoors and out, and it's not a bad situation.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Air America Watch

Last night I saw a riveting movie. It was a Netflix offering, "Left of the Dial," a DVD about the founding of the Air America network, as documented, I believe, by HBO. Though I wouldn't expect the film to be riveting for many others, it was for me because in recent months I've been listening to Air America for 6 or 7 hours a day, and on weekends too. The several hosts on their two- and three-hour stints apiece have become familiar to me, and naturally I had been wishing I could get a better look at them and at Air America in general, and this film filled the bill though it was necessarily disappointing in a couple of respects.

The "necessarily" was caused by the severely restricted time frame and by the film's limited focus. The film covered events beginning with not long before the first broadcast and ending shortly after that and after the national elections in that same year, 2004. And though the film showed many broadcasting moments, the focus was on the network's early financial difficulties, after affiliates in two of the three main markets, Chicago and Los Angeles, quickly dropped the network, claiming that Air America's checks had bounced. So there was an element of suspense, though not much, because now, two years later, Air America is not only still very much here, and not only are the arguments of its hosts being heavily borne out these days, but also at last count Air America is being broadcast over at least 89 stations, and some of its stars are outrating various right wing top dogs.

At the time, Al Franken was the biggie in the Air America lineup, and his show was the first to air on the first day. And after him came Randi Rhodes and then Jeanine Garofolo along with Sam Seder, and finally, of those hosts that are still there and so are known to me, the two Marks, Riley and Maron, though their Morning Sedition show has since been split into two parts, and only Riley is holding forth at the same spot -- and no wonder, because Maron had some sort of chip on his shoulder at the beginning, and that must be why he was moved out later, though not permanently.

Meanwhile Randi Rhodes didn't relish her second billing, and ever true to herself, she didn't hide her pique. She argued that she had been doing radio for 20 years, while that historic day in 2004 was Franken's first turn at the mikes. But Randi must've been comforted when she saw how the film was edited in such a way that she had the lion's share of the best rants, and in so doing she outdid even much of her present work. In her natural "habitat," she wasn't nearly as glamorous as she appears on her web site or on Air America's home page, but then she isn't renowned in the same respects as Halle Berry and Mariah Carey. She is famous instead for the force of her intellect and her personality, and that came out strongly here.

The narrow time frame meant, however, that Air America's fiercest host, Mike Malloy, wasn't shown because he wasn't aboard yet. That was a disappointment. I wanted to see him hurling his favorite epithet, "those rat bastards!" at the Republicans. Rachel Maddow was shown but only doing secondary stuff and only in shots that showed her left profile -- the film makers didn't anticipate that she would rise to become one of Air's stop stars in her own right.

Michael Moore made a brief appearance in the film. I think he gave a guest interview on that first day or shortly afterward, but then something happened and he left in a huff -- and that may help explain why, despite his stature in the cause, he is seldom mentioned by any of the hosts.

It gave me a good feeling to see this film. It gave me something that I've rarely felt -- a strong sense of belonging to a community, though I have to confess, with difficulty, that I haven't sent Air any money yet.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Secrecy Disease

In his recent session with Britt Hume, in which he explained away hitting an aged hunting companion in the head, neck, and chest with birdshot fired from a shotgun, Dick Cheney's concluding statement was that the greatest problem afflicting the country is the failure to maintain secrecy.

Yet, when he wants to get on a safe subject, his partner, G.W. Bush likes to trot out the importance of education.

Education is the giving of information.

Secrecy is the withholding of information.

Therefore these two men are talking out of both sides of their twisted mouths, and that's one reason why the Government that they head is in such an impaired and corrupt state.

In an atmosphere of free and open giving of information, humans are at their best. In an atmosphere of giving no information and lying, which are pretty much one and the same, humans are at their worst.

It's no accident that so many bad movie plots turn on characters not telling others things, when to do so would be far from the end of the world. That is the work of lazy writers and directors, just as a secretive and therefore bad government is the work of trifling administrators.

In better days that are not that long past, a popular expression was, "letting it all hang out."

A sure sign that even our supposedly free and open media outlets are sleeping at their posts is that you no longer hear that kind of virtue extolled much.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Paradoxes, Anomalies, Inconsistencies, Contradictions, or What-Have-You

"The Myth of Sisyphus" is a short essay by Albert Camus, a distinguished French philosopher of the past century. It can be found toward the end of a collection of the same name, and it, or at least its translation into English, is a true glory of the written word. Camus was known for his explorations of the phenomenon of the absurd in human affairs, and to that end he began his essay with the following passage, which may strike one as being a paradox, an anomaly, an inconsistency, or a contradiction and therefore a puzzle but which was, to him, perfectly clear.

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor [which would be a good definition also of keeping up a weblog like this without making any effort to advertise it, except that that is not "dreadful"].

If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. According to another tradition, however, he was disposed to practice the profession of highwayman. I see no contradiction in this.

Unfortunately Camus doesn't immediately follow with an explanation of why he doesn't see a contradiction. I suppose we are supposed to be able to make that deduction from other things that he said before and afterward.

I can't offer an explanation, and I wouldn't want to even if I could. Instead it makes a good bone of thought to chew on instead of breaking it up and swallowing it whole. ...Paradoxes are a big part of the stuff of life.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Answering with Anger: Another Example

The foolishness of answering dire events with uncontrolled anger doesn't apply only to individuals. Large groups can be and often are even guiltier of this because their actions are much more sweeping and therefore more consequential. A good example is the response to the losses at the World Trade Center in 2001.

Four and a half years later, what do we have? What we have is nothing much of a positive nature. Instead we exist in a negative condition in which the damage wrought by Atta's men has been compounded by the very people who have called themselves ensuring that nothing of the kind will happen again while at the same time wreaking revenge on the perpetrators. U.S. civil liberties have been defiled, and the country has become even more of a prison state, at home and abroad. Numerous terror wolf tickets have been issued and bought. Numerous people have been arrested, though of course that doesn't include any of those who were actually aboard the planes and so had the strongest hand in the misdeeds, and the force that assisted them still exists, along with its most prominent figures.

In an atmosphere of mistaking the events of 9/11 for the actions of foreign governments, an outcry of "war!" shot up, and instead of making it a police responsibility, which was all that the attacks deserved for all the unexpected devastation that they caused, the seriousness was ratcheted up to an unsustainable level. Troops and machines were sent in not only to strike but also to occupy two small countries in which no one from the populations of either was among the hijackers of those airliners, and you wouldn't have found many inhabitants of bombed Kabul or bombed Baghdad who had contributed to the training of the terrorists as much as was done right here in this country, where numerous citizens, though unknowingly, helped Atta & Co. learn how to operate the liners and how to move through the American culture virtually unseen.

In that climate of blind fury members of the offending group were merely routed from one country to another, where accommodations were prepared for them by similarly routing the leadership of that second country, Iraq, as well -- much to the delight of Bin Laden and his cohorts, because they had never cared for Saddam Hussein anyway. He had been able to keep them out, whereas the Bush invasion pulled them in. Now, as a result of allowing itself to be guided more with anger than with care, the U.S. Government finds itself caught fast in not one but two quicksands Soviet-style, with not much prospect of extricating itself from either one any time soon, and with the Taliban, the Bin Laden people, and numerous other villains who have lately added themselves to the mix still alive, undaunted, active, and laughing. Meanwhile tens of thousands of people who wouldn't otherwise have died just yet are dead, not at the hands of the hijackers but at the hands of men who, while out hunting, are in the habit of wheeling and firing without much regard for the directions in which their weapons are pointed.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Biggest Cause of Evil

The longer I think about it, the more certain I am that the lion's share of the evils of the world are caused by laziness.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Mike Malloy: Answering with Anger

One should never respond quickly to any development that provokes intense anger, because it is nearly 100 percent certain that whatever one does while in that state of mind will turn out to be inappropriate and stupid and will only make things worse.

Mike Malloy is the most volatile of several extra-fiery hosts on Air America. Randi Rhodes and Jeanine Garofolo are the others though they are distant seconds to Malloy, maybe because they are female and so suffer from built-in discretion in spite of themselves. Yesterday, while filling in for Rhodes, who was away defending herself against being sued, Malloy lost it while reporting that only nine among the 45 Democrat Senators voted against the renewal of the Gestapo ...er, the Patriot Act. In a fit of rage on the air, Malloy announced that never again would he so much as call the names of those Democrats who had voted wrong, and he told his listeners that if they still wanted to vote for those people, they might as well vote for the Republicans instead.

Mike Malloy is one of my two favorite broadcasters on Air America. The other is Ms Maddow. I have a lot of admiration for him. For years Malloy has been one of the most steadfast and right-on-the-mark advocates of the progressive/liberal cause. Yet the attitude and the advice that he offered here are perfect examples of how extreme pique can fatally distort a person's otherwise impeccable message.

I see what he recommended as being no sort of an option, and instead it is -- can I say it? -- harmful and even idiotic, and the fact that he was using the spoken instead of the written word and so presumably had no time to measure his utterances is no excuse, because it reveals a pernicious attitude that is too often present. By that I mean the temptation that many liberals seem to feel to stick pins into the Democrats at the slightest provocation, to the point that sometimes they do this almost more than they attack Republicans.

Because of this I have come to dread hearing radio call-ins on Air America because so many callers, while professing to be liberal and so ostensibly on the Democrats' side, can't resist taking side jabs at Democrats who veer off onto the shoulder of the road once in a while. (I'm not talking about the likes of a J. Lieberman. He is of course an out and out Republican wearing a raggedy mask.) The only answer must be that there's something fashionable about it. It must be that barrel of horse hockey called being sophisticated.

I think it is far better to save that ire for the Republicans, and I always want to ask, "What's the alternative?" I don't see any. Third parties? Ross Perot and Ralph Nader have shown that, in modern times at least, third parties only take votes away from one or the other of the Big Two while never drawing enough votes for themselves to make them anything more than just passing phenomena, spoilers and that's all.

So, no matter what individual Democrats might do, I don't see how there's any getting around the fact that their party is far preferable to the G.O.P., and that is likely to stay true far into the future, maybe for generations. That is because the Republicans, in their haste to become dominant, bought into the "Southern Strategy" too heavily and swallowed whole the Southern demogogues whom the Democrats had regurgitated, beginning in the 1960's, and it will take another long while for the Republicans to finish passing that indigestible lump that, along with their chronic curse throughout their history, the Big Money, has uglified them so.

So instead of "pitching a bitch," as the more poetic-minded in my military days might have put it, Mike Malloy and others should stay calm and instead try to get an understanding of why those Senators voted the way they did. That kind of response is much better for the blood stream and for the two optic systems.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Our Friends in Dubai

The plan to lease all those American ports to a company in the small country of the United Arab Emirates carried more than its share of astonishment, and that's saying something, considering how incredibly prolonged this period has been in which we hear so many revelations of the misdeeds of those in power in the U.S., one after the other, every few days, and on and on.

Of those maybe the most surprising and baffling was the reaction of the Bush people as soon as the Emirates deal was made public, a few weeks ago. On hearing that his own people in the Republican-controlled Congress meant to throw up barriers to the plan, GW Bush said flatly that he would veto any attempt to do so. At the same time his second-highest partner in mischief, Secretary of State C. Rice, came out with a statement in which she hastened to reassure what she called "our good friends in Dubai." Her tone clearly sent the message to these newfound buddies of ours that at the moment there are some badly misguided souls in the U.S. who aren't fully acquainted with the issue, but, as soon as they are brought up to the requisite speed, they will recognize how wonderful this deal will be for everyone, and ever afterward no more will be heard from them, and they and the American public will return to their normal oblivious grazing in the Republican pastures like the good sheep they have been for the past six years, and business will go on as usual.

But speaking of sheep, Bush and Rice don't seem to be aware of the saying that I got from a Russian chess book, which has bearing on the laws of unintended consequences, and every chessplayer knows that in that game, as in life -- though clearly not among those with dictatorial pretensions, like that pair -- there are plenty of such developments. I don't know if this adage is popular in the U.A.E. or in other parts of the Muslim world. Maybe it's thought of as being disrespectful there, but, taking my chances, I like it because it's even more elegant than the more usual, "Man proposes but God disposes." It goes, "My goat would have gotten to Mecca if it hadn't been for the wolves by the side of the road."

In this Dubai deal one of the wolves is the total failure of the Bushel of Rice to give themselves any backout room in case opposition rose from too many quarters. And in this case it surely did, on both sides of the Congressional aisle, and -- still more shockingly -- on the part of the vaunted American people. Being such an inveterate oddball, I almost never find myself included in the majority opinion, but the latest polls are saying that as much as 70 percent of the U.S. public opposes this deal along with the whole idea of leasing its ports to foreign interests.

Sam Seder, the co-host together with the sadly usually missing Jeanine Garafolo on their AirAmerica show, "The Majority Report," has long since offered a theory to explain this apparent huge misstep of a veto vow by GW Bush. According to Seder, and others since then, this may well be like a deep combination in chess, a series of moves in which a sacrifice is made to achieve a result that won't be immediately apparent, in this case giving cover to the many Republican Representatives and Senators who are facing tough opposition in the upcoming elections, due to all the corruption and incompetence that can be laid at the feet of themselves and their party mates while they were supposed to be serving the People. They can say to the voters, "See? Who says that I'm not my own man? I don't go to Washington merely to ride in limousines and to march in lock step. I don't always side with the President. The Dubai deal proves that."

If true, that is a very deep combination indeed, and the Republicans have made such a consistent mess of things since they've been in power that I refuse to concede their ability to look as far ahead as Sam Seder. Also it's too dangerous a game to play. Combinations more than a few moves deep are hard to calculate, and often there's a kicker waiting near the end that you just don't see and it ruins everything, and then your only hope is that your opponent doesn't see it when the moment comes. But lately more light has started to be shone on a lot of things, and I hope and expect that that will continue to be the case.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Ports Thing

In regard to the controversy going on now, about the plan to give a company from the United Arab Emirates the contract to manage a number of the U.S.'s most important ports, at a cost of 6.8 billion dollars, some erstwhile progressives have airily dismissed the fuss. One, a homeland security expert named Issikoff, who is a regular visitor to Rachel Maddow's radio program, called the objections "making a mountain out of a molehill." Another, the well-known pundit Eric Alterman, took the same stand while Sam Seder was hosting the Al Franken daytime show. They seemed to be saying that management and security of the ports are two separate matters and that it is the security that is lacking rather than the management and that is where our attention should be focused..

I was badly disappointed when Maddow and Seder made almost no effort to contest this point. I guess they were too grateful to have two luminaries such as these appearing on their programs to want to challenge them. At first Seder did seem to be on the verge of differing, but Alterman silenced him by curtly saying, "Let me finish," and continuing with a long discourse in which he spoke mostly of the continuing problem of security at the ports -- as if that hasn't already been brought up repeatedly, almost from the day after 9/11. I don't know if Seder was sold on Alterman's reasoning, but he never returned to the point.

I would think, however, that the two matters are not separate by a long shot or shoreman, and that security would be an integral part of management at places as crucial and as integral to the composition of a nation as its points of ingress and egrees. That is something on which I would think that the management would want to know every detail. At every step of the way management would also have inputs on the enterprise's ability to operate without delays or stoppages of any kind, like those that would be furnished by breaches of security.

Ports, whether they deal with arrivals and departures by sea or by air, are as essential to a nations's life and well-being as our mouths and anuses are to our persons, and we would never put those under the management of others, except in medical and dental emergencies (and, for some people, sexually) and then only for the shortest possible periods. And we certainly see the security of those organs, so essential to our lives and our well-being, as a matter purely of our own purview. Put another way, this deal is as illogical as would be having the opening and the closing of our house's doors and gates and the locking of them purely the responsibility of others.

I should have been alerted to all this by the second season of HBO's stellar series, "The Wire." That "longshoremen" or "white" season veered from the first season to deal with ports and containers at the Baltimore Harbor, instead of drugs in the inner city, as in the first and third years, and I thought that in several ways it was the most interesting of the Wire's episodes so far. Yet, on hearing of this Dubai deal, I was surprised to learn of how not only were these said ports now under British management, but also some our biggest airports were similarly run by foreign companies. I would've thought that such key places would be strictly under American management, just like our military bases and our power plants. So what else has been sold to the highest bidders overseas, by stealth?

It was already bad enough that, without our noticing, we had borrowed so much from the Chinese that now we are hip deep in debt to them -- Communist-controlled China, which once, in the early Cold War days, was as much of an anathema to the powers-that-be in this country as was the U.S.S.R., and which was seen largely as an impoverished fat boy. Now, nothing except things of an empty nature can be said to them because they hold so many of our I.O.U.'s, and presumably a huge chunk of American property along with it.